Well this is sad news. It seems Barnes and Nobel has been struggling as of late and now put themselves up for sale. Considering how much Barnes and Nobel has contributed to the reading industry this really does suck. Yeah a lot of people will harp that Barnes and Nobel killed off more independently owned book stores but that was due to the fact the big retailer had actual selection.
In La Crosse there was a small bookstore I often when to with my mother back when I was young. Yes they could order you almost anything but there were two majors issues that ultimately killed the store. The first problem was their inventory, although good for a small bookstore, was still pretty pitiful. Every book I wanted to read had to be special ordered which meant at least a week until I could start reading it. Their second problem lied in the fact that this was before widespread Internet access and hence there was no efficient way to search for titles. If you wanted to order a book you had to know what the title was and who wrote it. Ultimately this second problem was the biggest because it meant you had very limited ability to discover new books.
Enter Barnes and Nobel, a massive bookstore that stocked everything. The first time I walked into one of these stores I just about jumped up and down for joy. See Barnes and Nobel had something no other bookstore at the time did; an honest to God full sized science fiction section. Barnes and Nobel really did help science fiction titles get more recognition just by the fact that they actually stocked them. This is how I discovered some of the lesser known stuff that I read. For example I would have never heard of the Vampire Earth or The Lost Fleet series if it wasn’t for the fact I stumbled into Barnes and Nobel one night and spend some time browsing through the sci-fi section.
But it wasn’t just science fiction that Barnes and Nobel helped. Pretty much any specialty subject could (and still can be) found in Barnes and Nobel. Do you want a book on programming in some semi-obscure language? If so check the programming section by the other computer books. Yes that’s right they have a section dedicated to computer programming. This was a big benefit to me in the days before having reliable Internet access as it allowed me to learn new languages (back in the day when said programming books came with CDs containing the needed software to start programming). If you wanted a book dealing with astronomy, paleontology, auto service, or any other niche offering chances were high Barnes and Nobel had a section for it.
Of course it seems more people are moving back to the old model of buying books, stores not dedicated to book sales. According to the Slashdot article (which is sourcing the New York Times and thus requires you register) one of the primary killers here are today’s equivalent to the general store; Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, etc. I can’t fathom this because I’ve browsed through all three of those stores’ book sections and they don’t stock shit. If those stores were the only sources I had of quality reading material I’d pretty much have to give up reading.
Of course the other competition for Barnes and Nobel comes from electronic books which they tried to get into in the past but failed (pretty miserably I might add). Now they are trying it a second time around and having better success but in a market populated by some pretty stiff competition (namely the Kindle and now iPad).
I afraid the next owner of Barnes and Nobel isn’t going to be so good as to keep the wide selection of titles and awesome reading environment. Hopefully I’m wrong but I’m certainly not an optimist by nature.
One thing we have to say about our federal government is that they certainly are hard working blokes. Take for instance the FBI. In essence they are a federal police force tasked with all sorts of jobs including granting government protection to exercise your second amendment rights in the form of NICS checks, enforcing interstate crimes, and of course spending your tax money trying to get Wikipedia to remove the FBI logo from the FBI article. Apparently they are using the following law:
18 U.S.C. 701 prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of any badge, identification card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer or employee of that agency.
Funny because, as government employees, the FBI works for me. Combined with the fact that my tax money pays for their existence I’m entitled to reproduce the logo which I own since I paid for it. What law is does that fall under? Christopher Burg Fuckin’ Said So Law. Yeah it’s really obscure, good luck finding it.
A while back I mentioned Glock wanted to expand their facilities and bring more jobs to Smyrna, Georgia but were being blocked by people who didn’t want those jobs in their neighborhood. Well good news everybody, via The Firearms Blog I found out that Glock was granted their land request. This means they can expand their facilities which is certainly a very good thing.
If you pay attention to any technology news websites you’ve probably heard all sorts of horrible news involving four horsemen and a valley in the Middle East. Let me reassure you that all the news you’re hearing is overblown but with some kernels of truth. So here is your official Defcon news roundup.
First Wired has a nice assortment of pictures from the event. The first one you see are a sample of some of the badges. Unlike most lamer conferences Defcon doesn’t use paper badges (for those who get there early). For the last five years they’ve used electronic badges that were custom made and have all sorts of nice built in features. This year’s was no exception. If you look at that first picture the silver badge that says Defcon on the screen was the one given to most attendees. There were quite a few neat little features packed into that thing. First the screen is a new technology similar to e-paper in that it doesn’t require power to maintain the image. Of course its refresh rate is 1.7 seconds making it painfully slow. The badge also has a USB connector and a place to solder on a JTAG interface for debugging. A good overview of everything dealing with that badge can be found here.
GSM “security” is dead. One of the demonstration at Defcon 18 was a device that can intercept phone calls made from GSM phones. It’s not quite as apocalyptic as it sounds since the device only works for outgoing phone calls (at this point). The device also doesn’t work for phone using 3G but with a little ingenuity a device can be used to overpower the 3G towers in the area causing the phone to drop to 2G again.
A rootkit was released for phones running Android. From what everybody has been reporting you would thing this vulnerability was in the wild. Truth be told the only way to get it installed onto phones at this point is to trick the user into downloading and installing the rootkit. In other words it’s the same “vulnerability” that exists on all PCs, you can install software. Either way this will become a big deal when it’s tied with an actual vulnerability in the Android operating system allowing for remote installation of said rootkit.
At the conference I also learned that people are still stupid in regards to security. One of the competitions at Defcon 18 was the Social Engineering contest where contestants contacted people working for companies and attempted to gleam information that would be valuable in a attack against said company. A surprising amount of information was obtained through simple phone calls simply because people don’t realize how important seemingly meaningless information is.
No security conference would be complete without tutorials on lock picking. The Lock pick Village was the place to go to learn how to pick locks and obtain tools to practice your new found skill. The staff there held seminars ranging from introduction to lock picking to the inner workings of high security locks. Anybody was free to attend (for free) any of the seminars and sit down with staff and learn how to turn those picks into lock bypassing devices. A competition was also held titled Gringo Warrior where contestants had to pick through a series of locks as quickly as possible. I was not allowed to partake in the competition as my lock pick is a .45 auto.
These are just some of the highlights from Defcon. Much more information was presented and made available to attendees. I learned quite a bit in my short few days there. Of course everything I learned didn’t make me feel much better about the current state of security as a whole.
OK everybody I’m back from Defcon 18. I’ll have regular posting return tomorrow with some sporadic posting today while I get back into the swing of things.
Here’s one quick pro tip though; don’t fly Sun Country Airlines. I’ll explain more in a later post but those guys are total fucking assholes.