Book Review: This Machine Kills Secrets

“Cypherpunks write code.”

Andy Greenberg’s This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, The Cypherpunks and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers is a fascinating look behind the headlines of Wikileaks and even the impact of Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning to show the movement to provide safe, secure and anonymous means for leaking secrets to the world. The quote above is from one of the manifestos from a group of hackers who want to change the world through the release of information. Known as cypherpunks, they believe that creating systems for whistleblowers will make politicians more honest, and make the world a better place.

The history of the cypherpunk movement is a fascinating story, as Greenberg toggles his tales between characters and events, including the parallels between The Pentagon Papers (which kickstarted the whole “information should be free” ideals, really) of the Vietnam War and Bradley Manning’s securing and releasing government documents via Wikileaks. For Manning, it was not much more difficult than downloading files to a flashdrive. Amazing, really.

Cypherpunks write code” means that political action is in the doing and the deeds, not just in the lobbying for more openness and protesting for change. Much of the book ends up focusing on Wikileaks (and very little about Snowden, as his case catapulted into the headlines after the book was written, and Greenberg mentions him only briefly in an update at the end of the paperback book) and the technical prowess and push going on behind the scenes to create online, technical spaces for secrets to be submitted, vetted and revealed.

I’m not sure yet about how I feel about all this.

On one hand, I see the value of shining light into the darkness of politics (I am a former journalist, after all). On the other, the line between openness and putting people’s lives in danger is a difficult one to discern (as Greenberg expertly points out throughout the book), and the anarchy element of some of the cypherpunk movement makes it difficult to know motives. My basic belief is that our elected officials need to be held accountable for their actions and books like this one show the efforts of many to do that.

Whether you believe Assange (of Wikileads) to be a hero or a villain (and that may go beyond the politics of Wikileaks and into the realm of legal charges against him right now for actions against women), Greenberg’s point — and others, too — is that the idea of leaking information is now part of our modern culture, and the cork can’t be put back into the bottle.  Too many people have access to too many files in digital formats. More leaks are bound to happen. The only question is: what kind of information will come out next and who will release it and why? Time will only tell.

Peace (beyond the veil),

A Goodreads Tally: What I Read in 2013

Like a lot of people on Goodreads, I set a reading goal for myself in 2013. I wanted to read 110 books. I made it, but just barely. Thankfully, we were on school vacation and I had time to read, by myself and with my son (my read aloud companion). We cranked through some books. For 2014, I am lowering my count back to 100 books, which seems more manageable now that we read fewer picture books as my youngest is a bit older. I still like the challenge, and the way it forces me to keep track of the books I am reading.

You can view some of the books I have underway right now:

Kevin’s currently-reading book montage

A Reader's Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013
This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information
Unearthed Comics: Un-Earthing the Universe, One Comic at a Time
The Island of Thieves

Kevin Hodgson’s favorite books »

Peace (in the books),

Embracing OLW: Making a Robot

The other day, I mentioned that my “one little word” for 2014 is MAKE, and so, here is a robot that I made with my son. The parts came in a kit and we worked on it together. He then set it up to threaten the Lego dudes. They took the attack in style, as only headless Lego peeps can do. We used Vine to capture it.

Peace (in the make),

Student Video Game Showcase: Adventures in Geology

As my sixth graders begin finishing up their science-based video game projects, I hope to share out a few. This one — Adventures in Geology — is a good example of how a student has come to understand the balance of designing and publishing a challenging game that has story and science baked in.

Give it a try. (If you are on a mobile device, the game probably won’t work. If the embedded game does not load, you can use the direct link to her game).

Peace (in the game),

Book Review: The Forbidden Stone (The Copernicus Legacy)

The Copernicus Legacy - The Forbidden Stone


I wanted to like this book (The Forbbiden Stone), which I did as a read-aloud with my son after getting a free copy at NCTE. I should say that he thoroughly enjoyed the book and was caught up in the adventure unfolding. He was hooked early. Me? Not so much. I appreciated the story part of the book, noting that this is the clear start to a series of books about four kids and a dad uncovering a time-related mystery that began with Copernicus and stretches to the modern day with secret societies, puzzling dilemmas, and globe-trotting action.

What I could not get past was the writing.

We’ve had the same problem with Tony Abbott before, when we read his Secrets of Droon series. My wife and I found the dialogue wooden and rather lifeless (sorry, Tony) and the action and plot was incredibly predicable. But my son (actually, sons) enjoyed the series and I guess that is the real audience for Abbott, not us picky adults. Here, with The Forbidden Stone, though, I felt that same feeling I had with Droon, even though I know Abbott is setting up the series, introducing characters and action for future books. But I never got a good sense of any of the characters. Instead, it felt like we were breezing through the heads and internal voice periodically. I had the sense of the writer struggling to make sure we cared about the protagonists. Abbott was working too hard.  I didn’t find myself caring about the kids. That’s a problem for me.

I know adventure books have improbably scenarios that resourceful protagonists can solve. There were just one too many of those here in this book, in my opinion. (Can I venture a guess that a movie contract is in the mix here?) I know we will be reading more of this series as it comes out, and I am glad my son is intrigued and interested in any books. I will remain hopeful that the writing gets stronger as the focus gets narrower on the finding of the 12 “relics” that are at the heart of the story. And I hope I come to care for the characters.

Peace (in the pages),

My Word: Make

I’ve seen a lot of friends on Twitter using the “one word” idea. It’s a simple but powerful way to focus in on a theme for the new year. Or maybe not so simple. I’ve struggled with a single word that is large enough to encompass how I want to approach the year and not so intangible as to be meaningless. I’ve settled in on the word “Make” for a few reasons.

First of all, I really got involved in learning more about the Maker’s Movement this year, through work with the National Writing Project. Our CLMOOC was focused on the “make.” I am intrigued by how helping students learn through doing, and creating things/ideas is coming back around again.

Second, I am not a physical maker. I bumble my way through any project you hand me. When I fixed the toilet in our house one day, you should have heard the cheers and seen the high fives we gave each other. I mean, I had fixed the toilet, for goodness sake. That was a breakthrough.

So, this idea of focusing on “make” is always a way to slowly get me out of my own comfort zone. I know I have students who struggle with writing a story but could take apart a car engine, and even put it back to together again. I know I have students who can make an engaging video, publish it on YouTube, and yet, they can’t quite write a paragraph with deep meaning.

I can’t say right now how this word “make” will make its way into my daily life. But I do have a wide definition in my head of what it means to “make” and I’ll keep mulling this one over. It’s digital, physical and internal, and I am going to “make” 2014 a year of diving in as deep as I can.

In that vein, one of the things I have been doing is pulling together a Flipboard magazine around the connections of making and learning, and Connected Learning. It’s a start, and I am making the magazine happen. (meta-make?)

Peace (in the word),

Video Games They Play and Where They Play Them

As we went into the break, my students were finishing up a video game review project (while underway with their own video game design project). As I read through the reviews over vacation, I began jotting down the variety of video games they chose to review, and on what platform they play them.

So, here is the wide range of games:

And here is a small infographic on the breakdown of the platforms:

Peace (in the sharing),
PS — I used a new ipad app called iVisual to make the second infographic that Richard Byrne put up on his site. It’s pretty nifty but limited (there is a paid version, which I didn’t want to pay for … yet).

Hello 2014

My son and I used the Aurasma app to color in the new year. Happy New Year to you and thank you for stopping by.

Peace (every day, all year),

Slice of Life Humor: A Retirement Letter from #Slice2013

sols_6 (2)

This is for Slice of Life. (You can view it differently here.)

<Here is a letter received from #slice2013 this morning. Please take it under advisement.>

Dear Twitter,

I’ve decided to retire. I know, I know, I’ve been a faithful bit of byte every Tuesday, as I dutifully connect the Slice of Life community together with their writing. You might even say that my role has been to be a thread, stitching together stories across platforms — from blogs to that other social network some people still use to places that I haven’t even heard of before this year. Who knew that my time would come so soon? But here it is, the waning days of 2013, and I realize that my identity as #slice2013 is at the very end of the road.

As per our original agreement, I am expecting some perks for my work all year, Twitter. First of all, that vacation house on the Gulf Coast of Florida is ready, is it not? I plan to pack up my tweets and kick back in the sun and surf, with a bottle of Mezcal by my side. Surely, I’ve earned it. Second, I expect to be called out of retirement for training of the new hashtag. Oh, don’t try to play coy with me, Twitter. I know you have something brewing because … and this is important, so listen closely … the Slice of Life community really needs a hashtag.

Let me give you some suggestions on hashtags for the next year:

  • #slice2014 (the obvious choice)
  • #slicingbreadandwords2014 (too long)
  • #sol14 (too short and obscure)
  • #Lifeinslices (reversed)
  • #justletuswrite (nice but not connected to Slice of Life)

As you have entrusted me with the delicate decision, I have to go with the first hashtag — #slice2014 — as my top choice, reflecting as it does my own personality with a slight change in numbers to reflect the new year. Please bring my recommendation to the Slice of Life Hashtag Authorization Committee as soon as possible. If you act too slow, someone else might come along and grab the hashtag. The last thing we want is a legal battle over a hashtag. The Slice of Life Defense Fun Kickstarter Campaign is going poorly, as you know.

Now, you must let me go, as I have this last and final Tuesday of the year to oversee. You should see some of the writing and reflecting that is going on. It is amazing. The Mezcal can wait! I’m trending on Twitter, and it’s a mad rush.

Your friend in letters,


Peace (as submitted by),

Reflecting on 2013: Life’s a Blur — Make a List

I don’t know about you, but the end of December rolls around and I realize that another year has skipped past me. If I don’t take time to reflect a bit, it’s all gone right out the window. Of course, one of the reasons I blog is to remember, to archive the thinking and reflection and experimentation that I dive into. This blog is a like a huge USB Memory Drive plugged into my head and heart. Ok. Enough sappy metaphors.

In the interest of using technology to share, I created a visual of the ten events that I want to remember from 2013 (I used a software program called Simple Diagrams) and then put the image on Flickr, and then moved it over to ThingLink, so that each image has a short bit of text with a link to the sites mentioned.

Peace (in the year),