Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone was really a good book about Elizebeth Friedman, whose code breaking exploits on behalf of the US government began in WWI, continued during Prohibition where she helped capture smugglers, and through WWII with her instrumental in the breaking of Nazi spy rings in South America.

Fagone details how Friedman started in code breaking through a fairly remarkable turn of events, with her just out of college in 1916 meeting in Chicago a wealth eccentric named George Fabyan and taking a job at his Riverbank Laboratories investigating the works of William Shakespeare and whether it was really Francis Bacon who wrote them. While at Riverbank, she met William, her future husband and fellow acclaimed code breaker, and WWI began with the US brought into the war out of an intercepted message from the German Foreign Minister proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico. William and Elizebeth began working at Riverbank for the military and for the first eight months of the war, they and their team did all the code breaking for every part of the government, with the two of them largely founding the field of cryptology, or looking to break the ciphers people used in sending coded messages.

Williams and Elizebeth married in 1917 during the war, left Riverbank in 1920, began raising two children, and continued working for the government, with Elizebeth largely focused on smugglers, and William eventually having his work revolve around decoding Japanese messages, and starting to show signs of depression and mental illness, brought on in part by the stress of his work. WWII began in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and there was almost immediately a great concern by the US government about Nazi influence in South America and Elizebeth between 1940-1945 combated German clandestine spy efforts to get a hold on the continent. William continued breaking Japanese codes, suffered a mental breakdown in early 1941 and was never really the same after, and in December 1941, the US declared war on Japan After Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the US three days later.

Elizebeth was working on solving a next generation Enigma at the same time as British code breakers, cracked the machine and learned that Germany and Argentina were secretly working together, with her efforts helping force Argentina to split with Germany and greatly weaken them in South America. In addition to finding the information that would break spy rings in South America, Elizebeth also intercepted messages indicating German U-boats were targeted the RMS Queen Mary carrying 8,398 US servicemen and her intelligence was provided to the ship captain who evaded a U-boat laying in wait.

Elizebeth was part of the Coast Guard, but her work secret and J Edgar Hoover and his FBI would often take credit for her accomplishments, with another result of this that William for decades was solely noted as the force behind code breaking, and credited with the birth of the NSA, the part of the government that works in signal intelligence. Eventually Elizebeth began to receive more recognition for her work and William died in 1969 at the age of  78 and Elizebeth in 1980 at 88.

I found interesting from Fagone how the book came out of him finding a trove of Elizebeth Friedman letters in a library and previously enjoyed Fagone's book, Ingenious, and liked this even more, with both having excellent writing, and this one something that for myself was a more compelling topic with it being about a remarkable historical figure.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson was a solid read first of interest to me when I saw one of the blurbs on the back jacket written by Derek Sivers, author of the excellent Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur, and I enjoyed quite a bit the book from Manson, with some of the things that resonated with me noted below:

From Chapter 1 titled Don’t Try - The world wants you to care about everything, real success is only caring about the important things. Also, you shouldn’t spend too much energy thinking about what you don’t have.

From Chapter 2 titled Happiness is a Problem - A principle of the Buddha is that pain and loss are inevitable, one should let go of trying to resist them. Additionally from this chapter is to not hope for a life without problems, but try to have good problems, and happiness is from solving problems, along with the notion that who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.

From Chapter 3 titled You Are Not Special - Entitlement is a failed strategy and people should try to resist the tyranny of exceptionalism.

From Chapter 4 titled The Value of Suffering - We decide what our values are, either for better or worse.

From Chapter 5 titled You Are Always Choosing - It’s not always your fault when bad things happen, but you’re responsible for how you feel about and react to things.

From Chapter 6 titled You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I) - Growth is iterative, don’t try to be right about everything, just try to be a little less wrong tomorrow, and admit when you’re wrong.

From Chapter 7 titled Failure is the Way Forward - Don’t just sit there, do... anything.

From Chapter 8 titled The Importance of Saying No - When you choose a value for yourself, you reject alternate values. Also settling down into a life by definition means you’re rejecting alternate lives.

From Chapter 9 titled ... And Then You Die - Was about the death of his friend Josh in their late teens and noted that since we’re all going to die, you may as well do something and be productive.

Really a good book and additional writing from Manson can be found on his website.