#TechnicolorRainbow: "Cult of the Dead Cow"

I read this book for the TechnicolorRainbow book club on hackers.town. It's a fun and easy read, even though it lacks coherent, overall narrative. I enjoyed it and recommend it.

First off, I should point out that I did not know anything about the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) before this book. Well, that's not entirely true: there were some mentions on hackers.town about it because of Beto O'Rourke. Other than that, I knew nothing of the group beforehand. (Long story short: I did not even know what an online bulletin board was until the late 90s so I missed out on all that stuff.)

If you don't know the history, Menn fills you in. The history of the cDc is laid out nicely with interesting anecdotes and coincidences to keep everything moving. The writing is never boring. There's always an interesting story to tell. The cast of characters is vast, so much so that it's easy to get lost. But it doesn't really matter.

The cDc's story is told in a mostly chronological fashion, hitting highlights and troubles along the way. What is probably the most engaging part of the whole book is finding where you sit with respect to the ethics of the cDc members. There are some bad actors that the cDc rightly disowns, but it's not clear how to feel about Back Orifice and BO2K. Were the theatrics in their introduction a good idea? Menn is not a judge and mostly lays out the facts, leaving it for you to think about.

While that is a nice thing, the book has the problem of reading like a series of short articles stitched together. The narrative will frequently jump from one person's story to another with only a hint at why the shift in focus was necessary. Again, it's never boring; it is a little incoherent. In the end, I wasn't sure how the cDc might save the world. The book says the group is mostly inert at this point. Was it the ethical mindset of the majority of the group? Is it because of the work of Mudge and Dildog? Is the saviour supposed to be Beto O'Rourke?

Regardless, I enjoyed the book and gained a deeper appreciation for those who work in computer security. It's not an easy job because it exposes the supposed neutrality of technology for what it is: an illusion. The question is what will be done about it.

-- Geoff (comment@wozniak.ca)