Documentary Review: Citizenfour (2014)

Release Date: October 10th, 2014 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Laura Poitras
Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, William Binney, Jacob Applebaum, Ewen MacAskill

HBO Films, Participant Media, Praxis Films, Radius-TWC, 113 Minutes

Review:

For those who don’t already know the story of Edward Snowden, this does a good job of laying out all the facts and events that led to the situation he finds himself in, today.

While millions of people want him to get a presidential pardon, which I agree with, I think it’s important for those who don’t really know his story to actually learn about it because so many seem to easily accept the “traitor” label that’s been applied to him by those in the former Obama Administration.

What’s best about this, is that it actually stars Snowden. The cameras follow him, as he traverses through the muck while trying to get all the secrets he’s discovered out there.

Additionally, this features those who helped Snowden leak his secrets.

For the most part, this was really good and it makes its point well.

There’s not much to say about the contents of the film, as people really should watch it play out for themselves.

It’s well presented and it at least gives Snowden a voice.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other films on cypherpunk culture, specifically on hacking and leaking. I’ve reviewed many, here.

Documentary Review: Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain (2018)

Also known as: Decentralized: The Story of Blockchain (working title)
Release Date: October 26th, 2018 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Written by: Alex Winter
Music by: Bill Laswell
Cast: Rosario Dawson (narrator), Alex Winter (interviewer), various

SingularDTV, Futurism Studios, Breaker, 84 Minutes

Review:

After watching Alex Winter’s documentary Deep Web, I was left wanting more. He followed that one up a few years later with this, which covers similar topics but with the majority of its focus on blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

What I liked most about this film is that it describes these complex things and ideas really damn well. It makes this somewhat palatable for the layman.

Also, this interviews several people who know what they’re talking about while also featuring comments from many of blockchain and crypto’s detractors along with some great rebuttals.

A big part of the documentary follows the story of Lauri Love, a British hacker and activist that was wanted by the United States for alleged activities as a member of the hacker collective Anonymous. His story is really damn interesting and the film does a solid job of telling it.

If you have an interest in this stuff and haven’t seen this documentary, you should probably check it out. Alex Winter does great work and presents these subjects well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk stuff like blockchain, cryptocurrency, hacking, etc. Especially, those by Alex Winter.

Book Review: ‘Ghost In the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker’ by Kevin Mitnick

This was suggested by Amazon when I bought This Machine Kills Secrets, so I bought it as well, as I figured it’d also be a pretty intriguing read.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

Kevin Mitnick is now a computer security consultant but before that, he was the most wanted hacker in the world, who was arrested in 1995 and spent five years in prison.

Luckily for us, he’s also a good writer and had one hell of a story to tell.

The crimes he was charged with were 14 counts of wire fraud, 8 counts of possession of unauthorized access devices, interception of wire or electronic communications, unauthorized access to a federal computer and causing damage to a computer.

His story is pretty exciting even before all that though and this autobiography had me from the get-go, as Mitnick went all the way back to his childhood and explained how he got into hacking and all the shenanigans he did while trying to perfect his craft.

The stuff about his early years was pretty exciting and this was immediately better than most autobiographies, which just summarize fairly mundane or normal childhoods.

Once you go beyond that and into adulthood, things pick up even more and Mitnick wrote a compelling tale about a high-tech skill but told in a way that any layman could understand.

I don’t want to ruin all the details and spoil the book for those who may have an interest in it. All I can really say is that it’s damn good, one of the best on its subject and that almost anyone will probably enjoy it.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other books about cypherpunk culture and hacking.

Book Review: ‘This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information’ by Andy Greenberg

This was the book I always wanted but didn’t even realize was out there until recently, after reading Julian Assange’s Cypherpunks book and telling a friend that I wanted something more broad.

I’m glad that my friend pointed me towards this and it’s actually kind of weird that it flew under my radar but it also came out after I was done writing about politics and economics and was sort of ignoring that stuff for a few years in order to reacquire my sanity.

This is damn solid, though, and more than that, it’s damn thorough. This covers so much ground in just a few hundred pages and is honestly, a real wealth of knowledge and a great outline of the key moments that happened within cypherpunk culture.

I wanted something that really went into a good amount of detail about Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, as well as the other players within the movement that wanted to expose secrets and bring not only transparency to the world but some sort of justice.

Out of all the stuff I’ve read on cypherpunk history and culture, this book shoots up to the top of the list. It’s well written, well researched and presented in a way that is very easy for the layman to follow.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other books about cypherpunk culture, hacking and cryptocurrency.

Documentary Review: The Hacker Wars (2014)

Release Date: October 17th, 2014
Directed by: Vivien Lesnik Weisman
Written by: Vivien Lesnik Weisman, Meredith Raithel Perry
Music by: Dicepticon, Christopher Lord, Ytcracker
Cast: Andrew “weev” Auemheimer, Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond

Over 9000 Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

I heard good things about this documentary quite awhile ago but I never checked it out till now.

I was reminded of it while watching Alex Winter’s Dark Web, so I thought that I should also watch this. Plus, I’ve been watching a lot of similar documentaries, lately, as well as reading several books on cypherpunk culture.

This was an engaging watch but that also has a lot to do with me being fascinated by the subject matter and due to my own personal history within what became the cypherpunk movement.

I liked that this picked a few key people and their situations and focused on them, allowing these hackers and other cypherpunk personalities the chance to tell their own story and espouse their philosophies behind why they do what they do. Whether you agree with their viewpoint or not, it’s still pretty enthralling stuff.

All in all, this was well presented and I thought that it was pretty fair to all parties involved. Out of all the similar documentary films I’ve watched on the subject, this one really stands out because many of the players were actually involved in it.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk culture.

Book Review: ‘Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet’ by Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Muller-Maguhn & Jérémie Zimmermann

Overall, this was a pretty engaging book but it also wasn’t what I had hoped it would be, which is more of an autobiographical piece by Julian Assange, his work and his philosophy behind it all.

Instead, this reads like a conversation between four people who are talking about the cypherpunk movement.

It covers a lot of the stuff I had hoped it would but there’s that part of me that wanted something more personal and much deeper from Assange.

For those that care about this stuff, this is still most definitely a worthwhile read. Although, there probably isn’t a lot here that’s new knowledge.

However, for those who are just learning about this stuff and who didn’t live through the history of the WikiLeaks saga in real time, you’ll probably be shocked by a lot of the things that are covered here.

Regardless of your level of knowledge, though, this is definitely worth the shelf space in your library if you have an interest in tech history, freedom, conspiracies, coverups and wanting the truth to always come out.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other books about cypherpunk culture, hacking and cryptocurrency.

Documentary Review: Deep Web (2015)

Also known as: Deep Web: The Untold Story of BitCoin and Silk Road (complete title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2015 (South by Southwest)
Directed by: Alex Winter
Music by: Pedro Bromfman
Cast: Keanu Reeves (narrator)

BOND360, Trouper Productions, Zipper Bros Films, Epix, 90 Minutes

Review:

As much as I’ve always enjoyed Alex Winter, as an actor, his real talent may be directing, as he knows how to tell a great story, hook you and keep you glued to it until the end.

Deep Web peaked my interest, as I’ve been really invested in cryptocurrencies since the birth of Bitcoin, over a decade ago. With that, I’ve also had an interest in the cypherpunk culture, as I was a shitty hacker in the mid-’90s and maintained my love for that stuff.

This film mainly tells the story about the Silk Road, a deep web superstore for all things illegal. This also goes into the philosophy about it’s creation and sheds light on some of the people behind it while also telling the story of Ross Ulbricht, a young guy that everything was pinned on but was most likely used as a scapegoat and to make an example out of to deter other cyber criminals from similar activities.

There is a lot covered in this film that goes beyond just the Ulbricht case. Additionally, there are a lot of interviews with the people who were there and who worked in this sphere.

All in all, this is a solid documentary that covers a lot of ground in just 90 minutes. It moved by at a fast pace, kept my attention and ultimately, made me wish there was more to dive into.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about cypherpunk culture and cryptocurrency.

Documentary Review: Banking On Bitcoin (2016)

Also known as: The Battle for Bitcoin, The Bitcoin Takeover (working titles)
Release Date: 2016
Directed by: Christopher Cannucciari
Written by: Christopher Cannucciari, Prichard Smith
Music by: Ben Prunty
Cast: Wences Casares, Nathaniel Popper, Gavin Andersen, Naomi Brockwell, Nancy Cannucciari, Michael Casey, David Chaum, Andy Greenberg, Benjamin Lawsky, Jaron Lukas, Blythe Masters, Rakesh Motwani, Rand Paul, Charlie Shrem, Barry Silbert, Nick Spanos, Chris Tarbell, David Thompson, Jeffrey A. Tucker, Paul Vigna, Erik Voorhees, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, Alex Winter 

Periscope Entertainment, Downtown Community Television Center, Dynamic Range, Gravitas Ventures, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ve owned some Bitcoin for awhile and while I generally understand it, it was neat seeing a good, well-produced documentary about it.

This covers the short but very interesting history of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency while also explaining what it is and how it works. The biggest obstacle it faces is the public’s lack of understanding of it. I think that this did the best job it could in trying to speak to the layman.

The documentary also features a lot of people who known what they’re talking about and have been involved in Bitcoin for quite some time.

If the subject matter doesn’t interest you, why have you read this far? If it does, this is well worth a watch.

There’s really not a whole lot more to say other than pointing out that this is one of the best documentaries I’ve come across on the subject.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on crypto currencies and cypherpunk culture.

Book Review: ‘Bitcoin For Beginners: Illustrated Guide To Understanding Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies’ by EverGreenPress Hub

While I used to write about economics, it was primarily about government stuff and not personal finance. Back then, everyone was raging about Bitcoin: the flashy, new kid on the scene. It was all sort of over my head, as I didn’t really understand the tech behind it all and I missed that early boat like a total dunce.

Over the years, I’ve learned more about it but never felt like I was anywhere near fully grasping Bitcoin or the cryptocurrency game in general.

This book did help me understand it quite a bit more but I can’t say that I’m super confident with my knowledge, as of yet. But I’m probably going to read beefier books on the subject in the very near future.

This book is forty-ish pages and it’s a really quick read. In fact, it was like a buck on Kindle and well worth the price for those who want to, at the very least, understand all of this on a basic level.

I found the book to be informative and to explain the whole cryptocurrency thing fairly well. However, as it says in the title, this is a book for beginners and you shouldn’t expect anything that goes into a lot of depth.

If you do have an interest in cryptocurrencies this book is definitely a decent starting point. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other books on cryptocurrencies and personal finance.