Brett's Blog

Just some ramblings.

Reviewing a tech book technically makes you a peer reviewer…

    If you have been in the digital forensics world for more than a day, then you know about peer reviews of analysis reports.  If you have ‘only’ been doing IR work where forensics isn't the main point (as in taking evidence collection all the way to court), then you may not be reading reports of opposing experts.  Anyway, the opposing expert peer review is one of the scariest reviews of all since the reader, which is again, the opposing expert, tries to find holes in your work.  The peer review is so effective to push toward doing a good job that I think it prevents errors by the examiner more than it does help opposing experts find errors of the examiner.  Peer reviews take different shapes depending on where it is being done (review of a book draft, review of a report, etc...) but in general, a peer review is checking the accuracy of the written words.

    Academia has always been under the constant worry of peer reviews.  One professor's journal may be peer reviewed by dozens of other professors in the same field, with the end result being seen by the public, whether good or bad. Peer reviews are scary, not for the sake that you made a mistake, but that maybe you could have missed something important that someone else points out to you.

    If you read a tech book and write a review of it (formally in an essay/journal, or informally on social media), consider yourself a peer reviewer of tech writings.  That which you say, based on what you read, is a peer review of that material.  Think about that for a second.  If you are in the field of the book you are reviewing, you practically are tech reviewing that book for accuracy (so make sure you are correct!).  That is a good thing for you as it boosts your experience in the field.  Always be the expert on the stand who can say, “I’ve read x number of forensic books and have given x number peer reviews on social media, Amazon, essays, etc….”.  If for nothing else, this shows more than that you just read books.  You read for accuracy and give public review of your findings. Nice.

    There is some stress in writing a peer review because you have to be correct in your claims.  Sure, maybe some things in the book could have been done a different way, but was it the wrong way?  The manner in which you come across in a peer review is important too.  Crass and rude really doesn't make you look great on the stand if you slam a book or paper.  You can get the point across just as well by being professional.

    Writing books takes no back seat to peer review stress, especially when it comes to technical books.  Not only does the grammar get combed by reviewers, but the actual technical details get sliced and diced.  Was the information correct? Was it current and up-to-date?  Is there any other information that negates what was written in the book?

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Books written by practitioners are many times better than those written by those who 'never done it'

Books written by practitioners are many times better than those written by those who 'never done it'

Many of Syngress published books I’ve read are those written by people simply writing about how they do their job…while they are doing their job.   They are probably not writing while they are physically doing their work, but you know what I mean.

With my first book, Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, I was consulting on a criminal cyber harassment case, two arson cases, and several civil litigation projects. In three of the cases during writing the book, the main goal was identifying users behind the keyboard (in one case, behind a mobile device).  In addition to doing what I knew from my law enforcement detective days, I conferred with experts for tips and tricks on tracking Internet users.  I was writing the book while doing the work.

My current book, Hiding the Behind the Keyboard, was virtually the same, however, this time with a co-author (John Bair). While writing the book, there were multiple interruptions of having to do work in the real-world outside of typing and testing theories. While John was working homicides and examining mobile devices in those cases, I was consulting on employee matters where unidentified employees were creating havoc with their company by being anonymous online. It is one thing to create a perfect scenario to test a theory and quite another to have actual evidence on an active case.  Again, this was another book of authors writing what they do on a daily basis.

I write about this only because I remind myself regularly of college courses I have taken in digital forensics where the required books not only cost an arm and a leg, but were written by academia, not active practitioners.  I’ve even taken a computer forensics course from a community college where the professor had not done one forensic exam…not a single one.  The professor did not even know how to connect a hardware write-blocker to a hard drive. I kid you not.  

I’m not a Syngress employee, but I do like their books. The cost may seem high for some of the books, but it is still about half the price of a college text in the same subject matter.  But the biggest difference is how the books read. I so much prefer reading a book that simply says, “This is how you do it in the real world”. I do not prefer books that speak in terms of an idealized theory.  Reminds me of my Field Training Officers in patrol telling me to forget what I learned at the academy because they were going to teach me what works on the street, in real life.  The best thing I like about the Syngress books is that I can read what the experts are using day-to-day in their own words.

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Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

    Every career and academic field has its own “lingo” to the extent that a conversation buried deep in lingo sounds like a foreign language. I have experienced military lingo, law enforcement lingo, and technical lingo in my life to the point that I practically dream in acronyms, speak with words not recognized by Webster’s Dictionary, and instantly recognize the glazed-over look when speaking to an non-native lingo listener.

                The reasons for individualized lingo range from the coolness factor such “oh dark thirty”  in order to express time as ‘really damn early’ to efficiency such as using “HMMWV” instead of saying “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle”.  Many acronyms are spoken as works when gives an added effect of the listener not having a clue of what you are talking about.  For example, “I’m going to pick up a hum-v” means “I’m going to pick up a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle”. Even in law enforcement, the acronyms can irritate the most patient listener if they are not in the club.

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                There are two situations where lingo can get you killed, or at least make you feel like you are getting killed. One is in court. The other in your writing.

                Getting killed in court by lingo as a witness is painful. In fact, I’ve seen witnesses get physically ill as if the roach coach burrito eaten at lunch has suddenly reached its final destination in all its glory. Getting beat up on the stand by an attorney or judge is so unpleasant, that time actually slows to a stop and you wonder why you even got up that morning. Using lingo on the stand can give you a bad case of ‘why did I say that?” when being cross examined.

                I talk about lingo today, because I recently experienced one of the best cases of using lingo in all the wrong ways in a federal district court.  I gave my testimony first as the defense expert in a class action lawsuit, and spoke as simply as I could to make sure the judge understood what I intended to say. Then the opposing expert was called. One of the attorneys asked her a question, she answered, but her answer was not only complicated, it was complex, full of lingo, and I even felt a sway of arrogance. I barely understood what she said and took notes to make sure I got correct what she said.

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