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issue 07/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho
by Jon Katz

- reviewed by Scott Butki

Jon Katz has written a powerful, moving story with two unlikely heroes who call themselves geeks. But as Katz has explained in his writings for, geek isn't the insult it sometimes seems. In fact some of them consider it a compliment, he said.

Most of the fascinating non-fiction book, centers around the lives of teenage hackers Jesse Dailey and Eric Twilegar.

At the beginning of the book Katz introduces us to them and their dreary lives in Idaho. They don't fit in to the Mormon community because of a combination of anti-social behavior and finding the Internet more interesting than non-computer activities.

Katz, in a rare break of journalistic detachment, suggests they consider moving to a place where they could better use their skills. And soon they are making plans to do exactly that in Illinois.

But they're not only human and prone to human error but overly reliant on technology. So when they need to find an apartment in Illinois the hackers use a search engine and don't see their new home in person before signing rental agreements.

Oops. Their home ends up being quite a commute from Chicago in an area without people their age. Katz kicks himself for not pushing them harder to see the building before agreeing to move there.

Katz is a Rolling Stone reporter who has also written for other publications including Wired in addition to penning several novels.

In the book Katz alternates between describing their lives and the changes and quoting emails from the hackers. The result is an engrossing tale. Katz shares the reader's frustration at times as the hackers remain shy and choose to spend more time with their computers than with other people.

But the reader is left rooting for Dailey as he makes attempt to improve his life, including getting admitted to the University of Chicago. Dailey knows his low grades and test scores make it almost impossible that he will be admitted but hopes that will be outweighed by past life experiences, including breaking laws, being a former gang member and suffering through much family dysfunction.

It was during his work on this book, while continuing his friendship with the hackers, that the school shootings at Littleton, Colo. occurred. Katz describes in fascinating detail the reactions of hackers around the world, including Dailey, as the media, schools and governments demonize and stigmatize all hackers.

Katz becomes a hero of sorts to hackers as he writes on about his objections to these stereotypes and recounts, sometimes quoting emails from hackers, how difficult their lives have been made by institutions who don't understand their fascination with violent games or black trench coats.

Interwoven throughout the book are excerpts from fascinating emails Katz received from self-professed geeks about that label and way of life. He refers to the geek movement as the "geek ascendancy."

But it is the story about the two hackers that keeps the reader turning the pages and wanting more.

Ultimately I'm left pleased to have been able to live vicariously through Katz as he covered this amazing story. The only problem with a book covering a few years of these hackers' lives is the questions remaining about what happens next in their adventure.

But that's what sequels are for, isn't it? Here's hoping Katz will do exactly that someday.

Scott Butki is a prolific reader and writer, living in Hagerstown, Md. He welcomes your comments on this review.


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