Book Review – Hackerteen: Internet Blackout

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Jul 31, 2008 GMT
Rikki Kite

O'Reilly's Hackerteen: Internet Blackout book, by Marcelo Marques, is a slick, colorful, "edutainment" graphic novel. My 11-year-old daughter, Cleo, is an avid reader, and she's recently taken an interest in graphic novels, so I thought she was the perfect person to review this title.

Here's her concise report:

It's a really cool book and I was hooked on the first page. The story-line is intense, the characters are advanced and realistic. When I first got it, I thought it would be a boring book preaching about Internet safety, instead, I found an exciting comic with problems and drama that is both believable, and extraordinary. The book works well for teens because while you're reading it, it seems like just a really good comic, but once you are done, you have actually learned a lot about computers. You'll definitely want to read it over and over again.

One caveat: It's a $20 book. That's a lot for a comic book, but my kid did pick up some tips about Internet safety and terminology along the way.

In addition to the book, the Hackerteen site, which is a 4Linux project and still under construction, provides other resources. Unfortunately, the "courses" are only available in Portuguese, but Spanish and English versions are in the works.

The project itself is ambitious, but I haven't noticed much change or progress on their website over the summer, with the exception of one recent update. On July 25, the Ethical Hacker lessons were added to the site, in English. The lessons are broken into levels, much like my daughter's Tae Kwon Do class. There are 6 different "belts," from white to black. The content, however, doesn't translate as well online and I don't picture many kids reading through it on their own. For that matter, I'm having a hard time picturing kids sitting through a class structured like the "white belt" level.

The white belt lesson page begins with this:

The red pill and the importance of understanding The Matrix and the allegory of the cave.

Do you remember when Morpheus said to Neo? "You were born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind." In the film The Matrix , mankind is held captive in cocoons to generate bioenergy for machines.

The bottom of the page includes a YouTube clip of The Matrix promo. This seems pretty abstract to me, particularly considering that The Matrix is rated "R", so it's safe to assume that a lot of children – even teens – might not have seen it or grasped some of the philosophical concepts in the story line.

Later, the lesson moves away from The Matrix:

Before we delve further into the film, we must make something very clear to everyone: The Matrix did not bring anything new to philosophy .The idea that we live in a world that we don't understand, that could be deceiving us, is an old one for philosophy. Let's read some dialogue from The Republic by Plato.

And then there's some excerpts from The Republic, which I vaguely remember from my Western Civ. class my freshman year of college.

In short, this philosophy angle in the lesson plan might be too advanced for many young teenagers, and the point of the lessons – Internet safety and ethical hacking – might not be necessary for older teenagers who grew up in the Internet age.

Other "belts" pull lessons from movies, such as Star Wars for the yellow belt, Sin City for the green belt, and so on. Again, I like the idea, but I'm not excited about the execution.

The bottom line: the Hackerteen idea has a lot of potential but falls a bit short. I'd like to see the books broken into smaller, more affordable chunks, and the lesson plans tailored to pre-teens.


  • the smarts

    Your daughter has a real serious dose of the smarts. Love you; love your blog.
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