Review: Memoirs of a Spymaster by Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy

This is a review for the 1997 autobiography of Markus Wolf, the former head of East Germany’s foreign intelligence department.

Wolf’s story begins with a fascinating personal history, particularly, regarding his father who was a communist and their exile from Nazi Germany in Moscow. After the end of WWII and the downfall of the Third Reich Wolf returns to Germany, to Berlin, taking a position first as a journalist in the Soviet Zone and later taking a position and rising through the ranks of the party. He eventually becomes and serves for 30 years as head of the foreign intelligence division, the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) (en. Main Reconnaissance Administration), within the Ministry for State Security.

I found the writing articulate, though it often provides too much detail. It is especially riddled with justifications for controversial actions on the part of himself or the DDR. For example, there is a whole chapter devoted to Willy Brandt, the Chancellor of West Germany who resigned when one of his aides was exposed as an East German spy.

For all the dull details of his bureaucratic life …

“Vast stretches of this work were very boring. Intelligence is essentially a banal trade of sifting through huge amounts of random information in a search for a single enlightening gem or illuminating link.” (101)

… the book also contains a unique historical perspective of WWII and the two German states during the Cold War. It also has many other interesting facts about pre-digital-computer surveillance including methods for protecting identities of spies and ways to physically transfer secret messages. One example, which would be easy with a computer’s ability to generate pseudo-random numbers, was the use of bank note serial numbers for random numbers in cryptographic messaging. He mentions often that he was not a fan of the use of the computer to automate details of record-keeping or gathering because he felt computer records could to easily be stolen and put into the wrong hands.

“The problem with technical intelligence is that its essentially information without evaluation.” (284)

In closing, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the historic details of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security. I’ll end with a few choice quotes which point to the author’s wisdom and ability for critical self-reflection.

“The dividing line between freedom fighters and terrorists is usually determined by which side you are on.” (279)

“No secret service can ever be democratic nor, … open to constant scrutiny.” (282)

Review of “Python: Visual QuickStart Guide (2nd edition)”


I have to admit I had my doubts about this book. I have not been impressed with Visual QuickStart Guides in the past. I respect the idea, of presenting only essential information in an easy-to-understand introductory manner, but that was rarely the case in previous experiences. Usually I found them to be a mixture of non-essential information that was not presented in a manner that would be good for those new to the subject.

That being said, their Python (2nd edition) breaks with their past. So far, I have almost consistently found it to be concise and to the point regarding an introduction to Python and programming languages in general. The examples are relevant and work accordingly. While I normally head to O’Reilly for the in-depth look at a language, this book is a great starting point.

One note and criticism; The examples using input() are flawed for users with Python <3 (most of us). You have to use raw_input() in place of it, although the book does not point this out.

Reading list for August 2010

About to embark on some new projects here in Berlin. Here’s my reading list at the moment…


Free: The Future of a Radical Price
by Chris Anderson
July 7th 2009 by Hyperion

Traditional economics operates under fundamental assumptions of scarcity–there’s only so much oil, iron, and gold in the world. But the online economy is built upon three cornerstones: processing power, hard drive storage, and bandwidth–and the costs of all these elements are trending toward zero at an incredible rate.

The Exploit

The Exploit: A Theory of Networks
by Alexander R. Galloway, Eugene Thacker
October 1st 2007 by Univ Of Minnesota Press

“The Exploit is that rare thing: a book with a clear grasp of how networks operate that also understands the political implications of this emerging form of power. It cuts through the nonsense about how ‘free’ and ‘democratic’ networks supposedly are, and it offers a rich analysis of how network protocols create a new kind of control. Essential reading for all theorists, artists, activists, techheads, and hackers of the Net.” —McKenzie Wark, author of A Hacker Manifesto


Group Work
by Temporary Services
New York, NY: Printed Matter. 2007

Based on a pamphlet published by Temporary Services in 2002 titled Group Work: A Compilation of Quotes About Collaboration from a Variety of Sources and Practices, this publication provides a multitude of perspectives on the theme of Group Work by practitioners of artistic group practice from 1960s to the present.