The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett: a good read but who is it for?

I was minding my business the other day on Twitter when I recieved a DM from an unusual source. A chap called Jamie Bartlett.

He works for Demos.

He does not normally DM me.

In fact we’ve only met once (when I interviewed him for an event blog for the British APCO conference a few years ago (cos that’s how I roll)).

I occasionally point people to him because his work at Demos is often relevant to my world.

“My new book is available on Amazon”

he said

“given your line of business you might want to read it”.

Showing the negotiation skills for which I am justly famed I did not ask for a free copy in return for a review. Instead I purchased a copy of The Dark Net with my own money.

It’s a surprisingly good read (considering the subject matter). In fact it is sometimes laugh out loud funny.

He plays pretty fast and lose with what constitutes “The Dark Net” but I’m not a purist so that didn’t bother me.

He uses real people to lead us into the less explored areas of the net and he doesn’t hang about. It’s a whistle-stop tour and not technical and not too academic. I got through it in a couple of sittings and was never bored.

I don’t really know who it’s for though.

I think the average geek with any interest in this stuff will find few big surprises though I’m sure some of the details will be new (who knew how the CamGirls business model stacks up for example?).

I think people with less of a technical grounding will probably get more out of this book. But they might find it frustrating that Jamie is just telling them how it is. There are no suggestions about what this might mean for professionals or parents (for example). That’s not a complaint, it’s not what the book is for.

It could be the most eccentric Christmas present you buy for a loved one this year though.

 

Ghosting in the new year

New Year, new blogging platform.

I’ve been experimenting with a new blogging platform.

Do we really need a new blogging platform I hear you ask?

Especially when we have WordPress (which this blog is crafted upon).

Well some people think we do.

Why Ghost

I was pointed in the direction of Ghost by a colleague who also happens to be a JavaScript wrangler. No surprise then to discover that Ghost is built on node.js which is (and I quote):

a platform built on Chrome’s JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.

The upshot of all this is that it offers a very flexible platform for cleverer people than I to build awesome themes upon. Like this extremely excellent Ghost Stories theme.

Expensive?

It’s the now commonplace model of free if you download, or pay if you use their hosted solution. Installation on an Ubuntu box was not smooth but in the end this step-by-step guide was pretty good. Though don’t install the LAMP stack unless you have other needs for it. Node.js doesn’t need Apache and it gets in the way in horrible ways.

Probably the most obvious reason for firing up Ghost is that it enables you to write in markdown. If you like writing for the web then you will really love markdown.

I’ll let you know how I get on

I love Google Slides

I love Google Slides (not this slide though it does look pretty awesome).

There I’ve said it.

I haven’t always loved Google Slides. It’s got better over the past few years with more transitions, better animations and all that.

But it’s always had one BIG problem.

You need to be on-line. Which is something you can’t totally rely on in lovely Herefordshire. Or on the slow but steady train to London (many cathedrals, fewer 3G masts).

Google did have a project called Gears which allowed you to use some of its cloud-based services offline but I could never get it to work for me.

Google now has Google Drive offline. You need to enable this which is pretty easy and then there you are,

And it passes the key test.

It just works. I’ve used it on train trips with signals dropping in and out, I’ve used it in country pubs beyond the reach of decent broadband and it just works. When it can see a connection it syncs, when it can’t it just works.

And coupled with the Chrome OS booting in seconds. I love Google Slides.

Image is Google slide, Google HQ – Mozilla Work Week in San Jose and Mountain View by Robert Nyman

Twitter's new timeline feature demonstrated with puppies

Cute puppiesTwitter has a new feature: custom timelines. It enables you to pull tweets out of the twitterverse and put them in a list which you can then share with the world. This is a bit like storify.com except storify works with a range of social networks.

You need a Tweetdeck account to create a custom timeline and then you can view it on twitter.com.

Now I’m a serious consultant working in social media for emergency management so clearly I had to try this out. And nothing says serious consultant more than pictures of puppies. So I ran a search and pulled some pictures of cute canines into my custom timeline.

The custom timeline can be embedded too.

Like this…

It’s interesting and the tight integration with the rest of twitter is attractive. Storify needs to look over its shoulder but I’m sticking with storify for the moment.

Skype on a chromebook

One of the frustrations of using the Chrome OS is the fact that there isn’t a Skype client for Chrome. Is this a deliberate attempt by Microsoft to undermine Google’s takeover of the PC space, does it represent a limitation in cloud computing or is it just an oversight? These are questions I cannot answer.

And, unsurprisingly, Google+ works REALLY well on Chrome.

I do need to use Skype chat for some projects, in particular the Standby Taskforce co-ordinates deployments through Skype. One solution is, of course, to use Crouton to install full Linux, which I have done. Even so it’s often convenient to use Chrome.

I’ve been using IM+ which is a browser-based client for a range of chat services. It’s free. It works very well on WiFi though it struggled on a flaky mobile connection.

It doesn’t deal with video chat or even audio but for text chat it’s a viable solution.

How good an idea is a Chromebook?

A few months ago I bought a new computer.

Close up of keyboard Buying computers is dull of course. Deciding which computer to buy is fun.

My starting point was that I wanted a laptop: slim, portable, good looking and with enough oomph to do some decent computing. An ultrabook if you will.

Oh and it had to run Linux.

Buying sparkly new machines is fraught with danger when you roll with the Linux crowd because not all device manufacturers provide Linux drivers or even make it easy for the community to build their own. Discussion forums are full of frustrated discussions as people hunt for a way to get the wifi up and running on their new machine.

Dell has an interesting project running in the XPS Developer Edition. It fit the bill perfectly but it proved laughably impossible to actually buy one of the things.

I was very tempted by the shiny ChromeBook Pixel. It looks the part and has suitably well spec’d components including a very high pixel count on its touch sensitive screen.

Only one problem. ChromeBooks run the Chrome OS which is fast and secure but basically lets you run a browser and nothing else. And it costs £1,049 which is quite a lot to check your Gmail.

And then I discovered the Crouton project the details of which need not detain us but essentially allows you to install Linux alongside Chrome OS (it’s a bit more subtle than that because Chrome is in fact Linux under the hood).

So I took the plunge.

Crouton makes it VERY easy to get a lightweight Linux install on the machine. Assuming you are happy copying commands into a terminal. It’s not suitable for a complete novice because you end up with a very slim install and need to know how to get more stuff and what stuff to get.

Linux desktop environments have not been built for the massive resolution found on the Pixel. I tried the Unity desktop (the “normal” Ubuntu look) and the lightweight XFCE but found myself peering at teeny tiny icons and window text. Then I ran up KDE which I am now a total convert to.

It is possible to boot straight into Linux but I’ve left it to boot into Chrome. I really like the Chome OS. It loads incredibly quickly and I do spend a lot of time in the cloud. Cloud based services still don’t really cutting it for me in DTP, video or image processing so locally based apps are still needed. Chrome OS doesn’t allow this so I switch to my KDE. I can hot swap back and forth. I also need to run Java for a couple of tasks (editing OpenStreetMap amongst them) and Chrome OS won’t allow a Java Virtual Machine anywhere near it so it’s over to KDE for that. Finally there are a few tasks I could set up on the Chrome side but I’m more familiar with how to do them in Linux: FTPing, setting up VPNs and so on.

It works for me. If I just need to throw a browser I boot the machine and within seconds I’m online. If I need to do some proper computing its a couple of commands and less than 20 more seconds away.

ChromeBooks have a really good use case I’d say at the more value end of the market, People like my parents and their friends who check their (web-based) emails, shop online and read the papers should really look at cheap ChromeBooks.

But they don’t look anywhere near as cool as my Pixel.

Backups

A series of unexpected events have led to me having to reinstall the blog.

Of course, being a resilience specialist, I take regular backups.

Of course…

How 3D printing could change emergency response

This week, one of my favourite radio programmes: In Business ran a feature on 3D printing. I’ve been aware, in principle, of this technology for a while but I had it filed under the “interesting only for home electronics geeks”. This programme made me look at the possibilities all over again.

Essentially 3D printing allows you to use CAD and modified inkjet technology (and maybe lasers) to create complex structures in layers.

You can spread a layer of powder and use a laser to sinter it in the places you want a structure. Then spread another layer and another. Or you can spray a substance that hardens on its own (like concrete). So far so clever.

Once the technology is industrialised (and it is being used in commercial, if niche, applications already) it could herald a future of “mass customisation”. Your products build on demand to your highly specific requirements. Again, clever stuff but not really my field.

What I hadn’t considered but this programme highlights is what this will do to the supply chain. Instead of mass manufacturing components in different parts of the world, shipping, storing and assembling them: all you need to do is ship the raw material and print on demand. Shipping loads of powder offers a much more efficient and attractive prospect than shipping many things of many sizes and shapes. Whole items, modular house, cars, tables could be printed on site or at least very close by.

It will clearly be very disruptive to companies, states and communities.

Imagine the implications for disaster relief. Instead of maintaining strategic stockpiles of shelters, tools, equipment in anticipation of a disasters as yet unknown. Responders would only need to hold stockpiles of raw material (and have sufficient printing capacity and energy to make use of it). Responses could be rapid, targeted and tailored.

Of course what would make it really useful is the ability to print food. That could be a bit further off.

For more on 3D printing try these links

wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing

fabathome.org (open source 3D printing project)

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