The Rise of the Blockchain

knights_ni

Not the Knights Templar, yesterday

Within a few short years we could find our banking system is bankrupt. No, I’m not trying to predict another subprime mortgage collapse, and this isn’t another anti-Trump message of doom (although his lack of understanding of ‘the cyber’ and affinity with traditional business models will not help the United States of America weather such disruption). Instead, the rise of the ‘Blockchain’ simply renders banks unnecessary.

Why do banks exist?

Banks exist because storing your cash under your mattress isn’t very secure. But what is it about banks that makes them a safer place for your hard-earned wedge?

According to legend, the the Knights Templar invented the first form of modern banking in the 12th century. They would take in money from Christian crusaders, pilgrims and travellers in return for a slip of parchment that detailed their deposit. Further along their journey they could swap their parchment at a ‘Templar House’ for gold, silver and whatever-the-hell-myhrr-is up to the value they had deposited. Sound familiar?

As for security, the Knights Templar were some of the most fearsome warriors around. They didn’t need to chain their pens to the desks, if you nicked one you’d do well if you only lost a hand…

The first Templar banking system relied on low literacy levels. Basically, the hope was that the parchment could easily be overlooked by groups of medieval chavs rifling through your pockets looking for gold coins. Eventually, the parchments were written in code (encrypted) to avoid them being tampered with. Ironically, it is encryption which is the basis for Blockchain, which may end up destroying this old-style of banking.

By the way, the legends are all bollocks because the Chinese Yuan dynasty had banknotes in 1000 ADRead more

Why do people only read things that back up their way of thinking?

Remember when the internet was in its infancy? We all had to put up with little 468 x 90 banner ads everywhere you looked – and sometimes we clicked them because we didn’t know better.

As time went on we grew smarter, we were able to tell the bad adverts from the good, and the emergence of online advertising  bumped the ugly out of the marketplace entirely. And now, our brains automatically blank out adverts to keep us focused on the content we went to the site in the first place for. Many of us use ad-blocking tools so our brains don’t even need to perform the mental airbrushing.

But what if those adverts were trying to tell us something really important?

What if the Emergency Broadcast System was hooked into those banner ads trying to give us forewarning of an avoidable cataclysm?

Social Engineering

Social Engineering refers to psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.

It is becoming increasingly common by malicious actors (bank and identity fraud, for example), but is also becoming a core part of many companies’ business models.

It all started innocently enough with the Social Graph. The ability to link people with other people, events, photos and products via rich, meaningful relationships turned the one-size-fits-all internet into a personalised window where the chaos suddenly started to shape itself into something we recognised and could engage with on a more emotional level.

Instant social gratification through ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ became our norm, information relevant to us started to travel at a speed that made some high school students, even back in 2008, say “email is too slow“. The relevancy-engine that is the Social Graph began to play on our most base motivations. Read more

Google Watch: Time to DuckDuckGo

You can't spell

You can’t spell “Don’t be evil” without “evil”! Coincidence?

Google do a lot of good things. They host free webfonts to make the web a nicer place to be. Their cloudy PaaS service, Engine Yard, gets rave reviews. Their maps are better than anyone’s, their mobile OS is the most popular in the world, and their photo hosting offer is second to none. But they can be very evil sometimes too.

Remember when Google forced you to sign up to Google+ to comment on Youtube videos, or stole your email passwords while they took pictures of your house and then “forgot” to delete it after they got found out and all the Governments told them to, or made you type extra characters to include all your words in their search, or when their CEO said there was no place for privacy and anonymity on the Internet?

* big breath*

Well they are at it again.

And I’ve had enough.

The Devil’s In The Detail

For the last few days I’ve been seeing this ‘privacy reminder’ popup whenever I go to Google (including by searching in Chrome’s address bar). And it stops you dead in your tracks. You have to read through all the legalese before it lets you search for pictures of cats. Well I just don’t have time for that, I need instant cat gratification now!.

That sounds so wrong.

Anyway, I had a quick scan through the privacy reminder and immediately smelled a rat… It all seems really un-evil at first, you can choose to switch off some of Google’s invasive behaviour by following the handy-dandy links in the privacy reminder itself. Wowzers! What a nice thing to do. I opted to switch off all the weird adverts-following-you-around settings. They’re here, in case you’re wondering.

But then I noticed it says these settings are just for this browser. Your other devices and PCs will still track the living crap out of you. Read more

aspnetcore.dll failed to load. The data is the error

Added to Code, Technology by on

This morning, while trying to debug our big ol’ web project in Visual Studio 2015 I encountered a problem – it held me up for a while so I wanted to quickly blog about the solution in case it hits you too. When hitting F5 to start debugging, Chrome launched but then immediately Visual Studio detached from IIS Express and showed the following error:

A process with the ID of <id> is not running

True enough, IIS Express wasn’t running…

Open Wide and Say ‘Ahh!’, Mr Windows

I ran a Repair on IIS Express 10.0 in case it was an issue with that, or the self-signed SSL certificate it uses to host web projects over a secure connection…. but still had the same problem.

I then created a brand new ASP.NET MVC 5 project and hit F5… but that ran fine. Hmm, curious. That let me know IIS Express was fundamentally OK, and the issue lay with the big ol’ web project.

Microsoft are usually pretty good at logging when things go wrong so I fired up eventvwr, the Windows Event Viewer, and saw the following  error being thrown by IIS Express:

The Module DLL C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Web Tools\AspNetCoreModule\aspnetcore.dll failed to load. The data is the error

Strange… We don’t have any ASP.NET Core projects in that solution so why aspnetcore.dll is being loaded was beyond me. Furthermore, that path didn’t exist on my disk. Read more

Things I learned at my last job

Today I closed a chapter in my life. After nearly 4 years tenure at a company I wanted to reflect on the things I learned over that time.

I have been very lucky to have a few excellent – world-class even – mentors here who have taught me things that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I wanted to share the reflection process with you in the hope you gain something valuable too.

Individual Success Isn’t Success

For a long, long time I  adopted the ‘aircraft oxygen mask’ approach to my career: I’ll get to where I want to be first, then I’ll help others. This company has taught me that isn’t the right thing to do.

ubuntumeme

My thinking was always “I’ll be in a better position to help others” once I hit my objectives, but that simply doesn’t work in practice: without respectful, cooperative development across your team(s), you risk yourself hitting your goals at all, and if you haven’t helped others hit theirs too, nobody wins.

Dare I use the management-bullshit-bingo term ‘synergy’?

My current role here is a technical leadership role – that means I don’t have people reporting to me but I do have authority over technology direction and a remit to ensure conceptual integrity of the solution. I have led project teams before, I have even run small businesses before, but being a leader in a larger company was new to me when I began this chapter of my life, and I wanted to be good at it.

I’ve seen all the memes about the difference between a boss and a leader but for some reason I struggled to enact the differences. However, after some time spent being (in retrospect) a terrible boss, some sage advice from one of those mentors made everything ‘click’, and I was given the mental tools to develop the techniques required to become a good leader instead. (Note, a good mentor won’t give you the answer, but the means of finding it on your own!).

boss-vs-leader

“Take people with you.”

So what does that look like in practice? Last year I was offered the chance to travel to our American HQ to present some new work to 1,500 customers. ‘Prestigious’ isn’t even close – this is a huge event, so compelling that our customers pay us to listen to our plans and roadmap. The trip dripped with a significant amount of attached ‘kudos’ and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the highest of the high in the business. Not only that – the opportunity to ask probing questions to 1,500 customers about our technology direction is such a rare occurrence it was unmissable. The old me would have started packing immediately. Read more

What We Can All Learn from the Aviation Industry

concorde

The “fly” button is third from the left on the second row. The “land” button is cunningly hidden behind a removable panel in the rear lavatory. The rest control the in-flight-movie.

The aviation industry is one plagued with red tape and strict process, and not without good reason. With more than half of all plane crashes caused by pilot error, and the flying public unwilling to fly without pilots in the pointy end, aviation authorities are doing everything they can to turn the cockpit into a robotic, process-driven office.

Believe it or not, the problems that pilots face, and which cause aviation disasters, are often the same issues we face every day at the office. So the ways these have been solved and mitigated are worth a look, whether you’re flying a plane, or flying a desk…

Don’t distract me when I’m busy

Take-offs and landings are extremely busy times for pilots. Besides being the cool, calm head there to deal with emergencies when they happen, take-offs and landings are where they really earn their money.

Under 10,000-feet, airline pilots must obey a concept known as the “sterile cockpit”; that means they aren’t allowed to discuss anything except the job at hand. Checklists, departure or arrival routes, weather and radio communication with air traffic control, that’s all, nothing extraneous.

And you can tell when you’ve climbed to 10,000ft even as a passenger, it is usually signified by the pilots turning off the landing lights (the bright white lights in the wing roots) and turning off the fasten-safety-belt lights (as weather permits).

Applying this to the office: We all have busy times, I’ve seen several ways of signifying  that you don’t want to be disturbed and just want to get things done. Sometimes small flagpoles on desks can be have status flags hoisted up them, “do not disturb” or “only disturb me if it’s urgent”, for example. Other companies have employed simpler policies, business intelligence (BI) experts BusinessObjects, now part of German megacorp, SAP, uses headphones to indicate disturbability (a word I just made up). No headphones means the door is open. One headphone in means it needs to be pretty important. Both headphones means my head is down and the building had better be on fire…

Be specific when you tell me something

The language used by airline pilots has evolved over decades to become very strict and specific, and not without good reason. The deadliest aircraft accident in history (besides 9/11), where two fully-laden 747 collided on Tenerife’s Los Rodeos airport’s runway in fog in March 1977, has been put down to a misunderstanding of terminology.

Waiting to depart at one end of the runway, a KLM 747’s impatient Captain said on the radio that he was “ready for takeoff”. Meanwhile, a Pan Am 747 was still taxiing on the runway.  Read more

Bad Company: Plusnet

Incompetence-Incompetence-Everywhere“Hello, Mr. Stokoe, I’m afraid I have an apology to make – we spoke on Tuesday night but I forgot to save the comments onto your account, can you remind me what we were discussing?” said Mike from painfully incompetent ISP, Plusnet, a subsidiary of BT.

 

18 Months Earlier…

The adverts were full of it, Sky Unlimited broadband for as little as a fiver a month – so long as you had a Sky TV subscription – which we did. I gave Plusnet a call – reluctantly – I’ve been a Plusnet customer since 2001, I’ve had numerous home and business broadband connections through them and their service has been mostly good. I stayed with them through that nasty business of them giving their customer details to ACS:Law, the law firm whose owner was convicted three times of “conduct unbefitting a solicitor”, who has since been suspended from practising law and is now bankrupt. But on this occasion they just couldn’t compete with Sky’s unlimited package…

“We’ll match it,” Plusnet said. Oh, right, marvellous. “It saves you having to transfer everything over to Sky.”

 

Contractual Law

Many years ago I used to work for Orange Telecommunications PLC, at the time the UK’s 3rd largest mobile network, and this taught me lots of things about how organisations whose livelihood is build around monthly contracts operate. For example, everything is itemised on your account – from your line rental to your handset insurance, and everything has an ‘end date’. Perpetual items, such as your line rental, simply have an end date that is so far in the future that it unlikely to bother anyone alive today. But it’s there, sitting, ticking away waiting to expire.

And discounts have end dates too – especially those from the Disconnections department (“Retentions” as it was known when I worked there, but I think it’s now “Customer Options”). If you want to leave a phone network and they give you a great deal to stay then that deal will likely last for the length of your new contracted months and then drop off your account without warning.

It is a system that I am au fait with and I did not want to be stung by. To be fair to Orange, this is how practically all networks operate (or at least they did in the mid 2000s).

 

Plusnet “Unlimited”

I’m a very busy person, I work upwards of 60 hours per week (sometimes a lot more) and I don’t have time micromanage my utilities, so if this discount was simply going to fall off my account and double the cost of my broadband in 12 months it wouldn’t make sense – and I’d just go with Sky broadband instead and save myself the headache (and expense) in 12 months.

But no, they reassured me: this is a Retentions plan, it’s only available to “loyal customers like you”. I was further reassured that it was not going to drop off after 12 months, but the Retentions agent would put my name in “the diary” to call me in 12 months anyhow to discuss the package and see if there was anything else he could do.

Naturally, I signed up. Read more

Where is Malaysian Airlines Flight 370? Here’s one theory…

Boeing_777-200ER_Malaysia_AL_(MAS)_9M-MRO_-_MSN_28420_404_(9272090094)

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was operated by this Boeing 777-200ER, reg 9M-MRO

I know as soon as I post this the wreckage will be found and I’ll look like a mug, but I had a theory bubble to the top of my brain which might explain where Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is, and why it disappeared.

The Facts

So we know the following:

  • The aircraft took off at 00:41 Malaysian Standard Time (MST) on 8th March, which is 16:41 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
  • The Subang Air Traffic Control Centre lost contact with the aircraft around 01:22 local time.
  • The aircraft hasn’t been heard from or seen since.
  • No mayday call went out. 
  • Both ADS-B and secondary radar returns stopped at the same time.
  • Primary radar returns from a nearby military radar station reportedly shows the aircraft turning back for land before vanishing.

Theories in the bin

The Boeing 777 is a aircraft with a remarkable safety record. A technical failure is highly unlikely to have happened because the 777 has multiple, redundant systems. A fuel-tank explosion like that of TWA800 is now impossible due to a process of “inerting” where nitrogen is pumped into the empty space left behind when fuel is used up – meaning you can’t get enough of an “air-fuel vapour” to reach flashpoint.

A missile strike would have caused a primary radar return, and also a flash in the sky. The US National Reconnaissance Office admitted it has full-globe capabilities for watching for flashes – typically used to identify the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles. They say they didn’t record any flash.

The aircraft didn’t fly into a thunderstorm, in fact the weather in the area was relatively calm.  Read more

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