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 ADContinue Reading “The Rise of the Blockchain”

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. Continue Reading “Why do people only read things that back up their way of thinking?”

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. Continue Reading “Google Watch: Time to DuckDuckGo”

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

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. Continue Reading “aspnetcore.dll failed to load. The data is the error”

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. Continue Reading “Things I learned at my last job”

The Sharing Economy

Your house, yesterday. Probably.
Your house, yesterday. Probably.

The ‘Sharing Economy’ is disrupting established industries and sending huge, powerful incumbents into a tizzy. Uber and AirBnB have shaken the taxi and hotel sectors, shifting power, control and profits from the RadioCabs and Hiltons of this world and into the hands of ordinary citizens armed with nothing more than a smartphone and a mobile data plan.

The question on everyone’s lips is: which industry will be disrupted by the Sharing Economy next?

A couple of years ago, I was in Portland, Oregon, for meetings with some colleagues. One lunchtime, our discussion diverged from work topics to an issue plaguing our home-lives, an issue common to both the US and UK: the reduction in bin-pickup frequency.

It’s a hot topic.

Dude, Where’s My Trash?

We tossed around some ideas to solve our overflowing bins issues, to solve the problems caused by local authorities switching from weekly to two-weekly pick-ups, and to solve that awkward situation we have all faced: that middle-of-the-night walk of shame, bin-bag over shoulder, roaming the streets like a crazed, ferral cat to find a neighbour’s bin with a bit of space left in it to deposit last night’s curry leftovers and beer bottles.

What does this have to do with the Sharing Economy?

A lightbulb lit: why not create a location-aware, social app to help out? Share My Trashcan was born, $5 per bag, with a $1 kick-back to us, it scales and is simple. But then one of our team mentally cycled through a Lean Startup build-measure-learn cycle and developed the concept, discovering that communities can come together to buy a shared dumpster, which would provide even more space (some of which could be shared with other communities!) and would also be picked up weekly.

Share My Trashcan was dead, long live Share My Dumpster!

Later in the day (after doing some actual work) we revisited the idea and the real, Lean, magic happened: we pivoted.  Continue Reading “The Sharing Economy”

Google’s Project Loon

Google Project Loon. Probably not evil. Probably.
Google Project Loon. Probably not evil. Probably.

Google are doing a lot of “10X innovation” right now. That is innovation that isn’t just incrementally better than the competition (like a 10% improvement) but a moon-shot, 10-times improvement. One of these initiatives is called Project Loon:

You can sometimes see these balloons being tested off the coast of Christchurch, New Zealand, on FlightRadar, which means these craft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) systems:

loon_168

Continue Reading “Google’s Project Loon”

Swatch Internet Time on Your Desktop

Geekery and Santaness. You're welcome.
Geekery and Santaness. You’re welcome.

I’ve spoken before about Swatch Internet Time as an option for solving the horrible problems of cross-timezone collaboration. But nobody is adopting it.

There are good reasons for this: it’s not overly difficult to work out timezone differences, there are more intuitive alternatives such as using Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), and ultimately nobody is betting the farm on an esoteric way of telling the time.

Until now.

 

God loves a trier

As the first in a series of utilities to incorporate Swatch Internet Time as a first-class timing component, my gift to you at this celebratory time of year, dear reader, is a Swatch Internet Time clock for your desktop.

You can download it by clicking here.

As an additional gift, I will be releasing the source code onto Github this week.

Happy holidays!

 

Update 1

Added drag and drop. Saves window position on drop.

 

Update 2

The gifts keep on coming. The source code is now available at https://github.com/richstokoe/InternetTime