About Me

My photo
I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Walkies..... Sit..... Beg.... Roll over..... and make it snappy!

Just Finished Reading: The Devil’s Looking Glass by Mark Chadbourn (FP: 2012)

England, 1593. Court astrologer and (quite possibly insane) wise man Dr Dee has been kidnapped in an act of desperation by Irish spy Red Meg. Without him in place the magical defences protecting the realm begin the fail. Once secure from the Unseelie Court even Queen Elizabeth herself is vulnerable to attack. Sent to retrieve him at all costs is England’s greatest spy Will Swyfte. But Will has his own agenda which may put the country he loves in even greater peril. For Will has learnt that Dee intends to travel to the New World – a place of great mystery, great opportunity and even greater terror – where the Fey hold court and plan the destruction of humankind. If Will and his friends can stay one step behind Dee they could do uncounted damage to the plans of the Fay and, more importantly, recover the woman Will loves stolen from him over a decade ago and taken away to a land far more foreign than anything imagined by mere humans. Will is willing to chance everything, his life, his friends, and his country, for the opportunity to see Jenny one last time before he dies. But can even the greatest agent of the age stand against the supernatural armies who face him. Will a sword, a pistol and natural intelligence be enough against a race that has plagued mankind since the very first days and what if he fails and darkness falls – for ever.

This was the third and last instalment in the Swords of Albion series. Unfortunately it was also, I believe, the weakest of the three. All of the elements I enjoyed so much in the first two novels were there but something I felt was missing. There was a breathless pace to it but the regular as clockwork cliff-hangers started to grate after a while. No matter what the problem, with many pages to go, you just knew that something would turn up to save the day and, just as regularly it did. There was a ‘creep’ factor especially when the Fey began their attack on London but the long section in the New World went on too long and just wasn’t weird enough to add much tension. It’s hard to put my finger on it except to say that this volume didn’t really have the “heart” of the other two. Maybe it was because it was the last book and many of the threads had to be tied up neatly? This is not to say that this was a bad book or even a poor fantasy novel. It was, at the very least, a more than reasonable read and often head and shoulders above some of the previous fantasy novels reviewed here. It was a credible ending to a very good trilogy but instead of, as I had hoped, going out with a bang left me thinking more fizzle than boom. Reasonable, but I’d definitely start the series in sequence rather than jumping in at the end. More fantasy to come as I feel it’s a neglected genre in my life.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Ultimate DIY......
Asteroid close approach to test warning systems.

By Rebecca Morelle Science Correspondent for BBC News

12 October 2017

An asteroid the size of a house is passing close to Earth. The space rock will hurtle past our planet at a distance of about 42,000km (26,000 miles), bringing it within the Moon's orbit and just above the altitude of communication satellites. NASA scientists say there is no risk of an impact, but the flyby does provide them with the opportunity to test their asteroid-warning systems. A global network of telescopes will be closely monitoring the object. Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa's Centre for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, told BBC News: "We are going to use this asteroid to practise the system that would observe an asteroid, characterise it and compute how close it is going to come, in case some day we have one that is on the way inbound and might hit."

The asteroid, called 2012 TC4, was first spotted five years ago. It is estimated to be between 15m and 30m (50-100ft) in size, which is relatively small. However, even space rocks on this scale are dangerous if they strike. When a 20m-wide asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk in central Russia in 2013, it hit the atmosphere with energy estimated to be equivalent to 500,000 tonnes of TNT, causing a shockwave that damaged buildings and injured more than a thousand people. NASA scientists who have spent the last two months tracking this new rocky visitor say their calculations show that it will safely clear the Earth and poses no threat. Instead, they will use this close approach to rehearse for future potential strikes.

More than a dozen observatories, universities and labs around the world will be watching 2012 TC4 as it flies past. This will help them to refine how asteroids are tracked and provide a chance to test international communication systems. Dr Chodas said that while the risk of an asteroid hit was small, it was prudent to plan ahead. "Nasa search programmes are getting better and better at finding asteroids," he explained. "It's been a priority to find the large asteroids first. So far the NASA surveys have found 95% of the asteroids that are one kilometre and larger - these are the ones that could cause a global catastrophe. Now we are working our way down to the smaller ones - 130m in size and larger - and we are around 30% on that. This little one - we are not trying to find all of the ones of this size. It is just a convenient asteroid coming by that we can practise our tracking techniques on."

He added that if an asteroid was discovered to be heading for the Earth, scientists were looking at different techniques to avert a disaster. "If we had enough warning time - five or 10 years - then we could do something about it, especially if it's on the small side. We could go up and move it, change its velocity years ahead, and that would be enough to move it away from a collision course."

Asteroid TC4's closest approach to Earth on Thursday will be over Antarctica at 05:42 GMT (06:42 BST; 01:42 EDT).

[Of course giant rocks falling from the sky made us what we are today. But imagine if the Chelyabinsk event had happened at the height of Cold War tensions. Would the Soviet Union fired missiles at the US in retaliation? Hopefully with 5-10 years warning we’d be able to do something about it. If we saw it 5-10 weeks or even 5-10 days out we might be able to evacuate an area or a city but that’s probably be our best response. With luck we’ll never need to find out how we’d cope with an asteroid strike in a populated area. It really doesn’t bare thinking about…]

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Just Finished Reading; Clydebuilt – The Blockade Runners, Cruisers and Armoured Rams of the American Civil War by Eric J Graham (FP: 2006)

It was the last thing the Confederacy wanted – a long war. With a limited industrial base at their disposal the only way that they could clothe and arm their armies in the months or years ahead was to import countless tons of merchandise from Europe and beyond paid for by exporting cotton. The Union knew how vulnerable this made the Confederate war effort and they had the navy to enforce a blockade – or at least so they thought. Whilst both British and French merchants and Governments protested at the restriction of trade Confederate agents had slipped out on fast ships crossing the Atlantic to set up deals especially in Britain for the building of armed cruisers used for commerce raiding and, most especially, fast blockade runners capable of delivering arms and returning with vital cotton to fund the war. With potentially vast profits to be made it wasn’t long before private companies, explicitly set up to run the Union blockade, either bought or commissioned the building of some of the fastest ships in the world – the world famous Clydebuilt steamers built on the river Clyde in Scotland. With full order books unable to fill the growing demand even pleasure steamers crossed the Atlantic to take up station in the Caribbean ready to make the run into Charleston harbour, Wilmington or Mobile. The risks were high, of capture or destruction, but the potential profits made it more than worth it. With a newly constructed ship paying for itself after a single successful voyage both entrepreneurs and sea captains would be crazy not to chance everything on a clean hull and an efficient steam engine driving it at speeds in excess of 20 knots. Some captains became addicted to the chase and ran the blockade again and again even after being captured and expelled as an undesirable alien. Fortunes where made enough to finance the building of new dock facilities and start family empires that still exist today. For a few short years there was everything to play for. But the runners did not have it all their own way. As some were captured they too became part of the blockade and helped run down their previous speedy brethren. Meanwhile diplomatic efforts tried to shut the runners down and The Union even threated England with war over the matter. The two great nations only avoided war due to the snail-like pace of news crossing the Atlantic allowing tempers to cool. Nevertheless when the war was over relations were sour enough for the reunited United States to demand astronomical damages from Britain for her part in prolonging the war.

My regular readers will remember that I investigated Britain’s role in the American Civil War some time ago in my reading about UK built Confederate commerce raiders. Here was another aspect of that building programme this time covering non-combatant vessels. Told with a great deal of local knowledge this was a fascinating insight into the rather strange activity of gunrunning for profit attempting to undermine a country that we now regard as our closest ally. The Confederacy hoped that the blockade would bring both France and Britain on their side and help them defeat the Union or, at the very least, force them to concede their demand for separation. It’s actually surprising just how close they came to achieving this aim. The European involvement in the American Civil War definitely demands some more investigation. More to come. Definitely recommended to anyone interesting in the Civil War or, indeed, the rapid development of paddle steamers!

Monday, October 09, 2017

The heat is strong in this one......

An Improving Outlook? Only Time Will Tell….. (Continuing old news)

Outlook for City after Brexit 'has improved'.

The outlook for the UK financial sector has improved since Brexit was triggered, the policy chief for the City of London Corporation has said. Mark Boleat said London would remain a leading financial hub, with only a few banking jobs likely to move. Urging speedy trade talks, he added: "We would hope that the negotiations go quickly and go well." The triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty last month began the two year countdown to the UK's EU exit. Before the referendum, the financial services sector largely backed the Remain campaign, warning that quitting the bloc could spur an exodus of City jobs. The City of London, the council that covers London's financial centre, itself backed EU membership. Since then, banks including Goldman Sachs, HSBC and UBS have said they will move some jobs out of London as a result of Brexit. The historic insurance market Lloyd's of London has announced plans to open a Brussels subsidiary in early 2019. But in an interview with the AFP news agency, Mr Boleat said that while a few people would be moved, "no one is going to say 'we are closing down in London'".

Ford sees a future in UK after Brexit, says CEO Mark Fields.

Ford will be in the UK for "quite some time" despite concerns about the impact of the Brexit vote, the company's chief executive has said. However, Mark Fields told the BBC he could not guarantee manufacturing would stay once Britain leaves the EU. He repeated Ford's position that a free trade agreement needs to be reached with the European Union. Ford employs 13,000 people in the UK, with engine production lines in Dagenham and Bridgend. The US company has been reducing its manufacturing capacity in Europe in recent years and stopping making vehicles in the UK in 2013 after more than 100 years. Mr Fields said: "We need to make sure that all of our facilities around the world are globally competitive. We are very proud to be in the UK and we are going to be in the UK for quite some time but it's going to be really important, particularly because Article 50 is now triggered, that from our standpoint there needs to be free trade between the UK and the continent." Asked if Ford would keep manufacturing in the UK he said: "I can't guarantee anything, nobody can guarantee anything over many many years."

Call to ban unskilled migrants for five years after Brexit.

Unskilled migrants should be stopped from moving to Britain for five years to help reduce net migration, a report by a pro-Brexit group has said. Leave Means Leave, which is backed by senior Tory backbenchers, says the measure would help get net migration below 50,000. It is currently running at 273,000 a year. Anti-Brexit campaigners said such a move would cause skills shortages that would damage business and the NHS. Leave Means Leave wants to combine the Australian points-based system with plans for work permits which would come into force after the UK has left the European Union. The report is authored by independent MEP Steven Woolfe, who quit UKIP following an altercation with a colleague that left him in hospital. In a speech on Monday, Mr Woolfe will say: "We need an immigration system that is fair, flexible and forward-thinking. It must be fair in its outlook, flexible in practice and forward-thinking for our economy. Brexit is not about splendid isolation - it's about re-engaging with the world, without our wings clipped by the European Union."

EU migrants make up 11% of manufacturing workforce – ONS.

EU migrants make up more than one in 10 manufacturing sector workers in the UK, official figures have shown. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also said EU workers from outside the UK tended to work longer hours than the workforce average. And it said non-UK workers were more likely to be overqualified for the jobs they were doing. The government is planning to change the way migration is managed after Britain leaves the EU. It has not yet set out the model it will adopt once EU free movement rules no longer apply, but has pledged that the "brightest and best" will continue to be attracted to the UK. In a report, the ONS said that last year an estimated 3.4 million workers, amounting to 11% of the entire UK labour market, were foreign nationals.

Lloyds eyes Berlin for post-Brexit push.

Lloyds Banking Group has decided to set up a European base in Germany after the UK leaves the EU, the BBC understands. Lloyds has decided to convert its Berlin branch into a European hub, in order to maintain a presence inside the EU, sources told the BBC. Several British financial institutions are putting plans in place to protect their EU operations after Brexit. With the UK likely to leave the EU single market, they want to make sure they can still cater for EU clients. Lloyds is the only major British lender that does not currently have a subsidiary in another EU nation. However, it already has a branch in Berlin and employs 300 people in the city. Lloyds is believed to have considered both Frankfurt and Amsterdam for its European base before finally opting for Berlin. The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Lloyds would apply for a new German banking licence within a few months, but the company has refused to comment. HSBC has already said it is likely to move 1,000 workers from London to its European headquarters in Paris, while the insurance market Lloyds of London recently said it was setting up an office in Brussels.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Of course it is a source of endless amusement to me – in the gallows humour sort of way – that our government who can barely agree on the time of day are accusing the Europeans of standing in the way of the Brexit process. Naturally the Tories want to talk about future trade agreements (whilst apparently, and sensibly, planning for the no-agreement scenario) before their business buddies give up in disgust and begin putting their relocation plans into effect. Yet, as the Europeans keep saying we need to agree on the other stuff first. I’m sure that one day, possibly this year possibly next, the Tories will actually stub their toe on hard reality and then either really start negotiating (too late naturally) or run screaming to the hills in the sudden realisation that they’ve screwed us all. Like the rest of the country I am awaiting developments….]

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Mattel thinks again about AI babysitter.

By Dave Lee BBC North America technology reporter

5 October 2017

Mattel has decided against releasing its AI-powered "babysitter" following concerns over privacy and other implications. Campaigners said artificial intelligence should not be used in place of real parenting, even if only briefly. The toy company announced the device in January and said it would sing lullabies and tell bedtime stories. Mattel said the device was no longer part of its strategy. At the CES technology show in January, Mattel billed its device - Aristotle - as a major leap in parenting technology. "Aristotle is designed with a specific purpose and mission: to aid parents and use the most advanced AI-driven technology to make it easier for them to protect, develop, and nurture the most important asset in their home - their children,” the company said. The device combined home assistant technology and a small camera that worked as a visual baby monitor. Among its features, Aristotle would automatically "reorder or look for deals and coupons on baby consumables, formula and other baby products when it detects you are likely running low on the specific item".

In July, Mattel replaced its chief technology officer with Sven Gerjets, who is understood to have reviewed Aristotle and decided against releasing it. The company said it had decided not to sell Aristotle "as part of an ongoing effort to deliver the best possible connected product experience to the consumer”. Mattel had been under pressure to pull the product. The US-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said: "Aristotle isn’t a nanny, it’s an intruder. Children’s bedrooms should be free of corporate snooping.” US politicians also had concerns about the data being gathered by the device and asked for more detail about how it would be stored or shared. Smart devices designed for children are a growing cause of concern for those worried about the as-yet unknown effects such technologies may have on young children’s emotional development. Another Mattel product, a talking Barbie doll that would remember details from conversations, was poorly received when released early last year.

[Every time I hear about something like this I wonder – Have these people actually lost their grip on reality. They honestly think that an AI driven baby monitor can ‘nurture the most important asset in their home’. Children are ‘assets’ now? Presumably for the companies that will make money from the automatic ordering of child products from their on-line catalogues rather than for their absentee parents obviously having more fun than actually looking after their own children. What kind of future are we making for a children to grow up in? What kind of future do we want for them to grow up in and, more importantly, what kind of future are we going to get if we persist in the belief that technology can ever be a valid substitute for actual human contact. Aren’t we already divorced from the real world enough without bringing more products like this into our lives?]

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Paths of Glory – The French Army 1914-18 by Anthony Clayton (FP: 2003)

When the French army launched its opening attacks against the German forces in Alsace it did so in a manner that would have been understood by Napoleon a hundred years previously. With drums beating the soldiers advanced in ranks wearing blue and red covered by cavalry in burnished silver helmets and breastplates shining in the morning sunlight. They faced a German army dug in, behind barbed wire and using machine guns and artillery. Predictably the French attack did not go well and the survivors of their elite units quickly realised that the game of war had changed beyond all recognition.

Here, in this rather short and often interesting work, is the reason why the French opened the war at odds with the new reality and the reason why they were so wedded to the idea of attack in an age that by far favoured the defence. It all boiled down, as these things tend to do, to politics as factions within the French political system fought for control of the armed services and fought to prevent the army from becoming an agent either for the Right or, God forbid, the Left staging a military coup with a new Napoleon at its head. It is hardly surprising in these circumstances that the army was, at times, so badly led, poorly trained and, until comparatively late in the war, badly equipped. It is also less than surprising to discover that incompetence at the top, and the blatant waste of lives with little to show for it, finally caused sections of the French army to revolt and refuse to fight. Knowing that they had a potential revolution on their hands all offensive operations where postponed until morale could be recovered. After much soul searching, changes in leadership, improvements in conditions and the arrival of the first American units a corner was turned and the offensive began again – but was soon overshadowed by the massive German assault determined to knock France out of the war before the Americans could turn the tide.

While I was familiar with much of the French experience on the Western Front I was unfamiliar with the political and military precursors that where responsible for France being unprepared when the Germans attacked in 1914. It was only by a fortunate mixture of luck, accident and German misunderstanding that Paris did not fall that fateful year. Once the ‘race to the sea’ had drawn a line of trenches across the face of western France to scene was set for the next four years. The war for France was one of survival, of grit and determination to hold on and most especially to eject the occupiers from their land (and not incidentally to retake Alsace and Lorraine lost in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71). I’m certainly now much more aware of the problems the French army operated under, the sometimes massive egos of the commanding generals and the ever present friction with their British and later American allies. It made me appreciate why some of the seemingly crazy tactics seemed to dominate the French military psyche to the determent of common sense and which directly contributed to so many French deaths. Interestingly it also goes some way to explain the thinking behind the development of the much maligned Maginot Line and the collapse of France in 1940. If not exactly gripping this was an interesting read and gives a useful insight into the French way of war on the Western Front.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Just Finished Reading: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (FP: 1859)

After 18 years in the Bastille Dr Manette, his life and family taken from him for reasons unknown, is finally released into the custody of a daughter he barely recognises and an English banker operating on his behalf. Quickly relocating to England and as far away as possible from arbitrary French justice the Manette family, father and daughter Lucie, are befriended by a mysterious gentleman Charles Darnay fleeing France for his own reasons. As friendship grows into love Darnay asks for Lucie’s hand in marriage but in order to do so with a clear conscience he must let the Doctor into his confidence regarding his hidden history. Meanwhile in France the political situation worsens with civil unrest and outbreaks of unthinkable violence. When Darnay receives a letter from a family servant in trouble with the revolutionary council honour dictates that he do everything in his power to help an innocent man evade the dreaded guillotine. But Darnay fails to recognise that the revolution has taken on a life of its own and is calling for more and more blood to satisfy its lust for revenge against the rich and powerful. Associated with a hated aristocrat Darnay is thrown into prison and scheduled for execution. With the Manette’s back in France working for his release the full history of Darnay comes to light and his death becomes more assured by the hour. What can anyone do against a country in turmoil whose provisional government no longer listens to reason and where a word spoken in haste to the wrong person can cost you your head?

After reading and enjoying my first foray into the Dickensian world I thought that I’d try something a bit more adventurous – although not too much. After seeing the 1935 Ronald Coleman version of the movie more than once (thanks Dad!) I thought I’d have a pretty good handle on the plot so wouldn’t have that much of an issue with the ins and outs of things. That wasn’t really how things went at all. Apart from the famous ending (no spoilers here!) I actually didn’t have a clue what was coming next all the way through. But what I did find, much to my surprise to be honest, was just how gripping the whole thing was because of that. I think a big factor in this was the number of great characters scattered throughout the 404 pages in my Vintage edition. Dr Manette himself was a crushed intellect coming to terms with his long imprisonment and the things he had to do to preserve his sanity. Lucie was a pure, innocent and dutiful daughter wanting only what was best for her father. Charles Darnay was the guilt ridden hero out to make the world a better place whilst his alter-ego Sydney Carton was a dissolute drunk looking for a final redemption. Then there was the comic relief provided by the lawyer Stryder and the sometime bodyguard and body snatcher Mr Jerry Cruncher and the rock at the centre of it all the sensible banker Mr Jarvis Lorry. But by far the standout character for me was the hard, unforgiving Madame Defarge who was both extremely admirable in her dedication to progressing the revolution and completely terrifying in her laser like focus on the deaths of aristocrats and anyone else who got in her way. She must have seemed an absolute monster to Victorian readers but what a truly amazing creation she was. Dickens obviously had some sympathy with the poor downtrodden revolutionaries otherwise he could not have put such fervent words in their mouths and thoughts in their heads. But I think what surprised me most of all in this deservedly classic novel was the level of violence portrayed during the revolution itself. The author pulled few punches and must have honestly shocked his readership – and especially his female readership – with the venom of the French protagonists. His detailed critique of the French system of privilege must have hit home on multiple occasions and made his English readership squirm in their chairs more than once. I’m glad to say that I’m really warming to Dickens. His storytelling is excellent, his characters brilliant (and often very funny) and his social commentary cuttingly sharp. Highly recommended. 

...and still nothing will happen.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Cartoon Time.

I know there's enough horror in the real world to go around right now but I'm a Slave to Tradition, so: Welcome to  to the regular Monster/Horror Month here @ SaLT! Be prepared to shake in your shoes...... 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Even adults need a sense of fun....!
Tsunami drives species 'army' across Pacific to US coast.

By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent for BBC News

29 September 2017

Scientists have detected hundreds of Japanese marine species on US coasts, swept across the Pacific by the deadly 2011 tsunami. Mussels, starfish and dozens of other creatures great and small travelled across the waters, often on pieces of plastic debris. Researchers were surprised that so many survived the long crossing, with new species still washing up in 2017. The study is published in the journal Science. The powerful earthquake that shook north-eastern Japan in March 2011 triggered a huge tsunami that reached almost 39m in height on the Tōhoku coast of Honshu. The towering waves washed hundreds of objects out to sea, ranging in size from tiny pieces of plastic to fishing boats and docks. A year later, scientists began finding tsunami debris with living creatures still attached, washing up on the shores of Hawaii and the western US coast from Alaska down to California. "Many hundreds of thousands of individuals were transported and arrived in North America and the Hawaiian islands - most of those species were never before on our radar as being transported across the ocean on marine debris," lead author Prof James Carlton, from Williams College and Mystic Seaport, told BBC News.

"Much of the debris is still out there and it could be that some of these Japanese species will still arrive. I wouldn't be surprised if a small Japanese fishing boat lost in 2011 was to show up 10 years after the event." The research team has detected 289 different species so far. Mussels were the most common, but there were also crabs, clams, sea anemones and star fish. So common were findings that new species were still being discovered even as the study drew to a close in 2017, six years after the tsunami. The scientists say that many other species have likely made the journey and so far escaped detection. No colonies of invaders have so far been established but the research team believes that this is likely to happen. "When we first saw species from Japan arriving in Oregon, we were shocked. We never thought they could live that long, under such harsh conditions," said co-author John Chapman from Oregon State University. "It would not surprise me if there were species from Japan that are out there living along the Oregon coast. In fact, it would surprise me if there weren't." The key element that has made this possible according to all the scientists involved is the ubiquitous presence of plastic, fibre glass and other products that do not decompose.

"The wood generated by the tsunami lasted a short time compared with the enduring nature of the plastic," said Prof Carlton. "For aeons if a plant or animal was to raft across the oceans, their boat was literally dissolving underneath them. What we have done now is provide these species with rather permanent rafts; we have changed the nature of their boats." Moving much more slowly than ships, the plastic or fibre glass rafts gave the species time to gradually adjust to their new environment, making it easier for them to reproduce and their larvae attach to the debris. The researchers are concerned that with so much plastic in our oceans, and with climate change making cyclones and storms more intense, the threat of invasive marine species has never been greater. The tsunami research shows just how much of an impact this route can have. "There's nothing comparable in the scale of what we've seen before in the history of marine science," said Prof Carlton. "The thousands of kilometres travelled, the sheer diversity of the community combined with how long this has been going on - so this has really reset the stage for the role of marine debris and its potential dispersal of invasive species."

[Truly fascinating, especially after reading my recent book on invasive species. What is particularly interesting, of course, is the impact of plastic debris aiding the distribution of so many species as it provided floating support for so long without decaying mid-Pacific. I wonder what the long term impact of this one event will be and what further impact such debris will have in future tsunamis?]

Thursday, September 28, 2017


Just Finished Reading: The Future of Violence – Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones – Confronting the New Age of Threat by Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum (FP: 2015)

Covering much the same territory as my previous ‘future’ reading (Future Crimes) and from the same point of view (US centric) this was both a much higher quality and higher focus read. The focus here is not street or community level responses to future threats but the response of governments to the future heading our way at a steadily increasing pace. This was much more about governance and attempted to answer the question: In a world where a bored teenager half way around the world can crash a plane or crash a nuclear power station for their laptop how can any government possibly fulfil its prime directive of protecting its citizens from harm?

The good old days have gone. Our enemies, both foreign and domestic, no longer have to be physically located in the state they attack or even physically attack it at all. They can devise a piece of malware software and release it on-line to spread of its own accord. In the near future they could weponise Ebola or Smallpox in a lab set up in their garage to get back at their college girlfriend and start an unstoppable epidemic. In the foreseeable future someone with an axe to grind could remotely pilot a drone over the Superbowl and spray the entire area with Anthrax. How do you stop this happening? The short answer is that you can’t, the longer answer (laid out in this endless fascinating book) is that despite this we are far from helpless. Despite steadily losing power Vis a Vis an educated population growing in power with each technological advance governments can still enact new laws, update old ones, ensure that laws are enforced, adequately fund and train law enforcement agencies and create new agencies where required. Governments can encourage (or force) technology companies to design their products in such a way that they are difficult to turn into weapons in the wrong hands, they can partner with private industries to monitor misuse of the Internet and other enablers to reduce the low level attacks to acceptable levels whilst gaining early warning of anything bigger. Governments can hire expertise in all of the areas it feels vulnerable – software engineers (or even hackers themselves), robotics engineers, bio-technicians, communications experts and, when things get up close and personal, actual mercenaries. Buy-in experts from a whole host of industries will, it seems, be an ever more important part of future government.

Of course, even with the best will in the world, no one country can police the world in order to make it safer for their citizens. For one thing the cost of doing so would be astronomic. For another things countries tend to get rather testy when another country violates its sovereignty no matter the good cause so enabled. This, therefore, is the realm of diplomacy, international and bilateral agreements between nation states. Despite how highly sovereignty is valued in today’s world the nature of future global threats will, the authors believe, lead to more and closer ties between nations. The ever present flies in the ointment are, as we all know, both rogue and failed states. How those are handled by future governments will help to define the nature of future threats. Then there is, always, the option of unilateral action. Any nation feeling threatened may, in the absence of any other reasonable option, decide to go it alone to eliminate the treat no matter where it originates. We’ve already seen this over the last 50 years with rendition and drone strikes. This trend will no doubt continue and expand as more countries feel that the treat warrants the act and who feel that they can surf the wave of international criticism.

In an age where everyone has the equivalent of a nuclear weapon App on their smartphone all, at least according to the two authors, is not lost. There is much that individuals and communities can do to protect themselves, there is much that technology companies can do to limit the damage caused by their products, and there is still much that governments can do domestically and internationally to protect their citizens from harm. The nature of future threats – that of the many versus the many – will change the nature of war, violence and crime. It cannot help but change the nature of society and government. The changes will happen one way or another. The authors see that governments can be part of the solution if they act in good time and with an adequate understanding of the new age of threat. Although almost exclusively focused on American government and jurisprudence this is a book that anyone from any advanced country can get something from. Interesting, well thought out and thought provoking if a little ‘science-fiction’ at times. Recommended for anyone interested or worried about the future. One more book on the Dark Future to come and then onto 3 books on The City.