The Bookworm - Carl Spitzweg - a suitable illustration for Alan Lenton's website

Phlogiston Blue

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the internet
All mimsy were the routers,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
(with apologies to Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky')

This is Alan Lenton's web site.

I am the designer and programmer of Federation 2, an economic themed multi-player game. Federation 2 is the longest continuously running multiplayer game on the internet. While no longer run as a commercial enterprise - text based games are no longer in vogue - the game fills a niche and maintains a large enough user base to be viable as a game. I still maintain and extend it in my copious (hah!) free time.

My web site contains pieces I've written, talks I've given, reviews of books I've read, and information about things I'm interested in. Like me, it's somewhat chaotic, but if you dig around a little you will, I hope, find some interesting material. Most of the stuff on the site is written for the non-specialist; if you find something that isn't very clear drop me a line and I'll try to clarify things. The address to write to is and if you include the word 'fed2' in the subject line my spam filter will pass it by on the other side and not junk it!

I also produce a free weekly newsletter, called Winding Down, which features information, reviews, and analysis on computers, the Internet and society. It's available via an e-mail list, and you can get the subscription details here.

You can find more detailed information about me here.

Recent Reading:

Cloud Computing Design Patterns by Robert Cope, Thomas Erl and Amin Naserpour. Published by Prentice Hall

First a word of caution. Although it's not clear from the book's ambiguous title, the patterns in this book relate to solving common hardware problems in setting up data centers for providing cloud services, not software design patterns for programs running in the cloud.

Having said that, the book does cover most of the basics, although some of the material could be argued to fall into the category of the blindingly obvious! As material on patterns should, it documents best practice in solving common problems in cloud data centres. Unfortunately, the technology in this industry is moving very rapidly, while publishing continues to move at the same snail's pace it did when I was running a bookshop over 30 years ago. This means there are two major omissions - containerisation a la Docker and its ilk, and Software Defined Networking (SDN).

A few years ago I might have recommended this book for those moving toward what was then a very embryonic version of dev-ops, but now the absence of containerisation and SDN material makes it unsuitable for this role.

The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System (2nd Edition) by McKusick, Neville-Neil and Watson. Published by Addison Wesley.

There are some books that the word 'comprehensive' doesn't even come near to describing. This is one such book! If you want to know the details of any part of the FreeBSD operating system then this, together with the source code, is the reference book for you.

The book doesn't just cover the workings of the kernel, it also goes into details of the I/O systems, IPC, and startup/shutdown (init, of course. If you want the newfangled, monolithic, systemd, you need to look elsewhere). I found the IPC section particularly useful. I have other books that cover the issue, but I found the exposition in this book very clear and in depth.

Since FreeBSD is a 'nix, much of what is in this book is relevant to other variants of Unix, and while an application programmer might not need to know what's going on under the hood, any more than you need to be a car mechanic to drive a car, it certainly helps to write efficient programs.

For someone studying operating systems at college, this book should be high on the 'must have' list; you would have to buy several other books to cover the topics in the depth it does. Even then, the coverage wouldn't have the cohesiveness this book has.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in modern Unix operating systems. You may be able to get cheaper books, but you won't get one that's so comprehensive!

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser. Published by Penguin Books

I think this book qualifies as the best thriller I have ever read - and it's all true!

The author takes the story of the 1980 accident in the Missile Launch Complex 374-7 in Arkansas. Around that story he weaves an enormous amount of information about the US Air Force Missile Command, its missiles and its command and control structures.

Launch Complex 374-7 was a Titan missile launch silo. The Titan was, by the time of the accident, the only liquid fuel rocket left on the inventory. The USAF leadership were reluctant to give them up, in spite of their known problems. Why? Because the Titans carried a nine megaton  warhead - the heaviest the US possessed. It had a range of 6,000 miles.

On 18 September 1980 a technician, working  partway up the rocket in its silo, dropped a wrench. The wrench bounced and hit the side of the rocket damaging the fuel tank and causing a leak. What happened as a result of that leak is the story that runs like a thread through the book.

But that story isn't the only thing in the book. At various points in the story, Eric Schlosser breaks off to write about the USAF Missile Command, its history and its structures. As the book proceeds it becomes clear that the accident wasn't a one off. Quite to the contrary, it fits seamlessly into a history of accidents and near disasters that bedevilled the USAF's nuclear armed forces.

Growing up as a teenager in the 1960s, like many other people I worried about the possibility of something accidentally triggering a nuclear war. When President Kennedy was shot I was at a boarding school in East Anglia, in the UK. All that night we could hear bombers from the nearby US air bases taking off, circling and landing. Reading this book makes me feel my fears were not overblown. Things were at least as bad as I feared, if not worse!

This book should be read not just by ordinary people, but by politicians and aspiring politicians. It's easy to brandish the war rhetoric when you don't know what's involved. Less so when you have some idea of the history of such things.

The book is over 600 pages long, and seems like a pretty comprehensive account of the problems with having nuclear weapons ready to go at a moment's notice. What it doesn't cover is accidents and near disasters that happened while manufacturing the things. Judging from the occasional stories I read in the press about the cleaning up of old nuclear weapons manufacturing sites, they don't seem to have been all that safe either. Perhaps there's material for another book there!

More Recent Reading

Aspects of Developing with, and Using, Open Source Software

Computers and Society

Crystal Falls

Notes for a history of online games

Reviews: books and software

Technical Topics

Winding Down

About Alan Lenton

If you have any questions or comments about the articles on my web site, click here to send me email.