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:

America's First Great Depression by Alasdair Roberts. Published by Cornell University Press

This is an interesting book, looking, as it does, at the at the first major cycle of boom and bust to arrive after the American revolution. Although eclipsed in folk memory by the great depression of the 1930s, it's arguable that the depression of 1837 had a much more far reaching effect on how the USA was governed.

For the purposes of analysis the author splits the period from the start of the depression through to the end of the Mexican War into sections dealing with the crisis of the individual states, the problems of the Federal Government, and the issue of law and order. This sometimes makes the narrative a little fuzzy, but does help define the issues.

It was the law and order problems in this period that firmly established the precedent that the federal government would use federal forces to assist states in putting down insurrectionary movements. This was also the time when the cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore established police forces on London's 'civil army' pattern following serious rioting, something which would have been unthinkable previously.

In the main the book deals with the constitutional issues, hardly surprising given the author's background as a professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School. However, that is not to say the book deals exclusively with such issues, or is dry as dust. Quite to the contrary, it is a lively read.

Most people around at the moment can only remember a time when the USA has been the dominant economy, and the dominant military, but that really has only been for the last 50 years. Times are changing with the rise of China, which already holds a substantial proportion of the US Federal Government debt, and is rapidly modernising its armed forces.

The solutions available, economic, political and military, are changing and if that change is not to be violent and disruptive, then the hard  lessons of history must pondered over and assimilated.

The Basics of Hacking and Penetration Testing (2nd Edition) by Patrick Engebretson. Published by Syngress

This book is a classic example of the dilemma facing ethical hackers. It's extremely good, with comprehensive, clear explanations of how to use the tools, and detailed explanations of the techniques. A wannabe badass hacker could learn a lot.

But it's also essential reading for anyone wanting to learn the trade of penetration testing, and for anyone looking to protect their on-line assets against hackers. Sun Tzu had a thing or two to say about the importance of knowing one's enemy, and he knew what he was talking about.

The book leads its reader systematically through the steps needed to penetrate an on-line system. Reconnaissance, scanning, exploitation, and the post exploitation techniques for maintaining access, such as backdoors and rootkits, are all explained. Along the way it also covers social engineering and web-based exploitation.

One thing I haven't seen in other books of this ilk is the way it takes you through the use of the tools of the trade. How to install them, how to set them up and of course, how use them effectively.

Definitely a must have if you plan to do a little work on the side for the NSA!

Graphic Icons by John Clifford. Published by Peachpit Press

A rapid (two to four pages each) illustrated look at the art movements and innovators that have inspired modern graphic design. A must for budding and experienced graphic designers, not to mention digital user experience programmers and designers. The pages are chock full of illustrations guaranteed to provide inspiration and examples for your day to day work.

Obviously, any book like this must to a certain extent be a personal choice of the author, but there was one glaring omission which surprised me. That of the surrealists, whose influence on modern design has been massive. In fact a number of the designers featured cite Man Ray, for instance, as a major influence. A very strange absence.

Personally, I would have also included typographer Mathew Carter who produced the first digital fonts properly designed for screen display - the sans-serif Verdana and the gorgeous serif Georgia. But these are nit-picks. John Clifford has done an excellent job of providing something which is fun to read, educating, and inspiring of new ideas. Go for it!

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.