All posts by Kevin Gillan

The ‘Big Society’ Needs Sociology

Jesse Norman MP was on last week’s Politics Weekly podcast at the Guardian talking about his new book on The Big Society (Indy review). He said that the Conservatives weren’t trying simply to shrink the state in order to replace it with the market, but instead wanted to harness and ‘unimaginable reserves of social energy’ to do good. This energy apparently exists in institutions outside of the state and the market Continue reading The ‘Big Society’ Needs Sociology

Start/Stop LAMP in Ubuntu 10.4

I occasionally want a local web server on my netbook for fiddling around, but don’t want it running on start up. So, using the following steps I removed it from the start up list and created a launcher button to start and stop apache and mysql.

1. Remove from startup list:

$sudo update-rc.d apache remove
$gksu gedit /etc/init/mysql.conf

In your text editor look for the lines with start up information and comment them out by adding a hash at the beginning of each line.

2. Write simple start script

$gksu gedit /usr/local/bin/lampstart
In your text editor paste the following code:
sudo /usr/sbin/apache2ctl start
sudo service mysql start

Save and exit

3. Write simple stop script
$gksu gedit /usr/local/bin/lampstop
In your text editor paste the following code:
sudo /usr/sbin/apache2ctl stop
sudo service mysql stop

Save and exit

4. Make scripts executable and update db
$sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/lampstart
$sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/lasr/mpstop
$sudo updatedb

5. Make launcher icons
Go to System->Preferences->Main Menu
In the left pane select the application group for the icons
Click ‘New Item’
Enter the following details:
Type: Application in Terminal
Name: Start LAMP
Command: /usr/local/bin/lampstart
Comment: Starts Apache and mysql
Optionally click the icon in the top left and look for a nice pic, I found suitable ones in /usr/share/icons/hicolor/48×48/apps

Update on ECHR ruling on Terrorism Act stop and search powers

While ECHR’s judgment as described below seemed pretty final, the Labour government still attempted a final appeal – asking for the case to be heard in the ‘Grand Chamber’ (i.e. throwing another few ECHR judges in to the pot). They didn’t have any new arguments or grounds for appeal though and so today I heard Continue reading Update on ECHR ruling on Terrorism Act stop and search powers

Exploring hyperlink networks with Issue Crawler: methodological issues

Paper at: Workshop on method(s): challenges of on-line research.


This presentation will introduce Issue Crawler software as a methodological tool for examining hyperlink networks. The software identifies sets of websites with dense connections around particular issues. Generated data allows the use of social network analysis techniques to understand the structure of the web. The talk will identify some of the methodological issues raised by the tool and also present some data from a recent study of anti-war websites. Some of this work has been published as Gillan, K. (2009) “The UK Anti-War Movement Online: Uses and Limitations of Internet Technologies for Contemporary Activism,” Information, Communication & Society 12(1): 25-43.

Slides available from RICC Workshop on Methods website.

We fought the law… and won!

The European Court of Human Rights today issued its judgement on the case that Penny Quinton and I have been taking against the government over section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They have agreed that this piece of legislation offends against Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and does not contain sufficient safeguards Continue reading We fought the law… and won!

eeePC Internet Connection via Mobile Phone

I came across various instructions for connecting an Ubuntu powered laptop to the internet through your mobile phone’s data connection. My first thought was ‘brilliant’, followed rapidly by ‘ooh this’ll be fiddly’. It requires a bit of manual coding, but using Rahid Hasan’s excellent how-to it just worked first time (that link looks broken now, its also copied here). I can now enable my bluetooth on my eeePC, turn off the wifi, and a get a reasonable connection speed via my Nokia E71 on three. Grand – no more hotspot charges.

UPDATE: This is a little more complicated in Ubuntu 9.10. For some reason pairing the phones doesn’t result in a bond on the refcomm channel. I get the error “In file /etc/ppp/peers/BluetoothDialup: unrecognized option ‘/dev/rfcomm0′”. The following seems to solve it.

To get it working, follow the instructions linked above with the following modifications:

  1. All of the required packages were already installed on Ubuntu 9.04 and 9.10 Netbook Remix, so no need to do any of the sudo apt-get ing
  2. The command to restart bluez-utils is now /etc/init.d/bluetooth restart
  3. Phone specific information: the apn for three is and the data profile number is 1
  4. Check what devices you have with ls /dev Is there one listed as rfcomm? If not, then the following command is required: sudo rfcomm bind 0 xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx zReplace the x’s with your phone’s mac number and the z with your dialup channel number (both found when you follow the linked how to). This command only seems to be required once per session, then you can, in theory, pon and poff as much as you like. Perhaps the solution is to run the command at startup.
  5. I get permission errors unless I run the launch command (pon or poff) with sudo
  6. On launching the connection I get a permission error (only members of group “dip” can use this command) – but no group dip seems to exist. So, use sudo to launch instead.
  7. Start the connection with sudo pon BluetoothDialup And stop it with sudo poff BluetoothDialup NB these commands can be written into custom application launchers through Preferences->Main Menu; but use gksu instead of sudo.

Moral Business: Changing Corporate Behaviour by ‘Speaking Their Language’

Paper presented to the European Sociological Association General Conference, Lisbon, September 2009.


The academic publisher Reed Elsevier also organised the world’s largest defence exhibitions. The exhibitions themselves have regularly met vibrant street protests, and from 2005 campaigners targeted the corporate organisers. A coordinated network of anti-arms trade activists, academics, medical professionals and institutional shareholders formed a multifaceted campaign that sought to persuade the corporation to change its behaviour on its own terms. After initial intransigence Continue reading Moral Business: Changing Corporate Behaviour by ‘Speaking Their Language’

Getting the NVidia linux driver working with odd monitors

The latest edition of Ubuntu (9.04) is generally excellent. There are continuing problems with graphics cards, however, that probably flow more from the proprietary (closed source) drivers provided than anything that Ubuntu folks can control. For me, its the NVidia driver that’s the baddy, failing to recognise any accurate information from my Acer widescreen monitor. This required manually writing a new xorg.conf file pretty much from scratch – here’s the solution for pairing NVidia 8500 GT with an Acer P193w Continue reading Getting the NVidia linux driver working with odd monitors

Adventures in Thin

NB This adventure has been postponed due to my lack of knowledge/skills to make it work 🙁

Moving from a flat to a house so no longer will the same room function as lounge, dining room, study and guest room. Simply having a very long cable on a widescreen monitor meant that one PC used to serve both work and entertainment functions, but alas no more. So, how to have a satisfactory work-from-home PC and a media PC without spending too much moolah? One (theoretical) answer is to scrounge a basic ‘obsolete’ PC and use it as a thin client – meaning it is just a gateway to using the resources on my current, decent quality PC. The software to make this possible is really oriented to businesses, schools or colleges running clusters of computers cheaply but the principles are (probably) applicable at home. And I hope you don’t need to be a veteran sysadmin to make it work. This post, is going to be a running commentry on what I’ve learned as I go through the stages. Continue reading Adventures in Thin

Direct Action, Democracy and Individualism

Paper for presentation at the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference, 15-17th April 2009, Manchester Metropolitan University.


Direct action (DA) is often considered to be a tactical approach to protest, utilised in the service of a wide range of causes. More recently, the notion that DA forms the basis of a radical social movement of itself has gained some currency (e.g. Doherty, Plows and Wall 2003). This paper argues that we should rather understand DA as an orientational frame: a structure of normative beliefs that can form a guide to understanding and action in a variety of contexts (Gillan 2008).
Examining documentary sources on the British DA tradition and ethnographic data from recent instances of DA protest against globalisation and war, I identify the core beliefs that hold the DA frame together. Three elements in particular are identified. First, DA is based on a fundamental belief in individual freedom that motivates an evaluation of the individual moral culpability of both protest participants and their opponents. Second, DA groups have an attitude to decentralised, non-representative decision making that offers a particular understanding of democracy. Third, DA involves the re-imagining of political space as grassroots collective constructs free from systems of domination, that are consciously sought or created by DA groups.
Exploration of these key ideational elements will offer two benefits. First, we will see how the interaction and translation of ideas within particular contexts shapes the possibilities and constraints that movement participants encounter. Second, this analysis opens up possibilities for comparison with (and critique from) more obviously ideological structures of belief.

You can download a pdf version of this paper from: Direct Action, Democracy and Individualism (PDF).

Hackers and Users in Anti-War Activism

Protesters at Labour Party Conference, Manchester, 2006.

Short talk for the ‘Internet for Activists’ day organised at SOAS, 15 March 2009.

The purpose was to outline two different ‘ideal typical’ attitudes that activists typically bring to their engagements with technology. Within recent anti-war activism most people have approached technology as users, interested in the technology itself only to the extent that it makes the ususal organisational and communicative tasks quicker or more efficient. The talk outlines a few examples of the hacker attitude in action in order to show some of the possibilities inherent in stretching and blending communication structures. This is not to say that we must all become hackers, rather that an awareness of what we intend with technological solutions should help us approach technologies in an appropriate manner.

The slides for the talk are available here: Gillan, ‘Hackers & Users’ SOAS Workshop.

This talk was a short version of a book chapter published in Net-Working/Networking: Citizen Initiated Internet Politics. A pdf version of the chapter is available here: Diverging Attitudes to Technology preprint.