Fight Dementia

On Saturday I’ll be going for a walk, and I need your help.

With me will be – at least – sixteen members of my family, all doing the Alzheimer’s memory walk in remembrance of my Dad.

Amazingly we’ve already beaten our target of raising £500 for the Alzheimer’s Society. The charity helps people with dementia and their families to deal with the effects that this horrible, incurable disease has. They also help fund research into the condition in the hopes that we might find a cure one day.

However, I want to raise much more than that. Here’s why…

Figures compiled just two years ago show that while combined government and charitable funding for cancer research reached £544 million, just £90m was spent on dementia research. The figures for coronary heart disease and stroke were £166m and £56m respectively. In contrast, the combined health and social care costs for dementia totalled £11.6 billion – more than cancer (£5bn), stroke (£2.9bn) and heart disease (£2.5bn) combined.

Dementia is a devastating incurable disease that causes a huge amount of suffering for families affected. Unless you’ve been through it it’s hard to articulate how painful it can be to experience.

We need more funding for the invaluable support the Alzheimer’s Society provides, and for the scientific research to end this disease once and for all.

Will you help me, by sponsoring me and my kids, Mom, sisters, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunties and cousins to do the memory walk this Saturday and help us fight Dementia?

Donate here.

Review: Rennie Mackintosh Hotel, Glasgow

The good: Staff were friendly, the bed was comfortable and my room was reasonably well lit. All the usual refreshments were in the room, too.

The not-so-good; The floors throughout were wonky and creaky, coupled with a low ceiling made it feel a bit like a fairground crazy house. There is no lift, and access to the top (and my room) was via a long spiral staircase – not good when you have a big suitcase, and no assistance was offered. I could hear my neighbours pretty well from across the (slender) hallway. Better sound proofing wouldn’t go amiss.

Improvement needed: There needs to be more attention to detail in the rooms. By way of an example, on my room the TV didn’t work, the bathroom mirror light didn’t work, the bathroom extractor fan was noisy and blocked a lot light from the main bathroom light, and there was a mess of cables around the table for the kettle, hair dryer and so on.

My Travel To-Do List

Having never been much of a traveller, getting a job that means at least two trips per year has led to a big change in my attitude about travelling. In fact, the day I joined the company I was in Lisbon meeting my new team mates!

Since then I’ve been to Park City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Vancouver, New York and Barcelona. It’s given me the thirst for more travel (especially to find good beer!) so I’m making a list of the places I want to visit.

  1. Brussels & Bruges (for the beer, of course)
  2. Florence (for the food)
  3. Japan (because I’m a short-arse)
  4. Seattle (beer again)
  5. Calgary (well, the Rockies, because I want to go stay in a log cabin in the snow!)
  6. Nova Scotia (for the cycling)
  7. Iceland (for the Aurora Borealis)
  8. San Francisco (I’m a techy, what do you expect?!)
  9. New Zealand (probably because of my hobbit feet)

I voted.

There not being a Something New candidate for Lichfield (maybe next time) I voted for;

  • Proper funding of the NHS,
  • An end to pay freezes for nurses and doctors and other public sector staff who make our country function,
  • The school that my son will attend in September to have more money, not fewer teachers, materials and educational trips,
  • My Mom to be allowed to leave her house (our family home for over forty years) to me and my sisters as she wishes, rather than it being taken by the government,
  • My Mom’s pension to be protected so she can enjoy her well-earned retirement,
  • My children, nieces and nephews to be given the chance of a good education – regardless of their parents’ wealth – so that they can become the highly skilled workers of the future this country needs,
  • Those I know on low wages to have the dignity of a real living wage, not the pittance of a minimum wage that doesn’t cover the cost of decent living standards,
  • A country I can be proud of, that doesn’t blindly engage in military intervention in other countries causing instability and fuelling terrorism,
  • A leader who has the basic humanity to reject the concept of knowingly and deliberately ordering the death of millions of innocent civilians,
  • Investment in our essential national infrastructure like rail, energy and communications,
  • An end to public money – OUR MONEY – being siphoned off into the back pockets of the billionaires who own our national infrastructure,
  • A government that uses immigration sensibly to meet the needs of our economy, not sets unachievable arbitrary targets to appease xenophobes.

I voted unselfishly.

I voted for the many.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Thoughts on “equal” taxation, LTV, deficits and stable economies

Today I replied to a friend on Facebook who takes issue with Labour’s proposals to increase income tax, and he mentioned a few points which I wanted to take the time to respond to with more independent voices on those topics. I thought it worth sharing:

I won’t try to change your mind, only plead with you to make sure your vote is as informed as it can be by people outside the political parties who are obviously biased. To that end, let me share a few things with you about specific bits you’ve mentioned.

An “equal” tax, while it sounds good (I used to think so too!), actually creates INequality. Flat taxes are also not simpler, and are designed to demolish the state – a flat tax would destroy the NHS overnight for starters, and probably a lot more because the state would have a LOT (£bns) less income. See economist Richard Murphy on flat taxes and if you’re bored enough, his report on flat taxes.

I’m glad you agree Labour’s spending commitments are needed (so do 129 economists!) and with government services, like any other services, you get what you pay for. Lower tax will always mean fewer or poorer quality public services. You only have to look at the fact austerity has given us fewer police officers, less school funding, and an NHS crisis to confirm this is the case.

On the Land Value Tax, that’s actually a very sensible change (e.g. supported by the Institute for Fiscal Studies). You personally would probably end up paying less than you pay in council tax. Have a read of Full Fact on that one. There was a lot of scaremongering about LTV, most of which was nonsense, and besides the Tories would probably want to introduce something like it anyway.

As for the deficit, the first thing is to recognise is that the state is NOTHING like a household. In fact, sometimes a deficit is absolutely essential to a well-functioning economy. As for a sustainable economy, wages are falling and inflation has been rising for two years, which means people are less able to spend which takes money out of the economy, making it harder for businesses to succeed. If we judge them by their record, as Amber Rudd asked us to, they are not going a great job.

I don’t expect you to read all those 😀 but please please don’t just accept whatever the political party press releases and platitudes say. On a personal note, I’ve always benefited personally (in a financial sense) from Tory governments but I consider it my responsibility to vote for what’s best for everyone, not just me, and I could never countenance voting for them while they are cutting thousands of pounds from the school my son will go to.

The Internet’s Own Boy

Aaron Swartz was a phenomenal person. Watching The Internet’s Own Boy recently reminded me of that fact.

The film is, to me, a fantastic reminder that the internet needs to remain open, that access to public information should always be free and open.

Some of my early activism was based on this. I was once involved in a project that was very similar to Swartz’s efforts with PACER. We never made any progress (given what happened to Swartz, maybe I should be thankful) but I still fundamentally believe in the principle that in order to comply with the law, we have to know what that law is. Similarly, I believe that publicly-funded research should be freely and openly available to the public.

So I consider Swartz, who was just 20 months younger than me, an inspiration.

Huel

Last year I started using Huel.

I prefer to eat my own food, I avoid ready meals (although, I have to make exceptions for pie and pizza!) but I find cooking to be incredibly boring. I just have better things to do with my life (like binge-watch Star Trek)!

Trying to get a balanced diet also isn’t that easy – or at least, I can’t be arsed because, well, life’s too short and I have better things to do (like drink beer).

So when I found out about Huel I was very interested. The name is a concatenation of “Human Fuel”. They call it “nutritionally complete human food” because it contains all of the nutrients your body needs.

Huel makes it ridiculously easy to get all the right nutrients your body needs, and it’s quick. Instead of spending hours chopping up vegetables and slaving over the stove I can just pour some water and powder into a bottle and drink. Simple, easy and quick.

Unlike some people I don’t live off Huel completely. I have Huel for breakfast, which sets me up great for the day because I’m really bad at breakfast. Then I eat a good lunch and optionally top up with extra Huel in the evening if I need it.

Cooking, when I do it, is more pleasurable because I don’t have to do it so often. I can get on with the things I want to do, safe in the knowledge that I’m getting the things I need in my diet.

13th

Shortly after the US Presidential Election and Trump’s victory there, I watched 13th – a documentary about the US Justice system.

The film explores the history of incarceration in the US and suggests mass incarceration grew out of slavery and became a huge business profiting from the system’s inherent racism and the slave labour of prisoners.

It’s definitely an interesting watch, I’d suggest checking it out.

Late escape your WordPress plugins!

A little while ago a colleague shared this interesting article from RIPS on the state of WordPress security. It focused on an automated analysis of 44,705 plugins from the WordPress.org plugin directory (almost all of them).

They found that 68.4% of those plugins contained cross-site scripting vulnerabilities. That’s a huge number, and a huge number of vulnerable WordPress installs as a result.

If you’re a plugin developer it’s important to protect yourself and the users of your plugin from such attacks. The solution is quite simple; late escaping.

Anything that your plugin outputs to the browser (e.g. using echo, print, __ etc) should be escaped using the functions WordPress core provides. This is something I advise developers about every single day while I review code for WordPress.com VIP clients.

There’s a really insightful post on escaping within WordPress from 2014 by my colleague Nick Daugherty that I highly recommend reading to get up to speed on why and how to escape late.

Finally, this from the article is also worth pointing out:

WordPress [sic] is not as insecure as its reputation would suggest. Rather it is a top target due to its incredible prevalence.

If you were an attacker, wouldn’t you go after 27% of the web if you could?

Blaming tech entrepreneurs for political failings is a form of prejudicial demonisation that helps no-one

A colleague recently shared this essay by Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel. It’s main point is that Elon Musk is morally corrupt for pursuing a dream of putting humanity on Mars instead of helping solve social issues like poverty and inequality.

Russell and Vinsel suggest that anyone with wealth is morally obligated to engage in selfless humanitarianism. They also suggest that outlandish endeavours, like space travel, should be abandoned while poverty and other socio-political problems persist.

Such a stance is divisive – blaming wealthy tech entrepreneurs for societal ills to make ‘the rest of us’ look on them (Musk, specifically) unfavourably. It’s also naive – expecting that humanity can somehow solve all it’s problems before making progress.

“What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns?” the authors ask rhetorically, immediately putting forward the entirely baseless assumption that any wealthy person not overtly dedicating themselves to social justice is deliberately shunning humanity.

They go so far as to launch insults at Musk as if he’s some sort of comic book villain who just personally condemned the earth to oblivion, holds the only route of escape and is auctioning it off to the highest bidders.

It’s enough to make one wonder what led Musk to develop such contempt for the billions of humans who could never escape Earth.

The authors continue, saying “Musk’s concept of humanity excludes most living and breathing humans” and state that his estimate of 1 million people required for a self-sustaining civilisation is “0.014035087719298244 per cent” of the population in a deliberate invocation of the “1% vs the world” mantra. That the estimate is a practical estimate of what size a Mars colony would need to be to survive is completely ignored over the imperative to demonise Musk personally.

All of this serves to make the reader despise Musk, and any other tech entrepreneur, so that arguments put forward can be done with very little validity and still be accepted as truth. Let’s look at those arguments.

At the root is a belief that people like Musk should focus on problems such as climate change, poverty, infrastructure or other ‘more earthly’ concerns before a trip to Mars. While they declare Musk to be a “utopian” and “repulsed by the world we all share”, Russell and Vinsel themselves are painting a vision where there are no problems. To match up to their standards, Musk (and anyone with a decent bit of cash) would have to build a utopia where the world is free from economic or social strife before it would be morally acceptable to pursue technological advancements. Their utopia is even more immature a concept when they deride Musk’s goals as “adolescent space fantasies.”

In a fantastic display of cognitive dissonance the authors acknowledge the benefits of grandiose technological advancements;

Up to 80 per cent of the technologies created for NASA programs might have ended up in the domestic economy.

Yet then they argue “We don’t need trickle-down science” and make the completely unevidenced (read: made up) claim that “A public research agenda aimed squarely at solving real problems… would easily produce useful technologies that exceed the 80 per cent mark.”

Not once is the role of government and politicians discussed. Big issues like poverty are put forward as the priorities and the apparent solution amounts to ‘rich people should fix this’. Nowhere do they ask, after referencing the world’s huge wealth divide, why it exists and what governments are doing about it. Instead, they attack the financial beneficiaries of decades of failed government policy. Want to end the wealth divide and put more money into health and infrastructure? Then point the finger at the state. Demand a living wage, a fair tax regime, universal healthcare, public ownership of public services and a ban on poverty profiteering like the subprime mortgages that caused the 2008 economic collapse.

What if Musk did abandon SpaceX and spend his wealth on societal issues? Fantastic! I’m sure lots of good would come of it. What happens when the money runs out? What happens to all the people that were being helped? Do they slip back into poverty, isolation, precarity? Those problems the authors are so keen to see banished aren’t going to be solved by a short term injection of cash by a philanthropist. Real solutions need to come from systemic change instigated and legislated into being for the long term by a courageous state.

Playing this blame game does nothing except demonise and divide, to set the haves against the have-nots, when all of humanity is equally morally responsible for holding governments – those with the actual power to affect change – to account for their actions. To turn Russell and Vinsel’s argument back at them, why aren’t they using the power they have, as publishers with an audience, to encourage all people – regardless of their economic status – to join together and demand better of their governments. Why aren’t they using their megaphone to encourage people to join equality movements or protest budget cuts? What is morally right about writing insulting tirades against fellow human beings?