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?

Nginx: Redirect everything except the home page

Recently I moved this blog to philipjohn.blog, making philipjohn.me.uk a sort of “homepage” pointing to my various online presences.

Previously, my blog was at philipjohn.me.uk so as well as changing the URL (which was made easy by WP-CLI) I need to redirect all philipjohn.me.uk URLs to philipjohn.blog.

However, I wanted the root of philipjohn.me.uk to show a special page, not redirect to philipjohn.blog.

After much Googling and some help from Nicola Heald I finally had a working Nginx config:


server { listen 80; listen [::]:80; server_name philipjohn.me.uk; root /var/www/philipjohn.me.uk/www/; index index.html; location = /index.html { try_files $uri $uri/ =404; } location ~ ^/.+$ { return 301 http://philipjohn.blog$request_uri; } }

They key bits are the two location blocks. The first uses location = /index.html because Nginx interally redirects requests for the root into an index file, according to the index directive.

That first location block has the effect of telling Nginx to look inside the root folder for the index.html, or return a 404.

The second location block only then gets called if the request is not for the root index.html file. This block simply grabs the request string and passes it onto philipjohn.blog.

Simple! (And only took me several hours to get right 😉 )

You should blog

It’s not like I use Twitter anymore, so I’ve only experienced “Tweetstorms” via colleagues sharing stuff through Slack. Still, like Chris, I can’t help feeling that sharing in this way isn’t a great use of Twitter.

That said, I’m pretty sure WordPress isn’t really the right tool either. Even though WordPress.com is quick to set up, it doesn’t really cater for this kind of sharing. I’m not even sure it should!

Maybe Tweetstorms are just a fad anyway…

New York, New York

Thanks to how awesome my job is* I recently spent a few days in New York.

It was the first time I’d visited New York and although it was a short trip packed full of meetings I got to see some sights 🙂

Highlights included;

  • My first (I think) propeller plane flight.
  • Seeing Untappd used in a bar was pretty cool, including my check-ins.
  • Drinking Black Ops, a New York beer, in a New York bar. Damn that’s a nice beer.
  • Seeing One World Trade Center and the 911 Memorial.
  • Riding (and trying to figure out!) the New York Subway.
  • Visiting the offices of CBS, Time Inc. (in the week they named Trump person of the year, no less!), News Corporation, New York Times, New York Observer, Interactive One. NYC is the media capital of the world, and experiencing the offices and (in some cases) the newsrooms of these global media companies was impressive.
  • Checking out the amazing (giant) Christmas ‘decorations’ throughout New York.
  • Eating some amazing food.
  • Visiting the Rockerfeller Centre, Times Square, Wall Street and seeing (from a distance, in a taxi) the Statue of Liberty.

My plans to visit New York just over two years ago fell apart, but this short visit has made me want to return again. It’s on the (growing) list!

*you can join me.

Make Royals Pay

When we’re told there isn’t money available for the most vulnerable, for our schools, for our hospitals, for our essential local services, spending £369m of *OUR* money to renovate the home of an unelected, unaccountable, obscenely wealthy family is not only an insult it’s an overt affront to the principle of equality that one family, by only their birth, should be given such fantastical special treatment over people who are in real, actual need.

Sign the petition to make the royals pay now.

Join Republic and demand an end to the injustice the monarchy represents.

Sorry, you were born in the wrong place

Dear EU citizen,
Thanks for your interest in the UK as your home and place of work.

We have reviewed your application and unfortunately it appears that you were born on the wrong bit of the earth.

You see, we (‘humanity’) have, over the years, divided up the various bits of mud, grass, forests and mountains and declared it to be ours. An awful lot of effort has gone into making sure that our bits of land remain our bits of land, and we’ve also put a lot of effort into trying to get more bits of land.

As it happens, us Brits (that’s what we call people who happen to have been born on this bit of the earth we decided to call “Britain” and declare ours) used to claim quite a lot of the earth as ours. We don’t have as much now, so we’re a bit protective about what’s left.

Rather foolishly your parents decided to give birth to you on a bit of land that we hadn’t claimed was ours. So you can’t come to our bit of land. A short holiday would be fine, but you’ll have to go back. You can’t stay.

If you’d been born on our bit of land you’d be one of us, do it be fine. But you weren’t, so it’s not.

Please stay on your own bit of land.

Yours,

Britain.

Feeling RESTful

A month ago I took a (relatively) short train ride into the beautiful Derbyshire countryside to spend a week coding in the middle of nowhere.

I was attending A Week of REST – a training event put on by the excellent folks at WordPress agency, Human Made.

Part of a group of about 20, we descended on Darwin Lake near Matlock, a beautiful set of holiday cottages set around a lake and right next door to the Peak District National Park – one of Britain’s best destinations.

Being remote there was no mobile signal and the wifi was pretty terrible! But that didn’t matter – the course had been set up in such a way that an internet connection was more of a luxury and the disconnect allowed us to concentrate on learning and interacting with each other.

So what did I learn?

I learnt how to build a standalone React app in ES6 syntax, using NPM and Webpack for a local development environment. I learnt how to authenticate with the REST API from Javascript, send different types of request and interact with the responses within React.

Building a React app was very different to developing for WordPress. We used NPM and Webpack to create a local development environment (sitting at localhost:3000) and we were writing entirely in JS/JSX and there was even an index.html file! Crazy times.

The API endpoints were just a WordPress plugin, and creating them was much like interacting with other WordPress APIs. I’d equate it to registering new post types, so very simple for a WordPress developer to get on with.

Having done the React class at last year’s Automattic Grand Meetup everything I learnt came flooding back, so that wasn’t a big challenge. Using ES6 was weird at first but I quickly came to enjoy it – and I really don’t enjoy JS dev usually 😉 The biggest challenge was probably understanding authentication with the API. While we only used one authentication method and had a helpful library to make it easy, there are some complicated concepts to get your head around and there were a lot of questions on that topic from the group.

The teachers – Joe Hoyle, Ryan McCue and Zac Gordon – were great. We went at a good pace, no-one got left behind and we were given lots of opportunities to ask questions. I’d recommend looking out for future Human Made events, including A Day of REST and you should certainly check out Zac’s Javascript for WordPress course.

Not only were they great teachers, I had a great time hanging out with them, the other Human Made crew and the other attendees. I’m lucky that because of my awesmazing job I already knew some of the HM folks (and met some I work with but hadn’t yet met in person!) which made socialising easier, but I also got along really well with my fellow students, and really enjoyed our various games and late night shenanigans 🙂

Finally, it wouldn’t be right to spend such a long time without an internet connection and not have something to show for it. So I present to you my very first solo-built standalone React app: howmuchhuel.com.

I’ve recently started using Huel* regularly and needed a quick way to measure the mixture on my phone, so I built this neat little app. The calculations are a bit scrappy, but it works. Contributions welcome.

*get £5 off with this link,  because I love you.

I might join the Conservative Party and vote for Gove

Well, I already joined the Labour Party because of Corbyn, I might as well complete the set.

But also, as much as I despise Gove, Theresa May will be the absolutely worst option for Prime Minister. She has consistently attempted to undermine our fundamental human rights. She is capable, determined and commands the respect of her peers.

She may well succeed at pulling us out of the European Court of Human Rights and lumping us with both a “British Bill of Rights” and the “Snooper’s Charter”.

Gove on the other hand is in no position to be leading his party nor the country. Even he knows that! My word, the man actually said in his speech announcing his candidacy that he doesn’t want the job. Moron.

Clearly, if he became Prime Minister he’d fuck it up so spectacularly that the Tories would get ripped to pieces. If they didn’t rip themselves to pieces first…

That’s got to be a good thing to spend a few quid on.

So that is why I’m considering joining the Conservative Party to vote for Michael Gove. That, and I put a small bet on him for shits ‘n’ giggles.

Image credit: gove-pob by Little Pixel

31

30

Another interesting year.

Much of it, disappointingly (and to their detriment), was spent fighting yet again for my two children to be granted the relationship with me they deserve.

That costs money, so while I kept my job, my other plan – buying a house to give the three of us a more permanent home – didn’t get further than the mortgage offer I received.

Keeping my job was a much more achievable aim, and I did that with bells on. I’ve done so much in the last year, learnt an enormous amount, worked on projects that have made me super proud and built on my confidence.

My 32nd year? Spending more time with my magnificent little girl, building on our already blossoming relationship 🙂

Now I can spend some time on myself too. I’ll be focusing on my career for a bit – taking advantage of the huge opportunities I have.