Dear Government, Just Do One Thing….

Dear Government,

I’m really only talking to the Northern Ireland government here, but if the rest of you want to take a leaf, then do something about it.

Everything is “Covid-Paralysed”. I just see inactivity in every area. People holding their breath. It’s not good enough. We have to be pro-active. But as a “cultural hand grenade”, I figured I’d write a list of things our government departments could do while they’re waiting for society to re-open.

  1. The Executive Office. – frankly, I have no idea what you do anyway other than argue and be ineffectual. This isn’t a personal dig – the EO has always failed to deliver. Look at the unspent social investment fund.
  2. Department of Education. – We have been constantly training more than 200 teachers than we need every year and we have a large bank of supply teachers. So rather than having parents killing themselves trying to educate children, get your act together and use this resource. Yes, not everyone has and iPad or whatever, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing. Find out who needs resources and work together. Use the existing teacher pool, the supply teachers and the unemployed grads to deliver education over Zoom or your tool of choice and take the pressure off parents.
  3. Department for the Economy. – Every skills program that can be opened over Zoom should be opened over Zoom. The lecturers are being salaried. We are in exceptional circumstances and much of it can be delivered over Teams or Zoom. So do it. Make it free and allow people to upskill quickly.
  4. Department of Health. – Be honest, we haven’t yet sorted this crisis. So make sure there’s enough PPE, find more staff to re-open the wards force to close because of sick nurses and doctors and let’s beat this thing.
  5. Department of Justice. – Start preparing law suits against employers who fired or made redundant workers rather than furlough them. And maybe a case against the UK government for wilfully endangering millions of people resulting in the deaths of thousands of people
  6. Department of Infrastructure. – You know, I’m never going to step into a taxi and I’m damn sure it’s going to be a while before I’m on a bus or train. So change the narrative. Convert parking spaces into bus and bike lanes. Do it now while you still can. And while you’re at it, a Greenway from Lisburn to Belfast would cut down on traffic. Plan it now. Execute when lockdown opens up a bit.
  7. Department of Communities. – it’s time for more parks, more leisure facilities, more public art (by local people, not half a million quid to somewhere else). You have a month before the summer starts properly. Are you going to watch the tourist industry completely fail? Get a move on.
  8. Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Take some leadership and sort out broadband. Thousands of families are struggling without connectivity and if Education get their act together then the families will need it. Do it now.

The Realm of the Possible: Inventing a New City

After DRIVING past the new “death trap” paint on the Sydenham Bypass that’s meant to be a “cycle lane”, I am comforted to see that some cities have leaders who are prepared to re-make the world as we would like it, and not just rely on what has been past. .

Seattle to permanently close 20 miles of streets to traffic so residents can exercise and bike on them

Nichola Mallon, our Infrastructure Minister, isn’t being advised on what’s in the realm of the possible. It’s the problem with that department (and in particular Roads Service). When you ask a road engineer on what would solve a problem, they think in terms of roads.

I tend to think of the realm of the possible extends from impossible to impossible!

So how do we get people cycling and walking more?

Is it impossible to make cycle lanes which are more than paint?

No, plainly not. Here is a part of the Sydenham Bypass with a kerb! This would make cycling much safer. So, why is the department so happy with a line of paint? If we have it for part of the Sydenham Bypass, why not all of it? Why not extend it to Bangor and Ards?

Is it impossible to close BT1 to private street traffic?

No, it’s not. In fact, a lot of that is in the Regional Transportation Strategy including deflecting traffic from hope street straight to the Ormeau/Cromac area via a new road at Bankmore Square. Essentially the only cars in the centre outside of emergency services and buses, should be taxis and disabled vehicles.

Is it impossible to turn every non-disabled parking space in that area into cycle lanes to protect cyclists from buses, lorries and taxis?

No, obviously. We will see a decrease in traffic overall after the pandemic passes as a lot of people-intensive businesses will be re-looking at their leases for commercial property (some large businesses are closing multiple sites and having their workers work from home because working from home can improve productivity (as long as the kids are at school!) If you think about it, all of the streets in the CBD of Belfast are host to “car corpses”. Cars which are driven in and just lie dead all day. Our streets are littered with them. What are the knock on effects of that?

So we don’t need as many parking spaces? Or commercial parking lets? Or office buildings?

No, we really don’t – so that frees up huge amounts of space for cycling and pedestrians. Think of the lives saved from cars not careening into people.

What about those offices? Will they lie empty?

Well, Belfast City Council has been trying to square the circle of getting people to move into the centre of the city, but there just hasn’t been the space. So, if we are talking about maybe a million square feet of unoccupied office space right now and perhaps up to five times that in two years, that’s a thousand 1000 sq ft apartments now, and 5000 in the next decade. That solves the “Belfast is a graveyard” problem every evening as well as fostering small business in the city centre – including the eateries in the city which really deserve a bit of an uplift after the runaway rates and Covid-19 related collapse.

Thousands more living in the city would be a massive uplift for the city economy. And we have the space.

Are there other things we can change?

Of course, with decreased traffic and more reliance on public transport, we don’t need that M2/Westlink Exchange upgrade. That’s a waste as it is, it’s doubly so after the pandemic. We could invest that in live/work apartments in the city centre. We could invest in arterial segregated cycle lanes from four quarters of the city as well as dedicated cycle freeways along the M1, M2 and A2. With the decreased pollution of decreased traffic, Stockman’s Lane might be bearable to cycle through.

Anything else?

Well, I’m always going to say “free public transport”. The fact that it would decrease pollution and particulate matter, reduce the burden of road repairs on the taxpayer, increase social and economic mobility for just about everyone, equalise some of the society and put cash in the pockets of low and middle income workers is just the tip of the iceberg.

We have an opportunity to change the city and be an exemplar. Wouldn’t it be great to be proud of Belfast for things that were great and that worked? Stuff we could boast about that was good on a global stage and not just “better than what we deserve”. Can’t we aspire to greatness as a city? Celebrate our best and brightest?

Rather than a ship that sank, forty years of civil war and an alcoholic footballer?

#NoOneLeftBehind #RuralUrbanDigitalDivide

Bridging the digital divide means guaranteeing access to adequate broadband

It is easy to assume NI is digitally connected and everyone has a smart phone or computer at home. The reality is this is not the case and many homes are forced to choose between buying larger data allowances or buying electricity and food.

Kate Clifford sets out a cogent case against privilege in this article.

I remember sitting in rooms filled with civil servants crowing about how Northern Ireland had the best digital platform in the world.

A claim that was patently not true if you even took a second to survey the rest of the world.
A claim that was even more embarrassing when you excluded developing countries from your survey.

Society is feeling the effects of the digital divide even in areas which are well served with hardware and broadband. At home, my own broadband is creaking under the strain of multiple zoom calls, content delivery by iPlayer and YouTube. Imagine then being in an area poorly served.

The hardware issue is….also difficult. I’ve offered Raspberry Pi computers from my Dojo (and given away a couple) and also given away two slightly ageing Chromebooks – in an attempt to get people up and running. But a lot of content out there just isn’t accessible on more open platforms. It just won’t run on slower computers.

And don’t get me started on Classroom 2000.

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

One night during a global pandemic, comfortable in my privilege, I sat chatting to friends across the world.

We were discussing America. And how it might be time to take steps.

America is currently being besieged by rebels calling out for the execution of elected representatives. Their crime? Slowing the spread of the global pandemic mentioned earlier. This sort of thing gets you thinking; a dangerous pastime in any era.

These rebels, complete with wooden painted machine guns and spent husks of rocket launchers, are marching on government buildings, posing with their buddies and complaining at the lack of common services like hairdressing. It hardly needs to be said that while this service is easily done at home, it important to remember Thomas Jefferson “the tree of liberty must be refreshed time to time with the blood of patriots”. That said, Jefferson also put into his Canon, “Never trouble another with what you can do yourself”.

Jefferson also said: “The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster cruel vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging three headed beast like god one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes fools and hypocrites.”

Which I can offer no argument against.

But what’s the future hold?

It might seem a little hysterical but America is not well. The thesis goes:

  • If in November 2020, President Trump does not get re-elected to the highest office in the country, the outburst from loyalists will shake the very foundations of the Republic. If the angry white men can march, armed and armoured, on the Capitol building because they want haircuts, imagine what will happen when they’re told that Trump lost the election due to foreign interference. Liberals wring their hands, Conservatives make shells.
  • If in November 2020, President Trump does get re-elected, it’s possible to expect Washington, Oregon and California to begin secession. It’s been talked about before. The US has been a single country in name but never united politically or culturally. Whether or not you think the two party system is desirable or not, it exists. And if these states move to secede from the Union, even through a legal process, expect the military to be used to force them to stay.

The status quo therefore becomes totally untenable. Needless to say, conversations will begin again in the GOP about allowing a president to stay longer than two terms and with their control of the Senate and the Supreme Court, who is left to challenge them?

But as I said above, it may be time to take steps. Even while we recover from the grips of the pandemic, there will be a need to take in refugees from war-torn America. Gird yourselves.

COVID-19: The Pressure of Inevitability

This isn’t the first. This isn’t the last. It may be the worst; that remains to be seen. You would hope that modern medicine will out, but that takes time.

Pandemics

Around 500 BC, the Plague of Justinian killed 25-100 million people (about 50% of the population of Europe).

In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed 75-200 million people in Europe (about 60% of the population).

Between 1918 and 1920, Spanish Flu killed 17-100 million people worldwide.

Between 1877 and 1977, Smallpox killed 500 million people worldwide. And that wasn’t the first episode of Smallpox.

From 1960 to the present, HIV/AIDS has killed more than 32 million people worldwide.

Between 2009 and 2010, H1N1 killed nearly half a million people.

We are bloody lucky though. With a death rate of 0.3%-13% (depending on location and the demographic of the host), this is recoverable. But even at the lowest rate of 0.3%, that’s 240 Millie people worldwide. That’s the problem with big numbers.

The Power of Networks

Metcalfe’s Law is a concept used in computer networks and telecommunications to represent the value of a network. Metcalfe’s Law states that a network’s impact is the square of the number of nodes in the network. For example, if a network has 10 nodes, its inherent value is 100 (10 * 10).

This is the other problem with big numbers, things get very scary very quickly. You only have to look at the logarithmic graphs of the spread of the pandemic to get an appreciation of it. Log graphs make big numbers look like small numbers.

You can see the power of networks in this transmission of the disease. The more we were connected, the more we were able to travel, the larger the groups we congregated in; the more the virus would spread. Imagine how hard it was for the diseases to spread in the past (and thankfully for some like the Plague, we had antibiotics in recent years). But when something is being spread by rats, there have to be rats. This is spread by us.

We heard about other epidemics; Ebola, Zika, Nipah, SARS, Dengue fever – but most of them were in other places. People think we are being punished for whatever; for our arrogance? But this was inevitable. Viruses and bacteria have been preying on the world forever. They’ve killed millions before.

It’s ignorant exceptionalism to treat this as anything other than it is; inevitable

Journalists are happy. They can use the “beleaguered” word again.

Journalists are wetting themselves with the news that Apple’s sales have dropped 30% year on year. They think it’s the end of innovation at Apple, they think it’s that people are sick of upgrading or just don’t need new features.

Really?

It’s a couple of factors.

Firstly, Apple has said multiple times that their growth market (China) remains very soft due to a continued weakness in the market but the trend for smartphone sales are down across the board (6% drop). Huawei might be on a rise (50% increase) but Samsung, Xaomi are all down too.

Secondly, this is Apple’s plan. They know that the appetite for new phones is changing – they’ll still produce premium phones for a premium market but they are really taking notice of the inheritance market – where a premium phone is handed down to another family member. This is why ios12 focused on performance – bringing the iPhone 5s (and later) back to life and offering cheap battery replacements. The 5s was debuted in 2013. There’s no other vendor treating aged phones like this. Apple finally realises that services – such as Music, TV, Pay…are the real growth regions globally.

The downturn in sales for other vendors with their short term upgradability and poor quality hardware will hurt them in the long run. But their sales will look good because people are forced to buy new. Their profits on the other hand…

e.g.

Apple profit for this quarter was $11 billion (down about 10%), Samsung was down 60% to $5 billion. And Samsung’s profits on their mobile business was considerably worse.

Journalists know that Apple stories are excellent clickbait. Apple fans always go to read and Android/Windows fans often go to gloat.

AirDrop – halfway there

Jason Snell writes on SixColors:

With AirDrop, Apple has come up with a simpler way to pass files around. In doing so, it’s made traditional file sharing seem old and fussy. So my modest proposal to Apple is to take AirDrop and expand its powers. Let people in homes and offices use it to drop files to each other, even if they’re not fortunate enough to be sitting right next to each other. Apple, you did your job and you did it well—I’ve utterly embraced AirDrop. But now I want more.

AirDrop is definitely half-baked.

Not only should I seamlessly (and without any need to accept) be able to send a file to any Apple device that I’ve got an iCloud login active – no matter where they are in the world, but I should be able to add iCloud IDs to my favourites list and send direct to people because I know their ID.

I try to avoid sending photos through email so I currently use iCloud Photo Sharing with the family – which is a workaround. I’d much rather have address book groups that I could iCloudShare to my hearts content.

And can we have Back To My Mac working again? Maybe add Macs to our locations in Files? I wanna be able to root around in my archives for files. Or put files in other folders other than desktop or documents in a simple interface.

Yeah, I’d like this on iOS but I’d be happy with it being in a new productivity focused padOS considering that I’ve moved my Mac from a slightly creaky MacBook Pro to an even freakier iMac 27″ since I got the iPad Pro 12.9. (Apple may not be pleased with me as I’m finding it hard to justify a Mac when the iPad does 90% of everything I need).

So, come on Apple. Help me get my productivity up to 100%

Some things I don’t understand about the Knowledge Economy Report

And so maybe someone else can explain it to me.

I love the team down at Catalyst. For as long as I’ve known about them, they have been fighting the good fight in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy and mediocrity from government. Catalyst succeed in spite of government, not because of it.

But….

The End of the Oil Age

Oil is a naturally occurring liquid found within rock formations. Oil has been used for over 5000 years by humans but only where it was easily accessible. The growing energy demands of humans were met previously by wood, coal and whale oil.

In the 1850s, the world saw the first successful use of a ‘modern’ drilling rig on a well drilled specifically to produce oil. If it weren’t for this, there probably wouldn’t be any whales left in the world. We would have massacred every one to light our homes. And that’s where the benevolence of the ‘oil industry’ starts and stops.

In the 1980s, I first heard of the term ‘peak oil’. It was the idea that the mining and refining of oil would get to the point where it could become uneconomical to produce petroleum products. As it happened, government subsidies and vast increases in price meant that peak oil was met, passed and reclassified. We would just pay more for fossil fuel; we were fossil fuel addicts.

Modern oil drilling only started in the late 1850s on continental North America. Now, 160 years later, we can see the end of the “oil age”. You only have to look at the pumps here in the UK – rising more than 30% in less than 5 years.

I would encourage everyone to look at lower consumption technology – not just transport and heating but also computing. Solar panels have dropped more than 80% in cost in the last five years (per Watt). A house can be cheaply kitted out with solar panels and a wind turbine to provide the majority of a household energy needs (storage is an issue, but distribution is not). Solutions for storage will evolve.

On Prayer

Some friends might feel offended by this but this is my thoughts and I’ll do my best to explain them. I’m not criticising people, but behaviours.

Someone recently said that they’d pray for me. We had shared a few conversations about my recent past and my current path. And I appreciate the intent. It’s explained to me that someone saying they will pray is really just them saying “good luck with that” or “I hope it works out”. And that’s a lot better. Or it sits better in this atheists craw.

But really I don’t want prayer. Or hope.

Last week at an albergue in Grañón I attended a “meditation” session where there was a little bit of God talk but we were asked why we were doing the Camino. I gave my answers.

I’m still the “walking wounded” even after nearly three years. I gave up something amazing “for the best” and I regret it every day. There’s no peace in my heart and mind as a result. I don’t think for a second that 500 miles of blisters and tendonitis will resolve this so it’s not really for resolution that I walk. It might be for something else. Paul says that the Camino will put something in my way for the best. And sometimes I wish I had his faith.

The Camino itself might look like a holiday but its hours of walking on hot gravel, lying in a bed in the afternoon feeling shooting pains from the bone bruises in your feet, trying to sleep while the room filled with snorers attempts to cause the roof to fall in and being endlessly patient with other humans when sometimes all you want is silence and solitude. We bear it all with a smile because these annoying humans we walk with are actually just as wounded as we. And as a Humanist I think humans are wonderful anyway so, I guess maybe that has to rub off. In the middle of the night I may swear under my breath at the snorers but I’d give them my portion of bread and water the very next day. Such is life.

But back on the subject of prayer.

Don’t pray for me. Or hope for me. When I’ve been at my lowest ebb, people have generally avoided me. Not reached out. Not done anything practical. And some took the opportunity to kick me further.

If you really wanted to help, you’d help. Not just stand around offering hopes. If you bleed, I’ll get out my first aid kit. If thirsty my water. Hungry my bread. Cold? Have my blanket. Phone running low? Have a battery. Lost a cable? Borrow my spare. Pack too heavy? I’ll carry it.

This is my Camino. To do my best for my fellow humans.

Those closest to me know what I want more than anything. I’m bleeding and they pray. My burden’s too heavy, so they hope.

This is my Camino. To endure what has been put before me.

I don’t expect anyone to change. Or do anything more than hope and pray. And even if they did, it’s too late. Three years is too long. And a lot of water has passed under that bridge. But I dream of what could happen if they acted rather than hoped. If they did something other than pray.

This is my Camino. To expect less of others.

My pack is heavy, my feet sore. My brow furrowed, my arms and neck brown. My hat is soaked with sweat, my shoulders cramped.