Disclaimer

BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation, and I accept complete responsibility for the views expressed herein. As indicated by the domain name, I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any ambiguous terms, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Allegiance



I must admit that I don't really have any strong beliefs on the unification of Ireland. I can certainly sympathise with past horrors committed by the British against the Irish, but that doesn't realty translate to what the future should be. Actually, that's not quite true. I believe that Northern Ireland should determine its own future.

As regards representation, I feel that NI's citizens have the right to be represented, wherever they decide they belong. It particularly concerns me that in the current situation, Sinn Fein don't represent their constituents' interests in the UK parliament. I say this from a standpoint of very much sympathising with Sinn Fein's existence, although I wouldn't vote for them purely because they don't take up their seats.

I know that SF not attending at Westminster is old hat. I also know that the problem they have is in swearing allegiance to the queen. The queen? I'm sorry, but this is my parliament. A UK voter. MPs should be swearing allegiance to their constituents, not to the head of state. So I can understand totally where SF are coming from.

My solution? Swear allegiance to the right people, and don't give SF the excuse. Make sure that all the people of NI are represented in parliament.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Role of Nationalisation



I'm just finishing off Ken Clarke's autobiography on Audible. I tend to think of Ken Clarke as very moderate, as right-wingers go, plus he's been a cabinet minister through large parts of my life. Now that I'm older myself, I can appreciate some of the issues he's had to grapple with. A lot of what he says is interesting but like most Conservatives, he sees a world of profit and loss, where I tend to see it as people's (and the planet's) well-being (or not). I think ultimately it boils down to what the main function of government is - to have prosperous people or to have happy people. (To a large extent, but not completely, I think that the two are mutual.)

For example he's just recounted a French attitude he experienced whilst at the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), visiting the Airbus project in Toulouse. This is at the time of Mitterand, so the socialists were in control in France. Clarke's notion was primarily to make Airbus commercially competitive versus Boeing, whilst other people's priority was to offer stable jobs to local workers (bearing in mind that Airbus is dotted across Europe). I mean, sure, you needed a viable aircraft at the end of the process, but to me, the latter seems a perfectly acceptable viewpoint.

It's kind-of like the arguments about nationalised industries. Is the role of the health service (say) limited to delivering healthcare, end of story, or do you also use it as a vehicle to get you towards full employment? That seems to me to be the whole purpose of having nationalised industries - instead of having the goal to supply some goods or service with 100% efficiency, as you would in a private company, you settle for maybe 80% efficiency. That 80% is just a number I plucked out of the air, but, you know,  something deliberately a little bit short of full efficiency. The wins being that whilst you pay out on salaries, you both save on benefits, and you're left with somebody who feels they've made a contribution. I think that's important because, by and large, I think people want to contribute. I think that some people do epect a free ride, but that they're in a small minority.

Interesting also to hear Clarke describing some of the things he encountered in the early Eighties and his analysis of the problems, at least, seem reasonable. I think something had to change from the Seventies, although I'm not sure that Margaret Thatcher's solutions took us entirely in the right direction. But you do look at things like the power of the unions... It's a great pity that we had to have a miner's strike (amongst others) to force the issue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think lastly that you need to be careful with political biographies. No matter who the politician is, they will present the facts so as to make their actions appear reasonable, and as a result, you end up feeling a degree of sympathy for them. No matter whether left or right. So I think you need to finish the book and give yourself time to digest its contents before drawing any firm conclusions.




Thursday, 18 April 2019

Spot the difference

Sorting some photos this evening, found this one from 2016:


Just to be clear, the pharmacy picked the wrong medication.And then checked it wrongly.

Do I need to add that I complained about this, and surprise, surprise, it wasn't taken any further?

De Strandvonder

Continuing on my theme of putting pictures into posts, this Northern Holland and this is the Beach Wanderer:

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Webcams

One of the things that came out of my last post, the blaze at Notre Dame, was that I wanted to see the cathedral for myself, so went hunting for webcams in France. In my healthy yeays, I used to go over to France a lot, I speak ok french and found a wonderful site with webcams from many places that I've known - https://www.viewsurf.com/. One such place was Les Sables d'Olonne, on the Vendée (west) coast of France.

I'm generally quite realistic about my disability these days I but look at those two guys on the bikes and hope they realise just how lucky they are - a few years ago, that would've been me (only maybe in July)!


Monday, 15 April 2019

Paris

I feel incredibly sad tonight to be hearing the news that Notre Dame cathedral is ablaze.

I'm not a religious person but I loved Notre Dame - at one stage pre-marriage I used to spend about a weekend per month in Paris, so know (knew) the city very well. I used to stay in the 5th arrondissement and would regularly walk past the Pantheon down to the Île de la Cité - Paris is a beautiful city to walk around.

Who could not be moved by this?

Saturday, 13 April 2019

American Memories



I had a job in the UK between September 1995 and February 1997. I was a programmer with probably 7 years' experience, and a novice project manager. The company was looking for a technical specialist cum project manager, so I suppose I was a decent fit.

The company was a start up and everyone was working on just the one project - a web-based B2B purchasing solution. The web was, in those days, sufficiently immature (and the company's idea sufficiently visionary) that this company could quite happily get into meetings with the High-Street banks.

The product required quite advanced (for the time) encryption, and we ended up building on a commercial US library. The library itself couldn't be exported, but it was perfectly OK for our product to use the library, and for our product to be exported. It indicates that the lawyers didn't understand the technology, but I suppose nothing much has changed in that respect. I didn't have any hand in selecting this product in the first place, which probably also says how inexperienced I was.

So, the solution was for me to fly out to the USA to do the work. It was only for about a month, and my first taste of the USA. The company's backers were venture capitalists based near Washington, DC, so that was the natural place to work.

In the end, it was a small town right by Dulles (Washington's main) Airport. Aspects of the USA were brilliant but it was very "suburbs" - every journey had to be made by car, the highway was dotted with clumps of either houses or shops, and in between there was a whole lot of nothing. I didn't like the suburb aspect but I did like things like the shops in the larger malls (I bought a new wardrobe!), Mexican food, say. Some things. I have a vague memory that this was around Easter 1996, and because I thought it was a one-off trip, I tried to squeeze in all the Washington touristy bits - the White House, Smithsonian, Arlington Cemetery etc.

But because of the suburbs aspect, when I got back home I didn't take it any further, and the project trundled on. The company signed a deal with Barclaycard in the UK, but Chase Manhattan were also interested, and the US is a far bigger market than the UK. Meantime I had started managing the entire project, although, because it was a one-project company, there was a lot of involvement from directors. I knew early on that management was not really for me - one of my employees came to me one day with a personal problem, and I remember thinking, "stuff your problem, as long as it doesn't interfere with my deadline". Not a brilliant attitude on my part and, in all jobs since, I've concentrated on the technical side rather than on people.

In order to help close the deal with Chase, I was sent out to their campus in Tampa, Florida. for a few weeks to hold a series of technical meetings about how the solution worked. I liked Tampa, it was mostly very new but had areas with a decent history and vibrant atmosphere thanks to its Spanish background. Plus, of course, the weather was a big improvement on the UK. This was early summer 1996, and the trip culminated in a meeting at Chase's head office in New York City.

The series of meetings obviously helped, and we duly signed a deal with Chase. Instead of Washington, DC, we'd be located in Tampa, Fl. to be close to them. The company clearly had designs on moving to the US, so I let it be known that I'd quite like to go over there permanently, and they set the wheels in motion to obtain a visa. I liked Tampa much more than DC.

Chase must have been having their own meetings about the project, and the next thing I knew, Chase dictated that the project now had a sufficiently strategic importance, that they wanted us close by, in New York City. Personally, this was fine by me, since I'd liked New York City even more than Tampa. My first impression of Manhattan had been very positive. The only thing was that the cost of living was that much higher than in Florida, but that was the company's problem, not mine, right?

From midsummer 1996 onwards, therefore, I was over in New York City quite a bit, helping to set up a US operation. Funnily enough, I didn't do many "tourist" things, because there was no hurry. I did go up to the top of the World Trade Center, and remember going to Staten Island on the ferry, to see Liberty, but there was lots more I eventually wanted to do. I loved New York - it was very different to most of the US, just in terms of its compactness. And there was so much going on - if I had to identify the capital of the world, this was it.

By the end of the year, my visa had come through so it was time to make things permanent. I said most of my goodbyes in the UK and gave up my rent. Then, the snag!

Basically, the company offered me a deal to work in Florida, which I accepted. They offered me the same deal, but in New York City. In real terms, in the UK I had viewed a few houses and was ready to buy, in Florida it would've meant a nice apartment (rental) and a decent car, but in New York I'd have been renting a room in a shared house/apartment, in one of New York's other boroughs, not Manhattan. The trouble was, I'd been in New York for some months now, I'd made a few friends and, more importantly, had been involved in hiring future co-workers. So, I'd had some exposure to the market. I was being asked to take on quite a senior role, but at a quarter of their salaries. Presumably the company gambled that just the prestige of working in NYC would be irresistable. But whilst the location was attractive, I had my doubts about the company itself - was it really something I wanted to be tied to? I felt that the atmosphere could be quite toxic, even between the directors. The company was very marketing-driven, very good at talking the talk, but not necessarily walking the walk. I remember once working a 26-hour stint the day before a meeting, because somebody had promised something pretty impossible, and we'd had to do the best that we could, I snook a couple of hours sleep in the boardroom! Also the support we had from Chase was unusually limited, or so I thought at the time (I've seen it many times since). The middle-managers we dealt with harboured ambitions to become senior managers - they had to maintain a certain distance from us because if not, and the project went belly up, then it might rub off on them. Middle managers in large corporates think very much like that the world over - make sure you don't go out on a limb for anything, and you'll get promoted just for not screwing up! Actually, the senior managers I know got there precisely by going out on a limb and succeeding against the odds, but that's a different story, and I have the benefit of hindsight.

Anyway, the to-ing and fro-ing went on over Christmas 1996, but in the end I decided not to take the offer - it was a step backward rather than forward. I mean, I was still minded to get to New York somehow, and armed with the visa (which wasn't transferable between employers, but did at least show that my skills were specialised enough to gain a visa in the first place), whilst at the same time set up my own company in the UK, in case things didn't work out.

As it happened, I severed my ties formally with this company in February 1997, fortunately there was a spell where I was on gardening leave but on full pay, where I was able to develop my own business. I got the first work through my company in early March, down near Winchester (which brought me to this area), and over time lost the urge to work in the USA. I loved New York City but looking at how things turned out both personally and professionally, I can't really complain.

I got a letter from an official receiver, some months later, telling me that the UK arm of this company had gone to the wall - I suspect they put all their eggs into the Chase basket and Barclaycard weren't too thrilled - but by then I was nicely into the rest of my life.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Progress? Report



I talked about my disabilities in the past, but not so much recently. I have a kind-of overall attitude that nothing much is changing, so I don't bother talking about it. But, just in the last week, something has changed, so I thought I'd just publish a recap of where I am. I'll split this into a few subtopics, starting with the most general:

Balance

I still find myself off-balance, but am able to correct myself either by shifting my body weight or, more likely, by using some fixed object to stabilise myself. Fixed objects are often walls, etc. The distribution of my body weight must play a part, since I can be standing still and still lose my balance. I actually feel more balanced when I'm, say, walking, just because my momentum is carrying me is a particular direction anyway. Changing direction introduces wobbles, as does "pottering" (by which I mean, moving somewhere quite slowly, without much momentum)

I guess I've improved since leaving hospital, just in terms of using fixed objects for balance, just because I have to do so less often. But I still need to do it, so this is largely anecdotal. Certainly in hospital, when I first started walking again, I never used to go more than a step away from a handrail, although now I can walk from A to B, across open space. I do sometimes feel unbalanced while walking, but I can fix myself and don't fall over. Which leads me to:

Stamina

I learned early on that, if I wanted to get somewhere, I could go a short distance, take a break, move another short distance, and so on, and eventually I would get there. Within reason. If you wanted me to walk a hundred miles, I'd probably decline! But with a shorter goal, I'm generally happy that I'd get there eventually.

This is all still the case. Just looking back to the start (it was an extreme condition, so easy to compare against) I have improved, just in the terms that the short distances have become a bit longer, the breaks have become shorter, etc. I can probably manage 100 yards or so, before I need to take a breath, my breaks can be as little as 10 seconds, or so. It also depends on the day and on how much I've walked already, so presumably on my energy levels.

So, like I say, I get there. I have timed myself over distance, and looked at the numbers. Google Maps is great to compare against, since it can measure quite fine distances, and can come up with a "walking time" estimate (such-and-such a journey will take you five minutes, etc.) . I'm about 2/3 the speed that Google assumes. Google assumes a constant speed, though, where I get slower as I tire. And, I'm not sure whether Google takes account of uphill/downhill.

I've found that often, the reason I need to stop is because lactic acid builds up in my good calf. Bear in mind that until the stroke, this was my weaker leg. But I've found that even if I stop for a break, when I start again it doesn't take long for the lactic acid to return. For that reason, I try to walk slowly enough that it doesn't become unbearable in the first place.

Interestingly, in terms of state benefits, I don't get anything for my restricted range. To qualify for benefits, you either need to have a range of less than 20m, or have issues even planning a journey. I didn't argue with that decision, because (a) mostly, I can walk more than 20 yards, and (b) I'm as capable of planning a journey as the next person. So, they applied the rules correctly. But it is a silly rule, if you ask me, just because I do face issues not faced by able-bodied people.

Eyesight

 My eyesight does, at least, appear to have stabilised. Immediately after the stroke it was worse than it is now. It is still not 100%, though, and will never be so. Before, and around the time of, the stroke, I was having problems with my eyes and had both laser surgery and injections to try and help. But either the problems, or the treatment, has left permanent damage.

My short-distance vision is OK, it has worsened just naturally as part of ageing, but my longer-distance vision is not so good. In addition, my left eye is markedly worse than my right, which indicates to me that the stroke might have had an effect. I have prescription varifocal glasses which I'm supposed to wear all the time, although I only tend to wear them when going out, and often have to come hobbling back into the house, when I realise I've forgotten them.

I have been told by the hospital (who I still see) that my sight is still good enough to drive, although because of my arm I haven't even attempted to get behind the wheel. I'm not sure how valid my insurance would be, for a start!

Left arm/hand

The stroke affected my left side, and my left arm is effectively useless. I can move my arm, but if I lift it, it is a matter of seconds before it gives way. So even something like buttering a slice of bread, I have to do one-handed with my right hand. My left arm isn't good enough to help.

I have less movement, as you move out from my torso. There's good movement at my shoulder, less at my elbow, none at my wrist. Or, very little. My hand is funny because I can clench a very loose fist, but I have nothing when it comes to straightening my hand. It's difficult when there is nothing - when there's a flicker, I can keep working on it, but when there's nothing...

I mentioned that I could sort-of clench a fist - the thing about that is the effort required to do so. An able-bodied person would just do it without thinking, but for me, there is very much thought and effort involved. You can see my face grimace as I attempt to clench my fist.

Even then, I can't maintain the clench, so if I put a knife, say, into the fist, then it just drops out. So I can't really use the hand for anything. My arm isn't even strong enough to lift my hand for any length of time, even if I could. So practical things like holding a pen, or cutlery (or typing), are out.

So, in terms of benefits, this disability is what counts. There are all sorts of things which I can't do, which take considerably longer, or for which I need gadgets to help.

Left leg/foot

My leg is the same as my arm, only worse. It is the same story, in that I have movement at the hip, a bit less at the knee, and nothing at the ankle. With this combination, however, I can walk, albeit with a very obvious limp. Because there is no movement at my ankle, it has become stiffer. The flexibility of an able-bodied ankle provides a form of suspension. The inflexibility of my gammy ankle means that I find it less easy to cope with non-flat surfaces. In practise, this manifests itself as a "twisted ankle" feeling quite often if I walk on non-paved ground.

The reason I say "worse" is simply because when I get to my ankle and foot, there is nothing. So, even the equivalent of clenching a fist is out. A very recent development is that I might have worked out how to move my foot slightly, but....millimetres - and not something I can just do at will - I'm baffled why I can do it some times and not others. It was such a small flicker of a movement that I had to ask my wife to keep hold of my foot, just to see if she could feel any movement. And, to move those millimetres, the effort and grimaces were enormous. But as I say, at least with a flicker, I have something to work on. But mostly, I have no use of my ankle or foot.

There is a knock-on effect to this in that my lower leg frms a kind-of arc when I walk. So it not just goes in one plane, but goes outward too. Consequently, I need a wider space to get through. This is a small thing, inasmuch as it only comes into play infrequently. But when it does come into play, I lose my balance.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Mis-sold



My job hunt has not been very successful. An example happened about a month ago. It was a lecturer role. Now, I've never taught in my life, although I do have plenty of experience of software development, so I'd hope that that would be useful when you have a bunch of people specifically looking to get into IT.

I was encouraged by the job advert. It specifically stated that it was fine if you didn't have teaching experience, so long as you had substantial industry experience. Exactly what I wanted to hear. The advert went on to say that, if you weren't already a teacher, you'd be sent on some crash course. Fine.

So I applied for the role and I was encouraged because they offered an interview. I mean, they said that applications from non-teachers were welcome, but all the same, if you are a trained teacher, that must be an advantage.

So I was pleasantly surprised that they offered an interview. However, my joy was short-lived when I read what the structure of the interview would be. Or, of one aspect of it. Have any of you heard of a micro-teach? I hadn't, despite all my IT experience. I was actually quite miffed that these people had said "teaching experience not required", when it transpired that it was, very much so. Of course, I didn't say anything other than to say thank you, but I didn't want to go any further. From my perspective, the goal once I'd realised that the job was unsuitable was just to spend as little time as possible on it, instead looking at vacncies which might be suitable. I had said on the application form that I was disabled, so maybe when they offered the interview, they had some quota to fulfil? But really, I'm not going to take the time and trouble to even turn up, if all I am is a makeweight.

I bet the person they eventually hired was already a teacher.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Mystery Food



One of the good things about testing myself daily is that I can see the effect of different foods on my sugar the next day. In fact, for that reason, I'd recommend testing to anybody, even somebody healthy.

Of course, if you're healthy, you're less likely to see the magnitude of the changes that I see, just because your body will nullify most carbs naturally.

It is from these observations that I can see that a packet of sweets, say, has much less effect on my sugar than a portion of potatoes. As I've said before, it's not "sweet", but "carb". Of course, sugar is itself a carb, so I'd assume that I would notice it, if I consumed enough. But knowing that kind of information is really useful to me. We're individuals so individual foods will affect us differently, but as a rule of thumb...

The reason I bring this up is because, on two occasions, my sugar has been high this week. Not high, high, but above average. I haven't eaten anything that I'm aware is bad for me, so I've been puzzling a bit over the things I have eaten.

The only thing I can think of, which I ate the day before each reading, was a bowl of muesli. Cereals in general are deadly for containing lots of sugar, but this was specifically a "no-added-sugar-or-salt" variety. So the only sweet stuff should have been the fruit itself, although, granted, raisins are quite sweet. These appeared to be mixed in with oat flakes. Oats are generally my cereal of choice, although heaven knows what other things were mixed in (unfortunately the packet, listing ingredients, is long gone).

So I'm kind-of wary about eating any more of this stuff.

The other thing I observe is that following a "high", it takes my body 48 hours to get back to normal. The next day is always high too, although not as high. I suppose that's just how long it takes your body to eat, process, and get rid of, any food traces. Aside from this being me, that I have to be careful what food I consume, this information is quite interesting I think.


Changing Plans

Ha, ha, it's funny how an email can change your day...

A couple of weeks ago I started doing bits on my new project. I had determined that it should be a web-based project, just because I haven't worked on a meaty web-based project for a couple of years. I wasn't sure what I wanted the subject matter to be - ideally I'd like a fresh subject but, if it came to it, I could provide a web-based equivalent of Diem.

I started sniffing around Microsoft HealthVault. This is a Microsoft effort, so will have decent resource behind it. It provides end users with a nice web site through which to store various health-related data, including their blood glucose. It also provides an API, so allows people to write an application, connect to HealthVault, and use HealthVault to store the data. One of the big things about health applications is user security, and the big win of using HealthVault was that Microsoft handled all that - it is already a secure site.

So I've downloaded a couple of samples, got them working, and earmarked some time to write my own noddy code, just to see how it all hangs together. HealthVault doesn't support all the statistics supported by Diem, so another thing on my list was to discover whether I could store that data somehow. Fortunately, as it happens, I hadn't got anywhere near that yet.

So I signed up and got myself a HealthVault account, only last week. I've logged into it just to poke around, but haven't got into any specifics yet. Then, fast forward to this morning. When I loaded my email program, lo and behold, a message from Microsoft saying that they're pulling the plug on HealthVault in six months time.

In some ways, a shame, because I might have been able to use it. But I'm mightily glad that they made this announcement when I'm just embarking on a new project, rather than a year into it.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Random

I like to have a short bath every day. At weekends, especially, the soak tends to be a bit more leisurely, and I have just been listening to my current audiobook, a geeky little number called Humble Pi.

It appealed to me because I've always been a bit of a maths geek. It's basically about maths/engineering cock-ups, where bridges have collapsed etc. The US space programme features a lot. Last time he talked about a bridge between somewhere in Germany and somewhere in Sweden. They agreed a height for the bridge, and started to build half each with the intention of meeting in the middle.

It all went wrong because they agreed on a height, measured above sea level. But each set of engineers used a different reference point as "sea level", so the two halves of the bridge met but one half was 50cm higher than the other! Things like that tickle me.

Today's instalment was about random numbers, In particular, how difficult it is to generate truly random numbers.

"Proper" generators will use something physical - nowadays things might rely on quantum physics, for example, because at the quantum level, particles can appear and disappear at random - you can even get usb devices built along these lines. In the 1950's the UK came up with ERNIE to generate random numbers - based on the length of time it would take a single electron to travel the length of a neon tube, which fitted the technology of the day. Because the path is chaotic, and therefore the distance travelled/time taken by the electron is random.

A cheaper/easier way is to produce something which looks as though it is random, called pseudo-random. It reminded me of one of my biggest programming challenges, many years ago. To produce a "seed" which, to all intents and purposes, was random. Lots of things will produce a seemingly random series of numbers, but they all rely on a seed. If you use the same seed twice, you get the same series of numbers, so the randomness of the seed is the key.

This algorithm took ages. In the end, I combined a bunch of things. The program ran on Windows so I ended up using stuff like mouse movements, and the interval between keystrokes. Even then, it was hard to be random, because trained typists didn't use the mouse, and typed keys at surprisingly regular intervals. I got there somehow and the algorithm ended up being used by both Barclaycard in the UK, and Chase Manhattan in the USA, as part of their merchant operations. This was mid-nineties, so heaven knows if it is still in use (I can't imagine so). The product I was working on used an American security library, which was subject to export restrictions, so I ended up going to the USA for the first time to do the work - with the same company I later went back several times, and was granted a visa to work there fulltime, as development lead.

Those were the days...


Friday, 5 April 2019

Hypo alert

Gosh, I just had my first hypo for ages. Well, almost. It was coming up to lunchtime and when I got up to make it, I could feel the hypo starting to come on. I did myself a paella ready meal, which has the advantage that it microwaves in, like, 2 minutes flat.

But even as I was eating it, it kept falling off the fork, my hand was shaking.

I'm probably an hour later now and feel not just normal but well-fed. On top of the ready-meal I also had a bowl of no-adder-sugar-or-salt muesli.

In a way I'm glad I started having hypos again because it shows that I'm controlling my sugar down to normal-ish levels (in fact in this case to lower-than-normal levels). I'll keep in my mind that I might need to reduce my insulin at some point.

Double Talk

On UK tv, they show a couple of regular politics programmes on a Thursday night. They're on later than my bedtime these days, so I record them and usually watch them over the following few days. So I'm sitting here on Friday morning,before work, watching some Question Time.

One thing I notice is that many politicians are very good, when you mention cuts, at changing your frame of reference. "Such-and-such has been cut by 50%." "We are spending £100m more." So you've gone from talking about % to £. I saw Sajid Javid doing exactly the same thing, recently, so it is a deliberate tactic, I think.

To be clear, a cut of even 0.1% is still a cut - doesn't matter how much money is involved. Because of inflation, you need to spend more money just to stand still.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Customs Union

I'm quite in favour of a customs union between the UK and the EU, for now, but I think the argument splits into two.

First, I'm very much in favour of a free trade agreement, just because any other approach seems to be cutting off our nose to spite our face, and because we trade so heavily with the EU currently.

But a customs union is more than that. It is also the two blocs showing a united front to other countries. Common tariffs, standards etc.

My gut feel is that anything that the EU arranges with, say, the USA is nothing to do with the UK. And vice-versa. But one argument persuades me otherwise. What if, on item X, the UK charges a tariff of 10% and the EU a tariff of 5%? Or vice versa? For your smart American merchant, it'll be cheaper to import their product at Rotterdam rather than Southampton. And, with the UK and EU in a bilateral free trade agreement, they could just drive the goods the rest of the way, and avoid the higher tariff.

I mean, I hear the argument that the UK needs to be able to strike its own trade deals with other countries. I have sympathy for it. But I worry that the UK will develop a policy of undercutting the EU. The money aspect doesn't worry me so much, but I fear an erosion of workers' rights. It doesn't have to be this way, of course, but this is one of the choices that must be made.

For these reason, I'm happy that a customs union trumps a trade deal, at least for now - while the UK and the EU trade so much with each other. It doesn't have to be forever, though, so I don't think we should try to tie the hands of our successors. Atthe same time, I think it is something that we have "until further notice", rather than having a set end-date. But a critical part of the union will be who, then, sets the tariffs?

Well, we're in a fortunate position that, at the point in time when we leave the EU, both of our tariffs will be the same. So, on Day #1, you have synergy.

But obviously the UK leaving the EU allows for divergence (setting a customs union aside for a moment). I would suggest that in any future talks with other countries, that the UK has one vote and the EU has one vote, and that both need to agree or we stay at the status quo - basically, either side has a veto. (I'm very sympathetic to Brexiteers of this one, that the UK should not just be a rule-taker. And fine, the EU consists of many constituent states, but these stateshave already set their individual statehood to one side, in order to trade as one bloc - the EU.) If one side finds this unbearable, then you need to look at dismantling the CU. Just with this last sentence in mind, we shouldn't attempt to tie the hands of our successors.

It's funny because yesterday I encountered a Brexiteer on Facebook, to whom any idea of a customs union was an anathame, whereas I too supported Brexit, but actually wouldn't mind it one bit.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Found!

I check this blog quite regularly, not necessarily to write stuff, but more to just look at housekeeping stuff. For example, I check the comments because once or twice I've found that people have left spam, or adverts, stuff like "buy Viagra here". I mean, this is mostly quite a serious blog, I can do without that crap, so I police the comments. It kind-of goes against my grain, to censor things, but I can't assume that other people will behave responsibly.

Anyway, looking at the statistics for the blog this morning, I saw that one of the referrers from yesterday was from the search engine, Bing. I followed the referrer link and, sure enough, this site comes back on the first page of results, when somebody does a search on the phrase "stroke survivor".

I've got mixed feelings about these statistics. In the early days, I thought they were just me, checking  past entries. But while the statistics don't go so far enough to tell me the reader's actual name and address, they do give me various clues. Different browsers make requests in different ways,and Blogger can tell the difference between Chrome on Windows, and Firefox on Apple, say. Blogger doesn't show me your IP address, but it does show me where in the world, just down to the "country" level. So, if you view my pages through a British ISP, say, then you'll show up as a hit from Britain.

So, one of the reasons I take the statistics semi-seriously is that Blogger tells me that visits happen from a bunch of different countries. Most common is the USA, of course, but there have been hits from several other countries across the world. Importantly, not UK, so not me. Similarly, when the stats tell me that my blog was viewed from an iPad somewhere.... well, I know that's not me because I don't own an iPad!

I guess Bing must be pretty big, I know it is owned by Microsoft, but when I last checked, I don't come that high on Google. I tend to regard Google as #1, just because it's the search engine that I tend to use. I'll have to search for myself again and see what I find. One day!

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Mothers' Day

In the UK, it is Mothers' Day. My wife has spent the day going all the way over to Devon to see her mum. I don't really talk about my mum much, so I thought I'd talk about her death, at least.

In 2012, my mum went into hospital (Liverpool) for a biopsy. She'd told me that she was going into hospital, she hadn't told me the detail but she had told me she'd be back out in a week, so I assumed nothing special. The first I knew that all wasn't well was when I couldn't contact her afterwards. She'd caught some kind of infection during the biopsy, and had been quite poorly.

Either I found her, or she found me, I can't remember which, but I remember driving up to Liverpool and back the weekend before she died. She was obviously weak, but the same person. I took my daughter up with me and they were made up to see each other.

I got a phone call on the Monday, the day after my visit. Mum had had a bleed on her heart, and had had a heart attack in hospital. If you're going to have a heart attack then a hospital is probably the best place to have one, except that before resuscitation could begin, they had to drain the area. There was some delay, therefore, in resuscitating her. When I went back up to Liverpool on the Tuesday, mum was hooked up to a life support machine.

We stayed up there for the week. Me, my wife and my daughter. During the week nothing changed with my mum, I spoke to various doctors who left me in no doubt how grave the situation was. In that week, everybody who meant something had come to visit. I can't remember who proposed turning life support off, but once everybody had seen her, I agreed. On the Friday evening, we switched the support off and mum was on her own. She lasted forty minutes before she died - my wife and I were with her, as was her brother. My daughter was only 12 at the time, seeing grandma in Intensive Care.... well, even that is something a 12-year-old shouldn't see. Funnily enough, my mum was far closer in life to her sister than to her brother, but her sister - my auntie - was going through her own turmoil at that time, as her mum (my grandma) was also in hospital. It was 15 March, 2012.

My mum's death hit my daughter hard. My wife and I saw this event as the start of my daughter going off the rails. Looking back, daughter had problems before then, but she was very close to Grandma and it had a big effect. It didn't hit me quite so hard, my mum was stupid over my daughter, and I did what I could to foster that, but I'd long since grown apart from my mum. It's ironic really because I enjoyed a different, more affluent life than she did, and yet it is largely thanks to her pushing me, especially in the early days. I know she was very proud of me - just as we all want our kids to have it easier than we did, to take for granted those things that we had to work for, she was no different.

Anyway, mum was only 68 when she died, quite young these days. I did think of pushing for more details about her death - in particular, was this bleed caused by not performing the biopsy properly? I didn't take it forward because there was a fair amount of grey area, plus the NHS tends to close ranks around its own - something I now believe even more firmly.

The results of the autopsy were the clincher. They found quite advanced cancers, even spread to near her heart, so even if my mum had have survived, she'd have faced hard labour. She had told me about her wish not to be resuscitated long ago, and that goes along with my thoughts that there comes a time when we don't mind death. Not least, we see people around us living with all sorts of ailments, and we don't want that for ourselves. In any case I've since seen on the stroke ward people who have survived their initial stroke, but who just lie in their beds as shells and no longer have any interest in living. So in some ways it was better for mum that she went relatively quickly, having enjoyed a relatively healthy life, certainly going before she was elderly and infirm.

Green no more

I have previously mentioned on here that I was a member of the Green Party. I did and do believe that we need to start putting environmental concerns higher even than economic concerns. It's funny, because Tony Benn of the Labour Party, in his later years, classes himself as a "free radical", and I'd use that same tag, although I don't agree with everything that Benn put forward.

I've stopped supporting the Greens. The reason? Well, in 2016, the UK had a vote which decided upon X. The "correct" response, for me, would have been to say, "OK, within the boundaries of X, how can we best develop policies that protect the future?" Instead, the Green Party responded with "X is wrong, so let's overturn it". And, that's been the case for three years now.

In other words, it doesn't matter that the public want something different for the future. And have voted for it, too. Their response, instead of working with the public, is just to tell them that they were wrong.

It kind-of worries me when a party, any party, says that they will ignore public opinion, especially when that opinion is expressed so clearly as in a referendum. I've heard this from the Greens, but not only from the Greens. Vote for us, because after you do, it won't matter what you think. I mean, it might well be that you consider X to be a really bad idea, but it is a decision that, however bad, has already been made.

I mean, one thing that has become readily apparent over the last few years is that different people have very different ideas about the meaning of the word "democracy", but I'm afraid somebody who says "I don't believe that X is good, so therefore I will keep fighting to overturn it, despite what other people say", doesn't do it for me. At the very least I want constructive politicians.

The 2016 referendum has probably damaged me less than most. Whilst I have a view on the issue, I can easily see why somebody else might take a different view. So, I'm not going to fall out with anybody over this. But one area where I have been damaged is that by seeing parties (any party) just trying to wreck the process, rather than using it to be constructive, has heightened my cynicism toward them. I remember hearing Vince Cable (LibDem leader) saying that the main goal was to overturn Brexit, by any means necessary, and that was enough for me to mark him as a "fail".

One further point, I'll make it quick, is that if this vote isn't acted upon, the public then has the proof that their vote is irrelevant. That they decide something, and that the powers-that-be ignore them. Therefore, why should they ever bother to vote again? You know, if you want people to respect elections in the future, then you need to respect those in the past. What is at stake here is not just a single issue, but the whole electoral system.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Thoughts and Feelings

I've talked before about one of the funny things about stroke. In the months immediately afterwards, I clearly remember having a feeling that every day would be my last. Nothing much bothered me, other really than getting everything in order to make things easier for my wife when I was gone. In the months after the stroke, I closed my business down and closed most of my bank accounts. I thought about death a lot, to the point where it doesn't really bother me. The pain associated with death bothers me, but not death itself. One of the good things about the stroke was that there was no pain whatever, so when I have to go, I'd take another stroke, please. A knock-on effect is that I'm less likely to pay attention - even now - to unimportant things. I don't pay much attention to tv, for example. A lot of "news" programmes put me off because of their shallowness.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy life and to die anytime shortly would be way too soon (true for all of us!), but I've achieved most of the things I've wanted to do. Work was always important to me, and I was working on Wall Street whilst still in my 20s - not just working but leading stuff. Home-wise I have a mostly-happy marriage, and have done the "kids" thing. That didn't go well, but it's too late to do anything now. In any case, the reason that things fell apart with my daughter were because I had one set of values, and she had another, different set. Very different. So different, you'd never guess we were related. And all these differences are still the case, so I think it is better to keep a distance between us. So I don't really have any pangs of regret about things - it's a shame things didn't turn out better,but you can't just set your values to one side, can't just stop being "you" for someone.

This preparedness to die, I don't really have that feeling any more, or rather it doesn't dominate. Three years on, I'm very much looking toward a future. I get value from life. I'd be easily able to do a job, when one comes up. Of course, it doesn't have to be as challenging as Wall Street! But it's not as if I'm medically unable to work, it's more a case of waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Even now, pre-job, I'm helping people, and keeping myself busy, with my charity work.

It's funny, because when I do my hospital visits, I try to find common ground with the patients by remembering my own experience in there. This far downstream, the memories have faded somewhat. The overall feelings I had don't fade, but the details fade. So while it is inevitable that I've become more skilled at talking to people over the years, some aspects of the role have become more difficult.

But, actually, it is important to remember that I once had these feelings. Despite my disability imposing physical limits on my, I joke to people that I think twice as hard. Except it's not a joke, because I've experienced things that most people don't experience until years later. And every one of these experiences makes us wiser in the future.

Friday, 29 March 2019

A New Breed

One of the things that I've been encouraged by in the whole Brexit process is the level of engagement. We're even at the point now where people are raising questions about the UK's system - the role of parliament, the role of referendums etc.

Ex-cabinet ministers such as Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo are both on record as saying that referendums are always a dumb idea. Presumably, they very much see a world where the public should only be interested in politics every five years, to elect their MP. Thereafter, they delegate all political issues to that MP, for the lifetime of the next Parliament. Doesn't really satisfy me, because I want to be more hands-on than that.

So I think it's a bit short-sighted. It's not how I see things, anyway. Even for somebody who'd voted for their MP, you wouldn't expect eye-to-eye agreement on every issue. In casting their vote, people select the person who, on balance, they judge to be the best candidate. And for someone who didn't vote for their MP, even less of the above!

To get into specific issues, I'd be more than happy to give my opinion on a whole range of things. For example, as in the 2016 referendum. I don't mean to dot the i's and cross the t's here, but to set a broad direction of travel. Do I want to be in or out of the EU, say. Should the UK maintain its nuclear deterrent? How much more tax would I be prepared to spend on education? For the most part, yes or no, but some issues where you present multiple choices. I suppose that, by implication, the best way for Parliament to elicit such responses is by referendum. So, rather than having a referendum once a generation, I'd have one every week until there was nothing left to discuss.

This does at least get rid on one criticism - the broad one that MPs are stupid and useless. Their defence would be that they were only doing what the UK public had told them to do.

So I'd be happy, then, to set a direction of travel. I then see a role for MPs, to take that direction of travel and to turn it into law. To worry about the nuts and bolts of how we implement something. Of course, at this point, I recognise that the public might specify two different directions of travel, which might make implementation of something impossible. I have ideas on this, but won't go into them here.

The problem comes, of course, because that's what our current breed of MPs are used to. They're used to being elected, sure, but then on doing their own thing on an individual issue. They're used to determining direction of travel, as well as implementing the detail. So, fundamentally, I'm talking about a different role for an MP - somebody who can take my broad instructions, and fill in the gaps.

I think there are implications to this approach. I think it was exemplified in the 2016 vote, but asking a very straightforward question does not necessarily get the clearest answer. Do you want to be in or out of the EU makes no mention of customs unions etc. - if we had have been asked about them, it would maybe have made subsequent policies easier to determine. You might argue that "out" means "out of everything", but I don't think it was particularly clear at the time, what everything was. In short, I think you need a good deal of skill when deciding exactly what question you want to ask.

Another implication, as I said, is that the public might contradict itself. I think there are ways of dealing with this, but we need at least to be aware of it.

Anyway, I don't want to drone on about this subject. Suffice it to say that I think there is another way of doing things.


Thursday, 28 March 2019

Terminology

In a lot of computing, somebody will often say "have you heard of such-and-such?" Truthfully, you'll say "no", but make a mental note to look it up later. Then, later, you look it up, and actually, it sounds very similar to something you do know about. It particularly affects me these days - I'm quite paranoid because I've been out of the industry for a few years, so am worried in case the world has moved on. I probably shouldn't be - I've been developing again now for a year and have probably come across most of what I'm going to find.

I've been reading today about Microsoft Azure. Not an environment I've used or know much about. But, really, having spent the day reading, Azure is based on nothing more than data centres. I was using data centres back in 2000! And virtualisation, which I've been using since 2006 or 7.

Of course, Microsoft Azure has added value in these last years, plus (obviously) this is Microsoft's take on something industry-wide. It is more than just virtualisation these days. There are virtual servers, of course, but also things like virtual databases and virtual messaging hubs for asynchronous communication.

I mean, I don't badge myself as an expert after a day, but it is nice to know that it is not so much a new technology, more just a new name.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Blue Badge

I have just gone through the process of renewing my Blue Badge, which runs out at the end of March. Do you have Blue Badges where you are? If not, it is a scheme which designates some parking spaces as "specially reserved for disabled people", and the holder is supposed to show a Blue Badge in their car to prove their eligibility to use the space.

Give our government credit where it is due, their web site was very clear i this area, applying was long-winded but straightforward. There was a bit of to'ing-and-fro'ing because originally, the photo I supplied wasn't good enough, but even that was sorted out quickly and by email.

The only time my eyebrows were raised during the process was with the volume of data they collected. There was a lot of medical stuff on there. Yet my friend, who is a doctor, says that he was never asked to substantiate an applicant's claims of disability. So I'm sure this data is held on file somewhere, but not used. It raises an eyebrow in particular in the context of the GDPR, rules regarding data privacy, which came in in the EU last year - these rules specifically state that you shouldn't collect more data than is necessary.

Anyway, aside from this grouch...

A month later (end April), my disabled bus pass is scheduled to run out. To me, it appeared co-incidental, although I've since been told that the two things are timed deliberately.

The government's Blue Badge application was pretty seamless, then - doable in a few clicks. The council's bus pass application less so. The form was easy enough, but it was on paper and required a signature at the end.

A quick aside - the stroke left me without the use of my limbs down one side. My writing side. Specifically, any writing is out. If you want me to write, I have to use my "wrong" hand. I'm probably quite safe in predicting that when it comes to writing with the wrong hand, I'm every bit as bad as you are!

So, I queried this. Don't you have an online version of the form that I can fill out? one that doesn't require a signature? The response I got was a stonewall "No, either you or your representative needs to sign it". My representative? That opens up another can of worms. I have full cognitive ability - why therefore would I need somebody to represent my interests? The big deal for disabled people is to be able to live independently, and the local council either don't realise this, or don't care.

I mean, if you're able-bodied, this will all be a storm in a teacup, but to me, as a disabled person, it is a big deal.

It all seems perverse, because these people deal specifically with giving bus passes to disabled people, so you'd think there would be some kind of empathy there. They must be familiar with somebody's disability meaning that they can't fill out the form properly. Especially when the government do make it easier - the bar to qualify for the blue badge will be at the same height as the bar for the bus pass. Indeed, one of the acceptable "proofs" for the bus pass is a photocopy of your Blue Badge. So, why not make the applications as easy as each other?


Monday, 25 March 2019

Independent Living

It is pre-8am and have already completed what will be the secondmost Helculean task of the day. I've stripped my bed and just put it in the washer. At least, it was pre-8am when I did this - it'll be later when I publish the post. But, anyway, the biggest task will be getting it all back on again later.

 I still sleep in the same double bed that my wife and I used to sleep in. She moved out into a more comfortable bed, she says that I fidget too much in the night, but I'm happy in it. The base sheet is still a double, but everything else is single - purely to deal with the washing scenario. Any bigger sizes are just unmanageable.

I can just about manage the base sheet, by using the frame of the bed as a stepping stone - I've learned to hook it on there to get everything taut, before I tuck each corner under the mattress. I've tried, and failed miserably, with the original double duvets so bought singles. They were easy enough to get off, but I'll swear a lot later trying to get them back on! We saw these gadgets that are just like 6-inch long plastic paper clips, which help get the cover back onto the duvet, just by clipping the corners in place, one by one.

The careful observers amongst you will ask, why doesn't your wife help you? In truth, she offers, but it is important to me that I be able to do this independently, so I refuse. To give an idea of how strongly I feel about this, I'd go without changing bedding altogether if I needed someone's help every time - she thinks I'm mad but people who aren't disabled never understand the importance of independence to somebody who is disabled. It is a bit weird - when we both slept in the double, putting freshly-washed bedding back onto the bed was something we always did as a team effort, without thinking. But now I need to cope on my own. 

You notice the same thing, by the way, on official forms. Even those forms with are designed specifically in order for a disabled person to claim something, they are constructed such that the disabled person often cannot fill them out unaided. Wiltshire Council are terrible for this, just in terms of my personal experience. It does kinda make you wonder because, here I am looking for work, and they have this gaping hole in that they don't understand what makes disabled people tick, despite the fundamental constraint that it is the duty of the council to provide a lot of concessions for disabled people. With my wife I can forgive this because it is a learning process for us both, it is less easy to forgive a council who must deal with disabled people all the time. 

Oh, the other question you might well ask is, will I be putting the washing out to dry afterwards? I'm afraid not, the damp stuff is a bit heavy and I can just about get it into the tumble dryer, in about 3 trips. To carry it outside and manouvre it onto the line (pegging it along the way) defeats me. Trust me I've tried!

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Fatal Deal?

Hearing reports this morning that Theresa May has more chance of getting her EU deal through if it is accompanied by her resignation. That might well be true, but it does make you wonder, why? Is there some sentiment going on here? I'll let you have this one result, as long as it's your last?

It raises an eyebrow because I don't detect sentiment playing any other part in this process.

I mean, it is a shame that we have come to this, but I think the last thing we needed for this process was somebody who leads from the front, and expects everybody else to follow. Membership of the EU is something that has always been a hot topic, since before I was born. People have long held all sorts of opinions on the issue, and you're not going to be able to browbeat somebody into giving their support.

I think the job required somebody who was able to take all these opposing views and hash out something that would keep most people happy. A negotiator, somebody with a gift for listening to a variety of opinions and coming up with a compromise. Not least, you have to talk to the EU and see what they want, plus, you have to talk to the UK (Parliament, say) and find out what it wants. Then you have to codify something which is acceptable to both.

I mean, maybe even that wouldn't have been enough? Maybe when you have one side which says "I want X" and another side which says "I want Not X", you are doomed to failure? But, encouragingly, I have heard several MPs talk about respecting the 2016 vote, yet engineering Brexit so as best to protect our affluence. Even somebody like Anna Soubry, I'm sure seen as a troublemaker in many quarters, has said this. This seems totally fair enough to me. Unfortunately, I've also heard many people talk about how we can ignore the 2016 vote, and they're still doing so. I don't think that's helpful. Frankly, I don't think that anybody who's just said "I think it is best that we remain", party leaders, ex-leaders or no, has been helpful here. If you start ignoring votes in favour of what you believe in, then you're a despot. I don't want to live under a despot, so straight away you lose credibility as far as I'm concerned. This goes for the many small parties, some of which I have supported in the past, who can't get past undoing the 2016 vote, not least by trying to concoct reasons why the poll was invalid. So, I'm afraid that straight away, some people would not be happy with the end result, no matter how reconciliatory it was. But even somebody like Ken Clarke, who is an avid Remainer, and has said in no uncertain terms how dumb Brexit is, has been constructive and has proposed some plans for our future relationship with the EU.

I don't buy this argument that this is a binary choice, either - you're either in or you're out. Nice and simple, but we learned over the last 3 years, there are degrees of whether you're in our out. If you stayed in, then the UK already has some opt-outs, notably on the Euro. So, treaties was agreed which allowed the UK to have different terms to somewhere like Italy, say. Same on the other side. If you ultimately leave, say, then how close do you stay to the EU? WTO? Customs Union? So I think there are degrees here.

Funny, one of the things that Cameron said he tried, during the 2010-2015 Parliament, was to reform the UK's relationship with the EU. He didn't get anywhere, I wonder if he even tried? I wonder if his attempts just fell on deaf ears? I wonder if those people in power in the EU have any regrets that reform never happened, just in terms of keeping its citizenry happy? Happy enough not to want to leave, at least? It's not as if the UK is the only malcontent, just that we've taken it further than anybody else has so far. I wonder if Cameron has any regrets that he didn't try harder?

So I think a country's relationship with the EU has been, and can be, bespoke.

Getting back to May, I think if there were one word to remind me of her time, it would be "listen". It's ironic, really, because to me, Corbyn always seemed to want to be a chairman, a moderator, rather than somebody who just says "I want us to do X - have faith and follow me". Don't get me wrong - I think Corbyn has his own issues, not least his followers, but I think in this case a chairman would have been ideal. It is good to encourage the people around you to be creative, rather than just expecting them to follow.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Dreamland

After the stroke I spent a lot of time living in a dream world. I mean, I was obviously up and interacting with people, but nothing really felt "real". Very slowly, everything feels a bit more lifelike, although the healing day-by-day has been imperceptible. The funny thing is that t know for sure that there has never been a time when I have felt "out of it", and yet I feel so much more "awake" now.

I put this effect down to the stroke, but quickly observed that other people could feel this effect even having not had a stroke. I met people who'd had had heart attacks or cancer, say. So not just limited to stroke.

The other day, I saw on tv Stephen Lawrence's dad. I think it was his dad, I was only really half-watching. Stephen Lawrence was a black British teenager who was murdered at a bus stop in 1993. It was an infamous event in the UK, purely because it seemed to be motivated purely because the guy was black. Wikipedia has an account - I like Wikipedia because its content tends to err more toward the objective rather than the sensational. If ou prefer more subjective accounts, the story must have been covered many times by every newspaper.

Anyway, my ears pricked up when this chap (being interviewed) used words that were very similar to what I'd felt, "living in a dream" etc. It really was quite spooky.

So it made me wonder about the common thread. This guy described a process following the death that was eerily like what I'd felt following the stroke. So if you're looking for the common ground, I can only assume that it must be no more scientific than the trauma of the experience.

I suppose the other common thing is the aspect of time. I've spent an awful lot of time thinking about the stroke, and presumably. by now, this other chap must have given thousands of interviews about every aspect of his son's death, so presumably he has spent ages being forced to try and articulate his every feeling. And he'll have become better at it over time - we all do. But that process would explain why we're both able to describe our respective experiences, not really why we'd use the same words.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Brexit Arguments

I was watching the news the other day and saw some people arguing reall "energetically" about Brexit. These guys were shouting at each other!

It made me think, "what do they hope to gain from this?" Do they really think that there is some golden nugget of information that they can bring to the table which will make the other person see sense? Or, maybe they just want to insult the other person? Do they really think the other person will care what this guy thinks of them?

I mean, I have a firm view on the issue, and that view hasn't wavered, but it was formed long before any referendum campaign, just by weighing up the pros and cons. But I can appreciate that there is a different view which is perfectly valid, held by some other people. One of my best friends once articulated this "other" view to me and, really, I've known this guy for years and one of the reasons we became friends in the first place was because we trust each other's judgement - I certainly wouldn't want to fall out with them just because of this issue, not where there is 90% agreement anyway (all except the final conclusion).

And when you look at what causes different views, it is all a question of priorities. Both Labour and Tory want to work towards the same thing - prosperity - but Labour feel we'll get there by prioritising X over Y, and the Tories Y over X. I don't think you can really read anything more into it than that. Just as I formed my view on Brexit according to my priorities, so they come to their view according to theirs'. The people who don't agree with us are not necessarily malevolents or idiots, just people who broadly want the same thing, but who believe it is more achievable by another means - I remember Dennis Skinner saying in his autobiography that he didn't like even to speak to Tories, and that made me quite disappointed, especially as he is in a position where his job must entail trying to make progress alongside people who don't see eye-to-eye. On many things I'd probably go along with the guy, but not on this.

Brexit is merely A.N. Other issue which follows that pattern. It does worry me how much harm this single issue is doing to our other politics - will there ever be a day that these two people, shouting at each other, can be united on an issue without letting Brexit get in the way?

Insulin

One of those funny mornings this morning. Was taking my insulin as usual, but when I stabbed myself, it was really painful. It can get like that sometimes, I think where there must be a tiny bruise from a previous injection. It used to happen more in the early days for various reasons, I assume that was because of my unfamiliarity with the gear and the process. So I withdrew the needle a tiny bit to make it more comfortable.

I pushed the plunger down as normal, but when I withdrew a few drops on insulin spilled out onto the floor. I normally shake the pen after use, precisely to see if any drops come out, and normally it is clear.

So I'm left wondering, "did I get all/any/none of my dose?" I assumed not, but to be cautious I injected myself again, properly, with another half dose. So, today I'm anywhere between ½ dose to 1½ doses. If the former, I was fortunate that my sugar was quite low this morning so it shouldn't be too bad, if the latter I'll have to be prepared for a hypo, and maybe this'll be my last post? Literally. I'll need to be very careful what I eat today, and to measure myself again tonight to get a fix for this evening's dose. I kinda concluded that it is my sugar over time that is the important thing, rather than its spot value, although of course when the spot values are all high, that spells trouble.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Further Job Woes

It's interesting, I was speaking to an agent this morning about a role, and they said the fatal: "your CV looks really good. Can you rewrite it?" (Spot the contradiction!) And I'm just left thinking "noooooo".

This is a CV that  led to working with a number of London banks. Plus, I've invested quite a bit of money into it, having it rewritten a few years ago by a professional CV writer. I'm supposed to forget that in favour of a comment from somebody I just met.

In particular I'm very careful to try and keep it to two pages, not on a whim, but because that's roughly somebody's attention span. Sad but true. The CV writer's advice was also to "keep it to the last five years" - in fact I go back over 15 years, just because the roles (I think) were so prestigious, people are impressed when they see who the clients have been. Of course, I have to be incredibly brief in what I say about each role (fortunately one of them lasted 10 years, but within that role, I obviously accomplished a lot) because space is at such a premium.

Bearing in mind that I've been dealing with agents for many years, this is something I get from time-to-time. I mean, if you hear it every time you sent your CV off somewhere, then, fair enough, there's probably something wrong with the CV, but if every agent asks you to rewrite the CV to highlight such-and-such, where such-and-such is different each time, and also a feature of this particular role... What the agent wants is something which is bespoke for every role you apply for, so it kinda negates the advantage of maintaining a CV in the first place. And as we get older, a CV inevitably throws up choices of what to say and what to leave out, so when an agent wants us to rewrite our CV, it is basically somebody telling us that we have poor judgement. I'm sure many people are very successful in what they do, and can demonstrate many years of sound judgement.

The role itself is for a government agency. I happened to mention that I had once worked for the government. "I didn't see that on your CV". No, because it was 1989-94. 25 years ago. Let's be practical here. How detailed do you want a CV to be? I wouldn't mind but if someone was interested in what I was doing 25 years ago, I keep a fully detailed employment history online, on one of the jobs boards, which goes back right to the start, and quote that link in the CV.

The icing on the cake was that, because I don't have the exact skills that they're looking for, they said up-front that they'd only pay the minimum rate on offer, until I'd successfully "retrained". Forget that I've got oodles of experience doing something very similar, and would most probably be able to add value on Day #1 - that's not worth anything to them. It was interesting too that they said this up front - if I'd have been hiring, that might well have been reflected in any offer made to a successful candidate, but I wouldn't have said anything directly to them, certainly ot at this stage. I mean, I'm quite lucky in that I'm not particularly looking for big bucks nowadays, but the conversation left me feeling unconvinced that the client acknowledged that I had any relevant experience at all. I can accept that there might be some financial penalty for not being exactly what the clients are looking for, but I can't help but feel that something would be going to waste if the previous 25 years were regarded as worthless. If I wanted my previous experience to be irrelevant, there are  jobs that come up every day in Salisbury which would be a far easier commute.

It makes me smile a bit because, just as I am constraining my search to the Salisbury area, they too are governed by geography. I know from experience that there are not many IT roles around here, I therefore assume that the converse is true - there aren't a lot of people locally looking for IT work. Especially when the role is essentially civil service and therefore poorly paid (the salary on offer happens to be what I was earning in 1995, the exact same number, not even including inflation, so the role wouldn't have been attractive to me unless I were constrained as I am). So just as I'm trying to be flexible in looking at jobs that are not quite 100% matches, I think they're going to have to be flexible too, whether looking at me or the next person, or run the risk of not finding anybody.

Overall, I think, a pity because I am at a stage in life where working in the client's area would be more attractive than earning lots of money. I should be exactly the kind of person they're looking for.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Unemployable

Oh god, I've just realised that, since the stroke, I am now unemployable!

Prior to the stroke, I did well enough to sell my services to clients up in London. I was well-paid, and was never out of work.

Since the stroke, I'm far less keen on travelling, and in the 6+ months that I've been looking locally, I've hardly seen any jobs which are even vaguely appropriate.

I was optimistic, therefore, when an IT Lecturer job came up at the local college. I mean, I've no experience of teaching save for mentoring junior colleagues, but I figured that I had nothing to lose - my CV is an accurate reflection of what I've done, so it was up to the college to decide whether they were appropriate or not.

I was happier still this morning, when I got an email inviting me for interview. I accepted, but never really got the chance to look through all the attachments until this evening. It turns out that they want me to prepare something for the interview which they call a microteach. I'm guessing that's some kind of presentation, but I've realised that I have no clue what to pitch at a 17yo. How much do they already know? How deep do I go? The term "micro-teach" is a foreign language, basically, and I have no clue how to go about planning a whole 90-minute session (which is, presumably, the CFE-equivalent of a lecture).

So I'm left knowing that I can't let my application progress. I've got 25 years' experience in IT, but micro-Teach tells me that I'm totally unsuited to any form of teaching. And, given that I've seen so very few jobs so far, I don't think I'll be employable again unless/until I'm able to travel back up to London again.

Chalk and Cheese

I saw a job vacancy today, for Public Health England.

It is essentially a civil servant role, with matching salary scales. I can't imagine they attract many qualified applicants - it's around a fifth of what I was earning in London 20 years ago.

But, salary is not top of my list any more, so there might be people like me who want to do something for the public good. It's in Porton, close enough to be a taxi-ride away, so I thought I'd apply.

I clicked the links and was presemted with what looked like a "standard" NHS application form. The form asked for two referees up-front, before I'd even been successful at interview, which I found weird for starters. I certainly wouldn't want them to contact people if I hadn't got the job, so why is there a need for that information at that point in the process?

The other thing that raised an eyebrow was that the form seems to expect real people as referees. What's so unusual about that, you may ask? Well, many of the banks I worked for in London did not allow employees to give references. All references were issued by the HR departments, and basically were of a legally-neutral form. "This is to confirm that Joe Bloggs worked here as a Street Cleaner between 1st January 2001 and 31st December 2010", etc. So it basically witheld any opinion on Joe's performance, lest either Joe or his new employer should decide that the reference was inaccurate.

So the environment that I'm used to seems diammetrically opposite to that of the NHS. I don't suppose I should be too surprised, since the salaries are diammetrically opposite too, so there are probably very few people who'd apply for both. In development terms, we've hit an OR!

It's even more colvoluted in my case, since I worked at these banks through my own consultancy company. I'd agree a contract with the bank for six months, a year, and at six-months-plus-one, I'd be out of the door, unless something else was agreed. So there'd be no record of Company X employing Pete, rather one of Company X entering into an agreement with Pete's Company Ltd. I guess many HR people would not think to look at those records, especially when many of my key contracts were, say, 1995-2005 - a while ago. Of course, I worked after that, but I wouldn't necessarily hold these people up as referees. Irrespective of the NHS or not, I'm not sure how that would work.

So I'm currently left stumped by this application form. There is a contact mentioned on the job spec, so I have emailed them to ask. But my wife (a practise nurse) constantly reminds me about how rubbish the software is where she works, and if the NHS has a de facto exclusion of anybody who's been good enough to work for a bank, then I might have found the reason why.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

The Second Vote

Another take on this second vote, in particular "parliament is at an impasse, so we need to throw the question back".

Surely MPs are elected so as to avoid an impasse? To find a way through? It seems perfectly appropriate for the public to set a direction of travel, as we do in General Elections every five years, as we did in the European referendum. But isn't the role of the MP to carry out those broad instructions? So if an MP calling for a second referendum, isn't that an admission of failure, that "I can't do my job"?

Bugs

I spotted a bug in Diem. Nobody spotted it in the field yet, fortunately.

As I've probably said, Diem supports the two main units worldwide. In fact, there's a very straightforward conversion from one to the other - a simple multiplication or division. When the user enters a reading, they specify which units the reading has, and Diem basically just uses this as a marker so it kows how to display the reading back to the user. Internally, Diem uses the American, as opposed to the British, unit for everything, and just does the conversion (if necessary) on the way back to the user.

The bug was a tiny one, which might have occurred if the user mixed their units together. This is perfectly allowable, but I figured (in bed last night!) that there'd be a problem displaying mixed units in the graphs. So, I rewrote that section of the application this morning.

The funny thing is that I'm using a control to generate the graphs. The graphs each have two y-axes, one showing the first unit, the other the second. In theory those two bits of code are equal to each other. But I had a funny where this control needed those axes to be defined in a particular order, otherwise it screwed the whole chart up.

It was funny to find it. I couldn't work out what the problem was, and then I happened to notice that two of the charts were screwed, but that the third was fine. And in the third chart, of course, I'd changed these lines around. But sheer coincidence - I changed the left-hand axis to be the American units (because I figure I'll hae more American users), so just put that line on top.

The joys of developing software 😄 Still, if I thought that was a silly mistake to find, I'm gonna have to spend this afternoon running test scripts against that piece of code.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Diem

I was just looking, and surprisingly didn't write anything about my software release last week, so here goes:

Last week I released Diem, which is the culmination of about 6 months work. I started writing it mainly to sharpen up my own development skills, so it relies very much on the technologies I was used to, and it was very much an application which, initially, was geared at helping me personally. Later, it grew to something I've released, when I realised it might help other people too.

I call it a Diabetes Tracker. I toyed with the idea of a "diabetes manager", but actually, we manage our own diabetes and this app doesn't remove the need for that. So I chose "tracker" because it does exactly that. It stores glucometer measurements, so you can refer to something, say, a year ago, and compare your values. It plots them in graphs too, to try and make things more obvious.

For a lot of people, they still produce enough insulin so their sugar level is pretty constant, so, again, of limited value. Other people will prick their fingers and take insulin many times per day, so an app which gives an average over 50 days is probably of limited use. But my sugar can vary by several units, so worthwhile for me. I'm aware that we in the UK use a unit called mmol/l, which, worldwide, is not very common, so I had to get a grip of the American unit, mg/dl, to cover my bases. In fact, my app just allows a user to present data to it in either of these units, then internally does a conversion to store everything in just a single unit, which allows statistics to be calculated using *all* recent data, regardless of unit.

So it was useful for me not just in terms of technical skills, but also in terms of expanding my diabetes knowledge. In fact I toyed with the idea of buying a glucometer in these other units, just because I understand them now. I might still do that, although I don't need a glucometer at the moment.

So anyway, I'm at something of a loose end at the moment - I don't want to start building more into the app just in case somebody reports a bug that I need to fix urgently - but there are a few other things I want to do, not least release it as an app for Android or iPad - it's Windows initially (again, reflects my background) and right now I don't have much idea either how to port it, or how big a job that will be. I'm looking at Xamarin, but I'm currently just looking at the possibilities, without any clear task. One area that would be quite straightforward is that I want to be able to capture medication and doses, another thing which will be a pita, but do-able, is to move the display away from a tabbed front end (which will be unsustainable as the app grows) toward a standard menu structure, maybe even a ribbon!

I built a web site for this product, and made it a free download, just in the hope that it'll help other people. I'm hopeful that the act of developing the app will lead to some personal gain, just in terms of making me employable, but the app itself should be free - I don't want to dangle a corrot then put a barrier in front of people. http://www.diemware.com.

www.diemware.com

Friday, 8 March 2019

Blue Badge Renewal

I was quite surprised. My Blue Badge runs out at the end of the month, I queried whether I would get some kind of reminder, as the disability following the stroke is pretty-much permanent.

I got a reply from the Blue Badge people, who in my case are Wiltshire Council, containing a URL on the UK government's web site, which I could use to re-apply. The thing which surprised me was that, if I hadn't have been on the ball, I reckon things would very likely be left just to run out.

I know when I first applied for the Blue Badge - I was a couple of weeks out of hospital and, basically, didn't have a clue what was going on. My wife applied for the badge on my behalf. I can quite easily imagine disabled people who, for one reason or another, don't/can't keep on top of these things, and don't have anyone to keep on top of things for them. There are many ways in which I'm grateful because, despite what I've lost, I still have 99% of my brain power. (except it is 110%!)

But it kind-of surprises me that a process aimed specifically at disabled people is so not geared toward disabled people.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Renewed

I've no idea how long I'll keep this blog up, but today I renewed my lease of the domain name for another three years.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Long Day

When I used to work, one of the little utilities we used to use was Sandcastle, a Help file builder. It automatically built Help files based on special comments in your code. In my view it was of limited use for generating Help files - the ideal Help file would be far less technical than source code comments - but one way it was invaluable was just to identify where code was undocumented.

I think it was Sandcastle which did this - we certainly used something.

I tried to install Sandcastle on my PC last week, but it refused. So, today, I went through each and every file in my project (manually) and looked through every one of them (manually) to try and find stuff that wasn't documented.

A lot of it was pretty noncey - if you have a variable called GileName, does it really need to be documented further? So, in a very few cases, I haven't documented things, but very much a minority. I'm kinda worried because I once worked with a guy, I reviewed his code and found parts of it were undocumented. So I pulled him up on it, and his response was, "well, it's obvious to me what the code does. As far as I was concerned, he'd completely missed the point, which was that somebody else should be able to pick up the code and understand it. The upshot is, whenever I hear myself saying "it's obvious", I try to take a step back. It's difficult on a one-man project to try to police yourself.

Anyway, the result was a long day adding various comments to the code. The language I'm using goes through a process called compilation before it becomes a proper program, and in fact the compiler (the engine which does the compiling) strips out any comments before it compiles the code. So, the executable code has not changed one iota. But it's all about the readability. If I can pick the code up in a year, and not think "what the **** does that do?" then it is a win.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

European Extension

I've expressed the view already in this blog that I think a proper separation of the UK and the EU would take longer than two years, just in terms of unravelling forty years of integration. That task can't be simple. So I'm pre-disposed toward delaying the date that we leave.

But I think that immediately after the referendum, the task of the government was to come up with some kind of "convergence" strategy, tying up loose ends, making new deals with people etc., which meant that we left in an orderly manner. As long as I can see "converging", then I'm happy to push back the date we leave. I'm happy to see a direction of travel, as long as we keep moving towards the goal.

One thing that has disappointed me since the referendum is that I see very little evidence that loose ends are being tied up. It's difficult to put into words, how disappointed I am. I'm probably very cynical, but I think that any reported progress has been smoke-and-mirros, titbits to keep the media and the public at bay. There seems to have been very little work gone into this process - for example the ferry fiasco, and yet this guy is still around because he's a friend/ally of the Prime Minister. Or the number of trade deals we still need to sort. Fair enough, these things take time, to tie up but that's why the original leaving period should have beeen greater than two years. Doesn't competence matter? If these guys had been working on one of my projects, I'd have fired them long ago over their lack of progress.


Thursday, 28 February 2019

What a blood pressure measurement is in reality

Seems a bit daft to post on this subject, but I struggled to find anything out on the web about what the numbers actually represent. There's plenty of stuff telling you what values are high, normal etc. but nothing about what is actually happening during the course of a measurement. But I found some documentation eventually, looks like it is aimed at clinicians, which I'll try to explain.

You wrap the cuff around your upper arm. At that point, you're over your brachial artery, so a direct route to the heart. The documentation I looked at made a big deal of this, so this is important.

The cuff inflates sufficiently high that it stops blood flowing. If you were listening with a stethoscope, you'd hear nothing.

You gradually let the pressure out of the cuff. Your heart pumps with sufficient pressure that, sooner or later, it overcomes the pressure in the cuff, and the blood starts flowing again. Again, if you had a stethoscope, you'd hear the heart beating. When blood first starts flowing, this is the systolic blood pressure - the pressure when the heart beats.(

You keep releasing pressure from the cuff. You can still hear the heart beating. Again, sooner or later, you stop hearing anything. At that point, this is the diastolic blood pressure. Basically the pressure in the cuff is sufficiently low that your heartbeat can't be heard. It's the pressure when your heart is resting. In my simple world, I think of the heart as a machine which is either on (pumping) or off (resting). In this scenario, at any rate.

I mean, a stethoscope is just one way of detecting these signals. I would imagine an electronic machine would detect these points by "feeling" when the pulse starts and stops (a momentary slight increase in pressure, say, as the heart pulses). I think my next task is to find this out.

I've tried to explain this briefly and in layman's terms. If you feel i could do better, please leave a comment, or there's a link at the bottom of the page which you can use to contact me.

Progress

I wanted to say a little bit about the application I've been writing. I finally finished it yesterday, after about 6 months. For one person, quite a tall order.

I finished writing it yesterday, but there is still more to do. The first thing I did, once I'd finished, was to allow Microsoft's Code Analysis tool to inspect the code. This came up with about 350 warnings and messages. Some of these, it wasn't practical to change, others of which, it was in a snippet of code I'd pulled off the web, so I was reluctant to change it. But there were some bits and bobs where I'd fallen foul of some convention or other. There were also parts that I guess I'd written in quite an old-fashioned style, and the tool suggested I rewrite these using some simpler construct, of which I was previously unaware. I mean, in that respect the tool was brilliant - I'm aware that we write in the flavour with which we're comfortable, so when new advances come along, we don't necessarily adopt them. Especially when these advances are just shortcuts in any case - you can still achieve what you want the original way, but the new way is cleaner or quicker or less code.

There's an old industry adage that the less code you write, the fewer bugs you write, and it is still every bit as true today. Where Microsoft have included a feature, it's a good idea to use it, if possible, just because they'll have had teams of people developing and testing that feature, far more reliable than little old me. It doesn't always work out that way, but that's the general rule.

So I had these 350 warnings. It sounds a lot but it's not, in my experience. I went through them one-by-one, and changed my code accordingly. I gave the app a cursory test this morning, just to make sure it all still hung together, and there were a few areas where changing the code had actually introduced bugs.

The next step is to give it a thorough test, and that meant writing scripts for all the tiny things on each screen to go wrong. Ideally, somebody else should do this, because a developer will tread a certain path through an application, and will be less likely to spot problems. A tester will also tread a path, but it will be a different path and, in any case, a good tester will vary the path they take. But alas, there is only me. So I've just finished test scripts and will start on those tomorrow, just to give myself a break. Unfortunately, when you use "community" editions of software, the amount of help you get with testing is minimal - I'm not sure it is a great deal better with more enterprise versions. In any case, you need to start with scripts, just because they tell you what to test. But I'll probably steer clear of anything automated. Previously, I've found it brilliant to be able to click a button and watch everything be tested automatically, but it takes a lot of effort to get to that point. And, people still employ testers, so my experience is obviously consistent with industry - if you could do it at the push of a button, they wouldn't have jobs.

I like to think that my attention to things like project plans and testing is what sets me apart from other one-man-bands. Of course, you can cut corners when you're on your own (and I do!) but things like this are just natural to me because of the environments in which I've worked.