Archive for the 'personal, friends and family' Category

New job!

I begin my new (and hopefully, last) job, at an organisation not funded by Capitalist Conjurers, devoted to helping the most vulnerable people in society: children. I’ll be working Monday – Thursday, with Friday for other projects. I’m pretty sure it’s not a secret who I’m working for, but I forgot to check with my boss and he’s on his hols. My job title is boring but I’m calling myself “Lord of Accessibility” at Barnardos, and have bought myself a crown.

me, wearing a children's plastic crown

CENTRAL BIRMINGHAM 2040: Shaping Our City Together (unofficial accessible version)

My chum Stuart is a civic-minded sort of chap, so he drew my attention to Birmingham’s strategic plan for 2040. There’s a lot to be commended in the plan’s main aims (although it’s a little light on detail, but that’s a ‘strategy’, I guess). However, we noticed that it was hard to find on the Council website (subsequently rectified and linked from the cited page).

I was also a bit grumpy that it is circulated as a 43 MB PDF document, which is a massive download, especially for poorer members of the population who are more likely to be using phones than a desktop computer (PDF, lol), and more likely to have pay-as-you-go data plans (PDF, ROFL) which are more expensive per megabyte than contracts.

PDFs are designed for print so don’t resize for phone screens, requiring tedious horizontal scrolling–potentially a huge barrier for some people with disabilities, and a massive pain in the arse for everyone. For people who don’t read English well, PDFs are harder for translation software to access, so I’ve made an accessible HTML version of the Shaping Our City Together document.

I haven’t included the images, which are lovely but heavy, for two reasons. The first is that many are created by someone called Tim Cornbill and I don’t want to infringe their copyright. Some of the illustrations are captioned “This concept image is an artist’s impression to stimulate discussion, it does not represent a fixed proposal or plan”, so I decided they were not content but presentational and therefore unnecessary.

Talking of copyright, the document is apparently Crown Copyright. Why? I helped pay for it with my Council tax. Furthermore, I am warned that “Unauthorised reproduction infringes Crown Copyright and may lead to prosecution or civil proceedings”, so if Birmingham Council want me to take this down, I will. But given that the report talks glowingly of the contribution made to the city’s history by The Poors and The Foreigns, it seems a bit remiss to have excluded them from a consultation about the City’s future.

Because I am not a designer, the page is lightly laid out with Alvaro Montoro’s “Almond CSS” stylesheet. I am, however, an accessibility consultant. The Council could hire me to sort out more of their documents (so could you!).

Every bunch of tech hippies needs a touch of Bruce™

Since my last employer decided just before Xmas that it didn’t need an accessibility team any more, I’ve been sporadically applying for jobs, between some freelance work and finishing the second album by the cruellest months (give it a listen while you read on!).

Two days ago I was lucky enough to receive two rejection letters from acronym-named corporations. Both were received only a couple of working hours after I eventually hit submit in their confusing (and barely-accessible) third-party job application portals, which makes me suspicious of their claims to have “carefully considered” my application. One rejection, I suspect, was because I’d put too large a figure in the ‘expected salary’ box; how am I supposed to know, when the advertised salary is “competitive”? In retrospect, I should have just said typed “competitive” into the box.

The second rejection reason is a little harder to discern. As I exceeded all the criteria, I suspect admitting to the crimes of being over 50 and mildly disabled worked against me. But I’ll never know; no feedback was offered, and both auto-generated emails came from a no-reply email address. (Both orgs make a big deal on their sites about valuing people etc. Weird.)

Apart from annoyance at the time I wasted (I have blogposts to write, and songs to record!) I remembered that I hate acronymy corporate jobs anyway. So, if you need someone on a short-term/ part-time (or long-term) basis to help educate your team in accessibility, evaluate your project and suggest improvements, give me a yell. In answer to a question on LinkTin, I’ve listed the accessibility and web standards services I offer.

Mates’ Rates if you’re a non-acronymy small Corp who are actively trying to make the world better rather than merely maximise shareholder value. Remember: every bunch of tech hippies needs a touch of Bruce™.

Second album: “High Priestess’ Songs” by the cruellest months released!

I’ve released my second album “High Priestess’ Songs” by the cruellest months, the name I’ve given to the loose collaboration between me and assorted friends to record and release my songs.

Please, give it a listen and consider buying it for £5 so I can buy a pint while I’m looking for a new job.

Multiple Sclerosis and cunnilingus

New Scientist is reporting the Strongest evidence yet that Multiple Sclerosis is caused by Epstein-Barr virus:

A huge study of US military personnel suggests almost all cases of multiple sclerosis are triggered by the common Epstein-Barr virus, meaning a vaccine could largely eradicate the condition

Good news! I looked up Epstein-Barr virus on Wikipedia and found out that

Infection with EBV occurs by the oral transfer of saliva and genital secretions.

This makes sense. As a black belt (5th dan) in snogging and cunnilingus, I’m a victim of my own giving nature.

Farewell, 2021

Not much happened in 2021, for obvious reasons. One surprising event was that I took a permanent job for the first time since Opera went tits-up in 2016. I had been contracting for Babylon Health for 6 months, helping them on their mission to make “high-quality healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone on Earth” and I liked them (even more surprisingly, they liked me) so when they offered me fripperies like paid time off and sick leave during a pandemic, I said yes.

Conferences didn’t really happen. I came to dislike speaking at Zoomferences, but did manage to harangue people in person at Front Conference Zurich, which was brilliantly organised by volunteers. Hopefully I can shout at people in real-life after Spring 2022 (and stay tuned for an exciting announcement about this).

Instead of conferences, I put my rabble-rousing urges into ending the Apple browser Ban, twice invited to brief the UK Competition and Marketing Authority about their investigation into Apple’s iOS browser monopoly and Progressive Web Apps. The final report will come out in June.

In personal news, I gained a few kilos due to an even more sedentary pandemic lifestyle, and didn’t smoke all year. And I managed to sell an Evil demonic spirit, captured in a box. Genuine ghost. Do NOT open the box! on eBay.

However, by the end of the year, I was feeling burned out and depressed, so decided to spend Christmas in Thailand, where I have a little rural holiday home. I felt a bit irresponsible travelling during Covid (and had to pay through the nose pun intended on 4 PCR tests for each family member), but it was absolutely worth it. It was such a tonic to get some sun, speak another language, eat different food and just see different surroundings after 2 years of the pandemic.

On return, however, I’m not feeling optimistic for the winter. In Thailand, everyone and I mean, everyone wears a mask outside their home, even in 30+ centigrade heat. No whining about “muzzles” or “liberty”, just social responsibility and a sense of shared endeavour. Yesterday, after my Day 2 PCR test came back negative, I could go to the supermarket to restock after my holiday. I reckon 50% of shoppers wore masks. Today my son returns to college. Given multiple sclerosis is my own immune system attacking my nervous system, I’m fully expecting to get sick. Hopefully, my vaccinations and booster will save me from serious illness.

Let’s hope 2022 brings better times for all.

I got vaccinated for Covid – this is what it was like.

Yesterday, I received my first Covid vaccine. I was expecting to be in the next group of people invited, as I have multiple sclerosis, which is a disease in which my own immune system tries to kill me, and many Covid deaths are caused by the body’s own immune system. My good chum Stuart Langridge wrote up his vaccination experience; here’s mine.

Out of the blue I received an SMS on Friday morning:

Our records show that you are eligible for your COVID vaccination. Appointments are now available at Villa Park and Millennium Point. Book here: https://www.birminghamandsolihullcovidvaccine.nhs.uk/book/

Your GP Surgery.

The website is on a legit domain, and linked to a booking system run by drdoctor.co.uk, which was a pretty crap experience (which I reported to them); top tip: you need to have your NHS number to book, and if you don’t, you might lose your chosen slot and have to start all over again. And that was that; a confirmation SMS came through:

Confirmation of your appointment: Sat 13 Feb at 4:10pm at Villa Park, B6 6HE. You appointment at Villa Park COVID Vaccination Clinic is confirmed at Villa Park, Holte Suite, Trinity Road, Birmingham, B6 6HE. https://www.avfc.co.uk/villa-park/travel-parking

Villa Park is the stadium for the worst Birmingham football team, so it was nice that something positive was going to happen there. As I approached in the car, there were plenty of temporary signposts to the Covid Vaccination Centre to help people find it.

Signpost: Villa park Covid 19 vaccination centre

I arrived 20 minutes early (I’m paranoid about missing appointments) and although the site had told me not to enter more than 10 minutes before my slot, it didn’t appear to be crowded so I went in. It was basically a big room with check-in desks around the perimeter and at least 20 vaccination stations in the centre. The bloke at the door told me to go up to checkin desk 12; the lady asked me for my reference number (I hadn’t been sent one), my NHS number (I hadn’t been told to bring it) and then my name and address.

After verifying that I had an appointment, she asked me to sit on one of the chairs placed 2 metres apart, facing her (so we weren’t all staring at people having their jabs while we waited, which was a thoughtful touch for those nervous of needles, like me).

me sitting in the waiting area

A friend had been vaccinated the day before at an alternate vaccination hub and there had been a clerical error which meant too many people had showed up, so it took her 3 hours from entering to leaving, so I’d bought a book. But I only had time to take the selfie above before a man came up and asked me to follow him to a vaccination station where an assistant was finishing cleaning the chair. I sat down, confirmed my name, and rolled up my sleeve.

The syringe was bigger than a flu jab and while I honestly felt no pain at all as the needle went in, it was in my arm for a few seconds as there was presumably more vaccine in there than the flu jab, which is pretty much instantaneous. Then the syringe-wielder told me that I had to wait in another area for 15 minutes before driving, laughed when I asked if I could have a sticker, but gave me the best sticker I’ve ever received:

sticker: I've had my Covid vaccination

I asked which vaccine I’d received; it was the Oxford one. She gave me an info leaflet, a card with a URL and a phone number for booking the second jab and graciously accepted my gratitude. By 16:06, four minutes before my appointment, I was sitting in the waiting area, reading my book for 15 minutes.

The whole thing was brilliant; calm, professional, well-organised and reassuring. Today my arm has a slight soreness (just like my annual flu jab) but I feel fine. Actually, I feel better than fine. I feel optimistic, for the first time in a year.

Doubtless, the government will try to claim this as their triumph. It isn’t. It’s a triumph of science and socialised public sector medicine. The government gave billions to private sector cronies for a test-and-trace fiasco and for the last ten years have underfunded the National Health Service. Many leading Conservatives have openly called for its privatisation. Remember that when the next election comes around.

Thank you, Science; thank you, social health care.

Update as I approach my second injection

I had a slightly sore arm for two days after the injection (no worse than my annual flu jab) and may have been slightly more tired than normal, by which I mean I was yawning at 10 pm rather than 11 pm. But that might have been down to the gloomy Scandinavian series I was watching on Netflix. In short: I was fine, and you will be too!

Saperlipopette

Saperlipopette song

In these difficult times, Lawrence Vagner and I felt a solemn duty to heal the world with a hopeful message of love and cross-cultural unity to a disco beat. So here is our Eurovision entry: Saperlipopette!

Get your hotpants on & boogie for a better tomorrow.

Eh?

“Saperlipopette” is a very dated French “swear word” translating to “goodness me” or “fiddlesticks”, the kind of thing you’d say if a child were in earshot. My chum Lawrence Vagner taught it to me when they invited me to speak at ParisWeb. I got a daft tune in my head and “Saperlipopette” fitted the melody. (The rest of the lyrics practically wrote themselves, and make a damed sight more sense than the 1968 song with the same title. In fact, I had to discard a couple of verses.) I invited Lawrence to duet with me, which was fun as they’d never sung before, and we had to do it remotely due to lockdown.

It’s made with Reason Studio, using the Reason Disco and Norman Cook refills as well as built-in instruments, and a French accordion sample I found. My chum Shez twiddled the knobs, Lawrence made the website, which is hosted by Netlify.

Sailing Ship

A Swing/ Big Band song! Many thanks to Chris Taylor – a Big Band scholar – for advice on what’s authentic and what was out of place. Produced by Shez

Leave these stupid people.
The time’s exactly right.
I have got a sailing ship,
let’s sail away tonight.

You can be the captain
I will be the crew.
I have got a sailing ship
so I can sail away with you.

Help me weigh the anchor
I’ll look out while you steer.
Come aboard my sailing ship
Let’s sail away from here.

We’ll sing along with mermaids
who will help us chart our course.
be guided by dolphins
from these weary, dreary shores.

The map says “here be dragons
but perhaps it’s Shangri-La.
Let’s go and see what lies beyond
this half-life where we are.

Through the doldrums, ice and tempests
we’ll cross the oceans deep.
We’ll make all pirates walk the plank
and croon the Kraken back to sleep.

My ship is called “Clarita,
her sails are big and bright.
The wind is up and the tide is high
let’s sail away tonight.

Words and music © Bruce Lawson 2018, all rights reserved.

Accessibility: Back to the Future

Here’s a talk I did at a lovely inclusive, anarchic, friendly conference last month called Monki Gras. It was great; a low ticket-price, proper food, craft beers and melted cheese snacks, a diverse group of speakers and a diverse audience. I made loads of new friends and heard loads of new perspectives.