Calling Dr. Tech!

So Monday 18th May 2020 marks the first episode of the Dr. Tech Show. With the help of some friends, namely Sweyn Hunter and Pauline Roche, I’ll be broadcasting a live tech surgery on my YouTube Channel every Monday at 12 noon UK time.

This is something of an experiment. I’ve been trying to find a way to reach out to digitally excluded people and test ways of getting them online on a mass scale. For a long time, I have thought that BBC local radio is the best option. I still do, but radio stations have their own agendas and it is very difficult to get air time for this kind of thing. But, of course, the big irony is trying to use digital channels to reach out to people who don’t use digital channels. The Dr. Tech show (title taken from the nickname given to me by a BBC Radio Leeds presenter) will be a Zoom meeting live streamed on YouTube. By using Zoom, I am allowing the opportunity for people to join remotely via video conferencing, and the other thing about Zoom is that you can call in from any telephone, so that there is the possibility of someone who is digitally excluded calling in that way. I’d be very surprised if that happened. The inital target audience will be people who want to get their digitally excluded friends and relatives online but are struggling to do so.

To this end, I’ve been collecting stories of people’s efforts to get their digitally excluded relatives and friends communicating digitally during Covid-19 using the hashtag #LateAdopters on Twitter. And Pauline’s “Digital WM News” newsletter has lots of inspiring examples of how, in particular, voluntary organisations are using digital tools at the moment.

So, please join us for the first live Dr. Tech Show on YouTube on Monday 18th May. Click here to join the show. And please get in touch if you’d like to be part of the show. See you on Monday!

EDIT

Here is Episode 1 of the show

 

==========================================================

I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2020 see here

There are a small amount of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me get through this situation, which is obviously made worse by the current pandemic. I won’t say who they are because I am not sure they want me to publicise it; but I am extremely grateful.

If you feel like helping me out in any way, please get in touch or you can support me on a regular basis via Patreon or as a one-off here.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all again when this is all over.

Would the UK be better served by an Online Parliament?

A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch some of the debate in Parliament about how that institution is moving to hosting its business online during Coronavirus Lockdown. I found the whole thing immensely depressing. The first thing to note was that the MPs were having to debate this in the House of Commons Chamber, although all duly socially distanced from each other. The second point that struck me was how every speaker I heard went to great pains to stress that any new measures introduced would be strictly temporary. A number of MPs (from all sides of the House) waxed lyrical about what a wonderful place Parliament was, and how it would be impossible to do their jobs if they weren’t there every day.

Now I agree that the Houses of Parliament is a wonderful place. I’ve been there numerous times, and I never fail to be impressed by the grandeur and history of the place, although a lot of that grandeur and history is false as the majority of the buildings were actually constructed in the mid nineteenth century to a faux medieval design. But it’s an awe-inspiring place, and it must take a while to get used to it if you work there. But, is sending thousands of people (I’m including all those who work there, not just MPs and Lords) to an out-dated building in the most expensive part of the country a good use of our resources? And is it the best way of ensuring our interests are represented? From my point of view a lot of the reasons MPs gave in the debate for needing to be in the physical institution are not necessarily healthy. There was talk of bumping into Ministers in the corridor, and chatting to officials in the tea rooms, all valid ways of getting things done in the Palace of Westminster. But are they the best ways of practising democracy? Do they lead to open decision making? Or do they give potentially unfair advantages to those who can play those kinds of games over those who can’t? 

I think it is undeniable that moving Parliament’s workings to a largely online operation would amount to huge cost savings. It’s equally undeniable that a lot would be lost in this process. But could anyone logically argue that the things we would lose are (a) essential and (b) value for money? If we were inventing Parliamentary democracy from scratch today, would we design it as it exists in the UK now? Could it be better for democracy if MPs spent nearly all their time in their constituencies with a few hours each day on video calls with each other and Ministers, and maybe a day a week attending a physical Parliament? 

The coronavirus lockdown has revealed quite a few things our society has shied away from until it has to confront them. One of these facts is that it is a lot easier to work from home than a lot of people, particularly, employers, had envisaged. The rise in popularity of Zoom has also introduced people to the concept of live-streamed online meetings to a much greater extent than before. Parliament is, belatedly, taking advantage of these developments; but it appears to be doing so reluctantly, and with big caveats about this all being a temporary move. I think questions need to be asked about the costs associated with running Parliament as a totally physical entity. These questions are particularly pertinent because we know we are heading to a period when Parliament will need to relocate so that the Palace of Westminster can be brought up to modern standards. I think that the very least we should be asking for is that plans for an expensive temporary replication of current Westminster arrangements be scrapped and that members be required to work from home during this time. That will provide a further interval during which they will be able to get more used to remote arrangements and more skilled in using them. After that, I can’t see how we could possibly go back to how things were before March 2020.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments below.

==========================================================

I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2020 see here

There are a small amount of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me get through this situation, which is obviously made worse by the current pandemic. I won’t say who they are because I am not sure they want me to publicise it; but I am extremely grateful.

If you feel like helping me out in any way, please get in touch or you can support me on a regular basis via Patreon or as a one-off here.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all again when this is all over.

Simple tools for community engagement

I’ve pulled this post out of my drafts folder where it has sat for more than a year. I thought it deserved to see the light of day. Obviously, don’t do this until Lockdown is well and truly over

=========================================================

April 2019

Yesterday I was doing some community consultation work in Birkby, Huddersfield, on behalf of the social enterprise I work with, Locorum Ltd.

The Lark in the Park, in Norman Park was a lovely little event, which achieved considerable success in bringing together a community which has had more than its fair share of trauma recently.

There were two tools which really provided the catalyst for conversation and interaction. One was some lovely food, served at very reasonable prices. Food is always good for stimulating exchanges between people.

The other tool was a bit more surprising; a simple piece of rope. Someone produced a length of rope and started an impromptu tug-of-war competition. Teams were formed and their supporters gathered round to cheer them on. This was the biggest success of the day in terms of bringing people together, starting some social bonding, and encouraging interaction.

Sometimes the most simple tools are the most effective. Remember this when you are trying to get people to interact with each other.

==========================================================

Meanwhile back in May 2020

I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2020 see here

There are a small amount of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me get through this situation, which is obviously made worse by the current pandemic. I won’t say who they are because I am not sure they want me to publicise it; but I am extremely grateful.

If you feel like helping me out in any way, please get in touch or you can support me on a regular basis via Patreon or as a one-off here.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all again when this is all over.

Living with Cancer in the time of Coronavirus

These are strange times. Living through the current Coronavirus crisis is something probably nearly all of us could never have envisaged. Living through it while undergoing cancer treatment is even more surreal.

As I have now finished my Radiotherapy treatment and have a date for my Surgery (21st May), I thought this was a good time to reflect on where I have got to.

It was only 2 months ago, but the day I got my cancer diagnosis almost seems like it happened in a different world now, Of course, in late February we knew something was amiss, but, even after the diagnosis I carried on working as normal, videoing events in Reading and London, and delivering a workshop in Glasgow, which involved my first ever trip on a sleeper train. In the runup to my first Radiotherapy session I had to negotiate with various people in the NHS about getting transport to the sessions. Although we were not yet in lockdown, I was increasingly uneasy at the prospect of travelling from Huddersfield to Leeds by train and then getting a bus from Leeds Railway Station to the hospital 25 times. After the intervention of my GP it was eventually agreed that I could get NHS-provided transport to each session. And that has been something of an illustration of the changes that Covid-19 has brought about. For the first few sessions the NHS transport consisted of an ordinary taxi, and usually involved detours to pick and drop off other patients on the route. Then it switched to always being an NHS Patient Transport ambulance, but still with other patients on board, and then, for the remainder of sessions, it was always me as the only patient, as the NHS policy switched to one patient per vehicle. It wasn’t always an ambulance as the army of volunteers recruited to help the NHS during coronavirus kicked in, and I met some lovely people who were giving up their own time and using their own vehicles to add to the NHS’ resources in these troubled times. A couple of times I even had to do some impromptu digital inclusion work as new volunteers struggled to come to terms with their mobile phone-based reporting systems and satnavs. But 25 times I travelled to St. James’s Hospital in Leeds, and 25 times I came home again.

The Radiotherapy itself was pretty straightforward. You lie on a bed and are strapped into a mask which is designed to make sure you don’t move during the treatment (mine is pictured above). The machine rotates around your head, and then emits a concentrated dose of radiation into the targeted area for about 5 minutes. I never experienced any kind of discomfort during the sessions. I did, however, experience some side-effects, although it is difficult to distinguish which of these are directly attributable to the Radiotherapy, and which could be caused by the multitude of strong painkillers I have been taking throughout the period. The painkillers were necessary because the cancerous tumour was impacting on my nerves causing intense pain. But, whatever the cause, I have had bouts of nausea at various points during the treatment, as well as times of extreme tiredness. There was one particular weekend, early on, when, without the discipline of having to get up for Radiotherapy, I slept for the majority of the two days.

And as the treatment progressed, the lump and the area around it got more and more sore. For the last two weeks, or so, I had to visit the nurses after every Radiotherapy session to have what became an increasingly elaborate dressing applied to protect the skin and reduce the soreness. I, of course, put up with this because it’s a necessary part of banishing the cancer.

And so, things have progressed quite quickly in the past week. On the day following the end of the Radiotherapy I met with the Surgeon who will be doing the operation to remove my tumour. At that point I was told it was likely to be 6 weeks before the surgery could take place. Two days later I got a phone call to say that, pending a satisfactory outcome to an examination on 19th May, the surgery would actually be conducted on 21st May, so the 6 weeks has been truncated to three. The surgery will involve removing the tumour and grafting skin from my back onto my arm. I will need to spend a week in hospital, part of which will be spent draining the wound. Following that, I am told that it should take around a month to regain most of the function of my left arm. And, as I may have indicated, I am left-handed.

So, I am approaching the surgery with a certain amount of trepidation as well as impatience as I want to get it all over with. The only other surgery I have had was 20 years ago on a broken leg, and I don’t have good memories of that with, in particular, the intense pain I felt after waking up, plus the fact that the shape of my oesophagus resulted in a tear caused by the anaesthetic tube which, to this day, causes me to experience acid reflux. I have made sure that the medics are aware of that latter factor. But the fact that the end of the process, and, hopefully, the end of my cancer, has been brought forward is a sense of relief to me. Apart from anything else I need to get back to earning an income.

And that brings me back to Coronavirus. Who knows where we will be in June / July when I should be back to full health? One thing that is pretty likely however is that conferences in the traditional sense will be thin on the ground. I will need to pivot what I do, but, above all else, I hope to have my health, and that overrides everything else.

There are a small amount of lovely people who have been providing me with some financial assistance to help me get through this situation. I won’t say who they are because I am not sure they want me to publicise it; but I am extremely grateful.

If you feel like helping me out in any way, pleas get in touch or you can support me on a regular basis via Patreon or as a one-off here.

Thanks for reading. I hope to see you all again when this is all over.