Looking back & Looking Forward

It has been almost a month since we have last spoken, or indeed since I have last spoken at you and you have chosen not to listen. It has been a long month, culminating in today, being the first anniversary of my fathers passing. We must always look back though, before we look forward. I have had my time of looking back and now it is time indeed time for me to also look forwards.

This month has not quite gone the way I had hoped in terms of being ‘freelance’. My latest pet project, SlowPsycho, has faltered slightly into the new year. I have come down from the high of becoming an affiliate on my Twitch channel and it is already back to just having me streaming to myself, probably down to game choice, as well as not getting the interaction I had liked.

I say it is down to my game choice. It is probably because I have been head first into a new, excellent, steampunk survival game called They Are Billions (my review) where the basic concept is you get your command center, 4 basic scouts and a soldier. You have to build your colony and survive.

I won’t hide the fact that after 95 hours of gameplay, I have yet to survive on the first of 4 maps. The fact that I have set myself some hard targets is neither here nor there:

  • Of a difficulty rating of 10% to 320% on map 1 – I only play 55% / 75% / 100% / 320%
  • On a game where you can pause the real-time strategy; I make it my policy not to pause to ‘play the game’ only if I need to …. take a comfort break.

You can see many of my attempts on my past broadcasts on Twitch.

But – My First Twitch Subscription

I did, however, receive my first cash subscription from one of the Twitch community during the month.

The Twitch Subscription system allows you to financially support a channel. Some people bleat about it all the time when they stream, they have daily targets shown on the screen, they talk about it all the time, their channel page is littered with advertising.

I don’t do any of that, I have a single note about donations and subscriptions and I have an automated chat bot that will post, but overload the chat while I am playing games for people to watch.

I can guarantee that the Twitch user Kurt_Kurt is not reading, but thank you friend.

“Can I Subscribe?” – Yes and for Free

For a small plug, yes you can.

There are two ways you can subscribe.

  • Go along to my channel, register for an account and hit the purple subscribe button above the stream window. Subscription rates start at $4.99 a month.
  • Create a Twitch account and link it to your Amazon Prime account – I will post an article on Twitch/Amazon Prime at some point – and you get a monthly free subscription to any one channel. If you already have Twitch Prime it is like giving something for nothing.

A Screenshot of the SlowPsycho website

The SlowPsycho.tv Website

Contrary to popular understanding, I do actually have some knowledge of Drupal. So the SlowPsycho.tv website is actually built on Drupal 8 and I have a duplicate test server also running charity focused CiviCRM as well.

The thing is though, things that I was asked to do on a previous Drupal / CiviCRM website and I was openly struggling with, are now working perfectly! One can only wonder as to the reason for that!

No SlowPsycho memberships and automated certificates yet though; I need to find the time to work on the basics.

Review and Previews

I am starting to populate the website with games reviews and little snippets of code that seem to work to a small degree. You will be able to find a growing list of games that I have archived or I am waiting to play at the new My Games page. It is still building, I have to find the right balance of game logo and description, and I can not decide how to inject and display the link to any review I have written about each game I play.

I have not, however, gone back and reviewed older games that I no longer play. I am nodding towards things like Cities in Motion and Dirty Bomb, but it means re-installing the games, digging out the press packs and for what? No-one buys games older than 6 months now!

Coming up though, will hopefully be my look at Civilization VI DLC (downloadable content pack) Rise and Fall. If I can get into Stellaris from 2016/17 and Crusader Kings II from 2006(!) then I will be reviewing them too. You may see a slight bias right now toward Paradox Interactive games right now.

Build My Own Computer

Yeah, I forgot about that website too. I have not touched that in what seems to be an eternity. I did look back at it last year when I was upgrading my main gaming rig for SlowPsycho work, but I don’t remember doing much updating.

That is something that I need to work on, if only because it is still getting the most views of all my work!

My Targets – February

I want to write more, I want to game more, I want to stream more. So I have set myself some targets that I want to share, because I want you to berate me, chastise me and tell me off when I don’t reach them.

  • Write at least 400 words per day; on either Golden Blog, Build My Own Computer or SlowPsycho
  • Start writing proper ideas and opinion content, right here on Golden Blog
  • Write or update and average of 1000 words per day across the websites (some days are better than others)
  • Stream 60 hours of gameplay across the month on my Twitch Channel
  • Get a second Twitch subscriber – as well as not losing the first one!

As you can see, I am rapidly reaching my 1000 word target for average words, it is just a shame that I am writing this on 30th January, otherwise I would tick it off my list.

What are your targets for February? Apart from no longer reading the Golden Blog, that is!

 

The Christmas Lul

A few years ago, you could never have broken my festive spirit. The rain pattering on the windows was merely the snow that is yet to form and the house was full of glitter and tinsel.

As we approach NORAD’s special day though, things don’t seem to be the same anymore. The tree is up and the lights are on but nobody is really home.

You see, I have been busy working on new projects. Leaving hospital radio behind back in May, probably setting fire to all the bridges as I left, I had already missed the boat on a number of things I really wanted to try out. I was making decisions of whether to buy a laptop that allowed me to try and develop the HBA website – I did not feel justified to ask them to supply one – or buy BitCoin.

I am of course, sat here on £1200 of – at the time – high spec laptop now writing a blog post. That is not to say I don’t now put it to good use….

I also missed out of the infancy of my current project; gaming and streaming. For those that are closer to me will know, I now put about 20 to 30 hours a week into this, despite being late to the game, and will never find out if I could have been successful. I started to tinker with it about 15 months ago, the occasional stream a few times a week, trying to get a feel for the games that I play and how I could exploit them online.

Streaming and Gaming?

So yes. I know, I am a bit old and I am probably a bit too mediocre at it.

I like playing strategy games. For those of you who remember Sim City, I play Cities:Skylines, which is like the next generation of that. I play strategy games like Civilization VI, Transport Fever and more recently more simplistic simulations like Airport CEO and Production Line.

You can find what I am currently doing on my Twitch Channel (it’s basically like YouTube, but just for gaming and ‘live streaming’) and I am now working towards a website connected to it where I can put my game reviews, tips and things. Some of the articles on the Golden Blog will probably move across and some of the articles that I have never managed to finish will get completed.

I have been quite busy at this though since starting the computer upgrade back in June. I have to justify what is quickly approaching a 4 figure sum for computer parts – it probably is now I have a new RX580 Nitro+ – not the cheapest of hobbies!

How Can I Be Successful?

Oh behave! I am not doing to be a millionaire success, I probably won’t even make back my investment, but it is nothing to say I won’t try. As some of you already know, the Department for Work and Pensions are not top of my Christmas card list right now.

So all I ask is that I try and make back the £200/month lost to the PIP scandal. Did you know someone who is registered blind is no longer entitled to a single penny in assistance! Of course as I am already hammered by the 40% tax and the repayment of child benefit I will have to clear more than that.

You know of course…. I will never get close

So – HOW Can I be Successful?

Oh right… you mean how do I make money from it? Well.

So far I haven’t.

From nothing, over 12 months (well, since June really) I have had about 2,000 unique views of my output and around 100 ‘followers’ who choose to … follow.

All that has given me enough momentum to be offered an affiliate agreement with Twitch, which means people can subscribe with a number of donations ranging from $4.99 to $24.99 a month. Amazon Prime users also qualify for a free subscription to give out per month, which translates to a little in the kitty. Some channels, including mine, can take one-off donations via StreamLabs (via Paypal) and there are other micro-transaction options.

Twitch Prime also Gets you free games though, on top of ad-free viewing of the rubbish I produce. Recently I have picked up some free Hearthstone cards, which I occasionally play, sometimes you pick up a free game from the retro catalog.

BUT

The lul at the moment is that indeed, I am nowhere near making my first dime. It’s been more than 6 months since the DWP took away the PIP for the good lady and I still have not done anything to make up the shortfall.

I still plug away though, the extra 20 to 30 hours a week trying to make myself a success. It is not in the slightest bit festive though, even if I may wear the red hat and beard.

You can see some of my work on my Twitch Channel.

Have the PIP Goalposts Changed?

With own experience, the outrage on social media and now an article in the press; I wonder if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and ATOS have changed the goalposts for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

There seems to be just so many different claims of payments being rejected either in part or in full. Many then successfully appealed, for some of the strangest reasons.

‘Your Not Disabled, You Can Walk On Your Hands’

So the article that has me thinking about this today is from The Independent;

Julius Holgate, from Hackney, north London, fell into debt and resorted to selling his jewellery and other belongings to survive after he received zero points during his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment in January.

The DWP said Julius was able to climb stairs using his arms and therefore had “mobility” so he could work. Source

This gentleman is a double-amputee affected by a “clerical error” at the Department for Work and Pensions and through a generic tick-list of tasks based on evidence that is provided by sub-contractor ATOS.

This is an easy Government get out, it was the contractors fault and they are not directly responsible, yadda, yadda.

Has the Criteria Changed?

Back in the days of the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition, there was a Government policy paper on welfare reforms.

Some of the elements of this are still in development. Universal Credit is in trial stages and infancy, while the introduction of caps on the amount of benefit that can be received continues to be adjusted. The section that is relevant to this discussion though is:

PIP helps towards some of the extra costs because of a long term ill-health condition or disability. It’s based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition they have. Source

The Disability Living Allowance that it replaces was more aligned to being a benefit meeting the additional costs arising from disability. Notice that there is a very subtle wording difference in that the new benefit only commits to helping with ‘some costs.’

Certainly if you consider yourself unable to cope with work, you don’t (and we don’t) apply for the Employment and Support Allowance. We are lucky that with my wages and what was my wife’s DLA we can make ends meet, albeit with a lot of cost cutting. ESA and fitness to work assessments are apparently just as bad and visual impairment and nystagmous is still

How Can This Be Interpreted?

I think this interpretation is important. If you spend out on adaptations to your home for a disability; it seems that this means that you will no longer need any money to help you. I wonder whether this really basic and flawed theory is what is now pushing eligibility.

For Mr Holgate, this may be the clerical error that led to his initial refusal; he stated he could make it up the stairs using his hands so it was deemed that he needs no further help. It appears that someone has seen sense.

I was thinking how that would affect our family life. We have had the Daily Living component of DLA rejected for a PIP claim, despite the report seemingly talking about a completely different claim at times.

Our report stated that no assistance was needed for preparing a simple meal because we have a mandolin for preparing ingredients and magnification to read instruction on packets. The facts pointed out that even then most use by dates and many instructions are still too small was ignored, similarly the statement that in a large number of cases, to keep a varied and healthy diet, I prepare many meals for my family before I go out to work.

It does not seem to occur to ATOS that buying and continually using a slow cooker, because that can be the easiest way to cook a simple meal, means it has to be replaced more often. Nor do they realise just how specific microwave or oven has to be to cater for someone who s all but blind.

It also does not seem to occur to the DWP that being able to use a timer does not mean that the chicken breast will be cooked through, when it has been in the oven.

More Evidence

This is not something new, you can see in social media the number of claimants that have bizarre refusals;

 

The Government Has Made PIP a Shambles

It has off-costed third party contractors into a role where they have no accountability but make hundreds of millions of pounds of decisions a year. It then appears to have forgotten a core of why the Personal Independence Payment is there, to help disabled people adjust to being an included part of the community.

The vast majority of PIP claimants don’t want to profit from their disability; just don’t want to fall deep in debt trying to cope with it.

Is the National Minimum Wage Working?

I have deliberately left this post about the National Minimum Wage until after the General Election because it is ranting rambling and I did not want anyone to accuse me of cheating their vote.

I don’t often write about politics, especially not the National Minimum Wage. I try not to discuss politics much. Apart from my wife, no-one really know which way I voted in the EU referendum. Even now, some hours after voting, where I put my is between me and the ballot paper.

All around me, people are saying it was the best thing since the white sliced loaf and people everywhere are prospering because of it. When you question it though, you are simply a moron:

I don’t get it. So someone correct me!

National Minimum Wage basics

So the basics are quite simple. Back in the late 1990’s the Government decided that it was going to state a minimum wage for all paid employees across the country.

Over the years there have been numerous increases. Employers are required by law to increase the rate of pay for minimum wage employees, with any employees that spend years hovering just above this wage being increasingly captured into it’s net.

There is no requirement for employees to deserve the pay increase, no need to work hard for it, or show performance.

What I don’t get about the NMW

The minimum wage has never really sat well with me. We are in a country of commercialism where industry largely relies on the supply and demand, and the payment of taxes. So why, all of a sudden, are market rates not working?

If people are getting paid £2 an hour, then the coats of the local economy will reflect that. If a country of people being paid £2 an hour, the wider economy will reflect that.

People paid £2 an hour will not pay £4 for a beer.

If no-one wants to pay £4 for a beer then the price of beer will have to fall; remember though, the company paying £2 an hour has less overheads than one paying £7.40, so there is an off-cost.

People are Scared to Speak Out

Is it that the people who are working the shop floor are worried about losing their jobs? An entire company of staff all complaining they are not paid enough but not prepared to do anything about it? Of course when we were back in the 1970’s, the time that many blue voters want to forget, the shop stewards had a role; fair work for fair pay or the shop floor walked out.

Thatcher broke the unions, in step one of the plan to stop people taking charge of their own future. Now the mere act of daring to take any form of industrial action is viciously attacked, particularly when it’s the junior doctors or train drivers.

Very few workers now have a voice strong enough to take action. So instead they loudly complain that there are massive numbers on zero-hour contracts (via The Guardian) or take their vengeance out on the soothsayers of doom about the NMW.

Zero-hour contracts…. oh yes that will be self-employment.

A Plausible Future – One Wage For All

I was doing some sums. Over the last three years, the National Minimum Wage increased by 3.1%, 7.5% and 4.2%. Last time I checked I would have had to go on strike to get anything more than RPI and it will be a matter of 7 years before I am on National Minimum Wage.

Slowly, more and more people will hit the minimum wage threshold, police officers, fireman, paramedics, nurses, all being paid the same as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket or a commercial building cleaner.

I am not saying that these roles are not important and there are some amazing people that stand out in their workforce and should be on bigger and better things; but what is then to stop the Government of the day nationalising the entire country, paying everyone the same wage for a plethora of jobs? One Universal Credit anyone?

A Probable Future – Discontent

Can you see the skilled public sector professionals taking this? The NHS is continuing to teeter on the edge of a complete relations failure with Junior Doctors as the NHS forces through new contracts and Junior Doctors leave the NHS (via the Daily Mirror) and earlier this year nurses threatened to strike over a tiny 1% pay increase (via Sky News). Think about that for a moment; the NHS consider nurses to not be suitable for a similar pay increase to that enforced by the National Minimum Wage.

I know I was laughed at, when my trade union asked what we should negotiate for in our next pay review. I said we should aim for the same increase as the NMW.

A Plausible Look at Cost

With any increase in costs, a company is going to look at displeasing the shareholders, or displeasing the consumer.

Supply chains are huge. Raw materials, raw material transport, manufacturing, packing and transport to retailers, retailer distribution, the shop front. Six companies having to pay more for staff, six chances for the cost along the chain to increase.

So inevitably for that small increase in your pay, you could be paying far more out for the same product.

…. but there is more….

  • The more you are paid, the closer you get to the tax-free allowance limit, or indeed the more tax you pay
  • If you are claiming carers allowance, at £10 an hour you will now be limited to 11 hours per week to be able to claim it
  • Likewise those on income-based benefits will have to cut their hours to keep qualifying, or potentially lose the cash handouts
  • You will also have to pay more for basic foodstuffs as well as luxury goods.

Why Do We Have NMW?

Is it to make you feel good about having more money for a shorter amount of time?

Or is it really a way for the Government to quietly fill its coffers? One last thing to think about:

  • If you are paid more, the Government will get more back in Income Tax
  • If you no longer qualify for benefits, the Government will keep it in their bank
  • If the cost of goods go up, the Government will get back more in VAT
  • If the cost of Your Living goes up, the Government will simply raise the National Minimum Wage, get more back in income tax, in VAT and get less benefits

IS the National Minimum Wage Working?

Yes…. if you are the Government.

What To Cut First ? – How PIP Leads to Change

I am look at the spreadsheet. Where do I cut £300 a month from without it breaking anyone’s heart.

The Department for Work and Pensions have decided that the wife is no longer entitled to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and have cut her DLA off. Apparently, being mostly blind, partially deaf and nystagmus making her ability to concentrate massively reduced; she is independent enough to not need financial assistance.

That means that I now have to make some choices. It will probably be Virgin Media getting the chop; 5 year old will lose most of her cartoons and won’t understand why, I won’t be able to try and kick start an income streaming gaming for cash anymore and the spiral will begin.

The ATOS Interpretation

So the crux of the issue comes down to a few things, such as:

The claimant claims to have difficulty in working out when food is cooked, however can use a timer on the oven to tell her when it is cooked; therefore she can cook a simple meal.

Of course, the timer on the oven can check whether that chicken fillet is cooked in the middle. It can tell when a plate is dirty and allow a short person to levitate in order to complete food preparation at a worktop.

The claimant can hold attention with the interviewer and maintain eye contact, however can not see more than 1m away in distance.

Yes, but this is the communication section of the assessment, the failure to point out that I had to repeat the question in terms that could be understood and then I spent more than double the time of my wife answering the questions because she did not know how to.

Oh – and ATOS and/or the DWP invented a claim about washing, grooming and toileting. I mean completely invented, the NO Assistance Required was clearly ticked, the face-to-face assessor was clearly told that it was not a problem, yet the DWP stated that claimed issues with washing and bathing appeared to be unfounded.

So What Options?

Well first and foremost we are appealing the decision. Someone has thoughtfully suggested contacting our MP as well – after June 8th of course.

Getting A Job

The obvious one is to sign on and get a job. My wife has not worked for 4 years, since her disabilities stopped her continuing work as a nursery nurse, something she had done for 15 years. So for a mid-30’s to re-train, okay, but:

  • any job would need to be within school hours
  • any job would need to pay for childcare of an under 1 as well as making up the missing money
  • any employer would need to be flexible to the regular (at least weekly) calls from school to investigate a head injury around a 5 year olds ventricular-peritoneal shunt

So that is massively restricting to start:

  • text based work would have to be minimum of 26pt font
  • VDU based work must be suitable for a screen 800×600 resolution
  • customers will have to speak up into the right ear in order to be heard

You can see the massive number of jobs just jumping out at you now. The job center rubbing their hands together at the unemployable list.

Because PIP  has been refused, there is no entitlement to Educational and Support Allowance either.

Working from Home

Again a lot of the options involve me getting involved. For example something like Avon, Betterware, etc involves people writing orders on very small order forms in small writing; try to read spidery handwriting through a powerful magnifier with nystagmus!

Delivering phone books and the like is a great idea, until you factor in that being blind means no driving licence, so lugging boxes of leaflets or catalogs onto the bus with a pushchair and screaming baby?

Home-based data entry is another great idea, except to get any actual money you have to be efficient at doing it. Most data entry companies rely on more than 800×600 screen estate these days and the concentration levels of the nystagmus would be prohibitive – trust me, we have tried it!

Me Earning More

The other obvious one is for me to get another job. Indeed I was told that I should get a second job such as (and I quote directly) “data entry or something, that you can do while you are at your other job doing nothing, it might be less than minimum wage but it will be something”

Good Idea

So what I am going to do is find a second job, that will take me not only further into the higher tax paying bracket, paying back a larger percentage of child benefit that we get for the kids and risk losing my first job by doing it at work.

For those wondering, I earn around £53k a year, for a job where I make one slip and I could be on a manslaughter charge of a few thousand commuters…

So, to earn that £300 I am likely to have to earn around £700 extra a month gross. An extra two or three shifts every month to reach that, and in punishment, my children will have to give up all of their child benefit payments.

We Are Out of Ideas

We apparently just have to sit and wait and hope that an appeal is successful. I would have to put in another 30 or 40 hours a month, us having to get the wife a job that pays less than the childcare for a child, or just paying the mortgage, eating and … not much else.

I know you are reading this, saying ‘but you earn more than £50k, how the hell can you be poor’ but it’s really is that mediocre wage between getting every penny on the dole and getting every penny as a rich Tory. We are entitled to nothing, if we are foreclosed on our mortgage because we start struggling we are entitled to nothing, Education and Support Allowance and Job Seekers Allowance…. nothing.

As One Door Closes…

So it has been one of those turbulent weekends of sorts.

After 6 years working exclusively at a national level, with about 10 of the 15 years before that at a local one, I no longer have anything to do with hospital radio. Well I say no longer, you never know what may be around the corner with either a hospital, a radio or a combination of the two.

A Quick Summary of my Hospital Radio

You know, it has actually been interesting as well as a little bit fun. I remember going into Radio Haslar in Gosport as a teenager, getting put straight into a slot on a show of 50’s and 60’s music, and having more than a  little crush on the studio manager. She was probably about 10 years older than me she was a country mile out of my league.

Portsmouth

I went to University, came back for a year and juggled shows with working nights at a casino. I went back to university and then returned to Portsmouth Hospital Broadcasting, where over a number of years I went from a weekend slot to Chairman. I left PHB to allow it to move into it’s new premises at a PFI funded hospital under new leadership, a move away from Portsmouth was imminent for me and lots of changes is bad for any charity.

National

It was then that I started working with the HBA on a national level. I had been to one of their autumn conference events, which incorporated their Annual General Meeting some years prior, and soon I found myself their new Minutes Secretary at bimonthly Trustee Board meetings. It was strange really, I was nothing to do with the management of the Association but I was allowed to have a say. Maybe that was their first mistake.

During a communications review, I was asked to lead on preparing an Internal Communications paper. I wrote the paper, talking about how the HBA did not communicate within itself and presented the paper; to be told they wanted a paper about communications with their members… to this day I still argue that members are customers and customers are external.

The Newsletter

As part of the communications review I was asked to take on the new to launch Members’ Electronic Newsletter. I was given a vague remit along the lines of ‘it should be targeted to the management of our member hospital radio stations’ and so it became about the changes to charity law, the fundraising and grants lists and less about the really cool reports from station which appeared in the organisations seasonal magazine.

The Website

With the departure of the long standing webmaster the HBA then wanted a new website. A good idea and followed through, if not a bit haphazardly from me at times, although at the end of it there needed to be a new webmaster.

There wasn’t, I carried on blubbering along and worked on what I could figure out. I desperately needed a local environment to do some of the more detailed items, but alas after hundreds of hours of trying, I simply could not get a copy of the website installed on either a XAMPP stack or a VirtualBox machine.

Of course I was the only person who had this problem. “I have managed it, why can’t you, I will show you one day” was the response I would ever get to asking for help with it.

That meant that some fundamental flaws could not get patched as quick as I would have liked. No-one who should of, particularly cared though.

So What Now?

It’s time for me to take stock. I will probably pop back up somewhere in due time. I miss working locally to get things done for the benefit of others, which I made the mistake of leaving behind.

It probably won’t be back in hospital radio though; the scene has changed, the people have changed and their expectations have certainly changed. Some hospital radio stations reacted on the future, a bit like when Apple first packed an iMac behind a 4 inch screen, others have slowly wasted away, like the BlackBerry OS.

Me, I will take the slow walk through the market and pick and taste what takes my fancy, something I have not done for many years. One day though, I will meet the next Grant, or the next Iain, or even (as I mutter God Forbid under my breath in the nicest possible way) the next Nigel; who kept me there as long as they did and pushed me to firefight until the end. If I ever meet managers like those three, I will be willing to fight.

I will miss it, I already do.