RideLondon – ride report and thank you.

Training in numbers:

Three months.
100 hours.
1,100 miles.
And 0* beer.

I arrived at the Olympic Park early on a Sunday morning in August and realised there was no going back. All of that effort led up to this day.

Phew, what a scorcher. It was by far the most difficult, physical thing I’ve ever done in my life to date.

Thank you for your support. Together, we’ve raised £633.51 for the Albert Kennedy Trust – helping end LGBT youth homelessness!

Can I even write anymore?

There comes a moment when it’s just you and a cursor on a screen.

There it is, flashing away expectently in the top left corner of a large white field of text.

The moment you start typing, the doubt fills your mind and works its way down to your fingers.

Every word, every sentence just seems empty. Pointless. Self-indulgent. False. Not positive enough. Pompous.

And you begin to wonder – can you even write any more?

I don’t know what writer’s block is. I write every day, short pieces, longer pieces. But can I really write? What is all this copy that’s just streaming out?

What does it mean? Who will read it? Who will care? And will it survive once I’m gone?

Everyone is a writer these days. There are blogs-a-billion, eclipsed only by the number of views on pewdiepie’s YouTube account.

The hope of making some kind of impact on the world through writing feels futile… arrogant, even.

So why bother? I’m almost up to 160 words now, the count at the foot of my screen relentless increasing whilst the meaning of this prose diminishes further and further.

Distractions abound. Look, there’s an email. Ooh, the Twitter icon has turned blue. My phone buzzes with a missive from my… well, now here’s the part where I start self-censoring more actively.

To write is to live. And if I can’t write, can I even live?

Spock kicks in. Of course, don’t be so ridiculous.

You can write. You just did. And you can share it with whomever will read and it really doesn’t matter what they think as long as you think it is worthy.

Stream over. Press publish. Go home. Write again tomorrow.

Help end LGBT youth homelessness

If you’d just like to donate, sponsor me here — but if you’d like to find out why, read on…

A couple of weeks ago, rainbow flags enveloped social media.

It was a reminder of how much attitudes towards equality have changed in a dramatically short period of time. Legal equality is now a lot closer than it was as little as ten years ago.

Social equality is another thing.

Laws can be passed. Role models can get paraded in glossy magazines. We can start talking about celebrations, not protest marches.

Attitudes can still be ugly.

And young people can still feel alone, can still be living terrified in hostile conditions, just for being who they are.

When they feel that way, the choices can often seem bleak. Sometimes, they might feel they don’t have a choice and they can’t just… keep going.

No-one should feel that way.

We’re hitting the season of summer celebrations across the country and the world. It’s going to be a big one, given the news from the US.

But I’m not quite in the spirit of things yet.

A couple of months ago, I declared myself “in training” for what will be my biggest cycling challenge to date.

On 2 August, I’m joining 20,000 other riders to cycle 100 miles between London and Surrey in the RideLondon 100 event. The annual closed road ride follows a similar route to the London 2012 Olympic Cycling road race, including the infamous Box Hill in Surrey.

Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 2015 Route Profile MapSetting off from the Olympic Park in Stratford, through central London to Hampton Court and out to Surrey for the most gruelling part of the ride. I’m hoping that the thought of a triumphant return and sprint finish down the Mall will keep me spinning slowly up the hills.

Given my generally poor fitness levels, I expect it to be struggle. Just to complete the full ride (and not get shuffled off roads that are about to re-open) I need to maintain a minimum ~13 mph average. For over 8 hours. Think of it like the London Marathon but for cyclists.

It’s now the last few weeks of training before the ride. And the biggest challenge to achieving this is the fight against myself.

For a long time, I didn’t think I was the kind of person who could train for a physical achievement.

Over the last 8 weeks, I’ve slowly begun to change that belief.

I’ve been following a cycle training plan that’s seen make wake up as early as 7am (!) or ride after work to ride 20-30 miles three times a week in whatever weather. At the weekends, I’ve been riding increasingly long single rides in order to build the stamina I’ll need to make it through the full 100 miles in August. Last weekend, I rode my longest ever single ride: 70 miles.

Finally, I believe that I can keep going and do the full 100 mile distance.

Albert Kennedy Trust logoNow, I’d love it if you’d help inspire other young people facing much more extreme crises to keep going too, by sponsoring me. I’m supporting the mission of the Albert Kennedy Trust to end LGBT youth homelessness and help other young people believe that they too can keep going, even when they live in hostile environments.

The Albert Kennedy Trust is named for a lad who ran away from a Salford children’s home. In 1989, he fell to his death from at the roof of the Chorlton Street car park.

His death moved Cath Hall, a local foster carer who knew Albert to found the trust in his memory. She was angry about the apparent epidemic of young LGBT people facing difficulty and crisis in foster care, of which Albert was a tragic victim.

Today, the Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) provides essential support for young LGBT people between 16-25 who are made homeless, or are living in hostile environments. Still operating in Manchester, they’ve expanded to London and Newcastle — providing financial support, legal advice and the new Purple Door project of safe places to stay for homeless young LGBT people.

Even though they now count Ian McKellen and Julie Hesmondhalgh amongst their patrons, they’re not a widely-known charity brand. It’s been awesome to see the positive impact of their work and that’s why I’ve supported them personally for a couple of years now.

But in some ways, the crisis still goes on — perhaps more hidden now and certainly far less mainstream. AKT know that there are always more young people they could help support. More young people who need help to achieve their full potential and just… keep going, even when everything seems against them.

That’s why I’d love it if you’d consider supporting AKT’s mission to end LGBT youth homelessness by sponsoring me to ride 100 miles this August.

You can sponsor me right now here. It’s quick and simple so do it straight away.

Oh and, if you fancy supporting me on the early August bank holiday weekend, do come down to London. There’s a whole weekend of closed roads and cycling fun. And on the 2nd, you can sit in the pub, watching the TV coverage before lining up my pint after my final sprint^W struggle the down the Mall!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your awesome support to help end LGBT youth homelessness.

List of my blog posts that have been removed from Google’s search results

Since a European Court of Justice ruling last year, individuals have the right to request that search engines remove certain web pages from their search results. Those pages usually contain personal information about individuals.

— from the BBC Internet blog

I’ve decided to do something similar.

September 2014

Cycling is the biggest hack for this congested city

This weekend marks the inaugural Cycle Hack Manchester: part of a global movement to find ways to remove barriers that stop or inhibit people from cycling.

It sounds like an exciting and wonderfully positive event and even more so by being part of a global movement.

Unfortunately, I can’t be there. But I look forward to reading about what happens. Because I believe that cycling can be the biggest hack for this city’s greatest problem: congestion.

Cycling around Manchester is both a joyous and intensely challenging experience.

Manchester is one of the most congested cities in Europe.

It’s incredible to believe though when you consider the city centre has one of the lowest levels of car ownerships in the country. In 2010, before the endless development work and at the height of the recession, the average speed of traffic in central Manchester between 1700-1800 was barely 12 mph.

Cycling in Manchester does put you right in the middle of that slow, congested mess – but it offers a way out.

It’s by far the quickest way to get around, certainly for journeys up to 5 miles. It’s door-to-door and with a reasonable speed of 12 mph is no slower than the average speed of cars in traffic. The council leader even demonstrated this in a race between bikes, buses, cars and trams.

Getting more people moving is key to making Manchester the Northern Powerhouse it seeks to become. How can the city seek to deliver economic growth when you can’t even get to the office or to shops?

That’s why cycling could be one of the simplest, cheapest and most effective hacks to relieve this city’s chronically congested arteries.

This is the narrative that I’d like to see explored further when it comes to promoting cycling.

It’s not about endless training courses, or bits of plastic on your head.

Cycling can help solve congestion. It can get more people moving, quicker.

No-one can claim that this is a bad thing.

Yet politically, there’s much against people who use bikes to get around.

The (cycling!) council leader seems to hate cyclists. The police stop cyclists for minor misdemeanors whilst blocking bike paths and advanced stop lines. New developments ignore cycling provision or even dig them up. Metrolink, in particular, ignore the pleas of cyclists not to destroy key commuting routes. All while the council PR machine bleat on about training and helmets as the answer to getting more people on the road. I won’t even start about other road users who regularly terrorise vulnerable people on two wheels.

So – deep breath – what do we do?

Tweeting angrily to councillors is pointless. Making them sign petitions is worth little, particularly when there’s no opposition to hold councillors to account on their promises.

It seems to me that the only thing that has really seemed to make an impact in the short to medium term is harnessing the power of the business community.

The Cycling Works campaign in London showed that if you can get businesses & employers behind your campaign, using a narrative of reducing congestion, economic growth (and safety), you can make change. London is seeing the development of the biggest, most substantial and highest-quality cycling infrastructure it has probably ever seen – the East-West Cycleway.

It’s not perfect, but this type of fully thought-out, segregated and connected infrastructure will get even more people moving about by bike and hopefully lead to a snowball effect in the nation’s capital.

Contrast this to a councillor’s statement at a University of Manchester salon on cycling, that the inability for cars to get around the city centre due to the works would in fact lead to more people using bikes!

Manchester holds dear the platitudes of bygone heroes about progress and love.

Progress as a Northern Powerhouse is impossible without solving problems held over from the past.

Let’s work together with business and employers across the city to build a new campaign and show the same leadership and forward-thinking for which Manchester has historically been known.

Because cycling could be the biggest hack for this congested city’s economic growth.

Reduce the risk of email rejection by making WordPress send emails via SMTP if DKIM is configured

Originally published on the Bytemark forum

I recently migrated yet another WordPress site from a Turnkey Linux install to join my others on Bytemark Symbiosis. As I’ve briefly mentioned elsewhere, this went without major problems.

I also decided to configure SPF and DKIM as part of my plan to finish migrating mail services over. However, I didn’t consider the fact that this has an impact on the deliverability of emails sent from WordPress and presumably other similar PHP-based web applications.

I’ve been using a catch-all forwarding rule and spotted a rejected email from Yahoo! Mail. The rejected email was a blog post that was shared by email using WordPress JetPack sharing. The rejection notice quoted 554 5.7.9: Message not accepted for policy reasons. The explanatory URL clarifies:

Your email failed one or more of the following industry-wide authentication checks that Yahoo uses to verify emails are truly sent from the domains they claim to originate from.

It goes on to briefly explain DKIM, SPF and DMARC (not currently implemented in Symbiosis).

Thankfully, this is a solvable problem – in fact, it’s not even really a problem, as Yahoo! Mail is just doing its job by checking for correct DKIM headers.

However, WordPress doesn’t make solving it obvious. Chad Butler has done a ton of investigation into WordPress’s email woes, pointing the finger at the wp_mail function – a “wrapper” for phpmailer. The solution is to force WordPress to use SMTP via phpmailer. Here are two suggested approaches:

  1. Edit your theme’s functions.php to include an extra code snippet that configures WordPress to use SMTP to send email.
  2. Use an extra plugin to bring this functionality to all themes and WordPress email functions. Chad recommends WP Mail SMTP which I’ve just deployed and tested briefly with WordPress 4.0.1 (this may useful for multi-site setups too).

With both approaches, there are some Symbiosis-specific things you should be aware of (I’ll use the standard Symbiosis examples here):

  • You need to create a mailbox first, if that isn’t obvious, e.g. blog.
  • The SMTP host is mail.my-brilliant-site.com (on default port 25).
  • The username must follow the example blog@my-brilliant-site.com. Obvious, perhaps, but I always forget this.
  • SMTP requires authentication.
  • I used TLS encryption successfully.

If you’ve tweaked your Symbiosis install to be non-standard, then you’ll have to reflect that here but otherwise it’s pretty much the same as setting up a mail client to send mail.

If you’re using the WP Mail SMTP plugin, then you can send a test email. I recommend trying to send it to a Gmail or Yahoo! Mail address. The result you’re looking for is bool(true) – in addition to the test email of course, which you can examine to ensure it includes the right DKIM-Signature header.

I hope this helps with any head-scratching you might have also been doing!

The spirit of BarCamp is alive and well in Manchester – #BCMCR5

Excuse how overdue this blog post is… but how awesome was BarCamp Manchester?! It seems the spirit of BarCamp is alive and well in our city and that’s reassuring. With so much focus on tech startups, venture capital and, frankly, short-term money making, I’d begun to wonder whether the geek community that helped drive much of Manchester’s meteoric rise as a place to do digital was beginning to get squeezed out. Where were the hackers who hacked for hacking’s sake?

So I admit, it was with a slightly sceptical mind that I approached BarCampManchester5 – held in TechHub ManchesterSpacePort, I was fully expecting a weekend of being pitched at and recruited.

I was completely wrong (and maybe exaggerating just a tad).

BarCamp Manchester had all the great things about a BarCamp – in abundance.

SpacePort proved to be a fantastic venue with the organisers having negotiated with the residents who generously let us use the space. Sheila Bird Group also allowed the use of the space next door on the same floor which allowed for an incredible number of simultaneous sessions. There was plenty of food – perhaps a little too much, despite the organisers serious efforts to control waste. And there was WiFi. My word was there good WiFi, thanks to SpacePort residents Telcom. There were even plenty of projectors for most of the spaces which has often been a big problem in the past.

But most importantly, there were the people. At the opening plenary, it turned out to be a 50/50 split between newbies and old hands, which is a pretty good mix for what’s arguably a niche event.

My day at BarCamp Manchester was pretty varied. I kicked it off listening to the Ian “The” Forrester himself discuss, “what is a geek?”. Although I’ve heard it many times before, it’s always satisfying to see the group reach the same conclusion.

Later, I enjoyed the event’s unofficial keynote:

…yes, it was Ian again! But this time, being interviewed by friend and colleague Tim. I caught most of it on video so I’ll get around to uploading it eventually.

I was pretty impressed at Ian’s candid responses and Tim‘s interviewing skill makes me think David Frost’s shoes will soon be filled.

I also surprised myself by running a session. Tim and I had chatted earlier in the day about sharing some of our thoughts on how to grow new business without using typical “sales” tactics. We’re really keen to promote what feels like the “right” way to do business – a way that we, and customers, are both happy with  – rather than the typical “used car salesman” approach that is the touchstone for many commodity businesses.

So towards the end of the first day, we managed to cobble something together.

Our main thrust was to “optimise for happiness” – meaning, do the thing that will make your serious potential customer happy in the long run. There’s a lot more to it – I even came up with a tweetable quote – and maybe I’ll write something specific in due course. But BarCamp Manchester was a brilliant place to try this out.

Of course, no BarCamp in Manchester could be complete without games. Following the charmingly ridiculous SlideShare karaoke (and the pizza mountain), I instigated a lolworthy game of charades. But that was only the appetiser: the main course was werewolf!

Werewolf is a brilliant game – sometimes an acquired taste, but everyone seemed to get into it pretty quickly. With a mix competitive, experienced players and people who’d never played before, it was bound to be heady.

Someone even captured a timelapse of the multiple games in play:

In conclusion, BarCamp Manchester was pretty great and well-exceeded my expectations. I loved catching up with old friends and meeting new people, learning new things and even giving a talk. Werewolf was well worth it and it’s just a shame I couldn’t come back the next day. If you missed it, catch up on the event’s social media shares.

Congratulations to the organising team – Claire, Shaf, Ian – and a huge thank you to everyone who made this possible. Roll on BarCamp Manchester 6…

This SSL-secured server is now powered by Bytemark Symbiosis!

EDIT: This server is now SSL-secured, thanks again to Symbiosis and free SSL certificates from StartCom!

I’ve finally got my act together and migrated technicalfault.net’s WordPress installation to a Bytemark BigV server that’s running Symbiosis.

Ever since I started working at Bytemark, I’ve hosted this blog on BigV, but I used the convenience of Turnkey Linux to rapidly create a working WordPress installation.

But many of the things that Turnkey took care of for me were easily available on Symbiosis, with the added convenience of it being fully documented to help with the occasional fumbles. My Symbiosis server now happily manages a few different website installations on just one box and setup for email is taken care of automatically.

So too are backups, pretty much. Following my colleague Nathan’s blog post, I finally have a backup approach, though I am missing an offsite component. But since Symbiosis is free/libre open source software, I can even install it on my home server and use it to manage backups. One of Bytemark’s clients has even done a write-up for this use case.

Moving away from Turnkey has also meant I can stop using Webmin and offering a remote web shell. Both of these things were convenient when I was newer to administering a server, but now I personally see them as unnecessary when Symbiosis handles most tasks. I also use SSH without passwords. That said, it was definitely a convenient way to get going quickly and I have another WordPress installation using it that doesn’t need to move anytime soon.

I’m glad that I’ve finally moved across and I’ll be documenting it fully in due course. But for now, it’s safe to say that the migration was surprisingly easy as I was able to copy my entire blog between servers and import the database straight into MySQL. A bit of fiddling with wp-config.php, resetting permissions and I had a working installation.

To conclude, I’ll quote my former colleague Steve: Symbiosis is wonderful. For me, it’s unlocked the power of Linux to achieve complex tasks with just a few terminal commands. I look forward to talking more about it with the wider web community at MozFest later this month.

Memories of AudioBoo

So AudioBoo is no more. Well, that’s not true: it’s been rebranded to AudioBoom, a brand they declare is “cooler” and with what seems to be a focus on listening, rather than creating.

I always liked the name AudioBoo – it had charm and was certainly British, if a bit twee – but perhaps for those reasons, the AudioBoom teams in New York, San Francisco and Sydney decided it had to go.

Nonetheless, the change in brand has brought me back to the platform, at least briefly. I stopped regularly using AudioBoo some time ago. I’m not sure why, as browsing back through my Boos my posts on AudioBoom reveals a plethora of charming sounds and associated images I enjoyed sharing.

Here are a few that I just picked out:

You can also listen to some of my cringe-worthy interviews, but I’m not going to share them here – you can easily find them through my profile.

Positively, AudioBoom now offers 10 minutes of free recording time. That’s up from five minutes, which often resulted in my making multiple posts for longer sounds. There’s also a handy new playlisting function that I’m using above,

So what next for AudioBoom? SoundCloud clearly has the user base when it comes to mixes and even podcasts. And if AudioBoom is moving more towards consumption rather than creation, then where will the content come from?

AudioBoo for me was always about voice and sounds, shared simply and instantly. Sounds evoke emotion and imagination in a way that short web video doesn’t, particularly when nudged along with a simple still image.

Whether there’s a niche for that simplicity in today’s social media environment of YouTubers, infographics and quick shareables is yet to be determined.

Political leaders must commit fully to space4cycling

Update: Space for Cycling went ahead successfully last night, with various Labour politicians coming out to show their support. This morning, Mary Creagh MP, Labour Shadow Transport minister spoke at Labour Party conference at Labour Party conference. Depressingly, there was no real commitment to space4cycling, bar improving HGV safety:

Not the dedicated, segregated network that’s safe for ages 8-80 that we’d asked for. GMCC and CTC are now calling for a manifesto commitment – lobby your MP here.

Tonight, hundreds of people will gather at Manchester’s All Saints Park to participate in a Space4Cycling bike ride all round the city. Timed to coincide with Labour Party conference, the organisers say:

we’re riding to raise awareness of the need for Space for Cycling. We want the ride to be a fun, family friendly event where we ride as a group at a gentle pace for a short distance around the city centre.

This ride takes place about a year after the first Space4Cycling bike ride in Manchester, which was timed to coincide with the Conservative Party conference. Last year’s ride took place shortly after the announcement that Manchester had won £20m from the Cycle City Ambition Fund following a successful bid, titled “Velocity 2025“.

So what are we riding for? After all, we have the money – shouldn’t we be happy? Things can only get better, as I’m sure someone once said.

Happily, the Velocity proposals are now coming through. Unfortunately, having been filtered through the council’s town planning department, we’re beginning to see that the vision for a cycling city isn’t necessarily the same as reality.

I believe that dedicated, separate space for cycling is what we want. Not shared pedestrians paths alongside roads for cars, or an endless succession of toucan crossings.

And, honestly, money is not the only thing that’s needed to make this a reality. In fact, it’s probably not the first thing we need either.

What we need is commitment. Real commitment from our political leaders that cycling is a serious form of transport that will have does have real, tangible benefits: from reducing congestion, improving health and boosting our global competitiveness.

Without that, any new money will do little. And the Velocity schemes will continue to fall short of the vision with which they were funded.