Homeless Shoebox Appeal

Homeless Shoeboxes

Homeless Shoeboxes

Winter is not a fun time for the homeless and less fortunate. This is made even worse by Christmas, a time traditionally spent with family or enjoying yourself. If your homeless or the less fortunate, you maybe watching everyone else enjoy themselves while you seem invisible.

It isn’t wrong of you to enjoy yourself at all, but you should spare a moment to think of the less fortunate. You really do never know when the tables maybe turned, and it kinda makes you a good human if nothing else. 

Homeless Shoebox Initiative

The Homeless Shoebox initiative is a rock solid idea, and shouldn’t really cost much at all. If you haven’t heard of this idea, let me fill you in.

Basically you take an shoebox or a box of a similar size, a bigger box is fine too, and prepare it with items which will make a homeless persons life a little easier in the cold winter and hopefully add a little joy over the Christmas period. 

This is a fun task to do with your children, as many many schools already do this as a class / school project. Its also a good time to help teach your children to be compassionate and good humans. Not to mention a good excuse to spend time with family.  

Every year I think about what to put in the box, and in the end the imaginary balance I come up with, is 75% essential items and 25% Useful Items, for me this is the ideal mixture. Essential Items to me are things to keep warm and dry, sanitary products, personal care items (brushes, toothpaste etc), a wind up torch, dry and long shelf life foods. Useful Items is a misnomer really, more useful but not essential items, I’m talking about books, a wind up radio, magazines, pens, notepads, things like that. 

Forbidden Items
There are various items which are forbidden, the primary items being…

Sharp Objects – Knives, Forks, Scissors, Blades, Plastic and Reusable Cutlery is ok. 

Alcohol – Just No, its best to even avoid alcohol flavoured foods and drinks. 

Money – Nope.

Suggested Items

I have made a quick list of items which I think are worth considering, and including, there isn’t really an order I added them nor is the list exhaustive, but should give you a starting point.


Essential Items
Hats Chocolate
Gloves Books
Scarves Toothpaste
Sanitary Products Toothbrush
Blankets Mouthwash
Ponchos Magazines
Windup Torch Biscuits
Towels Sweets
Hair Brush Windup Radio
Combs Shampoo
Deodorant Conditioner
Shower Gel Baby Wipes
Hand Sanitiser Lip Balm
Lightweight Flasks Bars of Soap
Canned Drinks Protein Bars 
Packet Soups Energy Bars
Packet Drinks Pens
Sealed Foods Notepad
Sewing Kits Bottle Openers
Dry Foods Puzzle Books
Tinned Foods
(ringpull only)
Zip Lock
Sealable Bags

I’m not sure about the following items, but figure they maybe useful for those with family. Postcards and Stamps, Phonecards, it may make it easier for them to contact said family. Its worth checking if any of these are prohibited. 

AA Batteries for any items they have which need them, I always think this is a good thing to add. 

What About The Dogs

You should also consider that many homeless people have pets, usually dogs, but I have heard of one occasion where the homeless lady had a cat, but its rare, so best to stick to dogs focussed. Please don’t include human foods, they maybe bad for the dog, and where possible stick to dry foods which can be stored and keep for a long time. 

Essential Items 
Tinned Food Toys
Sachet Food Balls
Bowls Treats 
Fleeces Dog Jackets
Blanket Dog Covers
Collars Towels
Poo Bags  

Final Check List

Please don’t include prohibited items, which are essentially money, alcohol and sharp things.

When you put your box together, don’t seal it shut, as often the organisers will add extra items, or needed items which you either didn’t think of, or may have missed. 

If possible, wrap both the lid and the box separate, and perhaps use a bow to hold it closed. 

You should also mark who you’re intended recipient is, as in young male, general female, dog, etc, so it can be handed to the right recipient.

You can also include wrapping paper if you’re not good at wrapping and/or a Christmas Card as a nice touch as they may not get one this year. 

Shoebox Appeal Links

Shoebox Appeal Manchester.
Shoebox Appeal Sheffield.
Shoebox Appeal Leeds.
Shoebox Appeal Chesterfield.
Shoebox Appeal Mansfield.
Shoebox Appeal Belfast.
Shoebox Appeal Rotherham.
Shoebox Appeal Doncaster.
Shoebox Appeal Barnsley.
Shoebox Appeal Liverpool.
Shoebox Appeal Swansea.

There are loads more, search for your area on facebook, or check your local newspaper for more information. 

Photo Borrowed from Crisis Centre

Web Presence and Domain Name Branding

Mail In A BoxWeb Presence and Branding are crucial when it comes to making the most of your Virtual Real Estate. There are a few major pitfalls which I see time and again, so I thought I’d cover a few of them here.

These are presented in no major order, other than how I thought about them. I were actually prompted to write this by a the signage on curtain sided wagon I saw, which were very much like the first van image I have posted below.

Make the most of what you have, with some simple guidelines. 

Failure to Utilise

This is the biggest offender, a business or trader has a domain name, they have an email address and a business name, but none of them match up. I have seen people with www.test.co.uk and their email is [email protected] or once, the other way around [email protected] and the website www.testnorthwest.wix.com.

If you are going to use a domain name, use it for both the presence and the email address, marry them to make a pair and boost you’re memorability. 

Trading Names

Following on from marrying your email and website url, we have Trading Names. If you have a cracking domain name, why not use a trading name to capitalise on the domain powers ? 

A trading name is a name you trade by, which can be anything really, but you must also identify who you are legally. This why you will often see for example “ABC is a trading name of XYZ Limited” or “ABC Doodads trading as ZXY Widgets Limited”. This is useful if you are say DIY Limited, and want to run Roofing Specialists, Flooring Experts and Boiler Repairs as separate companies under a main brand. This is often used if the company name you wished for, were already taken. 

Implementing the above issues in real world style situation. I’m going to make up a business name, and some pretend branding just to illustrate this crucial point, the domain name is owned (at time of writing by myself).

Less than Ideal Branding


MJ & BB Electricians
0161 234 5678
[email protected]


If you see the above on the side of a van (like left) at best you may remember the domain name as its you’re geographic location and a service you may need, so some recognition exists. 

Now lets marry up the email, and website url into a cohesive pair, lets play with the layout a little and we’ll use a trading name to tie it all together. Now you tell me, which one sticks in your mind, the above van of this…

Manchester Electricians Branding

Its nearly impossible to not know what this company does, the company name reinforces the domain name / website url and the email all matches up. We’ve also increased the phone number size so its nice and easy to see. 

This isn’t really the end of your branding and presence, not by a long shot. Most of the this happens behind closed doors, you’re customers will never see how much effort and thought foes into this. Infact you, yourself may never have actually given it a seconds thought. 

E-Mail Infrastructure

If you’re a sole trader, small business or a growing medium business there is no reason not to plan some sort of basic infrastructure for your email and web presence. I’m going assume this post is being read by SMB (Small and Medium Business) and Sole Traders, so the advice is more geared towards them. Bigger business with dozens of employee’s need to use a slightly different method for contacts and potentially geographic locations maybe a factor amongst other things. I will touch on the latter issues here and there but not too much. 

First up, I always recommend a basic set of email addresses, obviously a little tweaking is needed for the exact nature of your business. Sticking with the imaginary Manchester Electricians, I would go with the following basic set up.

Business Emails
[email protected] – General Enquires.
quote/[email protected] – Quotes and Pricing Alias both plural and singular spellings to one account.
[email protected] – Emergency Aerial Problems.

Business Card Emails
[email protected]
[email protected]

The business card emails, are important as it gives customers a way to contact someone they know directly rather than a faceless company. There is nothing stopping you having all these emails copy into one inbox; multiple outbound addresses, but its about planning for the future. 

If you’re a bigger business, and expect more than half dozen employees, its worth using whole names. There will be a time when you have multiple Chris Jones and Sarah Smith employees. 

[email protected]
[email protected]

Multiple People with Same Name

This isn’t perfect, when you get to 1000s of employees you may end up with multiple Robert Jones employees, so its often best to allow those employees to go with less formal names. Not all Robert’s use Robert, they could be Rob, Bob, Bobby or similar, this allows you to keep your email addresses clean. 

There will come a time when you need to consider using a multiple notation:

[email protected]
[email protected]

Its inevitable, I would personally try to avoid using numbers, and go with:

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Geo-Specific Emails

If you’ve multiple offices in different areas, then you can use specific geo markers in your emails. 

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Promotional Email Addresses

Lets say you’re running a competition or special offer which is advertised in a magazine but you want to know the impact. You can use a specific email for this [email protected] and direct to the special offer / competition on ManchesterElectricians.co.uk/electronicsweekly this allows you to see the impact and direct people to more information.

This works for buses [email protected] or anything else really. 

The Bottom Line

Making maximum use of your domain and email within your branding, 

Using a basic planned infrastructure from the start allows you to effectively route your emails to correct people and show a more professional presence.

Keep it simple and easy to read and you won’t go wrong. 

Van Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski, Mail in a Box image Courtesy of Svilen Milev

Risky Locations Could Increase Your Car Insurance Premium

Ghetto Area High Insurance

Ghetto Area = High Insurance

In the UK “Black Box” or “Telematics” devices are used as a way to reduce the cost of insurance for new or young drivers by tracking how they drive. Its hoped by having an “all-seeing-eye” watching how you break, corner and accelerate will make you a safer driver, and apparently its proven to improve the drivers skills. The Discounts are up to 38% and even 40%, when you consider the average new and young drivers insurance can be £2,000+, a 40% discount is substantial.

You may not know this, but some Telematics policies actually track WHEN you drive, so if you regularly drive between 11pm-7am, your discount is reduced. If you regularly exceed the speed limit. If you regularly drive during rush hour, it can also reduce your discount.

Its worth pointing out that the Telematics box won’t increase your premium for THIS year. It will reduce your discount / refund, when you drive or how you drive.

What Do Telematics Boxes Track

Geotab Go7 Telematics Device

Geotab Go7 Telematics Device

If you look at the list of what telematics box can track:

  • Time of day or night you drive.
  • Speeds you drive.
  • The type of road (A, B, Motorway).
  • Your Location.
  • If you brake hard or accelerate sharply.
  • If you take regular breaks to rest on long journeys.
  • Your motorway miles and usage.
  • Fuel Level.
  • Seatbelt Usage.
  • The way you handle corners.
  • The total mileage.
  • The total number of journeys you make.
  • Vehicle Maintenance and Condition.
  • Anything else the ECU knows, such as remapping or mapping out egr/dpf etc.

You can see there is quite a lot of information there, and many ways this can be interpreted and analysed.

Next Years Premiums Could Increase

Its fairly openly stated in the small print that it could (read as Will) affect your renewal or next years premium, and its sketchy if the data is shared with other insurance companies. More so even if shared within the same company for example Bell Insurance shares with its parent Admiral and sister Elephant for example.

Insurance companies have been trying to standardise the systems  data since 2014, so its coming soon that companies will share, less clear how UK data protection laws will see that.  

What they don’t officially track is your geographical location, but I believe this data is logged, I mean they are using a GPS tracker, so your location must be tracked but its not used yet. My research tells me there are (currently) no plans to change that. 

Driving In Risky Locations

Car Price IncreasesSome insurance companies in America are starting to use the Geographic location data in the calculation of your insurance premium, so if you routinely drive through down town Detroit at midnight where more than 1 person in every 2,000 people will end up dead in any given year, you can expect your insurance premium to rocket.

Same if you routinely park your car in the ghetto or rougher parts of town. 

I’m not sure how Risky Location would be defined in the UK since we don’t really have “hoods” or “motor city” type things, but I’m guessing they will use the same data they use to assess your home risk factor.

If you live in a low crime area, with high value homes, your insurance is cheaper, than if you live in a high crime area with low cost homes, or overspill estates etc then your insurance costs more. Since this data already exists, I suspect they will use this same type of data to determine if you’re driving / parking in “rough” areas. 

Its interesting times ahead as far as insurance goes, and its not the first time something altruistic has taken a more sinister turn.

Ghetto Area image courtesy of boldizsar csernak, Geotab Go7 Telematics Device image courtesy of Geotab, and Price Increase image by Svilen Milev.

Tesco Reacts to Sugar Tax

Sugar Cubes by Maria Kaloudi

Sugar Cubes

A while ago I posted about the Sugar Tax and my belief its missing the spot. Its like aiming for the double bull eye and hitting the single. In a nutshell, the whole objective officially is to cut the amount of sugar and reduce the impact on childhood obesity. This only appears to apply to fizzy drinks and the likes not to milk based products, and milk based is subjective. Unofficially I think its all about raising more government funds but what do I know. 

Tesco is currently making a song and dance completing the initiative it started on 5 years ago in 2011. This initiative were to cut sugar in its extensive range of soft drinks to below 5g of sugar per 100ml. They announced last week that now their complete range of over 250 drinks have been reformulated to be, below the tax threshold. It should really be commended as it were the first to commit and has one of the biggest range, but that doesn’t make me like the sugar tax end of. 

I haven’t tried many of Tescos offerings, but I have tried Aldi’s Vive range, their Pepsi Max (Cola XC) equivalent is quite nice but seems to lose fizz quickly, their British Blackcurrant is amazing, I wouldn’t have known I were drinking a low sugar version. I have tried many of Morissons products including Iron Bru, Shandy, Cherryade and they are all quite nice and with ice are passable as normal full sugar versions. 

I will make an effort to sample some of Tescos’ goodies and report back.

Chemical S#!tstorm

The more I think about this, the more it bothers me about what is going to replace the sugar. Last time we made a huge change, Low Fat vs High Sugar its come back to kick us in the groin… HARD!. Using Aspartame already has a number of health claims, as do various other “sweeteners”. So what are they using to try and maintain the taste and what far into future reaching side effects will they create ? 

My money says none of them have simply lowered the sugar content without adding a heap of chemicals to keep it just as sweet.

I call this a “Chemical Shitstorm”. 

Study’s in Quality

There were a study, I don’t remember exactly what or when I read it. In this study they reduced the quality of a product very slowly over a number of months. So say it started 100%, after 6 months it were down to 50%. It were determined almost without exception none of the test subjects really noticed. The interesting thing were after the study concluded and the people were told about it, a large amount preferred the new lower quality item over the original high quality item. 

There were talk at the time about this is how the body adjusts to various diets and why some people can eat stuff which makes some sick but not others. Milk were bandied around too, since its estimated that nearly every person on the planet is lactose intolerant given a high enough dose. However the more you drink, the more tolerance you grow. Salt were another named, when various peoples salt levels were slowly increased and anothers decreased, over time people didn’t notice.

Surely this would have been a better strategy rather than the current method?

Suspect Numbers from WHO

The numbers from the World Health Organisation seem suspect to me. They say sugar reduction of 20% would reduce childhood obesity by a fifth. A fifth also happens to be 20%, so a 20% reduction produces a 20% reduction, so why not say 50% reduction would produce 50%.

The fact they chose to mix the words, 20% in one point and a fifth elsewhere irks me. The fact the numbers are the same is also questionable, I haven’t looked too deeply into this as its not a major point of my blog, but it does strike questions for me. 


Sugar Cube photo by Maria Kaloudi.

Are You Apples New Cash Cow or Dongle Buyer

Splitter Keeper Keyring

Splitter Keeper Keyring

Its no secret I’m not an Apple fanboi, more about their alledged theft of *nix code and theft of other peoples ideas and products (see the info graphic at the bottom). I’ve also been saying for a while since Steve Jobs passed, Apple has lost its creativity and innovation, no new products since this time kinda reinforced this opinion. All they have done is made them larger and thinner and much of the same-same. The recent lapse in updates from their portable market where they were effectively selling 3-4 yr old technology for modern day prices and other such shyster moves adds to the pile. 

However it appears Apple has been slowly been creating its new cash-cow in the background built on top of Jobs work. Much like a wolf in sheep clothing they disguised it as a feature and enhancement to make their products thinner and lighter with the promise of better products.

It seems its been more about moving the fan bois and fan girls into kill box as it were. Sheep to the Slaughter.  

Apples New “Cash Cow” Product

Apple iDongle List

Apple iDondle List by  Drew Breunig

It seems the new product from Apple, is iDongle or rather iDongles. Currently none of the flagship products are able to communicate with each other, straight out of the box without a middleman.

What happened exactly to “it just works” ?. 

I challenge you to link your new iPhone 7 to a Macbook without needing a middle-man to handle the exchange.

Challenge #2, show me how you charge your Macbook, and connect to a printer ?

Challenge #3, show me how you charge your iPhone and listen to music with your supplied earphones ? 

While everyone were getting their rocks off about how “shiny and slender” or “pretty and dainty” the new Apple products were because they removed this connector and that connector. All because those connectors were big and bulky, but it seems secretly Apple were positioning their new product line.

From Drew Breunig’s Twitter Post (image right), that’s a tonne of different connectors and dongles you need to make all your Apple products work together. Don’t forget there are Firewire, USB, USB-C, Lightening, New Lightening, Magsafe, VGA, HDMI, HDMI Mini, 3.5mm Jack, Micro USB and Mini USB off the top of my head, possibly other connectors too.

Out of the 17, yes SEVENTEEN dongles that Apple has released, NONE of them make a common task like charger, printer and speakers all connected at once possible. The most you can connect is 2 devices, for more than that, you need to Daisy Chain them, and link 2 or 3 different dongles, and CHING CHING, you’re being milked by Apple like a good cash cow. 

Secondary Market

Uncourage with Adaptor

Uncourage with Adaptor

Apple has recognised that even fan bois and fan girls are showing discontent, so they have reducing the price of cable bag you now need, some discounted 50% or more. This doesn’t change the fact you need carry a tonne of connectors, the fact many many people are losing the connectors but I guess it is a little less painful on the wallet… not much though.

This has spawned a secondary market of new gadgets. When I say new gadgets I more mean a re-appropriation of an old DJ Gadget. 

One of my friends who is a DJ were ALWAYS losing his keys, so back in the late 1990s he made a keyring with a Headphone Jack, some speaker wire, a ring loop and a small carabena and stuck his keys into a spare jack point so he always knew where they were. The same guy also had one of those whistler things on his keys so he could find them in the dark. He even had a sample whistle he used to play via the club speakers to light them up. 

I saw some years later a better constructed version of this, or a more highly polished remake. Back on track a company called Uncourage took this old method and created a keeper for your required 3.5mm speaker dongle, so you don’t lose it so easy or so often.

I used to have one of those pictured, which includes the safety keeper and a splitter for a few quid. 

A History of Apple Theft

Take note of Steve Jobs quote about Apple Shamelessly stealing good ideas 😉

Idea's Apple Stole and Claimed for Their Own

Idea’s Apple Stole and Claimed for Their Own

Infographic by Best Masters Programs

PHP Security Cheat Sheet

Following on from the Photoshop Cheat Sheet post, I figured I’d make it a series of posting the cheat sheets I use almost daily or at least when I use certain programs. This PHP Security Cheat Sheet by SK89q has been next to my Computer for quite literally years. I almost don’t need it, I know it so well but as a check list its always worth reading over to be sure I missed nothing before releasing an application to the public.

You can see more up to date stuff on OWASP but I like this check list better, the OWASP Cheat Sheet Book (Website) is an amazing thing to have a good read of on a whole manner of geeky subjects.

PHP Security Cheat Sheet

PHP Security Cheat Sheet

You can click the picture or right click it to save a big version of it, hit escape to close the image as its a high resolution image.

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