Phylagen Origin: track and trace using microbial DNA

I started my MBA with Quantic school of business and technology last week. My favourite part of studying at a university is the lecture series, and this evening I attended (virtually) my first guest lecture delivered by Jessica Green from Phylageny

All geographic locations have a unique microbial DNA signature. These genetic codes can be used to identify where a product or material has come from in the same way as DNA testing is used in criminology. The company uses the blockchain to store critical information for companies so that checks can be carried out along a supply chain and authenticate that the genetic markers such as the origin factory are as expected.

Phylagen Origin is a startup service that collects genetic material from locations worldwide and uses these to provide traceability. Examples include:

  • Verifying a ships log from dust particles on that boat.
  • Checking T-shirts come from a specific factory and not from outsourced factories with lower labour standards.
  • Checking medicines come from authorised materials. 
  • Tracing the origin or raw materials such as cotton, the product journey, and growing practices.

Phylagen collects DNA samples, generates the microbiome features, and then uses machine learning to distinguish features. Tracking cotton involves collecting cotton samples from around the world, logging their features, and then allowing machine learning to create a model of these features to use against future samples. When an unknown sample is tested, its genetic fingerprint is then crossreferenced to the model and a probability generated for its origin and any other characteristics modelled. 

The talk was fascinating and showed a glimpse of how new technologies such as microbiome testing, the blockchain, and machine learning can be used to solve genuine issues. It will be possible in the future to ensure a product you buy has not used slave labour at any stage of the supply chain, track pollution back to offending companies, or follow the spread of infectious diseases back to the source.  

I am happy to be back at University.

The English Indices of Deprivation 2019

The Indices of deprivation (IoD) is a collection of seven measures of deprivation used to relatively rank areas of England. The aim is to order the 32,844 small areas, with an average population of 1,500 or 650 households, from the least deprived to the least, and monitor changes in these ranks over time. The indices were introduced in the 1970s by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to measure local deprivation across England. These neighbourhoods are officially called Lower-layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs).

Poverty is a lack of financial resources, whereas deprivation includes multiple aspects of individuals living conditions to measure a lack of resources. There are 39 indicators organised into seven domains combined using weightings that value income and employment more heavily than other forms of deprivation such as health or risk of crime. As a relative measure, there is no threshold where an area is considered deprived, but rather it is used to measure the relative deprivation between local areas.

The seven measures that make up the IoD are:

  • Income (22.5%)*: Measures the proportion of the population experiencing deprivation relating to low income
  • Employment (22.5): Measures the proportion of the working-age population in an area involuntarily excluded from the labour market
  • Education (13.5%): Measures the lack of attainment and skills in the local population
  • Health (13.5%): Measures the risk of premature death and the impairment of quality of life through poor physical or mental health
  • Crime (9.3%): Measures the risk of personal and material victimisation at local level
  • Barriers to housing and services (9.3%): Measures the physical and financial accessibility of housing and local services
  • Living environment (9.3%): Measures the quality of both the ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ local environment

*Percentages represent weighting used when combining the domains

The latest data was collected in 2015 and 2019. Deprivation is distributed across England, with 61% of local authorities having at least one of the highest deprivation areas. The most deprived areas of the country tend to be concentrated in cities, particularly those that used to have heavy industry, including Birmingham, Nottingham, and Hartlepool, coastal towns, and parts of east London. Blackpool is considered the most deprived area of England, with eight of the ten most deprived neighbourhoods in the indices.

The indices can be used to compare neighbourhoods across England, identify the most deprived small areas, and compare larger regions based on the relative deprivation within the LSOAs, such as the number of areas in the bottom 20% of the indices. The data can also be used to explore individual domains such as levels of education, health, or crime in particular areas. Movements in the relative rank of a given area can be used as evidence of the effectiveness of development programmes or targeted interventions. 

The Indices of Deprivation is becoming more critical for Universities. The Office for Students puts pressure on higher education institutions to narrow gaps in access, progression, attainment, and outcomes between different groups of students. Gaps in the four areas existing between those that come from regions ranking lower than those that rank higher. Universities must make sure they are narrowing the gaps by seeking to recruit students from areas of high deprivation, putting in place interventions to help these students stay at university and achieve a good degree, and support them to find a graduate-level job once they leave.

Being aware of the indices is essential, first to understand that deprivation is not just about income, and secondly that you can use it over time to measure the impact of your work. You can read the complete reports and access the data on the UK Government website

Earth Day

Earth Day is observed annually on the 22nd of April to support environmental protection and as a reminder to live more sustainably. 

Sustainability is the capacity to endure in a relatively ongoing way across various domains of life. In the 21st century, it refers generally to the capacity for Earth’s biosphere and human civilisation to co-exist.

Wikipedia has set this year’s theme as ‘Restore our Earth’ and focuses on five key programmes:

  1. Canopy project: is committed to reforestation and plants trees across the globe.
  2. Food and environment: support farmers to adopt the latest techniques for regenerative agriculture and sustainable food practices.
  3. Climate literacy: provides education to students across the world to make them informed and engaged in environmental issues.
  4. Global earth challenge: is a coordinated citizen science campaign using a mobile app to collect observations from across the world and connect small scale science projects.
  5. Great global clean up: helps individuals and communities clean up public spaces and reduce pollution and waste.

To recognise Earth Day this year, I am committing to improving my climate literacy. I have started to read Bill Gates new book How to avoid a climate disaster. The book is written by an engineer and takes that approach to solve the problem of getting from our current levels of 5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year to net-zero by 2050. Gates suggest that most people are not prepared to change their lifestyles dramatically in time to fix the problem and so collects the best science and solutions to make our lifestyles more sustainable. 

After this book I am also interested in reading wider on the subject of sustainable living to some of the more extream solutions, starting a vegetable patch in my garden and watching some more episodes of The Good Life.

Will you join me in committing to improve your climate literacy?

A visit to the zoo

Photo by Pat Whelen on

Today I visited my local zoo. After nearly four months of lockdown, I got to walk around in glorious spring sunshine with real people. All of the indoor spaces were closed, and the chimpanzees and giraffes decided to stay indoors, but the rest of the animals, including gorillas, bonobos, rhinos, leopards, and a tiger, were in fine form.

Zoo animals have struggled during the lockdown. Conditioned to the constant attention of visitors, the animals have experienced loneliness and stress. Zookeepers have had to swap around the animals they look after to offer them some variety and attention. Zookeepers have dressed as visitors and taken pictures of animals across their zoos or come up with other creative ways to engage the animals. Some gorillas have had films played to them to keep them stimulated. Monkeys, apes, cats, and peginues have particularly struggled with the change. 

In the book, the Life of Pi, the main character grows up in a zoo. He describes how zoo animals are pretty content with the safety and regular food they get in the captive environment. The book details how zoo life is subjectively neither better nor worse for the animals than life in the wild. The author writes that wild animal are not really ‘free’ as they live in fear in an unforgiving environment with a scarcity of food and a constant need to defend territory from other animals.

How ethical are zoos? My local zoo, Twycross, has labels on all the inclosures about the endangered status of each species and details the work the zoo does to breed and reintroduce endangered species into the wild. They also do a lot of conservation work in the natural habitats that the animals come from, helping to protect them for future animals to continue to have a come. Many zoos act as shelters for rescued animals or animals that cannot survive in the wild for many reasons. Zoos in the UK develop veterinary and health science for animals and train vets that can help wild animals in their natural habitats. But zoos are also businesses; and but having a demand to see these animals creates a need for a supply that may not be ethical.

The last animal we saw was a fully grown orangutang. This ape was a giant. As I stood alone next to the habitat window, the ape came right up to the glass and stared straight into my eyes. The great apes are highly intelligent animals and share many traits with humans. When you get so close and interact with a fantastic animal like this, you have to question the ethics of keeping them in an enclosure. But where would these animals be if they were not taken care of by zoos like these? The orangutang had plenty of space and lots of fun things to play with and climb on, he was safe and well-fed, but he was not free.

Zoos are the only place that many of us will ever get a chance to see animals like these. They play an essential part in the conservation efforts to keep these animals from extinction and connect people to the creatures losing their habitats, helping us care about preserving the habitats we are unlikely ever to visit.

Whatever your feelings on zoos, the animals currently in zoos want visitors, and the zoos need support to help care for the animals they have and are helping in the wild. If you have a free day and want to get outside and see something extraordinary, make your way to your nearest zoo.

Happiness by Design

I was looking through my bookshelf and came across a book on happiness I had almost forgotten. Paul Dolan, an LSE Professor of Behaviour Science, a government policy advisor, and a bodybuilder, wrote Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and purpose in everyday life. The book is full of science-based facts about happiness and practical advice on exploiting this to become happier.

Outstanding, cutting-edge, and profound. If you’re going to read one book on happiness, this is the one.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Here are ten of my favourite lessons from the book:

  1. Happiness is a noble and serious pursuit for all.
  2. Happiness is all that matters in the end, happiness also causes a range of other good outcomes, and it is contagious. 
  3. Happiness should be measured according to feelings (experiencing self) over time rather than from the constructed evaluative self; listen to your real feelings of happiness rather than to your reflections of how happy you think you are or ought to be.
  4. Love, life, and the universe are about the pleasure-pain principle. We should all be seeking to maximise the sentiments of pleasure and purpose for ourselves and all those we care about. We care about the suffering of the worst off in society.
  5. If you are not expecting to benefit from your current course of action, and don’t expect others to, either, then the answer is actually quite straightforward-change course; giving up happiness now for later happiness that never comes is truly tragic.
  6. Your attention (‘reach forward’ in Latin) is the allocation of a scarce resource (economics); your attention will be unconsciously pulled around by specific contexts as well as being allocated consciously (psychology). The production process of happiness allows you to reallocate your attention to become happier by deciding, designing, and doing.
  7. It is easier for you to nudge yourself happier in small but effective ways than it is to try to “shove” yourself into becoming a whole new person or adopting a wildly different lifestyle.
  8. Much of what we do is governed by contextology and not just your own internal psychology; you can approach situations that will make you happier and avoid those that make you unhappy. We have some control over the situations we place ourselves in and much less control over our predisposition to act in particular ways once we are in those situations.
  9. The more time you spend attending to the things that make you happy, the happier you will be. And stop doing things that make you miserable. Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy. 
  10. Future happiness cannot compensate for current misery; lost happiness is lost forever. Powered by your own supercharged attention production process, there is no better time than now to crack on with finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life.

I highly recommend that you pick up this book and give it a read.

The Scottish fiscal deficit

A few weeks ago, the Scottish Government announced that they planned to give the National Health Service (NHS) staff a 4% pay increase. The announcement was on the back of the UK Government reporting just a 1% increase in NHS pay for England in the national budget. I read today that the Scottish National Party’s election manifesto plans ‘transformational funding‘ for the NHS if elected again. With investment in the NHS across the nations at record levels, the UK Government said that 1% was all the country could afford, so how can the Scottish government offer significantly more? The answer is dept.

The Office for National Statistics Country and regional public sector finances report for the financial year ending 2019 shows that Scotland has run a deficit since 2000. The nation has the second-highest expenditure per head of any other United Kingdom region at £14,497 with total annual spending of £78,838 million. 

The Scottish annual deficit is currently at £13,499 million or just under £2,500 per head. The English deficit in comparison is almost three times smaller at £4,954 million or just £88.50 per head. Scotland’s spending makes up 32% of the UK’s annual deficit but with just 8.2% of the population. 

One factor in the mismatch between debt and population is London and the South East’s effect on the UK financial performance as a whole, and England as a country. London, the South East, and the East of England run at a surplus masking the other regions’ lower performance within England, London alone producing a 60% surplus.

There are significant disparities in financial generation and spending across the UK regions, and more substantial expenditure in areas that present the greatest need. This prioritised spending would be understandable if the national regions followed similar spending rules. However, the Scotland Government is increasingly offering more generous expenditure and generating a more significant deficit while simultaneously seeking independence from the Union. 

It will be interesting to see what happens with the existing debt and the growing deficit if the Scottish National Party achieves its long-term goal. 

Money in your 30s

I went through old documents in my Google Drive account today and came across notes I made about Harold Pollack’s personal finance index card. Pollack read lots of books on managing your money and concluded that everything you needed to know could be written on a single small card. 

The best personal finance advice can fit on a 3-by-5 index card, and is available for free in the library

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago Social Scientist, wrote ten rules on the back of an index card and posted a photo of it, which went viral. He later wrote a book that detailed how to approach each step.

The index card is deliberately generic and covers the basics from a North American perspective. The UK is different to the US in many ways, so as I revisited the ten rules, I had to convert a few of them to make sense in the British financial system. I then started to think about the advice that I would have given myself at the start of my thirties, once I was married and earning a bit more cash. After work, I drove my wife to pick up her car from the garage, and we had a chat about her rules – I borrowed a couple of ideas from her, including number ten. 

My financial advice for someone living in England in their 30s:

  1. First of all, spend less than you earn.
  2. Buy fewer things but of higher quality and look after them – You can’t afford to buy cheap. Have a nice home-working set up, a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones (B&W PX7s), and a Kindle; you are going to spend a lot of time working, so enjoy it.
  3. Invest in experiences and other things that increase your vitality – travel, adventure, health, fitness. Build a home gym, even if is it just a single 24kg kettlebell, so that you can exercise most days. Take lots of long weekend travel breaks.
  4. Use your employer pension scheme as your employer matches your payments; it is the closest thing to free money you will find.
  5. Max out your tax-free ISA allowance before any other investments, but use a service like Hardgreaves Lansdown to find one that pays a reasonable estimated rate of return; my bank’s ISA gave me 0.5% interest before I moved it. Your tax-free allowance is £20,000 per year or £1,667 per month at the time of posting.
  6. Buy a house once you can afford to get a reasonable interest rate on a mortgage. I was not too fond of rental inspections, and an Englishman’s home is his castle.
  7. Use your credit card for all purchases to have them insured but pay off your credit card each month before the statement date to avoid charges. Use occasional credit such as loans or financing and never miss a payment to build a strong credit score.
  8. Avoid your current account overdraft fee and other forms of expensive debt.
  9. Make a small number of long-term investments in companies you believe in to become an owner and change your mentality about money and work. Invest in the company you work for if it’s publicly traded.
  10. Talk about money and investments with your partner and friends. Learn what they do with savings, investments, and dept. Learn about other people’s relationship with money.

Let me know on Twitter what your rules would be, or message me if you have any questions.


Success in whatever way you define it takes time. Along with a commitment to your big goals, you also need patience. Developing expertise in your career or a sport will take many years of hard work and deliberate practice. You need to make a rough long-term plan based on how others have achieved your goal and a detailed short-term plan for getting to the next step.

Patience. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

Oxford Languages

It can be challenging to focus on what you need to do now to lay the foundations for where you need to be in a year or two. Many people choose to jump ahead when they get impatient or bored with the current rate of progress. Skipping steps may include looking for short cuts or hacks that are sold as reducing the learning curve to a fraction of the time by people who may never have achieved the goal you are after or who are trying to make money from your impatience.

If you want to run a sub-three-hour marathon, you need to start building up to running five or six times per week, then increasing mileage to 40 to 50 miles per week, and then developing the speed and stamina needed to hold 4:16 minutes per kilometre for 26.2 miles. Just building the consistency of running six days per week might take a year or two to let your muscles and ligaments get used to the new stress of the constant pounding.

Building up the skills and experience to be an expert in your career might take even longer than getting to a good performance level in a sport. The digitisation of the workplace means that most career paths require a significant set of multi-disciplinary skills to perform at a high level. Working as a learning designer in HE, for instance, requires you to be an expert in learning theory, multimedia production, and design, each of which is a complex area made up of multiple skill sets.

You especially need patience in the early stages of a career when working in an entry-level post that does not have the variety and rewards that positions higher up the ladder offers. You need the patience to develop the foundational skills in the first rung of the ladder before being effective in the next rungs up. You may be fully committed to your career, but patience is needed to keep the sustained effort over many years as you progress.

Patience is developed daily by focusing on the task at hand and learning to enjoy the journey rather than focusing on the final success you are working towards. You need to be aware of your impatience, constantly focus on the current step, create detailed plans for the next few months, and let the long-term goal look after itself. Cultivate patience in your life will not only get you to your destination more quickly, but it will also make the journey more fun.


Most things of value in life come through commitment, whether it is building expertise in your career, developing high levels of physical performance, or maintaining relationships with family and friends. Like integrity, loyalty, duty, and responsibility, commitment is about doing what you said you would do.

Commitment: the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

Oxford Languages

Today is my 150th post putting me three-quarters of the way through my commitment to blog for 200 straight days. This commitment to developing the habit of writing was connected to a bigger multi-year goal of becoming a person of influence in my industry. A big goal, a detailed plan, and a commitment to honouring both in your daily habits are essential to success.

I have gradually been developing my commitment over the last eighteen months through a series of increasingly larger goals. I started with simple daily habits like cleaning the kitchen each night before I sleep, following every workout of a twelve-week running plan, and setting ambitious, year-long projects with set outcomes at work.

If you want to develop commitment in your own life, start with a small daily habit like cleaning the kitchen each night or making your bed each morning. Once you have embedded that practice, set a three-month goal, make a plan that involves a daily action, and do it. Develop a character of commitment.

Mental toughness and sports psychology

Dr Graham Jones studies elite performance in both high archives in both sports and business. Jones’s work as a sports psychologist to British Olympic champions and later a business-performance consultant believes that there are significant parallels between achievement in both areas. Those that reach the top are made, not born. He believes that the main obstacle to success is a ‘self-limiting mindset’. Jones states in his 2008 Harvard Business Review article that the one defining trait both sets of performers share is mental toughness; they manage pressure, are goal-oriented, and self-driven. 

Elite performers in both arenas thrive on pressure; they excel when the heat is turned up. Their rise to the top is the result of very careful planning—of setting and hitting hundreds of small goals. Elite performers use competition to hone their skills, and they reinvent themselves continually to stay ahead of the pack. Finally, whenever they score big wins, top performers take time to celebrate their victories.

Dr Graham Jones

Behaviours of elite performers

  1. Love the pressure
  2. Fixate on the long term
  3. Use the competition
  4. Reinvent themselves
  5. Celebrate the Victories
  6. Will to win

High performers are comfortable with high-pressure situations as they are focused on their excellence and what they can control while compartmentalizing everything else; they can also switch off by having other focuses in their life. Meticulous short term planning is used to achieve long term goals in small steps, mapping out exactly what is needed in each area that affects performance and reach the ultimate goal. 

Elite performers seek out and train with others that push themselves and challenge others to new levels of effort and output. They require constant constructive feedback to assess where they are and where they need to improve their performance. 

High achieving individuals recognize the importance of celebrating their wins and spend significant time analyzing the positive and negative elements of their performance to build confidence and expertise, repeating what worked and adapting what did not. They have cultivated a deep desire to compete and win that drives them to pick themselves up after things don’t go to plan and get back to training.

How to develop mental toughness

  1. Set a big long-term goal, create an outline of how you will get there, and then meticulously plan the next steps.
  2. Have a firm answer as to what this goal is essential to you, and use this to develop a deep will to do what is needed to achieve it.
  3. Focus on self-improvement in the areas that will help you achieve the goal and keep your mental energy in these areas.
  4. Find ways of receiving constant feedback on your performance in the areas you identified as critical, spend extra effort on where you are falling short, and recognize and repeat what is working.
  5. Have a reward in mind for achieving the long-term goal as a symbol of the work and commitment put in to achieve it.