Weeknote 46/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #323 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled ‘Two steps forward, one hour back’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Thurs):
    • Participating in a Moodle branding workshop.
    • Getting ready for our workweek in Barcelona next week (logistics, booking, etc.)
    • Creating ‘job landscapes’ for a couple of potential additions to our team.
    • Finalising our approach to user testing of the sign-up process with Outlandish.
    • Reviewing the stats for the existing moodle.net with Gavin Henrick and Mary Cooch.
    • Adding a bit more detail to the plan about integrating with Moodle Core.
    • Working with Mayel on our approach to bounties for privacy and security testing.
  • Creating videos for CET Israel as part of the Digital Literacy MOOC they’re creating for teachers in Beer Sheva. It involved me buying a green screen and lights, a bit of a learning curve, and lots of editing. While it was intense work to get finished in time, it was enjoyable!
  • Accepting an invitation from Ilona Buchem to an Open Badges workshop in Brussels next month.
  • Recording two microcasts, which are available only to Patreon supporters:
  • Coming second in a pub quiz in aid of Tearfund. I think that I was the youngest there, so had to lean on the other members of my team…

Next week I’m in Barcelona from Sunday evening to Friday night with the rest of the MoodleNet team and, towards the end of the week, Outlandish.

Weeknote 45/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #323 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. It was entitled ‘46 hours in transit’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Thurs)
    • Documenting the sessions we ran at MozFest & MoodleMoot on the wiki, and then writing a blog post summary.
    • Creating an overview document of how the ’emoji ID’ functionality in MoodleNet might work
    • Figuring out the workflow for next week’s MoodleNet sign-up testing (being run by Outlandish)
    • Meeting with Gry Stene, Moodle’s new Chief Product Officer.
    • Starting planning ‘job landscapes’ for potential contractors around UX / front end development, and community strategy.
    • Starting a conversation with team leads about MoodleNet functionality in Moodle Core 3.7 (coming May 2019)
    • Welcoming an influx of new people introducing themselves in the MoodleNet forum.
    • Agreeing a new meeting structure for our team, which now includes ‘MoodleNet beers’ on a Thursday afternoon! (I work four days per week for Moodle)
    • Updating my Moodle HQ and moodle.org profiles (which we should all do, apparently):
  • Rewriting one of the seven draft Digital Literacy MOOC scripts for CET Israel. I also created a draft video.
  • Booking, and then cancelling our planned We Are Open co-op meetup in December due to availability. We’re all busy people!
  • Recording one microcast, which is available only to Patreon supporters:
Next week I’m at home all week, working on MoodleNet stuff and those videos for CET. I’m in Barcelona the week after.

Photo of St. James the Great church in Morpeth taken by me on Friday.

Weeknote 44/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #322 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter (last Sunday). It was entitled ‘Back-to-back’ and was, as ever, made possible via those who support me on Patreon.
  • Flying to Denver from London, straight after MozFest, for the US MoodleMoot. It took 22 hours to get there due to flight delays and missed connections.
  • Deciding not to move the family to Barcelona, as the salary from the job offer my wife received was too low, and they wouldn’t negotiate.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project (Mon-Weds)
    • Receiving confirmation that we’ve been successful in pitching for a grant. The money and expertise will help us with a decentralised privacy and security review.
    • Running  a workshop at the US MoodleMoot. I haven’t transcribed all of the post-its from the session yet, but the wiki page for the session can be found here.
    • Confronting some differences in communication styles within our team. This wasn’t easy to deal with as I was away, but hopefully we’ve got it sorted and can move forward.
  • Hanging out with Noah Geisel. He interviewed me for #Badgechat and then I interviewed him for a (public) microcast! I’m indebted to him for showing me some fantastic Denver street art.
  • Meeting Bryan Alexander in person for the first time. We’ve been in touch a lot via email, etc. so it was good to see him in the flesh.
  • Getting back home via plane, train, and automobile. It took 24 hours, even though everything was on time. Why? Because flight times and combinations meant that it was quicker for me to get the train home from London!
  • Completing seven draft scripts, at around 6,500 words, for CET Israel in preparation for an upcoming series of videos I’m recording for their digital literacy MOOC.
  • Curating interesting things I came across on the Thought Shrapnel blog:
  • Recording three microcasts, two of which are available only to Patreon supporters:

Next week, I’m at home all week, working for Moodle from Monday to Thursday, and then doing consultancy work on Friday.


Photo of Denver street art taken by me during a walk with Noah on Wednesday morning.

Weeknote 43/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m in Denver, CO, USA for MoodleMoot US. I get back home on Thursday, when I’ll be working on stuff for CET Israel.


Photo looking up the Thames towards London taken by me during a family trip on the Emirates Air Line on Friday.

Quality Mountain Day 15: Dale Head, Hindscarth, and High Spy

Regular readers will know that I’m trying to complete twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) so I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. Every one of these I’ve done so far has been by myself, partly because I enjoy it that way, and partly down to logistics.

After QMDs 13 and 14, my friend (and TIDE podcast co-host) Dai Barnes offered to come with me on my next jaunt. As a result, we spent all day last Friday, and part of Saturday, walking in the Lake District.

Dai's feet

The thing you need to know about Dai is that he goes barefoot almost everywhere. So when I jokingly reminded him that he’d need some boots for our walking trip, he replied by saying that he’d tie some to his backpack, but was planning to go barefoot. 😲

Although Dai has helped out with students at his school doing The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, he’s not a regular mountain walker. That’s good, because if he had been, the day wouldn’t have counted towards my QMDs.

I sent him a map of the route I’d planned for our first day, and said that we could plan the second one over dinner afterwards. The map below is our 21.1km actual route, which took us around 8.5 hours — including plenty of stops for food and chat.

QMD 15 route

We actually recorded an episode of the TIDE podcast while walking, so if you’re interested, you can sample that here.

Dai going over a stileMeeting at 10:00, we set off from the car park Borrowdale YHA after I’d checked we had the right equipment. We started walking (and recording) but after about 30 minutes I realised we had taken the wrong path. I hadn’t really been paying enough attention!

So we continued around and down towards Seatoller and Honister Hause. We agreed while we were down there that we’d go up towards Great Gable the next day. From Honister we ascended directly up towards Dale Head. That approach is probably the best for someone like Dai who hasn’t been up there before. It’s a magnificent view.

Dale Head

We had a great moment at the top, as Dai had brought his tiny but very powerful speaker up to play one of his stepson’s latest songs.

After something to eat, we walked along Hindscarth Edge and round to Hindscarth itself. We could see the clouds drawing in, which began to obscure our view of Dale Head. We came down via Scope End, which was zig-zaggy in places. All the more annoying as I’d forgotten my walking poles.

Heading across the river at the bottom of the valley, engrossed in conversation, we merrily kept walking into Little Town. Once we realised, we backtracked a little and went around High Crags. It was around 16:00 by this time, so we didn’t fancy going around Cat Bells and Brandelhow. Instead, we aimed for Black Crags.

Sheepfold shortcut

In an error that I refer to on the podcast as ‘sheepfold shortcut’, we got confused between where we were in relation to two sheepfolds (indicated by the purple arrows on the map above).

Doug descending through the disused quarryThat meant we didn’t have much choice but to make an extremely steep ascent up to get along and round to Bull Crag. It wasn’t much fun, but necessary given that it was late afternoon.

From there, we walked along Maiden Moor, Narrow Moor, and then arrived at a misty High Spy. Given that the light was beginning to fade, we attempted to get down Rigghead Quarries as quickly as possible. The fact that Dai did this barefoot quite frankly beggars belief.

By the time we got past the quarries it was dark enough to turn my head torch on. We walked the last section in single file along the river in pitch darkness, being careful where we placed our feet. Dai did put on some very thin sandals for this bit.

Map and pint

After a shower, a change of clothes, and a couple of very well-deserved pints, we plotted our route for the next day over dinner.

Things I learned:

  1. It’s easy to get carried away and not check your map when you’re having an interesting conversation.
  2. Just because something looks like a path, doesn’t mean it is.
  3. Double-check your equipment before leaving the house, and consider having a list (so I don’t forget my poles!)

After a decent night’s sleep and a good breakfast on Saturday morning, we drove over to Honister Hause and started walking a circular route towards Great Gable. However, the wind and the rain was so bad that I had to put on full waterproofs and we sheltered for a while in a bothy near Dubs Quarry.

Honister Hause

We started descending, realising we would then have to go up again. So, after three hours, soaking wet, and with plenty of the route left to walk, we decided to call it a day. We’d had such a great time the day before, that spoiling our trip by trudging through inclement conditions on Saturday seemed a bit pointless.

So, after getting back to our cars, getting changed, and saying our goodbyes, we headed back home — Dai back down to Oundle, near Peterborough, and me back to Morpeth, Northumberland.


Thanks to Dai for some of the photos featured in this post!

Weeknote 42/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll be at home from Monday to Thursday, before driving down with my family to London for the Mozilla Festival. I’ll be going straight from there to Denver for MoodleMoot US on the Sunday.

Weeknote 41/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’ll at home on Monday, in Barcelona from Tuesday to Thursday, and then walking in the Lake District with my (barefoot) TIDE co-host Dai Barnes on Friday and Saturday.


Photo taken by me on Friday morning at Gateshead quayside (next to the Baltic)

World Mental Health Day: my story

Note: This is a slightly modified version of a post I made to the Moodle HQ forum earlier today as part of our Wellbeing Week.


According to Heads Up, an Australian organisation focused on mental health at work, there are nine attributes of a healthy workplace:

  1. Prioritising mental health
  2. Trusting, fair & respectful culture
  3. Open & honest leadership
  4. Good job
  5. Workload management
  6. Employee development
  7. Inclusion & influence
  8. Work/Life balance
  9. Mental health support

Just over a decade ago, I burned myself out while teaching, spending a few weeks signed off work and on antidepressants. It was undoubtedly the lowest point of my life. The experience has made me realise how fragile mental health can be, as other members of staff were struggling too. Ultimately, it was our workplace environment that was to blame, not individual human failings.

These days, I’m pleased to say that, most of the time everything is fine. Just like anyone who identifies strongly with the work they’re doing, it can be difficult to put into practice wisdom such as “prioritising family” and “putting health first”. Good places to work, however, encourage you to do this, which is part of what Wellbeing Week at Moodle is all about.

Currently, I work remotely for Moodle four days per week. I travel regularly, but have been based from home in various roles for the past six years. While others might find it lonely, boring, or too quiet, I find that, overall, it suits my temperament.

When I worked in offices and classrooms, I had an idea of remote working that was completely different from the reality of it. Being based in somewhere other than your colleagues can be stressful, as an article on Hacker Noon makes very clear. I haven’t experienced all of the following issues listed in the article, but I know people who have.

  • Dehumanisation: “communication tends to stick to structured channels”
  • Interruptions and multitasking: “being responsive on the chat accomplishes the same as being on time at work in an office: it gives an image of reliability”
  • Overworking: “this all amounts for me to the question of trust: your employer trusted you a lot, allowing you to work on your own terms , and in exchange, I have always felt compelled to actually work a lot more than if I was in an office.”
  • Being a stay at home dad: “When you spend a good part of your time at home, your family sees you as more available than they should.”
  • Loneliness: “I do enjoy being alone quite a lot, but even for me, after two weeks of only seeing colleagues through my screen, and then my family at night, I end up feeling quite sad. I miss feeling integrated in a community of pairs.”
  • Deciding where to work every day: “not knowing where I will be working everyday, and having to think about which hardware I need to take with me”
  • You never leave ‘work’: “working at home does not leave you time to cool off while coming back home from work”
  • Career risk: “working remotely makes you less visible in your company”

Wherever you spend the majority of your time, the physical environment only goes so far. That’s why the work the Culture Champs are doing at Moodle HQ is so important. Feeling supported to do a manageable job in a trusting and respectful culture is something independent of where your chair happens to be located.

So, I’d like to encourage everyone reading this to open up about your mental health. Talk about it with your family and friends, of course, but also to your colleagues. How are you feeling?


Image by Johan Blomström used under a Creative Commons license

Weeknote 40/2018

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #318 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. This one was called ‘Blisters a-go-go’. Today’s newsletter is delayed due to something I discuss below! Thanks to those who make Thought Shrapnel possible via their support on Patreon.
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
    • Getting ready for Mayel de Borniol, our Technical Architect heading off on holiday for three weeks! He’s left Alex Castaño with plenty to get on with!
    • Documenting the fork of the Pleroma codebase we’re planning to build upon. Alex created a new branch in the repository, started creating the architecture documentation, added some comments to schemas, and started work on an ActivityStreams library.
    • Meeting with colleagues about registrations, as well as wider issues around how MoodleNet will work with Moodle Core and MoodleCloud.
    • Adding GitLab milestones. A lot of them are placeholders for now, but it helps us with dependencies.
    • Meeting with our COO to discuss project resourcing.
    • Putting the finishing touches to our (accepted) Mozilla Festival session which will be in London right after Mayel gets back.
    • Asking Mary Cooch some questions about the existing moodle.net service for an interview to be featured in an upcoming blog post.
    • Contributing to the Culture Champs organisation of Wellbeing Week (next week!)
    • Investigating who we could hire to do security testing of MoodleNet pre-MVP.
    • Meeting with Emilio Lozano to discuss approaches to project management.
    • Writing a post on the new technical area of the MoodleNet blog about our decision to use Elixir (Alex’s post based on Mayel’s docs)
  • Recording, editing and releasing Episode 110 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host Dai Barnes. We entitled this episode ‘Coaching and bullshit’, discussing career advice, coaching, the ‘lower left’, a bullshit receptivity scale, post-truth, walking, Google activity controls, and more!
  • Meeting with my co-op colleagues to plan upcoming gigs. Amongst other things, we’ve started on a comic to explain how to setup a room for remote participation!
  • Curating interesting things I came across on the Thought Shrapnel blog:
  • Helping with 6th Morpeth Scouts:
    • Recording the proceedings of the Executive Committee meeting (as Secretary).
    • Performing the role of ‘catcher’ on the ‘mini-twilight’ held on Thursday night.
    • Leading a team as part of Operation Twilight on Saturday. Essentially a huge game of hide-and-seek across a 26km walk – great fun!

Next week, I’m working four days for Moodle (Mon-Thurs) and then doing some co-op work on Friday.

Weeknote 39/2018

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m working four days for Moodle (Mon-Thurs). It’s our monthly co-op day on Friday!

css.php