Category: Everything Else (page 1 of 38)

Goodbye, Grandma

At almost exactly the same time as I landed in Toronto yesterday, my grandmother took her last breath. She had her son, my father, at her hospital bedside. Freda Belshaw was 93.

Mourning is an intensely private thing, but celebrating someone’s life — as we shall do at her funeral when I get back home — is a more public affair. People process their grief in various ways, and I’m doing so in the only way I know: by writing about it.

My grandma was a matriachal figure, a large presence in any room. She was not someone to be crossed. More than anyone I’ve ever met, she knew her own mind, had definite values, and stuck to them. Apart from the last few months of her life, she stayed in her own home, fiercely independent until finally accepting going into a home for her own safety.

Grandma left school at 14 years of age and, at 15 suffered the dual traumas of her mother dying and the Second World War breaking out. She almost single-handedly raised her younger sister. Marrying my grandad after the war, they lived a happy, working class life in County Durham, where my father was born.

Grandma birthday

She was very proud of my father, her only child. You could not only see it in her eyes when he was around her, but in the way she talked about him when he wasn’t there. They travelled together quite a bit and I was always amazed that she was making trips to the Caribbean right into her late eighties.

As an historian, I’d often ask her about her family, and about experiences during the war, but the subject would quickly change, or she’d say that she couldn’t remember. Freda was not someone to dwell on the past.

I’m sure that over the next couple of weeks, I’ll get some more thoughts together to be able to provide some vignettes and memories for the funeral. Things are a bit raw right now, and I’m writing this with tears streaming down my cheeks.

Goodbye grandma, rest in peace. xxx

How to build an architecture of participation

Back in 2014, when I was still at Mozilla, I wrote a post entitled Towards an architecture of participation for episodic volunteering. I bemoaned the lack of thought that people and projects put into thinking through how they’re going to attract, retain, and encourage the volunteers they crave.

‘Architecture of participation’ is a term used to describe systems designed for user contribution. It’s a term I use relatively often, especially at events and thinkathons run by our co-op. Not only is it a delightful phrase to say and to hear, but (more importantly) it’s a metaphor which can be used to explore all kinds of things.

In my 2014 post, I made some suggestions for ways to improve your project’s architecture of participation. I’ve updated and improved these based on feedback and my own thinking. Based on my experience, to build an effective architecture of participation, you need:

  1. A clear mission – why does this project exist? what is it setting out to achieve?
  2. An invitation to participate – do you have an unambiguous call to action?
  3. Easy onboarding – are there small, simple tasks/activities that new volunteers can begin with?
  4. A modular approach – do volunteers have to commit to helping with everything, or is there a way which they can use their knowledge, skills, and interests to contribute to part of the project?
  5. Strong leadership – do the people in control of the project embody the mission? do they have the respect of volunteers? have they got the capacity to make the project a success?
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently – does the project have secret areas, or is everything out in the open? (this post may be useful)
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers – are there ‘social’ spaces for members of the project to interact over and above those focused on project aims?
  8. Celebration of milestones – does the project recognise the efforts and input of volunteers?

Most of the links I can find around architectures of participation seem to be tied to Web 2.0 developments pre-2011. I’d love to see a resurgence in focus on participation and contribution, perhaps through the vehicle of co-operativism.

If you’ve got another couple of features that lead to a positive and effective architecture of participation, I’d love to hear them. Then this can be a 10-point list! As ever, this post is CC0-licensed, meaning you can do with this whatever you like.


(Image drawn by audience members during a keynote I gave at Durham University in 2015)

Blogging for a third of my life

I was in the midst of presenting to a conference in Australia last Wednesday night when it struck me just how amazing some things are that I consider to be ‘everyday’. There I was, getting praise, pushback, and questions via Twitter in realtime while I presented, lag-free, to the other side of the world.

Similarly, I take for granted my blogs, and the ability to connect to people around the world. When I step back and think for a moment, it’s truly amazing to be able to have an idea one moment, and communicate it to a worldwide audience, the next.

I’ve now been blogging for around a third of my life. In 2005, after some brief dalliances with dajbelshaw.co.uk (no longer available, even via the Internet Archive) I was inspired to start my own blog by reading the work of Will Richardson and others.

This led to a fertile period of blogging at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk from 2005 to 2007. My main focus was on History teaching and related education issues. However, as my career developed, my writing started to cover other areas, so I started a new blog (this one!) to focus on education, technology, and productivity.

Since 2008, my interests have diversified to such an extent that it’s made sense to have several blogs, on different platforms, as well as a newsletter and a podcast. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 12 years, it’s that most people care too much about intellectual property and not enough about owning their own data.

You’ll notice that, these days, I release almost all of my work under a Creative Commons ‘zero’ license. In effect, this is donating my work to the public domain. It’s not that I over- or under-value my work by doing so. Instead, it’s driven by a desire to spend more time creating than worrying about who’s remixing my work.

On the other hand, I do obsess about the tools and platforms that I use. I try to use Open Source wherever possible which, to my mind, is just a sensible way of investing in the sustainability and longevity of my work. I don’t think anyone should be able to shut down the platform on which I share my stuff. Even on the odd occasion I’ve used a proprietary platform, I’ve at least manged to hook it up to a domain name I own.

Anyway, this was meant to be simply a brief post to mark a milestone. If you’ve been reading my work since the beginning, as I know some of you have, then thank you. For those of you new to my work, there’s a list of the various places I update on a regular basis at dougbelshaw.com.

Image CC BY Amy Gahran

#BelshawBlacksOps16 (Pt.2) has begun. See you in 2017!

As usual, I’m taking December off from social media, personal email, blogging, podcast-recording, and newsletter-writing. You may still see some of my stuff published if I’m doing some work for a client, but that’s it. You can still contact me via my Dynamic Skillset or We Are Open Co-op email addresses, but keep it work-related please.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my digital hiatus this year. What a year 2016 has been! I think we’re all suffering from mild collective  PTSD. I’ll be spending December resting more, spending more time with my family, and taking the opportunity to think more deeply about things I’ve put on hold for too long.

If you’ve got some potential work for me in early 2017, please do get in touch before Christmas. I’ve enjoyed helping clients with a whole range of things this year — edtech strategy, digital skills/literacies, Open Badges. I guess, in general, I translate things that could be seen as complicated into things that are easier to understand.

One of the best things to have happened this year is that a few of us founded a co-op called We Are Open. That’s been a ray of sunshine in a year of trouble within the wider world. So my joyful thanks to co-founders Bryan, John, and Laura for keeping me sane.

My biggest thank you, however, is reserved for my wonderful wife, who not only has had to come to terms with the ups-and-downs of me being self-employed over the last 18 months, but has stepped up to do the admin and finances for both my consultancy and the co-op. Thank you, Hannah. You’re awesome.

See you all in 2017! If you tend to celebrate them, I hope you enjoy both Christmas and New Year.

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps16 (Part 2)

In a little over two weeks it will be December. For those who have followed my work for a year or more, you know what that means: I go ‘dark’. No personal email, blogging, or newsletter from me for the entire month.

I’ll still be working, so remain available via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset, as well as via my We Are Open co-op email address. You may see the occasional article that clients have paid me to write popping up via various channels, too. The important thing is that I step out of the stream for a while, going more ‘read-only’.


While I’ve got your attention, I’d like to give you a quick heads-up that things will be changing with my weekly newsletter. I’ve enjoyed putting together Thought Shrapnel during the last few years, but Issue #239, going out on 27th November 2016 will be the last in its current format.

Why? Well, I’ve currently got over 1,500 subscribers and have attracted sponsorship over the last 18 months, but list growth has plateaued and I’m itching to do something different. If you’re subscribed my newsletter, don’t worry, I’ll let you know what’s coming next. It might involve several ‘pop-up’ newsletters; I’m not quite sure yet.

Also, given how out-of-touch I’ve felt with such a large part of the world after the results of the EU referendum and US election, I may do something fairly dramatic with my use of social networking. I’m unlikely to quit anything completely, but I can envisage unfollowing everyone I currently follow on Twitter and starting again in that regard. We’ll see.

The great thing about disconnecting for a while — over and above spending more time with family and avoiding showing my grumpy side — is that it provides the time to reflect on my current ‘ways of being’ in digital spaces. I always contemplate not coming back at all after my time away but, when I do return, feel that I tend to use technology more intentionally.

Anyway, I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks. Let me know if you need anything before then!

Image by Rodion Kutsaev

3 quick updates

Just a few things to share, briefly:

  1. Workshops — I’m going to be running  at least one workshop on Wednesday 7th December at London Connected Learning Centre. Save the date! More details soon, but the focus will be on digital skills / badges / working open.
  2. Consultancy — One of my clients hasn’t managed to secure the funding to do some work we’d planned before Christmas. That means I’ve got more availability that I expected in the next few weeks. Let me know if I can help! My consultancy site: dynamicskillset.com
  3. Audiobook — I’ve been working on Chapter 2 of #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity. Thanks to those who have given me positive feedback after being an ‘early adopter’ and listening to the first chapter on sleep.

Image by Jungwoo Hong

On CC0

There’s a lot to unpack in this post by Alan Levine about his attempts to license (or un-license) his photographs with Creative Commons Zero (CC0). The way I think about these things is:

  • Standard copyright: “All Rights Reserved” — I do the innovation, you do the consumption.
  • Creative Commons licenses: “Some Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can use it under the following conditions.
  • CC0/Public Domain: “No Rights Reserved” — I have created this thing, and you can do whatever you like with it.

I’m not precious about my work. I donated my doctoral thesis to the public domain under a CC0 license (lobbying Durham University to ensure it was stored under the same conditions in their repository). My blog has, for the last five years at least, been CC0 — although I’d forgotten to add that fact to my latest blog theme until writing this post.

For me, the CC0 decision is a no-brainer. I’m working to make the world a better place through whatever talents and skills that I’ve got. While I want my family to live comfortably, I’m not trying to accumulate wealth. That’s not what drives me. So I definitely feel what Alan says that he’s “given up trying to be an attribution cop”.

I care about the commons, but want to shift the Overton window all the way over to a free sharing economy, rather stay fixated on copyright. To me, things like Creative Commons licenses are necessary to water down and mollify the existing extremely-litigious copyright industry. If I’ve got complete control over my work (as I do) then I’ll dedicate it to the public domain.

An aside: if you’re theory of change involves obligation, then you’re better off using the CC BY-SA license. Why? It means whoever uses your work not only has to cite you as the original author, but they must release their own work into the commons.

CC BY-SA

The thing is that despite this all being couched in legal language (which I’m very grateful to Creative Commons for doing) I’m never, in reality, going to have the time or inclination to be able to chase down anyone who doesn’t subsequently release a derivative work under an open license.

In my experience, reducing the barriers to people using your work means that it gets spread far and wide. Not only that, but the further it’s spread, the greater your real-world insurance policy that people won’t claim your work as their own. After all, the more people who have seen your work, the greater likelihood someone will cry ‘foul’ when someone tries to pass it off as their own.

RSS Feed and CC0 license at dougbelshaw.com/blog

So I’ll continue with my policy of licensing my work under the CC0 license. Not only does it mark out my work as belonging to a community that believes in the commons, but it’s a great conversation starter for people who might be commons-curious…

Image via CC0.press (just because you don’t have to attribute doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t!)

Quality Mountain Days 3 and 4: Lake District

As I mentioned last time, to get onto the Mountain Leader course, I have to get 20 ‘quality mountain days‘ under my belt. Given that I often work away, and I’ve got young children, it can be difficult to get away at the weekends. I’m going to have to be a bit more disciplined about this if I want to get on the course before the end of 2017!

Since last time, I’ve started using the Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps app. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty great. If, like me, you buy a new (paper) Landranger map, you get the digital download of the map through the app included. One of the features of this is the ability to plan a route in the app.

Friday (QMD 3)

I drove over to the Lake District on Friday morning. Google Maps didn’t seem to recognise ‘Helvellyn YHA’ so I just typed in ‘Helvellyn’, planning to course-correct when I was closer to my destination.

What actually happened was that Google Maps took me to the other side of Helvellyn. When I drove back (adding half an hour to my journey) I couldn’t see the road up to the hostel. As a result, and as you can see from my actual route, I started from a car park in Glenridding.

The other difference between my planned route and what I actually walked is that I decided to return to the hostel via Striding Edge. This isn’t a route I’d do by myself if the weather was bad, but as it happens it wasn’t very windy and the sun was shining!

I re-created the route when I got back to the hostel and it estimated that it took 3 hours 10 minutes. In fact, it took over four hours. I’m not entirely sure how the OS Maps app can quote a shorter amount of time for a route that’s 50% longer (see below!)

QMD 3 as planned QMD 3 (actual)
QMD 3 (elevation)

Here’s a few photos from Friday:

QMD 3 (01)
QMD 3 (02)
QMD 3 (03)

Saturday (QMD 4)

After a couple of beers and dinner with fellow hostellers, I slept well and was up at 7am ready for my next day of walking. I’d planned to go up to the top of Gowbarrow Fell, Little Mell, and Great Mell.

However, this wasn’t feasible given the amount of bracken on the steep ascent on the east side of Gowbarrow. Instead, I pressed on, and took a slightly different route up Little Mell Fell. It was hard work.

This is the actual route I took as I discovered the feature in the OS Maps app that records your route via GPS. I decided to skip going up Great Mell Fell and head back via High Force and Aira Force. That was a pleasant end to my walk.

QMD 4 as planned   QMD 4 (actual)
QMD 4 (elevation)

Here’s some photos from Saturday:

QMD 4 (01)
QMD 4 (02)
QMD 4 (03)

I’ll probably spend another couple of days in Lake District, and then move onto mountains in Scotland and Wales. Given that the Lake District is less than two hours away, these will be longer trips…

Igniting my Mondays

Back when I worked for Mozilla, I’d occasionally drop into Campus North, home of the Ignite100 startup accelerator, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I even ran an event there, a Maker Party, back in 2014.

Today, after a discussion with Phil Veal, I realised that a good way to increase my ‘serendipity surface’ would be to commit to basing myself somewhere else for one day per week. That’s why from next week, I’ll be spending every Monday based in Campus North.

The fees are reasonable, the wifi is fast, and the company is always terrific. If you’re in Newcastle on a Monday, please do ping me and I’ll take you for a coffee!

Image via Paul Lancaster

We’re back!

At over 1,200 words, this is a long-ish post so just  a quick heads-up that I’ve divided it into sections (signified by the included Prisma-enhanced images) covering: an overview our holiday, my new fitness regime, what I’ve been reading, why I’m planning to use my wiki more, and how we can work together. 


It’s been a great summer.

One of the great things about being your own boss is the fact that, on a macro level at least, you’re in charge of your own time. That means I get to choose to be ‘away’ when it suits me — for example, during the school summer holidays, or in December when my Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in.

I’d been banging the same drum with my family, repeating the same mantra over and over again: “we’re going away camping for the whole of August”. My wife thought it was too long. Friends said that three weeks would probably be a better idea. But I stuck to my guns. I even shaved my hair off in preparation!

Well, it turns out that other people were right: spending more than a couple of weeks under canvas is hard work. In the event, we split the month into several sections — partly due to external circumstances, partly due to conscious decision-making.

The original plan had been to travel down the east side of France, go a little way into Italy, come back along the south coast of France and into northern Spain, and then wend our way back up the west coast of France back to the UK. It didn’t quite work like that because of….

Ants.

Thousands of them. And on the same night that our youngest contracted a tummy bug. Imagine being in a campsite on an Italian mountain with a five year-old up several times in the night to be sick, and ants swarming round you. It was me who decided enough was enough. We were going home.

My wife persuaded me to stay one night in an apartment (“just to get ourselves sorted out”) before the trip back. Now that Munchkin #2 was feeling better and we were in more salubrious surroundings, it all didn’t seem so bad. So we changed our plans, aiming to spend the money we would have spent on camping on hotels. We’d just have a shorter, more comfortable holiday.

To cut a long story short, we ended up making our way, via Avignon, Reims, and Orange to our favourite campsite: Municipal de Sézanne. We stayed there a week, enjoying the huge outdoor swimming pool, immaculately-clean facilities, and the fact it was (including electricity) only 15 Euros per night!

That final stretch of time on a single campsite, with a trip to Paris, leisurely walks through Champagne-producing vineyards, swimming, reading, and general messing about, was the best bit of the holiday. After returning to the UK via the Eurotunnel, we stopped off at the in-laws in Devon for a few days, then made our way back home via an overnight stay in Sheffield (where my wife and I met, at university).

Camping

It turns out that if, for a month, you do a lot less exercise than you’re used to, have pastries for breakfast every morning and an ice-cream every afternoon, you put on weight! Who knew?

Last week, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. So I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I’d re-read most of the excellent Fitness for Geeks while I was away, which is a great addition to anyone’s shelf. In the last seven days I’ve lost half a stone, mainly through eating as little carbohydrate as possible, by starting running again (despite it increasing my risk of migraines), and by consuming the same things for breakfast (smoothie made from fruit, coffee, and various powders) and lunch (four egg omelette with cheese, tomatoes, spinach and peppers).

I’ve got another half a stone to go, but that should be gone by the end of September, especially seeing as our paused gym membership kicks back in today. One of the things I’ve had the children accompany me in doing is running up sand dunes at our nearest (National Trust) beach. My father used to get us down for pre-season training when he was manager of our football team, so I’m just passing on the baton. It’s hard work, I’ll tell you that!

NOT A REAL DOCTOR

Stepping out of the stream for a month is, unsurprisingly, a great way to reflect on your life, your priorities, and your habits. Something I’ve realised is how much I enjoy being up before everyone else in the morning. Not only does this give me a chance to read before the normal hustle-and-bustle of family life begins, but it gives me a chance to take my own emotional temperature before helping other people increase theirs.

One of things I like doing with my morning reading is to read things on repeat. My go-to for this purpose over the last few years has been the relatively-unknown work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Sometimes translated as ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’, the Penguin version I’ve got (both in print form and ebook) is entitled The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. It contains 300 maxims about ways to approach the world and, in the Stoic tradition, is kind of a pithier version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Over the last few months, and in the last few weeks in particular, I’ve collected eight books in total which I’m currently reading on repeat. I’ll swap out any when I feel I’ve fully digested what they contain. So in addition to the two above, I’ve also got as a Kindle ‘daily reading’ collection:

At the other end of the day, before bed, I tend to read fiction. Right now, I’m reading the excellent Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell. It’s set partly in Northumberland (where I live) and was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague when I was at Mozilla. I should have paid attention as it’s great!

Since we’ve returned from holiday, I’ve settled into a new routine in the evening after putting the children to bed. I’ll put on some ambient music and read in the small ‘cubby hole’ (for want of a better word) that we’ve got next to our bedroom in our new-ish loft conversion. I’ve just finished Invisible Forms: a guide to literary curiosities, which I stumbled upon in a secondhand bookshop while I was away.

Paris

A quick note about my intentions for where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next few months. I’m wary of making grand pronouncements of what I intend to do because, as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. However, I do intend to make more use of my wiki in the future.* Along with starting to use Feedly again (and its excellent ‘knowledge board’ feature) it’s time to spend at least as much time on the side of the river, curating, as it is in the stream itself.

Spiral staircase

Finally, I’m always looking for ways in which I can help people achieve their goals in a way that also helps me reach mine. I make my living as a consultant, which means I’m a knowledge worker, someone who advises, synthesises, and creates. If you, or someone you know could do with my input, please do direct them towards my Dynamic Skillset website, or towards We Are Open Co-op!

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