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Weeknote 21/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week it’s half-term for the rest of my family. As a result, apart from a bit of  research for London CLC and for Rachel Hammel, and some preparatory work for Badge Wiki, I’ll be taking it a bit easier. We may go away for a night or two.

One thing I will need to prepare for, however, it the virtual conference on the topic of Digital Literacy and Fake News. I’m a keynote speaker, and the resources I’ll be pointing to can be found here.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

Weeknote 20/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #258 was entitled ‘Keep on keepin’ on’.
  • Walking in the Lake District to clock up two more ‘Quality Mountain Days’. Sunday was glorious sunglasses-and-ice-cream weather and so was easy, but Monday was challenging, and I fell down a crag.
  • Collaborating with my We Are Open Co-op colleagues on Tuesday morning. It was a ‘pre-think’ before the thinkathon we’re running next week for Passbolt.
  • Participating in a pre-conference Livestreaming 101 workshop on Tuesday afternoon, led by Christian Payne. I learned a lot about various approaches and kit, but also about how to run a very relaxed (yet very effective) three-hour workshop. Using Periscope meant I was back on Twitter for a few hours, and you can see the results here and here.
  • Attending the Thinking Digital conference. I’m always blown away by the quality and range of things that the speakers talk about. It was great to see regulars and to meet new people. The highlight for me was Imogen Heap performing a Frou Frou song, using her crazy gloves that can control music in realtime. At the conference dinner, I sat next to Martin Rosinski, the founder of Palringo, who lives down the road from me. His platform serves 30 million users. Wow!
  • Putting together some resources around fake news and digital literacies for an upcoming online keynote I’m doing on June 1st. More details here.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 82 of Today In Digital Education (TIDE), the regular podcast I record with Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled ‘Virtually Education’ and we discussed what we’ve been up to recently, online security, the link between education and poverty, grammar ‘robots’, hacking, virtual reality, and Google’s latest announcements.
  • Catching up with all kinds of people, including Erica Neve from Freeformers, Mike Carter from Tyncan Learning, Rafa Pereira from, Rob Artnsen from MyKnowledgeMapWill Bentinck from Makers Academy, and Paul Stacey from Creative Commons.
  • Making updates and corrections to the Stir to Action article I submitted last week. You can view the draft here.
  • Starting to use again to write down my thoughts at the beginning of the day. It’s something I used to do regularly, and I like the stats they give you. The approach is known as Morning Pages.
  • Talking with Cetis, who are (like We Are Open) a co-op that’s part of Co-operative Technologists. We’re putting in a joint bid to the Ufi VocTech Seed Fund next week.
  • Carrying out some research for London CLC around technology-enhanced teacher professional development in various parts of the world. It’s early days, but I’ve enjoyed diving into some of the academic literature.
  • Getting through the funding/sponsorship from Participate to start work on a wiki-based knowledge repository for Open Badges case studies, etc. We’ve also had confirmation from the foundational sponsors of Badge News that they’d like to continue with the arrangement past the first six month trial period!
  • Spending late Friday night with our eldest in hospital after a weird rash and blue lips gave us cause for concern. Turns out nobody knows what’s wrong, but he’s OK. The joys of parenting…
  • Writing:

Next week I’m working from home on Monday and Tuesday, travelling to London on Wednesday afternoon, spending Thursday at the Future of Work Summit and in meetings, and then taking Friday off.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

Quality Mountain Days 9 & 10: Red Screes, Great Rigg, and Kentmere Pike

As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’m aiming to get on a Mountain Leader course by 2018. To do so I need to complete (and log) twenty ‘Quality Mountain Days‘. This time around, I headed back to the Lake District on Sunday and Monday.

Journey to Ambleside

The two days couldn’t have been more different, which goes to show how the weather can really affect both your safety and enjoyment when walking at altitude. Sunday was glorious; I wore my sunglasses virtually all day, and enjoyed an ice-cream by Lake Windermere when I came back down. Monday, however, was a completely different story: 40mph winds, incessant (freezing) rain, and low visibility.


I planned my routes by using OS Explorer Map OL7, and by using the Premium features of the Ordnance Survey website. I’ve found the latter extremely useful since its launch, particularly the 3D mapping feature. It means I (should) know what to expect before I get there.

Red Screes and High Pike circular (3D)

Checking the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS), I could see that Sunday and Monday were going to be very different days. It’s actually the first time I’ve opted to go out at this time of the week, a decision we made as a family so as not to interfere too much with our children’s activities. However, as it happened, that meant an extremely difficult day on Monday, with little time for recovery before work on Tuesday.

Sunday (QMD 9)

The route I planned for my first day of walking took me up Red Screes, across over Dove Crag and Hart Crag, round by Great Rigg, and back past Rydal.

QMD 9 (planned)

Usually, I record my actual route using the OS Maps app. However, for whatever reason, my battery was extremely low by the time I arrived in the Lake District. I think that was down to a faulty cable that made it look like my phone was charging while Google Maps was giving me directions, but that wasn’t actually the case. I prioritised being able to make calls in the event of an emergency over recording my actual route.

On the way up I met a retired guy coming down Snarker Pike. We got chatting, and he mentioned that he’d gone up there early to watch the sunrise! I noticed that, although it was dry where we were, he was wearing gaiters, so I decided to put mine on.

QMD 9 - Snarker Pike

A bit further on, I ended up deviating from the route I’d planned after making a mistake. After checking my map and compass, it looked like I was heading for Middle Dodd. I made a course correction to ensure I was going to Little Hart Crag, but that actually took me off in the wrong direction. As a result, I had to traverse the side of a mountain. That wasn’t much fun on the knees and ankles!

Once back on track, I decided to go up the steeper route to Scandale Head. As my detour had added time onto the route I’d planned, and I knew the next day’s walking was going to be challenging, I decided to come back down via High Pike and Low Pike. I didn’t want to be out for longer than I needed to be.

QMD 9 - Little Pike

On the way back down I met a guy using walking poles. I asked him about them, as I’d intended to buy some when I got back home. He said how inexpensive they were, and how much of a difference they made. I resolved to buy some when I got back down to Ambleside.

It was a pretty straightforward route back to the car, the only slightly tricky bit was getting down Sweden Crag. I walked back to the car, and then straight into Mountain Warehouse and bought some walking poles. I was out exactly five hours, from 09:15 to 14:15.

QMD 9 - bluebells and tree

The rest of the day I spent eating ice-cream, reading the newspaper in the pub, and talking to people at the hostel. There was one guy in particular who was really interesting and ended up telling me his life story.

Things I learned:

  1. Double-check before doing a ‘course correction’ just in case you were actually on the right path.
  2. Always wear gaiters.
  3. When it’s been dry for a long period of time, overnight rain can make everything slippery.

Monday (QMD 10)

After Sunday, it was hard to believe that Monday’s weather could be so different. However, I trust MWIS, so had planned a route that I thought would be challenging yet safe. Parking the car at Sadgill, I plotted an anti-clockwise walk up to Harter Fell, then Kentmere Pike, and back down and round to the car.

QMD 10 (planned)

I usually enjoy my walks, even if it’s physically (and sometimes mentally tough). I did not enjoy Monday at all. There were times I could barely see. The four layers of clothing I was wearing were so wet I could wring them out along with my gloves. The wind was brutal and the freezing rain and low cloudbase meant I couldn’t see much.

While I had my phone with me, once I’d put it in the right mode to record my route and took a few photos, I left it alone. There was too much rain to use the touchscreen, and any time I put my arms down from the 90-ish degrees of using my walking poles, water gushed out of the opening to my coat. It was pooling in my sleeves.

QMD 10 - signpost

There were a couple of times on the way up to Harter Fell that I thought I was going the wrong way. It’s easy to get disorientated and, stupidly, I’d managed to leave my compass in the car. It was only after triple-checking my map that I was convinced I was on the correct route. Thank goodness for the distinctive shape of some fields. I probably should have done some pacing, but I was too miserable.

While it wasn’t too catastrophic, I did make one mistake on Monday. I mistook one corner of a field for another, went over a stile, and then realised I was rather close to a very steep edge. I retraced my steps, got my bearings, and got back on track.

QMD 10 - cairn

Everything was going fine, and I was looking getting back to the dry warmth of my car. I could feel myself speeding up, as the BPM of the songs going through my head were getting faster.

As happened the day before, I had to climb down a crag on the way back. This one, Wray Crag, shouldn’t have been an issue. The problem was that it was my first day with the walking poles. They’d been great up to that point, really saving my knees. One thing I hadn’t done, however, was keep checking that the clasps keeping the extendable bits in place remained tight. It was as I used my left-hand pole to steady myself as I come down the crag that it gave way.

I must of only tumbled down a couple of metres, landing on my elbow and hip. I got up straight away, cursing myself for my stupidity. Realising I was alright, I counted my blessings, as if I’d hit my head it could have been very different. I tightened my walking poles, and strode on.

QMD 10 - clouds

Getting back to the car, I looked at my watch. I’d set off at the same time as yesterday (09:15) but got back to the car by 13:45. So a four and a half hour walk, instead of the five hours I’m supposed to do for a QMD. I’m still counting it, as it was extremely challenging for me, I didn’t stop for more than two minutes at any point, and I learned a whole lot.

My phone turned off as soon as I got it out of my rucksack, and wouldn’t turn back on. I was convinced it had irreparable water damage, and had to use my car’s inbuilt satnav to get back home. I dried myself and changed clothes rather awkwardly in the back of the car before driving home.

QMD 10 - valley

Given that I’d told my wife to phone Mountain Rescue if she hadn’t heard from me by 17:00, it was important I got home before that time. Fortunately, it’s only a bit over two hours from that part of the Lake District back to my house. I stopped at a service station for all of five minutes for a coffee, a sausage roll, and a cinnamon bun, and got back home in record time.

Things I learned:

  1. Check. Your. Poles.
  2. Don’t go up a mountain without a compass.
  3.  I probably could do with a waterproof phone.

Weeknote 19/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #257 was entitled ‘Jetlag’.
  • Walking among the bluebells with my wife in the aptly-named Bluebell Wood near our home.
  • Recording and releasing Episode 81 of Today In Digital Education (TIDE), the regular podcast I record with Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled ‘Surveillance, Hacking, and Democracy’ and we discussed Mastodon, Dai’s new Linux machine, smart cities, Amazon’s new Echo device, privacy-invading apps, Chinese classrooms, Brexit, two-factor authentication, and more!
  • Planning with representatives from the David Ross Education Trust, including Guy Shearer. I’m keynoting and helping with their upcoming elearning conference.
  • Asking various people for some advice about what I should do next. Everything going fine, I just want to get my teeth stuck into something a bit ‘meatier’…
  • Interviewed by the Innovation Unit for upcoming work they’re doing around the future of edtech.
  • Finishing the first draft of an article for Stir to Action magazine. I’ve entitled it You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: digital employability for the new economy and you can add comments/thoughts/suggestions here.
  • Attending an important call run by the Open Recognition Alliance around the future of the Open Badges community, now that IMS Global Learning Consortium are stewards of the standard.
  • Catching up with Keiron Kirkland and meeting Rob Brown for the first time.  Gentlemen both.
  • Reading Psalm 139 at my grandmother’s funeral. It was obviously a sad day, but it was such a great send-off for her, and a sunny day to boot.
  • Planning my next two ‘Quality Mountain Days’ (of the 20 I need to get under my belt) to get on a Mountain Leader course.
  • Finishing, and then immediately flicking back to the front page of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine to read it again. I may have to install a footnotes plugin on this blog in homage to Baker’s genius. Once I’ve re-read it, I’ll be moving on to HHhH by Laurent Binet.
  • Sending out Issue #10 of Badge News, a bi-weekly newsletter for those who want to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of Open Badges (on behalf of We Are Open Co-op).
  • Securing sponsorship for a new ‘knowledge repository’ that We Are Open will build to ensure the continued growth of the Open Badges movement. More on that when we announce it properly next week.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m up mountains in the Lake District on Sunday and Monday, and then collaborating with my co-op co-founders on Tuesday morning before heading to a workshop on Tuesday afternoon (run by Christian Payne, aka Documentally). I’m attending the Thinking Digital conference on Wednesday , and Thursday/Friday will be devoted to research for London CLC, and spinning up the new Open Badges ‘knowledge repository’.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

Some thoughts on Keybase, online security, and verification of identity

I’m going to stick my neck out a bit and say that, online, identity is the most important factor in any conversation or transaction. That’s not to say I’m a believer in tying these things to real-world, offline identities. Not at all.

Trust models change when verification is involved. For example, if I show up at your door claiming to be Doug Belshaw, how can I prove that’s the case? The easiest thing to do would be to use government-issued identification such as my passport or driving license. But what if I haven’t got any, or I’m unwilling to use it? (see the use case for CheapID) In those kinds of scenarios, you’re looking for multiple, lower-bar verification touchstones.

As human beings, we do this all of the time. When we meet someone new, we look for points of overlapping interest, often based around human relationships. This helps situate the ‘other’ in terms of our networks, and people can inherit trust based on existing relationships and interactions.

Online, it’s different. Sometimes we want to be anonymous, or at least pseudo-anonymous. There’s no reason, for example, why someone should be able to track all of my purchases just because I’m participating in a digital transaction. Hence Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

When it comes to communication, we’ve got encrypted messengers, the best of which is widely regarded to be Signal from Open Whisper Systems. For years, we’ve tried (and failed) to use PGP/GPG to encrypt and verify email transactions, meaning that trusted interactions are increasingly taking place in locations other than your inbox.

On the one hand, we’ve got purist techies who constantly question whether a security/identity approach is the best way forward, while on the other end of the spectrum there’s people using the same password (without two-factor authentication) for every app or service. Sometimes, you need a pragmatic solution.


I remember being convinced to sign up for when it launched thanks to this Hacker News thread, and particularly this comment from sgentle:

Keybase asks: who are you on the internet if not the sum of your public identities? The fact that those identities all make a certain claim is a proof of trust. In fact, for someone who knows me only online, it’s likely the best kind of trust possible. If you meet me in person and I say “I’m sgentle”, that’s a weaker proof than if I post a comment from this account. Ratchet that up to include my Twitter, Facebook, GitHub, personal website and so forth, and you’re looking at a pretty solid claim.

And if you’re thinking “but A Scary Adversary could compromise all those services and Keybase itself”, consider that an adversary with that much power would also probably have the resources to compromise highly-connected nodes in the web of trust, compromise PKS servers, and falsify real-world identity documents.

I think absolutism in security is counterproductive. Keybase is definitionally less secure than, say, meeting in person and checking that the person has access to all the accounts you expect, which is itself less secure than all of the above and using several forms of biometric identification to rule out what is known as the Face/Off attack.

The fight isn’t “people use Keybase” vs “people go to key-signing parties”, the fight is “people use Keybase” vs “fuck it crypto is too hard”. Those who need the level of security provided by in-person key exchanges still have that option available to them. In fact, it would be nice to see PKS as one of the identity proof backends. But for practical purposes, anything that raises the crypto floor is going to do a lot more good than dickering with the ceiling.

Since the Trump inauguration, I’ve seen more notifications that people are using Keybase. My profile is here: Recently, cross-platform apps for desktop and mobile devices have been added, mearning not only can you verify your identity across the web, but you can chat and share files securely.

It’s a great solution. The only word of warning I’d give is don’t upload your private key. If you don’t know how public and private keys work, then please read this article. You should never share your private key with anyone. Keep it to yourself, even if Keybase claim it will make your life easier.

To my mind, all of this fits into my wider work around Open Badges. Showing who you are and what you can do on the web is a multi-faceted affair, and I like the fact that I can choose to verify who I am. What I opt to keep separate from this profile (e.g. my gamertag, other identities) is entirely my choice. But verification of identity on the internet is kind of a big deal. We should all spend longer thinking about it, I reckon.

Main image: Blondinrikard Fröberg

Weeknote 18/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Jetlagged. I’m not a night owl at all, so the fact I’m publishing this in the early hours of Saturday morning tells you all you need to know. I slept until midday on Friday. Flying forwards in time messes me up, no matter how much preparation I do.
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #256 was entitled ‘Canada, eh?’.
  • Spending time in Calgary, working with Rocky View School District. I spent Monday with their tech team figuring out issues around communication and strategy, and then Tuesday with a much wider group around digital literacies. Many thanks to Verena Roberts for inviting me over!
  • Quitting Twitter for a month in favour of Mastodon, a move which I explained in this post. I’ve already come across really interesting people that I don’t think I would have come across otherwise!
  • Sending out the April issue of my Dynamic Skillset newsletter. This monthly missive always has a slightly different focus than my weekly newsletter, so if you haven’t subscribed, do so now!
  • Watching the films Logan and I, Daniel Blake on the way home from Canada. The former was pretty violent, but it was actually the latter that made more of an impression on me. It was set and filmed in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, near where I live. It really resonated with me having grown up in an ex-mining town amongst people who just want to get on with life, but are prevented from doing so by a punitive State.
  • Delighted to be reunited with my wife and children. My daughter had lost both her front teeth by the time I got back, so not only did she look different, but she sounds different!
  • Chilling out. I’ll get back to work properly next week.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m working from home all week, apart from Thursday which is my grandmother’s funeral.

Image CC BY davebloggs007

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

So it turns out that you can pretty much do whatever you like on your own website

Last week, Audrey Watters blocked and Genius on her website. These two tools allow a ‘layer’ to be added to websites for annotation and discussion that can’t necessarily be controlled by the person who owns that site.

Blocking annotation tools does not stop you from annotating my work. I’m a fan of marginalia; I am. I write all over the books I’ve bought, for example. Blocking annotations in this case merely stops you from writing in the margins here on this website.

My first reaction? Audrey can do whatever she likes. Just as when she removed the ability to comment on her site a few years back, I didn’t understand the decision at first, but then it kind of made sense. Either way, it’s her site, and she can do whatever she wants.

So far, so why-are-you-even-writing-a-post-about-this?  Discussions on Twitter, Mastodon, Slack, and elsewhere show that this is a live issue. So, naturally I’ve been thinking about it. I have to say that I agree with Mike Caulfield’s sentiments:

My take (of course) is that annotation works best through a system of copies. Anyone should be able to annotate a copy of your work. But it’s not clear to me that people have the right to piggyback on the popularity of an address that you’ve worked your butt off to promote. It’s not clear to me that they should get to annotate the master file. This has always been the problem with comments as well — they work best on small sites, and go bad when they give users a much larger platform than they have earned. As with everything online, the phenomenon is gendered as well.

It seems what Audrey is doing is protecting her ‘means of production’ from what she considers to be an active assault from those who wish to piggyback on the success of her work. Some people have questioned how that works with the explicitly ‘open’ stance that Audrey takes. However, I think any perceived tension between her move and open licensing goes away when we think of some other examples.

Here’s three:

  1. Pokémon Go — this location-based, augmented reality game used some people’s residences as ‘gyms’ where characters in the game did battle. This caused real-world issues. Most people thought that random strangers pulling on to their drive to play games was an infringement of their civil liberties.
  2. Google Street View — this service involves a car mounted with 360° cameras taking photographs to improve Google’s mapping service. Faces were blurred out, but this wasn’t good enough for Germany’s stringent privacy laws. They’ve been prevented from capturing images at least once, especially when people are on their own property.
  3. Robots.txt — this text file that website owners can include in the root folder of their domain specifies what web crawlers can and cannot do. If you say that you don’t want your site to be indexed, then search engines and other aggregation engines should (legally?) comply.

Using these as touchstones, it seems fair enough for someone to insist that you create a copy of their work to be able to annotate it. As Mike Caulfield hints at, giving people the ability to comment on the master document seems like a privilege rather than a right.

Perhaps those creating annotation engines should find a way to seek the domain owner’s permission? An easy way to do that would be to get them to add the necessary code to activate annotation (as we did with OB101), rather than make it a free-for-all…

Image CC BY-NC-SA Karl Steel

Listen to me witter on about co-ops via @VConnecting at #ccsummit

At the Creative Commons Summit this weekend I had my first experience as a participant in a Virtually Connecting session. It included others both onsite and online, but ended up with Laura Hilliger and I spending quite a chunk of time talking about co-ops. We start discussing that around the 8-minute mark.

(no video above? click here!)

Many thanks to our hosts for setting the session up. I’m always happy to answer questions about our work, whether We Are Open Co-op specifically or co-operativism more generally.

Image CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers

Weeknote 17/2017

It’s been quite the last few days. This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m flying to Calgary to work with the Rocky Mountain School District around digital literacies. I’m then travelling back across the Atlantic so that I arrive home on Thursday morning. I am doing nothing else for the rest of the week as I will be tired (and jetlagged as a badger).

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

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