Tag: reading (page 1 of 2)

Experimenting with a Slack-based book club

TL;DR: I’ve started a channel called #book-club-1 in the We Are Open co-op Slack. Everyone adhering to our code of conduct is welcome. Reading this. Join here. Starts Monday.


I was discussing book clubs over email with Bryan Alexander recently. He’s been running ones via his blog since 2013, and finds them a valuable experience.

This was prompted by a few people both in We Are Open co-op‘s Slack and the Thought Shrapnel Patreon saying that they’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss new books like Paul Jarvis’ Company of One and Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.

I’ve never been a member of a book club, as I imagine the offline versions as being full of people drinking red wine and trying to prove some crazy theory that they’ve got about the intent behind someone else’s writing. However, an online version intrigued me, hence my discussion with Bryan Alexander.

After looking at different models, I decided to come up with my own. I also chose the Digital Minimalism as the book, as people seemed to be interested in reading it. I’m absolutely making it up as I go along, but there we go. Someone’s got to lead things.

Let me walk you through what I’ve done to set things up:

Slack Book Club - overview

Slack allows you to ‘pin’ discussions, but doesn’t let you moved these about after the fact. That means I’ve had to be very careful to pin these in the correct order. It’s also the reason the channel is called #book-club-1 as we’ll need to create a new channel and pin discussions for each new book.

(thanks to Adam Procter for helping me figure this out!)

Slack book club - setup

There’s a ‘meta thread’ giving an overview of the book being read, and this is the place where discussions about the book as a whole should go.

Slack book club - thread

For this book club to work, we need to use Slack’s functionality. This may look slightly confusing if you’re reading this and don’t use Slack, but it’s pretty standard stuff for those who do. It’s not hard, and there’s some useful help pages here.

As you can see from the screenshot above, clicking on ‘1 reply’ (or whatever it’s on by the time you get there) opens the thread and allows you to add your response. It’s even more intuitive on mobile, I find.

Slack book club - random chat

Underneath all the pinned discussions for each chapter (which show up as yellow) there’s a space for random book-related chat. This might be for asking questions such as “I take it audiobooks are accepted in this space? Asking for a friend” and anything else you doesn’t fit elsewhere.

I’ve no idea if this is all going to work, but I’m willing to give it a go. In my mind I’m going for a vibe somewhere between random pub conversation and postgraduate seminar — but with a more asynchronous, dip-in-and-out approach.

Grab the book and join us. You might like it!


FAQ

1. Do I have to know anything about anything?

Nope, I have no clue and I’m the one who set this thing up.

2. Do I have to read one chapter per week?

No, do what you like. Read it in one sitting and comment on all the things in a literary orgy. Read the introduction over a period of three weeks. Up to you.

3. Are you going to be asking questions as a prompt?

Maybe? If people want? I don’t know.

4. What if people are mean to me?

We have a Code of Conduct and I’ll warn them and then kick them out. We haven’t had to do that yet on our Slack, but we’re willing to. Don’t worry, though, it’s a nice crowd.

5. Is this really an FAQ, or have you just made up the questions as a sneaky way to shoehorn more information into your poorly-structured blog post?

Erm…

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!

Reading, feeding and seeding

After several days of migraines and with an upcoming intense week in the form of a Mozilla All-Hands meeting, this week I’m going to be focusing on inputs rather than outputs.

This is likely to be my only blog post of the week (apart from my weeknote) and I’ll be a lot lighter in my use of Twitter / Google+ / Facebook.

If you want to make me smile while I’m ensuring I don’t get burned out, how about donating to #LettingGrow? That would be awesome.

Image CC BY Pink Sherbert Photography

Reading books in front of kids is not enough.

TL;DR version: Patrick Rhone wrote a post recently about the importance of his children seeing people reading physical books. While I agree with the sentiment, it’s not enough in and of itself. They need to see us reading screens as well. Most importantly we need to have conversations with our kids about everything we’re reading.


Last month a post by Patrick Rhone was +1’d into my Google+ stream. Entitled A Time For Books it was, like most of Rhone’s posts, a thoughtful and heartfelt look at something important to him. While I have no beef with his general thinking here, I just think what he says doesn’t go far enough:

I’ve decided that I want to start being very conscious of making sure to read real books as much as possible around her [his daughter]. That she not only see them closed and on shelves but also open and on tables and desks and their places being kept over the arm of a chair. I want to ensure that we have family reading time as much as possible and while one of us is reading a book to her the other is enjoying a physical book of their own.

The idea of a ‘family reading time’ is great and should definitely be encouraged. My wife and I have, on occasion, done something similar with our son. However, what I find problematic in Rhone’s piece is his privileging physical books over things that are read on a screen:

I mean, we could be doing anything on the screen. And she knows it. She knows the Internet is sometimes on that screen. She knows that movies are sometimes on that screen. She knows that games and music are on that screen.

And, while she does know we can read books on that screen, even books for her, how is she to know the difference? How is she to pick up the physical cues that Mommy and Daddy read a lot of books? That this is what people should do. That it is something we believe passionately in. That it matters. That we believe she should read a lot of books too. Even when she is as old as we are.

Let me tell you how Rhone Junior can find out about what Daddy reads. By engaging her in conversation. Books are social objects.

I read a lot of books, but fully 75% of what I read is on some kind of screen – a Kindle, my Nexus 7, my MacBook Pro, or one of the plethora of devices we have lying around. It would be impossible for me to replace what I read on screens with physical books.

Instead of a futile attempt to turn the clock back, I suggest that parents looking to model appropriate behaviours enter into conversations with their kids about what they’re reading and thinking. I find one of the best places to do this with my son is in the car on the way to some activity like swimming or football. I’ll ask what he’s enjoyed reading and let him know what I’ve found interesting recently. Even better than that is sharing something you’re reading at the time you read it, of course. But that’s not always possible.

Tangentially related to this, I feel, is learning how to work in a distributed way. And, let’s face it, that’s almost definitely how my son’s generation will be working. In my work for Mozilla it’s imperative that I make my thinking as tangible and visible as possible – either through conversations, blog posts like this one, or physical/digital artefacts. This allows my colleagues to riff off what I’m doing and I can do likewise.

Sharing is caring. Enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious. Just seeing Daddy read a newspaper or a book means absolutely nothing in and of itself. We need to model the behaviours we want to see. I’m all for encouraging children to read – let’s just not kid ourselves that letting them see us read physical books is enough.

Image CC BY Wiertz Sébastien

Weeknote 03/2013

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:

  • Talking to Audrey Watters about web literacies. She’s a very smart person and I was impressed by what she had to say. I tried to capture most of what she said in this blog post.
  • As my colleagues are such a talented and productive bunch, an important part of my working day is spent in co-ordination. When you’re not co-located it’s important that you get your thinking out there, which is exactly what Brett Gaylor’s done with his post on New Webmaker Prototypes. Exciting stuff! My response is here.
  • I continue to contribute to both the Mozilla Webmaker list and the Open Badges Google Group. I’m looking forward to the latter splitting into two equally-weighted technical/learning groups!
  • This week I’ve been invited to over 10 events (including Estonia twice!), which is a little insane. I said no to pretty much all of them, as I’m trying to travel less (and be more strategic when I do travel) in 2013.
  • I’m trying to comment on more blog posts, especially when people are sharing the awesome work they’re doing around badges. Most notably, I commented on posts by Chris Sharples, Zoe Ross, Robert Weeks, and Grainne Hamilton. You should go and read them (the posts, not necessarily my comments!)
  • Interestingly, the post by Robert Weeks was stimulated by a virtual presentation to the Bristol ‘weelearning’ group on Wednesday. Formerly a badge skeptic, Robert is now a badge enthusiast. Job done. 🙂
  • My work around web literacies is going to end up as a ‘learning standard’. I’ve been discussing this with Erin and Carla. More on that soon.
  • I spent Thursday in Leicester in the company of Josie Fraser, Lucy Atkins, Richard Hall and David White. I was advising on a new digital literacies framework for teachers in Leicester which should, hopefully, lead to badge-infused CPD. That was a bit of an epic journey: 4.5 hours each way in a day. Except the train was delayed on the way after a suicide on the line. 🙁
  • I’ve done lots of reading this week, including the excellent book A Small Matter of Programming, a new DML Connected Learning report, the Peeragogy Handbook, and a new version of the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators resource.
  • The ILTA invited me to write up my keynote last year into a journal article. I’m about half-way there, I reckon, and should finish it on Monday. It will have the title Zen and the Art of Digital Literacies.
  • Thinking about the way that I and most of the people I know live in the future.
  • When I wasn’t doing the above I was clearing the drive of snow, spending time at the gym (no running this week!), and sledging, snowman-making, and generally spending time with my family before…

Next week I’ll be escaping the snowy hinterland of Northumberland and heading to sunny California to meet my colleagues. We’ll be participating in a DML conversation around, you guessed it, Open Badges. On that note, I’m delighted to have been asked to do more work around learning and assessment related to badges – so look out for more posts of that nature in the near future!

Image uploaded originally by Cory Doctorow on Twitter

Reading list for #BelshawBlackOps12

As I’ve already mentioned, in just over a week I’ll be on Belshaw Black Ops for the whole of December. During that time I want to spend time with my family, slow down a little, and read. You know, long-form stuff.

Here’s three books I’ve got queued up:

Altogether, I’ve set myself the challenge of reading 10 non-fiction books during December.

What else should I read? (and why?) It doesn’t have to be a new book, nor does it have to be about education or technology – but it does need to be interesting.

List your three must-read books in the comment section below. I’ll be writing a short review of the ten books I end up reading when I come back in January. 🙂

Image CC BY picturenarrative

Update

The following books have been recommended by the awesome people commenting below:

Also, Audrey Watters recommended via Twitter:

And on Google+ Timothy Scholze recommended:

Then, again on Twitter Jon Parnham recommended:

10 reasons I like reading ebooks more than paper books.

There’s 5 big reasons and 5 smaller reasons I enjoy reading books on my Amazon Kindle* than standard paper books. Blog posts like this are usually prefaced by claims by the author to have a huge paper book collection/voracious appetite for reading/capability to use big words. Assume all of the above. :-p

5 big reasons

1. I can carry hundreds – if not thousands of books around with me. Which means reference library everywhere I go, and the ability to have several books (e.g. novel/business/academic) on the go at once.

2. Finding out the meaning of an obscure word takes about two seconds.

3. I’ve got instant access to pretty much any book I want.

4. Highlighting is portable, either via the Amazon website (if one of their titles) or a text file (if one you put on the device).

5. Weight. Many of the books I read for work, pleasure and study would be fairly weighty tomes. It’s easier on my arms – and my luggage!

5 small reasons

1. It’s virtually impossible to ‘lose your place’ in an ebook.

2. No-one can see the cover of the book you’re reading (and therefore make implicit judgements)

3. You can change the font size – or even the font type in some cases. Some paper books are set in tiny, horrible fonts.

4. I love 19th-century fiction (especially Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Gogol) which means many books I want to read are completely free.

5. Speed. It’s only anecdotal, but I’m positive I can read faster on my Kindle.

Bonus 11th reason

Audiobooks. I love being able to decide to listen to a book instead of reading it when my eyes are tired from work.

* I’ve got the previous generation, but with a cool, limited-edition Moleskine cover. Awesome.

You are what you habitually do.

I’m not alone in taking a book/my Amazon Kindle to the doctors/dentists/airport or somewhere else we’ve come to expect delays.

But what about other times? What about queues? What about unexpected delays?

Howard Rheingold, a bit of a hero of mine, tweeted this yesterday:

I try to see underheads ahead of me in line who fumble for their checkooks, change, as opportunities for mindfulness in the moment …so when I am delayed by circumstances beyond my control, I try to ask myself what I might not be noticing in my environment.

Instead of seeing unexpected delays as being the result of some malevolent ethereal force it’s a much better plan to have an idea of what can fill that time. Some suggestions:

  • People-watching (why do people do what they do?)
  • Writing down/expanding upon thoughts in a notebook
  • Talking to other people (i.e. practising striking-up conversation)
  • Pattern-spotting (how many x are there? what does that remind me of?)

Why not checking email/Twitter/other technological things?

You are what you habitually do. (Aristotle)

I’m aiming to become more creative, aware of my surroundings and reflective. Are you?

Recommended Design-related blogs

Introduction

A couple of people in the last month have asked if I’d share which blogs I read regularly. It’s a logical follow-up, I suppose, to my Things I Learned This Week posts. If I used an RSS reader this would be very easy: I’d just export my subscriptions as an OPML file. Readers could then download this and import it into their RSS reader.

But, er… I don’t any more. I made a conscious and deliberate switch to subscribing to blogs by email – either through author-provided functionality or RSS >> Email courtesy of Reblinks. Which makes things slightly more difficult (and this post necessary).

A non-design blog I subscribe to, Alan Levine’s excellent CogDogBlog, featured a post yesterday that discussed the importance of both online and offline filtering. That’s because, as Clay Shirky is always at pains to point out, it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure. Whilst serendipity and specific niche interest are both important things that shouldn’t be neglected, it’s also important to identify people who are awesome filters of information, links and connections.

The Blogs

The following blogs are design-related but also have a community element; they serve as a hub for a wider bunch of people. As such, you’ll find added value in trawling the comments section as much as the posts themselves. 😀

  1. FlowingData – I really enjoy Nathan Yau’s blog and find his simple and straightforward guides extremely useful as a beginner!
  2. Smashing Magazine – Design in the widest sense. They often have wonderful posts showcasing the best and brighest stuff on the intertubes in a given area. They also have (downloadable) monthly wallpaper contests – such as this one for April 2010.
  3. swissmiss – Tina Roth Eisenberg is a prolific blogger, to the extent that she only took a few days off from blogging after giving birth and named her baby after consulting her readers! I love the quirky stuff she posts and it always makes me smile. 🙂
  4. Information is Beautiful – David McCandless not only has a regular section in the Guardian but has written books. Awesome visualizations and infographics!
  5. Visual Complexity – The diversity of visualizations and design on this blog is truly stunning.

More?

Looking for more design blog goodness? Try this ‘Top 50 design blogs’ and, of course, AllTop’s Design section. :-p

Why I bought a Sony Reader ebook reader today.


Introduction
I learned today that the best gadget purchases are those that solve a problem. Whilst it’s wonderful to have the latest and greatest (I’ll be getting a free iPad via my attendance at the Handheld Learning Conference later this year) it’s very satisfying when something plugs a gap.

The Problem
Briefly stated:

  • I’ve got lots (probably hundreds) of journal articles to read for my Ed.D. thesis.
  • I use a computer screen for my work much more than I used to, meaning on-screen PDFs is problematic.
  • I get the train (c.30 minutes each way) and then walk to work. I don’t want to have to carry around anything heavy.

The Solution
Today I bought (or should I say my parents, who are extremely supportive of my studies, bought me) a Sony Reader PRS-600. It’s the one with the touch screen for highlighting and annotation. It’s got an e-ink screen meaning it appears like a physical book instead of a flickering screen.

What I’ve tried previously:

  • Printing out articles (cumbersome, expensive and not environmentally-friendly)
  • Dropbox iPhone app (doesn’t ‘reflow’ PDFs meaning horizontal scrolling which isn’t very user-friendly)
  • GoodReader iPhone app (iPhone screen too small for annotation)

I considered an Amazon Kindle, but after seeing and handling the Sony Reader at the JISC Conference earlier this week, I was sold on it. JISC had funded a project where the Sony Readers were used by previously technophobic academic staff to mark student essays. They loved them and if they’re good enough for that purpose, it’s good enough for me!

It’s still (very) early days. I’ll let you know how I get on! 🙂

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