It’s a long book, so I feel justified in skipping over the occasionally-lengthy descriptions of battles and campaigns, in favour of the much more interesting economic, social, and cultural history.
As a former History teacher (and someone with an MA in the subject) I’ve always found the undue focus on political and military history a bit boring, which is why I appreciate Tuchman’s comment on how it’s the extremes of time periods that tend to be recounted by historians.
In individuals as in nations, contentment is silent, which tends to unbalance the historical record.
Barbara Tuchman, ‘A Distant Mirror’
Tuchman throws in all kinds of interesting tidbits of information, such as two-thirds of the population of Europe being under the age of 21 throughout the 14th century. Half were under 14! She uses this to explain the general lack of maturity in everyone from peasants to nobles.
Some might wonder why I’d want to read something so ‘depressing’ as the population of Europe being reduced by a third during the Black Death. After all, isn’t that a bit close to home right now? I’ve actually found the opposite is true: reading things like this make you realise that we live in much more pleasant, civilised, and reasonable times, and that things could be far, far worse
I almost entitled this post ‘nobody cares’. Because, mostly, they don’t. When you write, you should write for yourself, as a way of setting down what you think, sharing your knowledge, and connecting together your experiences.
There have been times in my life when I’ve blogged every day. Any time you see me doing that, it’s probably because I’m having a tough time at home, work, or trying to chew through a knotty problem.
Another title for this post could be ‘write like nobody is reading’. Because, mostly, they aren’t. Even if you’ve got a lot of followers, most people don’t click through, and attention is a valuable commodity. Just because people are looking doesn’t mean they’re reading. And even if they are reading, what you’ve written almost certainly won’t have as much resonance as it does for you.
So just write. Say what’s on your mind and tell the world about it. Not because it’s going to get retweeted, boosted, or liked. But just as an expression of who you are, where you stand, and what you think.
Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.
After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.
I’m very aware that this is a list of dead, white men, but these are just the books I’ve come across so far that are so helpful to me I’m happy to read them on repeat. If you’ve got suggestions of alternatives or anything to help widen my worldview, please do let me know! It needs to be the kind of thing I can finish and then start right back at the beginning again.
Many years ago, when I was very small, I can remember talking to my maternal grandmother about an article she’d seen in the newspaper. It was about an eclipse which was predicted to take place on 11th August 1999, and would be the first to be visible in the UK since 1927.
At the time it seemed like such a long way into the future. Who could imagine being 18 years of age? When the time came, I ended up driving the length of the country with some friends to see the eclipse in its full glory. My grandmother, sadly, had passed away peacefully some months before.
To a great extent, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s easy to use the conceptual shorthand of ‘flying cars’ to represent what we were expecting technologically at this point in time, but I’m not sure I would have been massively surprised if, when I was younger, you’d described the world as it currently stands.
I don’t think we live in ‘unprecedented’ times. Human beings are human beings, at the end of the day. It’s just that we’ve got some more technology which extends our reach and increases our impact, for better or worse (usually worse).
I posted my 2019 retrospective on Christmas Eve after returning from a short family holiday to Iceland. It’s a magical place, particularly just before Christmas and we had a wonderful time.
What did threaten to put a slight dampener on things was when I managed to lose the keys to our rental car in the snow somewhere near Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Note to self: zip keys in pocket next time!
Other than that, we stayed in three different places, and experienced wonderful places, vistas, sunsets, and people. We’re definitely going to have to go back.
While I was there, I started reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. What a novel! It really helps you understand how brutally difficult life in Iceland was before electricity and modern conveniences.
This week, I’ve been trying to get back to some kind of decent routine. It hasn’t stopped me snaffling mince pies and eating festive leftovers, but I have, on the whole, eaten more healthily, and done more exercise.
The stimulus to this was tipping 90kg for the first time just after Christmas. It’s amazingly easy to drift into a less-healthy routine and convince yourself you haven’t changed that much.
I worked two days this week for Moodle, continuing to lead the MoodleNet project. Next week will be the first where I’m splitting my work differently: three days for MoodleNet, and two days working with We Are Open Co-op.
The rest of the MoodleNet team are mostly back on Monday, so I spent my time catching up and planning. I’ve moved all of our day-to-day issues to GitLab, because I think that these should be next to our codebase. Also, because Jira.
At Discours.es this week I’ve collected a bunch of quotations from my morning reading, with perhaps my favourite being:
One of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.
New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet, although we did all go into Newcastle to see the fireworks at 6pm. It feels a bit more wasteful every year as the displays go on longer and longer, to be honest. I can’t quite believe that Sydney went ahead with their display in the midst of the bushfires ravaging Australia.
On New Year’s Day we went for a bracing walk in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. We always enjoy that, and the views were amazing given the light. The whole world and their dog was there, though, obviously.
I re-start CBT next week which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll also be doing more MoodleNet planning, as well as finalising the pre-conference AMICAL workshop I’m delivering on digital literacies the following week!
As ever, but even more so now I’ve got a bit more capacity, if you know of an organsiation that could do with our help, please let me know!
Photo taken on a New Year’s Day walk in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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).
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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. 🙁
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.
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
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.