Open Thinkering


Month: February 2020

Weeknote 09/2020

It must have been 1998, and would have been seventeen, when I realised that I needed corrective lenses. Despite my father wearing glasses, I had managed to get through pretty much my entire childhood without needing them.

I can remember sitting in an ‘A’ Level History lesson and the words on the blackboard were a little less sharp than they should have been. Not dramatically so, as my prescription only ended up being -0.25 at that point, but from then on I was Someone Who Needed Glasses To See Properly.

Since then, and throughout adult life, my prescription has progressively worsened. These days, for example, I wouldn’t be able to go out and about without contact lenses or glasses. But I really don’t like wearing glasses. At all. I think it’s probably something to do with not having worn them as a child. They also interfere with me doing the kind of exercise I enjoy doing.

So on Monday, when I woke up with a bloodshot right eye, painful to any kind of bright-ish light, I very grudgingly put on my glasses and got on with my day. After four meetings via videoconference, however, it was clear that I was going to have to do something about it. I was squinting.

The short version of what happened next is I went to the pharmacy, who sent me to the optician, who sent me back to the pharmacy for a bunch of things to counteract blepharaitis. This week, therefore, I’ve been wearing my glasses all week, which not only makes me a bit self-conscious, but the knock-on effect has been me doing less exercise.

While I’m bemoaning the subjective state of my world, let me also record for the biography that no-one will ever write about my life that I’ve also decided to give up refined sugar and alcohol for Lent. Cunningly, the ‘refined’ modifier here has allowed me to still eat honey, which is now my favourite thing in the entire world.

But this week has been largely a miserable week. Yes, I realise that having to wear glasses and undergoing a self-imposed ban on what are essentially luxuries is not exactly suffering, but this is my blog and I’ll say what I like, thank you very much. For some weeks to be awesome some weeks have to be less so. That’s just the way it is.

On the work front, as usual I split my week between Moodle and We Are Open co-op. For the main Moodle blog I published something on designing MoodleNet for the needs of the community, and on the MoodleNet blog posted about re-decentralizing the web.

Other than that, on the Moodle front, I worked with the People & Culture team to renew the contracts of three of the MoodleNet team, and to slightly increase the hours of the other two. I also booked my travel and accommodation for the UK & Ireland MoodleMoot in Dublin which is in early April.

Preview of a community in the ‘My MoodleNet’ feed

In addition, I’ve done things like working with the front-end team on the UI around items in MoodleNet feeds, and thinking through how we can make it really easy and straightforward for new users to choose a MoodleNet instance. Just a portion of the stuff that needs doing and thinking about in the life of building a product.

For the co-op, I spent my time working on a Red Hat sponsored project for public sector workers, being onboarded to some work we’ll be doing with Greenpeace over the next six months, and finalising dates for some work with another new client in London.

We’re also planning to meet up at Laura’s house in Germany in a few month’s time, which I’m very much looking forward to.

Due to my sabbati horribilis, I managed to spectacularly fail to produce either an article or microcast for Thought Shrapnel. I did, however, spend (even) more time than usual on Friday fluidity, which is this week’s link roundup.

Thought Shrapnel is a bit like MoodleNet in the sense that it’s difficult for those not making it to understand just how much time it takes to produce something that is easy to read or use.

Although I probably spend less than a tenth of the time paying attention to mass media than I used to, it’s been pretty difficult to avoid hearing, reading, or talking about the coronavirus COVID-19. Even during my own experiences with my ‘corneavirus’.

From World Health Organization guidance on dealing with COVID-19

However, I think the real threat to me and my family is pretty low. After all, based on the research I’ve done, even if we do contract the virus, the chances of us dying from it are around 0.2%.

So my wife and I will still be travelling next week so that I can speak at Open Belgium. We’ll then be spending next weekend in Bruges, which is somewhere we’ve both always wanted to visit. Due to my Lent commitments, though, I’ll obviously be on the frites instead of the waffles.

I’ve actually managed to get into a pretty good routine of waking early and going downstairs an hour before the rest of my family rise. There, with a cup of tea, and by the light of the fish tank, I read a number of books.

This means that one place that I have published several posts every day for the past 10 days is After I’ve highlighted particular section of, for example, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, or a couple of maxims by Baltasar Gracián, I turn on my phone and use the WordPress app to add them to my blog.

As there are a few people who subscribe to either via email or Telegram (using BelshawBot) I schedule the quotations to be published a couple of hours apart. Just hitting ‘publish’ would lead to a flood of notifications, and I do like to be a responsible writer and publisher. Your attention, after all, is sovereign.

This week, in addition to the quotations, and after reading Stefan Zweig’s biography of Michel de Montaigne in pretty much one sitting, I published a couple of short posts about writing being a process of discovery, and noticing things around you.

Next week I’ll be at home from Monday to Wednesday working on MoodleNet stuff, and then flying to Belgium on Thursday to speak on behalf of the co-op. We’ll be over there until Sunday, all told.

Midweek, I’ve got another appointment with the optician. So I’m hoping that I’ll be able to both stop wearing my glasses and choose new ones. That would mean that, when I do have to wear them, I would at least avoiding looking like some pointy-headed academic.

Header photo taken by me on Monday morning. We got a couple of inches of snow, but it had melted by lunchtime.

Weeknote 08/2020

This week has been half-term for my kids, so I’ve been working less. Although it didn’t pan out exactly this way, the plan was to keep the same working days for Moodle and We Are Open co-op, but just work half days. My thinking was that this would allow me to keep up with the projects I’m working on, and also spend time with the family. As it happens, this approach has left me feeling like I’ve neglected both a bit.

Last week, I explained how my son had suffered from some trauma to his neck. I’m absolutely delighted to report that now, almost two weeks after the injury, he’s back to (carefully!) playing football with his sister and me. Some parts of his left hand have still have reduced sensation and he can’t turn his neck all the way to the left, but his recovery this week has been pretty staggering.

On the MoodleNet side of things, I’ve been finalising details around the budget for this year. Up until now, budgets have been centralised at Moodle, so it’s great for the team to have some direct control over resourcing. As we received around 90% of what we asked for (pretty standard practice, I’d say) we’ll have to bring forward some of our plans to make MoodleNet sustainable in a way that isn’t annoying or creepy.

What MoodleNet currently looks like (staging server)

I’ve learned with this project not to make promises about exactly when things will be ready. That being said, we’re probably a few weeks away from federation testing, which I’m looking forward to.

In addition to this, we’ve been working closely with the Moodle LMS team around integration for the two platforms, ready for their 3.9 release in May. Things are going well in that regard.

For the co-op, I’ve been working on a project which will be launched soon. It’s a community for aspiring open leaders within the public sector, and has had me revisit some work I’ve done over the last decade.

A slide from one of the decks I’ve been working on this week

This is a joint venture with LDR21 and sponsored by Red Hat. I’ve been collaborating mainly with Laura on some workshop resourcing around the fundamentals of working openly. It’s always interesting revisiting the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of your everyday working life.

I received my new phone this week, a OnePlus 7 Pro 5G. It’s a beast in every sense of the word: larger and heavier than my previous phone, but with three cameras, insane amounts of RAM and storage space, and a 90hz full-screen display. Given where we live, the 5G isn’t much use to me right now, but I’m future-proofing…

OnePlus 7 Pro 5G

This has meant we’ve done a hermit crab-style upgrade, with my son inheriting my OnePlus 5 and passing on his OnePlus One so that my daughter now has her first phone. She’ll get a SIM for it in time for next academic year.

Inexplicably, my new phone doesn’t have wireless charging built-in. So I read this guide and added it myself with a super-thin charging receiver that fits underneath the phone case and plugs into the USB-C port. It’s actually pretty unnoticeable, protects the USB port from dust and dirt, and works really well.

Due to my son’s injury and him previously not being able to do much in the way of physical activity, we brought our PlayStation 4 downstairs and attached it to our TV. (It’s usually hooked up to a projector in the room next to the master bedroom.)

Ultimate Chicken Horse

A game that we’ve greatly enjoyed playing is Ultimate Chicken Horse. It’s as daft and fun as the name suggests, and we’ve had a whale of a time playing it together this week! It’s up there with Party Golf for fun multiplayer games.

Next week, it’s back to a regular week of working full days for Moodle on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and the co-op on Wednesday and Thursday. My wife’s parents are coming up to visit next weekend, but other than that it’s business as usual.

Header image: photograph of the back of my home office door showing part of Inappropriate Guidelines for Unacceptable Behaviour. The partial quotation to the right reads “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” (Kierkegaard).

Weeknote 07/2020

It’s fair to say that this week was unexpected in its events. On Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from my son’s school, just as I was just finishing up a meeting. Like most parents, I’ve come to dread these calls, as it usually means something is wrong.

And something was very wrong with my son. I rushed down there, taking the car despite it being less than a 10-minute walk. When I arrived, he was bent over, and unable to move his neck. He couldn’t really feel his left hand and had reduced sensation in his left arm. At lunchtime, a friend had playfully put him in a headlock, squeezed, and they had both fallen to the floor.

I drove him straight to hospital. That hospital sent him by ambulance to a larger one with more specialised equipment. He had an MRI scan. At one point it looked very much like spinal surgery would be necessary.

Given my son had been knocked out on the school premises last year, I met with the headteacher to talk about their emergency procedures. On both occasions I had to drive my son to hospital. On both occasions they should have called an ambulance. Serious head and neck trauma always requires immediate help from medical professionals, especially with children.

At the time of writing, my son’s prognosis is good. He had the rest of the week off school, and was delighted that he was encouraged to play PS4 games to improve the sensation in his left hand. That’s returning, thankfully, and he has a greater range of movement in his neck. The spinal consultant told us in a follow-up visit on Friday that my son should make a full recovery. Just no sport for a few weeks.

There’s been a steady stream of my son’s friends coming around to visit, bringing cards, presents, and their best wishes. I was particularly impressed that the friend who caused the injury was the first to come around and express his deep regret. I certainly wouldn’t have had the courage or wherewithal to do that aged thirteen.

In life, I think it’s reasonable to expect the unexpected. Stressful events and worrying times befall us all, so it’s good to prepare ourselves for them. I was strangely calm throughout all of the events of this week, which is in marked contrast to when my son had his first febrile convulsion at the age of two.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of Stoic philosophy, become a more experienced parent, and gone through some therapy. As a result, while I’m obviously not unfeeling, I was able to separate my own emotions from the situation.

As I’ve shared before, there’s a particularly useful saying from Epictetus which is worth quoting again:

If you wish your children, and your wife, and your friends to live for ever, you are stupid; for you wish to be in control of things which you cannot, you wish for things that belong to others to be your own… Exercise, therefore, what is in your control.


That’s not to say that I was preparing for my son’s death. But it’s good to be reminded that there are some things that we can control, and some things we cannot. In fact, pretty much all of the teachings of Epictetus come down to this.

Everything else this week has faded into insignificance compared to the injury to my son. I worked two half-days on Monday and Tuesday for Moodle, as well as Friday. On Wednesday and Thursday I continued doing some work for the co-op in preparation for launching a community space for public sector leader. We also had some conversations with potential clients.

Over the last few days I’ve collated a bunch of quotations at and published a Thought Shrapnel article with a particularly long title: There are many non-essential activities, moths of precious time, and it’s worse to take an interest in irrelevant things than do nothing at all. That’s a quotation from Baltasar Gracián.

This week’s microcast, Strategies for dealing with surveillance capitalism, was my response to an audio provocation from Stephen Haggard, and the link roundup, Friday feelings, contained some particularly interesting links, I thought.

I’d just like to take this opportunity, buried down here at the bottom of my weeknote, to thank my family for being so fantastic. My wife obviously found what happened this week traumatic, but was dependable and loving in equal measure.

My parents rallied around, taking my son out for walks and looking after him while my wife and I needed a break. And my daughter has got on with things like an absolute boss, being Star of the Week for her “perfect behaviour, hard work, and great attitude”. Thank you all.

Next week is half-term, so given we’re not going away, instead of taking full days off, I’ll be working half-days for both Moodle and the co-op. There’s another storm coming, apparently, so Team Belshaw will mostly be huddled inside, sheltering from the weather…

Image by Dhruv Weaver