Open Thinkering


Month: April 2020

Weeknote 17/2020

After a crappy week last week, I’ve actually really enjoyed this one. Sunshine, family, meaningful work, and tangible progress have all combined to vastly improve my mood and outlook on life.

Another thing which has been a huge boon was the delivery of the exercise bike we ordered over a month ago. It’s installed in my home office, and I’ve been over there pedalling away while playing GRID via Google Stadia. Incredible.

On the advice of friends and family, I brought forward my follow-up therapy session to Friday. It proved to be a great idea as it showed how much progress I’d made. The evidence? I managed to dig myself out of a hole I’d created for myself within the space of a few days, instead of weeks.

We went through some other things, including avoidance, balance, and the ‘masks’ we all wear. I’m going be checking in again next month, having found that the value I got from a remote session was the same as in-person.

It hasn’t rained here for ages. Since the pandemic started, in fact, unless I’m remembering things incorrectly. As a result, when we did some family gardening on Saturday morning, it felt like we spent half our time watering the existing and new plants in our garden!

I never thought I’d say this, but there’s nothing like gardening in the sunshine with other people. Light physical activity coupled with instant results makes me happy.

After that, we toasted some marshmallows in the fire pit and sandwiched them between two chocolate digestive biscuits to create a British version of smores.

On the work front, I’ve been busy with the co-op helping a London-based charity with their pivot to fully-online provision. We’ve also been creating an email-based course for ‘the new normal’, with the first output (available soon!) being The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Virtual Meetings.

With MoodleNet, I want to explore framing what we’re offering as a ‘distributed digital commons’ as I think a ‘federated resource-centric social network for educators’ is not only wordy but difficult to grok.

Ivan asked me to help him add more educator-focused examples to the styleguide-as-code he’s been working on. This can be accessed via, which is currently a redirect and work in progress, but had me using git for the first time in a couple of years!

We’re in the midst of reconfiguring the team as MoodleNet is moving beyond the ‘innovation’ phase into production. That means that a couple of existing members of the team are taking the opportunity to focus on other projects. The aim is to start federation testing in a couple of weeks’ time, if all goes to plan.

I’ve been spending a lot more time on Twitter recently. Not only is the platform doing an increasingly good job around verified news accounts, but there’s just so much interesting and fun stuff that people are sharing on there at the moment. You still won’t get me using Facebook’s products, but it’s hard to argue with network effects.

Writing-wise, I quoted Seneca extensively in an article for Thought Shrapnel entitled Thus each man ever flees himself. I also posted my usual link roundup, and tweaked the theme for the weekly newsletter.

The biggest things I miss most from pre-pandemic life are, I would say: travelling; watching my kids do their various sporting activities; and seeing my parents in person. Apart from that, life is very much the same as it was.

Next week, therefore, I’ll be working from home my usual mixture of working for Moodle, We Are Open co-op, and trying not to put on too much weight…

Otherworldly header image created by using detergent to clean a roasting pan earlier this week.

Weeknote 16/2020

This week has been an somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster for me. Today, after a morning spent in the sun doing exercise (running around the local sports pitches) and in the garden (weeding!) I’m feeling great. Earlier this week, I was so anxious that I got in touch with my therapist to request we restart sessions.

The trouble is that the ‘eustress‘ that keeps me on my toes and able to work two jobs (Moodle/co-op) can easily boil over into, well, just ‘stress’. I’ll admit that this is largely self-inflicted; there are both benefits and drawbacks, it would seem, of being your own worst critic.

This week has been a shorter one due to the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, and I’ve decided just to focus on the positives in what follows.

First off, yesterday morning was spent building a new PC with my children. We had a great time doing it, and it worked first time(!) so I was very happy about that. It didn’t cost me that much, yet it’s benchmarking as at least twice as fast as my laptop.

Another thing that’s gone well is reconfiguring the MoodleNet team. I’ll share more about this once it’s been shared more within Moodle HQ, but I’m happy that it looks like everything is going to come together. To my mind, how you do something is just as important as what you do. I’m not a consequentialist.

Third, We Are Open Co-op is not only about to onboard a new member (more about that next month when we announce!) but we’ve got a lot of work on. We’re part of the Catalyst programme, where organisations with digital skills are partnered with other organisations that need them. From next week, we’ll be helping out a charity quickly pivot their activities online.

Next, I really enjoyed advising Adam Procter with the work that’s coming out of his PhD thesis: nodenoggin. He’s set up a limited company, snagged relevant domains, and got an initial business plan for supporting the Open Source project.

And finally, just a comment on family relationships. I’ve never spent more time talking to my parents and sister on the phone or Google Duo than during this pandemic. It’s great. And while I get to spend a lot of time with my wife (because we’re both usually based at home) we’ve developed new rituals and routines that we’ll probably continue post-pandemic. Things like spending half an hour at the ‘pub’ at the bottom of our garden on a Friday after I finish work. (It’s actually just a picnic table.)

On the Thought Shrapnel front, I’ve been messing about with OBS and my green screen, as well as compiling my usual link roundup:

Finally, a couple of things have helped my mental health this week, which I’ll share. This quotation popped up via Momentum:

Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.

Walter Anderson

The other thing was that I gave up reading 84K and instead started reading A Gentleman in Moscow. Both were recommendations that made it to my Lockdown Reading List, but the latter not only feeds my interest in Russian history, it references Montaigne’s Essays and has a wonderful lightness to it.

Next week? The plan is to do a code freeze on the backend of MoodleNet, to give the front-end team chance to catch up and get things in place for federation testing. I’ll also be working on the co-op stuff mentioned above, and supporting my family as the ‘Easter holidays’ end…

Photo from an epic family game of Risk on Sunday afternoon.

Weeknote 15/2020

When I go into my office, close the door, and get on with my regular work, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s a global pandemic going out outside. That doesn’t last for long, of course, as there’s always something that pops up to remind me.

One thing that I’ve noticed the longer this situation goes on is the my internal monologue is changing. I’m assuming that everyone has one of these, but I can’t be sure, having never been anyone other than me.

My internal monologue is more like a debate: one side of me is accusatory, the other acts in my defence. In so doing, it’s easy for me to come up with excuses: “If I had more I time, I would do this” or “if this barrier wasn’t in the way, I would do that”.

The truth is that, as Aristotle said, just like everyone else, I am what I repeatedly do. No matter how hard it is for me to realise, I am not the person I used to be, nor have I turned into the person I thought I would be at this age.

I can remember Chris Brogan speaking at an event years ago. He introduced himself as ‘a typist’, as he said that’s what he spends most of his time doing. However, he quite rightly went on to point out that what matters is the stories we tell ourselves and others about what we do.

I’ve working from home for eight years, meaning that even before the pandemic, I already spent zero hours commuting, compared to the average of 219 hours per year. On top of that, I now don’t have to take my children to their many and varied activities, and I’m unable to swim, or go to the gym.

Not only does my life feel quite sad, small, and hollow, it’s also shown demonstrated to me that I’ve long since stopped doing things that I used to consider part of my identity. For example, I don’t read philosophical books in my spare time; I play FIFA.

Coming on the back of a series of therapy sessions, then, this enforced period of time at home is forcing me to reflect on the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to be. It’s hard to break out of rhythms and routines that you’ve formed over years; it’s much easier to dig deeper into them, forming a rut.

So I’m trying to do things differently. I mentioned last week that I was reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. By the time I finished it, that book had really affected me, and I asked on Twitter for more of the same. My network didn’t disappoint, and I’ve shared the collected list here.

Another thing I did today was to pick up the guitar that’s moved from house to house with us over the last 18 years. I received it for my 21st birthday, and after a few lessons, gave up when I couldn’t figure out barre chords. But, on the recommendation of a few people, I’m trying Justin Guitar which (so far) seems excellent.

On the work front, with it being a long Easter Weekend I did two days for Moodle and a day and a half for We Are Open Co-op. We did a full ‘co-op day’ on Wednesday which we spent planning and syncing-up, and then I worked on Greenpeace stuff on Thursday morning, knocking out a blog post about 10 reasons why people contribute to Open Source. (If you’re reading this an are a contributor to open source projects, there’s a survey in there we’d appreciate you completing!)

On the MoodleNet side of things, I met up with the German MA students who are helping us with the crowdfunding campaign, and went to a bunch of other meetings including management ones, team ones, ‘Moodle Daily Drop-ins’, and even one on mindfulness.

It’s my job to ensure that the ‘self-organising ducks’ of the MoodleNet team have everything they need, aren’t in conflict, and know what we’re heading towards. Mostly, that involves small nudges, but occasionally it requires intervention. Striking the balance requires judgement, and mostly I like to think I get it right, although that’s not always the case.

Thankfully, both with Moodle and the co-op, I get to work with people I’ve chosen to spend time with. That’s a real privilege, especially in these darker times.

I have to say that, throughout all of this, my family have been absolutely wonderful. Hannah, my wife, is the most reliable and resilient person I’ve ever met, and has, as ever, organised our domestic life so we haven’t missed a beat. Our children, now aged 13 and nine, have, on the whole, been a pleasure to be around, and have dealt with what must be a weird and disorientating experience without much fuss.

We’ve also been using Google Duo and Houseparty to talk to my parents, my sister, and my wife’s side of the family. I’m so, so grateful that the pandemic hit at a time when we have a easy-to-use applications sitting on top of a mature technology infrastructure. It’s made everything bearable.

Next week will also be a shorter week due to the Bank Holiday, so I’ll be working for Moodle on Tuesday and Friday, and the co-op on Wednesday and Thursday.

I’d quite like to break out my greenscreen to do something interesting, so perhaps I’ll rope in the kids to do something. The barrier to entry for everything seems a lot lower at the moment, which I think is great and absolutely as it should be.

Photo taken on one of many walks this week in and around my home town of Morpeth.