Open Thinkering


Month: March 2021

Weeknote 12/2021

Old-school square drainpipe with plants growing around it

This week was the second of two weeks that our two children have spent in school since lockdown. It’s now the Easter holidays, and I’m planning to take (the equivalent of) two days off each week for the next couple of weeks.

Last week was the last (funded) week of a project, a Catalyst-funded sector challenge that I’ve been leading for most of 2021 so far. We achieved a lot in a short amount of time (see participants’ thoughts here), and did a project retrospective on Wednesday and a digital team retro on Friday. The ‘playback’ for the funders is next Tuesday.

The other Catalyst project I’m involved with just finished Week 6 of 10. That one involves taking a cohort of charities through a ‘definition’ programme, leading them to prototype solutions for problems faced by the audience they serve.

In addition to some business development and catching up with a few people, I attended the RSA’s Cities of Learning Summit on Thursday afternoon. Back in 2013, my colleagues on the Mozilla Open Badges team helped with Chicago’s Summer of Learning. That morphed into a programme of ‘Cities of Learning’ across the US.

Here in the UK, the RSA did things slightly differently, and over a longer period of time, so the pilot projects have only just finished up. It’s been a success, particularly during the pandemic (oddly) so the programme is being rolled out to more places — and not just cities.

I’m keen to see this programme succeed, and in an open source way. I’d like to ensure that a diversity of badge platforms and providers are involved, to avoid vendor lock-ins and silos.

The thing that took up a lot of my curiosity and time this week was refactoring the site. I explain more about that process in this post, but suffice to say figuring out the technical side of things had me staying up past midnight for the first time for a long time…

Other than that, I haven’t published anything as I’ve switched Thought Shrapnel to a monthly newsletter. That allows me more time for other side projects.

As I’ve already mentioned, next week I’m taking some time off, which will be nice. I need to get back to doing more exercise as my back is slowly getting better. I really wish I could get back to the gym, but until all of the adults around me have been vaccinated, that’s probably not a great idea.

Image: a curious-looking drainpipe on the side of the Boys Brigade Hall, Morpeth, England


Last weekend, I launched a new side project called to share news about the climate emergency. The site looked like the screenshot below, because I wanted it to provoke a response in people.

Old version of complete with skulls and strapline "Documenting the end times"

Several things then happened. Some people on the Fediverse, quite rightly, asked for an RSS feed. As I was just hand-coding a simple HTML file using GitHub pages served from a repository, I tried using a service that tried to parse the HTML into a feed. It was sub-optimal, to say the least.

In addition, and as I mentioned in the original post announcing this side project, my wife was not a fan of the skulls and the strapline ‘Documenting the end times’. She mentioned this on several occasions, so I thought it was probably worth doing something about it for the sake of marital harmony.

To cut a long story short, I’ve refactored the site in several ways to create a site that now looks like the image below. The page itself is a styled RSS feed meaning it no longer relies on a third-party service.

New version of with new logo (earth on fire) and strapline "Documenting the climate emergency"

This took a much longer time to achieve than I anticipated, mainly because I had no clue what I was doing, had to look up everything, and experiment/fail along the way.

For those interested, here was my thought processes and the tools I used:

  1. I remembered that Firefox used to style RSS pages nicely, so I searched for how to do something similar. This post gave tantalising clues, but this one was more useful.
  2. I’ve never created a page in XML before and styled it using XSL, so that was a huge learning curve. In addition, XML is really fussy when it comes to structuring data and using special characters. So that was fun.
  3. I decided which fields to use in my XML by following the W3C guidelines and seeing what authors of the two blog posts referenced above did. There was a lot of trial-and-error, where the W3C feed validation service was invaluable.
  4. I’d been just using the GitHub web interface because it’s easier when switching between devices. However, this became annoying when moving and editing many files and folders, so I started using Atom again, which integrates nicely with GitHub workflows (push/pull, etc.)
  5. The logo is actually courtesy of my daughter, who showed me that on WhatsApp (which I don’t use) you can merge emojis. So I asked my wife to send me the combined emoji for fire and earth, which is displayed as a WebP file, to reduce the filesize.
  6. In terms of the strapline, I wanted to keep it brief, so I had a bit of a think and a play around with words and came up with “Documenting the climate emergency”.

The only other thing to mention is that I used to add previews for various social networks. That works well for the about and faq pages, but I haven’t got it to play nicely with the XML on the index page.

Copy/pasting the existing news from HTML to XML RSS format was tedious, so I’m glad I only had 30 items to convert!

If you’d like to suggest any changes to the site, please check out the code repository and send issues or pull request. You can visit the site itself at and also subscribe via RSS by simply adding that URL to your feed reader.

This post is Day 95 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

New side project: - documenting the end times

After the modest success of, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of and is a place where I can write about all of the death, destruction, and havoc I see being visited upon the planet we call home.

As my wife pointed out, it’s not the cheeriest thing to be doing, but here’s the About page I composed this morning to give a flavour of why I decided to create the site:

This website is a project of Doug Belshaw. I’ve been concerned about the impact we’ve been having on the Earth for a while, and have been paying attention to the work of people like Vinay Gupta and the Dark Mountain community.

The tipping point, though, was reading Jem Bendell’s paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. It put things in such stark terms that it prompted me to start trying to think more deeply about the end of our species.

I tend to make sense of the world through writing and documenting, so I thought I’d set up this simple site as a way to help me prioritise my own time and effort. It may also be useful as a place to point others who may find this kind of resource useful or provocative.

Not everyone is motivated into action by reading about death, destruction, the ineptitude of our politicians, and the corruption of big business. So, if you would rather read positive news on this topic, I recommend the excellent Future Crunch.

You can get in touch at: [email protected]

There’s an auto-generated RSS feed for the site which you can subscribe to. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! (unless they’re the same as my wife’s, in which case I get it) 😉


This post is Day 94 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Image via BBC News.