Open Thinkering


Month: May 2021

Weeknote 21/2021

Chickens seen through a mesh fence with a coop signed 'Chicken Run'

I’m composing this weeknote from our holiday home just over the border into Scotland. Prices are as eye-wateringly expensive as you’d imagine during a Bank Holiday weekend when overseas travel is severely curtailed.

Nevertheless, it’s important for Team Belshaw to get away somewhere, given how much time we’ve spent in our house during the pandemic. I may have painted my home office mental health green, but that only goes so far…

This week, I have managed to take it easier than most and indeed managed to clock up a mere 13 hours of work. A few Catalyst meetings, some internal co-op stuff, and a smattering of client work has taken a back seat to exercise, reading, and a wonderful shopping trip to Newcastle with Hannah, my wife, on Wednesday.

That trip was the kind of thing that was so normal pre-pandemic but this week felt so liberating. Just buying a pair of trainers in person, sitting in a coffee shop, and browsing things in a 3D space registered high on my novelty meter.

The other thing I did on Wednesday was to go for my second Covid jab, after getting a text message invitation a few days earlier. They’ve brought forward the second doses due to the new variants popping up, so I had my second 10 weeks (rather than 12 weeks) after the first. Apparently, they’re planning to shorten that to eight weeks soon.

Given I took it a bit easier on the work from this week, I ended up writing more, updating as usual along with publishing two posts here:

Having a bit more time on my hands made me want to share some of the articles and blog posts I’ve been reading with a bit of commentary. After a brief experiment with Pocket, which I use for saving articles to read later, I decided that the natural place to do this is, of course, Thought Shrapnel.

I’ll not list these every week, but here’s what I’ve shared there in the last few days:

Next week, I’m spending most days chilling out with my family, especially as Hannah starts a user research contract with NHS Digital the week after.

Photo of some curious chickens near where we’re staying.

On the temptation to nuke everything and start over

I came across Kin Lane via his partner, Audrey Watters, whose work I’ve followed for over a decade. I think the three of us have only met together in person once, for dinner when I was over in California and they were both living in Los Angeles. Both Kin and Audrey are the kind of people you feel privileged to be connected with, even if only in the smallest way.

It would appear that Audrey has deleted all of her tweets and put Hack Education on indefinite hiatus. Kin has written about his decision to nuke his blog:

My writing has saved me. I cannot overstate this enough. This blog has allowed me to peel back the layers of who Kin Lane is and get to the root of so many issues that troubled me. I was able to successfully unwind my past, and to continue the healing process, I feel like it is important to hit reset on my narrative, letting go of what I have found and put all my energy into manifesting the future I want to see. I have achieved everything I had envisioned for myself, and I have wrestled (and won) every demon that dogged me for the first half of my life. I have a beautiful wife, daughter in University, loving and well-behaved dog, successful career, and have found balance (mostly) in operating Kin Lane each day. I have detached numerous “cords” from my past and have the remaining chaotic wire mess of these cords stored here in the domain. There is no reason to keep them on display anymore.

I hope both Audrey and Kin are OK. It’s difficult to speak truth to power and be the voice of reason in a messed-up world. I wish I had a hundredth of their strength, perseverance, and tenacity.

As I approached my 40th birthday last year, I hatched a secret plan: I was going to redirect all of my domains to and then present users with an image similar to the one below.

Mushroom cloud from nuclear explosion.

Ultimately, I didn’t go through with it, mainly for reasons that Cory Doctorow outlines in The Memex Method; too much of my ‘outboard brain’ is searchable by keeping everything online. I did, however, archive my as I decided I didn’t really want to do any more work directly on digital/new literacies. I also stepped back from posting on Thought Shrapnel as much.

There are seasons in all of our lives. The person I was yesterday is not necessarily the person I am today, or the person I want to be tomorrow. So this post is both a thank you to the work that Audrey and Kin have done (and shared) over the years, and also a reminder to myself that everything is temporary.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Horatio J. Kookaburra

Approaching the many-headed hydra

Hercules and the hydra

One of the benefits of of studying Philosophy (aka ‘the history of ideas’) is developing the ability to consider things in the abstract. That is to say pointing to something as symptomatic of a larger/bigger truth. You might point to a potholed road, for example, and use it as an example of local councils being underfunded. Or you might point to the lack of diversity within a company and use it as an example of a structural problem with the tech sector. In neither case are you attacking the worker who has come to fix the pothole, or the company that is trying to do better in its hiring practices.

What I’ve noticed often happens in these situations is that there is an undue focus on the specifics of the situation. This leads to the wider issue either being dismissed or ignored. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate tactic or not. For example, someone might reply that the reason this particular road is potholed is because there are people driving inappropriately on it, and anyway there are more important things for councils to be spending their money on at the moment. Or someone might reply that this particular company might not look ‘diverse’ but, hey, there is more to diversity than skin colour, and anyway everyone knows there’s a problem with the tech jobs ‘pipeline’, right?

As a result, nothing happens. No change is made. Everything continues as normal except with an added soundtrack of sound and fury.

To be perfectly honest, I’m dancing around the issue a bit here by using ‘someone’ when I want to say ‘white middle-aged men’. I fit squarely into this category, yet I’m a bit apprehensive about publishing this post because of the anger — and it is usually anger — that is generated when people like me are challenged. Here’s an example.

I’m genuinely curious as to what’s going on here. Prior to therapy, I was definitely the kind of person who wanted to give my opinions on everything. It didn’t particularly matter whether I had expertise or not because who wouldn’t want to hear what I think? I still have to stop myself from doing this, and earlier in the week deleted a long response to someone’s forum question after reading it back and realising I wasn’t adding anything. (Maybe this blog post isn’t either.)

Perhaps the problem is the way we bring up boys and men in our society? I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that white middle aged men (me included!) often feel ‘attacked’ when others ask quite reasonable questions about representation and diversity. I did a lot of thinking about this after the Moodle ‘manel’ tweetstorm towards the end of 2019. There was no intention for that to be an all-white middle-aged male panel at a global event, but that’s how it turned out. We should be more cognisant of these kinds of things so they don’t come as a surprise to us. One way of saying this, I suppose, is that we should “check our privilege”.

I suppose, in practice, all I’m asking of people is for people like me to think twice before wading into a discussion with our cool ideas. If there’s already 100+ responses from those who look like us, perhaps think of other ways of contributing? Or perhaps encourage others to contribute? I don’t have any answers, but I’m pretty keen to help find ways that add some diversity to our methods of problem-solving. Goodness knows that the same ways of thinking that led to the many-headed hydra of problems facing our world aren’t going to get us out of it.

Image: CC0 Rijksmuseum