Open Thinkering


Month: September 2021

The September Series: weekend microadventuring

Dithered image of sunset taken over a Northumbrian field

September is the best month to go camping in northern England. The harvest comes in, the leaves start turning, and it’s usually dry enough to enjoy an overnighter. Other months are often too hot or too cold.*

On the past three Friday afternoons, I’ve finished work, packed my bag, and walked due north, west, or east respectively. Inspired by The Book of Trespass, I’ve ambled along paths and across fields to find a suitable spot to pitch my one-person tent.

The skies have been magnificent, the evenings warm and the mornings crisp. What it feels like is freedom. Each time, I’m away for no more than 16 hours, yet by the time I return home on Saturday morning it already feels like I’ve enjoyed the equivalent of almost a whole weekend.

Another influence on what I’m grandly calling ‘the September Series’ is the practice of an employee of a former client. He swore by ‘microadventures’ which he took during the working week. His rule was that each one started at 17:00 and then finished with him back at his desk before 09:00 the following morning.

As our kids play team sports, much of the weekend is spent preparing for, going to, and recovering from football matches, basketball games, and the like. By having a microadventure before 09:00 on Saturday morning, I’ve already had some time to myself before spending my time focused on my family.

I’d highly recommend microadventures! If you’re already doing some of your own, perhaps you could share examples kn the comments below?

* although my new sleeping bag may have opened up more months of the year to me!

Weeknote 38/2021

Rainbow over a row of terraced houses

I’m publishing this week’s update earlier than usual so that I can reference it in the (overdue) issue #425 of my Thought Shrapnel newsletter. This evening I’m off camping again for the third Friday in a row, setting off walking from my home and staying overnight in some of the greatest accommodation Northumberland has to offer.

This week I’ve almost exclusively focused on the two projects we’re doing with Julie’s Bicycle. One of them involves a large commercial music organisation which I can’t talk about yet, but the other is digital transformation and the setting up a product team. We’ve got a follow-on contract from our initial one over the summer, and I’m looking forward to helping JB recruit awesome people to build stuff that will help with the climate emergency.

Talking of the climate emergency, today is the Global Climate Strike. I didn’t attend an in-person protest, primarily because of Covid. While my wife and I are both double-jabbed, we can still be carriers of the disease and infect our two children. Their respective schools are struggling to cope: our son’s school is re-implementing a mask mandate from Monday, and our daughter’s school is recommending that the whole of her year have PCR tests after 47 kids (~10% school) were off with it.

What I have done this week is make the decision not to fly any more, which I wrote about here.

This decision, of course, not only affects me professionally but personally as well. Team Belshaw enjoyed holidays in New England and Iceland in 2019 — two places it’s very difficult to get to from the UK other than by air. We’re also quite fond of Gozo, a little island just off Malta that we’ve visited six times in the last decade. Regardless, we’re going to have to find new places to holiday. At least, if I’m tagging along.

A friend mentioned on Slack that they’d like to know more about how this affects my family, saying that it comes across “potentially being anything on a spectrum from very progressive parenting and leading by example to being in the privileged position of making your own decision that others are forced to follow”. I replied that our kids have travelled to more places in their short lives than I did before the age of 30. So I’m unfazed in that regard; there are plenty of places we can go on holiday by car/train!

I like thinking things through, making decisions, and sticking to my principles. Sometimes I have to change my decisions in the light of new evidence, but I won’t compromise on my principles and values. I guess my family are inspired and resigned to my weirdness in equal measure.

There’s not much else to mention this week, other than I:

  • Had my flu jab (zero side effects, which is unusual)
  • Started working with a neighbour on bringing a Climate Café to Morpeth
  • Had an interesting chat with Ivan about Bonfire
  • Finally managed to find a time with Laura and Jess to record the second episode of the second season of The Tao of WAO. It was a really interesting conversation, as the three of us have known each other for over a decade, meeting even before we worked together at Mozilla.
  • Experienced some drama on Wednesday morning when our domain was temporarily suspended at the same time Northumbrian Water came with a jackhammer to do some work right outside my home office. My smartwatch was warning me about my stress levels…

Next week, I’m working on the two JB strands, doing some Participate KBW stuff, and perhaps working more on my Verifiable Credentials meets ActivityPub idea. I’m calling the latter ‘social verifiable credentials’ and, while the idea needs more work, you can see my progress around it here. Thanks to WAO for allowing me some internal time/budget to spend some time on it. If you’re reading this and it’s interesting to you, please get in touch!

Dithered image from a photo of a rainbow over our row of terraced houses.

I’m not flying any more

Update: a lot has happened in the world since I wrote this post. I’m still committed to reducing my environmental impact, but a blanket ban on flying just places too many of the world’s problems on my own shoulders.

Flight departures board with all flights cancelled

I have decided that I’m not going to fly on aeroplanes any more. We’re in a climate emergency, and this feels like an appropriate and proportionate decision to make in response.

The last time I flew was in March 2020, coming back from Belgium. In the three months prior I’d also been to Kuwait City, Barcelona, Reykjavik, and NYC. Given the glamour traditionally associated with international flights, it’s difficult to talk about this in a way that doesn’t sound like humblebragging. But I don’t particularly like flying: I don’t like airports, I don’t like not being able to stand up and move around regularly, I don’t like the recycled air, and I don’t like the food. What I do like is travelling to new places and meeting people face-to-face. From now on, with no planes, that’s only going to happen via train or automobile.

There are, of course, people who have flown a lot more than me, but if we look at the big picture I was definitely in the top 10% of flight-takers, and some years (like the one I spent 24 hours in Florida) I would probably be in the top 1%.

Prior to the pandemic, if I wanted to be paid for speaking at an event, I had to be there in person; remote keynotes were not very common, and where they did happen, they often commanded a lower rate. These days, especially as people realise the environmental impact of travel, I suspect that might have changed forever. At least I hope so.

This decision, of course, not only affects me professionally but personally as well. Team Belshaw enjoyed holidays in New England and Iceland in 2019 — two places it’s very difficult to get to from the UK other than by air. We’re also quite fond of Gozo, a little island just off Malta that we’ve visited six times in the last decade. Regardless, we’re going to have to find new places to holiday. At least, if I’m tagging along.

It’s important to note that while this decision may constrain the decisions other members of my family can make, I am not making decisions on their behalf. When I stopped eating meat in 2017, the rest of my family continued until my son came to his own decision to stop in early 2020. It was his prompting that got us both to stop eating fish in February of this year.

There is one exception to this decision: health emergencies. If a friend or family member is seriously ill, I will take the fastest form of transport to go and see them. Likewise, if I am seriously ill and need help in a specific place, I will consider flying for treatment.

Other than that, I’m done. I’m writing this mainly to point to for those who may ask me in future to attend an event that would have only really been feasible for me to fly to. But I’m also writing it as a public declaration to keep me honest when I see cheap flights advertised. (How can the UK government seriously be cutting air passenger duty after declaring a climate emergency?!)

So if I’ve sent you a link to this post because you’ve invited me to an event or gathering, thank you. I’m not declining to come because I don’t want to attend, but because, as Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”