Author: Doug Belshaw (page 1 of 210)

Sounds from a #realworldhomeoffice

Every morning, I use an app on my smartphone called Brain.fm to get into the zone. In the afternoon, I switch to Spotify playlists that I find particularly helpful.

Check out the video below to find out more!

What do you use? Why?


This post is day seven of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

A tour of my #realworldhomeoffice

In a world of picture-perfect Instagram, I thought it would be a refreshing change to just open the door of my home office, and show you around.

I haven’t tidied up. I haven’t moved anything around. This is how my home office is on a day-to-day basis.

What’s yours like? Perhaps use the #realworldhomeoffice hashtag if you’d like to share?

Happy to answer any questions about equipment or setup!


This post is day six of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

How I use analogue notebooks

Last week I shared my analogue approach to daily and weekly planning. In addition, unless I’m taking collaborative digital notes as part of an online meeting, then I usually take notes using a notebook and pen.

Notebook with pen
A notebook I’ve just filled, ready for me to take time indexing

Until recently, I’d use Moleskine notebooks for this purpose and, in fact, that’s what’s shown in the images accompanying this post. It’s the notebook friends and family are most likely to buy me for birthdays and Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that I’ve found something even better: LEUCHTTURM1917

Handwritten index page in front of notebook
A partial index of everything in the notebook. Sometimes I colour-code it.

These notebooks are pretty much identical to Moleskines, but with an crucial difference: the pages are numbered. This is important for indexing purposes, and it’s very tedious numbering each page individually!

Corner of a notebook page showing handwritten page number
Manually adding page numbers is boring.

The only other thing I’d point out is that I find the ‘dotted’ notebooks the best in terms of note-taking and quickly sketching. The dots don’t get in the way, but give you a scaffold if you need it. Ruled lines and squares are too distracting, and blank pages are just a bit too unstructured.

Dots are the best.

Finally, I’m a late convert to MUJI 0.38 black ballpoint pens. So many people mentioned them in various interviews (especially on Uses This) that I gave them a whirl and never looked back…


This post is day six of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Slow down or I’ll do it for you

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled Where migraines end and I begin:

It’s difficult to explain what it’s like to have a migraine to someone who has never had one. They’re whole-body experiences and, although people often point to the crushing headaches, it’s actually impossible to separate them out as a distinct ‘event’. They come at you like waves, gentle at first, but increasing in ferocity.

A migraine, I’ve learned, is my body’s way of telling me to take my foot off the accelerator pedal. Otherwise, it quietly threatens, it will apply the handbrake no matter how fast I’m going.

I’ve come to know the warning signs: chewing my fingernails, loss of muscle tone, mood swings. These signs usually happen 24-36 hours before. And depending on how I respond, the migraine can be relatively mild, not much more than a persistent headache that painkillers can’t shift, or it can be cataclysmic.


I pride myself on my speed of work, with a lot of this down to the singular focus I can maintain when standing or sitting at the desk in my home office. For example, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times over the last year when I’ve been working at less than 95%.

But this comes at a cost, and yesterday, after the Moodle drama, the pandemic, a local planning application I’m helping organise against, and the daily grind of seeing no-one other than your close family, my body decided I could do with some time out.

So last night I slept and wrote and slept and wrote and read. Then this morning, after a single meeting with my webcam turned off, I went to the beach for a couple of hours without my family. I’m feeling a lot better.


So my conclusion to all this? Well I guess it’s the platitudinous exhortation to ‘self-care’. You and you only know your limits, how you feel, and what’s a priority at any given moment. Ensure your life mask is in place before helping others.


This post is day five of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com


Header image by Ryan Johnston of the covered bridge going over to Glasgow Exhibition Centre. I’ve crossed this many times going to and from the Scottish Learning Festival.

Not everything has to be digital: my analogue daily and weekly planners

I was born in the second to last week of 1980 which, by some people’s reckoning either makes me one of the youngest in Gen X or possibly the world’s oldest Millennial.

What I’m trying to say is that being on the cusp of two generations means that you’re stuck between mindsets when it comes to technologies. One perfect example of this is the way that I plan my weeks. What I would like do do is plan everything digitally, what I actually take is a hybrid approach. I use a combination of Google Calendar, Trello, and other digital tools But also… this:

Doug's Weekly Planner v2
Doug’s Weekly Planner v2 (click to download)

Above is the second version of my weekly planner. I’ve used an iteration of this every week for the past few years. When I’m feeling particularly under pressure, I use a daily planner (below) which is now my third version. The fonts don’t match between the two. I don’t care. Perfect is the enemy of done.

Doug's Daily Planner v3
Doug’s Daily Planner v3 (click to download)

They should be pretty self-explanatory, and you’re welcome to use them, but they’re pretty much focused on my specific needs. I encourage you to make your own, as sometimes having a piece of paper on your desk in front of you adds to a sense of urgency and motivation to get stuff done.


This post is day four of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

Weeknote 25/2020

This was my last working week at Moodle. I have a few weeks of holiday to take as I ease back into full-time consultancy through We Are Open Co-op.

Quick overview of MoodleNet v1.0 beta

I repeat how proud I am of what the very talented part-time MoodleNet team achieved under often difficult circumstances. Check out my previous two weeknotes for further details:

If you’re looking for some talnted developers, I suggest you get in touch with Mayel de Borniol, Ivan Minutillo, Karen Kleinbauerů, and James Laver who may have capacity for your project. In addition, it’s worth enquiring about the availability of Alessandro Giansanti, Katerina Papadopoulou and Antonis Kalou who are equally talented, and have been working on a part-time basis for Moodle and Moodle Partners. It’s been a pleasure and privilege working with all of them, and it was great to sign off on Friday by sharing a virtual drink. We’ll all be staying in touch!

I do, of course, wish Moodle all the very best for the future and am grateful for some of the people I have met and experiences I have had over the past two and a half years.


No Drama Llama

In addition to handover documentation for Moodle, this week I’ve been doing a small amount of work through the co-op with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team, and a lot with UpRising. For the latter, I ran a couple of workshops on Google Classroom, as well as a troubleshooting session as they pivot their offline offerings to online provision.

As a co-op, we’ve been discussing how to update our website. There’s a tension between representing ourselves ‘corporately’ and representing ourselves as being made up of individual members, some of which are quite different from one another. Ultimately, 95% of our work comes through clients knowing us as people first and foremost, so really the website is a sense-check or something for our contacts to pass on to others in their organisation.

I’ve put together a couple of proposal for prospective clients this week. It’s nice to see that people are finally recognising that working online is just as valuable, and just as hard work, as doing so offline.


Last weekend I came across #100DaysToOffload which I started addressing immediately with three posts over the past few days:

I’m looking forward to writing more next week. It’s quite nice to have permission not to necessarily have to produce your ‘best’ work, but rather to bash out thoughts and just share them with the world.

For Thought Shrapnel, I put together:

You can subscribe to the weekly newsletter, which goes out every Sunday, here.


Next week, I’ll be doing more work with Greenpeace, UpRising, and the 10 charities we’re supporting with funding from the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. I’ll also be doing some business development for the co-op, and get back involved in the wider CoTech network.

We’ve booked a holiday in early August in a basic holiday cottage owned by friends of my in-laws in Devon. We’ve stayed there a couple of times before and it’s the perfect place to choose to switch off and spend time away from the drama and frantic pace of recent weeks. I can’t wait!

Finally, a very happy Fathers Day to my dad, Keith Belshaw. I’m delighted that he’s safe and well, and actually fitter now than before the lockdown started! It was great to see both of my parents yesterday during a socially-distanced visit to their back garden which, as ever, was blooming with flora and fauna.


Header image of my favourite tree in Bluebell Wood, near where I live in Morpeth, England.

Managing projects is about understanding context

Agile is a verb, not a noun

Ah… projects. There are some people who believe that the One True Way is Agile™. And by that they mean agile development frameworks such as SAFe and RAD and ASD and other awkward acronyms. At least for the kind of work I do with my co-op colleagues, those people are wrong.

The main thrust of the Agile Manifesto is that ‘agile’ is a verb rather than a noun. You don’t “do” agile, you work in an agile way. The difference is important.

Just as a recap, or perhaps for those who haven’t seen this before, here are the twelve principles of agile software from almost 20 years ago:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
    through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

For me, the five bits that tend to leap out at me are those I’ve highlighted above. I believe agile methodologies can be applied to almost everything, so stripping out the references to software, focusing on the parts I’ve highlighted, and doing a bit of rewriting gives:

  • Simplify
  • Establish a sustainable pace
  • Build projects around motivated individuals
  • Create self-organising teams
  • Welcome changes based on feedback the audience you’re targeting

I have little time for people who try and impose a particular approach without understanding the context they’re entering into. Instead, and although it may take longer, co-creating an agile approach to the problem you’re tackling is a much better solution.

So, in summary, investing in people who work within a particular context, while being informed by what has worked elsewhere is absolutely the best approach. At least in my experience. But the best of luck to those who think that Industry Best Practices® and blunt implementations of complicated frameworks are going to save them.

I’ll be watching with my co-op colleagues, eating popcorn, getting ready for the inevitable call or email to help. And, you know what? We’ll be happy to.


This post is day three of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com


Header image by Christopher Paul High

Practice what you preach

I spend a lot of time looking at screens and interacting with other people in a mediated way through digital technologies. That’s why it’s important to continually review the means by which I communicate with others, either synchronously (e.g. through a chat app or video conference software) or asynchronously (e.g. via email or this blog).

When I started following a bunch of people who are using the #100DaysToOffload hashtag, some of them followed me back:



@dajbelshaw you have a really beautiful site that doesn't open for me. First it's not compatible with LibreJs and then uMatrix block Cloudflare's ajax and you'll not get further than loading screen.

I know that some people are quite hardcore about not loading JavaScript for privacy reasons, but I didn’t know what ‘LibreJs’ was. Although uMatrix rang a bell, I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out more.


It turns out LibreJS is a browser extension maintained by the GNU project:

GNU LibreJS aims to address the JavaScript problem described in Richard Stallman’s article The JavaScript Trap. LibreJS is a free add-on for GNU IceCat and other Mozilla-based browsers. It blocks nonfree nontrivial JavaScript while allowing JavaScript that is free and/or trivial.

Meanwhile uMatrix seems to be another browser extension that adds a kind of ‘firewall’ to page loading:

Point & click to forbid/allow any class of requests made by your browser. Use it to block scripts, iframes, ads, facebook, etc.

Meanwhile, the extensions that I use when browsing the web to maintain some semblance of privacy, and to block annoying advertising, are:


So just running the tools I use on my own site leads to the following:

Privacy Badger found 18 potential trackers on dougbelshaw.com:

web.archive.org
ajax.cloudflare.com
assets.digitalclimatestrike.net
www.google-analytics.com
docs.google.com
play.google.com
lh3.googleusercontent.com
lh4.googleusercontent.com
lh5.googleusercontent.com
lh6.googleusercontent.com
licensebuttons.net
www.loom.com
public-api.wordpress.com
pixel.wp.com
s0.wp.com
s1.wp.com
stats.wp.com
widgets.wp.com

Disconnect produced a graph which shows the scale of the problem:

Graph produced by Disconnect showing trackers for dougbelshwa.com

This was the output from uBlock Origin:

Output from uBlock Origin for dougbelshaw.com

It’s entirely possible to make a blog that involves no JavaScript or trackers. It’s just that, to also make it look nice, you have to do some additional work.

I’m going to start the process of removing as many of these trackers as I can from my blog. It’s really is insidious how additional functionality and ease-of-use for blog owners adds to the tracking burden for those reading their output.

Recently, I embedded a Google Slides deck in a weeknote I wrote. I’m genuinely shocked at how many trackers just including that embed added to my blog: 84! Suffice to say that I’ve replaced it with an archive.org embed.

I was surprised to see the Privacy Badger was reporting tracking by Facebook and Pinterest. I’m particularly hostile to Facebook services, and don’t use any of them (including WhatsApp and Instagram). Upon further investigation, it turns out that even if you have ‘share to X’ buttons turned off, Jetpack still allows social networks to phone home. So that’s gone, too.


There’s still work to be done here, including a new theme that doesn’t include Google Fonts. I’m also a bit baffled by what’s using Google Analytics, and I’ll need to stop using Cloudflare as a CDN.

But, as ever, it’s a work in progress and, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously said, “Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away.”


This post is day two of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com


Header image by Gordon Johnson

#100DaysToOffload: Day 1 – Introduction

Yesterday, I came across someone using the #100DaysToOffload hashtag on Mastodon. Curious to find out more, I clicked the links on a few updates that contained the hashtag, and eventually discovered this blog post from Kev Quirk:

What if we had a hashtag that encourages both existing and new bloggers to start writing? The posts don’t need to be long-form, technical masterpieces that should earn you a masters in English. But instead, just a simple and fun way to get people writing and sharing their thoughts. You never know, the whole might be cathartic too.

Kev Quirk

There’s now a site complete with some guidelines: 100daystooffload.com

It feels weird for me to need encouragement to write on a daily basis, as my happiest and most productive times have been when I’ve done exactly that. There are many pressures that feed into that, most of them (as my therapist points out) that are entirely of my own making.

So here we go. 100 posts within the space of a year. It would be very like me to put the additional pressure on myself of blogging every day, but instead I’ll just number them and see how far I get.

I’m not sure what I’m going to talk about yet, but its sure to be an eclectic mix. I definitely want to focus on the future rather than the past.

Feel free to comment as I go, or perhaps join me in the endeavour. It might even be a nice introduction to the Fediverse for some people, as there are some very interesting things being shared on the hashtag!


Header image by Aaron Barnaby

Weeknote 24/2020

This week I’ve enjoyed getting stuck into work funded by the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. Our co-op, along with Erica Neve and Peram Parasmand has started to help UpRising and nine other charities on their digital transformation journeys. I sent out a digital skills/confidence survey early in the week and then have been analysing the results.

I’ve also enjoyed the work that I’ve done on the Greenpeace Planet 4 project, and talking to various people about ways we might be able to help them. Do get in touch if we can help, as I’ll have more capacity from the week beginning 22nd June.


On the Moodle front, this past week can be summed up by me, as outgoing Product Manager, publishing a post to the MoodleNet blog and an hour later it being taken down. Thankfully, there’s a snapshot of it on archive.org. I’m still not sure what the problem is with any of the text, but I guess a narrative is being constructed and this doesn’t fit it. See my last weeknote for context.


Yesterday, I managed to put together a link roundup this week for Thought Shrapnel entitled Saturday soundings. It’s discombobulating trying to even keep up with everything that’s going on in the world, never mind trying to make sense of it. However, I have found that Comments on the Society of the Spectacle helpful in that regard. Chances are I’ll write more about that soon.

Thanks to everyone who has been in touch by email, chat apps, and social networks. I’m fine, thanks. Really. I mean, if I’m honest, I could do without the stress-induced migraines, but they’re caused by two years of micro-aggressions that will be a thing of the past after June 19th.


Header image by Rene Böhmer

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