It took me 307 days to complete the #100DaysToOffload challenge, mainly because I didn’t include my weeknotes and (until recently) I also published posts at Thought Shrapnel. I wrote about all kinds of things, from privacy to project management, and from Stoicism to new side projects.
During the time period covered by this challenge, I’ve quit a job, dealt with internal strife in our co-op, turned 40, moved Mastodon instance and Linux distribution, spent some time learning about how to be antiracist and about non-violent communication, worked a lot with charities on digital projects and transformation, and come out of and gone back into, lockdown. It’s been pretty intense, when I think about it! Thankfully I managed to stay in pretty good mental shape due to having started CBT pre-pandemic.
Here is a full list of the posts I wrote during that time period:
Oddly enough, I made two mistakes in numbering — one towards the beginning of the challenge (skipping a number) and once towards the end (repeating a number). Happily, these cancel each other out. I’m not going through the ones inbetween to rectify the numbering as, in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. There’s 100 posts there, no matter which way you look at it!
Some mornings, I get up and read Stoic philosophy and a book of aphorisms. It used to be all mornings, and then most, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.
However, it is another of Emerson’s quotations that I want to focus on in this post, one that’s been rolling around my brain for the last week or so:
People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
‘Settled’ is an interesting word, with many meanings. You can, after all, settle an argument, settle a bill, settle down and raise a family, settle into an armchair, and settle your affairs. To my mind, each definition has an air of being responsible, grown up, ‘conservative’ (with a small ‘c’).
In my own life I’ve definitely felt the pull to be settled. I suppose I am settled, in many regards: we’ve lived in the same house for seven years now — longer than I’ve lived anywhere, other than the house in which I grew up.
For me, there is a balance to be had between being settled in one area of my life and being unsettled in others. Being unsettled is where the sparkley-eyed creative drive comes from, the thing that I can only describe as a ‘wonder factory’. Without that turbulence in my life, I become hollowed-out, an empty husk of a man counting down my days.
To what extent, though, is it up to me to unsettle other people? If I recognise in myself that a need to balance areas in which I’m settled and those in which I’m unsettled, how do I know when it’s appropriate to go about prodding others?
Perhaps, and I suppose this is my get-out-of-jail-free card, by writing about unsettling things, people can opt-in if and when they’re ready. Interestingly, two of my three recent side projects (extinction.fyi and privacy.garden) have been on the unsettling side of things.
Finally, it’s worth noting to myself that being settled in my home life allows me to do unsettling things at work. This is a note to future Doug that when I’m unsettled with things outside of work, it’s time to do more ‘settled’ things in work.
A few days ago, I kicked off a new side project called privacy.garden. It’s an aggregator focused on privacy news from around the web.
The aesthetic wasn’t quite what I was after so, although this isn’t it’s final form, as you can see below I’ve made some changes.
I used an image entitled Vintage Wall Gate from Pixabay for the header image, and changed the title fonts to serif. I’m not a big fan these days of Google Fonts, etc. given that everything looks fine just using whatever default serif and sans-serif fonts users have installed.
I didn’t want a really bright orange RSS icon, so I chose this one. Then, to ensure the colour balance with the background green, I used the coolors.co website. After sharing on the Fediverse, Kev Quirk suggested some formatting tweaks, so thanks to him for those.
It’s nice to have a site that I visit myself as it auto-updates with news from around the web. If you’ve got suggestions for RSS feeds or iterating the design further, please let me know!
I’m not sure what it is with me and side projects at the moment, but I started another one today called privacy.garden. I’m a big fan of news aggregator websites, and thought it was about time there was one related to online privacy that I would visit regularly.
The rather comically-bad combined emoji logo was created in about 30 seconds using this guide. I’ll replace it, hopefully with a custom-designed one from someone who knows what they’re doing. I may also tinker with the layout.
This is just a quick update to say that I’ve been working behind the scenes to make my side project, extinction.fyi, easy to subscribe to for updates.
There are now several ways to keep up-to-date with my ongoing documentation of the climate emergency:
These options very much reflect the services I use, so no Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp options, for example. However, there’s nothing stopping someone using the RSS feed and creating their own bots for their favourite service! If you do this, please let me know so I can update the site.
If I’d included weeknotes, which I compose every weekend, I’d perhaps have finished on time. But, for some reason, I decided not to — thinking, perhaps, that it was somehow ‘cheating’ to do so. Whatever the reason, I’ve realised that I haven’t been writing as much as usual during the pandemic.
In general, I find the quantity of my outputs are determined by the quantity and variety of my inputs. The more my information diet and everyday activities revolve around the same things, the less I’m likely to compose something new. I miss travelling in that respect. Not only does it open the mind, but meeting new people and having serendipitous conversations explains the arc of my career in a way that my LinkedIn profile does not.
As a member of the tight-knit Team Belshaw, travelling also gives me the kind of freedom from familial obligations that allows my mind to roam a little. I met my wife at university aged 18, so I’ve never truly lived the bachelor lifestyle. Conferences, events, client meetings, and mountain training enable me to travel both physically and mentally to other places in a way not afforded by other means of escape.
In particular, there’s something about travelling on planes, looking out the window, that gives one perspective on life. Given the environmental impact, I can’t see myself wanting to travel via that method in the future unless I can avoid it, so I think I’ll have to make do with the view from the top of mountains. The added benefit, of course, is that walking to the top of them not only provides exercise, but gives one time to think.
So, on reflection, it’s no wonder the quantity of my outputs have diminished in proportion to the variety of my inputs during a global pandemic. I’m very much looking forward to a bit of travel as the lockdown in the UK eases. Hopefully, that will have a knock-on effect on both the quality and quantity of my writing here, and elsewhere.
After the modest success of eink.link, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of extinction.fyi 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.
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.
Behind most things lies nuance. Blockchain is no different. The recent controversy behind NFTs (?) has polarised debate about the ‘value’ of decentralised currencies, tokens, and the applications they allow.
There’s some important technical differences between how the decentralised networks behind various cryptocurrencies and tokens come to consensus. The point of this post is to explain these to the best of my current ability and knowledge. It’s based on my attempts to ensure that I’m not trying to save the world on the one hand while destroying it through my actions elsewhere.
In the course of buying and selling crypto, I’ve learned about an important difference between currencies such as Bitcoin which use ‘Proof-of-Work’ (PoW) consensus models, and others which use ‘Proof-of-Stake’ (PoS).
Both of these models are called ‘consensus mechanisms‘, and they are a current requirement to confirm transactions that take place on a blockchain, without the need for a third party.
The TL;DR, as far as my understanding goes is that, broadly speaking, PoW is energy intensive and killing the planet, whereas PoS is… less problematic.
Let’s be clear: cryptocurrencies and tokens aren’t going away. And I see plenty of upside in terms of trading value independently of governments. The following definitions are taken from the glossary part of CoinMarketCap’s very helpful guide to crypto called Alexandria.
Proof-of-Authority (PoA) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism that delivers comparatively fast transactions using identity as a stake.”
Proof-of-Burn (PoB) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism aiming to bootstrap one blockchain to another with increased energy efficiency, by verifying that a cost was incurred in “burning” a coin by sending it to an unspendable address.”
Proof-of-Developer (PoD) — “Any verification that provides evidence of a real, living software developer who created a cryptocurrency, in order to prevent an anonymous developer from making away with any raised funds without delivering a working model.”
Proof-of-Replication (PoRep) — “Proof-of-replication (PoRep) is the way that a storage miner proves to the network that they are storing an entirely unique copy of a piece of data.”
Proof-of-Spacetime (PoSt) — “In simplest terms, PoSt means that someone can now guarantee that they are spending a certain amount of space for storage.”
The legality of cryptocurrencies varies by territory, with India currently considering a ban. I predict that the difference in consensus models will be a determining factor, with a likelihood that Proof-of-Work models are banned in some jurisdictions because of their energy usage and associated impact on the environment.
Ultimately, for better or worse, once it’s got enough traction you can’t ban innovation from happening. Governments are going to want to issue their own stablecoin, meaning that they can’t completely ban cryptocurrencies and tokens.
That’s why I predict that Proof-of-Stake will be seen as a viable model without completely destoying the environment. I may, of course, be wrong on all counts. Caveat emptor ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The role of the man who foresees is a sad one. He afflicts his friends with warnings of the misfortunes they court with imprudence. He is not believed; and when the misfortunes occur, those same friend resent him for the ills he predicted.
Chamfort was writing around the time of the French Revolution. This was a period where everything went (dangerously, murderously) sideways for a bit, before the status quo re-emerged with different rulers.
We tend to think that life is somehow ‘safer’ or more ‘stable’ these days, but the ideological collapse that caused the French Revolution is perhaps more evident in 2021 than it was in 1789.
Things break down when groups within societies fundamentally differ about ontology, epistemology, or ethics. The result is a form of militant tribalism, where each tribe believes that another is stopping them saying or doing particular things. The ‘others’ pose some kind of threat to ‘our’ way of life.
In reality, the biggest threat to societies, wherever you are in the world, is climate change — or as I’ve begun to call it for the sake of emphasis, ‘human extinction’. After all, the planet was fine before us, and will be fine after us. The Arctic was a jungle 55 millions years ago. Needless to say, that meant global temperatures would not have been conducive to human life.
Carbon emissions may have decreased dramatically due to the pandemic lockdowns we’ve experienced over the last year, but recent reports suggest that we would need a similar lockdown every two years to stop runaway climate catastrophe.
It’s not the cheeriest news, but then we need a complete mindshift in order to save our species. Anyone who’s read Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed will be aware that globalisation makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation. Our supply chains are more fragile than we think.
I have often asked myself, “What did the Easter Islander who cut down the last palm tree say while he was doing it?” Like modern loggers, did he shout “Jobs, not trees!”? Or: “Technology will solve our problems, never fear, we’ll find a substitute for wood”? Or: “We don’t have proof that there aren’t palms somewhere else on Easter, we need more research, your proposed ban on logging is premature and driven by fear-mongering”? Similar questions arise for every society that has inadvertently damaged its environment.”
Ultimately, we all need to do something. We can’t shrug and say “hakuna matata” until everything burns down around us.
[I]t’s perfectly normal for people to want to live a good life right here and now, no matter what the future holds. It’s certainly stupid to work like crazy towards a future that doesn’t exist. That’s definitely insane. But working towards a present that can exist is but such a bad idea at all.
Dmitry Oblov, ‘A Present That Can Exist’ (in Walking on Lava)
I know that, personally, I’ve ignored all of this for too long. Yes, I got involved in the climate change protests a couple of years ago, but other than stopping eating meat I haven’t made meaningful changes in my everyday life.
I’m not exactly sure what my next steps will be, but I’m going to see whether Extinction Rebellion‘s approach of non-violent direct action might be the right path forward for me. I’ve got to do something.