Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 7)

Wiki backup: information environment

Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.

What follows is a snapshot of my ‘Daily reading’ page from July 2017.


This page helps list out the sites and services that constitute my digital information environment. It’s too difficult to decide, especially in this day an age, where ‘entertainment’ starts, and ‘information’ begins, so I’ve included everything I look at regularly.

Newspaper

Aggregators

Newsletters

I try out other ones, but these are my favourites:

Podcasts

As with the newsletters, I subscribe to other podcasts on a regular basis, but here are my go-to ones that I wouldn’t want to miss:

Routines

Internet culture

Music

Wiki backup: collaboration style

Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.

What follows is a snapshot of my ‘Collaboration style’ page from October 2016.


This page is influenced by Peter Drucker’s excellent short book Managing Oneself and the section of Gwern Branwen’s website on his own collaboration style. Although slightly tangential, I’ve also always found Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae a useful thing to return to on occasion.


Right now, I’m 35. I was in formal education for 27 of those years, and had an employer for 11 of them. I’m now a consultant and everything I do is what comes under the broad umbrella of ‘knowledge work’:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge. (Thomas Davenport, Thinking For a Living

The problem is that this means that it’s difficult to know how to fit into the big picture. Here’s how Peter Drucker puts it:

[M]ost people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. By that time, however, they should know the answers to the three questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? and, What are my values? And then they can and should decide where they belong.

[…] [K]nowing the answer to these questions enables a person to say to an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment, “Yes, I will do that. But this is the way I should be doing it. This is the way it should be structured. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kind of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame, because this is who I am.” (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

In other words, you should always be on the front foot. Don’t accept other people’s expectations, but (as Socrates exhorted) we should know ourselves well enough to be able to accept or reject work based on introspection.

The person who has learned that he or she does not perform well in a big organization should have learned to say no to a position in one. The person who has learned that he or she is not a decision maker should have learned to say no to a decision-making assignment. (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

Using these two examples as an initial lens, I do enjoy taking decisions when I feel like there’s been a proper process leading to that point. I certainly do not enjoy working within large organisations. I dislike hierarchy and bureaucracy intensely. I’m also quite different in terms of emotional make-up at different times of the year. As an ambivert, I find that the more extroverted side of my personality comes out between the spring and autumnal equinoxes, and for the other half of the year I’m more on the introverted side. I guess this can be frustrating for people who assume (or expect) consistency.

Elsewhere, Drucker mentions that another important question to ask oneself is, “Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment? I find this a false binary. While I don’t appreciate arbitrary deadlines (usually a function of an oppressive hierarchy) I structure my own fairly predictable environment. However, I mix this up by frequent flights into serendipity in both my reading and travel, as well as taking fallow days where I’m purposefully ‘unproductive’. These ‘Doug days’ as I’ve come to call them, are the reason I strive to work a four-day week.

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?” (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

I’m strong on values and don’t like them compromised. I set great store by my logical approach, although I do try to temper that with empathy. The thing that I cannot stand more than anything in co-workers (and, indeed, my children) is when it’s obvious that the other person isn’t trying their best. There’s always cases where there’s genuine reasons for soft-peddling, but most of the time I expect people to bring their A-game.

My contribution to projects is often to problematise (assumed) simplicity, or to do the reverse – to simplify the complex. In this, I bring to bear my undergraduate philosophical training, as well as my postgraduate studies around ambiguity and metaphor. I find that we as humans think primarily through metaphor, even when we don’t realise, and don’t realise that there are different types of ambiguity.

Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference? (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

The difficulty in working in a field like edtech is that (as I argued in a recent post) it’s not really a coherent field or discipline. As such, it’s difficult to see where the boundaries are, and therefore what needs to be done. I suppose I bumble along as best I can using my knowledge and skills, but I certainly think there’s many of us who would benefit from adding scaffold around us.

Wiki backup: daily reading

Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.

What follows is a snapshot of my ‘Daily reading’ page from January 2017.


Current list

Every morning, I read parts of books from the ‘Daily reading’ collection I’ve created on my e-reader. It currently contains these books:

All links take you to WorldCat, meaning you should be able to find if a local library has these in stock.

On the bench

Here are the books that used to feature on this list, and may return someday:

Meta

I’m very aware that this is a list of dead, white men, but these are just the books I’ve come across so far that are so helpful to me I’m happy to read them on repeat. If you’ve got suggestions of alternatives or anything to help widen my worldview, please do let me know! It needs to be the kind of thing I can finish and then start right back at the beginning again.

Email is the original robust, decentralised technology

I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has led to my inbox being full of messages from companies telling me about the steps they’re taking to ensure business continuity. It’s like the GDPR never happened. 🙄

However, let’s just examine how these companies are conveying this mission-critical information? Is it some sexy new platform? Have they taken out adverts? Nope, they’re using email.


Email is the original robust, decentralised technology. It’s built on open standards. It’s free. You can do almost anything with it,. This is why, despite Silicon Valley trying to come up with alternatives, email refuses to ‘die’. It’s just too useful.

People used to complain about email and the flood of messages in their inbox. But that’s nothing compared to the hundreds (or even thousands!) of messages you can be bombarded with if your organisation uses a workplace chat app. You don’t solve a problem just by throwing new shiny tech at it.


I remember Malcolm Gladwell mentioning years ago in The New Yorker that if paper had been invented recently, we’d be talking about its “tangible” qualities and how “spatially flexible” it is. Same goes with email: we forget how awesome it is because it’s seen as boring and everyday.

But let’s just go through some of the things you can achieve with email:

  1. Private messages
  2. Group messages
  3. Attachments
  4. Encryption
  5. Filter messages
  6. Forward important information
  7. Asynchronous
  8. Lightweight and fast
  9. Search
  10. Read receipts

A few days ago, I posted about how to share educational resources using bittorrent. I reckon if you used that, email, and a decentralised video conferencing technology based on WebRTC (like Jitsi), you could achieve almost anything. Especially during an emergency.

I see that the #DisasterSocialism hashtag has been trending on social networks, which is certainly something we need instead of #DisasterCapitalism. If you and your organisation is disrupted by the pandemic, just get through the initial days with whatever you’ve got. And I can guarantee you’ve already got email.


Further reading? There’s a list of decentralised applications (mostly newer tech) here.

How to easily share educational resources via bittorrent

MoodleNet isn’t exactly my first foray into the world of Open Educational Resource (OER) sharing. I can’t believe that it’s now 17 years since I was, as a fresh-faced teacher, first involved in a European project around using bittorrent to share educational resources.

I feel like the global pandemic has helped sharpen our collective minds as open educators and edtech enthusiasts. It’s certainly made me realise that we should be using torrents to share resources. After all, the more people are ‘seeding’, the less it puts strain on the bandwidth at any one location!

The great thing about bittorrent is that it’s a mature decentralised technology. There’s lots of ways of achieving the same ends, but I want to show perhaps the quickest and easiest way of getting openly-licensed educational content added to a torrent that you can then share with others.

How does bittorrent work?

You don’t need to understand how it works to use it, any more than you need to know how encryption works to shop or bank online. But in case you’re interested…

Setup

Make sure you’ve got some openly-licensed content. If you don’t have any of your own to share, you can find some at OER Commons or via this list.

Also, you will need a bittorrent app, like Transmission (alternatives here)

Uploading

Create a free account at the Internet Archive. Here’s a direct link to the signup page.

Internet Archive (archive.org)

Go to the upload page:

Uploading files to archive.org

Press the green button to get to this page:

Drag-and-drop files to archive.org

Fill in the required fields to provide more information about the files to be uploaded. Then press the blue button to continue:

Enter metadata to archive.org

Downloading

Once the files have been uploaded, you (and everyone else on the web) will see a screen similar to this one. There’s some additional processing to take place, but you should be able to see ‘torrent’ in the right-hand sidebar:

Internet Archive page

If you click to download the torrent, you should see something like this. While you may download the torrent to your computer, you can also just choose to open it directly in your bittorrent app:

Download torrent from archive.org

The torrent is added to the bittorrent app. As you can see, the Internet Archive has auto-converted my original upload into other formats. You can choose to download all files (default) or choose some to skip:

Add torrent to Transmission

Here is the torrent about to start downloading to your machine. If you leave the bittorrent app running, you provide an additional node to ‘seed’ the files to others!

Downloading torrent

Conclusion

As you can see from the above, creating a torrent from files you already have (or can find!) is pretty straightforward.

The huge value of doing this via the Internet Archive is that they will always be seeding your torrent. This means there will never be a time when someone tries to download your torrent and there’s no seeds.


What could I do to improve this quick guide? Do you have any questions? Ask in the comments below!

Weeknote 01/2020

Many years ago, when I was very small, I can remember talking to my maternal grandmother about an article she’d seen in the newspaper. It was about an eclipse which was predicted to take place on 11th August 1999, and would be the first to be visible in the UK since 1927.

At the time it seemed like such a long way into the future. Who could imagine being 18 years of age? When the time came, I ended up driving the length of the country with some friends to see the eclipse in its full glory. My grandmother, sadly, had passed away peacefully some months before.

To a great extent, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s easy to use the conceptual shorthand of ‘flying cars’ to represent what we were expecting technologically at this point in time, but I’m not sure I would have been massively surprised if, when I was younger, you’d described the world as it currently stands.

I don’t think we live in ‘unprecedented’ times. Human beings are human beings, at the end of the day. It’s just that we’ve got some more technology which extends our reach and increases our impact, for better or worse (usually worse).


I posted my 2019 retrospective on Christmas Eve after returning from a short family holiday to Iceland. It’s a magical place, particularly just before Christmas and we had a wonderful time.

What did threaten to put a slight dampener on things was when I managed to lose the keys to our rental car in the snow somewhere near Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Note to self: zip keys in pocket next time!

Other than that, we stayed in three different places, and experienced wonderful places, vistas, sunsets, and people. We’re definitely going to have to go back.

While I was there, I started reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. What a novel! It really helps you understand how brutally difficult life in Iceland was before electricity and modern conveniences.


This week, I’ve been trying to get back to some kind of decent routine. It hasn’t stopped me snaffling mince pies and eating festive leftovers, but I have, on the whole, eaten more healthily, and done more exercise.

The stimulus to this was tipping 90kg for the first time just after Christmas. It’s amazingly easy to drift into a less-healthy routine and convince yourself you haven’t changed that much.


I worked two days this week for Moodle, continuing to lead the MoodleNet project. Next week will be the first where I’m splitting my work differently: three days for MoodleNet, and two days working with We Are Open Co-op.

The rest of the MoodleNet team are mostly back on Monday, so I spent my time catching up and planning. I’ve moved all of our day-to-day issues to GitLab, because I think that these should be next to our codebase. Also, because Jira.


I’m back to writing and recording for Thought Shrapnel. This week I’ve posted a microcast on Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb, as well as an (extended) link round-up. I’ll be back to article writing on Monday.

At Discours.es this week I’ve collected a bunch of quotations from my morning reading, with perhaps my favourite being:

One of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

T.H. Huxley

New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet, although we did all go into Newcastle to see the fireworks at 6pm. It feels a bit more wasteful every year as the displays go on longer and longer, to be honest. I can’t quite believe that Sydney went ahead with their display in the midst of the bushfires ravaging Australia.

On New Year’s Day we went for a bracing walk in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. We always enjoy that, and the views were amazing given the light. The whole world and their dog was there, though, obviously.


I re-start CBT next week which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll also be doing more MoodleNet planning, as well as finalising the pre-conference AMICAL workshop I’m delivering on digital literacies the following week!

As ever, but even more so now I’ve got a bit more capacity, if you know of an organsiation that could do with our help, please let me know!


Photo taken on a New Year’s Day walk in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland

Weeknote 48/2019

I’ve been really tired this week, partly because I’ve been sleepwalking so much. That, in turn, is a function of this time of year (when I get more restless in general) and possibly my decision to rebalance my focus a bit in 2020.

Lack of sleep triggers my migraines, so I ended up taking Friday off work as I couldn’t really think properly. Despite that, I still had to work on last-minute contracts for the MoodleNet team.

Having time off is actually a pretty difficult thing for a remote worker. There have been times when I definitely wouldn’t have gone into an office, but have nevertheless been heavily dosed-up on painkillers, lying in bed using my laptop. You also never feel properly “off-duty”.

I talked about these kinds of things, as well as the obvious massive upsides to remote work, in a short presentation I gave at my son’s school this week. In addition, I discussed the importance of keeping your options open, and the benefits of working for yourself or with friends instead of for big corporates.

Other than that, because last week was so intense, I only worked two days this week. My main focus was on ensuring the MoodleNet team performed a retrospective, and then let everyone following the project’s progress know what’s going on. Some of that is captured in this blog post.

On Monday, ostensibly my ‘day off’ I attended We Are Open‘s monthly co-op day, my first for around six months while I was a ‘dormant member’. There’s plenty for me to get my teeth into there, and I’m looking forward to getting more involved in some very tasty client work soon.

Finally, I’ve been preparing for my trip to New York next week to speak at ITHAKA’s Next Wave event. I realised that I’ve been putting off reading Shoshana Zuboff’s epic book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism because I know it will mean making some changes in my own digital life. I’m about a quarter of my way through it, and it couldn’t be a better way to ensure I’m informed for my session.

The title and description I’ve been given is:

Truth, Lies, and Digital Fluency

The internet and social media apps are integral to society, research, and learning today, but increasingly we are questioning the trustworthiness of digital information. How bad is it today, and how much worse can it get? What can and should educators, researchers, information professionals and the companies whose sites enable information sharing do?

The person going following me on the programme is from Facebook and talking about data and elections, so I couldn’t be a better warm-up act, really…

So, yes, next week I’m doing MoodleNet work on Monday and Friday. I’m in New York from Tuesday to Thursday. There’s then two weeks left until Christmas, during which time the MoodleNet team should be able to start some form of federation testing.

Team Belshaw will be in Iceland just before Christmas (including for my birthday) so I’m very much looking forward to that.


Photo of anti-fascist posters in MNAC, Barcelona taken by me last Sunday morning.

Weeknote 42/2019

This week has been a bit of an odd one, mainly because it began with my wife’s birthday and then threw me a bit of a curveball in the middle.

I usually plan out my weeks on a Monday morning (or if I’m Very Organised™ perhaps the prior Friday afternoon). This week I had everything mapped out, primarily because this weekend I’m off on my second Mountain Leader weekend, which involves wild camping in the Lake District. I had things to buy and stuff to prepare.

However, on Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call from my father asking me to go immediately to the hospital where he was with my mother. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it transpired she’d suffered (suspected) temporary temporal lobe amnesia.

What I found fascinating was that, over the course of around four hours, what had been a complete memory ‘black hole’ for her slowly started to re-appear. The period between Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon, none of which she could previously remember, came back to her. All, that is, except for the stressful event which seemed to trigger it.

The human brain is an amazing, but fragile, thing. My Grandmother lost her short-term memory entirely before she died, and her sister (my Great Aunt) had Alzheimer’s for the last few years of her life. I’m glad my mother seems to have recovered pretty much immediately.

Everything else this week therefore paled into into insignificance. I ended up taking Friday afternoon off work to get things bought, packed, and organised for the weekend. Thankfully, there’s a Montane outlet near my parents’ house, so I was able to feed two birds with one scone.


On the MoodleNet front, we’re on the home stretch towards the Global Moot in Barcelona. This week, we decided that instead of having a separate federation testing period and then the ‘launch’, we’d do things a bit differently. We think it makes more sense to start the federation testing period, and carry that through the Global Moot and on into December.

Talking of December, we’ve submitted a proposal for the ALT Online Winter Conference, and drafted a post about why we’ll be moving our code repositories away from gitlab.com (hint).

Other than that, I’ve been laying the groundwork for a security review of MoodleNet to take place before the federation testing begins. I’ve also been grappling with Aha! and liaising with a Moodle Partner about developing a plugin for Moodle LMS. It’s also been fantastic to welcome back Mayel de Borniol after his month-long parental leave.


In other news, my We Are Open colleague Laura Hilliger wrote about the next iteration of our co-op, and explained how I’m currently a dormant member. I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into consultancy work in 2020!

I went to a climate change event, organised by Northumberland County Council. They seem to have a decent enough plan, but it’s not really worthy of a climate emergency. And I said as much, along with plans a bit more radical than they were proposing.

Also, I took delivery this week of a new laptop and desktop machine, which I discuss in Thought Shrapnel Microcast #078. I also published an article entitled I am not fond of expecting catastrophes, but there are cracks in the universe, and a roundup of interesting links I came across entitled Friday flowerings.


So this weekend I’m with a group in the Lake District near the Hardknott Pass, the steepest road in England. Next week, I’m working from home and then heading to London for the Redecentralize Conference and then the Mozilla Festival!


Photo taken on Monday during a birthday walk with my wife in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland.

#RIPDai: in memory of a good friend

Dai Barnes was my partner in crime. We’d posse up, steal some horses, perhaps rob a bank, and then have a dramatic shoot-out with the law. All the while on PS4 voice chat.

Not only would we talk about how much of a great game Red Dead Redemption 2 is, but also life, the world, and everything. Dai would swear like a sailor. We’d laugh. We’d tell each other stuff we probably wouldn’t have shared with other people.

Men don’t really call one another up and just ‘have a chat’, which is one of the reasons why I found recording the TIDE podcast with Dai so amazing. We recorded TIDE for just over four years, from March 2015 until this June. It was just like having a chat with a mate while drinking whisky, that just happened to also be a podcast.

TIDE didn’t come from nowhere. Dai and I met in October 2014 in a Newcastle coffee shop when he was up for an event. I hadn’t seen him for a few years, and had a actually forgotten he went barefoot. We talked about how we missed the good old days of EdTechRoundUp, which was between about 2007 and 2011.

Dai was a bit of an enigma. At the same time as there being layers and layers to him that you’d peel back as conversations unfolded, he also wore his heart on his sleeve. I’ve never known anyone like him. He was fiercely loyal, but (I’ve learned) also kept his friendship groups separate.

He was around a decade older than me, but it didn’t feel like that at all. Dai had such a youthful exuberance about him and I’ve never met anyone who had such an affinity with kids. It really was his mission in life to be the best educator he could possibly be.

If there’s anything that Dai’s taught me over the years, and I feel like he’s taught me a lot, it’s that there’s nothing so important as human relationships. He also taught me a healthy dose of pragmatism gets shit done. And finally, knowing a little of his personal life, he demonstrated how to keep it all together and show courage under fire. What a guy.

I miss him.


Dai Barnes passed away suddenly in his sleep after a camping trip with friends in Idaho, USA on the night of Thursday 1st / Friday 2nd August 2019.


Ways to remember Dai:

  1. Write a blog post (see Christian, Tim, Aaron), compose a poem, record a song, or paint a picture. You could share using the #RIPDai hashtag on Twitter.
  2. Contribute to the #barefootfordai hashtag on Twitter (and Flipgrid)
  3. A few of us a planning a memorial episode of TIDE for later this month for which we’ll be taking audio contributions. Whether you knew Dai well or fleetingly, please have a think about what you could say, and we’ll feature your contributions.

Finally, I’d like to thank Amy Burvall and Eylan Ezekiel for their love, support, and organisational skills. Also, the edtech community, whose outpouring of affection for Dai has been touching.

Please message Amy, Eylan, or me for Dai’s parents’ address should you wish to send something. I believe they are collecting tweets and other online contributions into a book.

Weeknote 26/2019

Last week I:

  • Worked on MoodleNet stuff from Monday to Thursday. We’re having some technical problems, but the new user interface is looking good!
  • Changed the way I work on Thought Shrapnel and wrote about it here.
  • Went to Scout camp as a leader for the first time (previously I’ve been a ‘parent helper’). We had a great time, although I hurt my ribs on Friday night so sleeping was a bit uncomfortable.

This week I’m working Tuesday-Friday.

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