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Weeknote 03/2021

Long shadow on the beach at Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Wherever in the world you happen to be, I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief now that Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th President of the USA.

Here in the UK, we’ve still got the clown-car government that my fellow countrymen and women inexplicably voted in immediately before the pandemic. They’re doing about as well as can be expected given their glaring incompetence, which has been compounded by the economic self-harm of Brexit.

Closer to home, though, everything is going well. The Catalyst project I’m leading through Dynamic Skillset had its kick-off meeting, and we found out that our co-op was successful in another funding bid. Laura and I recorded the pilot for a new podcast which led to us presenting a proposal for a series of six episodes to fellow co-op members. That proposal was passed, so look out for the first ‘proper’ episode in the next few weeks, and then monthly afterwards.


This week has included my son’s birthday; another teenage year which makes me feel even older than I did turning 40 last month. Another thing that made me feel ancient was attending an online workshop facilitated and attended by people a decade (or more) younger than me. I had to leave half-way through as, although I’m sure everyone else was getting a lot out of it, the format didn’t work for me.

I can definitely see how people get set in their ways as they get older. When you’re younger and you’re not quite sure what you like or how things work, it’s easy to throw caution to the wind and just try things. As you get older, with a bit less energy but many more responsibilities, it’s always easier to lean towards things you know have worked well before. Note to self: I need to fight against that tendency, at least some of the time.


Being back on Twitter is mostly great, although it means less time for blogging. I haven’t published anything here, and on Thought Shrapnel this week I’ve only managed to put out two link posts:

Another website-related thing I did do this week, though, was to create a new thesis page and redirect a couple of legacy domains to it. One of those domains was neverendingthesis.com, which used a version of MediaWiki which I don’t think I ever really upgraded. It finally fell over just shy of its millionth visit, which is incredible really.

I’ve also removed my ebook about digital literacies from Gumroad and made it freely-downloadable from the thesis page. Self-publishing works: in addition to the ~£800 I made pre-v1.0, I also made $3,587.46 in sales via Gumroad over the last few years!


Next week is mainly Catalyst work, although I’m trying to keep my hand in with Outlandish and do some business development for the co-op. I’m just thankful that I’m able to find decent-paying, meaningful work during a pandemic and keep my family relatively happy.


Photo taken on Thursday morning during a run on the beach at Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Weeknote 02/2021

I know this isn’t exactly an original thought, but time seems to be acting weirdly at the moment. Everything is a bit discombobulating, but I guess everyone’s in the same boat. We’ll figure it out.

Druridge Bay, Northumberland

Meanwhile, I’m spending time working on interesting stuff with awesome people, and doing things which make me smile. Like what, you say? Well, walking in the winter sun with my family, playing PS4, reading, and listening to Kylie’s fabulous latest album, Disco. Good music is good music, people.


It’s been our daughter’s 10th birthday this week, which, if you can remember back that far, is a Big Deal. Double digits! She’s awesome and I’m very glad that she’s growing into a confident young woman who knows her own mind.

This week has also seen our son starting the process of choosing his GCSE option subjects, which takes me back to when I chose mine 26 years ago. It’s so important to choose things that interest you. For example, I did Media Studies and not only really enjoyed it — I made a plasticine stop-motion version of Match of the Day — but also got an ‘A’ and learned things that have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

One thing that’s different with his options, even in the decade since I left teaching, is the EBacc. However, long story short, I asked around and it’s basically meaningless. Doing well in subjects they’re interested in is much more important for teenagers than some kind of combination that pleases traditionalists.


While we’re on the subject of education, I’ve been tweeting a bit about the (monetary) value of Higher Education. While no-one needs to listen or read my opinions on the subject, I do have four university qualifications and have worked in the sector. However, as I said here in a write-up of a Twitter thread, I’m a bit disillusioned with the view that universities have a right to exist and everyone should just get with the programme.

Since leaving working in formal education, I’ve been working on product-related things, which live or die by ensuring user acceptance/delight. I know there’s a pandemic on, but Higher Education really needs to be dramatically shaken up. The UK government doesn’t help, of course, by creating a pseudo-market. We’ll see some institutions either merge or go to the wall, I expect.


Over at Thought Shrapnel, I published the following… (🔗 = link posts)


Work-wise this week, I’ve been:

  • Kicking off the Catalyst-funded project I’m project managing which is a collaboration between Dynamic Skillset and Bay Digital. We’re helping three civil society organisations with a ‘sector challenge’ to help remove barriers to remote claiming of Universal Credit. We’ve had to swap out one of the organisations at the last minute for various reasons, but the one that can’t be a core part will still be involved for user research.
  • Hanging out with my We Are Open colleagues. We spent a half day doing some strategy work, which Laura wrote up here.
  • Scaling back my work with Outlandish. I’ve realised I haven’t got time to get really involved in everything I was doing from August to December with them, so I’m going to have a chat next week about my continued work with them.

I also participated in a paid knowledge-sharing session which was very professionally-organised. I gave some insights into a particular area of my expertise, which was facilitated by an agency who connected me with an organisation by phone. They asked me a series of questions, appreciated my insights, and the money should be in my account soon. Colour me impressed!


Next week, I’m sinking my teeth even further into the Catalyst project, and starting some business development for We Are Open. That may or may not involve doing the pilot episode of a new podcast! I’m excited.

Weeknote 01/2021

Whew. As someone, somewhere pointed out this week, we know doomscrolling is bad for us, but the doom has been top-notch recently, hasn’t it?

Welcome to 2021.

People standing behind a wall, tentatively pushing open a door marked '2021' using a large stick.

I’m back, well-rested, with plenty of energy and optimism for the new year. Taking three weeks off work at the end of 2020 was magnificent. If I can, I’m going to do it every year. And it would seem that I’m going to need that reservoir of energy and optimism. All of it.


This week, like most people who still have jobs or some form of paid income, I’ve been returning to work. I took things easy on Monday and Tuesday and then, because there’s a million projects and the world is on fire, dialled that up for the rest of the week.

My areas of focus have been:

  • Getting set up with a Catalyst-funded project I’ll be project managing. It’s a collaboration between Dynamic Skillset and Bay Digital to help three charities with a ‘sector challenge’ to help remove barriers to remote claiming of Universal Credit.
  • Re-establishing convivial relations with my We Are Open colleagues. Thankfully, the members who were the cause of the tension I’ve mentioned in passing over the last few months, resigned.
  • Getting back up-to-speed with Outlandish projects and people. I participated in a workshop about the (bright!) future for SPACE4 and helped with a lightning talk about Building OUT.
  • Helping with We Are Open and Outlandish bids to Catalyst for some more funding to help with a ‘Definition’ phase for various cohorts of charities.
  • Ensuring that my wife and kids have everything they need for successful remote learning.

In terms of the last point, I’m back on Twitter and noticed so many parents struggling with their technical setup. So I created a Twitter thread to help give some tips to alleviate wifi drop-outs and other problems. I hope it proves handy for people, as it was a useful distraction for me after waking up at 05:15 on Saturday morning…


With all of that energy and optimism I’ve written a bunch of things. Here, I published:

…and over at Thought Shrapnel (🔗 = link posts)


Team Belshaw is fine, thanks for asking. We put our house on the market on 19th December which was only a few days before lockdown here in the UK. So, although we have had a couple of live viewings, we’ve created a video tour to share via our estate agent. It might seem mad to want to move during a pandemic, and our house is lovely, but life goes on.

I’m continuing to exercise, despite not being able to get to the gym and it being very slippy out due to the inconvenience that is winter. I’m running when I can, despite some (suspected) tendonitis. I’d forgotten how useful Twitter is for asking people about stuff like this: it appears I probably tie the laces on my running shoes too tightly! Over and above that I’ve been on the exercise bike and going for walks with the family.


I’m not going to comment here too much on the self-coup / insurrection / whatever you want to call it in the US on Wednesday. Next time, as I mentioned on Mastodon, ‘protesters’ will be well-armed and actually have a plan. This is a mere foreshadowing of future events in the US and elsewhere.

We can (and should) wring out hands about digital literacies, about political education and civics, but the elephant in the room here is the role that social networks have played in enabling fascism. It’s the right thing to do to kick Trump off major social networks, but it’s too little, too late. Deplatforming is important, but we need more than that to stem the rising tide of disinformation and radicalisation.


Anyway, next week, the Catalyst project I mentioned above gets started, and will take ~3 days/week for the next 11 weeks. So I need to prioritise the most impactful work I can do through We Are Open and Outlandish, and use all of that energy and optimism to good effect!

Weeknote 49/2020

Even while a thing is in the act of coming into existence, some part of it has already ceased to be.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Beach, sea, and clouds

This week, having paused Thought Shrapnel for this month, I published three posts here. All of them, for some reason, were questions:

The third references a decision I made on Wednesday morning, with the aid of my wife, to stop working in the middle of next week. I’m going to take the rest of the year off and recharge.


I started this week in a very pleasant way, going for a walk on the beach with my mother to celebrate her birthday. It was cold, but the light was beautiful and the sky was clear.

Work-wise this week, I’ve been collaborating with Outlandish on productisation, Catalyst bids, and new products and services around ‘Building OUT’ (Openness, Understanding, and Trust). On Thursday evening, a group of us from Outlandish did the online version of the Amsterdam Catacombs event room, which was mildly terrifying (but fun!)

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended an interesting Co-op College workshop called Let’s Talk About Race. In the morning I’d participated in the internal testing version of a Building OUT workshop on team communication, so I had a very professional development-y kind of day.

Other than that, I’ve been purposely working more slowly than usual, which I actually find difficult. In my twenties, I worked close to 100% speed all the time, which led to burnout. In my thirties, I’ve managed 90% much of the time, with occasional migraines forcing me to pause. Now, as I approach 40, I’m looking for ways to work both quickly and sustainably.


I don’t usually write weeknotes in December, and I want to liberate myself from things that I feel I should be doing, so I’m going to make this the last one of 2020. It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?


Photo of Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Weeknote 48/2020

Sunrise in the distance, fields in middle ground, tree stump in foreground.

This week has been better than last week, although I did have issues on Monday and Thursday with irregular sleep patterns. Thankfully, I figured out the culprit: whisky. I tend to have a couple of doubles on a Sunday night while playing PS4 with Adam and Sean, and, well, another double on what my wife and I have come to call ‘Whisky Wednesday’.

I started off November with intermittent fasting and swearing off refined sugar and alcohol for the month. The alcohol abstinence lasted a week, and I kept off sugar a week longer. I’ve been better with the intermittent fasting, most days consuming my calories between 10:00 and 18:00.

As I pointed out in a post entitled What’s your favourite month? I kind of collapse like a flan in a cupboard during the second half of November. Thankfully, I have almost complete control over my working patterns, so this is somewhat manageable. I’d love to just completely sack off the year from mid-November and return in January, to be fair.

Other things I wrote here this week:

…and on Thought Shrapnel:


I’m reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden at the moment. I’m (very) late to Steinbeck’s work, having never read him at school, but this year have read Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. He really was an amazing writer, and I’d put East of Eden in the same bracket as The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Recommended!

Other things I’ve enjoyed this week include a Q&A session by Jocelyn K. Glei on the topic of what she calls Tender Discipline. I’ve been listening to a Spotify playlist called Jazz in the Background a lot, although I’m still most productive when using Brain.fm.

Prompted by buying and then deciding to cancel the order on a Fairphone 3+ I’ve been deleting a bunch of apps that I don’t really use that much. In addition, I’ve deleted the Amazon shopping and YouTube apps from my phone. When I treat these things as websites instead of apps, I find I have a different relationship with them.


I’ve split my work this week between Outlandish, business development for Dynamic Skillset, and a little bit of Greenpeace work for We Are Open Co-op. I’ve been trying, mostly successfully, to wrangle collaboration across CoTech for collaborations around Catalyst Open Project briefs. I’ve also been working on a couple of proposals for the Mozilla Festival.

Next week, more Catalyst briefs are coming out, and I’ve got to finish off the ones we’ve already started. That will take up much of my time, along with other Outlandish work.


Photo taken during a run during sunrise on Tuesday morning near Morpeth, England.

Weeknote 47/2020

This week’s been a bit rubbish, mainly on the health front (migraines, erratic sleep patterns). So I don’t really want to go back through it, other than say that I published the following here, and on Thought Shrapnel:

Next week I’m working on Catalyst bids on behalf of CoTech and Dynamic Skillset, as well as continuing my work with Outlandish.

Weeknote 46/2020

This quotation from Marcus Aurelius really stuck with me this week:

Reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away. The great river of Being flows on without pause; its actions for ever changing, its causes shifting endlessly, hardly a single thing standing still; while ever at hand looms infinity stretching behind and before – the abyss in which all things are lost to sight. In such conditions, surely a man were foolish to gasp and fume and fret, as though the time of his troubling could ever be of long continuance.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book Five)

This has been, all things considered, a good week. On Wednesday, my therapist effectively discharged me — although I’ll be doing some maintenance sessions every so often. I’m much better equipped to deal with things both professionally and personally than before I started last September.

I originally sought therapy after the death of a good friend which threw up all sorts of things that I didn’t feel capable of dealing with adequately. Now, over a year later, although I’d much rather have Dai with us, for me the growth I’ve undergone has been a small silver lining to that tragic event.


This week I published three posts here:

…and on Thought Shrapnel:


The bulk of my work this week was carried out with and for Outlandish. I ran a short workshop on productisation, did some work on their Building OUT strand, and otherwise talked to people about how to get the organisations ready to be more product-focused.

On Friday, I travelled to the Peak District to meet my good friend Bryan Mathers. As I’ve pointed out in previous weeknotes, of late things within the co-op could be better, so we decided to have a chat to figure out what that meant for our relationship. Virtual meetings are great 95% of the time, but sometimes you need to in the same place as someone, going for a walk and an extended discussion.

I’ve decided not to do any further work through We Are Open, and instead put my energies into new ventures. For now, that means I’ve been spending time updating the website of Dynamic Skillset, my consultancy business. More on that soon, no doubt.


Next week I’ve got some conversations lined up, more work with Outlandish, and planning to put together a consortium to bid for some Catalyst funding they’re announcing on Monday.


Image looking south from Higger Tor in the Peak District, England.

Weeknote 45/2020

This week, I’m not even sure where to start, so I’ll first point to the things I’ve written.

Spider web

Here, I published:

…at Thought Shrapnel:

…and on the We Are Open Co-op blog, I published HOWTO: make a Discovery process more participatory which was republished by Catalyst.


There’s not much I can say about the US Presidential election that hasn’t already been said. All I can add is my personal perspective: not interacting via the major social networks, and uninstalling The Guardian app on my phone has improved my mental health.

Reflecting on the last five years, it’s sad that the general public in the US and UK have been so easily manipulated, regarding Trump and Brexit, respectively, that both countries are ideologically fractured. As I mentioned on Mastodon earlier this week, it’s difficult for people who act in good faith to deal with people who act in bad faith. And it’s exhausting.


On the work front, I’ve spent most of my week working with Outlandish, another tech co-operative in the CoTech network. They turned 10 this week, which led to some pre-lockdown partying.

There are two closely related streams of work that I’m focusing on with Outlandish. The more general one is ‘productisation’, the process by which you take internal business capability and turn it into tangible products. In layman’s terms, Outlandish are really good at delivering on bespoke projects to individual clients, and I’m helping them investigate whether they’d like to move into selling products to multiple customers.

I ran a ‘lightning talk’ on productisation on Thursday which was well-attended, with plenty of interest and lots of questions. This isn’t a small undertaking (one person likened it to “walking into Mordor”!), but I feel that Outlandish are more than ready for it.

The other stream of work is called Building OUT, which stands for ‘Openness, Understanding, and Trust’. It’s referenced in the playbook that I and others have started putting together. As part of this strand, this week we ran an internal pilot of a new workshop around better communication within teams. That will be ready for external sign-ups soon.

Other work I’ve carried out this week was for We Are Open with Greenpeace, which involved getting to the nub of what the client was actually asking for.


I took most of Friday off this week, mainly because of a meeting I had on Thursday afternoon. I needed to process what had happened, so took my laptop to the beach, sat in the car, and did some writing in periods between staring at the waves.

As I’ve referenced in passing in my weeknotes, there has been some tension in our co-op for a while, so I invited to a meeting those members who will still communicate with me directly. From my perspective, I spent that meeting outlining why I feel aggrieved, marginalised, and unfairly treated.

It appears, however, that they have a different perspective. It’s becoming increasingly clear that my remaining in the co-op will be difficult as things currently stand. I’m considering my options.


Next week? For the moment, I’m pausing all of my work with We Are Open, so next week is entirely focused on collaborating with Outlandish.


Photo of a beautiful spider’s web at the beach on Friday morning.

Weeknote 44/2020

Wooden-clad house in the Scottish borders

I’m writing part of this from my bed, at home in Northumberland, and part from an Airbnb just over the border in Scotland. Thankfully, the North East has so far been spared the Tier 3 lockdown which would have rendered this trip illegal. Small mercies during a pandemic.

This week has been odd as I’ve worked ~15 hours over four days, which is around half of what I would usually work over five. Our children are on half-term holiday, so I’ve been kind of around and kind of not. It’s not ideal, but I had things to finish off and keep ticking over, so needs must.

Other members of our co-op are away. I’m particularly jealous of Laura sailing around the Mediterranean and going scuba diving. Bryan‘s stay at a friend’s house with a swimming pool sounds great, too. But I should grateful that we live in such a lovely part of the world and that, even pre-pandemic, our house was set up for me to work from home contentedly.


I’ve done a lot of reading this week. Some of this has led to blog posts (more on that later) but most has been for the sake of pleasure and curiosity. I used to track my reading habits, but it sucked all of the joy out of it for me; metrics have a way of bringing out the worst sort of self-competitiveness in me.

In terms of books, I finished re-reading Jostein Gaarder’s The Solitaire Mystery and Dan Jackson’s The Northumbrians: North-East England and its People. I also am a good way through Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. The latter two I bought for my parents as gifts and borrowed back from them.

The amount of time I had available to read this week was increased due to me working less, but also because I uninstalled The Guardian app on my phone. It’s something I pay for, and value, but found that I was returning to it and refreshing almost as if it were social media. There’s a limit to how well-informed I need to be about things that might happen. Not all information is ‘news’.


In terms of the work I did do this week, it was divided into three main areas:

  • Wrapping up the Catalyst Discovery project that ended for participants last week. I completed some of the reporting requirements, met with the Catalyst comms team to give them feedback, and drafted a post for the We Are Open blog.
  • Continuing to help Outlandish with some work around productisation, mainly with their ‘Building OUT’ programme which you can read a little bit about in their new playbook.
  • Thinking about what’s coming next for We Are Open Co-op and me personally. There’s a few projects that we need to decide whether we have capacity for, and some that I may decide to do individually.

I’ll be back to working on Greenpeace stuff next week when Laura is back.


If I could wave a magic wand and instantly reorganise my working year, I would divide the types of work I do into broadly two phases. Right now, I’d be into my book-writing phase, which would last from the end of September to the end of March. During this time, I’d limit all distractions and write and write and write, satisfying my inner introvert.

The other phase would be my information-gathering phase, which would last from the beginning of April until mid-September. During this time, I’d be out and about as much as possible, working with clients, speaking at events, and keeping my finger on the pulse of everything going on.

Perhaps that’s overly simplistic, and maybe that wouldn’t be as enjoyable a life as that which I have right now. What I do know is that I want and need to spend more time doing ‘deeper’ writing than I’m doing now, and life and work is getting in the way of that.


In terms of the things I’ve written this week, here I published:

Over at Thought Shrapnel I published:


Next week, I’m looking forward to planning my work up until Christmas (and beyond) and ensuring my life is achieving the kind of balance which means that I avoid migraines. I had one this week, and it wiped me out for the entirety of Wednesday afternoon, which was not fun.

Weeknote 43/2020

Eroded cliff face (Cresswell, Northumberland,)

This has been a good week. Among other things both at work and outside it, the highlight perhaps came on Friday morning when I went for a run.

Picture the scene: I get my running gear on, head downstairs, pick up my phone and open the Spotify app. It notifies me there’s a new album out by Faithless. I stretch, and start my run just as the sun is beginning to rise.

As I run the bypass route around Morpeth, the sky changes from purple to pink to orange to yellow, while a magnificent sonic landscape emerges, and my endorphins surge. Perfect.


In parenting news this week, we confiscated my son’s smartphone for a week due to his consistent, albeit reasonably low-level, flouting of family rules. When he persisted a bit, I banned him from the PlayStation for the weekend as well.

The above isn’t usually something I’d share here, but I watched The Social Dilemma this week, and thought it was so good that I watched it with my son at the weekend. Although the whole thing is a warning about the dystopian mess we’ve got ourselves into, it was nevertheless gratifying to see my own position vindicated.

Not only have I retreated from mainstream social media, but I’ve also insisted that our children go nowhere near it either. Their screen time is limited, especially compared to other kids their age. I wasn’t surprised to learn via The Social Dilemma that the those involved in Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. do likewise. I remember reading that Steve Jobs was particularly zealous in that regard.

I wrote a rare post on my literaci.es blog about this after watching the film, which I entitled Notification literacy? Being very intentional and strict about notifications is, I think, the single most important thing you can do to improve your (and your children’s) relationship with their devices.

The funny thing is that, after a few days away from his phone, my son (as usual) finds other things to do, and is generally just a much nice teenager to be around. Funny, that.


On this blog I wrote:

Meanwhile, on Thought Shrapnel, I published:


On the work front, this was the final week collaborating with a cohort of nine charities as part of the Catalyst Discovery programme we’ve been funded to work with over the last month. It’s been great, and they’ve all really enjoyed it too, giving us fantastic feedback and all rating We Are Open Co-op as either a 9 or a 10 out of 10 in terms of an NPS score.

Other work has included a bit of work on a new Greenpeace project, mainly reading and suggesting ideas while Laura is away. She’s leading the project, but is currently away for a couple of weeks, sailing around the Mediterranean with her husband and scuba diving. Not that I’m in any way jealous.

The third bit of work I’ve been doing is to continue helping Outlandish with productisation and their new Building OUT programme. The sweet spot between the two is the playbook I’ve started helping them with, demonstrating how they add value to organisations by sharing the resources they use internally and with clients.


It’s half-term for our kids now, and we’ve booked a couple of nights away next weekend just over the border in Scotland. We’re on the verge of a Tier 3 lockdown in the North East of England due to the pandemic and numbers rising in certain areas. If those restrictions are introduced, we won’t be able to go, so fingers crossed!

If we do get to go, I’ll be taking Friday off, but either way I’ll be taking it a bit easier next week to hang out with my family and decompress after a reasonably-intense few weeks.


Image from the cliffs near Cresswell, Northumberland, where I took my laptop to work on Wednesday morning. There’s a lot of fossils around there!

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