Open Thinkering


Category: Weeknotes

Weeknote 02/2022

Birthday cards

WAO kicked off four projects this week, one of them completely new, and the other three a continuation of previous work with clients. I had a fun chat with Stephen Downes about some potential work we might do around critical literacies. Team Belshaw celebrated our youngest’s 11th birthday, and normal(ish) life resumed after the festive period.

Hannah, quite rightly, has asked to spend more time in the home office separate to our house. This makes sense as not only is there a sit/stand desk in there but also she tends to work until 17:00 most days, whereas I’m usually done by 16:00. Her office, such as it is, sits next to our bedroom in the loft conversion. It’s very light and warm, but when the kids are home from school unavoidably suffers from the noise of the house.

Laptop musings

While I was up in that office room at the top of the house earlier this week I tried connecting my laptop to her 4K screen. While it technically worked, everything was so slow. It didn’t matter whether I used my beloved 2017 Google Pixelbook or trusty 2012 Lenovo ThinkPad X220. As a result, I realised it was probably past time that I bought myself a new laptop.

I bought Hannah a MacBook Pro M1 last year through my business, but I much prefer using Linux to macOS. So I was looking for something that ticked various boxes. Long story short, the one that ticked all of them was the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano. Unfortunately, the prices for that currently start at about £1,700. As I’ve already got a desktop and two other laptops, this felt a little extravagant.

Some research and the inevitable spreadsheet later, I’d realised that a refurbished MacBook Air M1 is currently £850 on the Apple store. While the work of the Asahi Linux team (and others) means that great strides are being made towards making Linux work on M1 Macs, it’s not ready for primetime. And virtualising Linux would just feel janky.

What this did do, however, was reset my expectations on how much a machine should cost that can do what the MacBook Air M1 does. Some more investigation led me to the Asus Zenbook 13 UX325 which I ended up ordering yesterday and, serendipitously, arrived at our house just as I started this paragraph!

I’ve ended up sacrificing a UHD screen, but the Zenbook at least has an OLED full-HD display. The rest of this weeknote is going to be written later, because despite being 41 years old, I also have no self-control and absolutely must open this parcel right now…

<sometime later…>

OK, I’m back. It’s nice. Pop!_OS, my distro of choice, works like a charm. I’ll have to make some typing adjustments, but it seems the laptop is going to be pretty great for how I’m expecting to use it. Regarding the screen, it’s pretty amazing and I can’t really tell the difference between the resolution on it and an external 4K screen. I guess it’s all about the DPi.

I particularly like that I’ve got the Linux equivalent of Windows Hello (called Howdy) working. This means that in reasonably-lit environments I can unlock the laptop and run sudo commands by authenticating using my face instead of a password. It’s great.

Next week

It’s time to dive properly into all of the work projects next week. We’re trying to ensure that we schedule half-days for each of them. I’m also going to plan a potential walking-and-camping trip along Hadrian’s Wall in April, as I’ve scheduled the first three weeks of the month off.

Weeknote 01/2022

Gate in Northumberland National Park

Here we are! The first week of 2022 is officially here and I’m not sure what to think of it. Considering life in years based on calendars is, of course, entirely arbitrary. As far as I’m concerned, we’re still in the month of Nivôse in the French Republican Calendar…

Since last writing a weeknote, it’s been my birthday, Christmas, New Year, and I’ve returned to work after a lovely trip to Devon to see the in-laws. I say “returned to work” but the day I had planned to work (Wednesday) was actually filled with a delightful walk on the England/Scotland border with Aaron Hirtenstein. Aaron recently moved from Oxford to just the other side of Northumberland National Park so hopefully it’ll be the first of many.

After taking down the Christmas lights and decorations with the kids on Tuesday, I performed a Past Year Review (PYR) while they played a lot of video games and Hannah returned to work. The PYR process was incredibly helpful in finding things that I have energy for and things that I don’t. I’ve printed out the results and stuck them next to the desk in my home office:

✅ Do these things in 2022

• Watch sun rise
• Side projects (use SOFA principle)
• Holidays
• Kayaking
• Growing plants (tomatoes, other)
• Wild camping
• Going out for family Sunday dinner
• Mountain biking
• Date night

Avoid these things in 2022

• Job-seeking
• Admin
• Work-related drama
• Atheneum consulting
• Twitter
• LinkedIn
• Organising events
• Staying in same room as family
• Anti-vaxxer nonsense

On Thursday I had an impromptu catch-up with my fellow WAO co-op members and experimented with Xero Projects. I’m going to run a proposal in next week’s meeting to experiment with it for one month with one client and I’m hoping it will pass. I think it could help streamline our workflows a bit. Things kick off properly with clients next week, so I just set things up, tinkered around a bit, and wrote a long-overdue post about learning resource discovery.I

Although I didn’t go as far as the detailed spreadsheet comparisons I made when purchasing a smartwatch and camping gear last year, I did do some background research before buy a Boox Note Air 2. As I mention in this post, it’s a curious device — an e-ink tablet that runs Android. It’s pretty much the only device in its class, and I’ve been using it every day since receiving it on Tuesday.

As ever, I experimented with doing something different with Thought Shrapnel but in the end just published three things as usual on Friday. I’m going to get back into the rhythm before sending out another newsletter. Yes, I know it’s been a while!

Other than the above, there’s not too much to report other than I made the trip to The Bike Place in Kielder with my daughter this weekend to buy her a bike for her birthday. They sell ex-hire bikes and, due to the pandemic, the ones they have on offer are very lightly used! She’s delighted with getting a better bike that she would usually be able to get, and I’m delighted with the savings.

Next week, Laura and I are onboarding John onto our main client projects, as he quit his job at the end of last year. He’ll be helping us not only with project work, but is also taking over as Co-op Secretary and bookkeeper now that Hannah is working full-time for NHS Digital. I’ve already told my fellow members of my plan to take as much of April, August, and December off in 2022 as possible. This is not only for my own physical and mental health, but also to spend time during the major holidays with my holidays, and potentially to kick off non-remunerative projects.

Image from my walk with Aaron.

2021 in weeknote review

Collage of 2021

I would definitely like to be the kind of person who does an in-depth look back and analysis of each year. However, I’m usually so mentally and physically exhausted that the idea is anathema to me.

Given that I write weeknotes every week, I had the idea of just writing a short synopsis with a link to each of them. It’s better than nothing. I did 212 days of work and took 41 days of holiday (incl. public holidays) this year. I also took five days of professional development to do a course, and had one sick day.

Week 1 — I went straight from Christmas holidays into preparing for Catalyst work. At this point, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was going to remain part of We Are Open Co-op (WAO) after some internal drama saw two members leave. I was doing some work for Outlandish around what became Building OUT. We were still homeschooling the kids, had our house on the market, and I’d developed tendonitis from running with my shoes tied too tightly. The attempted coup happened at the US Capitol, just as we thought things in the world couldn’t get much worse after the Australian wildfires.

Week 2 — My son started the process of choosing his GCSE options, and it was my daughter’s birthday (double digits!) I kicked off the Catalyst sector challenge, working with a team I’d put together through Dynamic Skillset, as well as several charities trying to provide some digital assistance for those struggling to apply for Universal Credit. I scaled back my work with Outlandish, and did some strategy work with my WAO colleagues.

Week 3 — Joe Biden was successfully sworn in as 46th President of the USA. My son turned 14. My colleague Laura and I put together a pilot episode for a new podcast that we asked WAO members to fund. They agreed, and it turned into The Tao of WAO. I retired the wiki at which had received almost a million visits before it fell over for the last time. I created a thesis page instead and moved my ebook to it, also making it free in the process.

Week 4 — I had a third-round interview at the Wikimedia Foundation for the Director of Anti-disinformation role which I’d applied for during the WAO turmoil. Ultimately, I didn’t get any further, but the thinking I did was shared in this blog post. All WAO members attended one of Outlandish’s Sociocracy 101 courses. The Catalyst UC project started to become a bit of a rollercoaster. Another Catalyst project, PM’d by Laura, started. I was on the team.

Week 5 — The two Catalyst projects continued, and I tied up my productisation work with Outlandish. I finished planning for a Getting Started with Digital Badges workshop I ran the following week. It rained a lot and, with it, days of migraines and pain disappeared.

Week 6 — This was a tough week on the Catalyst UC project, and I had to have several behind-the-scenes phone calls to straighten things out. I ran the badges workshop, helped Laura plan the other Catalyst work, and practised some sociocratic decision-making in our co-op half-day.

Week 7 — Half-term week, so I took Monday and Friday off to be with the kids. On the other three days, I was in work mode on the Catalyst projects, and thinking about my future career. I potentially slipped a couple of discs in my lower back after landing with a bump on a sledge going down a snowy hill.

Week 8 — More work on the two Catalyst projects, with the UC one really coming together through some prototyping. I watched the sun rise at Cresswell as I couldn’t get back to sleep. The government announced that the UK was coming out of lockdown, which was a relief but also caused anxiety as Hannah and I were still unvaccinated.

Week 9 — I started a new side project called focused on providing links to websites that work well on e-ink screens (like Kindles). More work on the two Catalyst projects, including some difficulties doing remote user testing. Lots of business development, and we took the house off the market after a chat with a mortgage advisor.

Week 10 — Our children went back to school this week, which they were enthusiastic about. We ran a ‘show and tell’ session for the DWP and other interested parties about the work we’d done on the UC project, and got great feedback. The other Catalyst project felt a lot like ‘teaching’. I still wasn’t doing much exercise due to my back hurting. I read the Deep Adaptation paper and freaked out a little.

Week 11 — I was surprised to get my first Covid vaccine, after being contacted by my GP surgery and being notified that I was on the ‘vulnerable’ list (I’ve got asthma). The UC project entered what I thought was going to be the second-last week, and the other Catalyst project chugged along nicely.

Week 12 — I started a new side project called as I didn’t think people were taking the climate emergency seriously enough. I attended an RSA Cities of Learning Summit, worked on the playback deck for the UC project, and continued work on the other Catalyst project. I wasn’t yet back at the gym due to residual back pain.

Week 13 — It was the first week of the Easter holidays, so I did a three-day work week with one of those days including a workshop for NEAR. It was the first time WAO did work in the crypto space, and the first time we got paid partly in fiat and partly in crypto! I messed about with older appropriate technology and started a conversation with a neighbour about the climate emergency.

Week 14 — Perhaps because it was the second week of the Easter holidays and I wasn’t doing much exercise, I started another side project called This is a WordPress site that automatically pulls in RSS feeds from privacy-focused websites, combines them, and displays the resulting ‘megazorded’ feed. I configured a Minecraft server for the kids.

Week 15 — My wife, Hannah, was away for the first time for a week looking after her mother. My mother helped with a range of things while I otherwise solo-parented. WAO ran another workshop for NEAR, worked on the staging site for our new website, and continued the Catalyst project.

Week 16 — I checked myself out of therapy after a marked improvement, and bought my kids a memento mori each as a reminder to ‘seize the day’. My son was stretchered off the football pitch after going into shock when he damaged the nerve between his neck and shoulder. He had the week off school. I bought some KORG Volca synths after cashing in some of my crypto.

Week 17 — We celebrated five years of the co-op on International Workers Day and wrapped up the Catalyst project. The UC project received some continuation funding so we started experimenting with merging two of the prototypes. WAO did some work on a project that still can’t be named with Greenpeace and kicked off some new work with Participate. I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching smartwatches and redesigned my personal website to be under 1KB in size.

Week 18 — I managed to get back to some kind of normality with my exercise and so decided on, and bought, a Garmin Venu 2S smartwatch. I worked on Greenpeace, Participate, and Catalyst UC projects. We booked an (expensive!) short holiday for when lockdown restrictions were to be lifted.

Week 19 — Hannah was away again looking after her mother, so I was solo parenting again. While we were apart, we celebrated both 21 years of being together (half our lives!) and her getting a User Researcher contract with the NHS Digital team. I tied up the ends of the UC project, and continued work on Greenpeace and Participate projects, as well as doing some business development.

Weeks 20 & 21 — Laura took three weeks off to go travelling, including the second of these weeks. Team Belshaw also went away just over the border to Scotland for a much-needed break. I started a new regime and approach with Thought Shrapnel.

Week 22 — I spent most of the week on holiday and experimented with not taking L-Theanine for a few days. We converted the weird landing / small room thing next to the bedroom in our loft conversion into an office for Hannah.

Week 23 — I got up early on Wednesday to the first 10k run since hurting my back, running on the beach. I got blisters. Laura was still away, and so I carried on with work for Greenpeace and Participate, as well as providing advice for the founders of Team Belshaw went kayaking as we didn’t get the chance while on holiday due to sea fret. My office roof was re-felted.

Week 24 — Hannah was away for a third time looking after her mother. Laura was back from her three-week holiday full of energy. I facilitated a Catalyst network engagement working group session, recorded another episode of our podcast, and did some consulting around LMS strategy.

Week 25 — A quiet week, work-wise, so I did more writing than usual on the blog and Thought Shrapnel. My family spoiled me with a half-cake for my half-birthday!

Week 26 — I did a marvellous overnight wild camp on the Scottish border which involved a four-hour walk there and a four-hour walk back. Hannah started her NHS 111 contract but then had to fly at short notice to see her mother. We watched a lot of the Euro 2020 football tournament. On the work front I updated an introductory course on badges ready for some client work and handed over the Universal Credit project for further development.

Week 27 — My mother-in-law sadly passed away after what proved to be her final battle in a longer war against the ravages of cancer. I began growing tomato plants up the wall of my office after a neighbour’s gift, and I spent a lot of time researching one-person tents after realising my camping gear is too heavy for me in my forties…

Week 28 — I spent the working week on a Sustainable Leadership and Deep Adaptation course. We kept the kids off school for the last few days of the summer term in case they caught Covid and couldn’t attend their granny’s funeral. After an inordinate amount of research, I bought new camping gear, and I flipped over to a new super-small filesize version.

Week 29 — This was a busy week which included the funeral in Devon as well as kicking off work with Julie’s Bicycle and Outlandish. We’d already planned to be in Devon on holiday anyway, so after the funeral we stayed down there.

Week 30 — We watched a lot of the Olympics during this holiday week. I took the kids cycling along the River Exe from Exeter to Starcross. Our eldest got stung by a wasp and our youngest fell off her bike into a hedge while looking at a plane! I discovered Genesis Foods and, determined to lose pandemic pounds, started ordering their nutritionally complete meal replacement powder.

Week 31 — A relaxing, enjoyable week back home. Hannah was in back-to-back meetings with her new job, and I split my time between Julie’s Bicycle, the Keep Badges Weird project with Participate, and some digital support for charities, funded by Catalyst.

Week 32 — We met up with Hannah’s side of the family in Lincolnshire for an enjoyable weekend, and finally got to the bottom of my son’s neck/shoulder injury after another trip to A&E.

Week 33 — I went camping with my 10 year-old daughter on the North York Moors. There were lots of flying insects and it rained, but we had fun! I ended up doing so little work this week that I thought that it might be worth just having August off next year.

Week 34 — The plan was to do a walk and some wild camping with my son this week, but in the end his neck/shoulder wasn’t up to carrying a rucksack. Work continued to be pretty chill.

Week 35 — I recorded some microcasts over at Thought Shrapnel and stopped updating as people seemed to have finally cottoned on to the climate emergency. Hannah’s NHS Digital contract was renewed, and I did some more wild camping. I read, and really enjoyed, The Book of Trespass.

Week 36 — Back-to-school week, which in these pandemic times isn’t to be taken for granted. I got stuck into work for Julie’s Bicycle with Laura, and tried to get back into the habit of exercising as part of my recovery from damaging my right rotator cuff. I started what became my September series of microadventuring in my new one-person tent.

Week 37 — Hannah and I went away to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary and then I did some more wild camping, walking west from Morpeth. I spent some time researching and purchasing equipment to transform the small room-cum-landing next to our bedroom into Hannah’s home office.

Week 38 — I decided this week not to fly anymore, except in extenuating circumstances such as family emergencies. More wild camping. I started working with a neighbour on a plan to start a Climate Café in Morpeth. Northumbrian Water came to do some work on a leak just outside our property.

Week 39 — Work with Participate and Julie’s Bicycle continued while Hannah went to Devon for an NHS Digital meetup and to see her family. We surprised my Dad with a meal out for his birthday, and the saga with Northumbrian Water and our insurance company continued. Laura went on holiday for a couple of weeks, so I was holding the fort both personally and professionally.

Week 40 — I suffered a pretty bad migraine which I tracked down to annatto in one of the additional birthday cakes which we had for my father’s birthday. It knocked me out for a whole working day. I finally got around to going to the physio for my rotator cuff injury, and I had a couple of interviews for jobs from which I subsequently withdrew. A slug slithered across my forehead while I was asleep. Yes, you read that correctly.

Week 41 — I didn’t sleep very well all week after the slug incident. I spoke at Israel EdTech Week and was a guest on the EPALE podcast. It was Hannah’s birthday so we both took the day off and did some walking, eating, and drinking. I continued helping Julie’s Bicycle with recruitment.

Week 42 — My shoulder started feeling better after doing daily exercises recommended by the physio. Laura and I met with Catalyst and others to figure out how to form a coalition to help cohorts of charities with digital transformation. We helped Julie’s Bicycle with a (successful) Arts Council England funding bid for their work next year.

Week 43 — We went away for a few nights during half-term to Dumfries & Galloway and did some great mountain biking in the Forest of Ae. I was still suffering with residual sleep issues due to the slug incident.

Week 44 — Our 14 year-old son was absolutely wiped out by having both Covid and flu jabs on the same day, and took two days off school. His temperature was sky high and he was shaking. I was notified that the bid to take me over to the Netherlands for the Dutch National Libraries conference was successful, so I started planning my ferry trip…

Week 45 — I got my first cold in a few years this week, so took it easy rather than trying to push through it as I’ve often tried (and failed) to do. Work continued with Julie’s Bicycle and Participate, and I recorded three podcast episodes with Laura. We were supposed to run the first Climate Café, but the neighbour I was organising it with got sick the day before.

Week 46 — A podcast episode I recorded on Open Badges and Verifiable Credentials in the summer was finally published. Some work we’d been developing over the previous six months didn’t go ahead due to procurement issues relating to Brexit. In addition, increasing Covid restrictions in the Netherlands meant that the Dutch National Libraries conference was postponed. We got confirmation of more work with Greenpeace in the new year, some of which I might be involved with.

Week 47 — We celebrated my mother’s 70th birthday after watching an England Women’s game at the Stadium of Light. Storm Arwen wreaked havoc and brought down trees. I pre-recorded a very enjoyable conversation as the panel keynote for the ICoBC Symposium. John told us he’d handed in his notice and so was looking forward to doing more work through the co-op in the new year!

Week 48 — My energy levels plummeted as we crossed the line into December. I tried to get out of the house and work in coffee shops, which was a little problematic due to the rise in Covid cases, but I just needed a change. Hannah’s work travel plans were cancelled for the same reason.

Week 49 — This was my last full work week of 2021. I ate a lot of mince pies, trying every supermarket’s brands rating them accordingly. We had a Christmas light switch-on with our neighbours, followed by a buffet and a nice evening of catching-up with everyone. I bought a Covid-related ornament for our Christmas tree.

Week 50 — I worked two days, then travelled to the Peak District for a walk with Bryan, before getting my Covid booster jab. We had a remote WAO Christmas party, and the en-suite roof was re-plastered and painted.

With Buster Benson’s classic post as a touchstone, it’s clear to me after putting this together that I spent the first part of the year in ‘Flow Mode’ and then the rest of the year I’ve been alternating between ‘Work Mode’ and ‘Recovery Mode’. There’s no normal to return to any more, but I’m really looking forward to some kind of post-pandemic stability. Is that too much to wish for in 2022?

Photo of an end-of-year collage I put together to represent 2021.