Open Thinkering


Category: Weeknotes

Weeknote 14/2021

Screenshot of Minecraft with username blurred

Another three-day working week for me thanks to the kids being on Easter holidays. It’s been strange weather over the last few days, but then with accelerating climate change we’ll have to get used to a lot worse than 17°C weather followed by snow in April.

I’ve split the days I have worked this week between the Catalyst Definition project, planning the next workshop for NEAR, exploring new work for Greenpeace, and doing some business development. Oh, and we also managed to have a co-op half-day in there somewhere, too.

Whether it’s due to me getting older, responding to the climate emergency, or both, I’ve found myself this week reverting to older tech to get stuff done. I’m bashing this out on my 10 year old ThinkPad X220, perhaps the best laptop ever made — and I’ve gone back to my seven year-old OnePlus One with LineageOS 18.1. A bunch of stuff is going on eBay over this weekend.

I bought a half price Casio G-Shock watch which looks resilient enough to be rubbing shoulders with cockroaches after nuclear armageddon. However, the Bluetooth functionality is disappointing so the chances are I’ll send that back and make do with my (excellent) Amazfit Bip.

This week I wrote several posts on this blog:

As the titles suggest, I spent Easter weekend ensuring there are multiple ways for people to subscribe to, and then span up a new side project called The latter automatically aggregates news relating to privacy from around the web.

Next week, my wife is potentially away caring for a relative, so I might be solo parenting. It’s the penultimate week of the Catalyst Definition project, and the start of some new projects. It’s a bit weird for me not to be able to talk about all of the stuff I do, but then I guess that’s the nature of doing some forms of interesting work.

I’m very much looking forward to getting away at some point. That might be a bit of wild camping somewhere, but as April weather is very changeable these days where I live, that might have to wait until May.

Header image is a screenshot of the Minecraft world I created with my kids for $1.50/month using MCProHosting (others hosts are available!) instead of wading through Microsoft’s convoluted parental controls so that we could subscribe to Realms.

Weeknote 13/2021

Rothley Castle, Northumberland

This week has been a short one, work-wise, with me taking the equivalent of two days off (Monday PM, Wednesday AM, all day Friday).

The main focal points of the week were a playback session for the Catalyst-funded sector challenge project I’ve been leading over the last 11 weeks, and a workshop for NEAR, an open source platform accelerating the development of decentralized applications. For the latter, it will be the first time our co-op will be paid partly in crypto, so we’ve been sorting that out.

Unlike the majority of England, this was the first week of Easter holidays for our two children. They’ve played a lot of Minecraft this week during the times my wife I have been working. There are worse games; at least it’s both collaborative and creative.

This week has seen the easing of lockdown measures at a time when the weather improved dramatically. This meant that we could invite my parents into our garden for the first time in a long time. There are many things I used to take for granted that now seem quite precious.

I’m continuing to work on my side project, This week, I created @extinctionfyi, re-purposing an old conference-focused account I haven’t used for seven years. I also wrestled with Mailchimp to create an automatic RSS-to-email Saturday digest which you can subscribe to here. The website itself will show the latest 10 items, but the RSS feed and email digest contains everything.

My personal website also has a projects page where I’ve listed Thought Shrapnel,, and

Allied to the above, I’ve been thinking about resilient tech this week. This is on the road to what some might call appropriate technology. I haven’t over-theorised this, but I’ve been doing things like:

  • Buying old MP3 players to hold downloaded music (instead of streaming)
  • Resurrecting spare phones and updating them with LineageOS
  • Getting used to using my ThinkPad x220 with a 20-hour battery dock

I had a quick chat with my neighbour yesterday, who was the only other person I know from where I live who both went to the climate strike a couple of years ago and to the Northumberland County Council meeting on the climate emergency. He told me that he’s quite optimistic about the future because of the groundswell of younger people taking up the challenge that climate change poses.

I’m looking forward to getting to his state of optimism at some point. Right now, I’m continuing to wallow in despair at the scale of the challenge that humanity faces. I can’t see a way out other than a process of deep adaptation that might further exacerbate existing divisions in our already-fragmented societies. I hope I’m wrong.

This weekend is Easter, so I’ve got four days off in a row to scoff chocolate and feel slightly guilty about not doing more DIY. I’m planning to also take next Friday off, meaning that next Friday will be another three-day week, before diving into new work the following week.

Photo of Rothley Castle, Northumberland, which we visited on Saturday afternoon. Dithered using this service.

Weeknote 12/2021

Old-school square drainpipe with plants growing around it

This week was the second of two weeks that our two children have spent in school since lockdown. It’s now the Easter holidays, and I’m planning to take (the equivalent of) two days off each week for the next couple of weeks.

Last week was the last (funded) week of a project, a Catalyst-funded sector challenge that I’ve been leading for most of 2021 so far. We achieved a lot in a short amount of time (see participants’ thoughts here), and did a project retrospective on Wednesday and a digital team retro on Friday. The ‘playback’ for the funders is next Tuesday.

The other Catalyst project I’m involved with just finished Week 6 of 10. That one involves taking a cohort of charities through a ‘definition’ programme, leading them to prototype solutions for problems faced by the audience they serve.

In addition to some business development and catching up with a few people, I attended the RSA’s Cities of Learning Summit on Thursday afternoon. Back in 2013, my colleagues on the Mozilla Open Badges team helped with Chicago’s Summer of Learning. That morphed into a programme of ‘Cities of Learning’ across the US.

Here in the UK, the RSA did things slightly differently, and over a longer period of time, so the pilot projects have only just finished up. It’s been a success, particularly during the pandemic (oddly) so the programme is being rolled out to more places — and not just cities.

I’m keen to see this programme succeed, and in an open source way. I’d like to ensure that a diversity of badge platforms and providers are involved, to avoid vendor lock-ins and silos.

The thing that took up a lot of my curiosity and time this week was refactoring the site. I explain more about that process in this post, but suffice to say figuring out the technical side of things had me staying up past midnight for the first time for a long time…

Other than that, I haven’t published anything as I’ve switched Thought Shrapnel to a monthly newsletter. That allows me more time for other side projects.

As I’ve already mentioned, next week I’m taking some time off, which will be nice. I need to get back to doing more exercise as my back is slowly getting better. I really wish I could get back to the gym, but until all of the adults around me have been vaccinated, that’s probably not a great idea.

Image: a curious-looking drainpipe on the side of the Boys Brigade Hall, Morpeth, England

Weeknote 11/2021

Card with name 'Doug Belshaw' and details of Astra Zeneca COVID vaccine batch number (4120Z002) and date (16.3.21)

The biggest and most unexpected news in my life this week was receiving a COVID vaccine. I had been contacted by the NHS by text message, and had booked an appointment for April, but then was called on Wednesday morning and asked to go that very day.

I’m asthmatic, and was in childhood, and then again from age 27. It’s well-managed, though, and doesn’t stop me from (usually) leading a reasonably-active lifestyle. As a result, it felt a little like receiving some kind of golden ticket.

While I can’t complain about getting the vaccine, I had planned to receive it on a Friday afternoon. This is because I know how I usually feel after receiving my annual flu jab, and I didn’t want it to interfere with my working week. Sure enough, I felt rough on Thursday and Friday. I’ve also got a bad back (still!) but I’m trying not to grumble.

This has been Week 10 of the Catalyst-funded Universal Credit programme I’m project managing, and Week 5 of the Definition programme I’m working on with my co-op colleagues. With the former, we’ve just a week left (bar any continuation funding) so we’re wrapping up our prototype work and focusing on reporting/handover. With the latter, we’re helping the charities get ready to create their ‘Minimum Lovable Product’ (MLP) and then test it with their target audience(s).

Other than some business development, it’s been Catalyst all the way this week for the ~23 hours of paid work I did. I read an article in Fast Company this week about the 25-hour work week and how it’s the future. Well, right now it’s the reality for me. I’m not sure, to be honest, where the 37.5 or 40-hour work week comes from. I average about 5 hours per day and, as I’ve said many times before, four hours of that is solid knowledge work and the other is admin.

I’m still reflecting on just what my response should be to the ‘Deep Adaptation’ paper I wrote about recently. My concern is that it feels like a potentially-valid response to throw your hands in the air and double-down on things that maximise both hedonism and killing the planet.

That’s not what I feel like doing. I feel like minimising my impact on nature. As an educator (by training) and a technologist (by interest) I feel that I should not only make some changes to my digital life, but encourage others to do likewise. I’m struggling a little to know exactly what to do, but I’ve been checking out Low-tech Magazine’s solar powered website, and outside of work I’m using some older, lower-powered tech. It doesn’t feel like enough, though.

I think I might need a break from writing Thought Shrapnel for a bit. It’s devolved into me just sharing links via blog posts which then get packaged up into a weekly newsletter. Last week, I just shared a couple of posts I’d written on this blog instead. What I probably need, like most people, is a holiday to get away from the home in which I live and work.

Next week I’ve scheduled a couple of days off, but I may need to move things around due to the requirements of the projects I’m working on. Right now, I feel like I’d like to go and pitch my tent somewhere with some nice scenery for a few days, do some walking, and cook on a Trangia. It won’t be long before all that’s possible, I suppose.

Photo taken by me on Wednesday.

Weeknote 10/2021

Beach with red sky in the distance and dunes in foreground

Our two children went back to school this week on Monday and Thursday, respectively. According to the government data, our particular area of Northumberland had between zero and three cases of Covid-19 the week before so, despite my misgivings, and due to their enthusiasm, they went back.

It’s a bit of a relief to get them out of the houses to be perfectly honest. Much as I love them, and as great as they’ve been during successive lockdowns, it’s nice to have some adult space. Due to my home office being separate to our house, I wasn’t even the one most inconvenienced, so I think my wife was the one breathing the biggest sigh of relief.

It’s been Week 9 of 11 for the Catalyst-funded Universal Credit project I’ve been project managing. This week has gone particularly well, culminating in us running a well-attended ‘show and tell’ session. We had funders, members of government digital teams, charities, and other interested parties.

The thing that’s been particularly gratifying has been the feedback we’ve had about not only the amount of work we’ve achieved but the quality of it in a short space of time. That being said, as I’ll say in the report, I think we could have achieved even more had things been set up slightly differently.

You can view the prototypes as they stood in Wednesday here and the slides from our presentation below. The recording from the event will be on the project blog soon.

In terms of the other Catalyst project, the one being led by Laura and involving 19 charities doing some work around ‘Definition’, it very much reminds me of my teaching days. There’s different levels of engagement and willingness to trust the process, shall we say. Thankfully, it’s been a mostly positive process so far.

That project has just finished Week 4 of 10 so it’s still early days for all involved. What’s interesting is that a few projects have started to realise that what they thought they knew about the people their charity exists to serve, and what might actually be the case, are two different things. Reality can be stubborn.

I wrote a blog post about the recent work we did with the cohort around system ecosystems and content audits on the We Are Open Co-op blog.

Prompted by some podcasts I’ve listened to, as well as some associated reading, this week I’ve been writing about human extinction. It’s not a cheery topic, but it’s a necessary one to discuss when our infantile and narcissistic world leaders do nothing.

  • Everyone has an eschatology — “Whatever our professed spiritual beliefs I reckon everyone has an eschatology. That is to say, we have a theory, either explicit or implicit, about how the world will end ⁠— and whether that will occur in our lifetime, our children’s lifetime, or neither.”
  • The role of the man who foresees is a sad one — “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.”

Sadly, these posts barely caused a ripple when I shared them on various social networks. Meanwhile, a photo of my tear-off calendar went viral on Twitter. I don’t understand the world anymore.

Tweet showing a photo of a Very British Problems calendar. It reads "I'll have to take your word for it." Translation: "Bollocks."

I’ve done very little in the way of exercise this week, not because I’ve been busy (which I have) but because my back has been painful. So much so, in fact, that I ended up phoning the doctor about it. Turns out that I need to do gentler exercise and take it easy for a couple of weeks.

Yep, I’m getting old.

Header image taken at sunrise at Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Weeknote 09/2021

Abstract image with concentric circles

This week seems to have gone rather slowly. It seems a long time since last Sunday afternoon when I launched, my new side project. I later found some time to refactor it down to a mere 6.6KB in size and change the default to dark mode. It’s a fun thing to work on.

I’ve worked more hours this week than I have since the pandemic started, I reckon. We’ve just finished Week 8 of the 11-week Catalyst project I’m leading, and Week 3 of the one of which Laura is in charge. Both have their challenges, I guess, but I’d definitely answer “yes” to my late grandmother’s question, “are you winning, son?”

I published a post on the Medium publication about the project I’m leading to help people be able to register more successfully for Universal Credit. We’re testing three prototypes, progress on which you can see below:

Screencast of three prototypes from ‘Sector Challenge 9: Claiming Universal Credit remotely’

It’s a pleasure working with the digital team we’ve put together. Dan, who’s organisation Bay Digital I’m partnering with on this project, wrote a post about the difficulties we’ve had doing remote user testing. I’m looking forward to writing the report when we’re finished.

I’ll give you three guesses as to what happened to my decision to give up refined sugar for Lent? Well, reader, I feel like my friends and family conspired against me; my co-op colleagues told me I was “definitely grumpier” and then my daughter, mother, and wife baked sweet delights on consecutive days that it would have been positive rude not to taste.

In addition, my back is hurting. I’m trying not to whinge and I really should seek some medical advice, but I’ve got all of the symptoms the NHS list of a slipped disc. I did go for one (what I’d be ashamed to call) ‘run’ this week, but then was popping ibuprofen like a junkie the next day. I exaggerate for comic effect, but something’s not right.

I’ve done a decent amount of business development for We Are Open this week, talking to people about blockchain, digital credentials, and getting their processes sorted out. I’m never quite sure where the next bit of work is going to come from, but it always does. I guess that’s what happens when you work as part of a talented collective.

On that front, we had a chat with a mortgage adviser this week about our options for moving house. We’re not entirely sure whether to stick or twist, knowing that we’ve got it good where we are for the moment. However, that’s likely to change for a number of reasons, so it’s just deciding when (and how) to make the jump.

Things I published this week:

Next week, it’s the Mozilla Festival. This is usually an event I’m excited about and enjoy the heady mix of meeting new people and ideas. I’ve bought a ticket and even helped Outlandish with the sessions they’ve had accepted. I just haven’t been able to prioritise going through the 500+ sessions yet to pick out the ones that I can attend alongside getting my work done. A first glance at the schedule suggests there’s a lot of sessions about AI and not loads on the open web…

Image by Adrien Converse

Weeknote 08/2021

Dawn at Cresswell, northumberland

I am now, it would appear, the kind of person who lies in bed on a Saturday morning, laptop resting against raised knees, while the rest of the family get ready.

The announcement this week that the UK is slowly coming out of lockdown is welcome news, although I’m a bit apprehensive about the gap between the kids going back to school the week after next, and the time when my wife and I get vaccincated. The good news is that both my parents and sister have had their first dose.

This has been a busy week. At the moment, I only track the paid hours of work I do; this week there were 29.25 of those. Overall, I’d estimate that about 25% of my time is unremunerated (catch-up calls with contacts, sorting out my home office, etc.) so this was probably a 40-hour week.

That sounds pretty standard, until you factor in a pandemic, all of my work being on-screen, and the fact that I am pretty much incapable of working at anything less than 90% effort. I’ve also given up refined sugar for Lent, which has had a surprising impact on my energy levels.

I’m not complaining, as given the number of people out of work and/or struggling at the moment, it’s good to be able to provide for my family. But I would dearly love to get away somewhere other than the four walls of my home office. Despite being painted what I usually describe as ‘mental health green’ they feel like they’re closing in on me.

My work this week has been across the two Catalyst-funded projects in which I’m involved, some business development, and an ‘expert’ interview with a company wanting some input on an initiative they’ve got around digital. I had to sign an NDA around the latter.

The Catalyst project I’m project managing, Sector Challenge 9: Claiming Universal Credit remotely is coming together. The digital team we assembled put together is working on the four prototypes referenced in this overview slide deck:

  1. Visualisation of steps — service map showing overview of application process (including government departments and agencies). Vertical format for interactive navigation on mobile device.
  2. Check list — interactive check-box list of documents and other resources required to fill in UC form. Includes examples, and ‘ticks’ persist across browser sessions (on same device).
  3. In-context help — TBC in next week’s workshop session with charity partners, but Dan has already mocked-up the workflow for a chat bot that works via SMS.
  4. Real time support from a real-life professional — document comparing options for screensharing between claimant and adviser. Criteria to be co-created by project team.

We’ve got a meeting with representatives from the DWP’s Universal Credit team next week, and we’re presenting at the government’s internal service week show-and-tell event on Friday.

With the other Catalyst project, the one Laura is leading, we’re taking 10 charities through a definition process. This week was all about helping them create an architecture of participation for their charity project. Next week we’re onto service blueprints and thinking about how everything ties together.

Spring is definitely in the air, with daylight hours growing longer and the temperature rising. I always find mid-October to the end of February difficult, partly because of SAD (which I’ve learned to mitigate) but partly because of burnout. Having three weeks off at the end of last year really helped, so I’ve been able to sustain my energy levels pretty well, and am raring to go from March to September.

Next week, I’ll be continuing working on the Catalyst projects mentioned above. There’s another month left of mine, and two months of Laura’s, and then we’re back to client work, which we’re currently prioritising. Everyone always wants everything now

Image of dawn at Cresswell, Northumberland on Thursday morning. I woke at 04:30, couldn’t get back to sleep, so decided to go and watch the sunrise.

Weeknote 07/2021

This week has been half-term for our kids. During previous school holidays in this pandemic there’s been some release, for example in October half-term we went away to an Airbnb for a couple of nights, and over Christmas we weren’t working.

This time, though, our children had a week’s break at a busy time for both us parents. We’re working on the same projects and, although we tried to take some time off this week, I’m afraid to say that both kids put in about a 37.5 hour week on Minecraft and Fortnite, combined.

They, of course, think this is the best thing ever. I’ve seen wonderful creations in Minecraft, and they’ve been getting along very well together. One should be grateful of small mercies, I guess.

One thing I’ve been meaning to include in these weeknotes for a while is Buster Benson’s seven modes from his post Live like a hydra. You can go and read about them in more detail on his site, but I’ll include this quotation by way of explanation:

The purpose of these modes is to offer a selection of alternatives when one strategy isn’t working. Rather than beating my head against the wall because I’m trying to be social when I’d rather just organize my finances, these modes allow me to switch to the circumstances, and be productive within the mode that I’m currently in.

This week, then, I’ve been in work mode which Benson describes as: “Things that don’t require much creativity or thought to do, but which just need to be banged out. Fixing things, cleaning things, maintaining things, organizing things, etc.”

My work this week, and for the next month or so, primarily consists of leading one Catalyst-funded project (claiming Universal Credit remotely), and being part of a project team for another (helping 10 charities through a definition phase). They’re compelling and frustrating in equal measure.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do in the coming years. I’ve enjoyed my career to date, but I could definitely be accused of following the path of least resistance. Although, who knows? Perhaps the path of least resistance only appears when you’re really curious about a thing and follow it to its logical conclusion. Perhaps that’s what I’m looking for.

Things are going well, co-op wise. We’ve got some new clients and work that we’re lining up for after the Catalyst projects finish, and I very much enjoy working with Bryan and Laura. They give me energy when I’m flagging (and, hopefully, vice-versa).

One thing that hasn’t really helped this week is that I’ve had a bad back. I haven’t been able to complain about this too much because my wife also has had a bad back this week. Unlike my sledge-induced pain, her pain was caused by me pulling a chair away from her while we were playing a family board game. It, er, didn’t turn out to be as hilarious IRL as it played out in my head…

Bad back = not doing much exercise = grumpy Doug. It is on the mend, though, and I did some running this morning with the kids. Thank goodness I have a job where I sit down most of the day.

Here, I published a post about trustless systems and society entitled Trust no-one: why ‘proof of work’ is killing the planet as well as us. Over at Thought Shrapnel, I managed a link post and one listing out some tools and resources I’ve come across recently:

Next week, it’s more Catalyst project fun, with some added business development for good measure. Want to work on a project with me? Get in touch:

Image of interestingly-coloured mud from a family walk in Thrunton Woods on Friday afternoon.

Weeknote 06/2021

Animated gif of snow falling

This week I’ve been helped by this quotation from the eighth book of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

Never confuse yourself by visions of an entire lifetime at once. That is, do not let your thoughts range over the whole multitude and variety of the misfortunes that may befall you, but rather, as you encounter each one, ask yourself, ‘What is there unendurable, so insupportable, in this?’ You will find that you are ashamed to admit defeat. Again, remember that it is not the weight of the future or the past that is pressing upon you, but ever that of the present alone. Even this burden, too, can be lessened of you confine it strictly to its own limits, and are severe enough with your mind’s ability to bear such a trifle.

I’m probably being a little over-dramatic, as this week’s setbacks haven’t been so serious, when looking at the bigger picture. So we’re going to have to wait until 2022 to move house? Oh well.

Work-wise this week I’ve been:

I published one blog post here: Investing in decentralised crypto file storage as well as two link-based posts over at Thought Shrapnel:

Next week, it’s half-term for our kids, so I’m taking Monday and Friday off. That, of course, means that Tuesday through Thursday is wall-to-wall meetings and workshops. I can’t wait to travel again.

Header gif created from short video I took this week near our house in Morpeth, Northumberland

Weeknote 05/2021

After around 10 days of migraine-like headaches and fuzziness, they ended towards on Thursday evening. I’m sure some of it is due to the weather, which has been abysmal (it’s still raining as I write this) but also due to the amount of time I’m spending on screens.

We’ve just finished Week 4 of the Catalyst-funded sector challenge project that I’m project managing. As I mentioned last week, the project is successful if we manage to identify and prototype ways to remove barriers for the 25% of people who are eligible for Universal Credit, but who, for various reasons, don’t claim it.

I published a post on the project blog about the double-diamond process we’re using to organise the 11 weeks we’ve got to get something prototyped. Thankfully, we’ve got a talented team in Dan Mosforth of Bay Digital, Hannah Belshaw, Ivan Minutillo, and Tom Broughton.

In addition to the Catalyst project I’m project managing, I’m part of the We Are Open Co-op team that is helping 11 charities better-define what they need to do to create a product or service for their users. Laura Hilliger is project managing and is doing a great job in getting everything organised.

It’s Week 1 for that project next week, so from mid-February until the end of March, I’ll be working almost entirely on Catalyst-funded stuff.

In preparation for that, I’ve been tying up most of my work with Outlandish this week. I led a retro on the productisation work I did with them primarily from September to December last year, and am stepping back from the week-to-week work around Building OUT. I will, however, still be part of their monthly strategy sessions around the latter.

The only other bit of work I’ve been doing this week is planning the Getting Started with Digital Badges workshop I’m running for Waterford Institute of Technology, funded by the Irish National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. It’s been a couple of years since I ran a badges workshop, so it’s a good chance to revisit existing resources and materials.

While I didn’t write anything here this week, over at Thought Shrapnel I published two link-based posts with a tiny bit of commentary:

Next week, then, is the badges workshop, Catalyst projects, and a co-op half-day. Laura and I will also hopefully finish recording the first episode of the podcast we’re working on.

Photo of the stepping stones in Morpeth, England, where I live. The amount of rain this week has meant that the River Wansbeck is close to flooding.