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Weeknote 21/2019

This week has been one of adjustments, for a couple of reasons.

First, my wife is back doing supply teaching, meaning that I have to be more flexible in my working arrangements so that I can drop off and pick up my daughter from school.

Second, two new people joined the MoodleNet team this week, so we’ve take the opportunity to shake things up a bit. Other than me, everyone else on the team will soon be doing 2.5 days per week. So we’ve agreed to have team meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, doing the bulk of our work together between those times.

This week, however, I was already committed to a co-op day on Wednesday with my We Are Open colleagues. It was enjoyable, even though we were talking about hard things like money. We’ve put a call out for people and organisations to fund Badge Wiki, which you can read about on our blog. Thanks to those who have already stepped up!

Other than that, I’ve helped ship MoodleNet v0.9.3 which is looking good, said goodbye to Alex Castaño, hello to Karen Kleinbauerů and James Laver (our new backend developers), done some planning for future releases, and produced a report for the rest of the Moodle Management team.

After a three month hiatus due to playing the magnificent Red Dead Redemption 2 together, Dai Barnes and I have finally got around to recording another episode of the TIDE podcast. Of course, it didn’t quite go to plan and Dai was called away to deal with a pupil (he lives and works at a boarding school) about halfway through the recording.

I’ve been doing plenty of other stuff as well, including writing for Thought Shrapnel every day (are you supporting that yet?), going geocaching with Scouts, taking my daughter to her first swimming gala, booking a family holiday to Iceland in December to see the northern lights, getting better at FIFA 19 Seasons, finishing Jamie Bartlett’s excellent book The People vs Tech, having my last Moodle coaching session (all of the Management team have had them), and trying to fit in daily exercise.

Next week, it’s half-term, and as I hinted at above I’m moving my non-Moodle from Wednesday to Friday. That means I’ve got a glorious Bank Holiday weekend with the in-laws, before spending Tuesday to Thursday planning with the rest of the Moodle Product Managers. I’m not sure whether that sounds intense or pretty chilled.

Weeknote 20/2019

This week I’ve been continuing to go through the hiring process for a new MoodleNet backend developer. Recruitment isn’t easy, particularly when you’re trying to do it quickly, you have to co-ordinate with colleagues in Australia, the people you’re hiring are in different countries, and you’re attending two conferences while doing so.

Despite that, we’ve managed to hire not one, but two backend developers. I’m delighted with both of them, so keep your eyes on the MoodleNet blog for more details!

I’ve also been at the Thinking Digital conference this week, which of all the events I go to, has to be my favourite. That’s quite the statement to make, I know, but it’s uniformly fantastic, and I purchase my Early Bird ticket as soon as they come out. I left, as I always do, feeling inspired about the tech as a force for change in the world.

Recently, I’ve pivoted Thought Shrapnel into being something I write an article for on a daily basis. I’m really enjoying that discipline, releasing what I write first to those who support me on Patreon, and then a week later making the articles available on the open web.

I wrote one post for this blog about the effect of changing the ‘launcher’ on my Android phone at the weekend. You can read that here.

Next week, as a result of the conference, I’ve got an invitation to speak at Newcastle University Business School on the future of technology. I’ll also be onboarding the new members of the MoodleNet team and collaborating with my We Are Open co-op buddies.

Photo of the River Tyne taken by me on Thursday. More of my images can be found on Pixelfed.

Change your launcher, change your life

There’s been an undeniable push recently to re-balance our relationship with our digital devices. Willpower alone doesn’t do it, which is why Apple and Google have introduced features into the latest versions of iOS and Android, respectively, for you to ‘take control’ of your smartphone addiction.

I’m just like everyone else in this regard, except probably more so given that I work in tech and I work from home. My ‘work’ is located everywhere I have a connection.

Light Android Launcher

Recently, after reading about The Light Phone (“designed to be used as little as possible), I mused on the fact that there’s got to be a better solution to device addiction than literally buying another device.

That’s why I had a look both at the F-Droid and Google Play marketplaces for minimalist launchers. I discovered LessPhone and Light Android Launcher. Of the two, I prefer the latter, as it’s both Open Source, and more aesthetically pleasing.

So, for the last few weeks, I’ve been using my usual launcher (the excellent, Open Source, KISS) on weekdays, and Light Android Launcher at the weekends. It’s been great. My most important apps are right there on the home screen, and I can swipe up for the full list. The whole thing is black and white with no icons, so I have to be intentional about what I do on my device at the weekend.

Try it! You might like it.

Sincere apologies to iPhone users: you’re stuck with the launcher mandated by Cupertino. You can’t customise your home screen.

Weeknote 19/2019

I’m writing this from sunny Lisbon, where I’ve been at the Creative Commons Summit. I haven’t got the energy to capture all of the things I’ve seen and learned over the past few days, so check out my tweets from the event and the recording of a Virtually Connecting session I contributed to. Perhaps I’ll discuss it during the next episode of the TIDE podcast, as well.

It was great to catch up with Bryan Mathers, whose session on The Fabulous Remixer Machine was excellent. I used his ‘stamp’ remixer to create the image accompanying this post! I took photos of Lisbon too, some of which are here.

This is actually my second trip this week, as I took my son to the Lake District on Sunday evening. On Bank Holiday Monday we climbed Helvellyn and other peaks, as detailed in this post.

It’s actually felt like three trips. You can’t fly direct from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Lisbon, and I refused to pay the £350 that KLM wanted to fly via Amsterdam. Instead, I used routes recommended to me by Skyscanner to book two Ryanair flights on the way out (via Dublin) and flights via a couple of different airlines on the way back (via Faro). I took the opportunity of a five-hour layover in Dublin on the way out to make a quick visit to the Chester Beatty Library, including sampling the wonderful food on offer at its Silk Road Café.

In terms of Moodle work, over and above making connections and learning at the CC Summit, we’ve released MoodleNet v0.9.2 alpha. We’ve also been interviewing for a new backend developer.

I’m leaving Lisbon tomorrow (Sunday) and get back home in the evening. Next week I’ve got another conference in the form of Thinking Digital. It’s always one of my favourite conferences, which is handy as it’s held at The Sage Gateshead, which is a lot closer to home than some events I go to!

Quality Mountain Day 16: Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike & Helvellyn

As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m on course to complete twenty Quality Mountain Days (QMDs) sometime this decade, so that I can book myself on a a Mountain Leader course. On this occasion, and for the first time, I took our 12 year-old son Ben with me to the Lake District.

By way of context, inspired by the film School of Rock, our family has a saying that we trot out, usually with a wink or a glint in our eye: “You’re not hardcore, unless you live hardcore.” It’s our way of encouraging one another. What Ben completed today was impressive for a boy of his age. I didn’t take him over Striding Edge, despite his pleas, because people die on there and, well, that’s for another trip (not his first!)

Planned circular route starting near Patterdale
Planned circular route starting near Patterdale

A few days earlier we had planned our 17km route together using map OS4 and a HB pencil. I also booked us into Ambleside YHA, which is one of my favourites in the Lake District. As it was Bank Holiday weekend, the prices were all over the place, and it turned out to be cheaper for us to get a 3-person private room that for both of us to stay in men’s dorms. Crazy.

Ambleside is beautiful
Ambleside is beautiful

Before going, we transferred the route we’d drawn out on paper onto the OS Maps app on my phone, and then logged into my account on a computer to view the fly-through. The initial ascent looked quite steep and, indeed, it proved to be just that. At one point I thought it was raining, but it was just the sweat dripping from my head!

That hill was STEEP
That hill was STEEP

Thankfully, it was an almost-perfect day for walking. Not too cold, not too sunny, and virtually no wind. We did had the world’s most gentle hail at one point, which was almost laughable.

Climbing up Grisedale Pike
Climbing up Grisedale Pike

Further on, I remember looking up at Grisedale Pike after coming down Fairfield and saying to Ben that it looked like entering Mordor. He smiled and, a few steps later, I realised that he’s never watched The Lord of the Rings films. Note to self: fix that Dad fail right away!

Tarn at the bottom of Dollywaggon Pike
Tarn at the bottom of Dollywaggon Pike

At about this point, Ben was tempted by a shortcut, but I convinced him to stick to our plan. After sliding on the scree down Grisedale Pike and Ben falling over three times (yes, I counted), we decided to walk around the right-hand side of the tarn instead of the left. This was mainly because we wanted to go across the stepping-stones, next to which we stopped and had a snack there.

The view going up Dollywaggon Pike
The view going up Dollywaggon Pike

The way up Dollywaggon Pike was perhaps the most arduous section of the walk. It was at this point I taught Ben about what to do if one of us got hurt, how to use the whistle to make short blasts, when to use his mobile phone, and how to keep injured person warm. I’m not sure how much went in, as we were trying to ensure a bald guy with a dog didn’t overtake us. (Ben’s quite competitive, a trait he must have inherited from his mother…)

Ben and me at the top of Helvellyn with random dog in background (courtesy of the timer on my smartphone, hence the angle!)
Ben and me at the top of Helvellyn with random dog in background (courtesy of the timer on my smartphone, hence the angle!)

Once we got up Dollywaggon Pike, the walk across to High Crag and Nethermost Pike was easy. We avoided the mountain biker coming down Helvellyn, and had lunch at the top. It was a bit smelly as I think someone into the joys of public urination had marked their territory. We also got talking to some people who delighted in telling us that part of the route that Ben was proud to be achieving had been completed by their sons when they were five. Some people just make you 🙄

Coming down from Helvellyn via Swirral Edge
Coming down from Helvellyn via Swirral Edge

As I’ve already mentioned, we had already decided not to do Striding Edge this time around, and instead came down Swirral Edge. This seemed like particularly hard work, which makes sense after reading this article on the ten most dangerous British mountains:

[T]he most dangerous part of the mountain [Helvellyn] is actually the short descent onto the start of Swirral Edge which, particularly in winter conditions, can be lethally slippery.

After seeing no-one for the first part of our walk, this section was a lot busier. I noticed that a lot of people didn’t seem very prepared for a mountain walk, wearing pretty flimsy trainers. No wonder they were going so slowly!

Walking back down to the car
Walking back down to the car

The route back was pretty straightforward, although I did find it hilarious the number of times Ben adjusted his estimates of when we would get back. Now, fair enough, we did get back earlier than I thought we would, but his first guess was way off. The optimism of youth!

In the end, after tracking it on my GPS-enabled watch, it took us 5 hours 37 minutes to walk 17.58km. To his credit, Ben didn’t slow me down at all — in fact, I had to ask him to wait for me a couple of times! I’ll be taking him again.

Things I learned:

  1. Despite our preparations, we forgot gaiters, towels, and hayfever tablets. We didn’t need the gaiters, thankfully, and I managed to hire towels and buy the tablets.
  2. There was no place to park where I’d planned, which added a bit extra onto the walk (which we actually reclaimed via the shortcut around the tarn).
  3. We wasted 30 minutes driving back, as I went the wrong way. There was no signal and I’m used to using Google Maps. I should think and plan more about that.

Weeknote 18/2019

As promised, I’m back on my weeknote game. So, this week I’ve been:

  • Sending out an annual survey for Thought Shrapnel. People said nice things, which made me smile. I’m also happy that Thought Shrapnel Daily seems to be well-received. I’ll write up my workflow for that at some point!
  • Working on the MoodleNet project:
  • Working with my We Are Open co-op colleagues on a new forum for the Open Badges community. More on that soon!
  • Absolutely battering my legs at the gym on Monday by squatting too many weights. I’ve suffered all week 🙄

Next week, I’m doing some walking in the Lake District with my son on Monday (which should count towards my QMDs), and then heading to the Creative Commons Summit in Lisbon on Wednesday.

Where are the weeknotes, Doug?

Since publishing my last weeknote at the beginning of March, I’ve published precisely three posts here. It’s funny how, when you get out of a routine, it’s difficult to get it started again. I’m thinking not only of my neglect of my weeknote duties over the past few weeks, but essentially giving up learning Spanish earlier this year as my ‘streak’ on Duolingo came to an end.

I’ve been busy on three fronts over the last couple of months:

  1. Thought Shrapnel — I gave up composing my weekly newsletter for Lent, but ended up spent a long time thinking and researching and writing so I could launch Thought Shrapnel Daily for supporters last week.
  2. Scouts — after stepping up as an Assistant Leader for one of the local groups, a lot of the responsibility has ended up falling on me to organise the programme, etc.
  3. MoodleNet — it’s my day job, sure, but ends up eating into thinking time outside of those hours too.

Meanwhile, subscribers to the TIDE podcast may be wondering why there haven’t been any episodes since the end of February. That’s easy: Dai and I have been playing a lot of Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the greatest games ever created. Instead of pontificating on edtech and the state of the world, we’ve been involved in rooftop shootouts in Western towns. I even streamed some of our gameplay on Twitch.

You know, we keep ourselves busy and feel guilty when we’re not. But, as Caterina Fake points out in a wonderful interview, we should spend some time cultivating our inner life. It’s difficult to do that when everything’s dictated by your calendar and to-do list.

Part of what keeps us busy are tasks that we invent for ourselves. I know that Thought Shrapnel Daily is something I’ve invented that takes hours of my time each week, but these have previously been hours I’ve spent checking Twitter and other social networks. It’s interesting that, when I talk about social networks with friends and colleagues, they feel the same malaise about professional social networking that I do. Perhaps MoodleNet will help with some of that!

It’s now conference season, and I was MC, chaired sessions, presented, and ran a workshop at MoodleMoot UK & Ireland the week before last. Then this week I’ve been at the CoTech Spring Gathering. I’m at home this next week, then I’m off to Lisbon for the Creative Commons Summit. The week after, it’s the Thinking Digital conference.

Now that I’m back in the swing with Thought Shrapnel, I’ll be aiming to resurrect my weeknotes, too. I compose them internally at Moodle as well, and in both situations, people say they’re useful. If only more people took the time to tell people what they’ve been up to.

Fediverse field trip

After spending a long time researching various options for MoodleNet last year, I recently revisited the Fediverse with fresh eyes. I enjoy using Mastodon regularly, and have written about it here before, so didn’t include it in this roundup.

Here’s some of the social networks I played around with recently, in no particular order. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive overview, just what grabbed my attention given the context in which I’m currently working. That’s why I’ve called it a ‘field trip’ 😉


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Weird name but pretty awesome social network that’s very popular in Japan. Like MoodleNet and Mastodon, it’s based on the ActivityPub protocol. In fact, if you’re a Mastodon user, it will feel somewhat familiar.

Things I like:

  • Drive (2TB storage!)
  • Lots of options for customisation, including ‘dark mode’
  • Easy search options
  • Connect lots of different services
  • API


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‘Card’-based social network that uses a Bootstrap-style user interface. Quite complicated but seemingly flexible.

Things I like:

  • Very image-friendly
  • API
  • Data export


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Pleroma is a very scalable social network based on Elixir. It’s like Mastodon, but snappier.

Things I like:

  • Clear Terms of Service
  • Very configurable (including formatting options)
  • ‘The whole known network’
  • Export data and delete account
  • Restrict access


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A new social network to replace sites like Reddit. Users can vote up stories they’re interested in and add comments.

Things I like:

  • Clear, crisp design
  • Obvious what it’s to be used for
  • Simple profiles


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Uses the XMPP protocol for backwards compatibility with a wide range of apps. Similar kind of communities and collections approach to MoodleNet, but focused on news.

Things I like:

  • Modals help users understand the interface
  • Focus on communities and curation
  • Option to chat as well as post publicly
  • Easy to share URLs
  • Clear who’s moderating communities


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Based on Apache Wave (formerly Google Wave) which is now deprecated.

Things I like:

  • Combination of stream and wiki
  • Indication of who’s involved in creating/discussing threads
  • Everything feels editable


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Uses the OStatus protocol and was the original basis for Mastodon (as far as I understand). Feels similar to Pleroma in some respects.

Things I like:

  • Feels like early Twitter
  • Easy to use
  • Configurable


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Built in GoLang and uses the same federation protocol as Diaspora. Still in alpha.

Things I like:

  • Simple UI
  • Vote up/down posts
  • Private and public streams

Along with Mastodon, I didn’t include Pixelfed in here because I’m so familiar with it. I possibly should have included PeerTube, FriendicaDiaspora, and Scuttlebutt. Perhaps I’ll follow this up with a Part 2 sometime?

My ChromeOS apps and extensions

I came across a pretty nifty service called Loom yesterday that allows you to record both your screen and webcam in the browser. Perfect for ChromeOS, which is the operating system I’m using most of the time at the moment.

To give it a test drive, I recorded a video showing the ChromeOS apps and extensions I use on the Chromebox in my home office.

Between this and WeVideo, I reckon everything apart from really high-end video editing can be done in the browser if you’ve got a decent internet connection. I can definitely see me using this for creating quick tutorial videos and I’ve already used WeVideo to edit green screen videos for clients!

What we need is an Open Badges community renaissance, free of IMS involvement

TL;DR: the Open Badges Google Group contains many members but has been moribund under the stewardship of IMS Global Learning Consortium. Time for something different?


Yesterday, EdSurge published an article about Open Badges which included a quotation from me. It was the first I’d heard of it as the reporter didn’t reach out to me. My words were taken from the etherpad minutes audio recording of a meeting held towards the end of last year about Credly’s ownership of patents relating to badges.

It’s important to note that, while EdSurge mentions the fact that I work for Moodle in the article, my opinions on the subject have nothing to do with my (part-time) employer, and everything to do with my involvement in the Open Badges ecosystem since 2012. I have some things to say about IMS Global Learning Consortium, and I’m afraid I can’t be very complimentary.


To my mind, three things led to the exponential growth of badges between 2012 and 2015:

  1. Mozilla’s technical expertise and reputation
  2. The MacArthur Foundation’s money and influence
  3. The Open Badges community’s evangelism and organisation

MacArthur’s money dried up after 2015, and while Mozilla’s involvement declined more slowly, they have been essentially non-existent in the ecosystem since they handed over stewardship of the Open Badges standard to IMS Global Learning consortium at the start of 2017. So what kept the Open Badges movement going between 2015 and 2017?


The thing I really want to focus here is the third thing: community. I may be biased given that I worked for the Mozilla Foundation at the time, but they did a fantastic job at attracting, feeding, and listening to a community around Open Badges. Since the transfer to IMS that community has withered. IMS doesn’t care; as a membership organisation they exist for the benefit of their members.

Right now the Open Badges Google Group, now controlled by IMS, has 2,603 members. It was a hive of activity five years ago, but now it’s moribund. This is a direct effect of IMS working in a way diametrically opposed to the conditions under which the community prospered: they are closed, secretive and unforthcoming. As the EdSurge article points out, IMS have even allowed one of its members to get away with patenting elements of the very standard it has been charged with stewarding.

With such dereliction of duty something has to be done. In similar circumstances, other open source projects have been ‘forked’. In other words, unhappy with the way a project is being managed, community members can take the underlying idea in a different direction. From my understanding having talked to some influential figures in the community, there’s a very real possibility that could happen in the next 18 months unless IMS ups their game.

Next steps?

What we need here is a a renaissance in the Open Badges community. The existing Google Group is administered by IMS and may no longer be fit for purpose. So, I’m wondering out loud whether the co-op of which I’m part should step up and host a new place for people who want to discuss Open Badges and digital credentials?

We’ve got a history of working with the community through projects such as Badge Wiki and Badge News (now The Learning Fractal). Most of us also worked for Mozilla during the glory days.

What do you think? Would you like to see an Open Badges community renaissance? How do you see that happening?

Photo by Marc Biarnès used under a Creative Commons license