Open Thinkering


Tag: camping

Weeknote 12/2023

Dawn over the Cheviots with snow on rocks in the foreground

I boiled snow for the first time this morning. Last night, I wild camped somewhere in The Cheviots as the clocks ‘sprang’ forward. Waking up before dawn, I put my iPod on shuffle, skipped one track and listened to Surprise Ice by Kings of Convenience. The song couldn’t have been more apt, given that my tent was covered in snow and ice!

The overnight camp was in preparation for walking at least half of The Pennine Way in a few weeks’ time. I’ve got all the kit I need, so I was just testing the new stuff out and making sure the existing stuff was still in good working order. The good news is that it’s very unlikely to get colder during my walk than it did last night, and I was warm enough to sleep!

This week, I’ve been helping WAO finish off our work (for now) with Passbolt and Sport England, continuing some digital strategy stuff for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, doing some work around Greenpeace and KBW. I updated a resource I’d drafted on open working for Catalyst, and put together a proposal for some badges work under the auspices of Dynamic Skillset.

We had a co-op half day on Tuesday in which we ran, and eventually passed, a proposal about experimenting with a ‘drip release’ model for our content. Essentially, this would mean that we would have patrons (platform TBD) who would get our stuff first, and then everything would be open a few weeks later. This emerged from an activity of us individually coming up with a roadmap for WAO for the next few years. We were amazingly well-aligned, as you’d hope and expect!

This week, I published:

I also helped a little with this post from Laura, and she helped me with one that I’ve written but has yet to be published. I’ve also drafted another couple of posts and an email-based course. I also (with a little help) created a weather app using the OpenWeatherMap API. Which brings us onto…

I’ve continued to find ChatGPT 4 really useful in my work this week. It’s like having a willing assistant always ready. And just like an assistant, it sometimes gets things wrong, makes things up, and a lot of the time you have domain expertise that they don’t. AI-related stuff is all over the place at the moment, especially LinkedIn, and I share the following links mainly for future me looking back.

While I got access to Google Bard a few days ago, the experience Google currently provides feels light years behind OpenAI’s offering. This week there were almost too many AI announcements to keep up with, so I’ll just note that ChatGPT was connected to internet this week. Previously it just relied on a training model that cut off in 2021. Also, OpenAI have announced plugins which look useful, although I don’t seem to have access to them yet.

There are lots of ways to be productive with ChatGPT, and this Hacker News thread gives some examples. I notice that there’s quite a few people giving very personal information to it, with a few using it as a therapist. As Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin point out in the most recent episode of their podcast Your Undivided Attention, AI companies encourage this level of intimacy, as it means more data. However, what are we unleashing? Where are the checks and balances?

Writing in Jacobin, Nathan J. Robinson explains that the problem with AI is the problem with capitalism. Robinson’s attitude reflects my own:

It’s interesting that we talk about jobs being “at risk” of being automated. Under a socialist economic system, automating many jobs would be a good thing: another step down the road to a world in which robots do the hard work and everyone enjoys abundance. We should be able to be excited if legal documents can be written by a computer. Who wants to spend all day writing legal documents? But we can’t be excited about it, because we live under capitalism, and we know that if paralegal work is automated, that’s over three hundred thousand people who face the prospect of trying to find work knowing their years of experience and training are economically useless.

We shouldn’t have to fear AI. Frankly, I’d love it if a machine could edit magazine articles for me and I could sit on the beach. But I’m afraid of it, because I make a living editing magazine articles and need to keep a roof over my head. If someone could make and sell an equally good rival magazine for close to free, I wouldn’t be able to support myself through what I do. The same is true of everyone who works for a living in the present economic system. They have to be terrified by automation, because the value of labor matters a lot, and huge fluctuations in its value put all of one’s hopes and dreams in peril.

If ChatGPT is going to revolutionise the economy, we should probably decide what that should look like. Otherwise, we’re running the risk of Feudalism 2.0. We’ve heard the hyperbole before, but if AI systems are exhibiting ‘sparks’ of artificial general intelligence (AGI) then we shouldn’t be experimenting on the general population. Perhaps Nick Cave is correct and that the problems with the world are “certitude and indifference”.

Next week is my last before taking three weeks off. I’m very much looking forward to a family holiday and am psyching myself up for my long walk. Ideally, I’d like to do the whole 268 miles in one go over a two-week period. But I don’t think my family (or my body!) would be up for that…

The September Series: weekend microadventuring

Dithered image of sunset taken over a Northumbrian field

September is the best month to go camping in northern England. The harvest comes in, the leaves start turning, and it’s usually dry enough to enjoy an overnighter. Other months are often too hot or too cold.*

On the past three Friday afternoons, I’ve finished work, packed my bag, and walked due north, west, or east respectively. Inspired by The Book of Trespass, I’ve ambled along paths and across fields to find a suitable spot to pitch my one-person tent.

The skies have been magnificent, the evenings warm and the mornings crisp. What it feels like is freedom. Each time, I’m away for no more than 16 hours, yet by the time I return home on Saturday morning it already feels like I’ve enjoyed the equivalent of almost a whole weekend.

Another influence on what I’m grandly calling ‘the September Series’ is the practice of an employee of a former client. He swore by ‘microadventures’ which he took during the working week. His rule was that each one started at 17:00 and then finished with him back at his desk before 09:00 the following morning.

As our kids play team sports, much of the weekend is spent preparing for, going to, and recovering from football matches, basketball games, and the like. By having a microadventure before 09:00 on Saturday morning, I’ve already had some time to myself before spending my time focused on my family.

I’d highly recommend microadventures! If you’re already doing some of your own, perhaps you could share examples kn the comments below?

* although my new sleeping bag may have opened up more months of the year to me!

We’re back!

At over 1,200 words, this is a long-ish post so just  a quick heads-up that I’ve divided it into sections (signified by the included Prisma-enhanced images) covering: an overview our holiday, my new fitness regime, what I’ve been reading, why I’m planning to use my wiki more, and how we can work together. 

It’s been a great summer.

One of the great things about being your own boss is the fact that, on a macro level at least, you’re in charge of your own time. That means I get to choose to be ‘away’ when it suits me — for example, during the school summer holidays, or in December when my Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in.

I’d been banging the same drum with my family, repeating the same mantra over and over again: “we’re going away camping for the whole of August”. My wife thought it was too long. Friends said that three weeks would probably be a better idea. But I stuck to my guns. I even shaved my hair off in preparation!

Well, it turns out that other people were right: spending more than a couple of weeks under canvas is hard work. In the event, we split the month into several sections — partly due to external circumstances, partly due to conscious decision-making.

The original plan had been to travel down the east side of France, go a little way into Italy, come back along the south coast of France and into northern Spain, and then wend our way back up the west coast of France back to the UK. It didn’t quite work like that because of….


Thousands of them. And on the same night that our youngest contracted a tummy bug. Imagine being in a campsite on an Italian mountain with a five year-old up several times in the night to be sick, and ants swarming round you. It was me who decided enough was enough. We were going home.

My wife persuaded me to stay one night in an apartment (“just to get ourselves sorted out”) before the trip back. Now that Munchkin #2 was feeling better and we were in more salubrious surroundings, it all didn’t seem so bad. So we changed our plans, aiming to spend the money we would have spent on camping on hotels. We’d just have a shorter, more comfortable holiday.

To cut a long story short, we ended up making our way, via Avignon, Reims, and Orange to our favourite campsite: Municipal de Sézanne. We stayed there a week, enjoying the huge outdoor swimming pool, immaculately-clean facilities, and the fact it was (including electricity) only 15 Euros per night!

That final stretch of time on a single campsite, with a trip to Paris, leisurely walks through Champagne-producing vineyards, swimming, reading, and general messing about, was the best bit of the holiday. After returning to the UK via the Eurotunnel, we stopped off at the in-laws in Devon for a few days, then made our way back home via an overnight stay in Sheffield (where my wife and I met, at university).


It turns out that if, for a month, you do a lot less exercise than you’re used to, have pastries for breakfast every morning and an ice-cream every afternoon, you put on weight! Who knew?

Last week, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. So I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I’d re-read most of the excellent Fitness for Geeks while I was away, which is a great addition to anyone’s shelf. In the last seven days I’ve lost half a stone, mainly through eating as little carbohydrate as possible, by starting running again (despite it increasing my risk of migraines), and by consuming the same things for breakfast (smoothie made from fruit, coffee, and various powders) and lunch (four egg omelette with cheese, tomatoes, spinach and peppers).

I’ve got another half a stone to go, but that should be gone by the end of September, especially seeing as our paused gym membership kicks back in today. One of the things I’ve had the children accompany me in doing is running up sand dunes at our nearest (National Trust) beach. My father used to get us down for pre-season training when he was manager of our football team, so I’m just passing on the baton. It’s hard work, I’ll tell you that!


Stepping out of the stream for a month is, unsurprisingly, a great way to reflect on your life, your priorities, and your habits. Something I’ve realised is how much I enjoy being up before everyone else in the morning. Not only does this give me a chance to read before the normal hustle-and-bustle of family life begins, but it gives me a chance to take my own emotional temperature before helping other people increase theirs.

One of things I like doing with my morning reading is to read things on repeat. My go-to for this purpose over the last few years has been the relatively-unknown work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Sometimes translated as ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’, the Penguin version I’ve got (both in print form and ebook) is entitled The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. It contains 300 maxims about ways to approach the world and, in the Stoic tradition, is kind of a pithier version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Over the last few months, and in the last few weeks in particular, I’ve collected eight books in total which I’m currently reading on repeat. I’ll swap out any when I feel I’ve fully digested what they contain. So in addition to the two above, I’ve also got as a Kindle ‘daily reading’ collection:

At the other end of the day, before bed, I tend to read fiction. Right now, I’m reading the excellent Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell. It’s set partly in Northumberland (where I live) and was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague when I was at Mozilla. I should have paid attention as it’s great!

Since we’ve returned from holiday, I’ve settled into a new routine in the evening after putting the children to bed. I’ll put on some ambient music and read in the small ‘cubby hole’ (for want of a better word) that we’ve got next to our bedroom in our new-ish loft conversion. I’ve just finished Invisible Forms: a guide to literary curiosities, which I stumbled upon in a secondhand bookshop while I was away.


A quick note about my intentions for where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next few months. I’m wary of making grand pronouncements of what I intend to do because, as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. However, I do intend to make more use of my wiki in the future.* Along with starting to use Feedly again (and its excellent ‘knowledge board’ feature) it’s time to spend at least as much time on the side of the river, curating, as it is in the stream itself.

Spiral staircase

Finally, I’m always looking for ways in which I can help people achieve their goals in a way that also helps me reach mine. I make my living as a consultant, which means I’m a knowledge worker, someone who advises, synthesises, and creates. If you, or someone you know could do with my input, please do direct them towards my Dynamic Skillset website, or towards We Are Open Co-op!