Open Thinkering


Tag: holiday

Weeknote 32/2020

This week, and most of last week, I’ve been on holiday. Ideally, I like to have three weeks off in a row, as it’s only then that I find I can truly unwind. However, given I’m now (by choice) no longer employed, holidays have the double hit of both costing money and getting in the way of me making more. As the main earner in our family, the responsible thing to do is to only take much as I need.

Usually when we go to Devon, we stop off at a hotel to prevent it being a full day of driving. The pandemic, though, means that not only do we want to avoid hotels, but there’s less traffic on the roads, making our journey quicker. That means we got to my wife’s parents’ house by mid-afternoon.

We stayed in a place we’ve been before, a hand-built holiday cottage constructed by by friends of my in-laws. They bought a smallholding 25 years ago when they were about my age. They’ve turned it into such a welcoming and restful place that I was able to relax immediately.

We spent our time in Devon visiting family, going on walks, and generally relaxing. I had prepared for the trip by uninstalling or disabling every work-related app on my phone. The only screens we took for the kids were on their e-readers and MP3 players. For it to a be a qualitatively different experience to the last few months at home it was important not to just take the same screens with us.

On the way back from Devon, we stopped off for a couple of nights in Shropshire at a self-catering cottage we’d booked. It’s not a county I’ve spent much time in, so we visited Ironbridge, which is somewhere I only know about due to teaching it as part of the Industrial Revolution. While we were there we had our first meal out for months thanks to the government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, dining on outside tables.

The accommodation we stayed at in Shropshire wasn’t the best. In fact, for only the second time ever, I left a negative review on I feel a bit bad for doing so, but the place wasn’t as clean as it should have been, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Also, the photos of the property managed to skilfully omit the huge power lines right overhead.

Since we’ve been back, we’ve inevitably been talking about what would happen if we bought a smallholding. Our circumstances are different, though. Unlike our hosts in Devon, we’ve got children, houses and land is no longer so cheap, and there’s the small matter of the pandemic. The sensible thing to do is to try and pay off our mortgage in the next decade or so…

Despite that disappointment, we did manage to have a good walk up The Wrekin, which I think technically qualifies as a mountain. There was an Iron Age hill fort on the site, but there’s not much evidence of that now. Still, the panoramic views were superb and our children will climb and jump off any and all rocks.

Next week, I’m back to work. I genuinely have not looked at my inbox or calendar since turning on my out-of-office before going away. So I guess my Monday morning is going to be spent wading through messages before getting started with anything more productive!

Photo of Ironbridge run through the Game Boy camera filter of the Retroboy Android app, reducing it to 59.39kb. The Roy Lichtenstein filter looked slightly better, but resulted in a filesize 2.5x larger!

Weeknotes 32 & 33/2019

I’m composing this from Boston Logan airport before an overnight flight to Manchester, and a drive back home. Team Belshaw has been in New England on holiday for the past couple of weeks. In many ways it’s felt a lot longer than that.

Let’s deal with the positives first. Our experiences here have been the kind we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The kids have got on well together — gloriously screen-free, apart from the occasional movie on a TV in an Airbnb.

The weather has been exactly what we hoped for: hot without being scorching. We travelled clockwise from Boston, to Cape Cod, to Providence, Rhode Island. From there we went up to Vermont and then across to Maine. Finally, we drove back to Boston to fly home.

It’s the most expensive holiday we’ve ever been on for a couple of reasons. First, New England is an expensive place to take a vacation in there summer. We managed to score super-cheap flights thanks to Jack’s Flight Club, but the accommodation cost a lot more than we were expecting.

Second, it was announced a few days into our holiday that the British pound was the lowest it had been against the US dollar since 1985. In these kinds of situations, you can decide to economise as much as possible, or just enjoy your holiday and deal with the consequences when you get home. Unusually, we decided to do the latter.

Some of the many memories I’ll take back with me:

  • Going whale-watching off Cape Cod at the same time as starting to read Moby Dick for the first time.
  • Playing ‘baseball’ with a foam bat-and-ball pretty much everywhere we stayed.
  • Visiting, and photographing, beautiful old lighthouses along the coast of Maine and Cape Cod.
  • Kayaking near Cape Elizabeth (it was our daughter’s first time!)
  • Paddling in Queechee Gorge in Vermont and imagining what it must have been like hundreds of years ago.
  • Eating whole lobster and feeling like we were eating an alien!

We’d definitely come back, especially to Cape Cod which we absolutely loved.

Now then, while I was away, the plan was to uninstall all messaging and social media apps from my phone. It was supposed to be a break from what can feel very much like an always-on, hyperconnected lifestyle back home.

As I’ve already written, we stepped off the plane to some tragic news about my good friend Dai Barnes. Given that Twitter is the place many know him from, it was important to try and balance honouring his memory with being present for my family.

As a result of being on Twitter, I couldn’t help but become briefly embroiled in a debate which happened amongst educators in Twitter. I didn’t originally engage with it directly, but rather reminded white guys with a decent following that they have responsibilities via this tweet:

If you're a white male with a bunch of followers, it's probably worth:1. Telling people that you're anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-transphobic (if, indeed, you are)2. Acting like it.#its2019people
(I delete my tweets every month, so this is a screenshot)

Unfortunately, instead of any kind of nuance or healthy debate, the whole thing descended into A Hashtag About Which People Should Take Sides™. I’ve been a little skeptical when people have called Twitter a ‘rage machine’ because of the move they’ve made towards an algorithmic timeline. Well, I was wrong to be doubtful; this was that in action.

If you want to read more on the whole debacle, I’d recommend that you read Shame Cycles and Twitter Rage by Sherri Spelic, and Edutwitter, Witches, and Whiteness by Michael Cole.

Next week will be all about the jet lag and catching up with developments with MoodleNet while I’ve been away. I’ve been mostly Telegram-free all holiday, so I guess I should be thankful for small mercies.

Weeknotes 43 & 44/2017

Last week, after tying up some loose ends with various bits of client work and scheduling Badge News #20, I headed off for a holiday with my family from Tuesday to Tuesday, returning to the wonderful island of Gozo in the Mediterranean. No wonder it’s suspected of being the mythical island of Ogygia, referred to by Homer in The Odyssey.

This week, after arriving back on Tuesday evening, I started some work with Moodle from Wednesday to Friday. In fact, I’m heading to Florida on Sunday for the 2017 Miami MoodleMoot to kick off work on a project I’ll be leading. More details on that soon.

Otherwise, I’ve spent this short three-day work recording the Episode 91 of the TIDE podcast with Dai Barnes, helping facilitate this month’s  Badge Wiki barn raising with Bryan Mathers, and catching up with Oliver Quinlan, Laura Hilliger, Gavin Henrick, Garnet Berry, Tom Murdock, and a few other — including some students from UCL looking for some advice about putting on a conference.

Oh, and I haven’t eaten meat for the last two weeks, but I’m following the advice of Alan Jacobs (via Austin Kleon) on that…

I wrote the following:

After my trip to Miami next week, I’ll be home for 24 hours before heading to London on Friday to present at the InnovateEdTech 2017 event on Saturday 11th November. I believe a few tickets are still available and you can get 50% off if you use the code EDTECH50.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology. If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

Weeknote 32/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #270 was entitled ‘Holiday’ and this week included only links without commentary given I had deadlines and had to pack to go…
  • On holiday in Devon. It was great, as we stayed in a wooden house built by friends of my wife’s parents, and went as screen-free as possible for a week. We saw the Red Arrows, and hung out with my brother and sister-in-law, and their children, a fair bit. The only thing that could have been improved was the weather at the start of the week…
  • Reading dead-tree books. I finished Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamont, which was excellent and I’ll be re-reading. I can see why so many people recommended it. I also finished Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari. He’s an historian, so I really enjoyed his previous book, Sapiens: a brief history of mankind, and the first half of this one. However, I think he drank a bit too much Silicon Valley kool-aid before writing the second half of it. I’m half-way through Happy: why more or less everything is absolutely fine by Derren Brown (yes, that one!) He shares a short history of philosophy and some anecdotes, before launching into an overview of Stoicism. The philosophy isn’t anything new to me, but he packages it in an engaging way.
  • Running. Which is probably a good job given how much I’ve been eating and drinking this week. I really enjoyed going out for a short run with our 10 year-old now he’s old enough to keep up!

Next week I’m in Birmingham from Monday to Wednesday to do some work on behalf of Freeformers at the Google Digital Garage. Then I’m in Brighton on Thursday and Friday working with Totara.

I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email:

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!

#BelshawBlackOps16 Pt.1 has started!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be away for the month of August, camping with my family around Europe. I’m back online in September.

That means no personal email, no social networking, no blogging, no weekly newsletter, and no podcasting.

Consultancy-wise, I’ve still got some capacity from September so I’ll occasionally be checking work email to interact with new and existing clients. I hope you have a great summer (northern hemisphere) / winter (southern hemisphere)!

Email: /

Image CC BY-NC-SA freeflo

Weeknotes 44 and 45/2015

These past couple of weeks I’ve been:

  • On holiday. It was so good to get some sun at this particular time of the year. Gozo is amazing. Team Belshaw was away from Tuesday to Tuesday, so I worked from home on Wednesday.
  • In London. I spent Thursday and Friday working for City & Guilds. While I was down there I collaborated as usual with Bryan Mathers, and also caught up with Sam Dyson and Greg McVerry (in town for MozFest).
  • Talking with Paul Miller from a Newcastle University spin-out, VEO. It’s a video-capture app for iPads that allows for CPD conversations, etc. He’s interested in using Open Badges with the platform behind the app.
  • Getting my phone (Sony Xperia Z3 Compact) repaired after the rear screen broke. I also managed to pick up a Lenovo Yoga 2 and a Sony Xperia Tablet Z (4G) really cheaply on eBay to mess about with.
  • Scheduling my monthly Dynamic Skillset newsletter for the end of October. It gives a summary of what I’ve been up to, what I’m planning, and some links people may have missed.
  • Listening to Oliver Quinlan kindly step in as guest co-host for me in the latest episode of the TIDE podcast. He and Dai Barnes put together a really interesting episode entitled Corrupted Development. The week before, Dai had been away so Oliver and I recorded an eposide entitled (somewhat predictably) Quinovation.
  • Getting back into the swing of things after avoiding email and social media for a week.
  • Meeting (virtually) with Dom Murphy, Managing Director of Geek Talent. He talked me through what they’re up to and what they’re planning with ‘Career Hacker’, which is launching in January.
  • Enjoying finishing the latest Jack Reacher novel (although the end was very dark), reading some Simone de Beauvoir writing about the ethics of ambiguity, and diving into some of the recent Bond novels (i.e. post-Ian Fleming).
  • Going through slides and logistics with representatives of Dynamo North East. I’m going into a school next week to talk to pupils who have just started their GCSEs about the various careers that are possible in IT-related industries.
  • Attending my children’s parents evenings. It’s great to hear they’re excelling academically, but I had to push for information beyond the core subjects.
  • Putting together a slidedeck for a City & Guilds governance board meeting next week. That’s been made easier by having some great input by some awesome people opting-in to completing tasks on a dedicated Trello board.
  • Sitting down with my wife, Hannah, to go through my calendar for the next few weeks. As happens every November, I’m busy!
  • Discussing my involvement at BETT 2016 in January. This may be in a City & Guilds capacity.
  • Reading Kerri Lemoie’s post Mozilla is Doing a Hack Job on Open Badges and discussing it with former colleagues. We’ve all wanted to write something similar, but didn’t want to harm the movement as it takes flight. I appreciate Kerri’s candour, and hope that it leads to constructive dialogue rather than fear-mongering.
  • Taking a shower for the first time in the wonderful en-suite to our newly-finished loft conversion. I can’t wait to get it all painted and carpeted so we can move up there properly!
  • Writing:

Next week I’m not really having a ‘Doug day’ as such. But, as I’m only doing a couple of client-related things on Tuesday, I’m sure I’ll manage to fit some intellectually-indulgent stuff around it!

Weeknotes 18 & 19/2014

These last couple of weeks I’ve been:

  • Travelling to and from San Francisco for the Mozilla Foundation’s All-Hands meeting. It was, as expected, pretty intense with plenty of great cross-pollinated ideas coming out of it!
  • Taking some time off to finally spend time with my wife celebrating 10 years of marriage (the anniversary was actually last September). We spent a wonderful few days in Amsterdam.*
  • Catching up with email and preparing for Webmaker Training. You can read more about the latter in this blog post. It starts on Monday!

Next week I’ll be leading some sessions as part of Webmaker Training as well as getting down to some concrete actions for Web Literacy badges.

*A special thanks to those people who leave tips and reviews on Foursquare. Our time in Amsterdam was greatly enhanced by their recommendations!


Weeknote 08/2013

This week I’ve been:

  • Taking PTO (Paid Time Off or ‘holiday’ as we call it over here). I took Monday off work as it was the first day of the half-term holidays. We went to Belsay.
  • Writing the first draft of a vision document for Mozilla’s Web Literacy standard work.
  • Leading an #etmooc session. I blogged about T3S1: Digital Literacies with Dr. Doug Belshaw (#etmooc) and linked to the recording.
  • Responding to comments on my DMLcentral blog post Why We Need a Learning Standard for Web Literacy
  • Advising how to make your blog posts last forever in the wake of Posterous announcing it’s closing down.
  • Planning more activity around the Web Literacy standard work I’m leading for Mozilla
  • Celebrating being granted planning permission for the ‘shoffice’ we’re going to build at the bottom of the garden.
  • Travelling to London for a couple of days’ work (Thursday/Friday).
  • Speaking at the University of West London about Open Badges. The lecture theatre was packed (standing-room only!) with over 90% students. Slides here.
  • Contributing to the repeated Web Literacy standard kick-off online gathering. You can access the recording via the Mozilla wiki page.
  • Posting to the Mozilla Webmaker Google Group.
  • Planning a presentation and creating a video for the SXSWedu session that Kate Stokes (Nesta) and I are running.
  • Booking flights for the next Mozilla All Hands in Toronto (week beginning 20th May)

Next week it’s nose to the grindstone. I’m at home all week spending a couple of days helping judge the Mozilla Game On competition and planning the start of the Web Literacy standard weekly calls. However, as I’m at SXSWedu (Austin, Texas) and then the DML Conference (Chicago) with only a few days inbetween, I need to get planning! Not only do I need to have the whole ‘arc’ in place for the Web Literacy standard work before DML, I also need to start getting ready for my OER13 keynote and the Nesta One Day Digital (Edinburgh) session that are coming up before the end of March. 🙂