Open Thinkering


Tag: inspiration

Things I Learned This Week #50

Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]

A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure

Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p


Productivity, Inspiration & Motivation

You probably only have to interrupt someone a couple times a day before they’re unable to work on hard problems at all. (Paul Graham)

  • Do you feel like you do ‘fake work’? Here’s how to spot it and deal with it.
  • Your job is a platform for what you do. So sayeth Seth Godin (with my blessing, obviously)

Education & Academic

[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas [1]. “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.

Data, Design & Infographics

  • And whilst we’re on the topic of superheroes, this minimalist poster of well-known characters is just fantastic:


Why did people stop wearing hats?


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)

The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

(more quotations at my page)

Main image CC BY auspices

Things I Learned This Week – #49


Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #49”

Things I Learned This Week – #48

taste of winter

Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #48”

Things I Learned This Week – #47

Red trees, LWPF, & a path

Offline this week I learned that large beanbags offer the most comfortable typing position ever, not to drink cheap red wine, and that the seats by the Chinese books in Newcastle City Library are almost always vacant… 😉

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #47”

Things I Learned This Week – #46


Offline this week I learned that Twitter is often a quicker and easier place to sell things than eBay, that eagerly pulling decals off a car will can also remove the paintwork, and more than I could ever summarize in one blog post (or indeed the introduction to one) at Interesting North… 🙂

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #46”

Things I Learned This Week – #45

Offline this week I learned that fireworks displays involve a lot of standing around for brief moments of semi-pleasure, that iPads really are ‘magical’, and not to jinx yourself by stating that you’re “the only one in the family who hasn’t been ill” 😮

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #45”

Digging deeper: some considerations for blog design.


I’m off work ill today, having succumbed to the bugs brought by two separate sets of visitors in the last week. Fun.

When I’m ill, which is thankfully an occurrence seemingly less frequent that it used to be whilst I was in the classroom, I see it as an opportunity to ‘step outside of the stream’ and do something slightly different. I’m constrained, obviously, by a need to avoid overly exerting myself but, in a way that my parents didn’t understand when I was a teenager, there are as many and varied things one can do in the digital world as there are in that of the physical.

Today, then, I decided to continue the ongoing saga of the redesign of this blog. Whilst to some the design of their blog is merely a choice between pre-existing themes, to me it’s – perhaps slightly pretentiously – much more than that. Not only is it an opportunity to do some research in the field of webdesign and user experience (which I always enjoy) but it’s an chance to reflect upon my digital identity and the facets I deem important to present to other people.

Popular blogs

Whilst Technorati may have taken somewhat of a dive in popularity since the heady days of 2005, it’s nevertheless useful for ascertaining which blogs are the most popular. There is, of course, a problem with equating the most widely-read and visited blogs with effective design and user experience, but I’m going to assume that there must be at least a significant overlap. Those with a large readership are likely to be the most effectively monetised and therefore will have the ability to redesign to improve that monetisation. Or, at least that’s the theory.

After looking at some of the top blogs I came to realise that the functionality of a blog depends massively on the expectations of its audience. Most of the top 50 blogs are about either politics or technology. Whilst I blog about the latter (and occasionally about the former) the type of technology being talked about on the top blogs is the latest and greatest. This is reflected in the shiny shiny nature of the blogs and short, sharp updates. Take Engadget, for example, a blog that I, for one, read every day:

Good practice, is of course, contextual. That is to say that what works in one field doesn’t necessarily work in another. A blog is not a blog is not a blog.


Looking at Technorati’s categories for a better alignment, it was difficult to see a ‘natural fit’ for a blog like this one which ostensibly covers ‘education, technology and productivity’ but also delves occasionally into leadership, design and philosophy.

It turns out that the Technorati’s business directory looked to have the best fit. I should say that my aim in doing all of this is not to slavishly replicate an existing design, monetise this blog or become a dedicated follower of fashion. Instead, I’m looking at what works in practice, not just on the drawing board (and, to be honest, in my head).

Here’s thumbnails of the top 10 (fairly loosely-defined) ‘business’ blogs:

Notice anything?

  • Sidebars on the right
  • Coloured bar at the top
  • Easily identified logo
  • Coloured sections in sidebar for highlighted content
  • People’s faces
  • White backgrounds

Digging deeper

Looking at the top themes is all very well, but in my daily digital digressions I often come across sites which feature elements or an overall design that I find pleasing. I’ve attempted recently to start adding the tags ‘webdesign’ and ‘inspiration’ to my delicious links but it’s early days.

Here’s some sites I’ve come across recently that have pleased and/or inspired me:

  1. TECHi – clean, clear with colour-coded categories and thoughtful typography.
  2. Cennyd Bowles on user experience – very crisp and obvious functionality (as you’d expect from a UX guy) – nice used of ‘mulletised’ post structure.
  3. Joe Hewitt – minimalist yet distinctive.
  4. 37 Signals – colourful whilst still being predominantly white; simple.
  5. Bryan Boyer – über-minimalist, stripped down to the bare essentials (Google cache as seems to be down)

Extrapolating from the above, it would appear that the things that appeal to me most are:

  • Minimalism (or at least, stripped-down design)
  • Innovative use of colour
  • Appropriate typography


Having come across Cameron Moll’s Good vs. Great(er) Design a couple of months back I felt I needed to go back through it. Awesome does not even begin to describe how good this slidedeck is! Check it out (I’d click on menu to go full-screen):

My favourite parts?

  • Great design produces an emotional response
  • “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction” (John Maeda)
  • Effective design is like good poetry

All of these considerations are why people pay people such as my friend Paul Lewis at Fi to do these things for them. Not me, I’m interested in the nuts and bolts. 😀

Things I Learned This Week – #44

SFW this week. Promise.

Offline this week I learned that exercise is a good preventer of illness, that charity workers and trick-or-treaters are glorified beggars, and that toddlers don’t get clocks going back to GMT. At all. :p

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #44”

Things I Learned This Week – #42

I’m just going to place a slightly NSFW warning at the top of these posts every week now. Makes life easier.

Offline this week I learned that it pays to have (certain aspects of) your mid-life crisis early, the power of actually writing rather than typing, and how to ‘take afternoon tea’ like a gentleman. Kind of. :-p

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #42”

Things I Learned This Week – #41

Warning for Americans/Puritans: Some NSFW language/links in this week’s post! :-p

Stormy Days

Offline this week I learned not to travel on CrossCountry trains if I want to be productive (no wifi and 3G blocked), that this gapingvoid cartoon is 99% true, and that my SAD begins in October. Gah.

Continue reading “Things I Learned This Week – #41”