Open Thinkering


Tag: job

What’s the purpose of Philosophy?

When I was 18 years of age, I left my home in an ex-mining town, and went to university. This in and of itself was nothing unusual, especially given that my parents are both graduates, and my father has a postgraduate degree.

What was unusual was that, having been to, let’s say, not the best school, I felt that this would be a good use of the next three years of my life. After all, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do afterwards.

Even more unusual, especially given the patriarchal culture of the north east of England at the time, was that my father fully supported me in this. Even now, he says it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Perhaps it was the influence of my mother, a graduate in Theology, but I’ve always been interested in life’s big questions. We’re here on Earth for too short a time not to wonder about everything and everyone around us.

Still, some people look at my CV and wonder how my academic history has led to my job history. They wonder about the value and purpose of Philosophy. What’s it for, they ask?

To ask what philosophy is for is to ask, implicitly or otherwise, about its value. The anxious parents asking what their child could ‘do’ with a philosophy degree are really asking what value that degree will bring to their child’s life and career. But as soon as you ask about value, you’re only one or two well-placed questions away from falling into philosophical inquiry. If philosophy is useless or a waste of time, what things are useful, or a good use of time? What makes those things preferable to philosophy? What measure of value are we using to compare these things? Are there other types of value? Which is the right one, and why? Don’t look now, but we’re doing philosophy.

Patrick Stokes, ‘What’s philosophy for?’, New Philosopher #29

The latest issue of New Philosopher, a magazine to which I subscribe and eagerly anticipate every quarter, focuses on ‘the purpose of life’. For me, philosophy, or at least a philosophical approach to life, helps me figure out that purpose.

One common, incomplete definition of philosophy is that it deals with certain types of problems that other disciplines generate but do not solve themselves. Mathematicians or doctors might run into questions like ‘Do numbers exist independently of human thought?’ or ‘Do people have a moral right to refuse medical treatment?’, but these are not, strictly speaking, mathematical or medical science questions. They’re problems for philosophers of mathematics and medical ethicists, respectively.

Patrick Stokes, ‘What’s philosophy for?’, New Philosopher #29

I’d agree with my father in saying that my Philosophy degree was a great decision. It comes with lots of upsides, including a resistance to the hedonic treadmill, and clarity of thought.

There are downsides, though. The main one is that you can’t just switch all of this off. The questions and analysis keep on coming no matter where you are or what situation you’re in. That’s more useful in my professional than my personal life, I’d say.

But for anyone thinking about studying Philosophy, in any form, I’d strongly endorse the idea. Anything which gets us question why we do the things we do is alright by me.

Where to start? I’d point you to the work.of Alain de Botton, and in particular The School of Life. Many of their books are excellent. It’s far too easy to get stuck in the ‘history of ideas’ approach to Philosophy, which, while interesting, isn’t always immediately applicable to your own life.

This post is Day 41 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Weeknote 01/2020

Many years ago, when I was very small, I can remember talking to my maternal grandmother about an article she’d seen in the newspaper. It was about an eclipse which was predicted to take place on 11th August 1999, and would be the first to be visible in the UK since 1927.

At the time it seemed like such a long way into the future. Who could imagine being 18 years of age? When the time came, I ended up driving the length of the country with some friends to see the eclipse in its full glory. My grandmother, sadly, had passed away peacefully some months before.

To a great extent, I feel like I’m living in the future. It’s easy to use the conceptual shorthand of ‘flying cars’ to represent what we were expecting technologically at this point in time, but I’m not sure I would have been massively surprised if, when I was younger, you’d described the world as it currently stands.

I don’t think we live in ‘unprecedented’ times. Human beings are human beings, at the end of the day. It’s just that we’ve got some more technology which extends our reach and increases our impact, for better or worse (usually worse).

I posted my 2019 retrospective on Christmas Eve after returning from a short family holiday to Iceland. It’s a magical place, particularly just before Christmas and we had a wonderful time.

What did threaten to put a slight dampener on things was when I managed to lose the keys to our rental car in the snow somewhere near Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. Note to self: zip keys in pocket next time!

Other than that, we stayed in three different places, and experienced wonderful places, vistas, sunsets, and people. We’re definitely going to have to go back.

While I was there, I started reading Independent People by Halldór Laxness. What a novel! It really helps you understand how brutally difficult life in Iceland was before electricity and modern conveniences.

This week, I’ve been trying to get back to some kind of decent routine. It hasn’t stopped me snaffling mince pies and eating festive leftovers, but I have, on the whole, eaten more healthily, and done more exercise.

The stimulus to this was tipping 90kg for the first time just after Christmas. It’s amazingly easy to drift into a less-healthy routine and convince yourself you haven’t changed that much.

I worked two days this week for Moodle, continuing to lead the MoodleNet project. Next week will be the first where I’m splitting my work differently: three days for MoodleNet, and two days working with We Are Open Co-op.

The rest of the MoodleNet team are mostly back on Monday, so I spent my time catching up and planning. I’ve moved all of our day-to-day issues to GitLab, because I think that these should be next to our codebase. Also, because Jira.

I’m back to writing and recording for Thought Shrapnel. This week I’ve posted a microcast on Anarchy, Federation, and the IndieWeb, as well as an (extended) link round-up. I’ll be back to article writing on Monday.

At this week I’ve collected a bunch of quotations from my morning reading, with perhaps my favourite being:

One of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabelled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog, not under proper control.

T.H. Huxley

New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet, although we did all go into Newcastle to see the fireworks at 6pm. It feels a bit more wasteful every year as the displays go on longer and longer, to be honest. I can’t quite believe that Sydney went ahead with their display in the midst of the bushfires ravaging Australia.

On New Year’s Day we went for a bracing walk in the Simonside Hills near Rothbury. We always enjoy that, and the views were amazing given the light. The whole world and their dog was there, though, obviously.

I re-start CBT next week which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll also be doing more MoodleNet planning, as well as finalising the pre-conference AMICAL workshop I’m delivering on digital literacies the following week!

As ever, but even more so now I’ve got a bit more capacity, if you know of an organsiation that could do with our help, please let me know!

Photo taken on a New Year’s Day walk in the Simonside Hills, Northumberland

Weeknote 12/2016

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’ll be taking Monday off as it’s a Bank Holiday in the UK, and then down in London working with City & Guilds on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m trying to work a little less over the next couple of weeks as my wife and children are on Easter holidays. 

Weeknote 31/2015

Note: this is my last weeknote until September due to my impending digital hiatus. I’ll write a ‘monthnote’ on my return! You can still contact me via my work email addresses but I’ll not be in social networks during August.

This week I’ve been:

Over the next month I’ll be up and down to London, reading a lot of stuff, and steering clear of screens when I’m not working! Today we’re off for a long weekend camping in the Lake District. It’s predicted to rain the entire time. Fun.

Weeknote 30/2015

This week I’ve been:

  • Away for most of the week – down in London from Monday to Wednesday and then in Brighton on Thursday. I stayed in a City Marque Clerkenwell serviced apartment and Hotel Du Vin, respectively. The former was noisy and the latter was wonderful.
  • Working with London CLC staff around a new manifesto and some digital strategy. We used Chris Messina’s recent, popular blog post about the full-stack employee as a provocation.
  • Going out for meals with lots of people: Oliver Quinlan (dinner, Monday), John Bevan (dinner, Tuesday), Dan Sutch, Kieron Kirkland, and Bryan Mathers (lunch, Wednesday), and Craig Taylor (dinner, Wednesday). All great company!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 19 of the podcast I record with Dai Barnes entitled Today In Digital Education (TIDE).
  • Negotiating (or at least beginning to negotiate) my City & Guilds contract from September onwards. I’ll be working either two or three days a week for them from that point, with my overall aim to do four days a week for clients and one as an (unpaid) ‘Doug day’.
  • Chairing my first Open Badges Strategy Group meeting for City & Guilds. I’ve halved the meeting time, ensured we have a decisions workflow that doesn’t depend on email/face-to-face meetings, and used Hackpad as an agenda/backchannel.
  • Having email conversations about some potential work for some new clients.
  • Enjoying the seamless experience Google Photos provides (more than I thought I would given my usual privacy concerns, etc.) I use the ‘full image’ option that counts against my 180+GB Google Drive rather than the tempting, but ultimately sub-optimal ‘high resolution’ option.
  • Working on some digital strategy stuff for City & Guilds.
  • Leading (with Bryan Mathers) a session on Open Badges for City & Guilds Kineo from their office in Brighton. People joined us both in the room and from their offices worldwide.
  • Creating a screencast on how to add Open Badges to your LinkedIn profile (after being asked for the eleventy-billionth time).
  • Writing:

Next week I’m down in London on Wednesday and Thursday and working from home for the rest of the week. We’re going camping as a family next (long) weekend and then I’m going incommunicado on the personal digital front during the first part of my Black Ops.

Photo looking down from C&G Kineo office, Brighton

Weeknote 29/2015

This weeknote is coming at you slightly late given I was away all weekend in the Lake District doing a Mountain Skills course.

So, last week I was:

This coming week I’ll be in London for two and a half days (Mon-Weds), and down in Brighton for a session at City & Guilds Kineo on Thursday.

Weeknote 28/2015

This week I’ve been:

Next week I’m not going down to London as I want to attend my children’s sports days. In addition, I’ll be away next weekend for Mountain Training and then in London/Brighton the week after from Monday to Thursday!

Image CC BY-NC-SA Barbro Björnemalm

Weeknote 27/2015

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #180 of my Things We Learned This Week newsletter. Thanks to Think Associates for sponsoring June’s missives!
  • Trying (and failing) to repair the screen of my Sony Xperia Z Ultra. I’m selling the parts on eBay and using a very old iPhone 4 until I decide what I want next. I’m using my iPad Mini 2 (cellular) most of the time.
  • Writing another article for FE Week, this time about social media. Bryan Mathers illustrated it and, apparently, it’s all being turned into a double-page spread for an upcoming issue.
  • Releasing Episode 16 of the This Week in Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, which I record with Dai Barnes.
  • Spending three days in London, Wednesday-Friday. I stayed at the London City Suites by Montcalm, which has small but perfectly-formed rooms near the swimming pool I go to – and, of course, City & Guilds. It was around 35°C on Wednesday so I hid out in my hotel room after work so as not to melt…
  • Starting work on a short Open Badges 101 course/guide. Bryan Mathers and I will share it with the community towards the end of the month for input/feedback.
  • Talking with Neil Jones about work he’s involved in that’s potentially badgeable.
  • Writing an endorsement for Steve Bunce‘s upcoming Primary Computing book, as well as some LinkedIn recommendations for people I used to work with.
  • Exploring Open edX for the above. It worked well, but we’ll be going with P2PUs Course in a Box instead, I think.
  • Meeting up with James Richards from Chromatrope about various projects, including badges.
  • Getting people started using Trello to chart product development around Open Badges at City & Guilds.
  • Learning from Garry Avery, Director of Tarigo product management training. He helped with the development of some of Apple’s products.
  • Writing:

Next week I’ll be in London as usual on Tuesday/Wednesday and working from home the rest of the week.

Image CC BY-NC Kacper Gunia

Weeknote 26/2015

Well, here we are, half-way through 2015! This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Issue #179 of Things We Learned This Week, thanks to the sponsorship of Think Associates! (I’m looking for a sponsor for September…)
  • Down in London on Tuesday and Wednesday (as usual). I stayed at citizenM London Bankside, mainly so I could take photos as inspiration for our upcoming loft conversion!
  • Leading a ‘brown bag lunch’ at City & Guilds on Open Badges with Bryan Mathers. Good turnout and even better Q&A.
  • Going out for dinner/drinks with Chris Kirk, Jason McGonigle, Harry Kinloch, and Bryan Mathers,
  • Breaking the screen of my Sony Xperia Z Ultra by putting it in the pocket of my bag and cramming it into a locker while I went swimming. I’m going to try and fix it myself.
  • Releasing Episode 15 of Today In Digital Education, the podcast I record weekly with Dai Barnes. This week’s episode was entitled Gizoogle ya data.
  • Plotting and planning some digital strategy stuff with Chris Kirk.
  • Performing some visual thinkery around Open Badges with Bryan Mathers.
  • Meeting up with Darshan Sanghrajka for coffee. He’s a fascinating and inspirational entrepreneur with a heart for social justice.
  • Made chair of the C&G Open Badges Strategy Group. One of the first things I’ve done is to create a meta-level Trello board to track projects. I found this post on the Trello blog invaluable, and will be writing more on this soon.
  • Reading Stoner by John Williams. It’s a melancholic but very moving novel. The writing is on a level with Paul Auster, if not beyond.
  • Discussing my pension options with a financial advisor. I was slightly unnerved that I seemed to know more about my options than he did…
  • Catching up with Steve Boneham and Andy Stewart. I’ve invited them to my super-secret Slack channel.
  • Going for lunch with Jonathan Sanderson. We share a mutual friend in the shape of Vinay Gupta and met in the rather lovely Tyneside Cinema cafe.
  • Writing an article for FE Week, planned with and illustrated by Bryan Mathers about technology and culture. I also wrote about Mozilla pushing on with Web Literacy Map v2.0.
  • Thinking about how I’m going to structure my week post-September. It looks like I’ll have a day a week open for other clients. I’ve got a few things queued up, but get in touch if you’ve something for me to get my teeth into!

Next week I’m working from home on Monday/Tuesday, then down in London Wednesday to Friday. It’s TEDx Newcastle on the Sunday, which I’m looking forward to attending.

Weeknote 25/2015

This week I’ve been:

  • Publishing issue #178 of my newsletter, Things We Learned This Week. The awesome people at Think Associates are sponsoring June’s missives.
  • Spending three days in London due to a meeting on Monday afternoon. I stayed at the City Marque Clerkenwell serviced apartments (fast becoming one of my favourite places to stay).
  • Finalising an Open Badges 101 presentation for use internally in City & Guilds. Bryan Mathers and I are running a ‘brown bag lunch’ for staff next Tuesday.
  • Swimming – twice in London at Golden Lane and then once in Ireland. It can be meditative at times.
  • Releasing episode 14 of the TIDE podcast. Dai Barnes and I decided to call this one Foucault your edtech.
  • Meeting with Paul Bailey and Simon Whittemore from Jisc about learning analytics and, inevitably, Open Badges.
  • Making some recommendations around team collaboration for City & Guilds, building on this wiki page.
  • Buying an iPad Mini 2 (16GB cellular). I spotted it was £185 via HotUKDeals so it was almost rude not to buy. It’s partnered with this very smart cork case. I find an iPad mini pretty much the perfect conference device: battery life is amazeballs.
  • Attending Nesta’s Ready Player Two event as part of London Technology Week, which was great. Afterwards I had dinner at Pizza East in Shoreditch with Oliver Quinlan.
  • Participating in an invite-only Jisc Digital Capabilities event run by Helen Beetham where we got to play with pipecleaners! I enjoyed catching up with familiar faces such as James Clay (now at Jisc), Josie Fraser, and Sheila MacNeill.
  • Adding links to my blog.
  • Nipping home overnight on Wednesday/Thursday to see my wife and children.
  • Travelling to and keynoting the CELT conference in Galway, Ireland. Catherine Cronin‘s been saying I should come over for years so I was glad to have a chance to go. What a beautiful, friendly place! Many thanks to Iain MacLaren, Sharon Flynn, and the rest of the organisers for the warm welcome. I enjoyed the other keynote from Siân Bayne – especially the stuff on twitterbots! You can find my slides below:

Next week I’m taking it a bit easier after three weeks of more intensive travel. I’ll be in London Tuesday/Wednesday as usual but otherwise working from home. I may also organise a family camping trip to Galway for August; the original plan of heading to the area around Parco Nazionale del Gargano and back in a week is looking slightly ambitious!