This week I got into a new rhythm with Thought Shrapnel, restoring it to something approaching its strapline – i.e. a stream of things going in and out of my brain. I’m pleased with the result, although it will evolve and change as I do.
This week featured a Bank Holiday in the UK, so it was a four-day working week. Team Belshaw spent Monday in Thrunton Woods, which we’ve never been to, despite only being 25 minutes away from where we live. Of course, we decided to do the red walking route, despite the fact that our two children were on their mountain bikes. Cue me and our son having to carry bikes up a very steep section, broken up with tree roots. Still, it was fun, and we went out for lunch afterwards.
Despite the four day working week, I managed to fit in the same number of hours of paid work as usual. I ended up doing four half-day for Outlandish, continuing to help them with productisation and in particular developing what they offer to help teams work more effectively. There’s only a couple of places left on their upcoming Sociocracy 101 workshop.
For my home co-op, We Are Open, I’ve been mainly focusing on business development, submitting three funding bids on Friday. We’ve got some things to work through internally as the co-op expands and grows. That can lead to difficult conversations, some of which we’ve been having this week.
Those connecting with me via video conference in the last few days would have seen something new behind me in my home office: a full-size dgital piano, and a tiny Korg NTS-1 synth. Inspired by Mentat (aka Oliver Quinlan) I decided that it’s been too long since I tried making my own music. 25 years, in fact.
The piano was my parents’ and was at our house while my two children had piano lessons. Given our eldest gave up a few years ago and our youngest decided she no longer wanted to play during lockdown, it’s been sitting in our dining room gathering dust. I noticed it has MIDI ports to the rear, so I’ve hooked it up to the Korg synth and experimenting with the noises I can make. And they are definitely ‘noises’ at the moment…
This weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary. We’re pretty much middle-aged now, so celebrating it by going for a child-free long walk and having coffee and cake. Our children will be at my parents’. It’s a shame we can’t really go away, but on the plus side the pandemic has meant we’ve explored many more places locally than we have previously!
Talking of children, they were back to school this week, both starting new schools. They seem to be really enjoying it, especially being back among their friends rather than mainly connecting with them via Fortnite.
Next week I’ll be working a couple of days for Outlandish and getting started on a new piece of work for Greenpeace through We Are Open. Other than that, I’m still looking for a bit more work, so hit me up if you see anything Doug-shaped!
Fast-forward to 2017 and the world is a very different place. So different, in fact, that I’m not so concerned that I’m choosing to read more ‘biased’ stuff. There’s a war of attention going on and, in any case, there’s no such thing as non-theory-laden consumption of information.
I’ve quit Facebook and Twitter, the former completely, and the latter I now only post links to. Consequently, I converse with my friends on Slack, and in a very nice left-wing bubble on the Mastodon-powered social.coop. I’m OK with being partisan at this stage of my life.
So below is my current information environment, give or take a couple of things I’ll inevitably have managed to omit. The wiki page can be found here.
It was time for the annual pilgrimage to the inlaws who live in Devon. We fly the rest of the time (Newcastle –> Exeter) but once a year we go down for a bit longer with the car. This time, instead of doing the 6 hours or so in one day, we stopped off in Doncaster and then again at a National Trust property. It made for an enjoyable journey!
Whilst there was nothing particularly wrong with my portfolio page at dougbelshaw.com when I came across this free ‘personal branding’ WordPress theme I couldn’t resist updating. I like the result. 🙂
I’ve decided that listening to music mainly by album on Spotify is slightly anachronistic. So I’ve been reorganizing my playlists into ‘Running’, ‘Train’, ‘Deadline’, ‘Working’, etc. I’ve kept the album-focused playlists for the moment, but situational playlists seem to be the way forward!
Considering the future
Whilst I’m only four months into my new job (and greatly enjoying it) I’ve got to think about the future. I’ve got a two-year contract with JISC infoNet. Specifically I’ve been considering:
What (if anything) do I want to do with my Ed.D. when I finish it?
Is Northumberland where should we bring up Ben and his sister (when she’s born)?
Do I want to stay in the FE/HE sector, move back into schools or do something entirely different?
I haven’t made any decisions and, if past experience is any guide, things tend to come out of the blue when you least expect them… :-p
I can remember last year reading a post by Matt Mullenweg, lead developer of WordPress, about the way he works. In it he mentioned how he gets ‘into the zone’ whilst coding by listening to the same song over and over and over again:
Music is my muse and I listen to it all day. There’s a lot of jazz — Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins — but I’m also a big fan of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Method Man… When you’re coding you really have to be in the zone so I’ll listen to a single song over and over on repeat, hundreds of times. It helps me focus.
Music can have a massive effect on your productivity and it’s really important to find music that puts you in the zone that Matt talks about. I can only speak of what works for me, and what is currently my ‘productive song’, but I don’t think you’ll got too far wrong if you follow the suggestions below! :-p
The track needs to be fairly long. Not your 3 minute pop song. You’ll get sick of that very quickly.
It needs to have a steady beat that’s not too fast and not too slow. I can’t tell you how fast that is (I think it probably varies between people). It’s probably about 100-120bpm for most of us, though.
3. Minimal lyrics
If you’re doing anything that involves writing words then you want as few lyrics as possible. Some lyrics are OK so long as it’s easy not to focus on them. 🙂
In addition, I’d suggest that even if one of your favourite songs of all time meets the above criteria that you don’t use it as your ‘productive song’. Why? The association it will carry will displace the original reason you liked it…
You may find that you wear out your productive song after a while and my need to find another one. What’s my ‘productive song’ at the moment? Slightly randomly it’s a track by Apparat called Arcadia (Telefon Tel Aviv Remix)<–Spotify link. Don’t ask how I came across it – serendipity! 😉
As those who have joined me in the #uppingyourgame project will know, I believe it’s important to get a ‘virtuous circle’ of productivity started. One of the best ways of doing this is by doing more exercise and, more specifically, running.
But running without music is like Laurel without Hardy, or Batman without Robin. And it’s important to get the music you run to right, as it makes running that much more motivational and enjoyable.
Recently I’ve been listening to one of two albums whilst running:
My good friend and collaborator Nick Dennis pointed me in the direction of De La Soul’s Are You In? Nike+ mix on iTunes (£7.99) a few weeks ago. It’s great. The reason it’s perfect for running in the morning is that it starts off nice and gently with mention of getting up and ‘reaping what you sow’. Then, after some quality beats, around the 17-minute mark, steps it up a gear with exhortations to “Pick up the pace”. Awesome. 😀
As you can see from the above visualization of my Last.fm history I’ve been using it for a fair while (since 19 March 2003 according to my profile). Recently, as I’ve gone Spotify-only, everything that I listen to is ‘scrobbled’ to Last.fm. Which makes the data from the latter part of 2009 onwards much more representative of my listening habits.
The time of day is down the side and putting your mouse over each ‘node’ links to other times you played that track. Sweet. 🙂
So 2000-2009, commonly referred sniggeringly as the ‘noughties’, has come and gone – and with it the majority of my twenties. For all of it I listened to what I would deem quality music, and for a good deal of it used Last.fm to track what I listened to (and make recommendations). The visualization above shows my listening habits for part of 2009, courtesy of LastGraph.
It’s not always the case that what you listen to most is the music you actually love the most. In fact, quite often it’s the case that you save music for special occasions or ration it so familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. So here are the three tracks that were made in the ‘noughties’ that I love the most – and why. The links will enable you to listen to the song on Spotify. 🙂
I remember being in Café Rouge in York with Hannah when we heard this for the first time. It must have been 2003 as we were just married. We asked the waiter which album was playing and he replied it was John Mayer’s Room For Squares. I went home and immediately bought the CD. Annoyingly, however, it’s the only album of Mayer’s that isn’t available on Spotify (which I now use instead of CDs and MP3s).
What I love about 3×5 is the feeling of distance, the sense of the inexpressible in the lines:
Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to
lose my way but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You’ll be with me next time I go outside
No more 3×5’s…
In perhaps my first use of the term, I’d call it a ‘bittersweet’ song. It’s positive yet mournful at the same time. I wish the live version did the studio version justice. It’s legendary – perhaps even more so in the context of the rest of the album. 🙂
When this came out I was working at HMV in Meadowhall, Sheffield. The Cinematic Orchestra produce that sound that’s all encompassing and envelops you. I absolutely adore, for example, the soundtrack to the film The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos they did recently. The first three-and-a-half minutes is Cinematic Orchestra at the top of the game. Then Roots Manuva’s rhyming kicks in.
His lyrics make little sense. That doesn’t matter. It’s more than the sum of it’s parts. Wonderful. :-p
Like the rest of the known world, I found Bon Iver’s album For Emma, Forever Ago to be beautiful and with an engaging backstory. However, it was when I started using Spotify that I came across the excellent EP Blood Bank – containing the sublime Woods. It’s rare for a track to be perfectly matched in sound, concept, and execution, but that’s exactly what we find here.
Wondeful melodies combine and build up to a crescendo. Use of auto-tune actually adds to atmosphere of the song, being used to make elements sound almost like wolves howling. It’s an extremely atmospheric track. One to play with headphones on, alone. I love it. 😀
Although you wouldn’t know it from the above, my tastes are fairly eclectic. I’m as likely to listen to The Prodigy as I am to some Ludovico Einaudi. But the above are those I come back to time and again. I’ll no doubt have made some glaring omissions – if so I’ll come back and edit this.