Open Thinkering


Tag: work

Weeknote 50/2023

One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.

Sunset over Morpeth

Yesterday was my last working day of the year. Compared to the last few, 2023 has been a good one, so it was a shame that we had to cancel the WAO online Christmas party due to a couple of people having Covid. My sister’s got it as well, so there must be plenty of it about.

Yesterday and today I’ve had interactions with men about my age who are obviously Covid skeptics. I have no time for pussy-footing around their stupid beliefs, so I look them straight in the eye and say “oh, I didn’t have you down for a conspiracy theorist”. That usually shuts them up.

This was very much a winding-down week on the work front, especially after being in Vienna for ePIC last week. I did a bit of work on DCC and Participate projects, and some internal stuff. That gave me plenty of time to do some MSc work, for which I posted:

The module doesn’t actually stop over Christmas, so I need to keep on going. The weeks also, somewhat weirdly, start on a Wednesday. So we’re currently in the middle of Week 7, with Christmas Day coming during Week 8 and New Year’s Day during Week 9. I’m pretty conscientious, so I’m sure I’ll be fine.

After finishing listening to the audiobook version of Politics On the Edge by Rory Stewart recently, I’ve started But What Can I Do? by his podcast co-host Alastair Campbell. It’s not a coincidence, therefore, that I got in touch with the prospective Green Party candidate for the North of Tyne mayoral elections this week. He got back to me, which was surprising given that I was suggesting he come in behind Jamie Driscoll (who is running as an independent after being deselected by Labour).

My wife, Hannah, has always very much discouraged me from going into politics, but it’s something I’ve been interested in from a young age. In fact, I did enough modules in my first year at university to have switched to Philosophy and Politics. Apart from the disdain of my life partner, the other thing that has always put me off is that famous Nietzsche quotation about dragons and the abyss. But maybe it’s time to move on from the fiery caution mixed with crusading inertia* I’ve exhibited for most of my life.

We’ll see. Perhaps once the kids have left home.

Next week, I’m walking a route that involves The Cheviot with Aaron Hirtenstein. Then Bryan Mathers and I are planning to retrace the steps of Ian Cylkowski who shared his experience of Dovedale back in October. I haven’t been there for years, and it’ll be an enjoyable walk — especially if we can find the limestone arch Ian mentions in the post!

I had planned to have dinner with my sister and family, who live nearby, as it’s my niece’s 18th birthday. However, I feel like I very much dodged a bullet by not getting Covid in Vienna, and I don’t want it for Christmas! So I may have have to rethink that one.

I’ll have circled the sun for the 43rd time next Friday, which is also the day the schools break up. As it’s so late, our two kids won’t end up going back until January 8th. So we looked at going away, but as we didn’t start doing so until after we moved, everything is now super-expensive. We still might find somewhere, but whereas I’d like to go back to Iceland, the rest of the family fancies some sun. I guess that wouldn’t be so bad.

* In Joseph Heller’s otherwise-forgettable novel Good as Gold this is how one of the characters describes the main protagonist, Dr. Bruce Gold.

Photo: sunset over Morpeth, taken by me yesterday

Weeknote 49/2023

One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.

(Oscar Wilde)
Photo of Doug in Irish pub wearing 'Mince Pie Appreciation Society' to-shirt. Original photo taken by Julie Keane

I’ve spent the majority of this week in Vienna for ePIC 2023. It’s the first time I’ve visited the city, although not my first visit to Austria, as Team Belshaw included Salzburg on an inter-railing trip around Europe five years ago.

Given I’ve got a layover with nothing much to do in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, I’m composing this post on Friday evening. I’ll add to it later.

Earlier today, as I was about to get on a train in Vienna, I received notification that a grade and feedback had been given for my first tutor-marked assessment. As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’ve recently started the first module of an intended MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice.

I don’t mind sharing that I got 73% which is… fine. I didn’t do so well on the longer question 2, partly because I introduced too much narrative — a cardinal sin in a word limit-constrained environment. To be honest, although my academic pride is at stake, although I get a passing grade on each module (50%) I don’t actually care that much. It’s about the learning and application for me.

Travelling in post-pandemic (but not post-Covid) times is weird. At least three people at the conference tested positive while we were there, which is unsurprising given how people are coming together from all over the world. Thankfully, people know how to behave these days and so there was masking and self-isolation.

I just hope I haven’t got it, as that would be a not very fun end to the year. The only time I’ve had it was in January 2022 and, although I managed to work through it, I couldn’t run for about 10 weeks after it. In fact, it felt that it added about five years to my life. So I’ve been wearing a mask on the flights and on public transport. I also took a test this morning which was negative.

Unless we decide that we’re not going to meet up together any more, go on holiday, or spend time in enclosed spaces with other humans, I’m not sure what else we can do.

During the three days of ePIC, I was on stage three times. The first was just a very short heads-up to people that the ORE community has released v0.1 of the Open Recognition Toolkit. The second involved moderating a panel which featured Anne Hilliger, Kelly Page, and Noah Geisel. And then, I jumped on stage a third time to show the posts I wrote about using Open Recognition to map real-world skills and attributes.

It was a smaller gathering this year than in previous years. I think that’s for several reasons, including the location, time of the year, and clash with other events. Despite that, it seemed to have representatives from more countries and continents! There was certainly a fairly large contingent from the US and Canada.

The conference programme was fairly packed and focused mainly on presentations. This was quite tiring, especially in the afternoon, with the heating on and a room filled with warm bodies! I ducked out of a few sessions, in one case heading to the Christmas markets which were truly magical. And I say that as someone who is pretty cynical about such things.

There were many things at the conference I agreed with and applauded. There were some things I actively opposed. But that’s the point of bringing people together in person: it’s a chance to thrash things out a bit and to have the kind of dialogue that sometimes aren’t so conducive within online gatherings.

I’m now adding to this very early on Monday morning. I slept in my home office for a couple of nights while I made sure that I didn’t start exhibiting Covid symptoms. It seems that I’m fine. The weekend didn’t amount to much: a basketball game and a football match for my son (win and a loss); getting drenched while taking my daughter up to practice some football after most of her activities were called off this week; tidying and cleaning the house; playing the demo of Football Manager 2024.

Next week, I’m pleased to say, is my last working week of the year. The thing to keep reminding myself is not to start anything new. I’ve got a couple of short proposals to get to clients, a bit of work to do with Laura, and some things to finish off.

Other than that, I’m going to cruise into the end of the year and then take three weeks off. I’m very much looking forward to that, although I’m still going to have some MSc work to do!

Original version of photo of me wearing a festive t-shirt in an Irish pub in Vienna taken by Julie Keane. I upped the contrast and made it black and white.

Weeknote 48/2023

Charging our car (Polestar 2) at a service station

I thought I’d bash out my weeknote before cracking on with some MSc work this morning. But then, a wintery Sunday morning when family sporting activities are cancelled seemed like a good time to do things I’ve been putting off for a while.

So, after trudging through the snow to run on the gym treadmill, I’ve been updating this site’s PHP version from 7.3 to 8.2. Although it seemed to work fine on the backend, there was a ‘critical error’ on the front end, meaning I had to go through each plugin one by one until I got it back working.

Anyway, here we are at the end of another week. All things being equal, this time next weekend I will have been to Vienna for ePIC 2023 and will only have a four days’ work left this year. As suggested in my recent weeknote, a break would be more than welcome. Embarking on further postgraduate studies and moving house may both have been good decisions, but they coincided with half-term when we often head on holiday.

Also, after a very quiet September and early October, things picked up on the work front. We’ve kicked off a new project with the Digital Credentials Consortium, hosted by MIT, and are the midst of doing so with Toro Impact, a project of CSUDH. Another project with long-term partners Participate picked up steam with Community Conversations and work on the Open Recognition Toolkit. We’re talking to Badgecraft about helping them with their Cities of Learning network, to about some further work under the auspices of the Member Learning Group, to Greenpeace about some more work around digital leadership training, and to NCS about bidding for some work to review and map their services to young people.

The study I’ve been doing for my MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice is already beginning to have an impact on my client work. For example, I was talking to one person earlier this week about the difference between social learning and (traditional) corporate learning and didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I drafted a blog post that I will probably still publish on the WAO blog, but then, later in the week, found the perfect way to explain what I was trying to get at after completing an MSc activity on DAD vs EDD.

Talking of my studies, I submitted my first Tutor Marked Assessement (TMA01) this week. It’s such a well put together module. I can tell by how motivated I am to work on it, and as you can probably tell by the number of blog posts I’ve written about it.

Question 2 of TMA01 asked me to reflect on a situation of concern and apply the PFMS heuristic to it. After some thought, I chose to discuss how and why we pulled out of buying a house a couple of months ago. I realised that the frameworks and models I use to be able to make decisions and maintain constant forward momentum in my day-to-day life rely on systematic (i.e. step-by-step, procedural) approaches. However, when I was called to make a decision which required a more systemic (i.e. holistic, interconnected) approach, I struggled.

I’m now into Part 2 of TB872, which is the first of two foundational Systems Thinking modules for MSc. I’d highly recommend it based on my experiences so far. I just need to figure out how to manage my studies over the Christmas period. I’m taking three weeks off work, so I should be fine.

It’s a bit of a relief that it’s now December. I can legitimately close down Thought Shrapnel for the year, back off from social media, and consume my own weight in mince pies. I’ll be 43 in less than three week’s time and, after going to a Christmas party for my daughter’s football team last night, for better or worse, I feel very much middle-aged…

Image: charging our car, a Polestar 2, at a service station (we can’t charge it at the property we’re renting, and using public chargers is both a hassle and an unnecessary expense)