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Sharing and commenting on things I see that I find important.


Fools suffer from an excess of advice

2 min read

One of the things I often do in the morning, as well as plan out my day, is read the work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest. His name was Baltasar Gracián, and The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence (translated from the original Spanish) is, to my mind, a work of art. 

I read the ~300 maxims contained in the work on repeat, flicking back to the beginning of the book and starting again each time I reach the end. Today I read the following maxim:

208: Don’t suffer from a fool’s sickness.The wise usually suffer from lack of good sense; fools, in contrast, from excess of advice. To suffer like a fool is to suffer from reasoning too much. Some die because they feel things too much and others live because they don’t. And so some are fools because they don’t die of sorrow and others because they do. A person who suffers from being too intelligent is a fool. Some suffer, then, through too much understanding and others thrive through none. But for all that many suffer like fools, few fools suffer.

The bit that I've highlighted in bold really stuck out for me today. There's a difference between reading articles giving productivity tips and reading articles giving normative advice on how to live your life. I'm resolved to read more of the former, and less of the latter.


Minion mindsets

2 min read

Minions gif

Until hijacked by the merchandising machine of the film of the same name, 'minion' had a very different — and somewhat infernal — connotation. It was (and is) used to describe the unthinking servants and followers of a nefarious overlord. 

I was reminded of this after reading a much-shared article entitled Your Life Is Tetris. Stop Playing It Like Chess. The first point made in that article is an excellent one, namely that you are the biggest barrier to your own success.

The real game of life is completely internal. There really are no big, bad enemies who exist to make you suffer. There is no absolute right or wrong move that a certain opponent can punish. And your score can increase to infinity, if you just push yourself harder. Your life score can increase slowly or quickly, depending on how hard you push yourself.

I know people who say that something is not possible because of their partner/boss/other. I have been that person. In reality, the enemy is within, manifesting itself in what I'd call a 'minion mindset'. 

I've got more to write on this, but I'll leave it there for the time being. The reasons why we self-sabotage in life fascinate me. 


Teachable: Create and Sell Your Own Online Courses

Just bookmarking this in case I forget. This looks like a really useful platform to create good-looking courses to share knowledge and expertise. 


Burn-out happens faster for introverted teachers

1 min read

To the extent that I believe in a two-dimensional introvert/extrovert continuum, this article in The Atlantic definitely rings true for me:

In the same article, Little explained how introverts can “act as extraverts” and adopt culturally scripted behavior traits (what he calls “free traits”) for limited amounts of time. But he warned that “protracted free-traited behavior may compromise emotional and physical health.” In other words, Little’s findings confirm that introverted teachers are at risk of burning out.

I've not come across the term 'extravert' before, and think it's a potentially useful term (much like 'ambivert'). I'm not sure, however, I agree that the 'social learning' approaches in the classroom are leading to more burnout for introverted teachers.

Definitely interesting comments on how much easier it is to be an introvert and teach in a university. I guess then you're not 'on stage' for six one-hour lessons per day...


Planning for productivity

Inspired by a long post entitled Can you make every day feel like a Saturday? I created a simple spreadsheet with six headings:

  • 8 hours sleep
  • Cold shower
  • Pushups, etc.
  • SAD light
  • Plan out day
  • Exercise  

Using conditional formatting, I simply recorded whether or not I did these things and the cells of the spreadsheet turned green if I entered a 'y' or red if I entered an 'n'. Thursday was my most productive day this week, and the only day where all six cells in the row were green!


SAD is hibernation

2 min read

On last week's episode of TIDE I mentioned an article entitled YOU NEED MORE LUMENS. The use of caps is important, as you'll discover when reading the article. The author, David Chapman, talks about building his own lamp to stave off his Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as the commercial ones just weren't powerful enough.

As I get older, I'm getting to know more about how my body works, but especially about how my brain is wired. Something definitely clicked when I read this paragraph:

SAD is basically hibernation... My brain slows down after the equinox, and—without treatment—by December it’s impossible to do serious thinking. I do tend to get depressed in winter, but I suspect that’s mostly because I can’t think properly.

Thinking is my life. I've often fantasised about having yearly regime where I use the summer months to speak at events about what I've thought about and written in winter (and then published in the spring). However, I never actually hunker down to write anything of significance, and I think that the above quotation may well be why.

Having actually suffered from depression and anxiety for a short period around 10 years I know that my SAD is nothing like as bad as it could get. It's more like the melancholy you'd get if you were locked in a room with Radiohead on all of the time. But still, it sucks that my brain effectively goes into hibernation mode for around a quarter of each calendar year. Perhaps, like some species of birds, I need to be migratory. 


Mozilla’s role in the Open Badges ecosystem

3 min read

I wrote this 'one-pager' for a client today. Just leaving it here in case I need to reference it in future!

Work around Open Badges began in 2011 with a pilot project. This was then funded by the MacArthur Foundation in two ways: a competition that seed-funded the ecosystem, and funding so that Mozilla could hire staff to build out the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI).

Mozilla is a global organisation with a focus on promoting “openness, innovation, and opportunity on the Web”. It is best known for Firefox, the web browser used by half a billion people worldwide and which is developed by the Mozilla Corporation. The Corporation is owned by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. The Foundation concerns itself with initiatives around learning and web literacy. Open Badges has been one of the most successful projects that the Mozilla Foundation has incubated.

Organisations with an open source approach are very different to those who use a standard business model. With Open Badges, the aim has been not to build a product, but an ecosystem. In essence, the OBI is a specification upon which products can be built. There is a reference badge backpack, the default one to which users can ‘push’ their badges - but many others exist.

The transition to full community ownership of Open Badges began in 2013 with the formation of the non-profit Badge Alliance. This provides a way to ensure that there is no single point of failure, or barrier to innovation, in the ecosystem. Since 2013, Mozilla has worked with the MacArthur Foundation to transfer staff, assets and other resources to this new entity. The process will be complete in early 2016 when the Mozilla badge backpack is transferred to Badge Alliance control and ‘Mozilla’ is removed from the branding of Open Badges.

Mozilla still supports the OBI. They do this materially by employing contractors when work needs doing on key infrastructure, strategically through Mark Surman (the Mozilla Foundation’s Executive Director) sitting on the board of the Badge Alliance, and practically through issuing badges through initiatives such as the Mozilla Science Lab and Mozilla Festival.

One of the great things about open source software and open standards is that they cannot be ‘killed’, removed, or damaged by any one organisation or person. The model is consensus-based, with a deep understanding of the importance of community. Mozilla has been meticulous in handing over leadership of the Open Badges project to the Badge Alliance in an open, sustainable manner.

The Badge Alliance has hired two new staff members in January 2016: a community manager and another developer. Although anyone can volunteer to commit code, run working groups, and provide thought leadership, there does need to be some resource at the centre of things. 

It is inevitable that some people who do not understand open source development will feel that this is Mozilla ‘retreating’ from a project. The truth, however, is that setting up the Badge Alliance and transferring ownership to the community guarantees the long-term sustainability of the Open Badges Infrastructure.


Day rates and focusing on #doingthework

3 min read

I don’t like talking about money. To me, money just something that has useful exchange value — meaning I can continue doing things I enjoy. Although, inevitably, Team Belshaw has greater outgoings than when my wife and I were newly-weds, our aim isn’t to live some opulent, extravagant lifestyle.

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)Last year, when I became a consultant, money was suddenly something I had to talk about a lot. Previously, when I had the safety blanket of a monthly salary, I didn't need to concern myself on a regular basis about my income as I was guaranteed to get the same amount for the duration of my contract. Not so, obviously, with consulting.

One approach to negotiating a day rate or a fee for a piece of work is to haggle. I've got no problem with other people using this approach but, for me, I feel it begins the relationship with a new client on the 'wrong foot'. I'd rather get that bit out of the way as soon as possible.

The other thing to say is that, unlike when you're employed, the fantastic thing about being a consultant is the ability to turn work down. My rule of thumb is that I want to do interesting work with awesome people. If I feel like the work's going to be boring, or the people difficult to deal with, then I'll walk away. I'm aware that this may sound slightly arrogant to some people, but I'm a big believer in Derek Sivers' approach to life

I've recently had to become VAT-registered, which adds an extra complication to my day rates. However, I want to keep things as simple as possible. This means I've effectively got three tiers:

  • standard rate
  • minimum rate
  • pro bono work

As I outlined in this post, I'm dedicating 12 days to pro bono work in 2016. My standard rate applies to every piece of work I do, apart from charities, non-profit, and educational institutions.

I'm not entirely inflexible. If, for example, a client wanted me to videoconference into an event, I would charge them a half-day rate. I'm also enjoying an approach I've trialled recently where I charge clients a full day rate, but then divide this up into hour-long chunks so I can offer consigliere-style advisory services to senior leaders.

While I'm sure my thinking will evolve on this issue, right now I'm happy with this approach. Sometimes it means I'm going to have to turn down potentially-interesting work with great people because it falls between two stools. So be it. The last thing I want to be doing is thinking about money instead of !


Some thoughts leaving #bett2016

2 min read

Bye-bye BETT

I've spent the last couple of days at the BETT trade show. The term 'trade show' is important to remember about this event; although it has conference-like elements, the main reason it exists is to promote vendors and their products. Nevertheless, it's been an important touchstone in my career so far as a convenient (free!) place to meet people.

My career started as a History teacher. I became a senior leader, then moved to work for Jisc, and then onto Mozilla before becoming an independent consultant last April. I've been to BETT in all of these roles and, I have to say, this was the most enjoyable BETT I've attended. Part of that is because of my new-found freedom, but it's also because BETT's grown up a little.

I can point to a couple of examples of BETT being different since I last attended in 2014. First of all, it's embracing a bit more diversity. The parts I enjoyed most this year were (physically) right on the fringes of the event - in the and STEAM Village respectively. Second, BETT is become more and more of an edtech conference. For sure, there are plenty of vendors dressed up as conference speakers, but I genuinely enjoyed the sessions I attended.

More than anything, BETT is a place to get stuff done. For me, in my new consultancy role, that's to establish new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Despite only being there a couple of days, I think I was pretty successful in both!

Useful links:


Learning JS for realz

3 min read

I've been meaning to learn JavaScript for the last five years. I really had no excuse while working for Mozilla, especially during my 'Black Ops' periods at the end of each year. Oh well, this is what 27 years in formal education does to you...

Today, while working with one of my clients, someone I was talking to mentioned New Years Resolutions. They're something I rarely make anymore - I'd rather think about where I'm going to focus my time and attention during the coming year. Nevertheless, it reminded me that I had thought about being more intentional about what I do during the evening I spend by myself when working in London every week.

So, tonight being one of those evenings in London, I decided to start learning JavaScript. I'm pretty much an absolute beginner. So, of course, I got in touch with Paul Lewis (@aerotwist), a friend who works at Google at the cutting edge of web development.

He, and others, kindly gave me both their advice and offered me some of their time. I'm very much of the opinion that you should teach yourself as much as possible before seeking the assistance of others, so I sought out recomendations.

A combination of Twitter and a quick DuckDuckGo search found me the following (with my thoughts about them in brackets):

Thankfully, I saved Julian Wood's (@Ideas_Factory) suggestion until last:

I'd actually come across before, as they're partners of of's Hour of Code.

This was everything I wanted: scaffolded, fun, and made me want to learn more!

The idea is to level-up your warrior (male or female) and get out of the dungeon. I probably spent about an hour doing this. It was only the subscription once I'd got out that stopped me going further! I'll probably do some more next week.

The reason it's so good is that it not only shows you your code running in real-time, but highlights what went wrong. It gives you examples; you never feel stuck.

If you've been planning to learn some code for a while and the thought of it has been overwhelming, I'd give a try to get you started - it's got me hooked!