Recent Updates Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Doug Belshaw 1:41 pm on September 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: blog, Evernote, fox, hedgehog, wiki   

    Hedgehog and fox approaches to blogging 

    Once upon a time, not so long ago, I used to attend so many events that I had a separate conference blog and Twitter account. It meant that I could post things that would be of interest and direct relevance to the audience of the event, without ‘turning off’ and spamming the timeline of others who follow me.

    I was reminded about this at the ALT-C event I’ve been attending in Manchester this week. I’ve tweeted way more than what is now normal for me, mainly because it’s a community I was first introduced to via Twitter. It was great to see everyone again, and I do kind of miss interacting with the people I caught up with over the last few days.

    I’ve had many blogs over the years. Some are no defunct and only accessible via the Wayback Machine, but I’ve still plenty which are still accessible via domains and hosting that I pay for each year. I’m never sure how whether I should ‘hedgehog‘ these together, or keep them spread out in different spaces. The latter better suits the way I work, but it can be a pain to maintain, and frustrating to others (and me!) to re-find stuff I’ve posted… somewhere.

    Right now, I’m using this blog ( for a lot of thoughts which aren’t so coherent. I remember talking to Oliver Quinlan a while back about how, if your main blog gains any traction, it’s possible to treat it with too much reverence and impose too high a bar on yourself for the kind of content that you place there. Perhaps I’m doing that. There’s certainly been little else I’ve posted on mine recently other than weeknotes.

    Another approach is to create a personal wiki or knowledge base. I used to use Evernote for this back in the day, and I do have a wiki, but perhaps a ‘knowledge store‘ would be better? The only problem with that is that I work openly by default, which doesn’t look like the approach used in that example.

  • Doug Belshaw 6:33 pm on September 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: anarchism, , Strike   

    Anarchism vs Capitalism 

    I spent yesterday evening reading back issues of STRIKE! magazine, which focuses on “grassroots resistance, anti-oppression politics, and the philosophies and creative expressions surrounding these movements”. Being exposed to this kind of stuff is never an easy read or a comfortable experience, but I do enjoy having my eyes opened to new perspectives.

    Today, after cheering on my wife during her first Great North Run, I wandered around the shops in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with my kids. They pretty much set the agenda, so we spent most of our time looking at toys, games, comics, and technology.

    The two experiences, separated only by sleep, were quite jarring. Here, on the one hand, was a radical collective advocating for a “total reconstitution of what’s possible” while, on the other, the stores tempted us with products that do nothing but cement the existing status quo using the chains of debt. Anarchism vs Capitalism. Fight!

    One of the places we wandered into was the Apple store, that temple to consumerism. My kids love it. Of course they do. To me, however, it’s a stark reminder of the kind of approach to life I feel that I’ve left behind. I’m not in competition with anyone else for scarce resources, and I don’t feel like I’ve got anything left to prove in life, so the body language of both the staff and customers in the Apple store almost makes me laugh out loud these days.

    I mean, of course I’m tempted by the shiny, shiny technology that ‘just works’, but when I think about it, the trade-off is too high for me. Once you’ve poked a hole in ersatz capitalist reality and seen things for what they really are, I don’t think you can’t go back. A trillion dollar company who have infantilised world through easy-to-use technology. (And, yes, I have a permanent sense of guilt about using Google’s services on a day-to-day basis.)

    Every day we’re bombarded with information and opinions. As someone who works from home in a small market town, one of the things that really hits me when I go to the city is the amount of things vying for my attention. This includes traffic, billboards, people handing out leaflets, shop windows… an endless list. The propaganda works, of course, otherwise no-one would bother with advertising. I almost bought a new television today, for goodness’ sake.

    I’ll admit that choosing something other than the path of least resistance doesn’t always make for a easy, happy life. Some may see me as being on a farcical quest for ‘authenticity’. I’d reject that, just as I reject being put into any kind of box which is created by capitalism as a segment to sell into. I’m not defined by what I consume.

  • Doug Belshaw 2:46 pm on September 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: online culture,   

    Norming and performing in online spaces 

    I’ve been asking for feedback on Thought Shrapnel from existing subscribers. One replied that he’d appreciate more ‘original content’ as opposed to my thoughts on other people’s work.

    On reflection, I guess this is the way in which (this blog) is different from Thought Shrapnel. This is the place where I record thoughts that are perhaps less fully-formed and which aren’t a direct prompt from someone else’s work.

    So I posted on the Slack channel that I share with some friends and former colleagues:

    It seems we’re using social media for social norming/policing in the absence of the state/religion.

    I was asked to expand upon that a bit, so here goes…

    One of the many different ways that I’ve introduced Open Badges is that we all display ‘badges’ of different types without necessarily realising it. For example, we choose to drive a certain type of car, or dress in a particular way. We’re using symbols as a shorthand to help others quickly decide whether we’re friend or foe, in our club or in a different league.

    A lot of that comes down to trust. For example, this morning I went to pick up a parcel from our local Royal Mail delivery office. I’d just been for a run and had a hoodie on. He asked me (as he’s supposed to) for ID to prove that I live at the address listed on the ‘we missed you while you were out’ card. Interestingly, the same guy was on duty when, last week, I went to pick up my daughter’s shoes with a shirt on. He didn’t ask me for ID. The moral of the story? We use heuristics, with appearance and language being important markers.

    (A brief aside: this is why I think emoji triplets could work so well with MoodleNet)

    Things like nation states and organised religions give us a grand narrative within which we can organise our lives. They tell a story about who we are and the kind of things that are important to us. That’s why when I write or say words such as, ‘Englishman’, ‘Islam’, or ‘Switzerland’ there are related concepts that pop into your head. The words aren’t vague but they nevertheless connote as much as they denote.

    What happens, then, when we begin to witness (as we have done in the 21st century) the decline of nation states and organised religions? How do we make sense of our lives? Well, we find our tribes. Thanks to the internet, and in particular social networks, it’s never been easier to find people who think and act like you. There’s no longer any need to conform to the logic of your geographical reality.

    That means that social networks are the proximal cause of a whole raft of changes. Yes, Twitter might have played a hugely emancipatory role during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, but as the Snowden revelations demonstrated a couple of years later, social networks can also be used for exactly the opposite purpose.

    What I think we’re seeing with social networks at the moment is the kind of ‘norming’ that we’ve only previously seen from the right of the political spectrum. This widely-shared post makes the point that left-wing activists have perhaps gone too far in expecting a kind of ‘moral purity’.

    Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.

    Nation states have a monopoly on violence and therefore have developed processes on when and how it should be used. Most organised religions use some kind of Golden Rule and have forgiveness as a key tenet. Unfortunately, ‘callout culture’ does not have due process and online mobs are not known for their forgiveness.

    I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers… And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets.

    I’m not sure I agree with “the least morals and ethics” as I think many of these attacks come from misplaced attempts at moral purity. I do, however, think that we should fear the mobs’ ability to relentlessly attack and harrass their targets.

    We can all learn to be a little more tolerant of one another, and to choose the words we use carefully. However, as a privileged white dude who has been careful in my learning curve, I can’t help but think that sometimes the online mobs don’t see past my gender and race.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:57 am on September 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , 

    I deleted my account on the Mastodon instance yesterday. I still don’t fully understand what went down, but here’s some details from my perspective that I can point to in case people ask. is/was an experiment in democratic, co-operative social networking that I joined in May 2017. I paid $3/month as a member and return got to participate not only in the social network but help make decisions in their Loomio group.

    It was great until recently. As with all groups that don’t have strong leadership, there was a lot of discussion and debate about what seemed like fairly minor things. One critical failure was the time it took to get a code of conduct in place and a policy about when would block other instances.

    There must have been some back story that I’m not aware of, but on Wednesday 29th August I ‘tooted’ that I’d weigh in on Loomio when people stopped arguing. In retrospect, should have posted that directly on Loomio rather than Mastodon. I also posted a few points that I thought were salient, including that I felt that the term ‘nazi’ was a form of shorthand and not specific enough for a policy.

    That wasn’t a helpful thing have said and I have apologised for my ignorance.

    On Thursday 30th some other Mastodon instances cited my toot as policy of and, without an explanation (other than “just no”) silenced/blocked the entire instance.

    I was willing to stick around and ride things out as there’s always bumps in the road with democratic experiments. However, people on started leaving, including key members who provide hosting for the instance. It was clear things weren’t going anywhere.

    So, I decided to delete my account. It’s a real shame, and I’m very sorry that I inadvertently upset people and caused so much drama. Suffice to say I’ve learned a lot from the experience.

    • Simon Grant 8:45 am on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, it has been quite a learning experience, hasn’t it! For everyone who was part of that learning experience, I’d like to see if we can do some peer group learning, as I sense that we can learn a lot more through discussion than we can by ourselves alone.

    • Greg McVerry 12:11 pm on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, I have come to believe that a decentralized approach to the web is better than a federated one. I quit because I was a “cross-poster” and they force anyone publishing from their own domain to be “unlisted.” My application to was never approved.

      Instead be your own fed.

      A good ole blog roll that we share among friends and a chat group is all I need.

      • Doug Belshaw 3:16 pm on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks Greg. The problem with the ‘everyone has their own server’ model is that we’ve already tried that, and it failed. We’re now at a place where capitalist social media has made things so ways to use that we can’t provide an alternative that is difficult to set up.

    • Matt Noyes 6:43 pm on September 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      You left too soon. Keep an eye out for work being done in various areas to regenerate the co-op and consider re-engaging if the balance tilts toward hope.

      • Doug Belshaw 8:05 pm on September 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks Matt. I miss that timeline and wish every success. Sadly, no one did anything but DM support. It wasn’t enough.

    • jwmh 8:25 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      ask for a facilitator & trainer in nonviolent operating principles w 25+ years of experience (not me! but a teacher in the SF bay area whom i deeply respect & appreciate)

    • mike hales 9:00 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Greg – Until it’s a package, like any other app, there’s no way folks like me will host a server. I’ve not seen a command line for 25 years, or ever booted Terminal on my Macs, and have no desire to. My (not very well informed) hopes are with fully P2P Holochain, and open apps architecture, or maybe some Scuttlebuttish protocol (maybe even a wireless web?). But that’s some way up the pipeline (?) as an alternative to the everyday internet and platformed apps. Thank goodness for non-capitalist platforms like Loomio. Agnostic platforms like WordPress. Hosting coops. Etc. We’ll get by?

      Best wishes Doug. Hopefully we each get better at spotting our own ignorance before it pitches us into what turn out to be war zones A long haul though?

  • Doug Belshaw 4:21 pm on August 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Mayel de Borniol, ,   

    Lower leftism 

    As Mastodon is decentralised, instances are ‘federated’ together using a social networking protocol called ActivityPub. Instances within the ‘Fediverse‘ can be more or less specialised. For example, is focused on co-operativism, is for discussing the Humanities, and for discussing animal rights and veganism. There’s even a guide at for choosing an instance that suits you.

    I was talking with Mayel earlier today about some controversy there’s been around’s federation policy. Over and above the ability of individual users to block or mute other users, instance administrators can ‘silence’ other instances. The proposal was to implement a federation policy which states:

    An instance will be silenced if it meets any of the following criteria:
    • Explicitly allows something forbidden by’s Code of Conduct
    • The instance has as one of its goals shitposting or the instance has no moderation policy.
    The following are examples of any of the instances that would be silenced:
    • (shitposting)
    • (shitposting)
    • (no moderation)

    In practice, that means that if you’re a member of and is silenced by the administrators, then you don’t see any toots from that instance in the federated timeline. It also mutes any notifications from that instance. You can, however, still follow specific users from that instance and you’ll get notifications from them.

    I thought it was all pretty uncontroversial, to be honest. But then I’m a straight, white, middle-aged man who doesn’t have to deal with online/offline harassment.

    This brief conversation between Mayel and I reminded me of a post he’d shared a while back entitled Lower leftism: expanding upon the political map by Margaret Killjoy. It made me think in new ways about my own politics. You can read the post for the nuance, so I’ll skip straight to the diagram I found useful:

    Political map

    One thing that frustrates me about (what’s usually referred to as) ‘the Left’ is the constant in-fighting. Killjoy’s map, however, explains some of that. We’re not all advocating for the same future; it’s much more nuanced than ‘left’ vs ‘right’.

    A lower leftist is anyone whose politics fall into the anti-authoritarian, cooperative quadrant of the political map. It includes anarchists, Zapatistas, anti-state Marxists, democratic confederalists, libertarian municipalists, and a large number of traditional societies from across the globe… any society that does not desire a state and does desire economic cooperation. (While we’re at it, let’s throw in that we’re only talking about identity-tolerant societies, because regardless of how “anti-state” they claim to be, a society that persecutes people for ethnic, sexual, gender, or ability reasons is just as authoritarian in practice as any formal governmental society.)

    I wouldn’t call myself an ‘anarchist’ but I’m definitely some kind of left libertarian. As such, I fall squarely inside that purple ‘zone of solidarity’ — although probably closer towards the middle of the map. (Which explains, if you read the post, why I vote for The Green Party.)

    The key insight in Killjoy’s post for me is that we shouldn’t form alliances with those who seek different futures as it won’t end well:

    When considering strategic allies (in contrast to the natural allies to be found in the lower left quadrant), my suggestion is that we ought not prioritize one axis over another. We ought to only form strategic alliances with those who aim to push society — in relation to the existent society, rather than in relation to our ideal society — in the same directions that we do. We ought not, presumably, ally ourselves with those who aim to push society in a direction counter to our interests. This seems obvious, when written out, but is a mistake that lower leftists have made time and time again.

    I’ve still a lot of thinking to do around this.

    • mike hales 10:15 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Replied to this Doug, but my reply isn’t flagged as in your queue for moderation. It was a long one – d’you have a word limit?

      • Doug Belshaw 10:28 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Hi Mike, not aware of any word limit, but as you say it’s not in my moderation queue 🙁

    • mike_hales 12:19 pm on September 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      I still couldn’t post for some reason. And what I wanted to offer was long. So I’ve posted it here I hope you feel it meshes with your thoughts Doug?

      • Doug Belshaw 12:34 pm on September 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks Mike! I’ll take a look at this after this conference I’m attending 🙂

  • Doug Belshaw 2:06 pm on August 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: creators, Patreon, subscriptions, Thought Shrapnel   

    Patreon balance of payments 

    I came back from holiday to the news that I had a couple more people supporting Thought Shrapnel on Patreon. As a US-based company, all of the transactions in Patreon happen in US dollars. Right now, I’ve got 43 patrons backing Thought Shrapnel to the tune of $100/month.

    That’s great, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support of the 3% of subscribers who have become supporters. I’d obviously like that number to be higher, but that isn’t what this post is about.

    A couple of days ago, one of the people that I back on Patreon expressed concern that they didn’t have much work booked for the next six months. I realised I was backing them for the minimum amount ($1) so promptly increased my support. In turn, that caused me to review how much I’m supporting in total via Patreon and elsewhere.

    I’ve been backing one organisation, four women, and six men on Patreon to the value of $25.40/month:

    I also support the following organisations monthly, over and above our family’s charitable giving and media subscriptions:

    There may be others I’ve forgotten as I can’t login to my online banking right now, but that makes a total of $44.40/month.

    I’ve just updated that so that I’m:

    • Backing everyone on Patreon to the value of $3 or more per month ($36/month)
    • Subscribed to Stowe Boyd’s Work Futures Institute daily emails ($5/month)
    • Supporting Stephen Downes’ OLDaily ($36 i.e. $3/month)

    That takes us up to the equivalent of $60/month. I’ll also be supporting Documentally when he gets the new version of his newsletter set up. Given that I’m currently employed four days a week on a reasonable salary, that seems like a dcent balance of people supporting me to those whom I’m supporting.

    I’m all too aware that there’s a gender imbalance in the above. I tried using Patreon’s find a creator service which connects your social media accounts to see who you follow who’s also on Patreon. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t work and I just ended up staring at a spinning circle. So I’m on the lookout for women creating awesome things that I find useful and can support financially.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:19 pm on August 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: career, job,   

    Changing careers and ‘f*** you’ money 

    I’ve had a conversation today via DM with someone I haven’t checked in on for a while.

    They’re still in the same position they were last time we spoke. Nothing wrong with that, of course, other than they wish the situation to be otherwise. They feel a bit stuck.

    I mentioned that if they want to go in a different direction, that reducing their hours to work a four-day week might be a good move. It gives you flexibility to do new things. I’ve certainly gained from it.

    Unfortunately, for the person concerned, that’s not a viable option, from a financial point of view. They wouldn’t be able to afford to take the concomitant drop in salary.

    The conversation reminded me of some advice that I once received, and have since taken: you should always have ‘f*** you’ money set aside. This gives you the freedom to walk away and have between three and six months worth of ‘runway’ before you have to find something else to pay the bills.

    Not easy, but certainly something I’d advise everyone to do as soon as they’re able. The easiest way of doing that, if you don’t have a well-paying job, is to dramatically reduce your expenditure. Again, not an easy step, but it’s the price of freedom.

    • Simon Grant 8:51 am on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      And the most important contributor to reducing expenditure, for most people, is the cost of housing. So the solution (in our ridiculously high-priced housing society) will have to be sharing housing somehow. And that needs us to find really congenial people who can live together in reduced space in peace and harmony. Join me in setting up a system to find them? Or training ourselves to live together in peace and harmony?

      • Doug Belshaw 9:41 am on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        I think that works for individuals and couples, but not necessarily for families.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:11 pm on August 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ellen Ullman,   

    Asynchronous communication 

    I’m reading Ellen Ullman’s Life in Code: a personal history of technology at the moment.

    In this section (written in 1994!) she talks about how users, and consequently society, are shaped by the approaches and assumptions of the people who make technological systems.

    Ullman goes on to discuss how asynchronous communication, preferred by programmers, becomes something normalised to users. It’s interesting: I noticed on holiday how many people were having conversations via recorded WhatsApp messages instead of synchronous phone conversations.

  • Doug Belshaw 11:12 am on July 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: humour, naps   

    The power of naps 


    I’m a big believer in caffeine naps, but this (via Laura) nevertheless made me laugh.

  • Doug Belshaw 12:23 pm on July 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: health, migraines, Tim Ferriss   


    I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans: the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. As with all of his books, I start of skeptical about its value, and then learn a lot that I can apply to my own life.

    In one bit I was reading, he mentions ‘hyponatremia’ which is defined by Wikipedia in the following way:

    Hyponatremia is a low sodium level in the blood. It is generally defined as a sodium concentration of less than 135 mmol/L (135 mEq/L), with severe hyponatremia being below 120 mEql/L. Symptoms can be absent, mild or severe. Mild symptoms include a decreased ability to think, headaches, nausea, and poor balance. Severe symptoms include confusion, seizures, and coma.

    In other words, if you drink too much water, you dilute your salt levels.

    I’m keen to avoid migraine triggers, and had assumed that one of these was dehydration. As a result, I always have a bottle of water with me, and drink constantly throughout the day. Despite this (so I thought) I’d get headaches and sometimes migraines.

    In retrospect, I think that I perhaps occasionally get into a state of hyponatremia. Over the last few days, therefore, and as Ferriss recommends, I’ve been adding a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar to my water bottle during and after exercise. It doesn’t taste great, to be honest, but so far seems to be having the desired effect.

    Of course, this is what ‘isotonic’ sports drinks do. Except they jack up the sugar so you can’t taste the salt.

compose new post
next post/next comment
previous post/previous comment
show/hide comments
go to top
go to login
show/hide help
shift + esc