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  • Doug Belshaw 2:43 pm on December 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What kind of digital parent are you? — Medium 

    I’ve been very much influenced by the article in the link above since reading it last month. It’s helped solidify my thinking and enabled me as a parent to put myself firmly in the role of ‘digital mentor’.

    This means I’m looking for opportunities (‘teachable moments’ as my Dad would call them) to help my children understand more about the digital world they’re starting to inhabit.

  • Doug Belshaw 1:53 pm on December 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Quick update on the phone for my son: we set it up together this morning. We’ve agreed no YouTube app nor games at the moment. 

    Quick update on the phone for my son: we set it up together this morning. We’ve agreed no YouTube app nor games at the moment. Just communications apps.

    He’s out right now as I write this on some errands. We’re using Telegram’s ‘Secret’ (i.e. encrypted) chat feature so our messages go device to device and I can see when he’s read mine!

  • Doug Belshaw 9:53 am on December 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Children and Smartphones: What’s the Right Age? | tom’s guide 

    According to the article in the link above, there’s no consensus on when children should be given their own smartphone. One expert does say, however, that it’s “not developmentally appropriate” for a child to have their own phone before Grade 6 (Year 7 in England).

    Almost everywhere else in England, Year 7 (i.e. 11 years old) is when pupils start secondary school. That’s also the time when many children start walking to school by themselves for the first time.

    We have a different system in Northumberland, which is where I was brought up, and where we’re raising our family. Here, it’s a three-tier system, where children move to middle school at the start of Year 5. That means it’s entirely normal here for every nine year-old to be going to school without their parents.

    These days, its unreasonable to expect a family member who is somewhere by themselves not to be able to contact the other members. That’s why we’re giving my son a phone this week and spending the next few months teaching him how to use it safely and effectively. We’ll effectively be acting as digital coaches.

    We’re giving him an iPhone 5C, which is my wife’s old device after she upgraded a couple of months ago. While I was sorely tempted to give him a feature phone instead of a smartphone, it seems anachronistic to do so. He’s going to get a smartphone at some point, so it might as well be from the start.

    Given that we’ve many other devices in the house (feature phones, an older iPhone, Android, FirefoxOS devices) the iPhone 5C was an intentional choice. The family sharing options are pretty stellar on iOS devices and, if we need to, we can restrict some of the functionality of the device. I’ll not be doing that in the first instance (over and above the default filters in place by the mobile network) as I want his use to be based on trust.

    So, to begin with, he’s going to be on a £5/month ‘shockproof’ contract (250 mins, 5000 texts, 1GB data) which doesn’t allow him to go over his allocation. He’ll set the passcode, but he’s only allowed to use it outside of our home.

    I’m planning to have a series of conversations with him over the next few weeks and months about having a networked camera in his pocket, about appropriate online behaviour (we’ll invite him to the social network we use exclusively for our family), and healthy digital habits.

    Parenting is hard. There are no correct answers; what’s right for one family is wrong for another. I’m taking this approach and it may turn out to be the wrong one. What I’m trying to avoid is the ‘kid in a candy store’ approach to him getting his first device. He’s been blogging on his own domain since he was five; a few months ago he got an email account; he’s got his own digital camera. This smartphone is not a birthday present, it’s a device which inducts him further into the digital world that we all inhabit. It should also help family cohesion from September onwards.

    We’ll see what happens.




  • Doug Belshaw 7:27 pm on December 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    My new dual-screen Linux setup 

    Just before Christmas I gave my wife my MacBook Pro; we’re going to sell her MacBook Air this week. I’ve migrated to a Lenovo Thinkpad X220 which I’m using at home with a wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as a Dell 24″ monitor. You can see the X220’s built-in screen on the left of the screenshot above, and the external monitor on the right.

    What I like abut this setup is that the X220 has a docking station that I picked up cheaply via eBay. That means that when I come into my home office, all I have to do is drop the laptop into the docking station, and I’m straight to work on the equivalent of a dual-screen desktop setup.

    For those interested, I’m running ElementaryOS. The screen on the left shows Firefox with a number of extensions installed (including Tree Style Tab). On the right I’ve got Thunderbird with the Lightning calendar extension.

    What probably doesn’t show up in the screenshot is that I’m running Redshift. This alters the screen temperature over the course of the day in an even better way than f.lux did on my Mac. Along with the black themes for Firefox and Thunderbird, this helps alleviate my photophobia.

    Oh, and the book in the Firefox window is The Pirate Book, which I’ve just found via Hacker News and sent to my Kindle to read.

  • Doug Belshaw 6:55 pm on December 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    This was the year social networks turned into news organizations | Gigaom 

    Some good analysis on the shift that culminated this year in social networks feeling ‘different’ than before:

    [S]ocial networks don’t need writers to surface their best content. They can collect it themselves.

    That’s what many decided to do this year. Reddit created a publication called Upvoted to highlight the stories that propagate on its service. Twitter introduced Moments to aggregate tweets about breaking news and entertainment alike. Snapchat got into the news business during the San Bernardino shooting. This was the year social networks tried to establish some control over social media.

    The distinction here between social networks and user generated content (i.e. social media) is important. The two are often conflated. Social networks are large organisations that either already have shareholders, or are pre-IPO. That means they need to maximise perceived value and monetise users wherever they can:

    [T]he underlying goal is the same: Gathering user-generated content before writers aggregate it themselves. So I’m left to wonder when other social companies will get around to creating their own publications instead of waiting for writers to swoop in, gather all the free content lying around, and turn it into something that could lead to millions of pageviews.

    At the end of the day, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a loop that users can choose to be part of. Or not. I’m less interested in social networks as sources of user-generated content for platforms than in all the other ways they can be used.

    Aggregating content from social networks has created a weird loop that takes something from those networks, puts it on another website, and then inevitably shares it to the same networks and other platforms. (I, and probably many other Redditors, encounter many links to BuzzFeed stories containing jokes I read a week ago.) These efforts are merely the result of social networks closing the loop.

    I’m left wondering what the next iteration of ‘social’ apps, platforms, and sites will look like. Because it looks like the bottom is likely to fall out of social networks as we currently know them before 2020.

  • Doug Belshaw 4:17 pm on December 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Seth’s Blog: Very good results (and an alternative) 

    More hours in the practice room doesn’t turn a pretty good musician into a jazz pioneer. More hours in front of the computer doesn’t make your writing breathtaking.

    Sure, the work might be just as hard, but it’s work of a different sort.

    Amen to that.

  • Doug Belshaw 11:35 pm on December 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What I do 

    I bought my Dad the xkcd spin-off book Thing Explainer for Christmas. It’s now almost midnight, so I probably should be in bed. Instead, inspired by flicking through the book earlier, I’ve attempted to come up with a pithy overview of what I do as a consultant. The constraint was that I had to use this which limits entries to the most common 1,000 words in the English language:

    I help people to think and act in more clear and open ways, with and without computers.

    Not a bad outcome from 10 minutes of tinkering and being hamstrung by not being able to use the word ‘digital’! A good starting point as we prepare to enter into 2016, methinks.

  • Doug Belshaw 10:54 pm on December 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    What’s a tweeter to do? 

    Twitter’s been a big part of my life for almost nine years now. I can honestly say that in many ways it has materially changed my life for the better.

    However, recently, I feel that both I and the service itself have changed. Most obviously, Twitter is now a publicly-traded company. I’ve written before about what that means for existing users.

    For my part, I’m more interested in creating things of lasting value than being on the bleeding edge of the ‘news’. So much of it is distracting and takes me away from what I really value. As social networks increase, so their specific use can become diluted and the original reason for being there becomes fuzzy.

    Today, after a wonderful Christmas with my family, I decided to download my Twitter archive and upload it to twitter.dougbelshaw.com. Early in 2016 I’m going to do one of the following:

    1. Delete all of my tweets and call it a day.
    2. Delete my tweets on a rolling basis (i.e. at the start of each month I’ll archive the previous month’s and then delete them)
    3. Generate primarily auto-tweets and focus on creating content that sits on servers I control.

    The reason I’m keen to delete my tweets – if only on a rolling basis – is because of data mining. Increasingly, us subjects* are seen as being synonymous with our ‘data exhaust’ trail. I’m not sure that true of me, or anyone for that matter. 

    By self-hosting my Twitter archive my tweets would still be publicly available. It’s just that people wouldn’t be able to (as far as I’m aware) automatically mine as part of a huge data set.

    * Sadly, those of us born in, or naturalised to, the UK are ‘citizens’ only in terms of politicians’ rhetoric.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:29 pm on December 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Thirty Five 

    Just putting my head above the parapet to say that today’s my birthday; I’m now 35 years of age.

    In previous years my birthday has caused me some angst but, this year, I feel happy, settled, and fully in control of my life. It’s great. People worry about all sorts of things that aren’t important: even being purposely unaware of what’s happening in the daily news cycle I’ve found liberating.

    Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot of aphorisms. I was already reading Balthasar Gracian’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence on repeat, but I’ve added to it The Oxford Book of Aphorisms and some thoughts and aphorisms by Goethe that I picked up at a second-hand bookshop today. I’m also planning to re-read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms.

    My parents have just been round for the customary gift-giving and slice of cake. Since they asked, I showed them the presentation I gave a few weeks ago on types of ambiguity. My mother commented that most things I do have their roots in philosophy. That had me nodding in agreement, but then she said something in passing that I found very interesting – that I “started out in education”. Given that I still consider myself an ‘educator’ this gave me pause for thought. It’s made me realise that, in some people’s eyes at least, I’ve moved on.

    I’ll finish off this missive by remarking that I’m typing this on my Lenovo Thinkpad X220 running ElementaryOS. I bought it on a whim in January this year as my ‘consultancy’ laptop. I still have my MacBook Pro, so hadn’t really used it much up until now. However, some reflections during this year’s ‘Black Ops’ period made me realise that I need enough, not necessarily always the latest and greatest. I’m also keen to use Linux. So, this week I’m upgrading the RAM and hard disk in the Thinkpad and will be using that as my primary machine going into 2016. My wife’s inheriting my MacBook Pro, and we’re selling her MacBook Air.

    I’m back on 1st January 2016. It might take me a few days to ger back into my groove. Between then and now I’ll be thinking about identity, making a /now page, and hopefully making time to add some of my favourite aphorisms to my wiki.

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