Updates from February, 2016 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Doug Belshaw 11:24 am on February 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    My monthly Revue 

    Apart from a brief dalliance with TinyLetter, I’ve always sent newsletter via MailChimp. TinyLetter is now owned by MailChimp anyway. Recently, I came across a pretty new service called Revue, which I’m experimenting with this time around for my monthly Dynamic Skillset newsletter. You can view the newsletter, and sign up for future ones here.

    What I like about it is that Revue makes it so easy to create newsletters. There’s nowhere near the amount of customisation that you get with MailChimp. Nor does it have features that hook into other services. What it does do, it does extremely well. In fact, I had my credit card out within five minutes of using it! I’m currently paying $5/month to use it in an unrestricted way for up to 1,500 subscribers. It’s a no-brainer.

    The reason Revue is so great is that it connects to your social media profiles and RSS feed(s) from your blog(s) and then allows you to drag-and-drop into the main interface. It’s a bit like Storify in that regard. You can also add links, images, and text directly. It basically takes all of the hassle out of newsletter creation.

    I still like to be able to customise my weekly Thought Shrapnel newsletter more than Revue allows – especially as I have sponsors. But for everything else, Revue is great.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:08 am on February 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    I’ve started adding people on Facebook 

    I’ve had a Facebook account for years. In fact, I can remember when you had to have an academic email address to use it. 

    There used to be a marked difference between Facebook (evil ad-displaying empire) and other places like Twitter. Unfortunately, as everything seems to be a race towars the bottom these days – and as Facebook owns the only viable alternative to Twitter (i.e. Instagram) there’s no reason for me not to use it any more. Any principles I thought I was demonstrating by preferring Twitter have now been negated since it became software with shareholders.

    So if you see a friend request from me on Facebook, it’s legit. I’m not looking to spend a lot of time on there. I’ll probably use it a lot like I use LinkedIn – as a place I keep up-to-date, connect with people who prefer that service, and push out stuff I publish in spaces I have full control of.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:15 pm on February 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Twitter as a utility (for the privileged elite) 

    Warren Ellis ruminating on Twitter:

    I sympathise with Joshua Topolsky when he says he conceived of Twitter as “a utility, a service so fundamental that I could imagine a scenario in which it was literally underwritten.” I felt similarly for some while. But let’s face it. It’s an internet service that enables entitlement, like any other, so fuck it. And, like anything else on the internet, the user should be able to bend it into whatever shape best fits their life, or abandon it entirely. Not that everyone who comes to that conclusion acts upon it: Nathan Jurgenson observes, on Twitter, that “people don’t quit Twitter because they don’t want to lose their followers – Twitter will end when it no longer houses social capital.” I keep my Twitter account alive for this reason, among others, even though only my bots actually post to its public stream.

    I like the way Ellis works. Stuff that reaches the outside world passes through a few stages: his blog, newsletter, then finally through to books/comics. This is from his blog, where he’s at his most unfiltered.

  • Doug Belshaw 8:10 pm on February 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Real-world debugging with CodeCombat 

    CodeCombat glitch

    I’m in London for three days this week, which means I get an extra evening to play CodeCombat. This is good, as some of the kids in the Computing Club I run on a Monday are already ahead of me (including my son!)

    What I’m enjoying about learning through playing a game is that I’m learning how to read code almost by osmosis. A great example of this was just now when I was convinced the code I’d written was correct. After a quick look on a forum, it turns out I was correct and there was a glitch on that level.

    Let’s just unpack that for a second:

    1. I’ve become confident enough to know when my code should run properly and when it’s ‘not my fault’.
    2. I searched for other people’s experience facing the same problem.
    3. Having read through discussions, I found a workaround using Python.
    4. I converted the Python code to JavaScript in my head.
    5. Then I completed the level successfully.

    From talking to people who code for their day job over the last few years, this sounds a lot like real world programming… 🙂

  • Doug Belshaw 7:31 pm on February 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Quick reflections on #DebateTech 

    Mayoral candidates at DebateTech

    This afternoon I was at the  event held at Here East in Hackney, East London. It was a hustings for the London mayoral candidates, organised by Tech London Advocates (TLA). There were representatives from (left to right) the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Labour, Green Party, and the Conservatives. I was there representing City & Guilds, one of my clients. 

    Much of the time was dedicated to responding to a nice-looking manifesto that TLA have put together. It includes the following points:

    1. Conduct an innovation audit: a London-wide audit of regulation to prepare for the impact of technology innovation.
    2. Full digital inclusion: a digital inclusion strategy that puts digital opportunities in the hands of all Londoners.
    3. World class cyber security: clear, accessible cyber security advice and support for all businesses and citizens.
    4. Plan ahead for broadband: make broadband the ‘fourth utility’ in London.
    5. From notspots to hotspots: a consistent planning permission regime across London.
    6. Shore up the supply of commercial space: exempt commercial spaces from policies that alow residential conversions.
    7. Take the London message global: champion London’s tech specialisms with international trade missions.
    8. Prioritise investment incentives: supoprt for investment incentives and encouragement of corporate venturing.
    9. Build a tech talent pipeline: a comprehensive strategy for digital skills to rival New York’s tech talent pipeline.
    10. Champion digital apprenticeships: a Digital Apprenticeships Task Force to increase the quality and quantity of schemes for tech.
    11. Be bold on visas: advocate key visa routes for tech professionals.
    12. Hire a London Chief Digital Officer: a London CDO responsible for delivering a world beating digital strategy for the city
    13. Create an open data charter: an Office of Data Analytics to put data at the heart of public service delivery.

    It was interesting to see that none of the five candidates could speak confidently about tech. Notably, Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, addressed this in his opening remarks, saying that coding is “like Swahili” to him. Meanwhile, Sian Berry (the Green Party candidate) mentioned that she’d worked at a startup between 2008 and 2011, despite it being clear that tech is not an area of great expertise for her. 

    This, of course, doesn’t particularly matter. The Mayor of London shouldn’t have to be an expert in every area of policy. Their power is also more symbolic than administrative. That being said, it was good to see commitments from the four serious candidates that they would hire a CDO for London. The UKIP candidate seemed to be there fore comedy effect, and was treated as such.

    The other three points that were focused on at the hustings were broadband connectivity, digital skills, and digital apprenticeships. No detailed policy announcements were made, but these events are useful for seeing in broad brushstrokes terms what the mood is across the board.

    In terms of the 13 manifesto items listed above, I think the tech community can be fairly certain that, no matter who is elected in May, points 4, 10, and 12 will be an area of focus. There’s also a good likelihood that points 3, 7, 9, and 13 will be acted upon. 

  • Doug Belshaw 5:56 am on February 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy 

    Louis C.K.i 

    If you’ve never seen the talk show appearance by Louis C.K. from which the above meme was generated, then go ahead and watch just this four minute clip.

    I was reminded of it as I read the following from Baltasar Gracián this morning:

    Free yourself from common stupidity. A special kind of good sense. Such stupidity is validated by being widespread and some, who never succumb to one person’s ignorance, can’t escape collective ignorance. It’s common for nobody to be happy with their lot, however good, or to be unhappy with their intellect, however bad. Everyone covets someone else’s good fortune, being unhappy woith their own. Those alive now praise the things of the past, and those living here praise things over there. Everything in the past seems better, and everything distant is more highly valued.

    This kind of sentiment runs through many things that have had an influence on my life. For example, there’s a Kings of Convenience song called ‘Singing Softly To Me’ which includes the lyrics:

    Things seem so much better when
    They’re not part of your close surroundings.
    Like words in a letter sent,
    Amplified by the distance.
    Possibilities and sweeter dreams,
    Sights and sounds calling from far away,
    Calling from far away.

    If there’s one thing life has been teaching me over the past few years, it’s that the grass always seems greener elsewhere. In fact, one of my favourite quotations (from Baudelaire) sums it up perfectly:

    This life is a hospital where every patient is possessed with the desire to change beds; one man would like to suffer in front of the stove, and another believes that he would recover his health beside the window.

    Learning to be happy with what you’ve got now, while remaining ambitious, is a difficult mindset to master.

  • Doug Belshaw 5:45 pm on February 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Everything in its place: how to use verbs and iOS folders to improve productivity 

    I think I got this tip from Lifehacker a few years ago, but now I’m using it again having just bought an iPad with 128GB storage. 

    Instead of having apps arranged arbitrarily or by the date of download, how about grouping them by what you do with with them? There’s other approaches to this on iOS – for example, you can swipe down and search for the app you want. However, I really dislike horizontal scrolling which you have to do with screens and screens of installed apps. This approach means I have a single home screen, which is a press of the physical hardware button away.

    For those wondering, the bottom row would have been free space as I only need 15 folders at the moment. I took the opportunity to add four more of my most-used apps for easy access.

    Update: Apparently words ending with an ‘ing’ are gerunds, not verbs. I learn something new every day. Many thanks to the gramma police on Twitter for that one…

  • Doug Belshaw 7:51 am on February 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Fools suffer from an excess of advice 

    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.

  • Doug Belshaw 6:41 pm on February 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Minion mindsets 

    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. 

  • Doug Belshaw 1:51 pm on February 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    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. 

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