Updates from November, 2016 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Doug Belshaw 9:51 am on November 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Fake news: US vs. China 

    Fake news

    Just wondering out loud here. Why is it that, when China cracks down on outlets peddling ‘fake news’ we throw our arms up in the air and cry foul, but when we get an election result we don’t like, we think it’s OK for a giant multinational company (Facebook) that acts like a nation state to do so?


    I haven’t got the time, experience, or inclination to do an analysis of why we’ve ended up putting people like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage up on a pedestal. What I do know is that fake news and outright lies have definitely played a role. That’s why ‘post-truth’ is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year. 

    Perhaps it’s something to do with the utter capitulation of the traditional print media to the current ad-fuelled business model of the web? Instead of standing their ground and thinking of alternative ways to do things, they seem to have joined the rush to the bottom in terms of generating clicks and eyeballs. It’s all a bit depressing.

    We can all do something about this. I’m going to spend my ‘black ops’ period in December thinking about how I can help bridge the gap between functional digital skills in schools, and computing education. There’s a gulf there, and things are getting worse in terms of online skills and media literacy, according to the latest Ofcom report.

  • Doug Belshaw 11:09 am on November 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    I left Facebook (again) yesterday 

    Facebook is not progressive

    I first signed up for Facebook when it was accessible only to those who had university email addresses. I left when it started becoming popular in 2007. Then, sometime around 2011, I decided to re-join. Yesterday, tired of Facebook’s business model and role in shaping many things I think are wrong in the world, I deleted my account again.

    I’ve always been uneasy about Facebook’s business model, but this week, in the wake of the US Presidential Election result (which, in turn, followed the horrors of ‘Brexit’) I read/listened to the following:

    For me, leaving Facebook wasn’t a huge wrench, as it might be for others. That’s because:

    1. Everyone I’m connected with on Facebook I’m also connected with via some other means
    2. I only really syndicate my blog posts there
    3. I’ve never found it a happy place, for some reason

    You can do what you want, of course. But my recommendation would be to not prop up a system that helps support fake news, surveillance capitalism, and the dismantling of the open web. Not to mention the horrors that some people I know have suffered from ‘catfishing’. Facebook doesn’t care and just steamrollers on.

    Perhaps we need an ‘I left Facebook’ badge?

    Image CC BY-SA Jorge Caballero Jiménez

  • Doug Belshaw 8:14 am on November 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Money can’t buy happiness (but you knew that already, right?) 

    Dog on swing

    I found this article via Hacker News today about a guy who used to work for Yelp. 

    I left because, ultimately, I had to. I was utterly, utterly exhausted. I’d been agonizing over it for almost a year prior, but had stayed because I didn’t think I could pull it off. I was terrified of failure. Even after deciding to quit, I’d wanted to stay another six months and finish out the year. I left when I did because I was deteriorating. 

    He left a year ago, and wrote this blog post to explain what he’s been up to. But he’s at pains to point out something we already know:

    People like to quip that money can’t buy happiness. I think that’s missing the point. Money can remove sadness, but only if that sadness is related to not having enough money. My problem was not having enough time.


    I make considerably less now. I’m also much, much happier.

    One massively unacknowledged fear that people have in moving away from full-time employment, I think, is fear. Not so much financial fear (“where’s the money going to come from?”) but reputational fear, the fear of the unknown, and, perhaps most importantly, the fear of what to do with the additional free time.

    I know a lot of people hate their jobs, and I know most people can’t afford to quit. I wish everyone could. I’d love to see a world where everyone could do or learn or explore or make all the things they wanted. Unfortunately, my wishes have no bearing on how the system works.

    Pre-Brexit and US election, I honestly thought we were moving towards a world of more people working from home, basic income, and automation removing soul-destroying jobs. It looks like there’s (at least) a temporary blip in that plan.

    It’s no accident that the subtitle of Tim Ferriss’ spectacular bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek is subtitled ‘escape the 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich’. The ‘new rich’ are those that realise that the promise of doing well by working hard, however that’s measured, is mostly a lie. As Ferriss says in that book, the impact of the money we earn can be multiplied in ‘practical value’ depending on the number W’s we control:

    1. What we do
    2. When we do it
    3. Where we do it
    4. Who we do it with

    I think this is a good thing to bear in mind. There’s so many people I’ve met (and I’d include me at an earlier point in my life) who equated a salary figure with success. In actual fact, that’s only a data point on a much more three-dimensional equation — particularly as a husband and a father with a family to consider.

    Image by Marion Michele

  • Doug Belshaw 9:07 am on November 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Little things and future fortunes 

    Walk the Line

    I left my Kindle on my flight home on Friday night. It’s not exactly the first time I’ve left something behind on a train or a plane. It will either turn up or it will not and, if it doesn’t, there’s not much I can do about it. 

    So, I’ve been accessing my daily reading via the Kindle app on my iPad Mini. The experience isn’t quite as good, but I’m glad to still have access to my collection. This morning, as I weigh up some potential changes in my life, a couple of maxims from François de La Rochefoucauld struck a chord: 

    The temperament that produces a talent for little things is the opposite of that required for great ones.


    If you cannot predict your future fortunes, you cannot predict what you will do with them.

    There’s a recent Team Human podcast episode with the artist and activist Steve Lambert where he explains how difficult it is for people to see beyond the immediate goal they have in mind. Steve asks people to think what they’ll do when they’ve been successful in their current goal, and the one after that, and the one after that, and so on. Often, he says, we don’t know the ultimate thing for which we’re striving. We’re too heads-down.

    For me, and I guess for most people who are the main wage-earners in their family, I ‘walk the line’ between individual fulfilment and providing for my family. The best situation, of course, is to get these in alignment. In the office in my old house, I used to have the Shepard Fairey-designed poster that I’ve included at the top of the post hanging displayed prominently. It was a daily reminder that I’m a husband and father first, and everything else second.

  • Doug Belshaw 8:33 am on November 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Cicero and Plato on appropriate leadership 

    I’m just going to leave this here this morning, from Cicero’s On Living and Dying Well:

    In general, whoever is going to lead the state must adhere to two principles put forth by Plato: first, whatever the issue, protect the well-being of the citizenry by considering it to the exclusion of your own advantage; and second, look after the state as a whole rather than protecting one part at the expense of the rest. As with legal guardianship, so with governance of a republic: actions should benefit those being cared for, not those doing the caring. Moreover, to consider the needs of only some of the citizens is to neglect the rest and thereby invite the most harmful situation possible for the state, namely discord and sedition. This is how it has happened that so many adherents of the ‘popular’ and ‘conservative’ causes look after their own side, while few look after everyone. 

  • Doug Belshaw 6:45 am on November 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Seeing the world the way it really is 

    Ropetackle street furniture

    I don’t know what happens in other people’s heads, but some days I wake up with fully-formed ideas. Apparently, sleep is good for creativity. Today, however, I woke up with some lines from the pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus ringing in my head:

    By convention sweet, by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color: but in reality atoms and void.

    As is often the case, the universe seemed to align around my daily reading which included these passages: 

    The universe is change. Life is opinion. —Marcus Aurelius


    The world is all variation and dissimilarity. —Michel de Montaigne

    …as well as:

    Through laziness and constancy the mind keeps to what it finds easy and attractive; this habit is constantly limiting our knowledge, and no one ever takes the trouble to extend his mind and lead it as far as it could go. —François de La Rochefoucauld

    There’s definitely something here about seeing the world as it really is, rather than through the lenses we choose to filter it through.

    Image CC BY-NC-SA Ian Usher

  • Doug Belshaw 7:31 am on November 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    On constancy 


    One of my favourite of Montaigne’s Essays is the first in Book II: ‘On the inconstancy of our actions’. He explains how fickleness and variability is in our nature:

    Of Man I can believe nothing less easily than invariability: nothing more easily than variability.

    In other words, we are the very opposite of large rocks, indifferent to the flowing of a tumultuous river. Our opinions and emotions change with the weather and the seasons.

    I can certainly see myself in this introspection:

    Not only does the wind of chance events shake me about as it lists, but I also shake and disturb myself by the instability of my stance: anyone who turns his prime attention on to himself will hardly ever find himself in the same state twice. I give my soul this face or that, depending upon which side I lay it down on. I speak about myself in diverse ways: that is because I look at myself in diverse ways. Every sort of contradiction can be found in me, depending upon some twist or attribute: timid, insolent; chaste, lecherous; talkative, taciturn; tough, sickly; clever, dull; brooding, affable; lying, truthful; learned, ignorant; generous, miserly and then prodigal — I can see something of all that in myself, depending on how I gyrate; and anyone who studies himself attentively finds in himself and in his very judgement this whirring about and this discordancy. There is nothing I can say about myself as a whole simply and completely, without intermingling and admixture.

    Why does this matter? Because to live an intentional life, we need to know both what we’re aiming at and what we think about things:

    No wonder, said an Ancient, that chance has so much power over us, since it is by chance that we live. Anyone who has not groomed his life in general towards some definite end cannot possibly arrange his individual actions properly. It is impossible to put the pieces together if you do not have in your head the idea of the whole. What is the use of providing yourself with paints if you do not know what to paint? No man sketches out a definite plan for his life; we only determine bits of it. The bowman must first know what he is aiming at: then he has to prepare hand, bow, bowstring, arrow and his drill to that end. Our projects go astray because they are not addressed to a target. No wind is right for a seaman who has no predetermined harbour.

    Today’s reading in The Daily Stoic includes this commentary:

    In a scene in Steven Pressfield’s classic novel about Alexander the Great, The Virtues of War, Alexander reaches a river crossing only to be confronted by a philosopher who refuses to move. “This man has conquered the world!” one of Alexander’s men shouts. “What have you done?” The philosopher responds, with complete confidence, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.”

    I shall think my time on this earth successful if I manage to learn how to sit quietly in a room, alone. 

    Image CC BY-NC uncoolbob

  • Doug Belshaw 1:46 pm on November 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Thinking out loud 

    Ice cave

    I’ve learned not to make any life-changing decisions at this time of year. However, that doesn’t stop me from thinking things through and weighing things up. 

    One thing I’ve found in life, which isn’t exactly groundbreaking or revolutionary, is that I’m at my happiest and my best when helping others to be likewise. In other words, it’s good for my mental health to be doing things that are of value to others. As a consultant, as someone self-employed, I also have a financial incentive to do this. To provide the maximum value to the maximum number of people. 

    Right now, I’m thinking that my current web footprint needs corralling in a way that’s more easily-digestible to those who want to find out more about me and my work. Yes, I have a canonical landing page at dougbelshaw.com which links out to other places, but sometimes even I take a while to find my own work! 

    And then there’s the matter of my weekly newsletter. While, on the whole, I find putting it together a worthwhile endeavour, list growth for Thought Shrapnel is effectively stagnant. I’m considering retiring it from January to focus in more specifically on one or more topics. So, for example, instead of quite a lengthy newsletter with an eclectic mix of whatever interests me, perhaps something that just talks about edtech? I’m not sure.

    What I do definitely value, and which I’d continue whatever my future online writing looks like, is having separate spaces for more and less-formed thoughts. I very much like Ian O’Byrne’s conceptualisation of having a main blog as well as a ‘B-side‘. 

    Finally, getting back into the swing of maintaining a regular podcast and recording a new audiobook has opened my eyes to the benefits of going beyond text. The feedback we’ve had from TIDE in particular has made me realise that people have a different connection to you when listening rather than reading.

    Image CC BY-NC-SA Greta PPP

  • Doug Belshaw 10:56 am on November 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Sleep, fortune, and friendship 

    Alarm clock 

    I found it hard to get up this morning. In fact, I reset my Lumie Bodyclock ‘sunrise’ alarm clock to an hour later than my regular wake-up time.

    This week, I’ve felt like I do when I return from the US — in other words, a bit jetlagged. I think that’s a combination of the clocks going back to GMT, but also MozFest at the weekend. I actually fell asleep around midday on Monday while doing some reading.

    Getting up later meant I couldn’t carve out the half an hour or so that I usually have in the morning before the kids wake up in order to do my daily reading. Instead, I put my Kindle in my pocket when taking our youngest to school, then went and had a cup of coffee. It’s got to the stage where my daily reading is an essential part of my routine.

    Lo and behold, the first thing I read is this passage from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

    When it is hard to shake off sleep, remind yourself that to be going about the duties you owe society is to be obeying the laws of man’s nature and your own constitution, whereas sleep is something we share with the unreasoning brute creation; and furthermore, that obedience to one’s own nature is the more proper, the more suitable, and indeed the more agreeable course.

    Although there’s eight or nine books in the daily reading collection on my Kindle, if I had to choose just two for the rest of my life, it would be Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. The maxims I read from Gracián today included numbers 156 and 157, where I highlighted the following sections:

    A person is defined by the friends they have, and the wise never make friends with fools.
    Few are friends because of you yourself, many because of your good fortune.
    It is as necessary to study people as it is books.

    I actually prefer the title given in a different translation of Gracián’s work: The Art of Worldly Wisdom. It seems more appropriate to his project, and the advice he’s giving, especially here.

    Image by Szűcs László

  • Doug Belshaw 8:30 am on November 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply  

    Appearing to be what we are not 

    CC BY-NC-SA Lance McCord

    This morning, as part of my daily reading, I read maxim 457 of François de La Rochefoucauld’s Collected Maxims and Other Reflections:

    We would gain more by showing ourselves as we are than by trying to appear to be what we are not.

    I’ve got the version with parallel original French text, which makes for slightly odd reading on a Kindle, but nevertheless backs up the value of this particular maxim. 

    For some reason, this quotation reminded me of a quotation attributed to Henry Thomas Buckle:

    Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it.

    I think the reason for these being connected in my mind is because what we call ‘society’ does a great job a social reproduction. That is to say, we (collectively, if not individually) assign roles to ‘types’ of people, meaning that it pays to pretend to be a certain type of person. 

    As parents, we want the best for our children but (as Keri Facer argues) this manifests itself in a desire for them to get ‘good exam results’ so that they’ll be OK and go to university. But what if that’s not in accordance with who they are? All of this is not to say that we’re the same person throughout our lives. I think we evolve and change, having no fixed identity.

    There’s lots to unpack here — more than I can allocate time for this morning — but certainly something to ponder…

    Image CC BY-NC-SA Lance McCord

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