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  • Doug Belshaw 10:54 am on December 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Android, deep work, distraction-free, Ubuntu   

    Creating a ‘distraction-free’ writing machine (using whatever you’ve got available) 

    Sometimes, you’ve got to get things out of your system, following them to their logical conclusion. Yesterday, for some reason, I became obsessed with the idea of a ‘distraction-free’ writing machine. By this I mean something that would allow me to write without distraction, as opposed to interruptions. The latter are fine, because the person who is doing the interrupting knows what they’re doing. Distractions, however, are things that are (or should be) under your own control.

    So I set about thinking first of all about purchasing some kind of machine for different tasks. So I’d have a permanent setup for the video calls I do on a daily basis as a remote worker, and then another device for writing. That looked needlessly expensive, so I thought about the resources I’ve already got. Given that I’ve always wanted to do something more than just tinker with the Raspberry Pi (and Pi Zero) I’ve got lying about, I set about thinking how I could use that. Given that I’ve also just upgraded monitor, and the old one is handily rotatable and height-adjustable, I experimented:

    Raspberry Pi - rotated monitor

    This was running on an original Raspberry Pi with Raspbian and LXDE as a window manager. For some reason, FocusWriter, which is what you see loading on the screen there, didn’t work properly. So I was kind of back to the drawing board.

    While messing about with the settings on my phone, I suddenly realised that any machine can be a ‘distraction-free’ writing device. Almost every operating system has a ‘guest mode’ these days, so I could switch to that while writing. I started with my Android device:

    Add guest (Android)

    Once you’ve activated the Guest account, clicking on the cog to the right-hand side brings up options for that account. On my Android device there was only one option, namely whether or not to allow access to phone calls for the Guest account. I turned that on, so I could make and receive calls while in writing mode.

    Allow guest phone (Android)X-Ray Goggles

    The benefit of that is that I can’t be distracted by ambient messages from Slack, Telegram, etc. However, if a member of my family calls me, I can answer that straight away.

    When it came to my Ubuntu Linux-based laptop, I simply set up a new ‘standard’ (i.e. non-administrator) account:

    Add guest account (Ubuntu)

    I decided to call the account I created ‘Guest’, although I could have named it ‘Writing’, ‘Distraction-free’, or anything I wanted to, really. Note that I’ve ticked ‘Show my login name in the menu bar’ to be able to quickly see which account I’m in. I could also change the desktop background and/or theme to indicate this, too.

    Switch to guest account (Ubuntu)

    Switching to the Guest account is as simple as clicking on the menu to the top-right and selecting the other account.

    I’m looking forward to trying out this setup to encourage the kind of ‘distraction-free’ writing I’ve been seeking ever since reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work. Happy to answer any questions in the comments below! I’m pretty sure almost every device (with the exception of iOS?) allows for multiple users.

  • Doug Belshaw 4:32 pm on November 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , web literacy   

    Mozilla Foundation ending its web literacy work 

    Tired red panda

    From an email blast sent to those involved in Mozilla’s education work:

    Mozilla Foundation will be ending all staff support for the Mozilla Hive and Mozilla Clubs initiatives by December 31, 2017. While we remain active in web literacy work through fellowships, research, and curriculum, we will no longer directly run local, on-the-ground web literacy programs. These changes will happen over the course of the coming year.

    I had the privilege of being Mozilla’s Web Literacy Lead until 2015, and took their Web Literacy Map work up to version 1.5, thanks to the help of a wonderful community of contributors. The work continued through the Mozilla Clubs after I left for the world of consultancy. All of the curriculum and related materials can be found in this GitHub repository.

    Chris Lawrence, until recently VP of the Mozilla Leadership Network, and my former boss, has written a blog post about Mozilla’s decision:

    But unlike the promise of a digital utopia that existed when we entered this work, when the Internet seemed like a grand path to greater participation and engagement, we now have seen the pendulum swing decidedly towards a dystopian narrative where surveillance, ever-connected devices, and pipelines of propaganda dominate. Of course, both and neither are completely true, and the binary choice further divides us and blocks thoughtful solutions from emerging. We are so excited about the Internet health framework because, like all ecosystems, the Internet is best understood when you realize that aspects can be both sick and healthy and need all of us to help tip the balance to health. To do this, Mozilla’s attention needs to be on a more immediate and bigger set of fights. We need to use our assets — our brand, our megaphone, our global community, our money — to confront those challenges head-on.

    I think another story can be told. One about politics and egos, of ‘missed opportunities’ and grant funding; and certainly of ways in which organisations should treat their community volunteers. But that’s a story to tell another time — preferably while nursing a drink. I’m happy to reminisce about a time in my life when, certain personalities aside, I can truly say I worked with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met.

    Thankfully, open stuff never dies. It forms the coral reef for the next generation of activity and action. I’m pleased to say that’s already been happening through We Are Open, a co-operative I formed with former Mozilla colleagues and friends. I’m also looking forward to leading Moodle’s work on a new project which, because it’s not grant-funded, hopefully won’t be subject to the same mis-steps as Mozilla’s work.

    So this post is a farewell to Webmaker and Mozilla’s Web Literacy work. I have fond memories.

    Image CC0 Mathias Appel

    • Chris Lawrence 11:40 pm on November 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Doug,

      Thanks for the post, you were indeed an important person and thinker in this work and that it is no small thing that you have stayed involved. I do however think your title is misleading. Mozilla isn’t ending Web Literacy work as you suggest, but instead ending on the ground programming targeted at education. What we called Mozilla Learning (among other things, I grant you) is winding down and the programs you quote are ending or transitioning. But Mozilla is still committed to WL as it is a key plank in the Internet health report/movement. We are still investing in the concept through targeted fellowships, grants, research money, public advocacy campaigns and other programs that the foundation plans to roll out over the coming months. Mozilla is still investing in many of these programs to find new life outside of the organizational confines. This will look different in different places/projects and we have taken time and care to make sure aspects continue in other forms or end with grace. So the foundation’s tactics with the commitment to WL may be changing, it isn’t “ending.” Some, maybe you, might think this is parsing language but I don’t and I have confidence that Mozilla can make me not look silly saying that. Mozilla also has gotten better at realizing that it can be good at catalyzing something and then knowing when it grows and has life past its stewardship. I think Badges is a good example. We didn’t always handle that artfully but at the same time we also knew how best to get out of the way and start to find others that could take it forward better. Often with our money, help and partnership. I am immensely proud of the work I did helping IMLS Global, Digital Me, LRNG and others take the ideas/tools/assets further faster then we could.

      There are many stories that can be told of great wins, self-inflicted wounds, changing funding landscapes and yes missed or not chosen opportunities. I would actually call that working for a dynamic non-profit org. Also I’d love to see an org that didn’t struggle with politics and egos (seriously, where do I sign up?). Was this work victim of that sometimes, of course. I have often reflect on my own part to play in that and can only hope to improve from learning.

      It’s maybe an odd day for me to be in MoFo defense mode and there are certainly aspects of this I would have loved to see trend in a different direction, but in the end it became hard to justify the level of commitment and resourcing to do the local and groundwork that digital learning programs need, especially when so many others have the capacity to do it better and with the landscape changing so much over even just the last 18 months decisions had to be made on where the energy went. Mozilla resources must go into the advocacy/public education and investment in people who can effect change at key places like policy. Some of which are directly targeted at Web Literacy issues. In some ways its the logical extension of the great work you started. Glad to hear about your Moodle work, unrestricted funds are always good. But grants and grant funded work are a reality (and a positive one often) and we did our best to leverage that towards much of what you highlight here in your post, for good. It was our fiscal reality, and ALL money has strings attached.

      Anyway I just wanted to highlight some of this on your post. Missed you at MozFest, maybe next year we will both be there as community members and we can swap stories while nursing a drink or 3.

  • Doug Belshaw 1:28 pm on October 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    Hurry Slowly: communication and trust are key to successful organisations 

    Image CC0 José Martín Ramírez C

    I’m re-reading Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina at the moment, which has one of the most famous opening lines in literature:

    “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    As a consultant who works with a range of organisations in different sectors, I see the same thing in terms of organisational effectiveness. The two things that make organisations awesome, whether they’re for-profit, non-profit, co-ops, or something else are:

    1. Communication
    2. Trust

    Without these two, organisations have to have a lot of something else to get things done. That can be money, it can be time, or it can be talent. But the quickest and easiest route to success is paved with good internal and external communication strategies, and trust between stakeholders.

    This brings me to the first episode of Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly, featuring Basecamp CEO Jason Fried. I’m a big fan both of Jocelyn’s newsletter and the Basecamp’s Signal v. Noise blog, so I’ve been looking forward to the launch of this new podcast! It didn’t disappoint, and I recommend you listen to it in its entirety.

    Fried touches on a number of points, backing up my theory around communication and trust being central to successful organisations. He points to manifestations of this such as the problem of ‘workplace chat’ tools, working beyond 40 hours per week, and having complete control over your own calendar.

    To be specific, the kinds of things I see in great organisations are things like:

    • Discrete channels for specific kinds of conversation.
    • A process for making decisions without having to have a meeting (or several!)
    • Employees blocking out hours at a time for ‘deep work’.
    • No (or very few) emails and notifications outside of normal working hours.
    • People volunteering for work and covering each other, rather than having to have it assigned to them.

    In contrast, and to return to the Tolstoy quotation above, disorganised, problematic organisations are all different. However, in How F*cked Up Is Your Management?: An uncomfortable conversation about modern leadership, Johnathan Nightingale outlines a test he has to ‘out’ problematic business practices. The book is based on a blog, so the post pertaining to the first chapter can be found here.

    Nightingale (who was in charge of Firefox while I was at Mozilla) has a list. It’s more tech company-specific than mine would be, but it illustrates issues similar to those I would highlight. He says you should score one “My management culture is f*cked up” point for each of the following:

    • We have an unlimited vacation policy
    • We don’t do regular 1:1s, but we have open office hours/are super available if anyone wants to chat
    • We don’t have a process for interviewing, we just hire awesome people when we meet them
    • We super care about diversity, but we don’t want to lower the bar so we just hire the best person for the job even if it means diversity suffers
    • We don’t have defined levels and career paths for our employees, we’re a really flat org
    • We don’t have formal managers for every staff member, everyone just gets their work done
    • We don’t have, like, HR HR, but our recruiter/office manager/only female employee is super good if you want someone to talk to
    • We don’t do performance improvement plans for employees that are struggling. We just have a super honest conversation about how they aren’t a good fit and fire them
    • We would have some hard explaining to do if our salary list accidentally became public

    Later in the same post/chapter, Nightingale makes a really important point about management and leadership. Everyone wants to innovate around it, he says, but just as you shouldn’t ‘roll your own’ cryptography, so you should go with an existing management approach:

    “I don’t need you to be the best in the world at management. But if you’re not planning to be, if you’re not going to be really studious and dedicated to it, then for god’s sake stop messing with it. I promise you can’t build a better management system in your spare time.”

    In other words, get your processes right, and good things follow. And the key to getting your processes right? Communication and trust.

    Image CC0 José Martín Ramírez C

  • Doug Belshaw 7:55 am on October 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Arthur Brock, blockchain, currency, Douglas Rushkoff, Holochain, , recognition, Serge Ravet   

    Currencies and ‘current-sees’ 

    Money is a terrible measure of value. In the same way that most of the value you have to offer, is simply not accessible through dollars, our economy fails to access and enable the bulk of the value around us. Until we create currencies which recognize value flows at all these levels, we perpetuate intolerable poverty. This isn't a poverty of inequitable distribution, but a poverty of measurement.

    I’ve been catching up on Team Human podcasts this week. In Episode 48, Douglas Rushkoff interviews Arthur Brock, who describes himself as spending most of his “time and energy on projects that [he] believe[s] support and accelerate the harmonious evolution of humanity”. His website comes across as quasi-mystical and, to be honest, wouldn’t have been something that I would have paid much attention to, had it not been for the podcast.

    >> Listen to Episode 48 of the Team Human podcast

    The interview covers a wide range of topics, including some insights as to why existing cryptocurrencies are set to replicate the same problems we’ve already got. The key takeaway for me, however, was captured in a play on words Brock makes between ‘currencies’ and ‘current-sees’. The diagram above kind of gets to this, in the sense of not reducing everything to a single measure of value.

    Instead of thinking about fiscal exchange, Brock points out that we already ascribe value to objects that aren’t contained in the object itself. For example, food is described as ‘organic’, diamonds as ‘conflict-free’, etc. Collapsing all of that down to a price point or exchange of money doesn’t capture all of the value. This is where ‘current-sees’ come in; ways of capturing value that aren’t reducible to financial instruments.

    My brain went immediately to Open Badges as a form of ‘current-see’, much in the way that people like Serge Ravet talk about the importance of ‘recognition’ over credentialing. The value of badges is that it’s a standardised way of capturing diversity and difference. That’s why initiatives that seek to standardise and lock these things down are, to my mind, misguided.

    More technical people reading this might want to explore Holochain, an initiative to ‘think outside the blocks’. Instead of a single ledger with every transaction, Holochain ‘blockchains the blockchain’. “Instead of being built on top of cryptographic tokens [Holochains] are organized around cryptographic validation of people (peers) validated against an immutable cryptographic record of those peers actions.” Geek out on the details here.

  • Doug Belshaw 12:48 pm on September 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , LinkedIn,   

    Codes of Conduct 

    I usually follow the POSSE model and write first in a space I completely own and control, and then syndicate or cross-post elsewhere. However, on this occasion, I wrote a LinkedIn post directly on that site. In Why your user community needs a Code of Conduct, I reflect on some work I’ve done for Totara Learning in my part-time role as Community Advisor:

    Even if you’re reading this and thinking everything is fine in your community, it’s clear that we can never be fully aware of the nuances of the multitudes of interactions that take place. We’re all subject to the ‘unknown unknowns’ famously pointed out by Donald Rumsfeld. Who knows if there are people put off joining your community because of what they see? What if your forums are implicated in a wider issue that a member has with another individual?

    You can read the article in full here. I look forward to your comments!

  • Doug Belshaw 9:02 am on September 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    Salesforce patenting digital badging? 

    In US 9729556 B2, Salesforce have been granted a patent for Digital badging for facilitating virtual recognition of an achievement. Needless to say, there was a lot of badging activity before the ‘priority’ date of 12th September 2014.

    The Open Badges community is organising via this thread in the discussion list.

  • Doug Belshaw 9:50 am on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: process   

    Process problems and delays 

    Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

    I just popped into my local pharmacy to pick up a presecription on the way back from working in a coffee shop. What should have taken less than a minute took six or seven times as long, for easily-solvable reasons.

    1. There’s no clear place to line up, meaning staff have to ask who’s next. It’s not always obvious who is next.
    2. The dispenser asked for my surname, then flicked through a large pile of prescriptions to check whether mine had been processed. This took time, and she could easily have missed one while thumbing through.
    3. Once she found my presecription, she looked for the medication itself on the shelf behind her. This took a long time, even when I helpfully pointed out that it was unlikely to be in the place she was looking, as the bag it comes in is of ‘medium’ size.
    4. In the end, a colleague pointed out that what the dispenser had assumed was a number ‘2’ (referring to the item’s location) was actually a ‘7’.
    5. I paid as usual, and left.

    By itself, no big deal. I’m not in so much of a hurry that spending an additional five minutes in the pharmacy once every few months makes much different to my life. But this is an ‘award winning pharmacy’ which must deal with hundreds of presecriptions per day.

    What could they do better?

    1. Make it obvious how to approach the counter, and who’s next.
    2. Go fully digital so entering the first few letters of my name brings up the status of my ordered prescription.
    3. Listen to patients. They might actually know something about what their repeat prescription looks like!
    4. The digital system would be more accurate in terms of location, as there would be no hurried, scrawled numbers in human hand on the prescription.
    5. Apologise for delays (customers have come to expect this, although I’m not particularly bothered)

    I’ll email this to the pharmacy and update this if I get a reply. It’s a small thing, but these things add up, especially when it comes to over-worked staff and taxpayers money.

    • Michelle Hankinson 1:36 pm on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention the Wellway Pharmacy is a separate business too Wellway Medical Group. I will show the pharmacist your e-mail.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:08 am on September 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: breakfast, healthy   

    Healthy breakfasts for children 

    yogurt fruit popsicles

    I think it was the sight of two huge vats of peanut butter arriving in our Amazon Pantry order that I made me think we should consider mixing up our kids’ breakfasts. The ‘default’ option that we go for, whether in terms of food or leisure activities, can have a huge bearing on our health.

    So I had a quick look along with our two children: Ben, our son, is 10 and our daughter, Grace, is 6.

    NHS Choices – Healthy breakfasts (for people who hate breakfast) – this isn’t particularly kid-focused, but had some stuff they were interested in:

    • Scrambled eggs (Ben)
    • Green smoothie (Ben)
    • Grab and go breakfast bar (Ben and Grace)

    BuzzFeed: 23 Healthy And Easy Breakfasts Your Kids Will Love  – BuzzFeed do listicles well, and this was no exception. There was plenty on the list that floated their boat:

    • Breakfast popsicles (Ben and Grace)
    • Egg in a pepper (Ben)
    • One-minute blueberry citrus shake (Ben and Grace)
    • Fruity breakfast parfaits (Ben and Grace)
    • Almond butter and banana open sandwich (Ben and Grace)
    • Overnight oats with strawberries and chia seeds (Ben and Grace)
    • Blueberry pie oatmeal (Ben)
    • Mango and berry swirl (Ben and Grace)
    • Easy peanut and banana roll (Ben and Grace)
    • Vegan chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie (Ben and Grace)

    Eats Amazing: 15 Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Kids – a smaller selection, but this one prompted them to want to start freezing fruit and yogurt right away!

    • Frozen yogurt bites (Ben and Grace)
    • Fruit salad (Ben and Grace)
    • Frozen banana bites (Ben and Grace)

    EatingWell: Easy Breakfast Recipes for Back to School – most of these seemed to be pretty standard things decorated to look like animals, but there was one that stood out:

    • Bagel gone bananas (Ben)

    Super Healthy Kids: Breakfast – I’m pretty sure there’s some things in here that aren’t ‘super healthy’ (carrot cake french toast sticks?!) but there’s a wealth of recipes. So many, in fact, that we decided to come back to them later.

  • Doug Belshaw 3:00 pm on August 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    The architecture of work is metaphorically still a picture of walls defining who is employed and inside and who is unemployed and outside. Who is included and who is excluded. Who “we” are and who “they” are. This way of thinking was acceptable in repetitive work where it was relatively easy to define what needed to be done and by whom as a definition of the quantity of labor and quality of capabilities. In creative, knowledge-based work it is increasingly difficult to know the best mix of people, capabilities and tasks in advance. Interdependence between peers involves, almost by default, crossing boundaries. The walls seem to be in the wrong position or in the way, making work harder to do. What, then, is the use of the organizational theater when it is literally impossible to define the organization before we actually do something?

    Esko Kilpi
  • Doug Belshaw 2:59 pm on August 29, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    We are as used to the employer choosing the work objectives as we are used to the teacher choosing the learning objectives. The manager directs the way in which the employee engages with work, and manages the timing and duration of the work. This image of work is easy to grasp because it has been taught at school where the model is the same. We should ask whether the current social construct of jobs is inevitable, or whether it is a social artifact that is over 100 years old, and should be redesigned.

    Esko Kilpi
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