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Issue [#285]: The 'take a deep breath before Christmas' edition
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So... apologies again about the lack of a newsletter last week. But hopefully absence makes the heart grow fonder, and instead you'll appreciate this issue even more! It'll be the last for for 2017 — well, for regular subscribers at least...

I had a great week in the Netherlands, first in Amsterdam and then in Leeuwarden, a charming city that has been chosen to be European Capital of Culture in 2018. My weeknote gives details of what I got up to there, along with plenty of photos and illustrations.

Upon my return to Chez Belshaw on Friday night, I discovered that the Christmas tree was up, and my wife had even hacked a paper star decoration to add some remote-controlled flashing lights! Maker culture in action right there.

Right, well, here we are then. A sincere, warm, and heartfelt thank you for joining me this year for these weekly missives. I'll still be posting links on the Telegram channel so you might want to head over there if you'd like to still hear from me over next few weeks.

Oh, and finally, I'm planning for the next regular issue of this newsletter to hit inboxes on Sunday 7th January 2018. Until then, enjoy the holidays and Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a very Happy New Year when it comes!

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"Make this the golden rule, the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: everything we ask a child to do should be worth doing." (Philip Pullman)

Mitch Resnick is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at MIT Media Lab. He's interviewed in this article about his thoughts about coding in schools, and his new book.

>> The Future of Coding in Schools (Edutopia)

I like his approach:

"I want to be careful because I don’t want to embrace it for the same reason that some people might. The first question I would ask is: “Why should we learn coding at all?” Many people embrace coding in schools as a pathway to jobs as computer programmers and computer scientists, and of course they’re right that those opportunities are expanding rapidly. But that’s not a great reason for everyone to learn how to code."

Instead, he uses a helpful analogy that I've heard him (and others) use before:

"Very few people grow up to be professional writers, but we teach everyone to write because it’s a way of communicating with others—of organizing your thoughts and expressing your ideas. I think the reasons for learning to code are the same as the reasons for learning to write. When we learn to write, we are learning how to organize, express, and share ideas. And when we learn to code, we are learning how to organize, express, and share ideas in new ways, in a new medium."

I'm definitely looking forward to reading Resnick's book, even if he did once have a (good-natured) argument with me about Open Badges at the DML Conference five years ago...

Also see:


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"I realize everyone is telling you social media is a unicorn, but maybe it’s just a horse?" (Jay Baer)

I've noticed a real change in emphasis recently amongst large Silicon Valley technology 'unicorn' companies. You know, the ones that are valued at $1 billion or more.

They used to be on the side of the user and about freedom and self-expression. Think about the role of the events of 2011 in Egypt and Iran. Now, they're explicitly on the side of investors and shareholders, people who have a vested interest in the societal status quo.

>> New Facebook App for Children Ignites Debate Among Families (The New York Times)

I can see why Facebook would create their new Messenger Kids app. It makes sense not only from a 'gain more users' point of view, but solving a problem of children having unfettered access to something that hasn't traditionally had parental controls:

"Messenger Kids is built so that children do not sign up for new Facebook accounts themselves; Facebook’s terms of service require that users be 13 or older. The app requires an adult with a Facebook account to set up the app for his or her child. After adults enter their Facebook account information into the app, they are asked to create the child’s profile and which friends or relatives he or she will be allowed to connect with on Messenger. Every additional friend request requires approval by the parent."

This approach allows Facebook to get around COPPA restrictions in the US, and placates parents, who (in my experience) tend to be extremely conservative when it comes to the technology they allow their eldest child to use by themselves.

What it also means, of course, is that who children are allowed to message is entirely controlled by their parents. Given how important messaging apps are the to social lives of children, I'm not sure this is a wholly positive step.

Also see:
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"Change before you have to." (Jack Welch)

I enjoy the clarity and clear steps forward that James Clear provides in his articles.

>> Entropy: Why Life Always Seems to Get More Complicated (James Clear)

In this one he (re-)introduces the concept of 'entropy' and applies it to personal development:

"It is likely you'll face mismatch conditions in your life. At the very least, life will not be optimal—maybe you didn't grow up in the optimal culture for your interests, maybe you were exposed to the wrong subject or sport, maybe you were born at the wrong time in history. It is far more likely that you are living in a mismatch condition than in a well-matched one.

Knowing this, you must take it upon yourself to design your ideal lifestyle. You have to turn a mismatch condition into a well-matched one. Optimal lives are designed, not discovered"

That last sentence, that optimal lives are designed rather than discovered is an initeresting, pithy one that I'm sure has been used on many an Instagram feed. However, I also think it's important to think about the role that serendipity can and should play in our lives.

Also see:

Thought Shrapnel Live!

Want to continue receiving what I share even when there's no newsletter for the next few weeks? Join this Telegram channel!

Other links you may find interesting

  1. Reading at work (Seth Godin)
  2. Don't Buy Anyone an Echo (Gizmodo)
  3. The politics of the Linux desktop (
  4. The Fake News Culprit No One Wants to Identify: You (WIRED)
  5. I Made My Shed the Top Rated Restaurant On TripAdvisor (Vice)
  6. One graph shows how morally outraged tweets stay within their political bubble (Quartz)
  7. Yaa Gyasi: ‘I write a sentence. I delete it. I wonder if it’s too early for lunch’ (The Guardian)
  8. ProtonMail launches an encrypted contacts manager to protect journalists' sources (The Verge)
  9. A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest (Open Culture)
  10. The point of Patreon isn't how many people earn a full-time living, it's how much of the money from art goes to artists (BoingBoing)
Santa chimney 8bit

Things I published this week

Until next week!


Doug Belshaw

Dr. Doug Belshaw is a consultant and co-op co-founder who helps people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.

He talks to people on the Internet via, an instance of the decentralised Mastodon social network. Here's how to get started.

Some people say he's not very festive. Others say his legs easily become restive. No-one can deny he likes digestives.

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