Thanks!

Yesterdays blog post was a bit of a downer. Yes, this year has been tough, but there have also been some awesome highlights and encounters with people across the globe. In March I got to travel to the US again, something that is quite rare and unexpected as I was only there in November 2015 for the dLRN conference. During this trip I got to meet some of my “heroes” of Ed-Tech. (I’ve put that in scare quotes because to be honest they’re really the type of people who’d be too humble and egalitarian to consider themselves to be worthy of that category. Maybe except Jim 🙂 ). It was one of those mind blowing experience, from running into the CogDog on the streets of Davidson, eating Texan BBQ with the Cats Pyjamas to brainstorming in a room full of people who I’d got to know over the years purely from their writing and social media outlets. Here they were in the flesh – living, breathing, thinking, talking, eating and drinking.

Online has given me a window into the big world around me and there have been some amazing stories, blog posts and talks shared this year. I have had the privilege of being able to read some amazing stories, thinking, ideas, critiques and projects from people right around the globe. People who I also want to meet one day – I just need the time and funds to do some more travel!

So now I want to do an actual roll call to say thanks. Thanks for writing, coding, creating, talking and most importantly – sharing. Now more than ever we need your voices. Don’t go silent. Keep on moving. Keep on speaking. I’ve been listening. I’ve been learning. Thanks for giving me that opportunity.

In no particular order here’s the list – think of it as my #FF ()Follow Fridays) for all of 2016. I can personally recommend every single voice here as each has something wonderful, insightful and worthwhile about life the universe and everything to say. Sometimes they disagree, and things then get interesting but we move forward. They have all helped me realise where we are going, how we can get there and more importantly – why it’s all worth the effort.

Thank you!

Kate Bowles @katemfd
Jim Groom @jimgroom
Audrey Watters @audreywatters
Bon Stewart @bonstewart
Helen South @helsouth
Francis Kneebone @franciskneebone
Alan Levine @cogdog
David Kernohan @dkernohan
Kristen Eshleman @kreshleman
Wade Kelly @wadekelly
Rolin Moe @rmoejo
Laura Gogia @googleguacamole
Mike Caulfield @holden
Kahiwa Sebire @kiwafruit
Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw
Ben Werdmuller @benwerd
Kin Lane @kinlane
Tom Woodward @twoodwar
Adam Croom @acroom
Joyce Seitzinger @catspyjamasnz
Kim Tairi @kimtairi
Andrew Rickard @anrikard
Jessica Knott @jlknott
Mark Smithers @marksmithers
Brian Lamb @brlamb
Stephen Downes @downes
Martin Weller @mweller
Dai Barnes @daibarnes
Clint Lalonde @clintlalonde
Stuart Palmer @s_palm
James Croft @jamescroft
Jon Becker @jonbecker
Frances Bell @francesbell
Olga Belikov @olgamariab
Eddie Maloney @eddiemaloney
Josh Kim @joshmkim

A special shout out to my work colleagues who were with me through the whole year. They don’t spend much time online so can’t quite reference them in the same way – but they got me through this year, and we also managed to get some fantastic work done. From an Online Learning Model to hosting an international conference – not bad for our small team.

Finally my family. You’re all awesome and I’m so lucky to have you in my life. Cheers

Years End

I’ve tried a couple of times to write this post and failed. There’s a bunch of rejected drafts and I don’t know if this really encapsulates everything, but it gets closest. I’m still processing everything that has happened and am trying to work out what exactly it is I want to say, but I guess what I really want is to just record what 2016 was.

One of the hardest years I’ve had to live through.

Last year we had The Fire and I thought that losing pretty much all your possessions (clothes, treasures, instruments, music, technology, data, and all manner of things and stuff) would be the worst thing that could happen to you. Well, I was wrong, wait till to you have to deal with an insurance company.

The fallout from the fire has made the last twelve months just almost unbearable. We’ve had to deal with the chronic delays in getting anything done, inadequate paperwork, poor communication and an insurance company that seems reluctant to actually give us what our policy states. So we had to complain, and in doing so descended into another layer of hell. We’ve been in conflict for most of this year in an effort to just get home.

We have had to fight for everything. We had to fight in order to get anything done – from builders, to financial, from paperwork to any updates on progress. Everything (literally everything) this year has been a battle in terms of the company that ended up going all the way to the Financial Ombudsman Service where we finally reached an agreement to resolve our claim. A resolution that is basically them paying us the amount of money required to actually finish the job, and we who have to employ our own builder and project manage it all in order finish the job. Because this is what our house looks like:

This is the video I took the day we made our submission to the ombudsman’s office. This is 14 months after the fire. This is all the insurance company and the builder they employed were able to achieve in that time. The house didn’t burn to the ground and was structurally sound, all that had to happen was that it was repaired to its original specifications. We weren’t asking for more that, in fact we were ultimately making a number range of sacrifices and compromises in order to just get back home. But no one seemed to want to help us do that.

This process has confirmed all those worst fears about corporate motivations and how everything boils down to an economic rationale – they just didn’t want to pay out. They did everything in their power to delay paying us out any money. If they could pay less or not at all, then that was the course of action that was would choose. If they could delay making a decision, that’s what they would choose. The way they dealt with us a people was driven by this penny-pinching and economic rationale.

I wrote previously that

Logic is not your friend, it is the path to despair.

Logic in dealing with an insurance company is your worst enemy simply because things that make sense and seem reasonable don’t happen. They don’t happen because there is no economic rationale to support logic. It’s like an alternate universe where all the rules that govern physics and chemistry are completely reversed and randomised so that you’re unable to actually understand or comprehend anything. Nothing conforms to the norms and rules that you are used, the fundamentals and basis for understanding are gone.

Dealing with this ate up all my time and energy this year. And I was so driven and unrelenting in pursuing it because of how much fucking effort we had put into that house. The house didn’t represent just our Home, it was a portfolio piece and a testimonial to the literal blood, sweat and tears that went into making it ours. There was the mad rush to patch and paint when we first bought it. We drafted in friends and family to give us help get us get rid of the brown paint that adorned all the walls. There was putting up with a completely inadequate kitchen that was designed for little people and required you to stoop to wash the dishes. It had also no bench space and weird antiquated appliances that I refused to use for fear of explosions. It represents the amount of effort that was required to save and work along our career paths in order to fund the renovation work that we ended up doing. The kitchen that we spent huge amounts of time designing and tweaking and finding just exactly the things that we wanted. There was also the final nesting period before our daughter was born. I spent hours and hours patching and repairing the horse-hair plaster ceiling in her room as we finally put all the finishing touches on to get things ready for our little daughters arrival.

And we had that house for a couple of years. This little house, perfect for us and an encapsulation of who we were and what we had achieved.

And then The Fire happened.

And then the insurance company had happened.

And in essence what was under threat was our ability to go back and restore the little house that was ours, that we created and worked so hard for.

And so it drove me. Incessantly to argue, to fight and to doggedly go back and argue and complain and to complain more loudly until we were listened to.

But all we ended up settling was the policy, there’s no way to really compensate you for anything that you’ve suffered in this process. There is no real punishment for the insurance company either. There are no consequences for their bad behaviour towards us. Our case just gets marked as “resolved” because we accepted their offer, and the offer was purely to do what we were contractually required to do. There’s no penalty on the insurance company for the really shitty behaviour that they exhibited – the threats, the bullying, the delays. There were no consequences for their actions – we are the only ones that have to deal with those. We are the ones left inconvenienced. We are the ones left out of our home for 14 months and counting. We are the ones who have had to fight Every. Single. Day.

This year I’ve probably been the most stressed that I’ve ever had and that has had a really negative effect on my quality of life. It had an effect on my health and my motivation and my work. Trying to cope with the ongoing stress has eaten up so much time and effort that it’s literally drained me of energy. The decisions about food, activity, exercise, family and friends became secondary to just simply trying to get on with the fight and refuel and recover for the next battle. Because this is what this was, a series of ongoing battles, of getting one thing sorted only for the next one to rear its head. And then the next and the next. This wasn’t like a boxing match that was over in twelve rounds, this was more than twelve months of the fighting, twelve months of round after round, battle after battle, and it has worn me down mentally and physically. In the middle of November I broke. I got sick with the flu but since then health wise it’s been a bit slide. I’ve got pills to take but the real change that’s needed is much broader. I need time to heal and to make changes to a lot of aspects of my life – things that this Temporary Permanence doesn’t help.

One thing I’ve got out of this is an understanding of how neglectful I’ve been. I bought this on myself by not caring about me and now I have to deal with the consequences of being stressed for so long and having this kind of tension as a consistent companion. Physically and mentally I’ve been damaged by this experience, and I feel so guilty about doing that to the people I love most. I neglected myself, sacrificed in order to put my world right – and for what? A house? Want to guess how stupid I feel now?

This mental grind has transformed into physical consequence and I have to deal with it, and it is not a quick fix. It’s not just take a pill and it will be alright, this is going to be months of making significant life changes and improvements. Why these things didn’t take place was because there was no energy left to eat properly, exercise well, be mentally clear, be available to friends and family – all that got taken up by the fighting with the insurance company and dealing with this stupid claim.

So apart from all the celebrities dying, Trump, the rise of right-wing lunacy, the media falling over, Facebook and Twitter fuelling hate like petrol on a fire – apart from all that, 2016 has just been an atrocious year.

Previously, these end of year posts are a reflection on what is essentially year-on-year personal growth, but I think this year I’ve gone backwards. It’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing that you need to change quite significantly and that you fucked up. I’ve learnt that you really can’t neglect is yourself, your health and your friends and family and you can’t expect there to be no consequences when you do. And that’s kind of what 2017 will be for me – dealing with the consequences of a shitty year and some pretty awful decisions.

Maybe I’m not alone in that, maybe that’s what most people will be up to next year given what’s happened in 2016.

I suppose I’ll come out of this with at least one victory under my belt – that we did beat the insurance company. In the end it took a lot to get there but that doggedness that persistence paid off and now we can do things properly and we can get back home. We can return and inhabit that space and importantly apply that energy to making things better.

My daughter is going off to school next year and that is such a huge milestone in our lives. She inspires me to keep on going, to do better and to be better. 2017 is about change and about making things better and while there might not necessarily be growth, and that things might actually be really tough next year, it’s a time to bunker down and draw on our reserves. We are resilient and persistent creatures, and if I’ve learnt anything from this experience it’s that we can keep going, and we can keep standing up for what we need to stand up for.

On Dealing with Insurance Companies

I’ve spent a great deal of time dealing with our insurance company over the last ten months since The Fire, and more so in the last month since lodging an official complaint. It doesn’t look like we’ll be in our house within the year since we lost everything, and at this point lucky if we’ll be in before Christmas. We are tired, stressed and sad, yet we have to put on a brave face everyday in order to continue at least the appearance of normal for our child and our work.

In the last couple of weeks that’s become incredibly difficult and both of us have faltered, cracked and broken down. I thought nothing could be as bad as losing everything you owned, but dealing with an insurance company has proven otherwise. The process attaches the extremely raw emotional ties to something as important as ‘home’, to a beauracratic and uncaring behemoth in order to reach some kind of resolution. You can imagine the results are less than stellar. 
Here’s some of what I’ve learnt in the process:

You are not in control. Despite this being an intensely personal subject, decisions will be made for you, not by you. You will be disconnected from concepts like “home” and “normal” the more the claim drags on. Logic is not your friend, it is the path to despair. Conflict is the only way to achieve an outcome. Ask for everything in writing, if they won’t do it, there’s a problem you are not aware of. Ask for every document related to your claim, there are mistakes everywhere. Create a timeline and keep track of every interaction. Let nothing slide longer than a week. Set reminders and make demands. Cry and scream, do not try to bottle it up and put on a brave face. Everyone will understand your circumstances, except the insurance company.

Moving. Writing. Learning.

This blog has been a bit quiet of late. It’s not for a lack of things to say or lack of things being done, but rather a lack of time to do so.

In the past week and a bit I’ve started a new blog and re-evaluating my online presence – where things live, who controls what, what I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to be.

In most cases what I put online is pure self expression. I don’t do this for anyone except myself. When I started this blog it was just another attempt at blogging – one that spans back about a decade of repeated failures. This one has stuck because it came at the right time I guess. I was actually doing interesting things and having interesting ideas – my previous failures might be attributed to youth and lack of anything worthy to contribute.

But now I’m in a different mindset – too much to say. Not that I care if anyone actually listens – what I’ve found through blogging is that the externalisation of ideas is profoundly useful. Putting ideas and thoughts into words, constructing them in ways that can be understood, solidifies them and reduces the jumble going on inside my head.

Writing brings clarity.

Clarity is becoming an incredibly important part of my life. Juggling busy work hours and home life with a wife and toddler, while under the pressure of a tidal wave of information is exhausting. Having clarity creates a stillness. A moment of zen. Even if only temporary, clarity is becoming incredibly important for my ongoing mental health. It gives me the mental space to switch between tasks and dedicate time and attention to where I am and live in that moment.

This is in opposition to the manufactured chaos that the media and corporate society inflicts on us. They actively deny us the ability to think by providing an infinite amount of distraction under the illusion of choice and a retarded form of free-market economics.

Moving

As part of a personal project to learn how to use static web publishing tools I set up a new blog – Inhale. My idea is that it will be a replacement for the reading list posts I previously posted here that capture the interesting bits of content I inhale as part of daily life on the web. The reading list posts were pretty useful but time consuming because I did very little prep. Inhale is aimed at being more “stream of consciousness” – a link to the post, article or podcast with a quick comment attached. It’s a poor cousin to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily or John Gruber’s Daring Fireball, but definitely inspired by the value that curation plus that little piece of commentary adds to the collective discussion and understanding.

The other new site I’m planning is Exhale. A place for quick, simple posts, half formed ideas and things I’ve learnt. I’m not sure what form it will take. The Jekyll workflow I’ve developed utilises the iOS Editorial app which means it’s extremely simple to get a post written and up on GitHub. I’ve been looking for an excuse to try Known for sometime though. And there’s also Federated Wiki, which I love and have been trying to work out how to incorporate. I might need a bit more of a think about this one. (PS Open to other suggestions if you’ve got one).

What I’m seeing is an opportunity to expand my online presence and to use different platforms and their different affordances. Rather than try and find a single solution (a unicorn right?) and instead make smaller investments in tech that take advantages of the plethora of tools out there.

Learning Jekyll has lit a spark. I’ve had to learn it from scratch and have been doing things way beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been installing via the command line, editing code, tweaking domain settings and really learning.

Learning is something that I love. The last few years I have been quite passive in my learning – spending most of my time reading, observing and reflecting rather than doing. This process has been much more hands on and as a result I feel enthused and empowered.

I’ve already redone a prior project, a blog of my life lessons for my daughter, am designing a template for a Jekyll resume page (already sorted the design) and hoping to experiment with using subdomains to support the whole family in having a web presence, and I want to dig into the older posts on this blog to organise, edit and revisit some of the ideas packed away in there.

Momentum

I’m not sure what’s changed but I can feel a real momentum behind me. There’s a spark and a desire to move and disrupt the way I’ve been doing things. I think I’ve felt too comfortable it’s how things were and as a result too passive. I’ve been shouting from the sidelines and realised the only way to change is to get into the game. The MYOS post (and those from others it links out to) was for me a real kick in the arse. A turning point because I could actually see a different way of doing things. An alternate model, not one that fits the current narrative but could actually change it.

This blog will be staying here. There’s a history and a presence attached to it and a heap of hyperlinks I don’t want to kill. I’d say it will evolve and change and be augmented by other stuff. It also provides a stable home, somewhere to come back to, to revisit and retreat to.

Coming Soon – A Contribution not a Prediction for 2015

2015 has arrived and there’s a plethora of posts offering predictions, Top 10s, Year of _____, biggest trends etc etc etc. I’ve decided to do something different and talk about my contribution to the future rather than spruiking what it could be.

This year brings an opportunity for me to actively drive some innovation within our institution (in my new role as Online Learning Technology Leader), rather than simply react and respond to what’s happening outside. So I thought I’d seize on that and use this year to develop some new skills and explore some new ideas. So here’s a few things I’m hoping to work on.

Distributed systems

The anniversary of the web and the Snowden leaks that revealed the level and scale of surveillance has really put into perspective the need to re-discover distributed systems. The growing centralisation of the web has made surveillance easier but also made us too dependant or what are massive fail points. Concepts like Domain of Ones Own appeals to me in the sense that it empowers users rather than traps them. Data and information remains yours and in your control, not something that’s matter-of-fact-ly subsumed by a corporate interest. The start-up data trail is a particularly interesting thing to note – when a product fails commercially the one asset they can sell is user data. This kind of behaviour is something we should be paying attention to and beginning to actively avoid. The other big interest I have is to more fully explore the potential of the Federated Wiki. Having participated in the Happening I can see the massive potential this system has for authoring and creating (I’m still not sold on it being the best ‘publishing’ interface – but maybe that’s simply something to explore further).

Customising WordPress

I’ve been a user of WordPress for sometime now and as a blogging tool it’s been great. What I’ve really noticed over the last few years though is it’s slow evolution to highly adaptive and customisable CMS. It’s gone so far down that road that I’m personally thinking of swapping my blog over to Jekyll or something more light weight. But that CMS functionality could be deployed and utilised as an effective backend for a variety of systems. So I want to get in there and begin to use its plugin and theme structures as a development tool. To that end I’m keen to really explore custom posts and interfaces and how they can be utilised to create new content systems. One of the great things is that WordPress is one of the easiest technologies to rollout that fits a distributed model. Using a Domain of Ones Own or a Multisite installation you can really go to town on developing smaller distributed systems. I have some concerns of a lack of a proper API but an open and hackable system is an OK option.

Design Patterns

Mike Caulfield’s posts on design patterns got me thinking a lot and I believe there’s something significant in the concept. In my new role I specifically interested in the potential of patterns to be used to scale up and scale out good practice and innovation. One of the hidden themes at Ascilite 2014 was the power of good teaching. In fact I’d go as far as saying that effective innovation requires good teachers that capable of adapting good practice. The area I was thinking about was digitally mediated interaction as it’s something where I sense there’s a significant gap. It’s also an area that’s ill-defined and often ill-conceived so I think there’s something scholarly in there (maybe).

Netpro

At the Ascilite Conference I co-facilitated a workshop with Kim Tairi and Joyce Seitzinger on the Networked Professional. I got a lot out of the day where we were as much participants as facilitators. I’d like to keep up that work over the year. Maybe running the workshop again – or maybe developing up some ongoing ‘events’ – TweetUps, Hangouts… something to keep that momentum and shared practice going.

I’m not sure if that aligns with anyones list or trends for 2015, but they’re areas where I CAN do something and make something happen.

Cheers!

So that’s 2014

2014 has been a pretty good year for me personally. You can probably read this post as a brag list, but for me it’s a chance to take stock and record what’s been achieved. Achieved is an important word – because this year I got to see effort yield results. The last couple of years have been a pretty hard slog in terms of work, being a new dad and attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity as well as a sense of vitality and purpose. Life is one of those beautiful yet destructive things – so it’s great to be able to pause and look at the balance sheet and realise I’ve come out on top this time.

Vice Chancellors Award

I managed to win my first major award since school by picking up the individual award for Leadership Excellence. It was actually quite unexpected – I was glad to be nominated but never gave winning a second thought. There was a ceremony, an intro video, a handshake and photos allow with quite a large mounted certificate. Getting rewarded was nice, but getting your good work exposed to a broader cross section of the institution is a great side effect. I think sometimes you tend to feel a little isolated working on smallish pilots and project so this was nice to have that effort recognised.

Graduate Certificate + Deans List

I signed up and managed to complete my first proper study since graduation. It was a professional development opportunity to complete a Grad Cert in University Leadership and Management and I got a lot out of the programs reflexive approach. I was able to channel a lot of what I was working on into the assessments which had the added benefit of giving time for some critical review.

Ascilite Workshop

This year I co-facilitated a great workshop with two amazing people at this years Ascilite Conference – and we organised it all online! I was looking for an opportunity to work collaboratively with people outside the university and I happened to stumble into a Twitter conversation with Kim and Joyce and the workshop was born. I’d never done a workshop like this before but we managed to put together a really interesting proposal which got accepted. I put together this website which I’m going to expand on in the new year. I want to thank Kim and Joyce as it was an absolute pleasure to work with two such amazing and talented women!

Trip to Vanuatu

The in-laws gave us a special treat in a trip to Vanuatu. It was an extremely welcome trip after a fairly long, wet and cold winter. I loved exploring Port Vila and the surrounding island full of magic little places and friendly people. It was a great test for Alise and how well she would cope with the flights etc – and she passed with flying colours! I’m hoping we can go back sometime soon.

At Home

Home life has been amazing this year. I’m still enraptured by my wife as she amazes me with her grace under fire, patience and empathy. She keeps us as a family together and functioning.

Although I think what’s made my year is the distinct transition of my daughter from baby to little girl. She has hair now – plus a penchant for pigtails and dresses. Her speech is astounding for her age and she continues to surprise us with the depth of language and understanding she displays. She’s also grown into her own person – independent, strong and sweet – no longer the cute generic mush that babies tend to be. Every now and then she’s bought me to tears – but tears of joy at her kindness, affection and love that she shares with us.

On to 2015

I’m really looking forward to the year ahead. One of the main reasons is that I’m taking up a new role at the university. For the next two years I’ll be working as an Online Learning Technology Leader in the uImagine innovation hub. I’ve been working on setting up the initiative during 2014 but in the new year I’m going full time. It’s going to be a great opportunity to explore and experiment with a variety of new technologies and to reimagine how and why we use the ones we have. I’m particularly interested in looking at distributed systems and tools for education and using them in ways that empower students. I’m keen to start digging into WordPress a little more and start using it’s CMS capabilities to build some experimental and proof of concept applications. I’m also keen to look into developing some API capabilities within the university to help improve our capacity to innovate more quickly. There’s also the opportunity to develop a new physical space that could provide some exciting potential and improve our capacity to collaborate.

There is a bit of a milestone also coming up this year – 15 years together with Clare. It’s quite an achievement to have such a long term and close relationship with someone and it’s one that’s greatly improved me as a person and my life as a whole. We’re hoping to celebrate by making our way to the US sometime in the year for a family road trip. At the moment looking at the Pacific Northwest as a destination – and maybe some beach time in Hawaii.

I’m going into 2015r openly. Open to change and challenges, trials and tribulations, joys and sadnesses that are bound to come in the days and weeks ahead.

Fourteen Years

Today is a big milestone in my relationship with Clare – fourteen years together.

I’m not sure if there’s something mystical about multiples of seven but for some reason I really feel this anniversary. Maybe it’s because there’s enough space at this moment in my life to catch my breath and contemplate. Maybe it’s because multiples of five and ten are too busy with planning and celebration. Or maybe the universe is letting me know to stop and remember this one in particular.

Fourteen years is a long time for any relationship. I’ve never spent this amount of time with someone and never so intimately. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this relationship is my life!

It’s the place where I’ve grown up and shaped who I am.

It’s got me through some of the toughest and most painful passages of time that I will have to endure.

It’s also gifted me with the happiest and most joyous moments I will ever experience.

It’s taken me to the ends of the earth and back.

It breathes life into my lungs and sparks my mind with the desire to know and seek and feel.

It gives me comfort and shelter from the world around.

It lets me recharge and gives me power to get up and face the day.

And while it seems to have a life of its own – it is just the shared experience with one person – my love, Clare.

Happy anniversary!

The Changing Context of Learning

In 2013 Charles Sturt University, my workplace, decided to develop a new project aimed at creating a space and forum to think through some of the issues, challenges, problems and opportunities we face as an institution. The Think Pieces Project was born and I was asked to contribute, which is a real honour. Initially I just needed a title so seeing as I was working on mobile learning I figured that “The Changing Context of Learning” sounded like a good fit.

When I actually came to sit, think and write-up the presentation it became a little harder than I thought. For starters there was a time constraint which I was determined to stay within. I needed to ensure I was concise and I was starting to realise I already had way too many ideas to stuff inside the presentation – the result being that everything was touched on but nothing was explored to any depth. I needed to think harder!

After a number of drafts, slide revisions and a lot of practice I really felt like I was getting to the heart of the problem – a single, simple idea that I think goes to explain some of the issues we face in Higher Education. My talk evolved into discussing the need to shift the perspective through which we view the context of learning – away from the campus and onto one more centred around the student. This reframing and changing of perspective allows us to rethink the role of the university and as well how we think about pedagogy, practice, content and technology. 

I would love to get some broader feedback – as hopefully it does provoke and prompt some thinking to occur! If it does, even if there is disagreement, debate and conjecture, I think I fulfilled the task at hand.

The Think Piece is available as a Slideshare with audio or as a video if you prefer. Feel free to share and comment here or on twitter @timklapdor

A New Learning Opportunity

For the last decade (or more truthfully and scarily decade and a half) I’ve been working at what I’d call ‘front end design’. I made things work and made them look good with a minimal amount of effort or thinking required about what happened behind the scenes. I dabbled in programming – I learnt Lingo (remember Director?) and then watched it die as Flash took over and I never really picked it up again.

I’m not afraid of the code view – I’m quite happy to write some HTML or CSS by hand. I’m also fine discussing programming because I understand how code works, what it can do and the intricacies of writing it. Just don’t get me to actually do it.

That attitude has worked for some time. Life has been going along fine in the front end, but I think that it’s coming to an end. I need to up-skill and overcome my fear of the backend. I can feel a chasm opening up between what I know and what I need to know. At the moment I’d say I’m straddling the chasm and have a foot on both sides. If I don’t do something now it’s going to get uncomfortable.

Why is this happening? I’d suggest that while hardware has been getting smarter software in general has been getting dumber. New versions seem to come out every other week (or everyday if your Acrobat Reader) with new features added and in general things run faster. At the same time there seems to be little improvement in workflows. It’s a chore to move files and data from one program to another, move content from one ecosystem to another. It’s a constant task to transition, translate and transcribe. I seem to spend more time doing this kind of crap at the ‘front end’ and less on the creative, fun challenging bits.

This week I’ve been playing in InDesign again (which I’ve missed) but working from content from InCopy. The structured markup from InCopy has meant more time being spent on design and less fixing issues with content and working across a range of applications. It’s taken some time to get my head around it but I have a taste for it. The other big reason is the next round of work on the mLearn project — finally being able to spend some time on TADPOLE (find out more here). I won’t be the one building and coding the system but I want to be in there poking around and seeing whats what.

So here’s my proposal-

  • I want to learn how to use GitHub.
  • I want to learn to use GitHub for the web specifically. Setting up, running and maintaining sites.
  • I want to deploy a server (I’m looking at Digital Ocean) and get my head around what’s required and get acquainted with a range of new technologies (node.js and a range of others)
  • I want to automate some of my work and complement my ‘front end’ toolset with some logic. I want to be able to push and pull content around services with the minimal amount of effort.
  • I am happy to go into the command line — but I refuse to live there. So I want to adopt new tools that give me the GUI I crave and require just to placate my aesthetically focussed brain.

Here’s my issues:

  • I have to find time. Work can be a little oppressive sometimes but also I’m a Dad and there is someone who I would rather be spending my time with. That said she’s in bed by 8pm so there’s plenty of time if I’m motivated.
  • I need to switch off. I don’t want to be technology’s bitch — if anything I want to switch that relationship and have technology start to actually work harder for me. So the thought of spending more time at the computer isn’t as appealing as it might sound.
  • I want to do this socially. This might sound bad — but I don’t want to do this on my own. I want and need someone to talk to. Most of the time I’m fine as a self-directed learner, but for this I want some hand holding. Mainly because I’m nervous and I am going out of my comfort zone. Doing this virtually might be a happy compromise but I want to spend some time working together, face to face or as close as I can get.

So that’s the plan… I’m open to suggestions or possible collaboration but I feel I’ve got to do this!

Bring in the new

Spring is here and the world around me is blossoming and blooming. I don’t remember a spring like this since 2004 when I travelled for a single day to Edinburgh from Dublin. I arrived to spring sunshine, blue skies, freshly mowed grass and flowers whose scent filled the air – a stark change from the stark and gloomy Ireland I’d left just an hour before.

I love the passing of the seasons, they signify a change in priorities and channel my energies. Spring and Autumn are my favourites here in Wagga. They are mild, comfortable, breezy and bright. They coax you outside, to wander and wonder at the world around you, to take delight and pleasure in the natural world. Winter is just cold and grey and summer is too hot and dazzling.

So this spring is an awakening from what seems like a long winter. With a new baby we’ve been more insular this year. It feels like we’ve been hibernating more than any other year – excluding a few northern hemisphere winters.

When the sun is as bright as it has been this weekend it draws you out like a moth to a flame. The last two days seem to have been crammed full of activity and movement which I have loved, squeezed and treasured. We had our first babysitting date that resulted in our first child and distraction free meal in 8 months. We walked and basked in the sun and the scent of blossoms and I have been in awe at the display of colours this spring – it has been so many years since I have seen the town exude such fertility and virility. We ate outdoors, quaffed wine, enjoyed  an afternoon G&T, a cider on ice and sipped coffee in the sun.

While I don’t think the forecast is set to last, it’s weekends like this that make life worth living. I welcome Spring with open arms and welcome in the new!