🎶 Just saw Helena Deland on the last night of her tour. Absolutely stunning gig. After a beautiful, delicate set from Clara Mann, they came on and blew us away. The band were so tight and were clearly enjoying themselves. Someone passed Helena a piece of paper with a request for a song that they don’t usually play; after a nod from all the band members, and a quick errand to fetch additional equipment by the drummer, they went for it and nailed it. It was surreal to bump into Sophie Jamieson on the way out as well, someone who I watched perform at a gig a couple of years ago. What an incredible evening.

Weeknotes #260 — We are the world

A huge banner now hangs from St Pancras New Church near Euston Station in London, raising awareness of the climate emergency

A huge banner now hangs from St Pancras New Church near Euston Station in London, raising awareness of the climate emergency

I’m enjoying my work, but this week was super hectic. To add to the fun, on Thursday afternoon I started getting a cold and by Friday evening it was in full swing, forcing me to load up all of my pockets with tissues. As of Sunday night I’ve started to turn the corner, just in time to get back to work again.

This was a big week for the main programme that we are running this year. I’d set up our first Steering Committee meeting for Friday afternoon and I had to prepare a slide deck for the team to review. Getting ready for a governance meeting isn’t something that you can start too early, otherwise the information changes and you end up tweaking and reworking the slides multiple times. Once I’d aligned with our CIO on the information we wanted to present it was then just a case of getting my head down and creating the document, which I did through Thursday evening and Friday morning. The meeting went well and I feel as though we have a good collective understanding of where we are and what we need to do.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had several meetings with our audio/visual technical design vendor who are working on multiple projects for us.
  • Met with our Finance team to discuss the approach to modelling our property programme costs. We’ve now got a clear view of what we need to pull together.
  • Continued with the process to bring additional project management support on board for our team.
  • Had the weekly project meeting with our sister company for renovating our main office.
  • Spent half a day in vendor presentations that were in response to an RFP issued by our sister company. We may have some involvement with the organisations so it was good to see what they have to offer.
  • Had the weekly meeting for the move of one of our offices.
  • Reviewed the latest draft of an RFP for furniture in our new office.
  • Wrote my sections of our quarterly report to our Board of Directors.
  • Attended a vendor demo of a web-based software tool that may help us with originating new business.
  • Met with a colleague who is getting an internal Engineering Community of Practice off the ground. Offered my thoughts that we need to encourage our staff to be members of communities of practice beyond the boundaries of our organisation, and that we should use the internal forum for the things that are unique to us.
  • Drafted text for an article in our in-house monthly magazine about speaking to the Technology team ahead of planning an important meeting or event. Although the technology in our office is relatively straightforward and intuitive, this doesn’t always hold when people start to do something exotic such as using shared meeting spaces and expecting a particular conferencing platform to work.
  • Reviewed text for another article that encourages people to take part in our Random Coffees initiative. After nearly four years we’ve had over 5,000 pairings and still have about 60 people that regularly take part. Staff joining our organisation have consistently said how useful it has been to be able to meet other people through this process.
  • Took part in a half-day mandatory training session on the topic of Meaningful Conversations.
  • Had our monthly catch-up with the Operational Risk team.
  • Had my weekly meeting with my product leadership team.
  • Decided to replace an old Raspberry Pi with a model 4B. I use two Pis for running redundant pi-holes at home, but this old one regularly gives me trouble when I try to upgrade the software. The rpilocator website is an incredible tool for finding where Raspberry Pis are in stock.
  • Heard an unexpected clatter and thunk as I drove my car off of our driveway. It turned out that one of our front coil springs had failed, leaving a piece of it in the road. Getting the pair replaced and getting four new tyres at the same time left us unexpectedly £900 lighter.
  • Had a very informative meeting with a company that specialises in sports-based scholarships at US universities. It now feels like a real possibility for our eldest son.

Media

Video

  • One of my Album Club friends was gushing about how good Netflix’s The Greatest Night in Pop (2024) is. He wasn’t wrong — it’s superb. I remember watching the music video for We Are the World, tucked up on the sofa with my parents when I was about nine years old, with them delighting in telling me who was singing each part. Watching it all come together in this movie is an absolute delight. There are so many amazing moments which I won’t spoil here. But, the next time I start thinking that I’ve had quite a long day, I will channel my inner Lionel Richie and push on through.
  • My family are more of a TV series kind of people than movies. I took advantage of being home alone one evening by watching Toni Erdmann (2016), a three-hour German film. It’s a slow-burning delight which made me laugh out loud, a weird thing to find yourself doing when you’re watching a movie alone. Loved it.

Audio

  • Loved hearing Soundgarden’s Superunknown at Album Club. I listened to the album a little bit around the time that it was released but probably haven’t heard it in 25 years or so. Spoonman has been rattling around my head ever since.

Books

  • Needing to feed my soul with some fiction, I picked up a copy of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning from my bookshelf. I was delighted to remember that it is a BookCrossing book that was sent to me by someone I met on Twitter some 15 years ago. Once I’ve read it I’ll drop it off somewhere for the next person to enjoy.

Next week: Quote-gathering, and finally seeing Helena Deland live.

📚 Finished reading  Electric Shock: From the Gramophone to the iPhone, 125 Years of Pop Music by Peter Doggett. An epic work that felt paradoxically too long and yet not detailed enough. It’s incredible to read a book like this in 2024 when I have access to almost all of the songs that are referenced, being able to hear for myself at the press of a button what the author described. (I can’t believe how many artists I’m familiar with only through their stories in books and music magazines that I read as a teenager.) Electric Shock is quite a dry read, slow going in places, but I’m glad I kept with it. I’d completely forgotten about the 16rpm vinyl format which I could use on my childhood record player to make songs sound otherworldly. Towards the end of the book it also got me thinking about how physical music sales to the mass market probably were a temporary blip, with live performance being the dominant medium for artists to earn an income both before and after.

Weeknotes #259 — Fake eyes

Pre-pandemic levels of congestion on the way into Euston Square tube station

Pre-pandemic levels of congestion on the way into Euston Square tube station

There’s so much work going on. I feel the stress when I know I have a pile of work to do but my calendar is forcing me to do something completely different instead. I ended up working late into the evenings as well as most of Saturday afternoon, when all the meetings were done, just to ensure that I’m keeping things on track.

This week we had our annual two-day strategy meeting with all of the technology leaders in our division. Most of the 80 attendees gathered in a conference venue in Johannesburg. Last year I joined them, but this time I stayed at home. Although the 7am starts were a little painful, I was grateful to be able to dial in, saving the financial and environmental costs of the trip. The format of the event was mainly a series of presentations and conversations with senior leaders across the company; there is much less reason to be in the room than if it was a workshop.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was sad to see that my usual train was still missing in action on Monday and Tuesday, meaning that there was no time for the 40 minute walk from the station to my office. The overtime ban should be done for now so normal service should resume from next week.
  • Had to switch to a helpdesk role on Monday morning as many staff found that they had trouble connecting to our Wi-Fi. The team found the root cause and fixed it, but it was a bumpy start to the week.
  • Held a meeting with my newly formed team to talk through our structure, where we fit into the organisation, what we do, how I think we should work together.
  • Had meetings with our technology design vendor. We looked at their draft ideas for a new regional office that we move into later in the year as well as taking a walk around our meeting room spaces in London. We’ve started to imagine how we can improve the experience for everyone that uses the rooms, whether they are in them or they are joining remotely.
  • Reviewed the draft service request for the technology design vendor work.
  • Joined the ‘design development’ meeting for the new office. Our Head of Marketing and Communications was there in person, looking at colour and material choices for the fit-out.
  • Completed the RFP process for assistance with real estate/facilities project management, shortlisting and meeting with two vendors before finally agreeing our intent to move forward with one of them.
  • Met to discuss the approach we will take to RFPs in our regional office that we are moving later this year.
  • Had the weekly meeting with our sister company to discuss mechanical works that we are undertaking together.
  • Met with our sister company to discuss upcoming changes to the technology in spaces that we share.
  • Reviewed a proposal for how we intend to share documents with a product-aligned team so that our staff do not need to spend lots of time moving files and folders.
  • Took part in our Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Had the weekly meeting with my product delivery management team.
  • Stocked our Kanban boards with lots of cards relating to our core ‘hard deadline’ projects, for items that are due in the next week or two. It was great to get these things written down and on the right team boards.
  • Felt very frustrated with yet again being the only person that had their camera on in a large working group meeting. I channeled my frustration into reposting a polemic on why I think this is important onto our ‘All Company’ Viva Engage channel.
  • Enjoyed the latest Teams Fireside Chat session, this time with Michel Bouman. Every time I join one of these sessions there there seems to be someone in the room that is demonstrating new technology. Michel was using NVIDIA Broadcast software to ensure that his eyes were ‘fixed’ on the webcam lens. The effect was very convincing, but people in the chat called it out after a while. There’s a debate about whether the eye contact increased or decreased engagement on the call; my view is that it was pretty unnerving. I value the authenticity of seeing people’s faces and expressions without AI augmenting them.
  • Enjoyed the weekly cycle club ride. It was possibly the wettest ride I’ve had where it wasn’t actually raining. We passed through four or five major flooded roads. At one point I got my foot caught in my front mudguard and thought I was going to go down into the lake that we were travelling through, but managed to save it just in time.
Double puncture stop, very early into the ride

Double puncture stop, very early into the ride

  • Needed to replace my cheap Bluetooth sports headphones. I tend to do this every year as they seem to stop working after a while. This time a particularly sweaty bike ride meant that I lost sound in one of the earbuds. I picked these up on Amazon and am blown away by what you can get for £16. They are quite amazing.
How can these be just £16?

How can these be just £16?

Media

Podcasts

  • Enjoyed this twopart series on the careers of the B-52’s and REM.
  • The Microsoft Teams Insider podcast is essential listening for anyone working in the AV/IT space. This week’s show features an interview with Mark Licinio, the Service Owner of Video Conferencing and Teams Devices at BP.

Articles

Video

  • My youngest son and I finally finished the third (and hopefully not final) season of The Orville. What started out as a kind of slapstick Star Trek turned into something beautiful. More than once, the show moved me to tears. If they don’t make any more episodes, I’m going to miss those characters like crazy.
  • Continued with For All Mankind season two and are having to force ourselves to stop watching as bedtime approaches.

Next week: The start of Learned League 100, plus an album club.

🚴 Power drift on a Stages SB20

I’ve been using a Stages SB20 trainer at home for over a year. I love it, jumping in the saddle three or four times a week to tackle a TrainerRoad workout. The idea behind TrainerRoad is that you aim to hit a specific power output for each ‘interval’ within a ride, whilst keeping your feet spinning at an optimal cadence of between 85 and 95 revolutions per minute. For a while, I’ve been noticing that towards the end of a ride I may end up in a higher gear than I started, despite being asked to hit the same measured power output as an interval at the start. I don’t understand what’s going on.

Today I tackled Low Saddle, a 1h45m ride that includes a single 1h33m ‘interval’ at a steady power output. My completed ride is shown in the diagram below. The top of the blue shape represents the power target that TrainerRoad wanted me to hit, the yellow line is my measured power output and the red line is my heart rate.

My completed Low Saddle TrainerRoad ride

My completed Low Saddle TrainerRoad ride

Once I finish a ride it gets automatically uploaded to Strava, which provides further analysis. A ride like Low Saddle is perfect for illustrating the issue. In the charts below you can see that my power output stays roughly the same throughout the ride whereas my ‘speed’ drifts from 25km/h to 29km/h and my cadence from 95rpm to 105rpm. This is a massive difference that I can really feel over the course of a ride. I’m glad it isn’t my mind playing tricks on me.

Power, Heart Rate, Speed and Cadence from the Strava analysis of my ride

Power, Heart Rate, Speed and Cadence from the Strava analysis of my ride

The SB20 trainer has a power meter on each crank. I’m not sure whether the problem is that:

  1. The measured power output from the power meters falls off during a ride, forcing me to push harder to keep the same measured power output, or
  2. The resistance on the trainer eases up over the course of the ride, meaning that I need to turn the cranks faster to maintain the same power output.

Does anyone know if there is something I can do to find out?

Weeknotes #258 — Goodbyes

On Friday we headed town to Bournemouth to say goodbye to my nan. It was a beautiful and moving service, reminding us of what a lovely woman she was. My uncle gave a wonderful eulogy and had us all in tears. She is going to be missed.

The four days at work were busy ones. An overtime ban at the rail company meant that my usual morning train wasn’t running, something I found out on Monday morning after I jogged all the way to the station to avoid missing it.

I also said goodbye to my colleague who has been over with us from Johannesburg for a couple of weeks as she headed off home. Time goes so fast.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got agreement from our internal governance committees to go ahead with the programme structure and steering committee that I have proposed. The next step is the near-impossible job of getting the meeting series in the diary at a time that the everyone can make.
  • Responded to questions from potential suppliers as part of an RFP and had a quick glance at the responses once the deadline passed.
  • Brought our Head of Marketing and Communications up to speed with where we are with our office move project, looped her into the fit-out discussions and arranged for her to have an on-site meeting with the team next week. It’s fascinating what someone with a particular eye for detail will think about that I would completely miss on my own.
  • Had a step-by-step walkthrough of the office move plan with the landlord’s project manager.
  • Joined the weekly meeting with our sister company who are also moving to new premises in the same city. We said goodbye to a colleague in their team that we have worked with for many years and welcomed a new team member to the meetings.
  • Had our weekly meeting with our office technology design vendor to agree next steps for the two office projects they are assisting with.
  • Reviewed the core financial data for an office upgrade/refit project.
  • Gave a tour of our office to a leader from our sister company who occupy the same building as us. They are looking to undertake their own refit next year and wanted to see what we had done.
  • Reviewed the plans to fit out our office with carbon dioxide meters and started to discuss how we might take an alternative approach to meet the requirement, giving us more data and potentially more control in the long term.
  • Had conversations about the Microsoft suite of Generative AI tools and started to look at budgeting for licencing.
  • Had the weekly Digital Product team meeting, discussing how we will approach the work on the backlog and how we will communicate the process to the rest of the team.
  • Met with colleagues in South Africa to discuss approaches to document sharing between our offices.
  • Agreed an approach to some information-gathering work on tools that can potentially help our Investment Banking business.
  • Had an interesting discussion on avatars and authenticity at our monthly Lean Coffee meeting.
  • Attended a town hall meeting where we heard from colleagues in Compliance and a reorganised revenue team.
  • Had two lovely random coffee meetings, one with a friend that I’ve made through the WB-40 podcast community and another from India who works in our Credit Risk team.
  • Enjoyed the first free office lunch of 2024, a delicious poke bowl handmade by our in-house chefs.
  • Enjoyed a Saturday afternoon dog walk and cup of tea with a friend. Discovered how bad a dog can smell after it has rolled itself in fox poo.
  • Popped to the doctor’s to check out what I’m hoping is a small medical issue. Popped back a couple of days later for a blood test and made an appointment with a consultant in March.
  • Had a visit from UK Power Networks who will be removing us from a looped electricity supply with our next door neighbours.
  • Got outside on my bike for the first time in three weeks. Club rides have recently been cancelled due to the cold weather; we don’t go out if the temperature is 2°C or below at 8am. This week it was actually warm enough for bibshorts, but I was the only one in the group to turn up suitably kitted-out.

  • Attended an Academic Speakers Bureau taster session at the LSE, hearing from Nick Robins, Liz Stokoe and Alexander Evans on the topics of a Transforming Finance for a Just Transition, The Conversational Racetrack: The Power of Words in Motion and Cyber, Geopolitics and AI: Navigating a Volatile World.

Media

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Web

Next week: Fitting all of the work around a two-day offsite meeting that I’ll be joining remotely.

Weeknotes #257 — Offsite

An extremely busy week. Three of my colleagues on our management team came over from Johannesburg, so I went into London every day in order to maximise our time together. (Being with them on a Teams call with me at home and them in our London office would have felt so wrong.) Every time I head into the office for five days in a row I wonder how I used to do it week in, week out. I’m knackered.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent offsite at Etc. Venues Monument, right next to where the Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane. I’d been beavering away on the agenda for the past few weeks and it came together well. Everyone seemed to get a lot out of the two days. It was wonderful to have all of us together in the same room, away from the distractions of the office. The venue was perfect; not too expensive, well-equipped and with lovely food throughout the day.

At the end of the week we fed back to the whole department, giving everyone an overview of the ‘hard landscape’ of the year ahead, with the work we have to get done across our property/facilities portfolio taking priority over everything else.

I still feel that I’m working on a ‘just in time’ basis, looking ahead to what the next immediate deadline is and getting the work done for that. It’s hectic.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a revelation as we prepared for our offsite meeting, realising that there are two types of work that we do. The first is ‘don’t ask me what I want, tell me what I need’ which covers the core IT infrastructure, meeting room technology etc. The second is ‘ask me what I need’ which sits more in the digital product development space. The approach to each type of work is different.
  • Met with our meeting room technology vendor, to review the setup of two of our key internal rooms and see if there are any simple improvements we can make. They introduced us to Grid View, which we’ve now enabled in both of the rooms. It has completely transformed the experience for remote participants, with zoomed-in tiles for each of the groups of people in the room.
  • Had a workshop with our meeting room design vendor, reviewing the new office space that we are moving into in one of our cities and talking about what kind of technology might work there.
  • Had a briefing on Sustainable IT at our offsite meeting, with an expert researcher in the field. I learned so much in 90 minutes, but realise how much more there is to know.
  • Enjoyed a recap of the strategy of our part of the organisation from our business manager at our offsite event.
  • Took some colleagues up to see another part of our building which we may want to use while some major works are undertaken in our main office later in the year.
  • Had the monthly project meeting with our sister company on the planned office renovations.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening a new office in a new country.
  • Met with our main technology partner to discuss the big projects that we need to complete this year, so that they are able to come back with a proposal for how they might tackle the work.
  • Had an in-person meeting with our Microsoft licence vendor and discussed other services they offer beyond what we use them for today.
  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to our team of Corporate Finance analysts in Johannesburg.
  • Provided some content for an in-house version of the Thoughtworks Technology Radar that we’re trying as an experiment.
  • Met my product development leadership team for a weekly check-in.
  • Bumped into an old friend from university at the offsite venue, someone that I haven’t seen in over a decade.
  • Wondered how I suddenly became the parent of a son old enough to go to a work Christmas party. I feel like I was his age a moment ago.
  • Had a wonderful dinner at Manicomio City, celebrating a colleague’s birthday and another colleague’s imminent retirement. The table was set up perfectly for the ten of us to all be able to hear each other and the food was exceptional.
  • Enjoyed a team drink at the rooftop bar at Coq D’Argent. The heaters and sheepskins kept us cosy despite the cold.
  • Heard Portishead’s Dummy for the first time in decades at the WB-40 album club. I admire the album more than I love it, which is maybe why I’ve never gone back to it since the time it was released. It’s quite a downbeat record and it’s not often that I want to feel quite like that.
  • Enjoyed a lovely dinner with my wife, her fellow running club coaches and their spouses at someone’s house. It was a good way to unwind after a very busy week.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match.
  • Was pleased to see my Bookcrossing stickers and labels drop through the post. I’ve got a lot of books lined up to release. It rarely happens, but there’s nothing quite like the fun of hearing from a book I released years ago.

Media

Podcasts

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Audio

  • Ben Thompson’s Stratechery interview with Netflix Co-CEO Greg Peters was excellent. I loved the point that Peters made that building institutional capability is only something that you build over time once you’ve hired great people. He also gave some great insight keeping things disciplined and strategic:

Ben Thompson: To our point about the operational stuff, what is fun for me about Netflix is it feels like a deeply strategic company.

Greg Peters: I think of it as that for sure, and Reed [Hastings, Netflix Executive Chairman, Co-Founder and ex-CEO] really instilled that value in that sense that you want to be very considerate about what you go do, you want to only go do the things that really will lead to a gigantic revenue and profit pool. We have this thing we call the lemonade stand in front of the gold mine, which is don’t get distracted building lemonade stands in front of the gold mine — you want to find the gold mines and that’s what you really want to work on. So that discipline, that focus, I think is important.

The other one that really I take away with me is probably the under-recognized benefits of being extremely disciplined about having top talent in all your positions and this goes a little bit back to that strategic mindset versus what it looks like in practical operations, and having great people everywhere just means you can get tons of stuff done.

Web

Next week: Saying goodbye to my nan.

Weeknotes #256 — 2^8

A ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ kind of week. There’s so much going on. Work needed to be regularly prioritised so that we didn’t miss the next deadline or scheduled event. At points it felt almost overwhelming. But I’ve been loving it. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had such important hard external deadlines to meet. They act as a forcing function, making it easier to separate the most important or urgent things from everything else. Out of necessity, my delegation instinct has also come to the fore. It feels very good to decisively hand things over to colleagues who probably should have had the work on their plate long ago; hopefully it feels the same for them.

Next week we have the three Johannesburg-based colleagues from our management team joining us for an offsite. We’ve been preparing for weeks, so I have my fingers crossed that Storm Isha doesn’t disrupt our plans.

I had to spend some time at the weekend catching up with work in order to release some of the pressure next week.

Hitting weeknote ^8 feels like a beautifully geeky milestone. Sometimes it has felt like work, but overall it’s been fun.

This was a week in which I:

  • Put together a proposed programme structure for the real estate/facilities work that we are doing over the next couple of years. Submitted the proposal as well as a high-level project plan to two of our senior governance committees for approval. Once this is in place, I can start to convene a steering committee and get into the critical decisions that we need to make.
  • Created a slide showing all of the organisations that are involved with the programme. It’s incredibly complex.
  • Put together an initial draft list of all of the income and expenditure for our office refurbishment project.
  • Met with our vendor who specialise in meeting room technology design and agreed to schedule a workshop for next week.
  • Updated and issued an RFP for real estate/facilities project management capability.
  • Reviewed the high-level plan for moving office in one of our cities, along with the remaining outstanding points that need to be resolved before we can sign the new lease.
  • Finalised details for our offsite meeting with the venue, including putting time aside for two sets of guest speakers.
  • Took a look at some spare office space that we might utilise while we carry out some invasive works in our regular office later in the year. Met with our Marketing and Communications team along with our Company Secretary to discuss what this process might look like.
  • Started to discuss an alternative approach to one of our office upgrades, future-proofing ourselves so that we are able to take advantage of any core building changes as and when they happen.
  • Was presented with the idea of taking ownership of the technical aspects of our shared meeting room spaces.
  • Met with our Legal team to discuss how we manage requests for Teams meeting recordings from external participants.
  • Spent time with my product management and development team, agreeing both our immediate focus and the approach we will take to any major initiatives.
  • Reviewed the team’s progress with a new tool that we hope will help to surface issues (and impending issues) across our end-user endpoints. Agreed to roll it out to a pilot group of users.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour on the topic of an internal women’s accelerator and networking programme.
  • Had an excellent Random Coffee with a colleague based in our Global Markets team in Johannesburg. He’s an expert in foreign exchange, and was able to give me an education in what it means for there to be ‘a shortage of dollars’ in a particular country. We agreed that he’d come and talk to our team at a future Learning Hour.
  • Found a way to tweak my Obsidian query to surface any open tasks from my meeting notes, grouping them by note but sorting the notes in descending ‘last modified’ order, so my most recently captured tasks appear at the top. Some would argue that this is back to front, but that’s not really how I work. If something is really important and I haven’t done it yet, I’m likely to capture it more than once; doing so will mean it is near the top.
  • Discussed that when a conversation gets tricky, it is always best to jump to the highest-fidelity medium to resolve things. Speaking in person beats a video call, which beats an audio call, which beats text messages.
  • Had a lovely call with my parents after work one evening. Despite them having a lot going on, it was so lovely to feel how much they are there for me and my family.
  • Renewed my Learned League membership for another year. I’m rubbish at it, but it doesn’t stop it being a lot of fun. I’m so grateful that Matt Haughey and Jessamyn West introduced me to it.
  • Got by without buying lunch for a whole week. I’m trying to pull the reins in on spending after having been out a few times in December. I’m not sure how long it will last, as man cannot live on protein and cereal bars alone.
  • Was blown away by watching Queen Rock Montreal in IMAX. Of course the images were amazing, but the sound — THE SOUND. It was so loud. I loved it.
  • Had the insides of our two roof lanterns professionally cleaned. It was long overdue. They look lovely and sparkly now.
  • Designed and ordered a custom stamp for labelling the cross-section end of books that I want to give away via Bookcrossing. I’m a lapsed Bookcrosser, having started in 2006, but for some reason I’ve now got the itch again.
  • Went out for a Saturday night curry in Chertsey with my lovely old friends.
  • Had a satisfying week on the bike trainer, completing some rides that made me feel like I had stretched myself.

Media

Podcasts

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Video

  • Caught the Algeria vs Angola match in the Africa Cup of Nations.
  • Continued watching Grange Hill series 14. Just a few episodes to go.
  • Was brought to tears by The Orville S3E5. I think it’s my favourite show. Absolutely beautiful storytelling with such incredible characters. I didn’t expect this when I first started watching it.

Music

  • I’d never realised that the lyrics to Shake, Rattle and Roll are so obscene.
  • Enjoyed a wonderful online Album Club listening to Bass Culture by Linton Kwesi Johnson. I’ve struggled to get into reggae as I couldn’t find my way in, but this album is super accessible. Loved it.
  • Learned that Seal’s Kiss From A Rose is ‘33% sharp’. Amazing.

Next week: Keeping my fingers crossed that the trains are running despite the storms, so that I can make it into London five days in a row.

For an incompetent chef (that would be me), these Lazy Vegan frozen meals are fantastic. Add some oil to a frying pan, empty the contents of the bag into the pan and then stir for 10 minutes or so. I know it’s not proper cooking, but I love that it’s a healthy, quick meal.

Opened Lazy Vegan bag containing an Italian risotto meal for one.
Frying pan on a hob with the frozen contents of a Lazy Vegan Italian risotto meal emptied into it. Rice, peas, beans, mushrooms and sauce frozen into Hersheys Kisses-style lumps.
Cooked Lazy Vegan Italian risotto meal in a bowl, ready to eat. Rice, green beans, peas, mushrooms and sauce.

Weeknotes #255 — Meetings are not enough

Mentally this was an extremely busy week. From a work perspective, there’s a mountain to climb this year. But, I have a map, a compass, provisions, fair weather and an excellent team; it’s going to be tough but I think we can do it. This week felt as though I spent a lot of time wrestling with the problems we need to solve, but I didn’t feel like I was tackling them on my own. I love working in our team.

The weekend was so busy with unplanned events that I wasn’t able to get my weeknotes written up in good time. It happens.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was sad to hear that my nan had passed away. But so grateful that she had lived a long and independent life.
  • Had a visit from the ‘couldn’t make it up’ department where my first commute of the year was delayed as the doors stopped working on our brand new train. After the crew wrestled with them for 20 minutes at Bushey station, they eventually made the decision to take the train out of service. It wasn’t an auspicious start to the year.
  • Continued work on the ‘kickoff deck’ for the year, including what will be the hard-edged immovable deadlines that we need to hit this year. Our plan is to review this at an offsite meeting the week after next and then take it back to the whole team.
  • Made progress with booking a venue for the offsite meeting. We’ve agreed where we plan to go and now need to get the contract signed.
  • Got my head around a building infrastructure project, primarily through re-reading materials that had been sent to me over the past few months and asking questions of the team that have been leading the work. Things are starting to make sense. It made me realise that there is no substitute to burying yourself in the work; attending meetings is not enough on its own. Finished the week by sending out an advisory note to our senior leaders about the broad shape of the work for this year, trying to prompt issues being raised as early as possible.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening a new office.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for moving offices in one of our cities. We are very close to a significant milestone, after which our team needs to spring into action.
  • Had a couple of meetings for the project to address the way in which our teams store documents. Information management is a difficult problem to solve in a way that meets the needs of all interested parties.
  • Had a call with a senior internal stakeholder to close out on an initiative that we had decided against taking forward.
  • Had an impromptu conversation with one of our business heads about a gap that they have in their business process. Next steps are to set up a call with a vendor and start to map out where a tool could fit into a broader set of steps to plug the gap.
  • Agreed with a vendor to postpone some team-wide training on clear writing that we had planned for Q1. We don’t have enough time available to make sure that we do justice to the preparation and delivery of the material. Hopefully we’ll be able to complete this once all of our main projects are up and running.
  • Held the first Learning Hour session of the year. The talk continued the theme of 2023, with a focus on Generative AI. Our presenter gave a high-level overview of LM studio which allows you to download and run large language models on your PC. The conversation made me realise that most people — including me — have an imperfect knowledge of how the tools work. It got me searching for an analogy that I had encountered before Christmas which you can find in the podcasts section below.
  • Met with colleagues across our Group to discuss Generative AI patterns and guidelines and our approach to utilising the technology.
  • Had our monthly meeting with the Head of Operational Risk.
  • Met with a senior colleague who is struggling with their personal productivity workflow. Our conversation was a reminder that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I’m very much a text-based note-taker, whereas a big part of my colleague’s job is marking up PDF files across a number of different devices. Our team needs to get good at using the same tools so that we are able to help with requests like this.
  • Said ‘Happy New Year’ to the final set of colleagues who returned from leave. It’s great to have the whole team back in action again.
  • Had a lovely lunch with our divisional CIO and my colleagues in our management team. Found out that one of my colleagues is allergic to shellfish, not great when you’re sitting down to eat at a restaurant called Burger & Lobster. They (both the restaurant and my colleague) were very good about it; the restaurant let him nip over to Nando’s and bring back something to eat at our table.
  • Had a random coffee with a fellow member of the WB-40 podcast Signal group. He is an IT Director at an events company. It was fascinating to hear about the challenges he has had with deploying IT infrastructure in unusual places, as well as occasional problems with event attendees.
  • Started to look at what it would take to remove a support pillar in our kitchen. Exchanged emails with an architect friend who previously worked on our house to see what the possibilities are. Our kitchen is old and tired. When we last had it fitted we couldn’t afford to do anything with the pillar, but it’s meant that we’ve had to compromise on everything else.
  • Decided to stop using the Kagi search engine, two months after I started a subscription. This forum thread was the catalyst, and another sealed the deal for me. I’ve switched back to DuckDuckGo.
  • Took down our external Christmas lights at home.
  • Didn’t make it out for a bike ride as the temperature has dropped too low. TrainerRoad  had me on a recovery week so I had a few easy rides lined up. I think that perhaps they are too easy and I’m not convinced that a whole week of gentle rides is really necessary. The next time they turn up in the calendar I may opt for something heavier.
  • Joined seemingly everyone else in the country in watching Mr Bates vs The Post Office. I approached it gingerly as I am not usually someone who likes an ITV drama, but it is actually superb. Brilliant storytelling that brings a complex, technical narrative to life.
  • Had a great time at Album Club, listening to an excellent album, enjoying our host’s fabulous hospitality and talking a lot of nonsense.

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Podcasts

Aza Raskin: Just quickly for listeners, I want to give an analogy because a lot of this can feel confusing, like model weights and source code. How does all this stuff work? I think a useful analogy is sort of like an MP3 player, model weights, when you say a model weight, what is that? That’s like an MP3 file on your computer. And if you’re open up in a text editor, it would just look like gobbledygook. But if you have the right kind of player, you take your MP3 and you put it into a music player, an MP3 player, you can hear the song. And it’s very similar with AI. Weights are just like this MP3 file. If you open it up just looks like gobbledygook. You put it into an AI player, and then you get the blinking cursor that can start to think and do cognition. And then there’s the code that generates the MP3, that’s the training code. It takes all the data and it makes MP3 file, an AI file. Inference is what we normally call the player. So those are some of those terms. And when we say that the weights are open, it means that the MP3 has sort of been put out onto the web and anyone that has a player can now play that thing, and there’s no way to take the MP3 off of the web. Once it’s out, it’s out forever.

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  • I have had a major earworm of this song for the whole week after it turned up on a random playlist. I first heard it on a VOX magazine cover CD. Press play and you too can have an earworm of your own.

Websites

Next week: Trying to move forward on all fronts at work, an online Album Club, and heading to the cinema to see Queen rocking Montreal.

Nanny Seaside

My lovely nan, Joyce Warren, passed away late on Wednesday evening. At the start of January she had just reached the ripe old age of 93. I’m so sad that she’s gone, but so grateful that up until she went into hospital about a week ago, she was living independently in her own house. I spoke to her on the phone just before Christmas and she sounded great. She had lots of of people around her over the festive period, including her eldest daughter, my aunt, who had come back from Australia to visit.

She was such a lovely woman. She and my grandad were landlady and landlord of The White Bear pub in Hounslow, west London, when my mum and dad met. Later they owned a nearby guest house, which is the setting where I first remember her. We have a large family and have such fond memories of Christmas and New Year parties at the guest house, with uncles, aunts and cousins everywhere I looked.

Nan and Grandad were fabulous entertainers and always loved hosting get-togethers and parties. They retired to a big house by the seaside in Southbourne in Dorset, with enough bedrooms for us to be able to have many more big family Christmases together. They bought a pianola and boxes of music rolls which fascinated me; I would spend hours pumping the pedals. We’d head down to their house the summer to enjoy a day at the beach. At just the right moment, nan would pull out choc-ices from the deep freezer or find a big box of sweets that we could take one from. They were such happy times.

Whenever I think of my grandparents, this photo is the first thing that comes to my mind. It was taken on Christmas Day in the late 1980s. (That’s me in the background in the blue top.) My nan and grandad look so content, so happy that they had their family around them. I don’t think they knew someone was taking the photo at the time. It’s my favourite picture of them.

At my wedding in 2004 I had that photo in my mind and asked our photographer to take one of my wife and I in a similar pose. It’s a bit exaggerated, but I wanted to somehow capture the happiness and love of life that they had in their photo.

Sadly, my grandad passed away in Christmas 1991, leaving my nan on her own. He left a big hole in our lives. Nan kept going, re-learning to drive so that she could get around town independently, and still having lots of us over to visit.

She had such a wonderful sense of humor. As kids, a family joke developed where my brothers and I gave our mum the nickname ‘Mumm-Ra’, after the character in the Thundercats cartoon. Of course, the natural extension of this nickname when applied to your nan is ‘Nan-Ra’. Last Christmas, a card dropped through our door from my nan which gave me such a chuckle.

As I grew into an adult, life got busy and I feel — I know — that I didn’t pop down to see her enough. But when I did see her it was always lovely. There was nothing quite like talking to Nan about the times before I was around, hearing about her life and the things that had happened in the pub. When someone passes away, the hardest thing is knowing that you won’t be able to talk to them again.

When her great-grandchildren started to appear she picked up the nickname ‘Nanny Seaside’ which everyone now seems to call her. Nanny Seaside, we’re missing you already.

Weeknotes #254 — Scratchy fox

Originally I had booked this week off work. But seeing as everyone else in the house was going back to school on Thursday I decided to get back to it, using the two days to get a head start on the year. Things looked promising to start with as I only had three meetings booked in the diary across the two days, but by the time I finished on Friday evening I had been in many more.

I love working in my home office. It’s such a productive space for me. My furry friend from down the road came to visit. Foxes are back as well; I could hear them scratching and digging under my feet as I sat at my desk. I assume that within a few months we’ll start seeing a cub or two popping into our garden at night.

Welcome back, foxy friend.

The friendly neighbourhood friendly cat popped by to wish me a Happy New Year

The friendly neighbourhood cat popped by to wish me a Happy New Year

Our love of the Darts World Championship continued through to the final on Wednesday night. Before this year I don’t think I’d really appreciated how much of a mental game it is, with momentum and form swings potentially happening a number of times during a match. It feels like it shares a similarity with a great tennis match, where a particular game could mean that players draw level or are suddenly two sets apart.

Having a week at home meant that I’ve managed to get on a bike every day so far this year. Cardio exercise will come to a juddering halt with my return to the office on Monday but it was good to start things off the right way.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got through my entire personal email inbox. I haven’t got this close to ‘inbox zero’ for years, mainly as my personal mails sat right next to my school governor ones. It feels good to know that I’ve flushed out any demons that were lurking there.
  • Sent an email to our Group CEO to let him know much I have enjoyed his monthly video updates. This time last year we heard from him on ‘being fully present’; I suggested that a company culture of putting cameras on in meetings could go a long way in this regard. I think it says a lot about our company that I felt comfortable doing this and even more that I received a response.
  • Continued work on the ‘kickoff’ deck that I plan to use with the whole team to get us off on the right foot for the year.
  • Met with contacts in a sister company to discuss our office refurbishment and the approach to technology shared spaces.
  • Reviewed the latest architectural drawings for a new office that we hope to move into this year and agreed the tweaks that we want to make to the design.
  • Completed a long-overdue handover of our digital signage platform to our Infrastructure and Operations team. We have a handover checklist, the master template of which I revised as I spotted gaps and changes that we should make. Going through the process was useful and it’s good to have a completed task on the board this early in 2024.
  • Made some prioritisation decisions about things I (and we) are not going to do in the first part of the year, clearing the decks to focus on the must-do projects.
  • Looked into the possibility of my youngest son coming to my office for his work experience later in the year. We’ve had lots of children spending time with us over the past year and everyone has been very willing to give their time to our young guests.
  • Went all in on my Obsidian sync subscription, opting for an annual rather than monthly payment in order to make a small saving. It took me a little while to get my head around it but I’m glad I switched; linked text files are very aligned to how I like to work.
  • Booked a ticket to the Interesting conference in London on 15 May. I really enjoyed it last year — an eclectic mix of topics in a lovely setting.
  • Booked in a plumber to look at our external drain which seems to be blocked. Normally I have to clear it out a few times a year, but this time I don’t seem to be able to get at whatever’s stopping the flow.
  • Went to pick up the match day delegate bib at my eldest son’s football match but then found myself with the assistant referee flag instead. It was probably my busiest game ever as a linesman, with the opposing team getting frustrated with multiple offsides. It was great to feel confident in what I’d seen and what I’d called, despite the abuse that came my way.

Starting this week, I’m going to try an experiment with my weeknotes, logging media items that have struck me as particularly interesting or useful. I got through over 1,700 podcast episodes last year; perhaps logging the highlights here will help me to remember what I read or heard.

Media

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Next week: Back to the office.

Weeknotes #253 — Feliz COVIDad

COVID-19 grabbed hold of me and took me down on Christmas Day. I spent most of the first half of the week lying on the sofa, as getting up led immediately to watery eyes and sneezing fits. It’s such a strange illness; highly contagious — every time I’ve had it, I’ve been one of many that tested positive after a social event — and yet I don’t think we’ve ever passed it onto each other at home. It wasn’t fun, but it could have been worse. I didn’t develop a fever, and by Wednesday evening I felt that I had turned a corner, with my tests being negative by the weekend.

In my infected haze I somehow managed to get the dishwasher and laundry tablets mixed up. I can report that washing clothes with dishwasher tablets does no discernible harm, apart from to your ego as you have your geriatric moment pointed out to you.

We managed to make the most of Christmas Day, getting around the table for a rare family game of Ticket to Ride before the lovely dinner that had been hastily bought the day before.

I don’t think I’ve watched so much television in years. I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of putting on an old classic film that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — my favourite film of all time — is in that category, as is Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and White Men Can’t Jump (1992). You can put the film on, half-watch it, stop it at any time and come back to it whenever you feel like your brain needs to veg out. My mission of trying to get through the first 14 seasons of _Grange Hill_1 is entering its third year and has slowed up; I’ve lost interest a bit as the key characters and storylines are now in the past.

We also watched some excellent TV series and films. AppleTV+ seemed to be on a roll with both Slow Horses and Severance. The last episode of Severance literally had me on the edge of my seat, exclaiming out loud at how good it was. We continue to love The Orville on Disney+ with season two taking things to much greater heights than I had expected. Disney+’s documentary of the Brawn F1 team’s incredible lone season in Formula One was also excellent. We caught How To Have Sex (2023) on MUBI, a superbly-acted portrayal of a hedonistic holiday in Greece which tackles issues of peer pressure and consent. On Saturday we even made it to the cinema to see Everything Is Illuminated (2005); it’s amazing how something so recent already feels so distant, with its story of an American visiting Ukraine for a road trip to trace his ancestors being something that is sadly impossible to conceive of as we enter 2024.

I turned 47 on Sunday. We spent the day with my wife’s parents, as my illness had meant that we couldn’t visit them at the start of the week. It was lovely to see them and to get a couple of things done to help them out. While we were there, the boys were fishing around on the television for something to watch and discovered the World Darts Championship. Like most sports, I don’t follow it but love to watch it when it’s on. The remaining matches have now been etched into the family calendar.

My family and friends bought me so many lovely gifts for Christmas and my birthday. I’ve got a backlog of vinyl records to listen to and new books to read. Some of the books have been put on the shelf next to others that were bought for me this time last year that are still unread. The speed at which the years now whizz by make me more aware of how the only real limiting factor is the time available to me to sit and listen to music or burrow into a book.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet night in, save for picking up my eldest son from a party. I’m looking forward to 2024. It’s going to be a very busy year at work with some critical deadline-driven projects to deliver as well as taking on some additional responsibilities. We are also likely to have an election here in the UK for the first time since 2019. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to finally see the back of the dreadful government that we’ve had for the past 14 years and start to have a positive vision of the future again.

Next week: A few more days off before getting back to work.


  1. Headteacher Mrs McClusky — probably the most famous of the Grange Hill headteachers — retires at the end of series 14, so this seems like a suitable place to stop. 

I’m not sure how I stumbled across her blog, but I’ve really enjoyed reading Heather Burns’ posts this year. Her roundup of her 2023 is a typically compelling read, particularly where she writes movingly about her experience with unemployment. I had no idea the ‘bedroom tax’ was so brutally cruel.