📚 Hitman

To me there is something beautiful about a brotherhood of big, tough men who only pretend to hurt one another for a living instead of actually doing it. I came to appreciate that there is an art to it. In contrast to my father, who loved to proudly tell people who the real tough guys, or shooters, of his generation were, I can just as proudly tell you who the great workers, or pretenders, of my generation were. — Bret Hart

Satellite TV entered my house when I was eleven. At first, I was mainly obsessed with MTV’s never-ending carousel of music videos. That was until my dad spotted a small advert in the TV section of the newspaper, letting us know that something called WrestleMania V was showing on Sky TV that evening. The incredibly-named ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage was to face off against the blonde-moustached Hulk Hogan. My brothers and I tuned in to watch, and our heads promptly exploded.

Looking back now, we weren’t obsessively into Wrestling for that long. After WrestleMania V we kept up with the storylines for a while, but I don’t remember too much after The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan to win the top belt at WrestleMania VI. But in the short period that it grabbed us, we watched it all the time. Quickly, the World Wrestling Federation made us familiar with characters that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, Mr Perfect, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, André The Giant, ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase, Bad News Brown, Dusty Rhodes, The Big Boss Man, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith and The Honky Tonk Man, along with the tag teams of The Hart Foundation, The Bushwhackers, Demolition and the Legion of Doom. We even got to know the brilliant commentators: Gorilla Monsoon, Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura, Bobby Heenan and Vince McMahon.

Mum and dad used to get mad at us kids for play-wrestling all of the time. After the shows had finished we’d become the wrestlers, jumping off the sofa and getting each other into holds. Typically to Gorilla Moonsoon-like cries of “Look out!”, “He’s put him in a half nelson!” and “Right in the breadbasket!” Often the wrestling would escalate to the point of an accident, tears or both. I once cracked my brother’s head open on the corner of a the stereo cabinet in the lounge. Children are different these days, probably much nicer to each other as they are typically in front of screens instead of making up their own games. I’m not sure which is better.

I didn’t think about wrestling for a long time. A few years ago I found myself walking to the train station, listening to the Reconcilable Differences podcast and hearing Merlin Mann raving about a 1990s ‘Hell in a Cell’ match between The Undertaker and Mankind. The match happened many years after I stopped watching. One of the wonders of the modern world is that I can stop what I’m doing and then watch whatever it is that I’ve been reading or hearing about, usually on YouTube. The match is brutal; a complete health and safety nightmare. The fence-clad ‘cell’ that surrounds the ring starts to buckle under their weight, shortly before The Undertaker sends Mankind 22ft through the air into a table next to the ring below. After receiving medical attention, he climbs back up only to be ‘chokeslammed’ through one of the cell panels, falling a the same distance again, this time to the ring mat. From Wikipedia:

According to both Foley [Mankind], Calaway [The Undertaker] and Prichard [sic], the second bump through the cell roof was completely unplanned, Calaway would later say that he thought Foley was legitimately dead following the second fall, and asked Funk to check if he was still alive, while Foley would describe Ross’ commentary as “not part of a wrestling match, but a legitimate cry for my well-being”. Foley later said that the only reason he survived the fall was because he did not take the chokeslam properly, as he had been too exhausted to lift his body weight in response to the chokehold.

Somehow, Mankind gets up and they wrestle further, while one of his dislodged teeth hangs from his nose. Things get ridiculous when thumbtacks are scattered in the ring, and this gimmick is somewhat overshadowed by what went before. There is a brilliant summary and commentary on the match on YouTube which is well worth watching:

The podcast got me thinking about what I’d seen as a kid. Yes, wrestling was made up. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great. The wrestlers still had careers and reputations to nurture and build. Getting to win a belt was something agreed before a match finish, but generally you only got to be the winner of the best matches if you were popular and good at the job. The work had to be believable on TV, to the fans in the area and sometimes even right next to the crowd as they brawled. They wrestlers also had to record lots of TV spots, trash talking and gurning to the camera to keep the storylines going. Every time they got into the ring they were putting their trust in each other to make it great but also to keep it safe, and it didn’t always work out.

I worked hard to bring out the best in my opponents. I gratefully acknowledge the hundreds of wrestlers I worked with in thousands of matches over twenty-three years, and am proud that I never injured another wrestler to the point that he couldn’t work the next day. — Bret Hart

I started reading Hitman, Bret Hart’s autobiography, towards the end of my holiday in April. I thought that it would be some light reading to go with my vacation vibe. As an ebook, I didn’t realise it would be such a monster read at nearly 600 pages. I knew Hart as part of The Hart Foundation tag team back when I used to watch at the turn of the 1990s, but I hadn’t realised he’d gone on to much greater things including winning the WWF World Championship belt. The whole book was an education. Early on you are introduced to the wrestling lingo:

  • Babyface: A ‘good guy’ in the storyline.
  • Heel: A ‘bad guy’. A babyface could ‘turn heel’ as part of a story.
  • Kayfabe: To keep in character, even outside of the ring. Although the storylines were make-believe, nobody wanted to disappoint fans by being seen with their supposed arch-enemy on a tour bus or having a beer together.
  • Getting heat: When you’re a hot property or you’re having a great match, this is shorthand for adulation and frenzied fever from the fans or the crowd.
  • Putting someone over: Letting them win. Apparently the end of matches were decided by the person doing the booking, but the content of the matches themselves were down to the wrestlers.
  • Getting some juice: Secretly and deliberately cutting your forehead with a razor blade during a match in order to add blood to the proceedings. Apparently wrestlers would hide a blade in their mouth and then spit it out and cut themselves when they had taken a blow to the head.

Getting some juice seems to be something that happened a lot in the earlier years, but the promoters knew they had to try and curb it as wrestling became more mainstream. From Hitman:

Though I’d bladed when I thought it would increase the artistry of the match, the practice was clearly stupid, and stopping it was a step in the right direction to protecting wrestlers. What bothered me was that Vince banned blading four months too late. My forehead had so many deep cuts in it from our recent run of cage matches that I could easily pull the slices apart with my fingers. Pat Patterson later explained that the real concern was that AIDS could be spread by all that self-inflicted bleeding in the ring. I was relieved, and at the same time I felt bad for ever having done it.

Hart’s story is fascinating. His life in the business traces a route from the 1970s — where wrestling was fragmented across regions, with his dad Stu running the Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary, Alberta — to the turn of the millennium, where the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) run by Vince McMahon was all-conquering. Hart was the eighth of twelve children, all of whom were involved or married into wrestling in one way or another. Their childhood home had a room in the basement that was nicknamed ‘The Dungeon’, where Stu would take pleasure in teaching ‘submission wrestling’ to anyone wanting to get started in the business.

The author comes across as sincere and honest, documenting his hectic schedule of life on the road and the impact that this had on his relationship with his family, as well as his womanising and his use of steroids. You get a good sense of how much work it was, and how much effort he had to put into keeping in great shape and ensuring he was earning a living. Hart is self-aware of his qualities, and has an intelligent understanding of what makes a great wrestler:

I have my own theory on the three qualities it takes to be a great pro wrestler. The first one is look or physical presence. On a scale of one to ten, Hogan, being such an awesome specimen, might rate a ten, for example. Although it always helped, it wasn’t as important to be tough as it was to look tough, especially if you were a heel. The second quality is the ability to talk, to sell yourself; Hogan might score another easy ten, whereas a guy like Dynamite would have to work to earn a two. The third is wrestling talent, the ability to work. Here it would be just the opposite: Hogan would rate the two and Dynamite would get the ten. A score in the high twenties adds up to a great wrestler.

Losing can be a beautiful thing if it’s done right. The Hitman character was generally seen as a wrestler who, try as he might, could never quite win. This made him more human than, say, Warrior or Hogan. His constant struggle to make it to the top was endearing to the fans because it was something they could identify with in their own lives.

Early in Hart’s career, he suffers a horrible injury at the hands of wrestler Dino Bravo. Although Hart could see that their planned move would have problems, it was difficult to stop the match and ‘break Kayfabe’ in front of all the fans:

The referee, John Bonello, stepped between us, pushing him back, and it was while I was standing on the apron with my back to the crowd, knowing the spot was coming, that I realized it was quite some distance to the steel fence, that it was bolted to the floor and that it wasn’t going to budge when I hit it. But it was too late! Dino, right on cue, rushed the ropes and launched me backwards into the air. As if in slow motion I twisted and braced myself, but my foot was tangled in the cord from the mic stand, and I feared that it would catch and pull me downwards, head first into the fence. Somehow, in a millisecond, I was able to shake my foot free then—wham!—my chest hit the top of the fence, and I crumpled to the arena floor. In very real agony, I was unable to catch my breath. My first thought was, Don’t die, don’t die. It felt like I’d crushed my rib cage or maybe even punctured a lung. As I twisted around on the floor, nobody seemed to realize this wasn’t part of the show! I thought, Just hold on … somebody will know I’m seriously hurt. Oh no they won’t … my selling is realistic, so nobody realizes I can’t breathe. … I might die here on the floor of the Maple Leaf Gardens. God, what an awful way to go.

There seems to be little thought to wrestler wellbeing, such as ensuring they have an income if they are injured in a match. This is a theme that repeats throughout:

Vince’s generosity extended to $200 a week while I healed. Luckily my $10,000 SummerSlam 1989 cheque arrived to cover me. Still, I found myself going back to work after only eighteen days. My ribs would bother me for years, and I had to be careful taking hard falls and turnbuckles. There’s a certain art to being able to work hurt and not disappoint your fans. I’m proud to say that nobody noticed a thing.

These physical injuries culminate in an awful event where Hart’s brother Owen loses his life as he makes a vertical entrance to the ring:

Hanging from a cable off a catwalk up in the rafters of the arena, Owen suddenly fell seventy-eight feet to the ring, smashing chest-first across the ropes, about a foot from a turnbuckle, bouncing hard onto his back toward the middle of the ring. He lay there for several minutes turning blue while paramedics worked feverishly on him, to no avail.

It’s hard not to judge history by the standards of today. Looking back, it is so sad to know that there was no holistic support for the wrestlers. As well as getting little or no pay while they were off work due to physical injury, there was no support for the those who were battling mental issues and addictions. Wikipedia has a long page, filled with sorrow, documenting a list of premature professional wrestling deaths.

The impact of Owen’s loss on his family is deep, and causes significant rifts. At this point, a lot of the extended family’s income and future earnings is either directly or indirectly dependent on the company that now has a near-monopoly on the wrestling business. So the immediate pain splits into different views about how to approach Vince McMahon, the man who runs the business.

Bret has his own run-in with Vince McMahon. Due to various reasons covered in the book, Bret wasn’t happy with the decision that he should drop the world championship belt to Shawn Michaels before leaving the WWF to join the rival World Championship Wrestling. McMahon had agreed, but then during the match the bell was rung prematurely, causing Michaels to be declared the winner. I wasn’t familiar with this story before picking up the book, but it is apparently very famous, now known as The Montreal Screwjob. There’s an episode of the documentary series Dark Side of the Ring which covers this in a lot of detail.

What I found interesting is the ‘kayfabe’ side to the story. At the end of the match, Hart looks truly devastated, spitting on McMahon, writing the letters ‘WCW’ in the air and then smashes up some ringside gear. You wouldn’t typically expect the wrestler to acknowledge the existence of the other wrestling promotion, nor McMahon’s role as a senior person involved with the incident. Backstage, McMahon goes to see Hart in his dressing room and is apparently knocked unconscious by him. From Wikipedia:

The far-reaching impact of the incident led to its adoption as a theme in matches and storylines of the WWF’s “Attitude Era” and the creation of the character of “Mr. McMahon,” the evil arrogant boss. Many wrestling fans, and several within the business, believe the entire incident was an elaborate work executed in collaboration with Hart. Nonetheless, Hart was ostracized from the WWF while McMahon and Michaels continued to receive angry responses from Canadian audiences for many years.

There’s some interesting detail on the incident in the excellent 1998 TV documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows which has been made available on YouTube:

With the advent of the Internet, ‘keeping kayfabe’ must have become almost impossible, with wrestling fans sharing stories with each other online about the real people behind the characters. It makes sense that the business would adapt to this, turning McMahon’s real-life role as the boss of the WWF into a storyline. Back in the days when I watched the show, McMahon was seen as just one of the match commentators and nothing more.

During the last few years that are covered by the book, Bret suffers a quick decline brought about by WCW’s poor management and terrible storylines, as well as his own serious injuries that start with concussion from a kick to the head and a subsequent stroke after falling off of his bike.

I’m really glad I read this. It put my brief spell as a wrestling fan into context and gave me a newfound appreciation for the work that they did. Yes, it wasn’t ‘real’. But we loved it.

Weeknotes #168 — Kathryn Joseph

A fun week. I planned my days of going into London around events that were happening there. On Tuesday we had the CEO of our division of the company visiting from South Africa, with office drinks drawing a line under the day. Then on Wednesday I wandered over to St Pancras Old Church to see Kathryn Joseph, supported by Sophie Jamieson. The venue was beautiful and both artists were incredible. There’s something delicious about going to a gig on your own; I managed to grab a spare seat in one of the front rows between two couples that had left a gap between them. I can’t remember quite how I came across Kathryn Joseph’s work. I wasn’t very familiar with her music, but what I had heard was good enough to take a punt on going to see her. I’m so glad I did. I came home feeling full of life. Live music is magical.

I’ve not been sleeping well for the past few weeks. I can’t work out why. In one of my dreams, a stranger came up to me and started asking me about things that are on my real-life to-do list. I seem to always be awake before my alarm and then try to get back to sleep again. Hopefully it will pass.

A week in which I:

  • Welcomed one of my peers back after a long break. We hadn’t seen each other in five or six weeks due to our overlapping holidays. There was much to catch up on.
  • Finished the Teams regulatory recording project after the final system user confirmed that they can access the recordings.
  • Kicked off some work with a colleague to look at our old voice recording archive to see whether we should just leave the system where it is, or formally move it to a read-only silo.
  • Enjoyed seeing us switch our London office telephony over to Microsoft Teams. We say goodbye to the unloved Cisco Jabber after three years of service. We are edging towards our vision of replacing the server room in each of our offices with a simple cabinet on the wall.
  • Had a number of meetings relating to our upcoming annual conference, including our internal and external project status updates and a session with the technology vendors to discuss how the on-site and online components will integrate.
  • Prepared a team member to look at the architecture of how we will configure ‘Internet of Things’ devices on our network, ahead of us rolling out our new digital signage solution.
  • Updated one of our test digital signage players with the latest Internal Communications slides and was reminded how simple it is to use. I’m excited to roll this out across our offices.
  • Took part in our monthly risk management meeting and reviewed all of my risks. The process that we have put in place is working well.
  • Reviewed a number of CVs for the Agile Coach/Product Manager vacancy that I have in my team.
  • Discussed our approach to revising our major incident response process.
  • Attended the ‘steering committee’ for our big group programme.
  • Joined a couple of meetings with our agile development team working on dashboards from the group system.
  • Completed all of the online annual mandatory training courses at work. After working in financial services for 23 years, I’m in the habit of doing them as soon as they turn up and skim reading the content to get straight to the assessments.
  • Enjoyed drinks and nibbles with the London office, a random coffee with someone from our Operations team and another with a colleague in New York.
  • Enjoyed the fourth session of The Micro Blog Readers’ Republic, an online meeting with other microbloggers where everyone shared their selection of fiction and non-fiction book recommendations.
  • Reviewed the 2022–2023 draft school budget ahead of our Full Governing Board meeting next week, as well as the collaborative visit report from our recent Governors In School Day.
  • Spoke with our school catering provider about their compliance with food standards, closing out an action that I took following our review of a school policy.
  • Got a couple of screws fixed in our garden decking that we had installed last year when the gardeners came to pick up their lawn roller.
  • Had a good week on my bike, with some indoor training sessions and a great ride out with the club on Saturday morning. There’s a joy to sitting outside the cricket club with a well-earned coffee and cake at the end.

Next week: Moving to Teams telephony at our final site, another school governing board meeting and home alone with the boys for a few days.

Not-for-profit

The second WB-40 podcast episode in their series on organisations with purpose is a fascinating listen. The hosts are joined by Kate Davies, CEO of London Housing Association Notting Hill Genesis.

The concept of being a non-profit that generates significant revenue in order to do more good with that money is interesting. In theory it isn’t so far from a for-profit organisation that puts its client’s (and employees’, and society’s) needs at the centre of what they do.

On the podcast Davies speaks about how expensive IT staff can be. They are able to keep their costs down by finding people who are motivated by the mission of the organisation. They use things like field visits to ensure that staff see the impact of their work first-hand. This got me thinking about whether I would be prepared to take a pay cut in order to work somewhere that was massively aligned to my values. I have great admiration for people who are willing to do this. For me, I think I would be more likely to forego future increases rather than deliberately reduce our family income.

Microchip catnip

Saturday’s visit to the Centre for Computing History for a talk with some of the GoldenEye development team gave me the opportunity to look around their exhibits. It’s a really wonderful place.

In the main exhibition space there is a bowl of microprocessors in front of some slices of silicon:

One of my friends is a complete microprocessor geek. I guessed that sending him the photo above would be like catnip. It turns out I was right. Within minutes, I got this response:

And here was the summary that followed:

  1. Core ix (Arrandale, mobile variant of Westmere)
  2. LGA775 desktop package, so anything from late Pentium 4, Pentium D, Core 2 Duo or Quad, or their Celeron variants.
  3. Socket 939 AMD, either an Athlon 64 Sledgehammer, Clawhammer or Winchester. The giveaway is the gap in the middle away from the 4x key pins in the circumference.
  4. One of my all time favourites, an AMD K6-2+ — “Sharptooth” — basically took the original Pentium (which topped out at 200MHz) socket to 600MHz, and even has 128KB of L2 cache on board.
  5. An AMD opteron, probably one of the early dual or quad models. Can’t tell without the pinout or model.
  6. 6.1 almost certainly a Pentium-3 Mobile
    6.2 hard to say. Definitely 286 era, but probably a Motorola like 10 [below]
  7. Impossible to say from that angle.
  8. Either a Pentium-MMX (166-233) or a Celeron Mendocino. Both used the same black OPGA flip chip design.
  9. A 486, either from: AMD, Intel, Cyrix, SGS-Thomson or Texas Instruments
  10. A Motorola 6800 or 68000

Bravo, my friend. 👏

🎶 After a long hiatus, I find myself buying CDs again. It’s lovely to hold the music in your hands and read the liner notes.

Weeknotes #167 — GoldenEye

#Octothorpe

#Octothorpe

If it wasn’t for the fact that the train operator is running a reduced timetable “that reflects the current demand for our services”, I would say that the commute to work is now back to the pre-COVID-19 experience. The trains are packed both into and out of London, often standing room only at peak times. I’m enjoying the fact that going into the office feels like just another thing that I do now and isn’t a big deal. I still love working from home and the benefits that it brings, but being in the office doesn’t feel as much of a bother as it was at first. We had a four-day week due to the early May bank holiday in the UK, and I found myself in the office for three of those days. It’s definitely enough.

A week in which I:

  • Exhausted myself on the bank holiday by going for a decent run and then spending over ten hours painting two sides of our garden fence. I felt like a consultancy who had bid too low on a job and had to see it through for reputational reasons. I still have the panels at the back to do, but they will have to wait for another weekend where I have a day to spare. I’m really pleased with the end result. Having a vast backlog of podcast episodes to listen to was a great help. I’m not sure the spray tool that I bought for the job did much to help, so next time I’ll need to remember to just use a paint pot and a big brush.

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

  • Said goodbye to one of my team members as he moves onto his next chapter with a move abroad. It was great to see him one last time in person before he left us. He was a very popular colleague and will be missed.
  • Had a meeting with the team and vendors involved in our annual investors’ conference. There are still lots of variables; from a planning perspective it would be good to fix them as soon as we can, but there is value in keeping things fluid for a few more weeks.
  • Met with our audio/visual vendor to discuss our two most complex rooms in our London office, and what we can do to improve things in the short term ahead of some more fundamental changes.
  • Had two members of the audio/visual vendor come on-site to get our office collaboration space up and running with a permanent solution for hybrid ‘town hall’-style meetings. We still have a lot to do to optimise the space, but the technology has taken a big step forward thanks to their help.
  • Wrote, edited and sent out communications on our planned move to Teams telephony in our London office next week.
  • Caught up with our front office business manager on a project we ran a couple of years ago to fundamentally change the way we manage unstructured data. Agreed that it is time to revisit the principles and run some refresher training.
  • Spoke to one of the potential digital signage vendors about the next steps in testing their solution in our environment.
  • Spent time with our CIO to discuss and agree how to represent our project portfolio. I need to try and spend more time in this space if I can.
  • Started thinking about and researching how we can increase digital literacy in our part of the organisation.
  • Took part in a meeting on an initiative to revamp how we create and manage our internal and external presentations. It got me thinking about the excellent Clear Writing For Busy Readers training I did a few years ago.
  • Attended a surprise online celebration for a colleague who has 40 years of service with the company.
  • Enjoyed the first weekly buffet lunch in our London office. They’ve been scheduled to take place every Tuesday. Hopefully people won’t just grab some food and head back to their desks. I think these things need a little curation to make them work, but the first one was pretty good as I ended up talking to some colleagues that I don’t usually interact with.
  • Prepped and then chaired our school governor Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting. I joined the meeting from my office; although it meant I was home late I much preferred it to the evenings pre-pandemic where I used to have to rush away early from work to get to school. As part of the preparation I for the meeting I brought our projects/big spend list up-to-date and plan to keep it current for future meetings.
  • Had an hour to make a decision about buying a ticket to a gig next week. The venue only holds 150 people and it’s been a while since I’ve gigged solo, so I decided to go. I’m not that familiar with the artist’s work but from what I’ve heard so far it should be great.
  • Cleared out our bedroom so that it could be repainted, along with our downstairs toilet. All done in a few days and we’re back in again. They look great.
  • Enjoyed listening to a whole Erasure album for the first time at Album Club. I know lots of their singles but had never listened to a whole album. This is one of the many, many reasons why Album Club is so wonderful.
  • Didn’t make it out for the cycling club ride on Saturday, opting for an indoor ride instead. We had a little rain which wasn’t forecast and I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate cleaning the bike after the ride. After the past couple of weeks it was quite good to have a less demanding exercise schedule. I’ll get back on it again next week.
  • Had a friend over again to watch the Formula 1 race on Sunday evening. I’m loving sharing the excitement of the races.
  • Spent Saturday evening at the Centre for Computing History for a Dev Talk on 25 Years of GoldenEye. Three of the original development team members were on stage — Martin Hollis, Dr. David Doak and Brett Jones — and they kept the audience transfixed with the stories of their experiences. I’ve never been much of a gamer but I have many happy memories of playing hours and hours of GoldenEye with my friends, back in the days when I had far less obligations and responsibilities. The development work seemed to fall somewhere between the small teams of the 1980s and the larger teams of the modern era. They had to make do without the Internet as a reference tool, meeting the challenges of fitting the code within the restrictions to processing power of late-1990s consoles. It was fascinating to learn that the multiplayer mode which made the game live so long in the collective memory was added just four months before their deadline. The museum itself is a wonderful place and it was fantastic to see the CEO Jason Fitzpatrick again; I first met him at the BBC Micro 30th birthday party about a decade ago, before the museum was established.

A sellout event

A sellout event

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Event poster

Event poster

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

Silicon dreams

Silicon dreams

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Next week: A big go-live of our Teams telephones in London,a work social event and a solo trip to a gig.

🎙 This is amazing. Brian May only discovered that his solo album Back To The Light was unavailable when he was trying to create an Instagram Story, looking for one of his own songs to accompany the post.

Weeknotes #166 — Back in school

I paid a price for last weekend’s all-out cycling in that I was feeling a little tired and run down this week. I sloped off to bed early on a couple of evenings but didn’t seem to be able to catch up. The week was bisected by the welcome return of Governors In School Day which we hadn’t been able to hold since the pandemic began. It was wonderful to spend time with pupils and staff on a typical school day. It reaffirmed the reasons why we volunteer for the role.

Going into the office has started to feel normal again. We have some physical infrastructure work that I need to complete there; as long as there is a purpose to travelling in, it doesn’t feel like there is a presenteeism aspect to it. Quite a few of our global team are still on holiday so it has been noticeably quiet, but we should have a full compliment again in a week or two.

It feels as though the pandemic is all but over here in the UK with masks now relatively rare in any situation. We seem to have seamlessly moved on to other things. I still have friends and family members catching the virus but thankfully they aren’t getting very sick. It feels like the best we can hope for, and remembering how I felt back in 2020 I will definitely take it.

Although we’re at the end of April it is still pretty chilly. I ditched the bib-shorts and went back to winter gear for this weekend’s cycling club ride and was glad I did. When the sun breaks through the cloud things warm up pretty quickly, but it’s been cold and frosty overnight. Hopefully the weather is saving the best for a glorious summer.

A week in which I:

  • Ran the weekly project meeting for our annual conference, which is now only two months away. We have an important meeting with our technical partner next week, after which I will be able to put more meat on the bones of the plan.
  • Joined the broader bi-weekly project meeting with the conference sponsors and executives.
  • Got a second digital signage solution up and running as part of a trial. The display box is Ethernet-only, so I had to rig up an Ethernet to Wi-Fi bridge in order to get it to work. It sprang to life with a carousel of COVID-19-related visuals about washing hands and maintaining social distance, presumably installed by the last company that were testing it out.

  • Took part in a prioritisation and planning meeting for our component of the big group programme.
  • Joined the monthly meeting with the Head of Operational Risk to discuss hot topics.
  • Ran our bi-weekly all-team meeting.
  • Met with one of my team members for a handover. Sadly he’ll be leaving the team next week and will be sorely missed. We gave him his virtual leaving card this week (Thankbox is brilliant for this) and I’m hoping to see him in the office on Tuesday for a final day of work together.
  • Picked up an issue with a new starter who doesn’t fit any of the models that we have for on-boarding people.
  • Had a wonderful catch-up with an ex-colleague that I hadn’t spoken to in some time. Checking in with her is always food for the soul.
  • Met with a colleague in one of our client-facing functions for a random coffee. The last time we met was over a year ago and it was great to catch up.
  • Had an incredible time at Governors In School Day. Going and seeing things for yourself is so important, and reconnects you with the purpose behind the work that you do. The Deputy Headteacher had put together a well-structured timetable for the day and I got to visit lots of different classes and lessons. I also got to talk to smaller groups of pupils for feedback about their experience and the work that some of them are doing as anti-bullying ambassadors. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed being in school over the past couple of years. All of the staff and pupils made me feel so welcome and the children were eager to answer the questions that I had about their work in the lessons. Our day finished just after three o’clock in the afternoon and I was exhausted; the staff do an incredible job that I know I would be terrible at, and I take my hat off to them.
  • Wrote up my notes from the day and submitted them to the governor that is collating feedback from everyone.
  • Attended my youngest son’s parents’ evening online from home. I still think this is one of the best things to come out of the pandemic and hope it stays for the rest of the time that they are both at school.
  • Enjoyed a relatively flat club ride on Saturday morning. A cold start but by the end of it we were sitting in the sunshine on the terrace at the cricket club and I was reluctant to leave.
  • Had my eyes tested for the first time since before lockdown. I’m getting old and already wear varifocals. It was interesting to see that my short-sightedness that I’ve had since the age of nine is now steadily improving, but offset by ongoing development of near-sightedness. I need a new prescription. Getting old is an expensive business.
  • Mowed the lawns and prepped the back garden fence ready for painting tomorrow. These kinds of jobs always feel less of a burden now that I can wear my headphones and chug through a few hours of podcasts.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

  • Experienced what my eldest son identified as a lucid dream. At some point in the dream I became suspicious that I was asleep but wasn’t sure if I was really there or in bed. I took out my phone to take a photo of a building and deliberately turned on the front-facing camera, only to find someone else’s face staring back at me. This jolted me out of the dream. I was very happy to find myself in my bed, having been proved right.

Next week: Another public holiday, staining the garden fence, prepping for and holding our next school governor meeting, saying goodbye to a team member, celebrating an anniversary and mapping out the technical work for our annual conference.

Teletext archeology

Jason Robertson’s talk on recovering teletext pages from videotapes is fascinating. Teletext was magical in the pre-Internet days. I had no idea that the service went back to the early 1970s. There is a searchable archive of pages that have been recovered. I love this preservation of ephemeral digital artefacts.

I remember purchasing a discounted Morley Teletext Adapter for my BBC Micro with the idea that I would download software that was embedded in the UK analogue TV signals. I struggled as I had to use an indoor aerial which gave relatively terrible results. (I don’t remember asking my parents to get a second aerial cable installed, but I am pretty sure they would have said no.) By the time I had bought the adapter I had missed the boat as telesoftware broadcasts had stopped. Still, it was fun to go digging around in the depths of the pages, using my computer keyboard to input the hexadecimal page numbers that were impossible with a TV remote control. Until I watched this video, I hadn’t realised that I might have been able to stumble across someone accessing services such as ‘online’ banking. Amazing.

Redactle #19 completely defeated me. I’m going to have limit my time or number of guesses in the future, as trying to complete one could easily spill into hours. Once you know the answer it all makes sense, but there was no way I was ever going to find it.

Weeknotes #165 — Hillbuster II

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Back to work with a bump. Tuesday was a shock to the system with a return to the office; I had a feeling of being slightly punch-drunk by the time the evening commute came. I’d spent the day in an attempt to catch up with colleagues as well as get on top of two weeks of emails, messages and other notifications. Some projects had moved on in leaps and bounds during my absence while others were just as I left them.

I went into the office again on Wednesday prior to a couple of days working from home and think that I’ve finally started to enjoy the variation of where I’m working. I still need to have a purpose to travel in and be there, but we have enough going on physically in the office to make it worthwhile.

A week in which I:

  • Concluded the latest ‘request for proposal’ process for the technical components of our annual conference. It’ll be great to start working with the chosen vendor on the delivery timeline now.
  • Had the weekly internal project meeting for the annual conference project.
  • Met with a colleague to give an overview of a project I ran a couple of years ago to change the way in which we manage unstructured data in our London office. Agreed to meet again in a week or so to see if there are any follow-up actions we need to take.
  • Met with the head of our API Marketplace to discuss the approach that we are taking as a company to launching and promoting it.
  • Caught up on the programme relating to the lease expiry events for two of our offices.
  • Reviewed the status of work to improve the physical and audio/visual aspects of our office ahead of a town hall meeting in a few weeks’ time, and our annual conference later in the year.
  • Discussed progress with the dashboards that we are creating as part of the big group programme.
  • Reviewed the final draft contract for renewing our helpdesk and ‘level one’ support function.
  • Updated the monthly London Governance Committee pack, including a slide on the audio/visual changes we are working on.
  • Had the bi-weekly management team meeting.
  • Ran my first ‘wins’ session with the team for a few weeks. The sessions always seem to start slowly but then build to a decent set of achievements.
  • Pondered why some people don’t take time to clear out their diary ahead of a holiday, cancelling and declining meetings that they can’t attend. Doing it is both helpful and joyous.
  • Was treated to two small work lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday, one in a restaurant and the other sitting on a bench in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. I was very grateful for both. It felt good to be back with the team again. I also discovered that Hotel Chocolat now sell ice cream, and enjoyed a tub on the way back to the office.
  • Had the mid-year appraisal for our Headteacher. It was lovely to spend some time catching up with her and the Chair of Governors.
  • Enjoyed a lovely family barbecue with my brothers, hosted at a new house that one of them has just moved into. It felt like forever since we had got together.
  • Renewed our home buildings and contents insurance by phone after three unsuccessful attempts to buy it online at the weekend. All of the multi-factor authentication mechanisms didn’t seem to be working on multiple cards that I tried. However, I now find that I’ve paid for the insurance four times over so will need to call them again.
  • Made some headway on catching up with my personal emails again, and then immediately fell behind. I’m not sure what changes I need to make to get on top of it.
  • Substituted Monday’s scheduled indoor trainer recovery ride for a run. Compared to the running that I had done on holiday it felt very hard, but I was glad that I did it.
  • Started watching the Ken Burns documentary on Muhammad Ali. Of course, it’s superb.
  • Thoroughly enjoyed the latest Album Club.
  • Did a lot of cycling. Saturday morning’s club ride was full-on, with an average speed of over 17mph. I then did the Hemel Hillbuster on Sunday, a charity ride in aid of the Dacorum Emergency Night Shelter (DENS). Usage of the DENS food bank has increased by 15% in the last three weeks alone, and I suspect that this will only get worse. Last year’s ride was in July and I was grateful that they had moved it to April, turning down the heat. After all that riding, I felt a little destroyed by the time I got home.

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

  • Had a friend over on Sunday afternoon again to watch the F1 Grand Prix. Not the most exciting race I’ve ever seen, but there was enough to keep us entertained. I’m really looking forward to the circus going to a brand new track for the next race.

Next week: Another four-day week, bisected by the welcome return of the annual Governors in School Day.