Weeknotes #276 — Vetmergency

Lieutenant Commander Oliver Bongos standing guard in the garden.
Lieutenant Commander Oliver Bongos standing guard in the garden.

A very tough week. Ollie1, one of our two cats, had started being a bit off his food for a few days. This was completely out of character for him. We’ve always joked that he thinks he’s a dog, as usually he will be at his bowl until there’s nothing left and then continues to look around for more. He’d also started doing his ‘furball cough’ routine a bit more than usual. Typically every evening he would come for a cuddle and a gigantic purr, which quite often would make him cough. Once he’d cleared his throat he’d be back for more attention and purring. But over the past few days we’d found him coughing randomly around the house.

As I got ready to head into the office on Monday, I looked out at him in the garden and noticed that he was breathing very rapidly. Later that morning I called the vet to try and make an appointment to bring him in the next day. After describing the symptoms, I felt as though I was being told off; they said that they really needed to see him sooner. So I packed up my things and left the office at lunchtime in order to take him for a diagnosis.

Ollie didn’t come home again until Tuesday evening. Our regular vet examined him until the clinic closed for the day. We then had to take him over to the emergency/out of hours vet where he stayed the night. In the morning we then had to pick him up and get him back to the regular vet. Scans, x-rays, examinations, oxygen and intravenous fluids were all deployed as they tried to find out what was wrong with him. The suspicion is that he has some kind of lung infection or pneumonia which he’d been fighting for a few days. Apparently cats hide their illnesses, so by the time that there are visible signs, things may have already progressed quite far.

After we got him home, he couldn’t seem to settle down. It was difficult to know whether it was the illness or just the experience of being away from home for a couple of days that had got him excited. Late that evening, he lay on the couch, breathing rapidly and panting. So we decided to take him back to the emergency vet once more.

Upon arrival, the vet told me that she had done some calculations as to what the worst case could be financially if they kept Ollie in overnight and had to do various things while he was there. £1,600. This is a lot of money, but I said that it didn’t worry me too much as I knew he was covered under an insurance policy that we’d had in place for years. As he’s almost eleven years old I knew that there would probably be a copayment of 20% or so, but I was confident that we could manage it. The vet kindly suggested that I take a look at the policy as sometimes there were caps and limits on various things. I’m so grateful that she did. Ollie was taken off to spend a bit of time in an oxygen box and I went and sat in reception, looking up the details of our insurance policy on my phone. I could have cried. The policy has a limit of £1,000 for any vet treatment as well as much smaller limits such as £100 for an overnight stay — a crazily small amount given that a consultation fee at the emergency vet is about £285, and our 90-minute visit on Tuesday cost us £444. So far we have spent about £2,000 and won’t expect to see much of the money back. I was kicking myself. Usually I am so risk averse and make sure that we have insurances in place to cover any unexpected financial event. I guess that life was busy when we took out this insurance policy and I didn’t take the time to read through the terms and conditions. I won’t make that same mistake again.

I could have wept.
I could have wept.

Ollie’s now at home with us and doing much better. He’s on a course of antibiotics and seems to be taking less rapid breaths. Hopefully he’s on the mend. We’ve moved his sister over to a much more comprehensive insurance policy so that we don’t end up with another major unexpected bill.

Managing the cat’s health and dealing with the stress of trying to balance the books hasn’t been the best set of circumstances for getting back into work after a week off. We’re at a very critical time for our major projects. Lots of information needs to be gathered and written up so that we can make some key decisions on the scope of the work at a meeting the following week. I also have my youngest boy joining me for work experience next week; it’s exciting for both of us and I can’t wait to have him there, but my time is going to be spread even more thinly than usual.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular project meetings.
  • Tried to catch up with emails and teams messages. The amount of things going on has meant that I’ve finally reached the stage where I never get to ‘Teams Inbox Zero’ anymore.
  • Spent a significant chunk of time helping to diagnose and remediate some network issues in one of our offices.
  • Reviewed a consolidated cost view for all of our real estate/facilities cost centres for the next decade ahead of a senior leadership meeting next week.
  • Started to prepare for a quarterly leadership meeting taking place next week.
  • Met with a colleague in the Marketing and Communications team about the project that I am running for our London office. It’s going to cause significant disruption to everyone working there, so we need a proper communications plan for the next few months. It was also good to hear about the leadership offsite that took place the week before.
  • Had a meeting with colleagues from Marketing and Communications and Corporate Services to talk through our plans to move out of one of our offices. Every time we get something out of someone’s head that we haven’t considered yet, the risk of a problem goes down.
  • Dug into our proposed doorbell/intercom system for one of our offices. Although it’s a great solution, we may need to scale it back for day one to avoid having to wait for various assessments and approvals.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of the proposal for AV equipment upgrades for our office.
  • Had another discussion about mandatory compliance call recording.
  • Met with the real estate team to review our progress in opening a new office from scratch.
  • Met with my project leadership team to discuss how we can optimise our delivery process. The distinction between ‘acceptance criteria’ (what we plan to deliver) and ‘definition of done’ (the quality criteria we need to meet) is a useful one. I think that I’ve been conflating them in the past, using a list of ‘things that need to be true in order to mark this as complete’.
  • Joined a webinar hosted by our Senior Political Economist on the outcome and implications of last week’s election in South Africa. The next two weeks are going to be fascinating as the ANC tries to form a coalition government or a ‘government of national unity’.
  • Attended the bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Met with the vendor of our corporate password management solution. They were very impressed with our >90% signup rate, something that we’ve managed to maintain through enrolling all of our new joiners as part of the setup process.
  • Met with our new interim head of Operational Risk for a general catch-up and overview of our function.
  • Had my regular catch-up with our technology research and advisory firm.
  • Had a long, and long overdue, one-on-one meeting with my boss. All bases were covered.
  • Was proud of my son who passed his driving theory test. He’s been spending a lot of time behind the wheel, mainly with his mum, and is improving all the time.
  • Finished planning my other son’s timetable for his work experience at my office next week. I am so grateful to work with such a lovely bunch of people who are happy to give up some of their time to spend with him.
  • Was bowled over by an unexpected kindness. Some people are so incredibly generous.
  • Cancelled our family subscription to Spotify. It’s recently gone from £17.99 to £19.99 a month. We already pay for YouTube Premium Family for the same price and it was only this week that I realised it includes YouTube Music. I’ll need to find a tool to recreate a bunch of playlists, but in the context of the recent vet bills it will be great to save £240 a year. Most of my mobile music listening is done through PlexAmp anyway, but it’s good to have the use of a ‘listening post’ for albums I might want to buy.
  • Enjoyed hearing a recent Vaccines record at the WB-40 Album Club. It took me back a decade or so to when a friend of mine used to rave about their first album.
  • Missed my youngest son as he was away on a practice DofE expedition.
  • Had a lovely meal out at Warehouse Pizza with my wife and my eldest son. It’s so good to have a proper sit down meal instead of getting takeaway, scoffing it down and then everyone scurrying off to do their own thing again.
  • Loved this week’s cycle club ride. It was a bit longer and lumpier than usual, super fast in places where I was drafting with another couple of riders who were hitting it hard.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

Audio

Web

Books

Next week: Work experience.

  1. Also known as Great Uncle Bongos (amongst other aliases), for reasons that are lost in time.

Weeknotes #275 — Belly dancing

Sunny Sunday
Sunny Sunday

This was my first week off work since Christmas and I was ready for it. Of course, my body decided that it was a fantastic time get sick. I spent most of the week with the various symptoms of a heavy cold. I’m sure it must have happened, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a day off from work because of sickness. Particularly now that there is no technical reason to go to an office, I would have to be at least mown down with a fever not to be able to drag myself to my desk at home.

Despite feeling rubbish, it was lovely to have some time to potter around at home and then later in the week to get things done. It felt like time well spent.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a couple of hours writing up the minutes from last week’s Steering Committee meeting. I didn’t want it hanging over me into next week where I should be focusing on the next cycle.
  • Got almost all of the remaining post-kitchen installation tidying done. We took a big load of things to the recycling centre, where for the first time since we moved here 20 years ago they asked us for proof that we lived in the area.
  • Cleaned our small patio and mucked out all of the floor-level gutters that surround the back of our house. A perfect job for a week off at home.
  • Got through my backlog of about 500 personal emails, leaving a small handful of messages that I want or need to do something with. Every time I do a big purge I wonder how it got to this stage and vow never to let it happen again. But then it happens again.
  • Bought a second car, a 15-year old Mini. We’ve got by with one car forever, but now that we have a 17-year old who is learning to drive, with his brother following fast behind him, it made sense to have something that they can get insured on. The first car I bought in the mid-1990s was a Ford Escort that cost about £500, which is £993 in today’s money. Those cars don’t really exist anymore; at least, not safe ones. And insurance for a newly-qualified 17-year old now seems to be about £1,800 whereas thirty years ago it was a few hundred pounds. With both boys learning to drive and thinking about going to university, we’re realising that we’re about to enter a very expensive period of our lives. The new car is great and very fun to drive.
  • Had dinner with some old friends that we hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I had no idea that we had such a good Lebanese restaurant so close by. The food was excellent but the music accompanying the belly-dancing was SO LOUD.
  • Met up with the neighbours in our street for a party in our road. We’ve had a few of them over the years, usually coinciding with a royal anniversary. This one was just because it was a fun thing to do. The sun shone all day and everyone had a great time.

Media

Podcasts

Compare this [nuclear energy] to a solar panel, which is essentially an inert piece of glass. In fact, solar panels are about as expensive as glass right now, and you don’t need any advanced technology, or labor, or understanding, or certifications or anything to deploy, you literally put it in the sun.

To put it in Nick Bostrom’s terms, AI is like philosophy on a deadline, we have these urgent philosophical questions and now we have a deadline to actually answer them because we are instrumenting our society with more AI.

So if you can compress parts of that loop that are easy for automation to do, you can expand more space for humans, if you are the only one doing this. But when your competitor is doing it, they’re accelerating their time cycles too. And now you get into this dynamic where everyone’s just having to make decisions in split seconds. Now we’ve seen this in stock trading. This is not a theoretical concept. We’ve seen this whole domain of high-frequency trading emerge where algorithms are making trades in milliseconds, at superhuman speeds that humans could never try to be in the loop for those kinds of trades.

And then we’ve seen accidents like flash crashes as a result of that because of, I mean in part because of high-frequency trading and other factors too, of just these sort of weird interactions among algorithms because of course you’re not going to share with your competitor exactly how your algorithm works, whether you’re in finance or in warfare. I think what’s concerning to me is the way that financial regulators have dealt with this problem is they’ve installed circuit breakers to take stocks offline if the price moves too quickly, but that doesn’t exist in warfare. Right? There’s no referee to call time out in war if things start to get out of control. So how do you then maintain human control over war when war is being fought at superhuman speeds?

Video

  • We finished watching series one of The Dry on ITVX. It’s not the greatest show I’ve ever seen but it’s very good.
  • Ever wondered what happened to the guy that was found in the grounds of John Lennon’s house in Ascot in 1971? You’re not the only one.
  • Watched Slade in Flame (1975). I’d heard that it was a lost classic, a gritty film about the music business that most people had forgotten. It turns out that they had forgotten it because it’s pretty forgettable. Bizarre characters with a storyline that is simultaneously simple and yet hard to follow. (I don’t understand how Noddy Holder’s character ended up as the lead singer of the band.) See for yourself:

Audio

  • Took a trip to Deco Audio in Aylesbury to go crate digging. It’s my favourite place to buy second hand vinyl as the quality is so consistently high. As well as a few LPs I picked up seven CDs for £12, all of which I’ve ripped to my NAS drive so that I can stream them to my ears through PlexAmp.
Bargain.
Bargain.

Next week: Back to it, with an online album club thrown into the mix.

Weeknotes #274 — Long drive

What’s making the trees so sad?
What’s making the trees so sad?

After a week in New York, it was back home and back to the office. Jet lag messed with my sleep for a couple of days but it wasn’t too much of a struggle. It was good to be back in the same time zone as most of the rest of the organisation, feeling as though I was getting back on top of things.

I’d booked next week off as it coincides with school holidays, and I’m entering the ‘use it or lose it’ phase with leave days that I carried over from last year. I haven’t taken any time off since Christmas as there never seemed to be a gap in the work. At the start of the week I found out that my leave coincided with everyone else’s, but I’m so thankful that one of my colleagues gracefully and lovingly moved his leave to a week later to allow me to get a break.

Of course, now I’m off I’ve suddenly got sick with some kind of lurgy. At least I’m in the slow lane for a few days.

I’m so glad that we now have a date for our election here in the UK. Getting a different government in won’t solve the myriad of problems here overnight but it will be a new beginning. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s first week of campaigning has been so awful that people are wondering whether he’s actively trying to lose the election. Given how awful his party is, what a hash he’s made of the job since he came to power and what he could be doing with his time instead, what if he really is trying to lose it? My constituency is changing from South West Hertfordshire to Harpenden and Berkhamsted, a change that is moving us from a location that has never voted in anyone other than a Conservative to one that would have voted for the same party in even greater numbers. My vote is usually wasted given our ‘first past the post’ system. If anyone other than a Conservative gets voted in here on 4 July, their party is toast.

From the Guardian’s tool to review how people would have voted if the new boundaries were already in place in 2019.
From the Guardian’s tool to review how people would have voted if the new boundaries were already in place in 2019.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with our senior leadership team to review the 10-year financial projection across our real estate/facilities cost centres.
  • Ran the programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Held a walkthrough of one of the real estate/facilities projects we are running this year with the leads of each of the streams of work. It’s very effective to get everyone in a room to go through each of the deliverables as a team.
  • Hosted a presentation to our sister company on how we plan to move forward with a proof-of-concept meeting room technology setup a space that we both share. We have many follow-up actions and questions from the meeting and a closing window to get the work done.
  • Met with our own team to discuss how we will go about supporting the PoC and what our plans are for the longer term.
  • Reviewed the latest version of the mandatory refurbishment costs for one of our offices.
  • Fed into the decision-making process for our door access, CCTV and intercom/doorbell technology choices for fitting out a new office. Met with our technology supplier to run through the choices and get a quote.
  • Had an introductory meeting with a senior consultant who works for one of our vendors, with an intent to bring him in to help us with our real estate/facilities projects.
  • Discussed mandatory compliance call recording with one of our regional Compliance officers.
  • Reviewed the proposal for revamping our internal meeting room technology with our design vendor.
  • Had an introduction to our new interim head of Non-Financial Risk.
  • Reviewed and revised the documentation on the intercompany services that my team provides.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour on the development of our infrastructure architecture and where we are going. It’s such a lovely thing to see how the presentation skills of our team members have grown over the years.
  • Along with other qualified first aiders, met with an occupational health specialist to talk about how to deal with issues resulting from type 1 diabetes in the workplace.
  • Joined some meetings to talk about how we can support a colleague and friend who has been going through some very difficult events, as well as supporting each other. I’m so grateful that it’s 2024 as I don’t think the support would have been in place back when I started my career.
  • Continued filling out a timetable for my son’s work experience week at my office. People are so generous with their time.
  • Found myself with three train tickets left in my flexi season bundle. Managed to get a £70 refund, minus a £10 admin fee, just through making a quick phone call. It feels so good when customer service just works.
  • Spent about eight hours driving to and from Manchester on Saturday. My eldest son had a race meet at the lovely running track that sits in the shadow of the Manchester City ground. We had a fright on the way home when a lorry started moving into our lane and I had to swerve to avoid hitting it, but otherwise the journey was uneventful. Just long. We got back home just before 1am. I’d decided ahead of time that I wouldn’t take part in the RideLondon-Essex 100 cycle as it would have meant getting up super early to drive myself and my bike to the start line. Maybe some other time.
Running statue at the Ethiad Stadium
Running statue at the Ethiad Stadium
  • Met up with my family at my brothers’ house on Sunday for a lovely impromptu barbecue.
  • Continued the long process of getting the house back in order after getting a new kitchen fitted. We’re down to the last few items that we need to find a home for, as well as trying to sell a lovely sideboard on eBay. I’m sad to see it go but there’s no room for it anymore.

Media

Articles

Next week: A week off, pootling around at home. I can’t wait.

📚 Finished reading Attack Warning Red! How Britain Prepared for Nuclear War by Julie McDowall. A forensic look at the approach this country took as we navigated the Cold War. This largely involved pretending that World War II-style preparations were adequate, denying the realities to the public until a sufficient consensus emerged among that same public that nuclear war was not survivable. It’s interesting how much the films The War Game (1966) and Threads (1984) played a part in showing people the stark realities. I too saw Threads as a child and it had a profound effect on me.

Weeknotes #273 — Under construction

A rainy morning in New York City.
A rainy morning in New York City.

New York City was the destination for my first overseas business trip this year. Of all the places that we regularly visit, New York is my favourite. Having lived there for a year in my early 20s and visited many times since, it feels like home away from home. It’s relatively safe, so despite not having access to my bike or indoor trainer I usually manage to get some exercise by running around Central Park in the morning and going for a wander in the evening. This was a rainy week, so I crammed my running into the first two days of my trip. Not having run for a while, I found myself walking like John Wayne for the rest of my visit, struggling to descend any staircase that put itself in my path.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park in the morning.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park in the morning.

Business travel stopped being exciting some time ago, but the opportunity to be in the same place as people that I usually work with remotely is golden. Going on a trip forces me to squash all of my weekend jobs into one day before I leave and to do the same thing when I return. The journey to New York was a very long day — literally five hours longer than usual. Despite following Mark Horstman’s advice on how to pack (using the plastic wrappers that dry cleaning is returned in to put shirts into), inevitably I have to spend an hour or so re-ironing everything once I arrive.

The main purpose of my visit was to see the work being done to build out a floor for our new office as well as to meet the myriad of people working on the project across a number of different organisations. I’ve spent 25 years working in Technology but this year find myself running a number of real estate and facilities projects. This is part of the fun of being in a small team.

Under construction.
Under construction.

A highlight of this trip was meeting up with two old friends from Ride 999 who have recently moved to the city. It was nine years ago this month that we rode from London to Milan; it was fun to reminisce and catch up with what they’re doing now. We had drinks and shared food at Dutch Fred’s, discovering the most incredible alcohol-free IPA.

Ride 999 mini reunion!
Ride 999 mini reunion!

The journey home from New York is only six and a half hours, which always feels too short for travelling overnight. Between the half hour to get airborne and the need to be sitting upright an hour before landing there’s really only an opportunity to grab five hours sleep. (If there was an option, I’d definitely choose a slower plane.) A big sleep on Saturday night helped me to reset but going to bed on Sunday was difficult as I lay there wide awake.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings. In our team, most of my colleagues are based in the UK/Africa timezones so I had to rearrange a few meetings to be able to attend them from five hours behind. Each day became a burst of online meetings in the morning followed by local in-person meetings in the afternoon — a pattern that is quite normal for people in our New York office.
  • Reviewed the furniture choices for the new office.
  • Utilised a portable conference speaker that we took on site for our weekly office build-out meeting. It worked fantastically well.
  • Met with the landlord for the new office in person for the first time.
  • Reviewed the technical specs for the technology, audio/visual and security build-out of the office.
  • Wrote up and sent the minutes from last week’s programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Enjoyed some great things to eat. Bill’s Bar and Burger does exactly what it says (with superb service), Abitino’s pizza by the slice was excellent (and cheap), Il Gattopardo was a treat, The Little Beet was a saviour for healthy fast food, Pasta Corner had perfect handmade pasta and Café Luce left me full for most of the next day.
Beyond Meat burger at Bill’s Bar and Burger.
Beyond Meat burger at Bill’s Bar and Burger.
  • Took advantage of being downtown for a meeting to visit the Strand Bookstore. I think it’s one of my favourite places in the world.
  • Watched my eldest son compete in a 4x400m relay at Eton athletics track.
Post-race photo.
Post-race photo.
  • Was delighted to come home to a completely finished kitchen. We’re so pleased with it.
  • Missed the Interesting conference as I was away. I’m also missing RideLondon at the weekend. Perhaps I need to stop buying tickets to things.
  • Got back on the bike on Sunday morning after a big sleep, doing a two-hour turbo ride. I could still feel twinges in my legs from my runs on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Had some terrible news from a close friend and wished there was something I could do to help.

Media

Podcasts

  • Being away without my usual indoor cycling and commuting routines meant that I fell behind on all of my listening. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Video

  • Thought that ABBA: Against The Odds was much better than the blurb that was posted on iPlayer. It covers their whole career, not just their Eurovision Song Contest entry fifty years ago. Well worth a watch.

Books

  • Started reading Mapping the Roads by Mike Parker, which explores the history of road maps in the UK. It’s a lovely thing, with lavish illustrations alongside the written history.

Next week: Turning my attention back to my other major projects, with an Album Club to round out the weekend.

Weeknotes #272 — Aurora

Incredible scenes on a magical evening.
Incredible scenes on a magical evening.

On Friday night I was lying on my couch, idly browsing messages on various WhatsApp and Signal groups, when I spotted a photo posted by a neighbour. She’d taken it a few steps away from our house. It was amazingly beautiful. All of us went outside to see for ourselves and were joined by neighbours from up and down the street who had the same idea. To the naked eye we could see streaks and patches of purple sky, but the beautiful shapes and colours were revealed as soon as we raised our cameras to take photos. It was a night to look up in wonder, and to talk to neighbours that we rarely see as we shared the experience. Years ago I remember walking to the pub with my dad and both of us stopping to watch comet Hale–Bopp as it hurtled through the night sky, something we knew we might not see again. Friday night felt the same way.

Last week’s Bank Holiday bike ride took it out of me; I was feeling the effects throughout the first couple of days at work. I’ve ridden much longer distances before but nothing of this size for a while, so maybe I’m just out of practice.

Most of my week was spent at home, with only one venture into the office. I needed to be around to let various tradies into the house and we also had a midweek train strike. Our kitchen renovations are now almost finished; the flooring and skirting boards are down, the plumbing is complete and the worktops are on. We’re just waiting to get our hob installed, the decorating to complete and a couple of small adjustments to various things before we can return to normal. We’re so pleased with the work that everyone has done and can’t wait to start having people over to visit again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Pulled together the latest Steering Committee pack for our programme and chaired the meeting. I used the first part of the meeting to have our audio-visual designer present the ideas for what we will do in a couple of rooms that we share with another organisation.
  • Attended the first construction meeting for a new office, hosted by the general contractor. It was based on-site with an audio-only Teams conference for everyone else to dial into, which instantly took me back 15 years to how we used to get together remotely. We have to get a proper conference speaker on-site for the meetings in future.
  • Reviewed and agreed the list of items and their costs that we will spend on beyond the standard fit-out for the office.
  • Met to review the responses to our RFP for fitting out our new office from a technology, security and audio-visual perspective, and appointed a vendor.
  • Reviewed our real estate and facilities costs for one of our offices as preparation for our planned work over the next couple of years. We ‘filled in the blanks’ with super rough estimates for everything we don’t have a proper estimate or quote for yet. Some number is always better than no number at all.
  • Met with our internal insurance specialist to discuss our cover for a space that we share with a sister company.
  • Discussed the risk of a popular tool that comes with its own cloud storage and whether we should be removing it as an option. It’s not a trivial decision as the storage offers better functionality than our other cloud applications for certain tasks and we know that people are using it in their workflow.
  • Had a discussion on how our twice-weekly change approval process could be improved and offered some suggestions to help us make changes faster, with less risk and with more of an audit trail.
  • Assisted a colleague as they got to grips with Office Timeline Pro+. The software is such a time-saver and works beautifully. Sometimes you just need someone to spend 10 minutes with you to show you how to get the best out of a tool.
  • Met with a sister company to discuss the process we went through to move from hard phones on desks to soft phones. We spent a painful time with Cisco Jabber before moving across to Teams when it was ready for prime time.
  • Was fascinated by a colleague’s presentation at our weekly Learning Hour as they talked about their recent visit to Beijing.
  • Had a delightful Random Coffee with a colleague in China that I’d never properly met with before. It turns out that she was born on the exact same day as my two brothers.
  • Replaced the doors on our fridge freezer, ridding ourselves of random dents that have accumulated over the past few years. Swapping them over wasn’t trivial but we managed to do it in a couple of hours.
  • Enjoyed the latest WB-40 podcast Album Club where our host chose Hard-Fi’s Stars of CCTV for us to listen to. I’d never heard it before; the first few songs didn’t grab me, but somewhere halfway through side A I started getting into it.
  • Had the spoke repaired on my bike’s back wheel ahead of the weekly club ride. £1.25 in parts and £20 in labour.
  • With both children out of the house, my wife and I decided to wander down into town for a casual dinner. I guess we’ll be doing more of this again now that the boys are older.
  • Got myself ready for a business trip, the first one in over a year.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

Audio

Next week: Travel.

📷 A neighbour took a photo of my son and I looking up in wonder at the Northern Lights last night.

📚 Finished reading Understanding Privacy by Heather Burns. An excellent, comprehensive guide to privacy aimed at web developers but useful to anyone working with technology, particularly those that create websites and other digital products for the North American and European markets. The author is an advocate for a principles and ethics based approach no matter what the law says in a particular country. A very useful reference that I’m glad to have in my library.

Weeknotes #271 — Shout

It’s that short bit of the year where the lilac is out in full bloom.
It’s that short bit of the year where the lilac is out in full bloom.

Another busy week, but one that led into a three day weekend. Here in the UK we like to have our public holidays on Mondays, which means our ‘labour day’ holiday took place almost a week later than lots of other places around the world.

The weekend was as busy as the week. It culminated in me going out on Monday for my longest bike ride in years, a lumpy jaunt over the Chiltern Hills. Apparently, 25% chance of rain translates into ‘sunglasses until around midday then you’ll need a snorkel’. I broke a spoke early on in the ride and made a temporary fix by weaving it in and out of its neighbours. This was fine until it worked itself loose as I was hurtling down a hill at high speed. The noise it made was terrifying; both I and the rider behind me thought my wheel had completely given up. I managed to improvise a more sturdy fix and it didn’t give me any more trouble for the rest of the ride. The route was perfectly pitched for a longer day out. It was lovely to ride with some friends from the cycling club twice in one weekend.

Broken spoke, covered in road gunge, tired but happy.
Broken spoke, covered in road gunge, tired but happy.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up the minutes from the previous week’s programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Met with a sister company to review the latest design deck for our shared spaces in one of our offices.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with the various companies that will be involved in the design and specification of the audio/visual component of the shared spaces.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the principles to be applied for an office seating plan restack.
  • Discussed our upcoming temporary move out and move back from/to one of our offices with the vendor that will be helping us with the changes.
  • Spent a day at a vendor’s office to take part in interviews for a general contractor for the construction/refurbishment that we need to do over the next couple of years. It was humbling to be knee-deep in a world that I haven’t spent a lot of time in — I’m a technologist, not a building or facilities specialist. The complexity of the work and the number of companies and individuals involved is mind-boggling.
  • Submitted my notes and a scoring sheet following the interviews.
  • Joined a meeting to kick off a conversation about how we will go about staffing and providing a technology support service to a sister company.
  • Booked some time off at the end of May. I’ve not had a day’s holiday since Christmas and I’m beginning to feel it. We don’t have plans to do anything but it will be good to be pottering around and not sitting at my keyboard.
  • Met with colleagues from our user experience (UX) practice to discuss how we might leverage their work in our small part of the organisation.
  • Had some good conversations about the positioning of my team and the work we will focus on in future.
  • Tried to diagnose an issue where I can’t decline incoming external calls to my Teams-based office phone number. I hit the red button but it just keeps immediately ringing back. Of course, I couldn’t reproduce the issue when we got someone from Microsoft on a call with us. I get so few external calls to my office number, I have no idea whether this was just a one-off or is something that will come back.
  • Got some objectives into the HR system. Before we know it we’ll be writing our annual reviews.
  • Said goodbye to our dishwasher after only a couple of years of service. Our kitchen refit has meant we have moved to in-built dishwashers, so we sold our old one. It sold after about 5 minutes of being listed on eBay; I guess this means that we could have got a little bit more for it, but we had to get it out of the way ready for the next phase of our kitchen refit.
  • Bought a chisel and then spent Sunday afternoon removing the final section of floor tile grout from the kitchen, ready for the new flooring to go down next week.
Before and after. Old towel to rest my knees and butt at various stages of the work.
Before and after. Old towel to rest my knees and butt at various stages of the work.
  • Enjoyed a lovely lunch at Faire in Berkhamsted. Poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms on sourdough, all cooked to perfection. Pondered why nobody seems to give away toothpicks after meals anymore. I’m sure this used to be a thing?
Tasted as good as it looks.
Tasted as good as it looks.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

  • Gave up on Netflix’s 3 Body Problem after eight or so episodes. The show had started to feel like work and I didn’t feel as though I cared about any of the characters. There was too much in the show and it kept getting more ridiculous. It was easy to switch off.

Audio

  • I’ve been discovering Tears For Fears’ 1985 album Songs From The Big Chair. The band’s hits were part of my life as a kid just by simply being part of our shared culture, so I knew some of the songs already. But the ones I didn’t know weave things together beautifully. It’s an incredible record. It starts with this which is a piece of pop perfection — what a vocal:

Books

  • Started reading Attack Warning Red! by Julie McDowall. A fascinating insight into Britain’s nuclear preparedness in the Cold War.
  • Had a chat with someone working in an independent bookshop about how much money they make from sales in the shop versus the contribution they might get from bookshop.org if they were the buyer’s adopted bookshop. She was very grateful for bookshop.org for saving so many shops throughout the pandemic, but it is still better to buy something from the shop than to order it on the Internet.

Next week: Kitchen progress, project progress a train strike and two online Album Club nights.

Weeknotes #270 — Oh Makita, you will never know

A grey cat perched in a resting position on a person’s arm as they try to use a laptop computer. The cat is staring at the person taking the photograph.
It’s very difficult to work under these conditions.

The feeling of being slightly broken followed me into a third week. But somehow, like a change in the weather, it cleared as the days went by. I remember heading out to this month’s Album Club evening feeling light and unburdened and I wasn’t sure why. I wonder how much stress and anxiety is a function of a big to-do list versus something more basic. Working from home on Thursday and Friday meant that I got my morning exercise in on both days; maybe that has something to do with it.

There are so many projects in progress at the moment. As well as all of the initiatives at work, we have a new kitchen being fitted at home. All of the contents of the kitchen have been distributed around the house, making every step a perilous one. It also makes unloading the dishwasher look like an episode of The Crystal Maze as we run around the house trying to find where everything goes. Friends have kindly lent us a portable induction hob so we aren’t just eating microwave meals and takeaways, but we’ve had our fair share of both over the past couple of weeks.

I had Elton John’s Nikita as an earworm for the first few days of the week and couldn’t work out why it had popped back onto my inner turntable. Then I noticed all of the power tools that our kitchen fitter had been using.

Two Makita rechargeable hand drills on a partially-constructed shelf.
Counting ten tin soldiers in a row.

At one point early this week it looked as though a family project that we had outsourced was going to come back to us to do ourselves and I found myself staring into space, wondering how we would fit it in. Thankfully it was a false alarm. Our plates are full and there is no room for anything else.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Prepped for and ran our fortnightly programme Steering Committee meeting, including a first draft proposal of how we can break one of the programme’s projects down into individual streams.
  • Found that the materials we had sent out as part of an RFP were missing a file, so had to quickly follow up to get it distributed to all of the companies that have been invited to respond.
  • Held Q&A sessions with the prospective vendors as part of the RFP, collating a summary of all of the questions from all of the sessions for distribution straight afterwards.
  • Met with a colleague from our People & Culture team to work out how I can kick off recruitment for one of the vacancies in my team.
  • Fleshed out a job spec for the other vacancy in my team and sent it to my team for review.
  • Attended a meeting to kick off a review of some of our Group-wide internal processes.
  • Welcomed a new team member on board for one of our projects, an old colleague who is now working on a freelance basis. He should add some invaluable experience to our team.
  • Agreed how we would progress with setting up a hardware ‘lab’ environment in our office in order to do development and evaluation work without putting our production environment at risk.
  • Met with a colleague in another department to discuss our approach to the use of AI in our respective businesses.
  • Had our monthly Lean Coffee session, where — in response to a topic — most attendees learned that the office dress code has indeed changed at some point in the past few years.
  • Enjoyed our monthly office lunch and catch-up with colleagues.
  • Was amazed at how much progress our kitchen fitter made in just a few days. I can start to see how it will all look when it’s done. It’s quite exciting. Our appliances have arrived and should be fitted soon.
  • Spent a big chunk of the weekend loading up a skip outside our house. We’d waited to do it, keeping our driveway free so that the people delivering the new kitchen and appliances would have easy access to our door. As a result, all the pieces of the old kitchen had accumulated on our back patio. We had to borrow a sledgehammer from a friend in order to break up old pieces of granite that were otherwise immovable. I’ve used muscles this weekend that had previously lain dormant for decades.
  • Enjoyed hearing a Janis Joplin album for the first time. I don’t know much about her, but her voice was old beyond her years.
  • Dropped the manufacturers of Ulysses a question about how to add alt text to images. Apparently this isn’t a feature yet, but it’s now on the list.
  • Sent a note to the folks at Readwise to ask for a couple of new features. Sometimes I flit between the digital and physical versions of a book; currently Readwise will log highlights from these under two separate entries. It would also be great to be able to use the OCR capability when I’m offline or have a poor Internet connection. Both feature requests are now on their list.
  • Moved my website hosting from SiteGround to Cloud Above. My new host came highly recommended from a friend and I can see why; the move was painless and they were so helpful and responsive as I sorted out the tiny issues that come with jumping from one host to another. I was on the 10GB plan at SiteGround and had used up over 90% of the space. Moving to 20GB was going to cost around £345 per year. Cloud Above do it for £96.
  • Had a delicious impromptu dinner at Prime in Berkhamsted. (We are easily swayed when the only options at home are microwave meals or some kind of pasta.)
A bowl of tortelloni in tomato sauce, covered in almonds and watercress, already partially consumed. Two small side bowls of tenderstem broccoli are nearby.
It’s still pasta, but a cut above what we had planned at home.

Media

Podcasts

  • Took the first step at pruning my ‘current affairs’ listening by unsubscribing from The Rest Is Politics. Of all of the politics shows that I listen to — Oh God, What Now?, The Guardian’s Politics Weekly UK and America, and the Financial Times’ Political Fix — it feels like it is the least valuable. When I first started listening I was hoping that Alistair Campbell and Rory Stuart would spend time arguing from different points of view; perhaps the Overton window has shifted so far that they seem like two sides of the same coin.
  • Politics Weekly America continues to be fascinating. The latest episode digs into humour in US politics. It gives a fascinating insight into Trump as he attempts a joke whose basis and setup doesn’t sit within the parameters of our shared reality.
  • Also stopped listening to The Nowhere Office. The latest season looks to be snippets of discussions that have just gone behind a Substack paywall, so I’m out.

Articles

Video

  • Re-watched Reservoir Dogs (1992). I was 15 when it came out and I remember what a cultural impact it had. Watching it now, it’s jarring to hear so many N-words from a nearly all-white cast.
  • In what turned out to be a 1992-themed week, I also watched Scent of a Woman again. I still adore this film.

Web

Books

  • Started Heather Burns’ Understanding Privacy, a super clear articulation of what privacy is and the different approaches taken to it between the US and the EU.

Next week: An offsite meeting.

📚 More than a Glitch

I’ve finished reading More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech by Meredith Broussard.

Quote from the book ‘More than a Glitch’ by Meredith Broussard: “ Tech is racist and sexist and ableist because the world is so. Computers just reflect the existing reality and suggest that things will stay the same-they predict the status quo. By adopting a more critical view of technology, and by being choosier about the tech we allow into our lives and our society, we can employ technology to stop reproducing the world as it is, and get us closer to a world that is truly more just.”

The book is a polemic that explores technology, algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence and asserts that they are always biased. It has really got me thinking and seeing things in a different way. It reminded me of when I read Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist in that it has given me a completely new way of seeing the world. Recently I have been reviewing documents on ethical AI and I am now looking at them in a completely different light.

This coded language shows up everywhere once you are attuned to it. Consider this IBM AI governance report, which reads: “Extensive evidence has shown that AI can embed human and societal biases and deploy them at scale. Many experts are now saying that unwanted bias might be the major barrier that prevents Al from reaching its full potential. . . . So how do we ensure that automated decisions are less biased than human decision-making?” This is problematic because it assumes that Al’s “full potential” is even possible, which has no evidence aside from the imagination of a small, homogenous group of people who have been consistently wrong about predicting the future and who have not sufficiently factored in structural inequality. The question of “How do we ensure that automated decisions are less biased?” reinforces this problematic assumption, implicitly asserting for the reader that computational decisions are less biased. This is not true, and IBM and other firms should stop writing things that include this assumption. The technochauvinist binary thinking of either computers or humans is the problem: neither alone will deliver us.

I loved the insights on how inputs into machine learning models come from a world that is inherently biased, which will always lead to tools that are biased in some way. Many examples are given of how the systems that have been trained on this data enforce and amplify the existing patterns. For example, where exams couldn’t take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, algorithms were used to determine pupil grades instead. The book gives examples from the US, but I distinctly remember the fiasco here in the UK. Assigning grades to students based on historic data from their school, or through the use of any other other demographic information, may seem ‘fair’ to those people designing the algorithm. But to any one person being judged by the system it is deeply unfair.

The book explores the use of machine learning systems by the police. Historic data shows where arrests have been made and who was arrested, but not necessarily where crimes have been committed and who did them. This bias creates a feedback loop where predictive technology asserts that future crimes will be committed in similar areas, by similar people.

The thing is, everyone is a criminal to some extent because everyone has done things that violate the law. For example, white and Black people use drugs and deal drugs at equal rates. Bias determines who gets constructed as a criminal; not everyone gets caught, not everyone gets punished, and some people get punished more than others. The unequal application of justice can be seen in crime maps. Look at a crime map for any major city, and it’s pretty much the same as the map of where Black people live. Again, not because Black people commit more crimes, but because the things we call “crime maps” are actually arrest maps, and Black people are arrested for crimes at a higher rate. When you train algorithms on crime data, you are training the algorithm to over-police certain zip codes or geographic areas, because that is what has happened in real life in the past. You are training the algorithms to be biased.

There’s a fantastic example where someone has put together a ‘White Collar Crime Risk Zones’ tool which identifies ‘hotspots’ in a similar way to other systems. For New York City you can see that the major ’risk areas’ are clustered around the financial districts.

Screenshot from the website ‘White Collar Crime Risk Zones’. A map of New York City is shown, zoomed in to show parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Yellow and red ‘clouds’ are on the map to show zones of white-collar crime risk, clustered around the Financial District and Midtown Manhattan. Brooklyn and Queens have almost no yellow or red blobs.

Broussard asserts that people coming from the data science/technology world often assume that they can use their tools to get insights in whatever field they are applying them to, without considering the long history, large body of work and experts that have been in this space for many years before them:

One of the big misconceptions of data science is that it provides insights. It doesn’t always. Sometimes the insights are merely things that the data scientists didn’t know, but people in other disciplines already knew. There’s an important distinction between what is unknown to the world versus what is simply unknown to you. Data scientists in general need to do more qualitative research, and talk to experts in relevant fields, before designing and implementing quantitative systems.

I loved the insight that designing tools for inclusion actually makes them better for everybody. It got me thinking about the minimal effort that I have been putting in to adding alt-text to images on this website. The tools I use for blogging don’t help me but I know there will be a way to do it. I’ll try harder. It’s not really acceptable that images are inaccessible to vision-impaired readers in 2024.

Useful innovations like the typewriter, text messaging, audiobooks, remote controls, wide rubber grips on kitchen tools, voice assistants, and closed captioning all stem from designs for disability. “When we design for disability first, we often stumble upon solutions that are not only inclusive, but also are often better than when we design for the norm,” Roy said. “This excites me, because this means that the energy it takes to accommodate someone with a disability can be leveraged, molded, and played with as a force for creativity and innovation. This moves us from the mindset of trying to change the hearts and the deficiency mindset of tolerance to becoming an alchemist, the type of magician that this world so desperately needs to solve some of its greatest problems.”

Although I found the writing style quite dry, I’m very glad I picked this book up. I’m going to be thinking about its insights long after I’ve put it down.

Weeknotes #269 — Captain, we’re being hailed

The blossom even looks good at night.

The blossom even looks good at night.

Another overwhelming week. I felt I carried a bit of last weekend’s funky malaise into the start of this week. And then, before I knew it, it was Friday. There’s a lot going on at both work and home at the moment. I’m getting a bit frustrated at myself for dropping things. Going too fast also means that quality suffers and the work ends up taking even more time anyway.

Years ago I read this quote from cyclist Steven Abraham as he abandoned his attempt to break the record of the most miles ever ridden in one year:

“The only way I can do more is by getting faster, but the only way I can get faster is by doing less.”

I’m trying to do less so that I can go faster, but there’s not much more that I can cut out.

This was a week in which I:

  • Held all of the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up and circulated the minutes from last week’s programme Steering Committee. I’ve now also started a thread in Teams where I’ve published the minutes from every Steering Committee to date so that there is more transparency.
  • Started to receive responses for a technology RFP for fitting out one of our new offices.
  • Onboarded a technology consultant that we have worked with in the past. I am hoping that he will help to ease the pressure on at least one of our projects.
  • Met with our sister company to agree in principle how we move forward with spaces that we share.
  • Held my second weekly team meeting. Things seem to go well when we have everyone in the same meeting together.
  • Had a guest speaker from our Global Markets team at our weekly Learning Hour, giving us an insight into Foreign Exchange.
  • Had my regular catch-up with our head of APIs.
  • Started the process to recruit for a couple of roles in my team.
  • Was fortunate to get a call for a same-day medical consultant appointment on a day that I was working from home. Private healthcare is such a privilege and I am grateful for it, although I would rather it was the same standard for everyone. They are trying to diagnose something which I am hoping isn’t much of anything.
  • Seem to have become addicted to Garbanzos falafel bowls for lunch. I’m not sure deep fried falafels are strictly a health food but I find myself drawn there anyway.

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

  • Enjoyed a brilliant Cycling Club talk from Andy and Becky Kervell. They rode the length of Patagonia for six weeks on a tandem during November and December last year. The photos were stunning, so seeing the sights in real life must have been mind blowing.

Patagonia by Tandem

Patagonia by Tandem

  • Felt a little bit out of my depth with the speed of the club ride on Saturday. Spring is still in an epic battle with Winter, which doesn’t seem to want to leave. We set out in 3°C weather, but it felt much colder. Everyone seems to have a collective malaise with how long it’s taking for the weather to turn.
  • As our kitchen has become increasingly out of action with the refit, we’ve drifted heavily into regular takeaway territory. This week I tried the Szen noodle bar in Berkhamsted. Again, not a health food but quite delicious.

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

  • Spent Sunday afternoon with a bunch of geeky friends at Bridge Command in Vauxhall, playing at piloting a starship. We’d booked ourselves in months ago, and the venue had only been open a few weeks. The idea is brilliant and the environment is very well done, with lots of stations and computer systems that all work in tandem with each other. I was channelling my inner Lieutenant Uhura, sitting at the communications console with an audio headset on. I have to admit it felt magical to get ‘hailed’ by another ship, to speak to them and then to pass the video feed to the ‘main screen’ at the front. The whole setup feels a little bit too complex and ambitious as it took a long time to go through a very extensive in-person tutorial before we were handed the controls. But I get the feeling that it will only get better over time as more people play and they fine-tune the scenarios. I would definitely go back.

The entrance to Bridge Command

The entrance to Bridge Command

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Not in the least because if these tools were as productive and useful as promise, we’d be flooded with new and useful end-user software created by these newly productive organisations. If these products were the productivity boon boosters claim they are, workplaces everywhere would have been transformed by now.

Web

Next week: Our house goes full ‘Steptoe & Son’ — having no kitchen means that you can’t move anywhere in the house without bumping into things that used to be in the kitchen.

Weeknotes #268 — Unlicensed ice cream trading

I must have walked past this sign a hundred times without noticing it. Quite a specific restriction for a particular road junction.

I must have walked past this sign a hundred times without noticing it. Quite a specific restriction for a particular road junction.

The week wore me out. It steadily built towards the fortnightly programme Steering Committee meeting on Friday afternoon; after that I crashed. I’ve spent a lot of the weekend in a sleepy stupor. On Saturday afternoon I wandered into town for an errand and found myself browsing lazily through the bookshops. It was good to be doing something that wasn’t thinking about the work I haven’t done yet.

Spring is breaking through. Trees are blossoming and down by a footbridge that crosses the little river that runs through town a swan has built its nest. It didn’t seem bothered by the crowd of people that had stopped on their walks to take a close look.

Blossom everywhere.

Blossom everywhere.

The swan was more focused on making tweaks to her nest than to the people passing a couple of feet away from her.

The swan was more focused on making tweaks to her nest than to the people passing a couple of feet away from her.

This was a week in which I:

  • Enjoyed a near-empty train on Monday morning and suffered from massive overcrowding on the same train on Tuesday. There were less trains running because of strikes, so presumably each one was carrying the people that would usually be on two or three different services. Do people not go in on Mondays anymore and I just haven’t noticed?
  • Had the weekly programme meetings.
  • Met with our sister company for our monthly programme check-in.
  • Reviewed and consolidated the documents to issue as an RFP for the technology, audio/visual and security fit-out of one of our new offices.
  • Had a number of meetings to review the financial forecast for the same office in preparation for the programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Started a new weekly meeting with my entire Digital Product team.
  • Met with a cross-functional team who have been making good progress in making improvements to one of our long-standing, and much derided, critical business processes.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour session that gave an overview of the technical processes we use for building digital products. We also explored the concept of an internal Technology Radar.
  • Had my six-weekly check-in with our Technology research and advisory team.
  • Had a lovely Random Coffee with a colleague that works in our Marketing and Communications team.
  • Caught up with Matt Ballantine for a virtual coffee and a chat.
  • Revised the dates of my upcoming business trips to fit in better with everything else that is going on.
  • Enjoyed another wonderful club ride on Saturday morning. We had 10 riders in our group; I don’t think I’ve ever ridden with such an evenly-matched set of cyclists. I appreciate TrainerRoad’s new ‘Red Light Green Light’ feature as it looks at what work I’ve been doing and adapts my planned rides accordingly. After Saturday’s club ride, a planned two-hour indoor push on Sunday was relaxed to a one-hour near-recovery ride.
  • Moved to the next stage of kitchen renovations as we said goodbye to our trusty old oven. Some close friends have lent us a portable induction hob which will help us avoid microwave meals and takeaways for the next few weeks.

It’s the ‘getting worse before it gets better’ stage.

It’s the ‘getting worse before it gets better’ stage.

Media

Articles

“I am not saying anyone’s particular policies are wrong, but if the premise that generative AI is going to be bigger than fire and electricity turns out to be mistaken, or at least doesn’t bear out in the next decade, it’s certainly possible that we could wind up with what in hindsight is a lot of needless extra tension with China, possibly even a war in Taiwan, over a mirage, along with a social-media level fiasco in which consumers are exploited in news, and misinformation rules the day because governments were afraid to clamp down hard enough. It’s hard to put odds on any of this, but it’s a sobering thought, and one that I hope will get some consideration both in Washington and Beijing.” — What if Generative AI turned out to be a Dud? (substack.com)

Audio

So my argument, in brief, is that humans had a play-based childhood for millions of years, because that’s what mammals do. All mammals play. They have to play to wire up their brains. But that play-based childhood began to fade out in the 1980s in United States, and it was gone by 2010. And that’s because right around 2010 is when the phone-based childhood sweeps in. Our children are now raised largely with a phone at the center of everything. And let’s talk about what happened when that change happened. Another way I can summarize my book is by saying we have overprotected our children in the real world and we have underprotected them online. And both of those are mistakes.

…multiplayer video games take up a huge amount of time. They’re great fun. They’re incredibly immersive. And so anyway, the point is boys’ lives have been upended too. It doesn’t show up as much in depression and anxiety. It shows up as just withdrawing from effort in the real world. Boys are just not really doing the things. They’re not making the efforts and experiencing the failures and setbacks that would strengthen them to grow into men. So Tristan and I will talk about this, but there’s actually a way out, because almost all the parents hate what’s going on. All the teachers hate what’s going on. All the principals and heads of school hate what’s going on. And guess what? Gen Z hates what’s going on. They see it. They’re not in denial.

They really see that they’re trapped. And you say, “Well, why do you waste your life this way? Why don’t you just get off?” I can’t because everyone else is on. So it’s a social dilemma, it’s a collective action problem.

And then the final point is in every previous moral panic, one of the features is lurid stories about this thing that happened. A kid smoked marijuana and then he chopped off his parent’s head or whatever, some thing. And I read it in a newspaper. And, “Oh, my God, this is terrible.” And so maybe most of them didn’t happen. Maybe some did. This one is entirely different. As I go around, almost every journalist who interviews me, either before the interview or during the interview, they say, “I’ve seen this in my own kids,” or, “I’ve seen this in my kids’ friends.” Everyone sees it. This is not lurid examples trumped up to make people afraid.

Books

Next week: Going even deeper on the projects and looking at how we need to re-gear the work for the next stage.

📚 Finished reading  Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. I’d been saving this until I had almost completed my read-through of all of Steinbeck’s works. Over 20 years ago I read Jackson J Benson’s biography of Steinbeck which comes in at around three times the length. Both are great books. I enjoyed Souder’s writing and appreciated his use of more recent sources to build a picture of the man, although the end felt rushed. I also remember Benson going into a lot more detail about Steinbeck’s practice of writing. If you don’t have the time or interest to tackle over 1,100 pages, this is a good place to start.

20 years of blogging

Twenty years ago today, I started writing here. When I say ‘here’, I don’t mean at andrewdoran.uk — domain names ending in ‘uk’ weren’t a thing back then — but at this digital home of mine on the web. I feel so lucky to have been in my late teens when the Internet started to make inroads to our lives. As a child I voraciously read computer magazines of all shapes and sizes, getting through piles of back issues for computers I didn’t own or had never seen. The articles that talked enthusiastically about modems and dial-up bulletin board systems were fascinating. Being part of it seemed so out of reach; even if I could save up to buy the equipment there was no way my parents would agree to pay the eye-watering call charges. 5p a minute is a lot, even in 2024.

The regular ‘Communications’ feature in Acorn User. I used to eat this stuff up despite never going anywhere near a modem.

The regular ‘Communications’ feature in Acorn User. I used to eat this stuff up despite never going anywhere near a modem.

Back in the early 1990s, ‘getting online’ effectively meant getting an email address. The web followed close behind. I can’t be sure, but I think that my first email account was the one I was given at a summer job at Cable & Wireless. They paid me as a temp to learn HTML and set up the first internal website for the Purchasing & Logistics department. Having the freedom to email anyone else in the world who also had an email account fascinated me, as did websites with digital ‘guestbooks’ to say that you had stopped by. Later, after a decade spent with emails, Usenet posts and chatrooms, getting a blog up and running felt like the next step. I had opinions to share. Putting them out there in the world for anyone else to see meant that I could speak my mind and let them go.

Despite blogs having been around for a few years before I got involved, getting one up and running in 2004 wasn’t as simple as it is today. I bought myself some web space, registered a domain name (applecrumble.net, a name chosen for no particular reason that I can remember), downloaded Movable Type and went through a whole bunch of steps to install the files and the database to get it set up. My friend Mat used his web design skills to make it look pretty; I still don’t understand quite how he did it.

The first capture of applecrumble.net on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I was very proud of the Yahoo Messenger status button and the ‘on my speakers’ sidebar to share what I’d been listening to.

The first capture of applecrumble.net on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I was very proud of the Yahoo Messenger status button and the ‘on my speakers’ sidebar to share what I’d been listening to.

Running a Movable Type blog was challenging. The software was incredible in that it let you post something and all of the web pages and links between them would be auto-generated. But updates were manual and could be very tricky to fix if something broke. You had to check with your web hosting provider whether they ran the relevant Perl modules to power the software. Despite all of the ’back of house’ shenanigans, it was fun.

I remember getting hold of a copy of the book We:Blog, written by Paul Bausch, Meg Hourihan and Metafilter founder Matt Haughey. By the time I was reading it, the details in contained were out of date but the enthusiasm and general guiding principles were there.

In the days before Facebook and Twitter, blogs filled the ‘one to many’ communication niche. If you wanted to tell a few people, you would email. If you wanted to say something to the world (or nobody in particular), you could write a blog post. Most of the comments on this blog stem from that time where friends would check your website to see what you’ve been up to and comment on your posts. It doesn’t really happen very much these days.

I remember emailing Anil Dash, who at the time was working at SixApart, the company behind Movable Type. I’d started toying with the idea of getting blogs up and running at work, but my company’s stance was that if an application needed a database it would have to use Oracle. Anil was helpful — there had been requests from other people asking the same question — but I couldn’t get the initiative off the ground. Eventually I switched to WordPress.com and then to my own hosted instance of WordPress.

The things I wrote 20 years ago are usually trivial, sometimes embarrassing, and reflect someone who wasn’t really worked out why they are writing. The emergence of Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Facebook and Instagram) meant that posts here became extremely rare. Those platforms scratched my ‘connection itch’. Twitter was wonderful back in the day. We made friends and met up in real life.

Somewhere along the way I started to learn about IndieWeb thinking, where you own your content, publish it on your own site first and syndicate it to other services. I started worrying that all of the content I had posted to Twitter might disappear someday.

The struggle with blogging is that creating and publishing something always felt like a giant task. Micro.blog made me realise that publishing little ‘snippet’ updates to your own website is okay; not everything needs to be an essay. I started writing more frequently again. Becoming a weeknoter has also been a major help in keeping up a regular writing practice without having to think too much about what to write about. What could be simpler than writing about what you’ve been up to? A decade and a half after starting my blog, I felt like I’d finally found a bit of a rhythm to getting my thoughts out there.

Looking back, I didn’t expect the post that gave me the most satisfaction would be about the world of professional wrestling, something I haven’t watched since I was a teenager in the early 1990s. Starting to tap out a few notes on a book I had read on holiday quickly turned into something much bigger.

The most read post on this site is my response to a meeting of Berkhamsted Town Council where they debated the building of a multi-storey car park in our town. It had been shared on local Facebook groups and it felt a little intimidating to get a couple of thousand views in two or three days. I’m so glad that I didn’t have comments turned on at the time.

I still get so much joy from my little hobby of writing here. I don’t write longer posts as often as I would like to, but I love the fact that I have this place when I want to get something out of my head. Writing sometimes helps me to work out what I think, or lets me feel that I’ve been able to express myself and let go instead of carrying it with me. Writing recently about the Ofsted process comes to mind. It takes hours to wrestle with the words, but it’s worth it.

By any measure this is a teeny, minor corner of the Web. But it’s mine, and I can’t imagine wanting to be without it.

Weeknotes #267 — Electricity

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

A four-day week, but it didn’t feel like it.

On Monday our eldest boy turned 17. How I am suddenly a parent to a 17 year old, I really have no idea. It feels no time at all since he turned up in our lives. As usual, we celebrated a family birthday with a meal out together. I love these moments. It’s always so fascinating to think how much our boys have both changed as they grown; thinking about our birthday meals together is a lens to look at how the years have passed. Our boy has some driving lessons as his birthday gift and has his first one booked in for next week.

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

It finally feels like spring is here. Despite being on the edge of Storm Kathleen this weekend, it was lovely when the sun broke through. The outdoor clothes dryer has carried its first load and I’m going to mothball the jumpers from my working from home wardrobe.

This was a week in which I:

  • Gave my ‘digital literacy’ presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI at an internal quarterly online town hall-style meeting. There were over 350 people online, but the beauty of presenting remotely is that it would have felt no different if it was ten times as many.
  • Had the weekly project meetings for the office refurbishments and moves. A colleague and I had to quickly sketch out a Technology and Real Estate ‘shaping’ budget for a new office we are opening.
  • Wrote up and published the minutes from last week’s programme steering committee.
  • Received a first draft of the AV/IT bill of materials for a new office that we are moving into.
  • Met with the CIO for our African footprint to talk about our office footprint and how we should work together.
  • Spoke to our corporate insurance broker to update him on our upcoming office changes.
  • Met with one of our business line heads to introduce our development team and look at what her business priorities are.
  • Had a check-in with the landlord of one of the new offices we are moving into.
  • Met with our Finance team to review the first draft of our cost projections for our office refurbishment project.
  • Met with a real estate project company to look at bringing in additional support for the work we are doing.
  • Attended our working group for Microsoft Copilot and Teams Premium. I’m still not incorporating Copilot into my everyday workflow. I try, but so often I just get this:

  • Got lucky with the trains despite major disruptions on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. They had closed the lines for four days over the Easter break for engineering work. I’m assuming this didn’t go quite to plan as they would have liked.
  • Booked some overseas business trips. I’ve been trying to keep my business travel to a minimum, but I can’t put these visits off.
  • Made some suggestions to how we can improve some of our facilities management processes and our overall office experience.
  • Bought a bunch of appliances for our new kitchen that is getting fitted out over the next month or so. The changes we are making are complicated and there are lots of moving parts — and people — to coordinate. As ever my wife is doing an amazing job of getting everything lined up.
  • Finally had our house connected directly to the power line in the street after 70 years of being ‘looped’ off of our neighbours’ supply. I love it when the infrastructure beneath our feet gets revealed. Our supply is the black cable at the bottom of this picture, connected into the grey plastic-looking container that sits atop the main power cable.

  • Heard that England and Wales are the only countries in the world that have fully privatised their water supplies. It’s insane to privatise an essential utility where customers can’t choose between providers. Thames Water are in deep, deep trouble and it’s going to be a scandalously expensive problem to resolve.
  • Pondered, yet again, whether I listen to too many podcasts and not enough music. I loved Elliot Roberts’ ’reaction video’ to Rob Sheffield’s list of the 100 best Beatles solo songs that he made for his Patreon Supporters. When I was a teenager I would have been so excited to read a list like this and to seek out the songs and albums I hadn’t heard. I spend so little time listening to music as I’m constantly trying to keep up with all of the time-sensitive podcasts that I subscribe to — tech and cybersecurity news and commentary, politics, F1 news etc. But I love these podcasts; many of them are useful in the work that I do. There’s just not enough time.
  • Finally made it out for a club bike ride again. The start of April means that the club’s ‘mandatory mudguards’ rule is retired and people can opt to head out a little earlier to do a longer version of the route. It was a glorious morning and so lovely to get out.

  • Enjoyed a lovely dinner hosted by our close friends, who put up with my fussiness of admitting that I’m not a fan of quiche. I can’t wait to get our kitchen finished so we can once again do some entertaining of our own. It’s been years.

Media

Podcasts

Benedict Evans: Years ago, someone pointed out to me something, I was very annoyed at myself for not realizing it, that Google Search is manually curated, Google doesn’t give you the answer, it gives you ten links and ask you to pick the right one.

Ben Thompson: That’s right.

BE: Google doesn’t say, “This is the answer”, and there’s a product problem here in that an LLM says, “This is the answer”. Or at least as they’re currently constituted, they do.

BT: This was the Gemini problem, in that it was giving you one answer, so the sense of burden of proof, Google took that on, as opposed to it’s always been on the user previously.

Articles

Next week: Wrestling with trying to fit everything into five days again, an album club and this blog’s 20th birthday.