Weeknotes #248 — Carried in Sound

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

On Thursday night I had the privilege of seeing the Smoke Fairies play live once again. The venue was St Matthias Church in Stoke Newington, a beautiful Grade I-listed building. The setting was perfect for the ethereal, haunting songs from their new album, supplemented with other brilliantly selected numbers from their back catalogue. Their voices and harmonies have never sounded better.

The Smoke Fairies’ equipment at the end of the gig.

The Smoke Fairies’ equipment at the end of the gig.

I’d booked tickets to the gig as soon as they were announced. Two of my friends had to drop out due to COVID-19 and other logistical reasons, so I scrambled to find another two to take their place. We ended up enjoying what felt like yet another night where I knew everyone, but nobody knew each other. We ate at the nearby Plant Club, a “plant-based, gluten-free, organic Italian Restaurant” that is located in a strange ‘greenhouse’-type building surrounding a co-working space. The food was outstanding.

The venue wasn’t that close to any tube stations, so I used CityMapper to find the best route to get there. I absolutely love this app — long gone are the days when I’d board a bus with trepidation, repeatedly asking fellow passengers and the driver to let me know when I needed to get off.

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

This was a week in which I:

  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI as a guest at the internal Investment Banking Operations Town Hall meeting. I’ve been presenting on this topic for most of this year and things have moved on, so I made a few updates ahead of the presentation. Great examples of how these technologies go wrong continue to appear on social media; these are very useful for supporting some of my key points.
  • Spent a lot of time thinking through the problem of two organisations sharing Microsoft Teams Room devices. We’re reaching the conclusion that whilst it is doable in theory, there are a myriad of reasons as to why it should be avoided.
  • Met with our technical team to agree the evolution of our Azure Information Protection and sensitivity label settings and behaviours in Outlook.
  • Wrestled with an issue that has appeared in one of our core desktop applications, grabbing log files and passing them to the support team members who are working with the vendor.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how our Technology work should be pitched at the senior management kick-off meeting in January.
  • Introduced two of our vendors to each other, one that is helping us with a real estate rental agreement and office fit-out, and another who are experts in blending technology with office design.
  • Met another vendor who provide technology and office fit-out capabilities within Africa.
  • Joined the weekly project meetings to coordinate the new leases and fit outs of our office spaces.
  • Contributed to a draft response to a technology-focused questionnaire from one of our regulators.
  • Continued work with our product management and product development leads, aligning on the work that we need to do and where we have gaps.
  • Met with colleagues who are being asked by two different teams to store their core data in two different ways and took an action to try and resolve the conflict.
  • Joined a meeting between our development team and another within our division who have been thinking deeply about data architectures. There is plenty that we can leverage that they have created.
  • Was introduced to a company that produce IoT in-ceiling devices that monitor all of the core thing that may need monitoring in an office environment: heat, light, presence of people, air quality etc.
  • Met a vendor to hear their proposal for how they could work with us from a software development perspective.
  • Continued internal discussions on an external vendor tool that we have been assessing.
  • Enjoyed a very informative Learning Hour session with an expert from the company that provides us with our SD-WAN.
  • Had Brightwell Aerials complete the installation of a wired ethernet connection to a corner of my house that had poor Wi-Fi coverage. I couldn’t seem to get a good connection from just relocating the Wi-Fi mesh points. They ran a cable around the outside of the house to avoid creating a mess indoors. I’ve set up an additional Ubiquiti Amplifi HD router that I bought on eBay and configured it to use Ethernet backhaul.
  • Started the second round of the WB-40 Album Club. I had to play what I consider to be my favourite album of all time, George Harrison’s Living in the Material World. Album Clubs are so great — my least favourite song on the album seemed to have an emotional impact on one of the other members. We all hear different things.

  • Enjoyed a random coffee with a cybersecurity expert from the WB-40 community.
  • Had a lot of fun at a friend’s 50th birthday party. It was fancy dress, with a theme of ‘things beginning with the letter C’. Our cosmonaut costumes were a hit, as were my light-up silver shoes. Our hosts had hired a mini play casino for the night. I’d forgotten how much fun blackjack is, despite getting through all of my fake cash within the first half an hour of being there.
Cosmonauts

Cosmonauts

  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match.
  • Spent some time thinking about my next choice for ‘the original’ in-person Album Club that I’ll be hosting in a couple of weeks. It’s fun revisiting potential choices and giving them a run-through on my commute.

Next week: Meetings, meetings everywhere.

🎶 This song popped into my mind while I was running the line at a football match today. My hands were freezing and I was thinking that it is already late November.

Weeknotes #247 — Back to back to back

Meetings. So many meetings. This week, my calendar looked like this:

At one point I had to pick between five meetings all booked to start at the same time.

At one point I had to pick between five meetings all booked to start at the same time.

One of the benefits of sitting down to write these weeknotes is that I take the time to look back over what happened in the past seven days. There was so much in quick succession, with so much context switching, that it was difficult to take stock as I went along.

It was busy, but it was fun. For the second week in a row I felt like some major puzzle pieces slotted into place in terms of what my focus needs to be and what is being asked of me and my team. I’m hoping that I’ll have plenty of time to develop my thinking as we move into December, traditionally a very quiet period for a South African company as lots of people go on their summer holidays.

This was a week in which I:

  • Continued the weekly meeting series with our product development and product management leads.
  • Joined meetings with a number of senior leaders to showcase the work our team has been doing on the prototype of a new internal product. The session with our CEO was invaluable, both for his insight and direction on the product and our business more broadly.
  • Ran a short workshop on our real estate and facilities-focused programmes with the other leaders in our Technology team, outlining the approach to the work so far and indicating what will be needed from them.
  • Joined the project team meeting for the planned opening of a new office.
  • Met with vendors that specialise in fitting out modern office spaces.
  • Reviewed the latest internal architectural drawing for a new office that we are moving into in one of our locations. Discussed the timeline with our commercial real estate partners and agreed next steps.
  • Had some insightful, useful and impromptu end-of-day meetings with members of our management team in the office. These types of conversations wouldn’t happen if we were working from home.
  • Met with colleagues across our division to discuss the feasibility of setting up an internal ChatGPT-like capability.
  • Took part in an internal review our Microsoft licence requirements ahead of our annual renewal.
  • Attended our weekly Learning Hour meeting to hear our CTO talking about the future of the office from a technology perspective.
  • Met with the host of an offsite session taking place next week. I have been invited to present on the topic of large language models and Generative AI. It was so lovely to meet someone that is so organised.
  • Joined the penultimate weekly preparation session for the town hall meeting that our department is hosting in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Reviewed the risks that I own as part of our annual self-assessment.
  • Had our Information Risk governance meeting.
  • Came to the realisation that we need to think of a different way to get one of our projects completed. Despite best intentions, a colleague and I haven’t been able to put enough time aside to move it forward. I need to try to dedicate some time next week to articulating the intent of the work; we’ll then use this as the basis of getting it done through a third party. (Why is it always a third party? What’s a second party?)
  • Was sorry to hear that a colleague had gone off sick with pneumonia. It brought back memories of when I was hospitalised with it almost a decade ago. Hoping she’s on the mend and back with us very soon.
  • Attended a vendor webinar on how to Unleash Business Agility with Planview Roadmaps. We’re already using roadmaps; apparently there will be a free product for existing customers (e.g. those people using AgilePlace, like us) and an Enterprise product.
  • Took the plunge and paid for The Sweet Setup’s To Obsidian and Beyond video course. I managed to watch a handful of videos from the first module and need to put some time aside to go through the rest.
  • Was let down twice in one day by a local network installation company. We have a dead spot in our house that I’m planning to fix via an additional Amplifi router (already purchased from eBay) and a physical ethernet cable that we’ll route on the external walls of our house.
  • Enjoyed hearing a Rush album for the first time, at Album Club. After the album, our host played us some of their most famous hits and I didn’t recognise any of them. How have I managed to avoid exposure to them for nearly 47 years?
  • Was so pleased to have both the Helena Deland and Smoke Fairies new albums drop onto my doorstep. They are beautiful records.
  • Finished watching the Beckham documentary series on Netflix. I’m still getting to grips with the fact that that events I remember from my lifetime are now the subject of historical documentaries. He and his family come across very well, but I’m not sure it was ever going to be any different given that Beckham himself was an executive producer.
  • Rolled straight into the Robbie Williams series. Similar programmes always seem to come along at once.
  • Burnt my throat on a hot veggie roll that had just come out of the oven. I’ve burnt my tongue and mouth many times in the past but this was a new one for me. Not recommended.
  • Had a midweek trip with my youngest son to our beautiful local cinema to watch Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). The film kind of smoulders instead of hitting you in the face. Despite that, it didn’t feel as long as its 3h26m running time. We both enjoyed it, but it felt a far cry from Martin Scorsese’s best movies.
  • Joined some friends at a quiz night in aid of two local youngsters who are raising money for their World Challenge expedition.
  • Invested in an iPad for our eldest boy in the hope that it will help him with his school work. We popped along to the Apple Store in Watford in order to check out the devices in person. Apple being Apple, you can’t just decide what you want and then buy it, you have to book a time slot where someone will help you. As we waited, I amused myself by playing this week’s earworm as loud as I dared on the HomePod speakers.

  • Was grateful that my eldest son’s football match was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. The weekend was packed so it was great to get some time back. Instead of spending Sunday morning running up and down waving a flag I watched other people do it on TV at the third ever F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix.
  • Took advantage of a relatively dry spell to get out in the garden to vacuum up the tons of leaves that have landed. Our big beech tree has been completely stripped naked by the high winds, but our neighbours’ trees still have some way to go. I only got through half of the work before our garden waste bin filled up.
  • Helped my wife to shop for some new glasses.
  • Demolished the first mince pie of the season. It’s never too early.

Next week: An online Album Club and the return of the Smoke Fairies.

I don’t understand how this is a helpful part of the workflow in Microsoft 365. “The link you clicked wasn’t set up specifically to give you access to the file. But as we know you have access anyway, we’ll let you. Just click one more button.”

Weeknotes #246 — The man in seat 61

Waiting for a keynote session to begin

Waiting for a keynote session to begin

Most of my week was spent at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo in Barcelona. This is a gigantic gathering of 6,500 Chief Information Officers and other IT executives along with 1,500 Gartner analysts and staff. I’d previously been to a couple of Gartner conferences that were focused on Programme and Portfolio Management, so I knew roughly what to expect. What I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer size and scale of this event.

But first, I had to get there.

Working for a global organisation, I’m very conscious of my carbon footprint, particularly due to stories of ‘extreme’ weather events hitting the news almost every week. Flying short-haul from London to Barcelona seemed like an easy but excessive thing to do, particularly when seat61.com informed me that I could make the trip by rail in a single day. Almost two decades ago, at another employer, I had tried to suggest that I take the train for a business trip to Zurich; I was laughed out of the room. I’m glad that times have changed. As soon as I knew I’d be going to the conference, I booked my train tickets through our corporate travel agent in order to secure a good fare. Sunday morning was an early start; I soon found myself on a near-deserted Berkhamsted station waiting for the train into London. The train rolled in on time, but to a completely different platform to the one scheduled. I found myself hitting my maximum heart rate as I picked up my suitcase and ran down and up the flights of stairs to get to the train before it departed.

The process to get on board the Eurostar was straightforward, and very familiar to anyone who has been through airport security. Bags had to be x-rayed and bodies scanned. Both the British and French immigration staff are located in the station, so you pass through both checks in quick succession.

I had an economy ticket for the Eurostar journey to Paris. The seats were comfortable but I found myself trying not to bash my feet into those of the person sitting opposite me.

The seats soon filled up and we found ourselves travelling at an impressive 300km/h.

The seats soon filled up and we found ourselves travelling at an impressive 300km/h.

Upon arrival at Gare du Nord I had to make my way through the Paris Metro to get to Gare de Lyon for the next major leg of the journey. A single Metro journey was cheap at less than £2, but obtaining a ticket was filled with frustration. The ticket touch screen terminals work fine, as long as you know exactly what buttons to press. Any doubt, or use of the ‘go back’ button, resulted in the screen freezing up for a minute or two. I was worried that the people behind me would start getting shirty but they seemed to know this is just how things are.

At Gare de Lyon I armed myself with a sandwich for the journey and navigated myself to the platform where my TGV train sat waiting. As this leg was going to be six and a half hours, I had booked a first class seat for a little more comfort. I smiled when I found myself in seat 61 and now know why the famous website has that name — it’s the best single seat in the carriage, with only a luggage space for company and easy access to both the toilet and buffet car.

A bit dusty and dated, but with everything I needed for the journey.

A bit dusty and dated, but with everything I needed for the journey.

The train travels like a rocket from Paris down to the south coast of France. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out of the window to find the Alps on the horizon so soon after we had departed. Once we hit Valence, the journey slowed as the train made its way around the south coast and down into north-east Spain, stopping at places such as Nîmes, Montpellier and Girona before finally pulling into Barcelona.

On advice from my contacts at Gartner, I had booked a hotel adjacent to where the conference was to be held. This was some distance from the station so I had to grab a taxi there. By the time I reached the hotel and unpacked my things it was around 10pm and I was exhausted, but happy that I’d saved around 80% of the carbon emissions versus flying there.

The conference itself was incredible. Lots of my tech-focused friends don’t think very highly of Gartner due to the cost of accessing the services and questions around the objectivity of their research. However, they absolutely know how to run an event. Over the next four days there was an incredible number of keynotes, presentations, workshops, roundtables and networking opportunities. And catering — a seemingly non-stop conveyor of things to eat and drink appeared throughout each day. Early on Monday and Tuesday I had managed to get out for a 10km run so I felt free to indulge in all of the things.

Breakfast smoothie bowls, cakes, cookies and three types of churros. Who could resist?

Breakfast smoothie bowls, cakes, cookies and three types of churros. Who could resist?

The joy of an early morning run...

The joy of an early morning run…

...is that you get to see the sunrise

…is that you get to see the sunrise

As well as the Symposium there was a giant hall which hosted the IT Xpo, where Enterprise technology vendors lured IT executives into conversations through various free items, ranging from pens and notepads to gigantic bars of Tony’s Chocolonely. I could resist the pens but not the chocolate. Free things would be exchanged for a scan of the QR code on your lanyard so that the exhibitor could add you to their marketing database and send you email.

The IT Xpo hall

The IT Xpo hall

On Tuesday someone came knocking on the doors of the hotel rooms that were adjacent to the conference, dropping off a Gartner bag filled with leaflets from some of the vendors. Included in the box was half of a set of knockoff Apple AirPod headphones, the idea being that you would have to visit the vendor’s stand to pick up the other half. I suspect that many people didn’t go. What a waste. The ‘climate neutral transport’ badge on the back of the box felt deeply ironic.

Half a set of headphones.

Half a set of headphones.

Of the sessions themselves, as you would expect, Artificial Intelligence was everywhere. So much so that some of the presenters would drop jokey warnings into the start of their sessions to say that there would be minimal AI content for the next 30 minutes. The first keynote session of the week was AI-focused and offered some interesting insights, such as how “ethical decisions often disguise themselves as IT decisions” and that all companies should look to have their own principles for the use and adoption of AI.

There were many more sessions throughout the week than it is possible to attend. Many ran at the same time, forcing you to choose which one to go to. By the end of the week I had learned to opt for sessions on topics that I know the least about. My favourite was one called The Neurodiversity Advantage: Create a Win-Win for Neurodiverse Talent and Your Organisation presented by Rob O’Donohue who told me that:

  • 15–20% of people are neurodivergent, i.e. have ADD, ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, Tourette syndrome or others. Of those, only 3% are employed versus 68% of neurotypical people.
  • Only one in 10 companies have a neurodiversity programme.
  • Companies can offer a menu of interview options ahead of time, accommodating people that may struggle with one or more elements of a standard interview. For example, questions could be shared before or a candidate may prefer a one-on-one interview versus a panel.
  • Staff could create a ‘personal user manual’ which outlines their communication preferences, learning styles, work habits etc.
  • We have to be careful with analogies as they can be confusing for someone with autism. (In our team we use analogies all day long, so this really got me thinking.)
  • Companies could offer proactive diagnostic support as an employee benefit, helping current employees but also making the organisation more attractive prospective employees.

I also attended a Women in Technology Roundtable on the topic of Building and Leveraging Powerful Allyship which was incredibly inspiring. Our hosts kicked off the conversation and we didn’t stop talking until we were out of time. A participant relayed a story from a video call where her child had jumped on her lap. Her colleague remarked something along the lines of “It’s so lucky for you that you can do that these days as it’s now acceptable to have children on calls.” She responded “It’s lucky for you that I’m able to do this and to keep contributing.” Touché.

Three of the sessions that I attended were led by Helen Poitevin, suggesting that my interests are aligned with hers. One of her presentations tackled the concept of a Digital Twin of the Employee which I am still not sure I truly understand.

Helen Poitevin giving a keynote on AI and the Future of Work

Helen Poitevin giving a keynote on AI and the Future of Work

Another session on Digital Ethics made me conscious of Article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation that:

The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.

It also got me thinking about the juxtaposition of modern slavery statements and the use of tools from companies like OpenAI.

I found the keynotes more fun and interesting than directly useful. Hearing from Peter Hinssen that the Pope has an AI adviser made me think about how we are organised within our own company. Seeing Martina Navratilova live on stage was wonderful. I was familiar with her incredible life story from recently watching Gods of Tennis on BBC iPlayer, but I didn’t know that she had recently been diagnosed with, and subsequently beaten, cancer in two parts of her body. The interviewer tried to bring the conversation towards some ‘key takeaways’, but in truth just to be that close to someone so inspirational was more than enough for me.

An interview with the wonderful Martina Navratilova

An interview with the wonderful Martina Navratilova

On one of the evenings we had a dinner organised by Gartner where we could meet and network with some of our peers from the same industry. I also found a couple of vegan restaurants close by who served delicious food, including this bizarre-looking charcoal, pumpkin cream and shiitake mushroom pizza:

Attendance at the conference seemed to thin out as the week progressed. It completely wrapped up by 4pm on Thursday, at which point the buzz of the hive of IT executives was replaced by trucks and barriers as the venue was disassembled. As I was going back by train, I had to stay for an extra night.

Friday’s journey home was a useful exercise in seeing how well someone can work from a train, the conclusion being ‘adequately, but not optimally’. The guard told me off for joining a Teams call from my seat, so I spent most of the journey sitting in a little ‘phone lobby’ between the door to the carriage and the toilet. The train’s Wi-Fi was surprisingly resilient, if very low bandwidth; I found that Teams degrades quite well, allowing voice traffic whilst reducing the number and quality of video streams.

Watching the South of France whizz by my window. I hadn’t seen any of this landscape on my journey to Barcelona as it was already dark as I passed through.

Watching the South of France whizz by my window. I hadn’t seen any of this landscape on my journey to Barcelona as it was already dark as I passed through.

I finally got back home around 10pm on Friday night, exhausted but marvelling in the fact that I could travel by land from Barcelona in such a short amount of time.

Overall, the conference was an amazing experience. It was lovely to finally meet up with some previously ‘virtual’ contacts in real life, as well as to make some new, valuable connections with others that are tackling similar problems as IT leaders.

Aside from the Symposium/Xpo, this was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly project meeting with the team looking at the lease for a new office.
  • Joined a conversation with the Marketing team to talk about how to present a story on the tools being delivered by our cross-functional agile team.
  • Met with the vendor whose AI product we are considering for use within the organisation.
  • Joined our bi-weekly management meeting.
  • Decided to jump into Obsidian as my note taking app. I’ve been using Dynalist for a few years but am increasingly concerned that the data isn’t encrypted on the company’s servers. Obsidian allows you to set up an encrypted vault that can then be synced between devices. There’s a bit of a learning curve and I’m keen to not just replicate how I’ve been working in one app without taking advantage of the advanced features in the new app. I have my eye on The Sweet Setup’s To Obsidian and Beyond course, but the $197 price tag is making me wait until I can put some time aside to dive in.
  • Took advantage of a free seven-day subscription to Paramount+ in order to watch the Milli Vanilli movie. As an 11-year old boy, I loved their singles when they came out. The story is tragic, but it was great to see Fabrice Morvan performing and singing live at the end of the movie.
  • Had an impromptu family lunch with my parents who came over to Berkhamsted for a visit. It was so lovely to see them again.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match, the first time in half a year or so since I had last picked up the flag.
  • Won an eBay auction for an additional Ubiquiti Amplifi router. I’m planning on getting a wired connection between two rooms in my house and installing it there for better coverage. I can’t remember the last time I bid on an eBay auction for anything. It’s still exciting to watch the last few minutes tick down and to end up as the winner.

Next week: Back to the office, and Album Club time again.

Weeknotes #245 — Dog cat

The edge of Storm Ciarán brought the leaves fluttering down

The edge of Storm Ciarán brought the leaves fluttering down

A typically busy week that flew by. There’s a growing pressure to be in the office for the majority of the week. It’s not a new policy, so I resolved to park any debate and to just start doing it, upping my typical attendance from two days to three. I’ve been enjoying a mixture of office and home working over the past couple of years. The office environment is great, but every day I come in is a day that I don’t get the time to exercise. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after a few months.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent all of my available time between meetings to try to put some shape and structure around our office fit-out/refit programme. This is quickly becoming the most prominent initiative in our portfolio. Most of my thinking is done through creating something, in this case some simple Excel-based dashboards for each of the things we need to consider in each place. It seems so simple, but there’s a massive amount of utility that comes from having artefacts like this.
  • Had a number of meetings and debates about the vendor product that we are considering. We broadened the exposure by floating the idea with one of our front office teams, as well as having a separate demo and discussion with the vendor.
  • Attended the steering committee for a cybersecurity programme that we are running with a sister organisation.
  • Joined a kick-off meeting between our digital development team and the data team of another department to agree how we will work together.
  • Attended a half-day training session on Information Risk Management, run by a colleague from South Africa that I have been bumping into and working with over the past few months.
  • Joined our fortnightly Generative AI working group.
  • Took part in a cybersecurity ‘tabletop simulation’.
  • Caught up with our Account Manager at our primary technology partner, briefing each other on what’s been happening at our respective organisations.
  • Met with some technical contacts to unpack how two companies would be able to effectively share Teams Meeting Rooms. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to the problem, with every potential solution compromosing on either the technical/security aspects, the end-user experience, or both.
  • Wrestled with getting my head around the practical details of how we employ contractors now that they must be inside IR35. It’s complicated.
  • Enjoyed dinner with our new next-door neighbours who moved in a few weeks ago. It was lovely to get to know them a bit better.
  • Finished watching Barry. We ploughed through all four seasons in quick succession after hearing about the show. It’s a skilful balance between comedy and drama, with a big pivot halfway through the final season.
  • Started watching the Beckham documentary on Netflix. There’s something jarring about seeing footage from what feels like very recent events and realising how long ago they took place. The lack of mobile phones is striking in the footage of people collectively watching football matches at pubs and bars. I remember watching the 1998 England vs Argentina match in a pub and feeling the sense of disappointment and menace when we lost. Someone in the pub walked up to the TV and ripped the plug out of the wall by the cable. The public shaming and abuse that Beckham received afterwards was completely disproportionate to what had happened; as Rio Ferdinand points out in the documentary, mental wellbeing was not a topic that people openly talked about at the time.
  • Spoke to a friend who referees for the Hertfordshire Football Association. He told me that reports of referee abuse has tripled since the pandemic. It does seem that there’s some kind of collective PTSD that is driving people’s bad behaviour; COVID-19, Brexit, dreadful governments, the cost of living crisis and a sense that the country is falling apart probably all play a part.
  • Wondered whether we really do have a cat that thinks he is a dog. He craves attention, flopping himself next to me with his paws across my lap. A few years back, he demolished a whole jam doughnut that had been left on the kitchen worktop. This week he attacked a packet of mince pies. And I thought my sugar addiction was bad.

Waitrose Mince Pies — no match for a cat that thinks he’s a dog

Waitrose Mince Pies — no match for a cat that thinks he’s a dog

  • Wondered at the unbelievable power of machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data when I received this incredible phone notification:

Next week: Symposium.

📚 Finished reading Typeset In The Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies by Dave Addey. Addey’s name was familiar to me as he was involved in creating a music zine that originated at my university. This is a big coffee-table book which I’ve read in fits and starts over the past three years. It’s everything a geek could want: detailed deep-dives into a selection of sci-fi movies, deconstructing the typography and design in each one. It seems that if you use Eurostile Bold Extended you can’t go too far wrong.

Weeknotes #244 — Bristol

The Granary, Bristol

The Granary, Bristol

Four days in Berlin knocked me out. Prior to the trip, I’d already decided to take off an extra couple of days after I got back, as the rest of the family would be off work and school for half term. I’m so glad I did. Tuesday was spent pottering around the house in a daze. On Wednesday the four of us jumped in a car for a day trip to Bristol, to see my wife’s brother and his family.

We had a lovely day out. Vegan pizzas at the Left-Handed Giant brewpub were followed by extraordinary hot chocolates at neighbouring Ruby Hue’s. It was so great to see everyone and particularly to spend time with the youngest member of our extended family who has recently started to talk.

Left-Handed Giant labels. All of their beers have fantastic artwork.

Left-Handed Giant labels. All of their beers have fantastic artwork.

Who knew that hot chocolate could be so complex?

Who knew that hot chocolate could be so complex?

I got back to work on Thursday for a two-day week, still feeling out of sorts. I wondered whether I’d picked up an illness but with the benefit of hindsight I think I was just worn out.

This was a week in which I:

  • Joined a presentation to our Technology Executive Committee to give feedback on our recent ‘immersion’.
  • Met with a member of our Investment Banking team to talk through the AI components of a client’s business model.
  • Attended a kickoff workshop to look at simplifying the complex process of onboarding staff to the organisation.
  • Met with the Finance team to review the approach to a major project that we are running over the next couple of years.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of a proposed vendor contract with our Procurement department.
  • Continued the series of meetings with my product development and product management leads. It feels like we are making good progress in getting everything pointing in the same direction.
  • Met to discuss the status of one of our prototype products and how we will take it forward.
  • Gave yet another presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to a team of client-facing staff in Johannesburg.
  • Wondered who looks forward to eating jackfruit? It seems to be a staple vegetarian option in a cafe close to the office. I’ve never heard anyone drool at the sound of it, or say how much they are looking forward to it.
  • Went to my eldest son’s football match, my first of the season. He’s now playing in the Under 18’s, with players who span the ages of 16 to 18 years old. I couldn’t believe the amount of abuse that the referee got from the spectators and had to intervene at half time, siding with the ref and persuading him to stay for the second half.
  • Started to think about getting a new kitchen to replace our old and tired one.
  • Enjoyed a lovely meal out at Tabure in Berkhamsted with old friends. We felt a little unloved by the waiting staff as they seemed to leave us to our own devices for far too long. The manager told us that they are trying their best, but are struggling to find staff at the moment.
  • Had a visit from a neighbour’s cat who decided to make himself at home in my office.

Not my cat

Not my cat

Next week: Getting to know our neighbours.

Weeknotes #243 — Berlin

This week’s umlaut forecast: SIGNIFICANT.

Berlin’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower), seemingly visible from everywhere in the centre of the city.

Berlin’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower), seemingly visible from everywhere in the centre of the city.

A really busy week, which culminated in a trip to Berlin with my two brothers and my dad as our gift to him in celebration of his 70th birthday. After last year’s big family holiday, we figured that the best present would be to spend some more quality time together. It was wonderful, but I am exhausted.

Friday’s alarm went off just after 5am as I had a taxi picking me up an hour later. The week had been hectic, and I was already worn out before we got going. We’d collaborated on our schedule using a shared Apple Note; all that we had planned for the first day was dinner in the evening. It was great to land at the lounge and get some breakfast.

An early morning birthday toast at Heathrow

An early morning birthday toast at Heathrow

Berlin has so much to offer. It’s a city with an incredible history, but like London it blends this with modern architecture. Our hotel was situated next to the sparkling glass-clad Central Station, a short hop from the Bundeskanzleramt (German Chancellery) and Reichstag buildings. The accommodation was great — a very modern, classy, business-focused building with a decent bar and an excellent buffet.

After checking ourselves in, we asked the front desk for a recommendation for somewhere to grab a beer and a light bite to eat. They pointed us towards Lindenbräu in Potsdamer Platz. It’s a strange place to go for beer; the vibe was more ‘Saturday afternoon shopping experience’ than ‘traditional German bierkeller’, but we were too tired to start traipsing around the city. It was here that we met Jürgen, our dad’s doppelgänger. Over the course of several beers we established that both men were the same age, both semi-retired and working in order to keep themselves active and busy. Jürgen kept everyone’s glasses full and made us feel right at home.

Doppelgängers

Doppelgängers

In the evening we took a taxi across to Zur Letzten Instanz, ‘Berlin’s oldest restaurant’, which recently celebrated its 400th birthday. The food was excellent. The meat-eaters tucked into their first taste of traditional pork knuckle and I sampled the mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

Pork knuckle, mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

Pork knuckle, mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

The next morning we were up bright and early to take advantage of the hotel’s excellent buffet before heading out to meet our guide for a World War 2-themed walking tour. It was a quick couple of train stops to Hackescher Markt, the meeting place for Original Berlin Walks. James, our tour guide, was excellent. Half of the tour was close to the meeting point and the other was over towards the central government buildings.

We started at the Alter Jüdischer Friedhof (Old Jewish Cemetery). James explained that back in the 1700s, Jews were invited to come and live in Berlin. This cemetery was established around this time. Outside the cemetery there is a haunting sculpture called Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert.

Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert

Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert

Our next stop was The Missing House, the site of a residence that was bombed during World War 2. Artist Christian Boltanski installed plaques on the houses either side of the gap to show who lived there at the time of the bombing.

The Missing House

The Missing House

As we walked, we noticed the ‘stumbling stones’ that are placed in the pavement. This is a project of remembrance for victims of the Nazi extermination or persecution. The stones are placed at the last place that they lived or worked before they were taken. Each one is tiny story. Given how difficult it is to get one’s head around the magnitude of the violence and atrocities, I love how this project gives a slice of access into individual narratives.

Stumbling stones

Stumbling stones

A nearby park is home to a metal sculpture called The Deserted Room. It depicts a fragment of the scene of a room that has been deserted by its occupants who have been forcibly taken away. Our guide observed how the sculpture isn’t very prescriptive in terms of what it represents and how you should feel when you look at it; there is lots of room for interpretation and projection.

The Deserted Room

The Deserted Room

Our next stop was the New Synagogue, a surprisingly ostentatious building in central Berlin. Our guide relayed how the building was saved from arsonists during the November Pogrom on 9 November 1938 by Otto Bellgardt, a local police officer who was on duty that night. He ran into the building clutching some random papers from his desk which he claimed were orders to preserve it as a historical landmark, and to avoid the fire spreading to the post office a few buildings away. The vandals didn’t bother to read the documents and left, allowing the fire to be put out. Nobody understands why he did this.

New Synagogue, Berlin

New Synagogue, Berlin

We walked by the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof, the now ruined remains of a railway station that was used for thousands of deportations.

The ruined remains of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof

The ruined remains of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof

A few minutes walk brought us to Wilhelmstrasse, site of a striking memorial to Georg Elser. Elser had tried to assassinate Hitler in Munich in 1939 by putting a bomb under a stage where he was due to speak. Unfortunately, the weather was poor so Hitler decided to leave the venue early. His lucky escape was interpreted by Hitler as a sign that he was destined to continue towards his goals. Elser was kept alive until 1945 in anticipation of using him for propaganda in the form of a show trial. He was murdered four weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

Memorial to Georg Elser on Wilhelmstrasse

Memorial to Georg Elser on Wilhelmstrasse

We next came to the site of Hitler’s bunker. Fittingly, no traces of the bunker remain and it is now an unremarkable car park.

Site of the Führerbunker

Site of the Führerbunker

Our next stop was the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s another artistic work that is not prescriptive — the 2,711 concrete blocks that make up the site are open to interpretation, in both their form and number. At the edges of the installation the blocks are relatively short; as you move towards the center of the matrix, along the uneven paths, they begin to tower over you. Towards the Tiergarten some trees appear, blending the memorial with its surroundings. It’s a moving and affecting place.

At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Towards the centre of the At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Towards the centre of the At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Later in the day, once our tour had finished, we came back to visit the Information Centre located under the memorial. It is the opposite of the sculpture in that it contains lots of information about the Holocaust, with photographs, letters and other exhibits from the period. In ‘The Room of Names’, every minute the name of a victim is shown on the walls as an audio biography is read out. With the amount of information currently held by the Centre, cycling through the names takes a staggering six years, seven months and 27 days.

We had a couple of stops left on our tour. Wandering past the Brandenburg Gate, crossing over a line of stones in the road that denoted the previous location of the Berlin Wall, we found ourselves in front of the Soviet War Memorial. Two T-34 tanks are located in front of the memorial, one on each side; apparently they are meant to be the first two Soviet tanks to enter Berlin in 1945. The site is located in what was the British sector of the city, but Soviet guards were allowed to stand watch on the site. The city is such a mishmash influences, something we found over and over again on our visit.

The Soviet War Memorial, Tiergarten

The Soviet War Memorial, Tiergarten

Our last stop was the Reichstag building, site of the German parliament. The building played a pivotal role in the Nazi rise to power, with a fire in the building in 1933 being blamed on Communists, pushing the President to give Hitler additional powers as a result. Our guide showed us a fascinating photo of a soldier raising the Soviet flag on the roof of the building in 1945. The photo was used as propaganda. However, if you look closely you will see that the person helping the soldier to raise the flag is wearing two watches, implying that he had stolen from someone — presumably a victim of the fighting. The photo was later edited to remove one of the watches.

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei, 2 May 1945

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei, 2 May 1945

Today, the Reichstag has a transparent glass roof, allowing visitors to see into the work of the parliament below. Our guide said that it was a deliberate design decision, offering transparency in stark contrast to the the way that the Nazi regime operated. It’s a beautiful building with a fascinating history.

The Reichstag building

The Reichstag building

Next to the Reichstag is another memorial, one which we would have missed if it hadn’t been pointed out to us. Jagged slabs of metal stick out from the floor, each one representing a member of the Reichstag who was murdered between 1933 and 1945.

Memorial to the Murdered Members of the Reichstag

Memorial to the Murdered Members of the Reichstag

It was an incredible four hours. So good, in fact, that we decided to book ourselves on another of the company’s walking tours the next day, this time to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial.

This trip started an hour earlier as it involved a 45 minute train ride out of Berlin to the town of Oranienburg. Gregor was our guide for the day, a Berliner by birth who was still living in the city. Our tour party had almost twice as many people as the previous one, with people from India, Taiwan, South Korea, the USA, Columbia, Guatemala and many other countries joining us for the trip.

Oranienburg seemed to be an unremarkable suburban town. We walked a mile or so from the station, along a main road and through residential streets before stopping in a cul-de-sac. Here, past the end of the row of houses, was the entrance to the former concentration camp site. It was startling in its plainness.

Hans-Von-Dohnanyi-Straße, Oranienburg. The entrance to the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp can be seen at the end of the street.

Hans-Von-Dohnanyi-Straße, Oranienburg. The entrance to the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp can be seen at the end of the street.

Our guide explained how the camp served as a design experiment and training centre for SS officers. The layout of the camp was such that all of the barracks ‘faced’ the central tower, known as ‘Tower A’, which was mounted with a machine gun. This meant that the prisoners would feel as though they were being watched at all times.

Looking at a map of the camp

Looking at a map of the camp

Walking towards the main entrance to the camp we saw that the adjacent former SS camp is now used for the Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences. A sign that faced the fence separating the two locations explained why:

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences (www.fhpolbb.de) has been located here on the grounds of the former SS camp adjacent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial since 2006. The prime educational objective is commitment to the primary principle of the Basic Law: Human dignity is inviolable. As part of their studies students learn about the history of what happened here and the crimes committed by the police under the Nazi regime.

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences

The site itself was overwhelming in its scale, both physically and in terms of the dreadful things that happened there. We had a look at the main entrance tower and saw how the SS would have had a full view of the camp, at least initially until it was later extended. Inmates would be lined up in front of the tower to be counted twice a day, with the counts sometimes lasting for hours. A semicircle of rugged terrain was used by prisoners to test shoes for many hours at a time.

View from the tower

View from the tower

Beneath the tower is a gate with the phrase arbeit macht frei (‘work sets you free’) which is found in many Nazi concentration camps.

The entrance gate to the camp

The entrance gate to the camp

We learned about the ’neutral zone’, a perimeter area of the camp upon which, if you were found there, you could be shot without warning.

The ‘neutral zone’

The ‘neutral zone’

Much of the camp was destroyed by the Soviet Union after the fall of Berlin, but the outline of the buildings remain. The buildings that are still standing, or have been reconstructed, serve as museum pieces with various artefacts and narratives on display.

Site of the former prison within the camp — a prison within a prison

Site of the former prison within the camp — a prison within a prison

Site of one of the barracks

Site of one of the barracks

The Soviets repurposed the site, adding a gigantic concrete obelisk and statue in memorial to the victims of the Nazis. The site was used for celebrations of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during Soviet rule.

Soviet obelisk and statue inside Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Soviet obelisk and statue inside Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Our tour finished with a visit to ‘Station Z’, named as a sick joke by the Nazis as the final place that the prisoners would go to after they began their time at the camp by entering through Tower A. The area consisted of an execution trench as well as the remains of buildings that were used to systematically execute and burn thousands of people. Despite looking at it in person, it was so difficult to comprehend and feel what had happened here. Our guide made the point that without visitors who are willing to see the site, to learn and to remember, it is just a pile of bricks and statues. The act of us taking the time to go there was important.

Our tour lasted six hours. Having a well-informed guide was excellent, but there was still so much that we didn’t see and didn’t read as we were under a little bit of time pressure to get back for our train.

It was a very heavy day. After getting back to the city, we needed some light relief, so we made our way to a riverside bar to talk and unwind.

Berlin is an incredible place. There is modernity, history and complexity at every turn.

Our favourite building, right next to our hotel and the main train station. A beautiful glass cube with restaurants and cafes at the base.

Our favourite building, right next to our hotel and the main train station. A beautiful glass cube with restaurants and cafes at the base.

Through the rest of the trip we found ourselves singing in the amusingly bizarre Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar

To the extreme...

To the extreme…

…gazing out across Berlin from the roof of the Futurium

On top of the Futurium. The glass dome of the Reichstag building is right behind me.

On top of the Futurium. The glass dome of the Reichstag building is right behind me.

…spotting the route of where the Berlin Wall used to be…

The site of the Berlin Wall is marked by cobblestones across the city

The site of the Berlin Wall is marked by cobblestones across the city

…and visiting a surviving section of the Wall which had been turned into an open air art gallery.

Section of the Berlin Wall painted with artwork from Pink Floyd’s The Wall

Section of the Berlin Wall painted with artwork from Pink Floyd’s The Wall

I also enjoyed a 10km run with one of my brothers on the last morning of our trip.

In our four days know that we only scratched the surface of all of the things that the city offers. I’d love to go back.

The Reichstag at sunset

The Reichstag at sunset

Aside from the trip, this was a week in which I:

  • Welcomed my wife back from her own long weekend away with her friends. On Monday I had to delay getting out of the house and into London until after I’d made sure that the boys were well on their way to school.
  • Consolidated information and revised the materials for an initiative that we may undertake with a vendor. I’ve got some meetings set up to review them and agree on next steps.
  • Continued work with my product development and product management functions to bring them closer together.
  • Reviewed the summary of a business case for a software deployment by our infrastructure team.
  • Worked on some slides for an IT-department wide initiative.
  • Completed a document that presents an overview of my team’s capabilities/services, products and current initiatives.
  • Attended Microsoft-led training on their 365 Copilot product.
  • Decided to move our ‘clear writing’ training to the start of next year, giving us the time to plan and schedule it properly.
  • Attended a webinar from BIE Executive on Challenging the norms to create real inclusion.

  • Had a second Virgin Media TV box installed, part of the new contract that they gave me for the same price as the last one.
  • Enjoyed a random coffee with a high-profile member of the WB-40 podcast community who had some very unusual challenges ahead of him.

Next week: A trip to Bristol, two days in the office — and catching up with weeknotes, as I’m now a week behind.

📚 Finished reading Chip War by Chris Miller. A superb overview of the history of the semiconductor industry from its beginnings to the present day. Having read and listened to Stratechery and Sharp Tech over the past few years I think I already had a good grasp on recent events, but it was interesting to go a little deeper on the historical context.

Weeknotes #242 — Work is like water

Monday morning commuting fun

Monday morning commuting fun

This week I’ve been thinking about how giving up my role as a school governor a couple months ago hasn’t resulted in me feeling like I’ve got any more spare time. The cognitive load must have lifted, but I’m not living a life of leisure. Work is like water in that it floods into whatever gaps are created.

There is so much to do at so many levels. At times this week it has been difficult to balance my attempt to draw and articulate the top-down ‘big picture’ stuff versus contributing to some of our individual projects. I think the top-down work will ultimately have to take priority; it will give me, and the wider team, a framework to think about everything that’s going on. It’s helpful that some of the initiatives have very hard deadlines as this will give us a skeleton to build our planning around.

It’s been a strange weekend, with my wife away on holiday and both of my sons being away from home for a night. There’s a mental pressure to make the most of the time when other people aren’t around. I like to think of myself as a person who enjoys his own company and just gets on with things, but it is a bit weird when the structure and buzz of the house disappears.

This was a week in which I:

  • Hosted the CEO of a major desktop and collaboration equipment manufacturer at our office, along with two members of his senior team. We love their products and they were interested to find out what we have been doing with them. We used the opportunity to more formally introduce our own company the services that we provide. It was great to see our Technology team move so far away from being “the people that fix the Wi-Fi”.
  • Got involved in a number of meetings for the project to renew an office lease and refresh the space in that office. We met a vendor to give feedback on what does and doesn’t work in the areas that we share with other building tenants as it is an opportunity to re-think the design.
  • Created a simple analysis of the usage data for our shared meeting rooms as input into the redesign process.
  • Met with our Company Secretary to get brought up to speed with our project to establish a new office.
  • Found myself nominated as the spokesperson for our department at the quarterly Technology ‘offsite’ meeting. I only had two evenings to prepare a script to go with the slides we had already submitted. I’m so thankful that Microsoft 365 exists; it allowed me to create an outline in a Word document, share the link with the team and then watch as everyone contributed directly into the document at the time it was convenient to them. On Tuesday night I went through and edited the whole thing before I presented on Wednesday.
  • Enjoyed the ‘offsite’ better than any that I have attended. Most of the team were together in an auditorium in Johannesburg, with a small number of us dialled into a Teams meeting. The production of the session was incredible; we had three or four camera operators in the room which gave us a real sense of being there, along with someone who could switch between showing slides and our video feeds as needed. It was probably about as good as it could have been without actually being there in the room. The content from all of the teams was also excellent.
  • Had a series of calls with an external vendor as we try and further refine the proposal for a new service.
  • Reviewed a proposal from two internal teams who are looking to collaborate on a common internal product.
  • Attended a meeting with a cross-functional working group for a product that we have prototyped and agreed how we will get it to the next stage.
  • Joined meetings to receive feedback from review by a cybersecurity vendor.
  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to another internal team, this time a group of client-facing staff based in Johannesburg.
  • Discussed how we enable the Microsoft Copilot AI tools on our desktops. Getting a licence means that Copilot shows shown up in Teams as well as the mobile iOS/iPadOS applications, but to use it on the desktop you need to be on the current or monthly update channels.
  • Finally finished and published an internal blog post calling for colleagues to put cameras on in meetings. I started the post months ago but was triggered into finishing it following a broad technology chat with our COO.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a recent joiner in our New York office who has worked for the company for over a decade.
  • Met with a colleague’s son who is looking for guidance about what to do after he finishes his university placement year. I don’t have any answers, just a story about what I’ve done and some reassurance that it will probably work out ok.
  • Continued the meeting series between our heads of Product and Engineering.
  • Took my wife for a check-up following her cataract operation a few weeks ago. She now has “better than 20/20 vision” in that eye, a remarkable turnaround after nearly losing her sight.
  • Went along to two different online Album Club evenings that happened to get booked back to back. We heard the eponymous first album by Broken Bells as well as O by Damien Rice. I remember a copy of O floating around my flat around 2003; someone must have dropped it there in a “You have to listen to this!” moment but I never got around to playing it. Twenty years later and I’ve discovered that it’s quite lovely.
  • Felt proud of my eldest boy who has been accepted onto the England Athletics Youth Talent Programme. He, along with three other members of his running club, spent the weekend at Loughborough University for the first of their National Training Days. From their feedback it all sounds very impressive.
  • Had a no-show from a plumber that was due to come and fix a toilet that has been in need of repair for a few months. I’ve never been through such a painful process than trying to get this fixed.

Next week: Squeezing five days into four.

Weeknotes #241 — Gang of Four

On Friday evening a friend and I drove into London to catch the Gang of Four gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. My desire to go was based entirely on the strength of their song  I Love a Man in a Uniform from 1982:

We got there halfway through first act Hallan’s set; things were already getting loud. Next up were The Miki Berenyi Trio. I recognised some of their songs from Split, Lush’s excellent record that I first heard at Album Club some years ago. And then it was time for Gang of Four.

The gig was incredible. My friend and I sat there open-mouthed as they ran through their songs. Hard-edged and funky, with an incredible performance by all of the members of the band. We couldn’t stop foot tapping. At one point, a microwave was wheeled onto the stage and lead singer Jon King proceeded to batter and destroy it with a baseball bat throughout a song. I have no idea why.

I’ve since listened to their 1990 compilation A Brief History of the 20th Century and can’t recommend it highly enough.

This was a week in which I:

  • Dealt with Monday morning train shenanigans. I ended up getting on one that was trying to accommodate its usual compliment of commuters as well as those from the two cancelled trains before it. Tempers were frayed, with people on train platforms swearing at those packed into the spaces near the doors. So very 2019.
  • Drew up a model of my recently expanded department and reviewed it with my management team. Lots of good feedback means that a second draft is now in the works.
  • Resumed a series of meetings to help align product and engineering management within my team.
  • Met with our head of Investment Banking and our CIO to review the proposal for investing in a new AI-powered tool.
  • Continued to plan for a move to a new office in one of our locations, and created a brain dump of all of the things we need to consider for the build-out of the space.
  • Spent time with a senior client-facing team to look at how they manage their documentation. Learning how people work is always fascinating. The session gave me some great insights into how we can refine the approach that we plan to promote to everyone in our division.
  • Got access to Microsoft 365 Copilot and started experimenting with it in Microsoft Teams chats.
  • Had a lovely catch-up with a colleague who is leading our company’s API strategy and tooling.
  • Planned and delivered our weekly Learning Hour session on the topic of the information available to us through Gartner.
  • Got everything out of my head for our planned clear writing training and shared the content with our training vendor.
  • Reviewed where we are with setting up our own version of the Thoughtworks Technology Radar.
  • Joined the fortnightly Generative AI working group meetings.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for planning our ‘town hall’ session at the end of November.
  • Joined a technology meeting on the topic of Environmental, Social and Governance investing.
  • Fixed the timing of our digital signage carousels so that they aren’t chopping and changing too quickly.
  • Felt great on my weekly club bike ride, smashing out personal bests on some well-known local hills. What a difference a week makes.

Next week: Meeting a CEO, an all-day hybrid workshop, an online Album Club, and getting stuck into all of the content I need to produce.

📚 Finished reading Listen To My Heart by Marie Fredriksson. I grew up listening to the early Roxette albums at the end of the 1980s/start of the 1990s and have always been a fan, despite my school friends thinking that being into Roxette wasn’t cool. I imagine that I would have had more hassle from my friends if the band had stuck with the name ‘Exciting Cheeses’.

What happened to Fredriksson two decades ago with her brain tumour was so shocking; it was incredible that she made it back to live performances, despite needing to be seated towards the end of her performing years. She lost the ability to read and write, so the book is ‘as told’ to Helena von Zweigbergk. I didn’t feel that it covered the Roxette years in much depth, but perhaps that was inevitable. Fredriksson’s reflection on how everyone in the modern world is “completely engrossed in their computers” — their phones — when this is something inaccessible to her was quite sobering.

Weeknotes #240 — PJ Phillips

PJ Harvey and band at the Roundhouse, London, 28 September 2023

PJ Harvey and band at the Roundhouse, London, 28 September 2023

My life is filled with so much music at the moment. In some ways it’s like being a teenager again. I seem to spend most of my spare cash on vinyl, CDs, downloads and tickets to gigs. I’m now in three different album clubs, which means that typically there will be three nights in a month where I will sit down and dedicate to intently listening to an album. I love it.

This week I heard a Velvet Underground album for the first time, as our album club host had picked Loaded for us to listen to. It was superb. Hearing Lou Reed sing “fine, fine music” in Rock And Roll made me think of Kill The King by Lena Deluxe and reminded me to check out her album from a few years ago.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were spent with two of my best friends. We went to see PJ Harvey play her new album plus a selection of her old songs at the Roundhouse in London. It’s an incredible venue but could benefit from a sloped floor — we ended up behind some tall guys and people with massive barnets which meant that we were straining to see her as she moved around the stage. The music and performance of the whole band was incredible. Hearing The Words That Maketh Murder was electrifying.

Photo taken with my phone held very much aloft in order to avoid the giant-haired people directly in front of me.

Photo taken with my phone held very much aloft in order to avoid the giant-haired people directly in front of me.

The next day we found ourselves in the basement of Pizza Express in Holborn to see Grant-Lee Phillips. I’ve been listening to his music since Grant-Lee Buffalo’s Mighty Joe Moon album in the mid-1990s but had never seen him live. The venue is absolutely beautiful — it has a classic intimate jazz-club vibe — and was a perfect setting for him and his guitar. Hearing so many songs that I’ve loved for years sung by someone so close that you could almost reach out and grab them was something special. His voice and his music are criminally underrated.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Pizza Express Live, London, 29 September 2023

Grant-Lee Phillips, Pizza Express Live, London, 29 September 2023

I do wonder whether I should be prioritising even more time to music as I love it so much. I spend a significant part of my week with podcasts on politics and current affairs but I’m not sure it does me much good. It’s great to be informed, but life is short; I get the feeling that it would be better spent with music than hearing about the latest drama happening in the world.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got back to work after a week out of the office, catching up with the team on what was going on.
  • Created and a short summary of risks related to Generative AI and Large Language Models, much of it based on the recent book by Baldur Bjarnason, and published it to our internal working group.
  • Gave my Digital Literacy presentation on Generative AI and Large Language Models twice, to one of our Executive Committees and one of our regional offices. I’ve now covered everyone in our part of the business, having given the presentation around 25 times.
  • Reviewed a draft set of learning patterns and frameworks that we plan to offer to the rest of our department.
  • Looked at the Planview roadmap functionality and reviewed a proof-of-concept that the team had pulled together last week. Got SSO working with Roadmaps and AgilePlace again after we discovered that the settings of the former override the latter.
  • Attended a town hall meeting for our part of the business and heard some wonderful stories of the work we have been doing with, and for, our clients. We had some lovely office drinks and chats afterwards.
  • Met with the project team who are coordinating our Technology town hall meeting in November.
  • Extended our finance tracker out to 2024 given that the end of the year is fast approaching.
  • Reviewed and updated my open operational risks.
  • Had our monthly Lean Coffee session.
  • Attended the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Scoped out a draft agenda for the Gartner IT Symposium in November.
  • Enjoyed a lovely ‘random coffee’ with a fellow member of the WB-40 podcast community.
  • Completed my tax return. Always takes more time and effort to think about it than it does to do it.
  • Had an eventful Saturday morning club bike ride. Halfway round I felt as though I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs and found myself coughing, spluttering and unable to keep up with the group. I’d had a Barry White voice on Friday and had just put it down to too many late nights, but this seemed like some kind of bug. Two COVID-19 tests were both negative and by Sunday I was feeling a lot better. A couple of other cyclists in our group got stung or bitten by insects and one of them has had a nasty reaction, his face blowing up like a balloon.
  • Had a wonderful dinner with friends on Saturday night that featured a banoffee pie of epic proportions.
  • Deleted my Clubhouse account. I think we knew at the time it took off during the pandemic that it was just a fad.
  • Tried to diagnose some home network problems where everything felt like it was being transmitted through treacle. Rebooted the router. Unplugged it and plugged it back in again. Restarted both of my Pi-holes one after the other. Changed our Internet DNS from OpenDNS to 1.1.1.1 for Families. Nothing seemed to make any difference. Finally tried rebooting the Virgin Media router — which is running in ‘modem mode’, so I assumed wouldn’t have a significant role to play in terms of network performance — and it all suddenly started working fine. I wish there was an easier way to investigate where network bottlenecks and issues are.

Next week: Seeing Gang of Four and making some big project decisions.

Weeknotes #239 — Immersion

Hello Johannesburg!

Hello Johannesburg!

Spent the entire week in South Africa with colleagues from our Technology and Digital teams to take part in an inaugural ‘Digital Immersion’. Organised in conjunction with The Field Institute, we spent time with a variety of companies in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In Johannesburg we met Motus, Teraflow.ai, the Innovation Leadership Group, Covalense Global, SuperUltra and ThoughtLab. Cape Town was our base for meeting with Shoprite Holdings, Predictive Insights, Thought Machine and UVU Africa. As they say in South Africa, it was a ‘hectic’ week, with early starts, coach journeys to the venues, intense sessions, working lunches and little personal time in the evenings. By the time I got on board the plane to head home on Friday night I was ready to drop.

Shoprite Technology

Shoprite Technology

Although I’d been to South Africa many times over the years, I had never ventured beyond the few square miles around the airport and our offices in Johannesburg, so I was excited to head down to Cape Town. It’s a two hour flight further south, which means cooler temperatures. The cloudy and drizzly weather, along with the buildings along the sea front, reminded me of an English seaside town. The famous Table Mountain didn’t reveal itself to me until the last day because of the low-lying clouds.

Cloudy Cape Town

Cloudy Cape Town

People told me that from a cultural perspective, Cape Town it is akin to San Francisco; I saw a little bit of this through the weird and wonderful people at a local karaoke bar near to our hotel. I couldn’t resist getting up and trying my hand at Build Me Up Buttercup, but only after checking whether everyone else there would be likely to know it.1

Fun in Cape Town

Fun in Cape Town

On Wednesday I started feeling unwell and ended up not eating much at all for a couple of days. This made an already intense week that little bit more difficult, but by Thursday evening I had started to recover.

Aside from the companies and people that we met, there was so much value in being there in person with colleagues from across our division of our company. Old friendships were deepened, new ones were formed, and we made each other think, smile and laugh in equal measure.

It’s going to take some time to process my thoughts — and my notes — from the trip.

Goodbye Cape Town!

Goodbye Cape Town!

Next week: Normal schedule resumes, including an online Album Club and two (two!) gigs to attend.


  1. Wikipedia told me that it had been a number three hit in South African 1968, so I figured I was on safe-ish ground.