Generative AI just doing its thing. Simple question, two ‘market leading’ models from the same vendor, opposite answers.

Side-by-side screenshots of ChatGPT 4o and ChatGPT 4 being asked “Is it legal to drive a car in the UK with ‘L’ plates if you are not learning to drive?” 4o responded: “In the UK, it is illegal to drive a car with ‘L’ plates (learner plates) if you are not a learner driver. The ‘L’ plates are specifically intended to indicate that the driver is a learner and must be supervised by a qualified driver. Once you have passed your driving test and obtained your full driving license, you are required to remove the ‘L’ plates from your vehicle. Failure to do so can result in penalties, including fines and points on your license.” Whereas 4 responded: “In the UK, it is not illegal to drive a car with 'L' plates if you are not a learner driver, as long as you are fully qualified and hold a full driving license. However, 'L' plates should be used by learner drivers only and must be removed or covered when the learner is not driving. Using 'L' plates when not learning to drive could potentially confuse other road users and might lead to misunderstandings about the driver's experience and behavior on the road. It is advisable to use 'L' plates appropriately to avoid any confusion or potential issues while driving.”

📚 Finished reading PWNED by Troy Hunt. I can’t quite remember how I stumbled across his work; it was probably via a link from a Twitter post to his brilliant ‘;–have i been pwned? service. It’s been fascinating to learn about data breaches and disclosure processes, Internet of Things adventures, 3D printing, public speaking, travelling the world and so much more through his weekly update podcast, which I’ve listened to for at least half a decade now. This wonderful book brings together a collection of his blog posts as well as introductions, epilogues and comments to each one. If you’re remotely interested in information security or carving your own path away from a corporate job, this is well worth your time.

Weeknotes #281 — Crumpled

Our local second hand bookshop always has the most splendid window display of topical books, coordinated this time with the British Grand Prix.
Our local second hand bookshop always has the most splendid window display of topical books, coordinated this time with the British Grand Prix.

Another difficult week. I’m feeling a little crumpled by the weight of work at the moment, something that hasn’t happened in years. July was always going to be a difficult month with the amount of change that our projects are running through the organisation. It’s not a surprise, but it still feels difficult. I’ve found myself waking up somewhere between 4am and 5am, struggling to get back to sleep.

I’m typically in the office three days a week and usually end up being one of the last to leave. I cover the same hours at home, but the difference is that my commute is 30 seconds from my home office versus 90 minutes on the train. Later this year there is likely to be a push to get staff into the office at least four days a week. When we get to that point I’m going to need to try and adjust to getting out of the office at a reasonable time so that I don’t just get to see my family at weekends.

My colleagues and team members are excellent. Most of us have worked together for many years, which makes delivering a complex programme so much easier. Autonomy and division of responsibility are features of what we do. I’ve also brought in some external management assistance for our two main projects which has made things much easier. Most of the time I don’t need to micromanage or chase people up for things. But despite the load that the team are carrying, there is still too much left on my plate.

At the back end of the week my wife and I found ourselves home alone for a couple of evenings, a little sample of the future. Our youngest boy had gone to the Peak District for his Duke of Edinburgh expedition and our eldest was up in Birmingham, running for Hertfordshire in the English Schools Athletic Association Track and Field Championships. On Friday we had a lovely impromptu dinner out in town. Both of us were exhausted, falling asleep in front of the TV by 10pm. Hopefully we won’t be quite as worn out by the time we get to retire.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met to run through the pre-construction programme plan for changes to one of our offices.
  • Reviewed the scope of our major programme with our Procurement team.
  • Gave an overview and update on our programme to our divisional CFO.
  • Met the divisional CFO again in a town hall meeting, hearing about his career and his view of our priorities.
  • Was thrown a curveball from another company which means that we need to modify one of our plans.
  • Prepared for and chaired a short Programme Steering Committee meeting. Getting into executive diaries is a problem that gets much more difficult as the summer months approach. Big decisions were made at the meeting, resulting in work to replan one of our projects.
  • Had the first of a series of meetings with individual teams in one of our offices, taking them through the background to one of our key projects, explaining how the changes will impact them and fielding questions. We’ve got four or five more of these sessions lined up for the start of next week.
  • Reviewed the responses to a request for quotation that we issued the week before and agreed our follow-up actions.
  • Helped a colleague with a niche Office Timeline issue. I love it when someone says “don’t just do it for me, please show me how to do it.”
  • Had conversations with members of our HR teams on a vacancy that I have in my team.
  • Had our regular catch-up with our Non-Financial Risk team.
  • Spent time looking at a long-running document management project, agreeing an approach and next steps with the project team ahead of talking to representatives from each of the departments who will be impacted by the proposed changes.
  • Concluded that quality coffee is not my thing. I’ve been conducting a small unscientific experiment, trying americanos with oat milk from various coffee shops on my way into the office. I’ve had brews from Blank Street, Rosslyn and Dartbrooke, all shops of some renown. I consistently find the taste of the coffee to be too strong, too bitter, with an unattractive curdling of the oat milk. Starbucks was by far and away the most enjoyable. It’s not you, good coffee, it’s me.
  • Was too tired to contemplate getting up early for a sixth day in a row to go on the weekly cycling club ride. I love it when I’m out there but I couldn’t summon the energy, particularly as it was going to be yet another grey and damp day, in a summer filled with grey and damp days.
  • Enjoyed hosting Album Club, having picked an album that split the room.

Media

Podcasts

  • It was interesting to hear Lisa Nandy speaking to Matt Forde in 2022 when she was the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, passionately talking about towns and communities not being left behind. I wonder whether part of the solution to distribute wealth and spending into more parts of the country could be to give white collar workers more rights to live and work remotely?

Articles

  • Ian Dunt writes about how campaigning for proportional representation is still the right thing to do, despite it meaning that our voices will be united with the most unsavoury parties in parliament. I often wonder whether the Brexit referendum would have happened if the UK Independence Party had been represented appropriately in parliament; in the 2015 general election they had 3.9m votes, 12.6% of the total, and yet only ended up with one of the 650 members of Parliament. I disagree with UKIP, the Brexit Party and Reform UK with every bone in my body, but I do not think it’s democratic for such disproportional representation. Having them in parliament with the light shone on them, needing to work with other parties in order to get anywhere near power would likely have neutralised them and left the main parties to focus on their traditional centrist policies.
  • Project 2025 looks like a nightmare. When I read Heather Burns’ 2023 end-of-year reading list I made a note of the books as I thought they seemed interesting. I’m now prioritising them, starting with Barbara F. Walter’s How Civil Wars Start, as I can now see more clearly why she made the list that she did.

I hate to break it to you, but you need to be preparing for the very real prospect of the second Trump presidency.

And to bring it full circle, you need to be preparing for what a second Trump presidency will likely mean for internet governance and infrastructure.

This goes well beyond platform T&Cs, or culture wars over content moderation, or pushes for surveillance disguised as child safety. This goes to what happens when the country which happens to host most global platforms, and a good chunk of physical infrastructure, either splits into 1990s Yugoslavia or splits into 1920s Germany. Because it’s going to be one or the other. Whether you want to deal with that or not.

Video

  • We’ve been enjoying Kin on Netflix, an Irish crime drama. It’s interesting to watch this so soon after The Dry as it has some of the same actors in the form of Cairán Hinds and Sam Keeley. They are superb, being quite believable in very different roles.

Audio

  • Magdalena Bay announcing a new album resulted in an instant purchase from me. It comes out in August, giving me three months to get to know the songs before I see them live in November. I love them.
  • I’d forgotten how good All About Eve’s In The Meadow is. I bought a second hand copy of their debut album on vinyl a few weeks ago. The record is missing a couple of songs that are on the CD, so this song finishes things off, and does it in style.

Next week: Turning the handle again.

Weeknotes #280 — Relief

Polling Day in Bloomsbury, 4 July 2024
Polling Day in Bloomsbury, 4 July 2024

Work continues to be tough. Every day feels like a battle, ticking things off the to-do list and trying to keep our projects moving forward. Most of my regular working day is spent in meetings, leaving a few small gaps and the time after work to get things done like reviewing documents, preparing information and drafting communications. Sometimes I look at my diary for the week ahead and wonder how I will get to Friday evening having done all of the things I need to. Somehow it happens.

Mostly meetings. Is this normal?
Mostly meetings. Is this normal?

Trying to keep focused was supremely difficult as we went into Thursday’s General Election. I had my fingers crossed for a good outcome. I’d already voted a couple of weeks ago by post. In 2019 I voted for the Green Party in the knowledge that my constituency was going to return a Conservative MP as it had done in every election since it was created in 1950. They didn’t have a hope of winning, but I wanted to register that I saw the climate emergency as the biggest crisis that we face. This year, a boundary change meant that I am now in the newly-created Harpenden and Berkhamsted constituency. If the constituency had been around in 2019 it would also have been Conservative, so initially I didn’t have much hope that it would change. Tactical voting websites showed me that the Liberal Democrats would be the ones most likely to topple the Conservatives here, so they got my vote. And they won, spectacularly. Victoria Collins is our new MP.

On Thursday night I went to bed at my usual time but had a restless sleep, knowing that the election result would be revealed to me when I woke up. A few times I stirred, wondered what time it was, checked my watch, saw it was the middle of the night and resisted the temptation to pick up my phone, rolling over to try and get back to sleep. The exit poll and the early declarations in Sunderland had spooked me, with the far-right party company Reform UK being predicted to win 13 out of our 650 seats. What if the poll was wrong and they ended up with many more? I expelled a giant sigh of relief when they only ended up with five. My hope is that now they are in the spotlight, needing to meet parliamentary standards and actually do things for the constituents that they represent, they will be seen for what they are. I feel so sorry for the constituencies that elected them.

Watching Keir Starmer on the steps of 10 Downing Street, and in his press conference the next day, a feeling of relief washed over me. There is a lightness knowing that we have competent, decent, grown-up people running the country once more. I haven’t felt like this for a very long time. There is hope again, where it has been so long since there has been reason to be hopeful. Of course, the new government won’t get everything right and I’m sure they will have their own demons. There are very difficult times ahead immediately. But it’s the turn of a page and I am absolutely here for it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with two of our vendors to discuss a ‘change tracker’ for construction works we plan to do at one of our offices.
  • Had to move our programme Steering Committee meeting out by a few days as we didn’t have enough attendees. I’m grateful for the additional time to put the material together.
  • Took part in a final review of the plan to vacate one of our offices for essential works and to set up temporary space for us to work from.
  • Met with our management team to review our collective travel schedule for the rest of the year.
  • Met with our Procurement team to discuss our planned technical/AV fit-out of two rooms in a shared area of one of our buildings.
  • Completed work on the documents proposing how the rooms will be fitted out and run from a technical, financial and operational perspective and sent this to the company with whom we share the space.
  • Had a walkthrough of the latest financial estimates for one of our big construction projects.
  • Met with the technical representative from a vendor whose product we want to trial as part of our meeting room set-up. The product can exist completely outside of our network, which makes life much easier from a cybersecurity perspective.
  • Had another discussion about mandatory compliance call recording in Teams and the options available.
  • Took part in an interview for a technical role in our Johannesburg team.
  • Met with a colleague to brainstorm our approach to document reorganisation across our business unit and how we can use it to streamline our client on-boarding processes.
  • Met with our whole team to discuss the company’s intent to push on with a ‘return to office’ agenda.
  • Had my regular check-in with our technology research and advisory vendor.
  • Caught up with a colleague in Johannesburg. It was interesting to learn that while she is in great demand as a public speaker, she doesn’t like doing it due to the burden of anxiety before and after.
  • Enjoyed this week’s Learning Hour session where a colleague fed back about their experience at the Salesforce World Tour.
  • Had a Random Coffee with a brilliant colleague who studied journalism, joined our organisation as a PA and is now managing clients.
  • Ran our fortnightly team meeting as our usual meeting chair was on holiday.
  • Met with a young boy who was visiting us for his work experience. I was almost the last person on his timetable, so I tried not to bore him by going over the same ground that he would have heard from everyone else. I think that most of the experience is not about the content but more about interacting with adults in a professional setting.
  • Opted for indoor bike training this weekend due to the dreadful weather. The rain made for a brilliant British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but I wasn’t going cycling in it.
  • Enjoyed a weekend of TV sport, with the key F1 sessions being timed perfectly around the Euro 2024 football.
  • Did a bit of preparation for hosting next week’s Album Club. I think I know what I’m going to play, but it’s a bad time to find out that my CD player is on the blink.

Media

Podcasts

There’s a real need for a certain humility here. I always think if you hear a confident pronouncement from somebody that AI could never be conscious or AI is conscious, then I think we should be pretty skeptical.

There are no grounds for extreme confidence either way here. The consequences of being wrong about the fact of the matter, about AI actually being conscious are huge, which is another reason we need to respect this humility. If AI is on a path to being conscious or already slightly conscious as Ilya Sutskever puts it, then we face a moral and ethical catastrophe of kind of unprecedented proportion, and that sounds very dramatic, but I think it’s warranted.

As soon as something is conscious, it has moral considerability. It has its own interests. It plausibly has the potential to experience suffering, and it may be suffering of a kind that we won’t or constitutively unable to recognize because of the very different constitution of these systems. If we artificially bring new forms of suffering into existence through developing real artificial consciousness, well, that is, with capital letters, a very bad thing indeed. So I think it’s really ethically crucial, but epistemologically, which is say, how will we know highly uncertain situation.

Articles

Video

Books

Next week: A delayed Steering Committee, and two Album Clubs.

Weeknotes #279 — Disappearing Basic

The final week of June saw increased pressure on my projects. In just a few weeks’ time, the work we have been discussing for the past half a year will get put into action. People have started to understand that it will impact them. Understandably, there are requests for even more communication; while being the right thing to do, it will add to the workload for the team.

Fears that my phone and its apps are listening to me were compounded when I got this alert from Amazon, accurately describing a big chunk of the scope of the work we are doing:

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with a sister company to review and agree on the proposed technical design for a set of meeting rooms that we share.
  • Reviewed the draft operating model for this shared space.
  • Had a separate meeting to review the financial model for building and operating this space.
  • Reviewed the high-level budget for a construction project that has reached the end of a formal stage.
  • Reviewed a draft request for quotes for some new office equipment.
  • Attended a workshop to review and revise a set of principles for an office improvement project.
  • Participated in a planning meeting to coordinate office reconfiguration activities across a diverse set of vendors.
  • Reviewed a proposal from one of our landlords for work they plan to do in their part of the building and coordinated the feedback and response to the proposal from our company.
  • Kicked off the vendor on-boarding process for a building contractor in one of our offices.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how their platform and tools could be used to build a capability and meet a need within our division of the company.
  • Interviewed candidates for a technical role we have in our Johannesburg team.
  • Enjoyed an excellent Lean Coffee session which covered a couple of very interesting, meaty topics.
  • Resubscribed to Spotify. My gung-ho approach to cancelling it was a bit premature. The main users in the house don’t yet have enough regular disposable income to afford to pay for their own subscriptions and they weren’t ready to switch over to something else. My subscription didn’t lapse…but then it did, with consequences. When I went to resubscribe, my current month was still active. I was delighted to find that Spotify offered a ‘Family Basic’ plan for £17.99 a month instead of the £19.99 ‘Family Premium’ plan, which excluded audiobook listening. So I switched to it. On renewal day, I received an email to say that my credit card had expired — for some reason it had reverted to an old card as opposed to the one I’ve been using for the past few months. I logged in to update the details and found that Family Basic is no longer available to me. After spending hours in chats with the Spotify support team who told me that there was no way of moving me onto the cheaper plan, I’m now wondering whether this forced bundling is something the UK, EU or US regulators would be concerned about. It’s made me want to put some more effort into getting off of their platform, but that’s going to involve services to copy and recreate playlists on another service.
  • Enjoyed a night out at Album Club, listening to a CD that made me think about what a creative time the early 1990s was, before the Britpop explosion. There were so many bands that were playing little venues, sounding quite like this:
  • Went out for a drive with my son who’s hoping to pass his test this year. He’s been practicing every chance he gets and it shows.
  • Had a lovely evening at a 50th birthday party with lots of old faces that I haven’t seen in years.
  • Enjoyed a gloriously sunny club bike ride. Five minutes from home, I had yet another spoke break on my rear wheel. The bike shop repaired the wheel and got it back to me the same day. I had my last bike for a decade, rode over 30,000km and didn’t break a spoke once. My new bike has suffered three breaks in quick succession.
  • Spent Sunday afternoon watching two football matches and the Austrian Grand Prix. I’m not quite sure where the next race is…
Billions of dollars and no spellchecker.
Billions of dollars and no spellchecker.

Media

Web

  • To no great surprise, Vote Compass plotted me as a leftie progressive. I’ve voted Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green in the past. This year I’ve gone for the Liberal Democrats as the candidate in my constituency is the most likely person to beat their Conservative opponent. I am so excited to be saying goodbye to this government on Friday, the complete opposite of how I felt back in 2019.
Feels about right.
Feels about right.

Books

  • I’ve been working my way through Troy Hunt’s Pwned, made up largely of a hand-picked selection of his blog posts, blog comments and additional commentary. I admire him very much. His work makes me wish I had a similar flag to plant that I could focus my career around as opposed to being a generalist.

Next week: Election.

📚 Finished reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It was just what I needed — a novel light enough to not require my full attention but gripping enough to make me want to pick it up whenever I had a spare moment. It’s a lovely thing that I don’t want to spoil by going into too much detail here, but I will say that it has made me think again about my relationship with computer games. Maybe when I retire I’ll spend time catching up on the decades of games that I missed.

Weeknotes #278 — Explainability

Paula Radcliffe Stadium, Loughborough
Paula Radcliffe Stadium, Loughborough

I really enjoyed this week. My weekend work paid off, as I started Monday morning with the wonderful feeling of being completely on top of my brief. By lunchtime we had already finished a two-hour Steering Committee where we had made lots of decisions, giving us much more clarity on the work ahead. There’s so much to do, but it feels a lot easier when we know where we’re going.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up and circulated the Steering Committee minutes.
  • Sat down with each member of my permanent team to review their objectives and have a mid-year check in. In a normal year I would have already spent significantly more time on this with them.
  • Continued to add to the list of things we need to manage as we clear out one of our offices for some essential maintenance works.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with the general contractor that will be doing the maintenance works. They spent a few days on site this week in order to get used to the space and to start to validate their assumptions, which meant that for the second week in a row I was in the office for four days out of five.
  • Reviewed a comprehensive tracker for all of the variances to the initial scope of work that we will be asking the contractor to do.
  • Met with our audio/visual design team to review their draft proposal for how we will kit out a meeting space that we share with a sister company.
  • Found that once again, it’s all about change management.
  • Bought yet another copy of Jeff Gothelf’s Forever Employable to give to a friend. I think I’ve probably bought about four or five of these now.
  • Completed some annual Compliance training.
  • Called our vet to let them know that Ollie the cat is doing fine. Our insurance claim was processed; an email telling us that we would be paid £736 was immediately followed by another that says that he will no longer be covered for respiratory distress at renewal time.
  • Spent a late afternoon and evening up in Loughborough for my eldest son’s track meet. There was a horrible fall in his race where three runners went down; he managed to jump them and continue but it was never going to be a new personal best. I’m getting quite used to driving up there and back now.
  • Opted out from the Saturday bike club ride as, once again, the weather took a turn for the worse. I was grateful for the rain as what I really needed was to catch up with some sleep. Another couple of hours in bed followed by a session on the indoor trainer was a perfect start to the weekend.
  • Gave our bathroom a deep clean. We recently said goodbye to our cleaner of many years, which means that we’re back to doing it ourselves. I’m thorough — it’s sparkling — but I’m inefficient. We’re on a mission to find ourselves a new cleaner.
  • Have been enjoying having football to watch every evening. I typically get home in time to catch the second half of whatever match is on.

Media

Podcasts

  • This interview with Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director and Innovation lead at Accenture Canada, made me shudder. She’s using a ‘digital twin’ that she sends along to meetings on her behalf. It sounds completely tone deaf in terms of how this must feel to the people further down the organisation who won’t have the agency to be able to protest. The podcast isn’t long enough to tackle the bigger questions of the power disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and whether the ultimate endgame is a bunch of peoples’ AI bots meeting with each other.
  • The series continued with a discussion about using AI for recruitment. At no point in the conversation does it touch on the ethics of ‘explainability’. If I’m rejected for a job, who can tell me why? And if you can’t tell me why, how do I know if you’re breaking discrimination laws?

Video

  • Finished season two of The Dry on ITVX. It’s not the most profound thing I’ve ever seen but I’ve grown to love the characters and hope there will be a series three.

Books

  • Continued devouring Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Fiction is food for the soul and this book exactly what I was looking for. When I’m reading fiction I find that I have to immerse myself in it and can’t put the book down for too long. This probably has a positive impact on me in that I am often reaching for the book on my phone as opposed to opening any other app.

Next week: A little heatwave and an Album Club.

📚 Mapping the Roads: Building modern Britain

I’ve finished reading Mapping The Roads: Building modern Britain by Mike Parker. A beautiful little book that had been on my shelf for years. It’s filled with gems, such as:

  • Driving on the left became law in 1722 in an effort to deal with congestion on London Bridge. (Driving on the left makes sense as tradition for horse riders in a world where most people are right-handed; that hand is free for greetings or drawing swords.)
  • In 1895, Britain had around 15 cars. This swelled to 700–800 by the turn of the century, 8,500 by 1904 and more than 85,000 ten years later.
  • Bridget Driscoll was the first pedestrian to be killed by a car in Britain, in 1896. The coroner said he hoped that “such a thing would never happen again”.
  • The AA had people on patrol who would salute members showing their badges. If the AA patrol person didn’t salute, you could stop and ask them why and they could then inform you of a speed trap ahead.
  • Fuel cost the equivalent of £2/litre (in 2016 prices) in 1920.
  • The road numbering system in England and Wales is focused on London, with the M1 going directly north and the numbers ascending in order in a clockwise direction. Scotland got roads beginning with 7, 8 and 9, centred around Edinburgh. In both cases the most important roads got the shortest numbers.
  • The first petrol station opened in 1919. Ten years later there were 54,000.
  • The first motorway in Britain was…the Preston bypass, not the M1.

The book has so many lovely maps and illustrations. Pitched at just the right level for a road-curious nerd without getting lost in the detail, it was a joy to read.

Weeknotes #277 — Work experience

Doing much better, busy making mischief again
Doing much better, busy making mischief again

Rewarding, but knackering. My youngest son was with me for a week of work experience while my wife was away staffing a Year 6 residential trip. After four days of regular office hours, my son was ready to drop. But, he did so well and I’m so proud of him.

Back when I was his age, you could go to an office and reasonably expect to be given productive things to do. Some of my early jobs involved lots of data entry — taking a bunch of handwritten forms and copying the data by hand into a computer. In those innocent days, typically the computer itself would have a password as opposed to the individuals who used it. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Instead, he spent time with me in meetings and had individual sessions with around 20 of my wonderful, generous colleagues throughout the week. On the rare occasion he didn’t have much going on, he sat at his desk working through some freeCodeCamp tutorials on a laptop.

Usually I have days full of meetings and then spend two or three hours catching up with work at the end of the day. But this week we had to get out of the office on time in order to get home, get the family fed and make sure everyone was all set for the morning. I then found myself trying to cram in as much as I could before I found myself falling asleep.

We’ll both have fond memories of the week. It was so lovely to share a bit of working life with him. From what I can tell, he got a lot out of the experience and understands much more about working life.

Ollie got better every day and now seems almost back to normal, a remarkable turnaround from last week where the emergency vet indicated that he could be on death’s door. Strong cat! 💪

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with a real estate/construction/facilities specialist whom we plan to work with. I am hoping that by bringing him on board, even part time, it will free me up a little bit and help to de-risk our projects.
  • For the first time since they were awarded the contract, met with the general contractor team who will be doing the construction work in one of our offices and showed them around our space. We’ve made a plan for them to work on site next week so that they can rapidly develop their plans, ask questions and validate assumptions.
  • Had meetings with our sister company to review the latest version of the construction project costs as well as the planned changes to the shared mechanical, electrical and technology systems.
  • Met with our CEO to review the total cost projections for our real estate and facilities portfolio for the next decade.
  • Discussed with my team about how I want to use our two vacant roles to take us in a slightly different direction.
  • Gave an update on our real estate projects at our quarterly senior management technology town hall meeting. As much as it would have been good to be there in person, joining the meeting remotely gave me the opportunity to write a script and read it as if from an autocue.
  • Helped a colleague to figure out the next steps to prove that a system isn’t working as it should be, so that the team responsible for it will prioritise fixing it.
  • Heard that a project will be delayed until next year. Although this isn’t good news in itself, it helps in that it means our team will be pulled in one less direction and can focus on the projects that are still on track.
  • Listened to feedback from one of our senior executives on a leadership conference that was held the week before. We got to watch a fascinating interview with one of our key clients. For those of us who don’t work directly with external clients every day, it gave us invaluable insights into the impact of our work.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour on a tool that has been built to track the expiry dates of service accounts.
  • Attended a Technology Leadership webinar hosted by our Group CIO and COO.
  • Decided to give the weekly cycling club ride a miss. The weather didn’t look too good and it was all the excuse I needed to opt for a lie-in on Saturday after what had been an exhausting week. I opted for a ride on my indoor trainer instead, looking out of the window at the rain coming down.
  • Managed to catch a couple of Euro 2024 football matches. If it was another year I’d be following more of them but things are just too busy right now.
  • Spent one of the days at the weekend catching up with work. It’s not great to work on the weekend but I’m so glad I prioritised it. For me, anxiety builds up when things feel like they are out of control. It was good to take each topic — finance updates, where we are with fitting out meeting rooms, creating the next Steering Committee pack — and get on top of them.
  • Does anybody want a pianola? It belonged to my nan who recently passed away and family are trying to find it a good home. I have so many fond memories of playing the piano rolls as a kid. Unfortunately we don’t have room for it in our house, otherwise I would gladly take it in.
New home wanted, apply within
New home wanted, apply within

Media

Podcasts

Articles

  • I’m gutted to catch up on the news that Stages Cycling seem to have gone out of business. I bought a Stages SB20 smart trainer back in February 2023 on a 0% finance deal over two years and am still paying it off. The trainer needs a smartphone app to control the virtual gear settings, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do when it’s time to upgrade my phone but the app is no longer available.

Next week: Another four-day week in the office.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Next week: Travel.