Weeknotes #134 — Dropped dishwasher

A really busy week where I generally felt quite tired for the majority of the time. Partly this was due to lack of exercise; I missed my Wednesday session due to going into the office, on Thursday I had to be up and ready for a scheduled delivery at home and on Friday I prioritised sleep, having had people over to my house until very late the night before. I drew a line under the week at 6pm on Friday and went out for a much-needed run.

This was a week in which I:

  • Turned my explainer on how Azure Information Protection works into a set of slides. I then used Zoom to record me giving the presentation, and uploaded it onto an internal Teams channel. Hopefully it will go some way to reducing the number of issues my colleagues have been having. I really enjoyed putting it together, with a few photos from Unsplash and animated GIF ‘screenshots’ created with SnagIt.
  • Attended our monthly Information Risk Steering Group.
  • Met with our chosen vendor to review the technical implementation document for rolling out Teams telephony in one of our offices in the next few months.
  • Took part in our monthly department Risk Management meeting. Noted that we don’t always need to wait for a technical risk mitigation; sometimes just raising awareness with people is enough to start to reduce our risks.
  • Attended our quarterly Architecture Design Authority meeting and reviewed a proposed Infrastructure and Operations strategy.
  • Joined a workshop on our network’s DDI (DNS, DHCP and IPAM — yes, I can’t believe there is an acronym for a set of acronyms) setup. We agreed a direction of travel, which should ultimately result in a third formal iteration of the design we started out with in 2018.
  • Spent another Wednesday working in London. There were more people on the commute with fewer masks, and more people in the office. Our team have now decided that this is the best day for us all to be in, given that we now have a Wednesday ‘meeting free’ policy.
  • Hosted a talk by a colleague to our internal team on the Equity Sales business. It was very interesting — there was so much material and so many questions that we ran out of time.
  • Joined a number of meetings relating to our big group programme. Had further discussions on the business case and timeline for the work, as well as how it fits into our broader objectives.
  • Attended a ‘digital showcase’ meeting on our renewable energy project funding platform.
  • Was delighted to see one of our biggest sub-teams getting on top of the contents of their Kanban board; the results shown on their cumulative flow report is a tribute to all of the hard work that they have been putting in.
  • Had a random coffee with a colleague in our Wealth Management business.
  • Completed my CliftonStrengths assessment as part of the Team Effectiveness work that we are doing. I can see myself in the results, but I am not sure if this is because the assessment is ‘accurate’ or that it is designed to feel this way to everyone no matter what their results are. It’ll be interesting to see the results from the rest of the team and start to discuss them.

  • Started using a Logitech MX Master 3 mouse in my home office. It’s absolutely lovely, not least because it allows me to switch between Bluetooth connections with my work PC, iPad and home computer at the touch of a button. I’m still learning its features, and accidentally discovered the handy audio and video mute buttons in Teams while I was on a call.
  • Attended two online webinars in succession on Tuesday night and started reflecting on my life choices a few minutes into each. Unless the speaker is incredible, the topic is deeply interesting, or there is a high degree of interactivity, I find myself quickly losing interest at these events. Pre-pandemic, when we went to Meetups in person, if the presentation was poor there was at least the promise of networking afterwards. Mostly I sat there wondering why I was taking part live when I could put the recordings into a ‘watch later’ queue. However, once I had turned up, it was difficult to leave without being rude.
  • Nearly took delivery of a new dishwasher after our previous one died following 11 years of what felt like constant use. The delivery guys took our old one away and then dropped the new one on our driveway before it even got to our house. We’ve had to get through a few more days of washing up by hand while we wait for its replacement to arrive next week.
  • Took my eldest boy for his regular orthodontist visit.
  • Having formally joined Berkhamsted Cycling Club, went out for an early morning club ride with my son. There were only four of us in our group but it was a lovely ride. A misty start gave way to sunshine on a day that made you feel grateful to be alive. I’ve picked up some official cycling tops for the club so next week we will look the part as well.


  • Ran the line for my youngest son’s football match. They won 4-1 which now means that they are top of the league. It felt like a fraught match, with so much shouting from the coaches and players, but the boys did brilliantly.
  • Had our garden contractors come and replace the pieces of turf in our back garden that didn’t ‘take’ when they put them in the first time. Laying turf in a heatwave is not a great idea.
  • Spent some time on the lawn, applying a pet-friendly ‘feed and weed’ mix in what I hope is the right quantity. I should be able to see in three to four weeks.

Next week: Trying to put some time aside for strategic thinking, if I can extract myself from the day-to-day. Plus our first school governor meeting of the year.

Mrs D prepped lunch for us both last night. Giant couscous, mango, halloumi, leaves. Beautiful. Had my half from the fridge at lunchtime and thought ‘that was a bit heavy’. Went back to the fridge later and found my portion in a bowl. I’d eaten everything else. So stuffed.

Weeknotes #133 — Cycling Club

An unusual week, not least because I finally made it back to my office in London after a year and half of working from home. To be back felt simultaneously novel and familiar; it’s amazing how quickly we adapt when things change.

On Monday I felt very run down and tired, and wondered if it was because I had been overdoing my riding and running. Cycling around Silverstone had been much tougher than I expected. I lost a lot of salt, and other than the one electrolyte-filled drink that I brought with me and drank as I cycled, I didn’t do anything to replenish it. Things improved throughout the week, but I never managed to properly catch up with rest.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time face-to-face with our CIO and a couple of my peers to assess where we are and to start to form ideas about where we need to go in the next few months. Two hours was just long enough to get lots of material out of our heads. The next steps are to let it brew a little and then try to shape it in the coming weeks.
  • Started to deal with some end-user issues relating to Azure Information Protection. We’ve put it in place primarily as a ‘speed bump’ to protect against data loss with external parties, but my gut is telling me that we need to provide more training than we have done so far. A small number of people have mentioned issues to me, but I am sure the pain is being felt more widely as I know most people work around problems without reporting them.
  • Took part in a discussion on how we protect material non-public information in one of our key systems.
  • Had a couple of meetings with sub-teams on the big group programme to discuss where our part of the organisation is and what our plans are for the next few months.
  • Reviewed the cost structure for the big programme with our internal team.
  • Delivered a talk to our Engineering team an internal body of knowledge that our staff should aspire to learn. I’ve put together a document with an outline that I am hoping the team will collectively own and update.
  • Took part in the launch of ‘Team Effectiveness’ training and coaching being run for our team. We’ll each be completing a CliftonStrengths profile and using this as an entry point for broader conversations about how we work as a team. The group delivering the training and coaching seem to be very good and I am sure that we will get something out of it, even if I am a skeptic about the validity of this kind of assessment and profiling.
  • Got back on top of my work emails, getting them down to less than 100 for the first time in a few years.
  • Joined a number of webinar ‘town hall’-style meetings, including one with the leadership team of our Wholesale Division, one with the CEO of our Angola office and another with our Group CTO.
  • Had a random coffee with a colleague from our Wealth Management division in London.
  • Reviewed and discussed the IT service agreement for our school, prior to its planned renewal in a few weeks’ time.
  • Attended Governors and Inspection training hosted by Helen Jones at The Training Centre by Aspire. An incredibly useful two hours, but left me feeling the weight of all of the things we need to get done in the next few weeks.
  • Along with my eldest son, joined Berkhamsted Cycling Club after going out for a trial ride on Saturday morning. I’d been thinking about joining the club since it was set up a few years ago, but it always seemed pointless as my family commitments meant I wouldn’t be able to join the club rides. I’m really pleased that my eldest boy and I have found something that we can do regularly together. The club members couldn’t have been more welcoming, and it will be worth forgoing a lie-in on a Saturday to get out riding with them.
  • Ran the line for my youngest son’s first football match of the new season. Great to start with a victory, particularly as he is now playing 11-a-side on a seemingly giant pitch.

  • Watched an incredible weekend of sport, with Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open victory and a thrilling Italian Grand Prix.
  • Realised I have a major book problem. I have around 1,400 purchased unread books, plus over 2,000 in my wish list. A book was recently released that highlights that if we are lucky we only have around 4,000 weeks on the planet. I think I’m going to need to drastically prioritise.

Next week: Another day in the London office, meeting old friends and hosting Album Club in-person for the first time since 2019.

🎶 Listening to the Bill Evans Trio play Porgy (I Loves You Porgy) at the Village Vanguard. I know that hearing the chatter from the crowd is part of the recording’s charm, but who the heck were these people, laughing while the magic was being created in front of their ears‽

534 days later

I had set my alarm early, but woke up before it went off. After leaving the office on 23 March 2020, I was going back. My company have asked for people so start formally returning from the end of September, but the office is already open for those that want to use it now. I figured that it would be good to test the water before everyone is back. Meeting up with my boss, some colleagues and a whiteboard to try and make sense of where we are and where we are going work-wise seemed like a good excuse to go in.

One of the best things about working from home is that for the first time in my life I’ve been able to develop a regular exercise habit, either getting on my bike trainer or going for a run most days. At the weekend I noticed that this year I have covered more exercise distance than at any other point in my life. It didn’t feel great to miss out on exercise today, despite being up earlier than usual to get ready for the commute. As I wandered from my house to the train station I was already missing being at home.

Take *that*, 2015!

Take *that*, 2015!

Regretting the journey, five minutes in.

Regretting the journey, five minutes in.

The station was dead. Usually there is a long queue for the ticket machine; I expected this to be longer than usual if people had ditched their season tickets. But there was nobody there. The car park was nearly empty. On the platform, where previously there would have been hundreds of people milling about I counted less than 20.

Where *is* everybody?

Where *is* everybody?

Barely anyone to the left of me…

Barely anyone to the left of me…

…barely anyone to the right.

…barely anyone to the right.

I have heard horror stories of people being stuck in COVID carriages where fellow passengers had long since abandoned their masks. Happily, this wasn’t the case on my journey, with about 95% of people that I could see all sporting masks of various shapes and sizes. The train was extremely quiet, and although we picked up what seemed to be quite a few passengers all the way into London Euston, I ended up getting to the end of the journey with a still vacant seat next to me.

Oooh, new trains!

Oooh, new trains!

Taken as we pulled into Euston. I wasn’t the only one with a vacant seat next to me.

Taken as we pulled into Euston. I wasn’t the only one with a vacant seat next to me.

At the other end, the usually bustling streets of Euston Road were far less busy than usual, and the tube station was quiet too. I almost had to double-check that it was the middle of the week.

Euston Road, as it usually looks on a Sunday.

Euston Road, as it usually looks on a Sunday.

Euston Square tube

Euston Square tube

It looked like this up and down the train.

It looked like this up and down the train.

Arriving at Moorgate was discombobulating. The modernisation work on the station had come on significantly, and there is now a shiny new entrance that I had to navigate. It took me a few seconds to get my bearings and point my feet in the direction of the office.

A shiny new Moorgate, emerging from the construction work.

A shiny new Moorgate, emerging from the construction work.

At the office I was greeted by a new layout in the lobby, with plastic screens shielding the receptionists and a large temperature sensor that had to give me the all-clear before I could be let in. My pass didn’t work; I had become a permanent employee during lockdown and needed to get a new card that reflected my change in employment status. After a little bit of admin to validate that I really did still work there, I was given my new key and was let in.

After so long out of the office, it felt strange to be back, but also like I had never been away. Everything was pretty much just as we had left it over five hundred days ago, with only some additional signage to indicate that we had been through (or are still in) a pandemic.

I’ve missed this view.

I’ve missed this view.

Some of my IT colleagues were in the office, and I found myself listening to a conversation that someone was having with a coworker in Johannesburg. I wandered over to contribute to the discussion, and realised that this is the sort of thing that I had been missing out on. With a handful of us in the office this kind of ‘distraction’ was valuable, but with more of us it could easily get frustrating; I was reminded of times where I had sat at my desk with noise-cancelling headphones covering my ears, playing ambient cafe sounds to drown out the words around me.

One of the perks of going in before everyone else returns is the free food and drink currently on offer. It was brilliant to get a good morning coffee again along with a cooked lunch. I found out that I’d turned up on bean burger and curly fries day — perhaps not the best idea when I’d done less exercise than usual, but I had to have them. I’d missed them.

Bad, but *so* good.

Bad, but *so* good.

Wednesdays are usually meeting-free but today was unusual in that we had a couple in the diary. We fired up our Surface Hub in our collaboration space and joined a ‘town hall’ discussion with the CEO of our Angola office. It felt good to be sitting there with other people as we watched the session, with everyone else dialling in remotely, particularly as we were passive participants in the meeting. One of our colleagues wanted to ask a question, and it was interesting to see him go back to his desk and dial-in to Teams separately to ask it.

Getting together in the afternoon with a few of my colleagues to talk about the bigger picture of what we are doing was superb. This is the reason to go back. We didn’t solve it all — far from it — but we offloaded a lot of our thoughts to each other and made an excellent start.

I ended the day at around half-six, the last person in the office, and wandered back to Moorgate. Again the tube and train were very quiet, although I did see quite a few more maskless travellers than in the morning.

I think it is going to take some time to get a balance back again. Working from home permanently is definitely not ideal, but I am not sure how much time in the office is the sweet spot, particularly when half of my immediate team are located in other countries. But I’m confident we’ll work it out, and I’m glad I took the first steps back today.

Bought my train ticket for a visit to the office tomorrow, my first in 18 months. I know how privileged I’ve been to have worked from home all this time, and I have mixed emotions about going back. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel about it 24 hours from now.

Weeknotes #132 — Cycle Silverstone

Monday saw our last public holiday before Christmas here in the UK, extending my time off and making it a four-day week. I had planned to go into the office on Wednesday to start getting used to being there again, but I had forgotten about a dentist appointment booked long ago. I’m planning to try and go in this coming week instead.

Autumn seemed to set in before August was done and I found myself reaching for my jumpers and slippers again. However, it looks as though summer will be making a small fight back over the next few days so the jumpers are back on their hangers.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got through all of my new emails and Teams messages that had accumulated during my week away.
  • Resolved to try and deal with messages and emails on the ‘first touch’ much more, which did lead to me feeling much more productive than usual. I’m going to try and keep this up.
  • Provided details to a vendor on the existing phone system in one of our offices so that they can quote for a Teams Direct Routing service to replace it.
  • Closed out on a final quote for a door access system upgrade in one of our offices, after many weeks of back and forth as we refined our requirements. We now need to finish off the architectural details before we can commission the work.
  • Agreed with colleagues in Finance on an approach to our piece of the business case of the large group-wide programme that we are taking part in.
  • Presented a proposal to the entire IT team on how we should go about organising our internal data. Received good feedback and agreement that this is something we need to do, and soon.
  • Sat in on a demonstration of a prototype put together by our internal AI group to help with greater understanding of current and prospective clients for our part of the business. Enjoyed the discussion and debate on the next steps.
  • Attended a presentation by colleagues working in behavioural science on improving product adoption. This got me wondering how much a well-crafted email, or a document written with the reader in mind, falls under behavioural science.
  • Met with a new team member who joined while I was away.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with our Head of Operational Risk.
  • Signed up to LeadIn 4-D specifically to watch Matt Ballantine talk about his PlayCards project. I’ve heard Matt talk about it quite a bit, particularly in the WB-40 podcast Signal group, but had never really ‘got it’. Matt’s presentation was excellent and had my brain whirring; I called him later to download all of the notes I had made. It was a nice side-effect to have joined the LeanIn 4-D community too, and I’m looking forward to exploring it.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of the school’s COVID-19 risk assessment as well as the new Outbreak Management Plan.
  • Looked at a contract renewal for the school’s IT service provider.
  • Cleaned up the majority of my ‘blog post ideas’ folder and found many posts that I had more than half written but then never finished off. I am going to try to breathe life into them, and to generally write more.
  • Went through the car insurance renewal dance and saved over £100 by finding a new provider instead of renewing. Spent 50 minutes on hold with my current insurer before getting through to someone who could stop my auto-renew.
  • After a week of running, had a good week back on the turbo trainer. Strava is telling me that I have gone ‘well above normal range’ in terms of physical stress and I can feel it.
  • Had another migraine. I am starting to conclude that they are almost solely down to tiredness. Fortunately I never get debilitating headaches, but the aura is a total pain in the butt as I am unable to see properly for half an hour or so before the headache kicks in.
  • Had an unmentionable number of fillings at the dentist. Some of my old ones had failed and fallen out over the past couple of years and needed to be replaced. I am so grateful to have the superb dentist that I have, especially as the work was done under the NHS. It was amazing to ‘watch’ her work on multiple teeth at once.
  • Took part in Cycle Silverstone with my eldest boy. After a long queue for registration, hitting the track felt wonderful. The tarmac is super-smooth and it felt amazing to be pedalling around there. But tackling 50–60km was something else — the lack of downhill meant that it felt like a tough turbo trainer ride, and I was very grateful to find the food table at the finish.

  • Enjoyed the Netherlands F1 race. Very happy that Max Verstappen won, given the turnout of the crowd and the fact that the race didn’t happen in Zandvoort last year. Based on what we saw on TV, the Dutch really seem to know how to have a good time!

Next week: Back to the office for the first time in 18 months, and trying to keep cool as we get the last of the summer sunshine.

🎙I’ve had so much value out of the WB-40 podcast and the wonderful community that they’ve built over the past few years. Looking forward to the next set of interesting guests and conversations they have lined up when they return this month.

📺 Still thinking about Lovers Rock (2020) today. I can’t put my finger on why it was so magical, so have been looking at reviews. This one nails it.

It’s a scene of such intense communal joy that watching it alone on your couch during this time almost feels like a betrayal.

📺 Surviving 9/11

With the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks fast approaching, the TV schedules are filled with lots of programmes related to the event. This week we watched Surviving 9/11, a moving documentary that gives an insight into some of the lives that were directly impacted by the horrors of that day. The range of people featured in the film, and the ways in which they have survived and coped — to varying degrees — with the aftermath of the trauma, were delicately and thoughtfully presented.

It’s a cliche to say that it seems like yesterday, but it’s true. On the day of the attack I was in London, sitting at my desk, filling out a form to try and make a case for getting myself transferred to work in New York on a company assignee scheme. The bank that I worked for had recently bought a large US-based brokerage firm and we were getting a programme off the ground to integrate our two HR systems. That August, I had been to New York on a business trip and had started to build relationships with our new colleagues. Much earlier, when I started at the company in 1999, I had met a bunch of New York-based fellow graduates and made some solid friendships. I was enthused to think about spending time with them all in a new and exciting place.

Early that afternoon, I read a glib message about the first plane crash on our internal chat system and we all turned our attention to the news websites. I don’t think much work got done after that. At some point I had to walk across the city to another of our buildings for a seminar about the company pension fund. I knew it was going to be about as interesting as it sounded, but I felt obliged to go. On my way I saw scores of people standing outside office lobbies, staring through the glass to watch the news on the TV screens. At some point, somebody came into the seminar and told us that everyone was being sent home. It was weird — New York was so far away, but we somehow all felt as though we were connected to it. Nobody was sure that there wouldn’t be a similar attack in London. I packed my bag, jumped on the tube and then stayed up watching the TV until the early hours, hitting refresh on the Metafilter thread to find out what was going on via my dial-up Internet connection at home.

An American friend of mine had just moved from London to New York, and years later he wrote up his experience of that day. Re-reading it now brings back more memories. I moved to Manhattan exactly two months later on 11 November 2001. It was a strange time; when I arrived there I felt a little as though I was an outsider intruding on a shocked and numb city. I lived on my own, and spent many evenings walking for miles just to be around people. The bus shelters were still filled with candles and photos of missing friends and relatives.

My new office was in Weehawken, New Jersey, a ferry ride across the Hudson River from Manhattan. It was open plan, with glass-walled single-person offices around the edges for the senior managers on each floor. One of those was kept locked — the occupant had been tragically killed by the first plane crash as he waited for a bus to work outside the World Trade Center. In the weeks to come, I overheard my new colleagues talking in hushed but animated tones about whether his office should be left alone out of respect or cleared out so that they could move on. I couldn’t share their pain as I had never met him.

In the year I spent in New York the demand for flights from London was understandably low and tickets were cheap; consequently I had many friends and family come to visit. I loved having a stream of guests to entertain and take on a tour of the city. Some of them wanted to go down to the World Trade Center. I didn’t want to go, but I did accompany them. It felt somehow macabre to go and look. It was already a tourist destination, despite the memorial being some years away.

The two decades have passed in a flash. Watching the documentary this week reminded me of how primitive things were back then and how long ago it was. Analogue video tape recordings from the events of that day. VoiceStream being the only phone network that provided a local GSM service, on handsets with tiny displays. No mobile web as we know it now, and no Facebook or Twitter to share status updates. I still had to email or call my friends and family if I wanted to catch up. In the past couple of years I have worked with a colleague who was born after 9/11, which was difficult to get my head around at first. I guess this is what getting old feels like.

My year in New York was a seminal time for me and I think about it often. The integration programme was a great success and I learned a lot from working with some wonderful colleagues, many of whom I still speak to. My girlfriend came to visit a number of times before eventually quitting her job and coming to live with me. We came back to London together and got married less than two years later.

Twenty years on, the mental and emotional impact of 9/11 is unsurprisingly still raw for those people directly impacted by the horrors of that day. Surviving 9/11 offered a moving and sensitive insight into this. I feel very privileged to have been able to have made my own memories of the city during those fragile months.

🎶 It’s still exciting to get music turning up in the mail, especially when it has travelled from a long way away.