Weeknotes #52 — Another naan bites the dust

A week in which I…

  • Felt like I spent most of my time in videoconferences and conference calls, picking up tasks, and not having a lot of time to get them done.
  • Helped my client with a separate project to refit their London office. Reviewed the bill of materials for the audio/visual equipment and raised a lot of questions, many of which come from me being new to the work. There’s an intersection with my programme which is deploying new technology to each of the offices. There’s massive pressure to hit a hard deadline, which means it is even more imperative than usual to keep a cool head and not be pushed into going down the wrong technology route.
  • Worked from home on Monday so that I could attend our final school Full Governing Board meeting of the year straight after work. I’m still carrying forward too many tasks and not getting as much done as I would like to each term. I am hoping that I can use some of the time at Christmas to catch up a little. We had two new governors in the meeting, and one of them came out with us for our annual curry-based social night. We get so little time as a team to talk about anything that isn’t on our meeting agendas, and it was lovely to get to know each other better and to build our relationships for a change.
  • Made progress with our equipment orders in Dubai and New York, and continued to wait for feedback on our chosen vendor in São Paulo. We’ve made some key decisions around our telephony and Internet service provider in Dubai and I now need to plan the detail on how we get the main changes done in all three locations in January.
  • Had a Wi-Fi survey completed in the New York office. We’ll use the results to determine specifically what wireless access points we should install and where they should be placed. I’m not sure how reliable or specific it will be given that the Wi-Fi is likely to be doing battle with an ever-changing landscape of other networks in all directions in midtown Manhattan, but we’ll see.
  • Completed a review of the ‘level two’ support contract with our vendor to clarify some elements of what we expect from them, given that we have now been live for almost half a year and have the benefit of experience. It’s good to work with a pragmatic supplier who sees mutual benefit on getting something like this right, and doesn’t just insist on ‘working to rule’ on what has been signed off.
  • Had a rare evening out with my wife and a whole bunch of our friends for a bizarre ‘curry and Freddie Mercury tribute act’ night. The whole curry house had been booked out for the event, so there was one sitting of food followed by an evening with Luke Antony singing Queen songs, and getting everyone up and joining in.
  • Felt dismay when the night out was sadly punctuated by the release of the general election exit polls. If I could have voted for a hung parliament, I would have; a gigantic Conservative majority wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The news quickly spread around the room and it took the shine off of things for a lot of people. When the morning came, we found out that it was as bad as we had feared. It’s going to take time to get used to the thought of having Boris Johnson and his band of rogues in power for the next five years. I don’t know what happens next, but I do know that there are a lot of motivated people out there who will want the electoral system to be reformed. I’ve always said that if I was one of the nearly 4 million people — 12.6% of the total — to have voted for UKIP in 2015 and found that I was represented by only 1 MP out of 650 I would have been outraged. Again, this time we have the Green Party pushing nearly 1 million votes for the first time and only having 1 MP. Given the focus and protests on climate change this must be a gross under-representation of the issues people care about. I have no idea how we could move from a first-past-the-post system to one of proportional representation, given that the governments in power have zero motivation to change it.
  • Enjoyed the 1992 version of Of Mice And Men with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise. I’d seen it a long time ago and though that the rest of my family would enjoy it, and they really did. My 10 year-old was really touched by Malkovich’s acting as Lennie, and we were all taken aback by the emotional ending. I was surprised how much of an impact it had on me, especially given that I had recently read the book and watched the 1939 film version, so the ending wasn’t exactly a surprise. There are some really interesting differences between the book and the two films, which I may write up if I can prioritise the time.
  • Spent Saturday with my parents, my brothers and their families for a ‘mock’ Christmas Day. Everyone had a lovely time together and it felt more relaxed and less rushed than usual, probably as a consequence of the children all getting older. Christmas dinner was lovely. I had my first Christmas pudding of the year (definitely my favourite festive food) and rolled home with that ‘I can’t possibly eat anything for tea’ feeling. We’re all going on holiday together next year which should be a lot of fun; I’m looking forward to getting to know my niece and nephews as we really don’t see them enough.
  • Watched the latest instalment of His Dark Materials with the family, and sadly found myself getting bored. The series started well and had us all gripped at the beginning, but something about it is not sticking for me. We may skip it this week in favour of watching BBC Sports Personality Of The Year together for the first time.
  • Cleaned out our big envelope of vouchers that people have gifted to us and have come to the conclusion that we are really, really awful at remembering to spend any of them. The good news is that we have some money towards a meal at The Waterside Inn in Bray (given to us as a Christmas gift in 2008) and some Theatre Tokens from our wedding in 2004 that were to be used after our honeymoon, both of which are still valid. The envelope is no more, and I am hoping that leaving the vouchers in an annoying place on the kitchen table will push us into finally using them.

Just like last year, I’m planning to work over the New Year period whilst most of the team are off so that I can get prepped ready to hit the ground running in 2020. It has felt like I have been treading water over the past couple of weeks, doing just enough to keep any catastrophes at bay, and I am really looking forward to having some days with no meetings in place so that I can get some focused work done.

Next week: The last week of work before a week’s holiday for Christmas.

Weeknotes #51 — Power steering

A week in which I…

  • Focused on working from the list I already have, trying to ignore distractions that turned up in my inbox.
  • Met with the CEO of my client’s Brazil office to review progress on the main programme, and to draw a rough sketch of a timeline for the rollout in São Paulo early next year.
  • Made good progress with equipment orders and deliveries for the New York office. I’m still waiting on some pivotal installation dates which prevent me from planning the work in more detail.
  • Had a kick-off call for a Wi-Fi survey in New York, and took receipt of a ‘predictive survey’. I’m not sure how much value there is in a paper-based exercise when the office is in the middle of a tall office block in a densely-occupied area of Manhattan, presumably with other wireless networks firing signals in all directions.
  • Started to wrestle with telecoms and data discussions with our vendors for the Dubai office. I have had to to plan my days around calling in-country vendors as early as possible to get the most out of each day. Major public holidays in the UAE meant I couldn’t start the work until everyone was back at work on Wednesday.
  • Put to bed a discussion on whether my client should implement a remote access solution. It doesn’t represent value for money to do it right now for the odd occasion where it might be needed; the organisation isn’t big enough to justify the fixed cost initial investment.
  • Provided some input into a project on how to manage an organisation’s unstructured data. There are so many tools to do the jobs these days. The trick is understanding the business, picking the right tools for the right reasons, and producing some simple rules that people can follow on ‘how we organise work here’.
  • Met with our architect and builder for our small home extension planned for next year.
  • Took a day off from paid client work to attend the TBD Conference. I’m still processing my thoughts from the event and need to turn this into a write-up all of its own. It was good to have a day thinking about, and being exposed to, something completely different. However, I am not sure I was really part of the ‘core audience’.
  • Rode my bike out to Cowley near Oxford to see my eldest boy compete in the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships. I hadn’t been out on my bike in many weeks, and the last-minute prep meant I set out late and had to push to get there on time. I made it just as they were lined up and ready to go. He had a great run but was so muddy by the end of it.

    Ready to run

    Ready to run

  • Bought our Christmas tree and put the decorations up. Somehow every year we seem to always need new lights for the tree and nobody remembers why. Emergency lights have been purchased (again) and we are now fully illuminated.

    The traditional Christmas tree picture. With me looking ridiculous, with added shorts to make me slightly less embarrassing in non-bike riding situations.

    The traditional Christmas tree picture. With me looking ridiculous, with added shorts to make me slightly less embarrassing in non-bike riding situations.

  • Went for a pre-Christmas lunch with our close friends at The Fox and Hounds in Englefield Green. We’ve been there loads over the past few years, including for a friend’s wedding, and it has been consistently good up until now. Lovely food, cosy atmosphere, and a great location with easy access to Windsor Great Park for a post-food stroll. Sadly the food and service weren’t great this time so we may need a new venue.
  • Got taken home from the same lunch on a flatbed truck when the power steering failed on our car. The lack of being able to change direction was accompanied by a burning smell, so it didn’t seem a good idea to drive home. It’s only been two weeks since we had a new clutch fitted. This may be the tipping point where things start to go wrong on a regular basis and it doesn’t make sense to keep spending money to fix them.

Next week: Trying to lock down delivery dates for Dubai, New York and São Paulo. More car repairs, a governor meeting, and a curry with Freddie Mercury.

Taking the day off from client work today to attend the TBD Conference. Not quite sure what to expect, but am hoping to get my brain to decompress from the day-to-day and to get exposed to a lot of interesting people.

Everything old new is new old again

There’s a certain joy in hearing an old song and recognising a sample that was used in a tune I’m more familiar with. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) was a great recent discovery for me whilst revisiting Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Eminem’s My Name Is has been usurped by Labi Siffre’s incredible I Got The1, and I never expected to hear shades of De La Soul when listening to a Steely Dan album recommended to me by a friend last week.

On a recent Friday night ‘music nostalgia-fest for one’, I found a Spotify playlist for Hits 6, a compilation that my parents had bought on tape back in the day. Seeing the black-and-rainbow album cover art again triggered a torrent of happy memories. In the late 1980s I had listened to it over and over again, and even remember packing the bulky double cassete case in our hand luggage for listening to on my personal stereo, as well as in the hire car when we went on holiday. Hits was a rival compilation series to Now That’s What I Call Music (the excellent Super Deluxe Edition website recently reviewed Now 4 and the first Hits album side-by-side) and all of those albums from the late-80s period are special to me.

What I hadn’t expected when listening to Hits 6 was the completely new feeling of finding a song again that I once knew well, but recognised the hook from a completely different tune that I’d heard many years later. Strike had the genius idea of taking Donna Allen‘s Serious and sampling it for U Sure Do; the later song had earwormed itself into my brain in 1994 without making a connection to the original. Donna Allen’s is the more interesting tune, although I’m not convinced about either of the videos!


  1. Featuring Chas and Dave, no less! 

🗳 I have (postal) voted for David Gauke in South-West Hertfordshire. The constituency has voted Conservative since 1950 and I can’t see it changing, but as our most recent MP (now Independent) he has the best chance of anyone of defeating the Conservative candidate.

Weeknotes #50 — Of Mice and Men

A week in which I

  • Started to ask around for consultancies that provide training on and running of Failure Mode Effects Analysis sessions. I think that something structured in this way would be very useful for a team that has just put a brand new IT infrastructure into production, but I need to talk it over with someone who has experience in it.
  • Spent an hour and a half on a video call with agile coach Stuart Mann, getting his advice and feedback on how our programme team are working and what I intend to put in place get the rest of the programme delivered. It took me 40 minutes to give the background and context, but it’s always good to talk it through and see it through someone else’s eyes. Stuart’s a great guy to talk to. My conclusion is that we are doing a lot of things right and are on a good path. As usual, we need to take just what we need from the methodologies available and focus on the outcomes. Getting this advanced is at the forefront of my mind.
  • Got a hard copy of our LeanKit Kanban boards and various reports up on the wall in the office. A really interesting experiment to see the whole thing at once instead of having to scroll up and down on a web page, and the reports generated some good discussions within the team.
  • Continued to push forward with vendors in New York and Sao Paulo. Our initial kit orders in New York are on their way and we need to finish them off early next week. Brazil is proving to be an order of magnitude more complex to do business in than anywhere else so far, with all kinds of exotic import/export, billing and taxation issues to manage. With one month to go until the end of my client’s financial year, getting our orders in is my top priority.
  • Stepped in to give an update to one of my client’s Management Committees on where we are with delivery of our programme. Made a ‘note to self’ for next time that I should ask whether there are any actions I need to be aware of before going into the meeting.
  • Brought our school’s Pay Policy up-to-date to the 2019–20 version and caught up with my actions from our Finance, Premises and Personnel governance committee.
  • Worked from home to meet a plumber to get a leaky radiator valve fixed. We have an insurance policy so we ‘only’ need to pay the £60 excess. They were meant to turn up a few weeks ago but called on the day to say they weren’t coming, and automatically sent me a £10 cheque as compensation, considering the matter closed. Service is not what it used to be.
  • Got back into refereeing my youngest son’s Sunday football matches again. I’d not refereed a match in many months. I find it a real challenge, particularly as I’m not a dad who is into football, but it’s definitely the best job to have at the match on a cold winter’s day as you get to run around and keep warm. The boys had a great game today, with a 3-2 win and an exciting opposition corner to finish.
  • Got on the turbo trainer every day where I had the chance to. It takes up time, but boy do I feel good for having done it.
  • Had my eyes tested for the first time in a couple of years. Feeling like an old man as I am now slightly long-sighted as well as being very short-sighted. I knew this before I went in there, from the way in which I sometimes have to peer over my glasses and bring something close to my face, grandad-style. No time to shop for new glasses this week, will need to do that later in the month.
  • Finished John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle and read Of Mice And Men again. Of Mice and Men was my introduction to Steinbeck when we studied it at school in the early 1990s as part of GCSE English. I fell in love with his writing, and remember our teacher assigning us to parts to the book like it was a play, with one of our classmates having a brilliant mock-American twang in his voice for the role of George. What struck me from reading it again this time is how compact the novella is; it has nothing superfluous to the story and it moves along at a very rapid pace. I bought the 1939 movie version on iTunes and watched most of it on Saturday; it’s excellent, and fascinating to think that it was made when the depicted events were still contemporary.
  • Watched The Shawshank Redemption for the first time in a long while. It deserves to be #1 on the IMDB ratings chart. Great story, great acting.
  • Had a lovely lunch at The Swan in Southrop with my wife’s family. A stunningly beautiful village and pub. We had our own private room complete with log fire, which started to get us into the Christmas spirit.
  • Watched the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the last of the year. The circuit always looks the part but never seems to deliver an exciting race. Just over 100 days until we start all over again in Australia.

So sad to hear about the passing of Clive James. I’ve been dipping into his Cultural Amnesia for months and always come away feeling schooled and humbled by how little I know. I love it that this is the same man who brought Margarita Pracatan into our lives.

23 days

I think I may have insulted the creators of a podcast I listen to every week by telling them I hear it at 1.5x speed, with silences trimmed. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that life is too short and my interests too broad. You can’t sniff at 23 days saved over the past two and a half years.

Thank you, Pocket Casts

Thank you, Pocket Casts

My experience is that most podcasts can be sped up to around 1.2x without any issues. Podcasts that have an interview or conversation format can be boosted to 1.5x, and have their silences trimmed as well. It’s important not to trim the silence on podcasts with one presenter such as Hardcore History as the pauses are just as much a part of the monologue as what is said. The excellent Pocket Casts app allows you to set up the specific parameters on a per-podcast basis, so you don’t need to spend time changing it as you jump from cast to cast.

I jokingly suggested that the creators could speed the podcast up to 1.5x to begin with in order to get their revenge on me. Thinking about it more, podcast creators could add subliminal or ‘hidden’ messages to their recordings that you only hear when you slow it down, kind of like the mysterious and mythical additions to 60’s and 70’s vinyl. Maybe they already have?

Winter mornings creeping in. I took this in February, and all of a sudden we are back here again. A familiar view on my morning walk to the train station over the next few months. As JP Rangaswami once said, “they could paint my house pink and I wouldn’t find out till Saturday.”