Andrew Doran

🚲 Found something to do one sunny Saturday this summer. I’ve plotted a similar route a couple of times at my desk, but with no knowledge of the best roads to take. The fabulous folks at the Tring Audaxers have plotted a route with plenty of coffee stops along the way.

Weeknotes #115 — Barbershop

I notice the weather a lot more now that I’m working from home and not squirrelled away inside a big office. We’re just a few weeks away from the longest day of the year, but my jumpers were out in full force again. Conditions have been cold, windy and rainy with the odd blast of sunshine. Things start to warm up next week but it still looks showery. Hopefully summer will put in an appearance soon.

Monday was a public holiday in the UK and although I only worked for four days, it felt like a full week. My mind may be playing tricks on me, but I still feel as though I am getting over my first COVID-19 vaccine as I struggle to stay awake in front of the TV at the end of the day. Or it could just be that I’m getting old.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time putting together a slide deck on the IT infrastructure journey so far for one of our regional offices, in order to bring the senior management up to speed with where we are and what we still need to do.
  • Completed my backlog of document reviews of project completion materials and invoices as well as new project proposals.
  • Met with the vendors we are working with for our flagship conference to refine the IT plans and associated quote.
  • Met with our primary IT vendor in the UK to get aligned on a very long list of projects and licence renewals.
  • Attended a detailed information briefing with the finance team working on the large group programme that we are involved with.
  • Hosted a talk by our Head of Procurement on the new system and processes that are now in place.
  • Had a short random coffee with our head of Wealth Management in the UK, and another with one of our Compliance officers. Good to catch up with both of them.
  • Spent a little time adding our latest full-year actual financial data into our budget projections for school, ahead of our next Finance Committee meeting.
  • Took delivery of a bunch of internal doors to replace the ones in our house. We put the current ones in when we moved here almost two decades ago and have never loved them. They’ve started to fail, with handles coming loose, so it’ll be nice to give the house a little refresh by replacing them.
  • Cleaned the windows on our house again, fighting back against the dive-bomb onslaught from the town’s bird population who have used us for target practice.
  • Went for my first haircut at the barbershop in over a year. My wife has done a brilliant job learning how to use the clippers, but this weekend it was easier to nip in and out to get it done.
  • Had a random flat tyre on my turbo trainer. I’m guessing that the inner tube punctured just due to age as it failed near the seam. I’m glad it happened on the weekend as I had the time to replace it and get back in the saddle.
  • Finally purchased a proper amp and speakers to go with my turntable. I bought everything through Deco Audio in Aylesbury, who have been nothing but super helpful. It was fun to get the boxes home and assemble everything, trimming speaker cable and trying not to lose too many copper wire strands in the process. The results are amazing, and I’m already hearing things in my records that I’ve never noticed before.

  • Saw my youngest son’s team win their latest football match. It feels like we’ve barely got started, but the end of the season is just around the corner.

Next week: A hospital visit with my eldest boy, a school Finance Committee meeting, and more of the same on all fronts at work.

🎶 Here’s a mixtape* of stuff I’ve been enjoying over the past year or so. Female vocalists all the way!

(*ok, yes, it’s a playlist.)

Very sorry to hear that Nuzzel is going away following Twitter’s acquisition of their parent company. The app has long been one of the main ways I use Twitter, scanning the most-shared links from the people I follow, and the people that they follow, along with their comments.

Troy Hunt was given the Coinhive cryptominer domain, and has done some interesting work to repurpose it for good. Websites or that embedded a Coinhive miner in your browser now instead show a modal dialogue box to warn the user, and send them to where they can get more info.

📚 Mr Tambourine Man

Finished reading Mr Tambourine Man: The Life and Legacy of the Byrds’ Gene Clark by John Einarson. Such a waste of talent, with an end that comes far too soon. I’m only a couple of years younger than Gene Clark was when he died at 46, and its hard to understand how much damage he did to himself through alcohol and drugs. He seemed to be caught in a loop of being in the wrong place at the wrong time from a career perspective, exacerbated by his tendency towards self-destructive behaviour, lack of self-confidence and unwillingness to promote himself. The fact that No Other wasn’t recognised as a masterpiece in his lifetime, and how much that must have hurt, has parallels with the career and personal decline of Nick Drake.

His music is wonderful, straddling a wide variety of styles. Despite not being a reader his lyrics have an incredible poetic quality about them. When I read this passage it struck me as to how much of a double-edged sword his creativity must have been:

“A typical hour when we came home,” David continues, “was three or four in the morning, after we did the recording sessions, went out to dinner, went to the Sunset Strip, then went home. One night we came home, the sun was ready to come up, and he sat down at the kitchen table and started dragging pieces of paper, napkins, matchbook covers, and he laid them out on the table. He asked me for a pen and he asked me for some coffee. So I got the coffee on and he started writing. He would be working away and he would stop, sit back and look at it, scribble something out and write something else. This went on all night. It was a marathon. At one point he asked, ‘Can you make me a sandwich?’ So I made him a grilled cheese sandwich and he continued to down the coffee. It turned out what he was doing was working on three different ideas at the same time, flipping back and forth between them, taking things from one and putting them in another. By about noon I was completely fuzzy. I didn’t need drugs; I was already spacey. But he kept on working. I said to him, ‘You’ve got to get some sleep! You’ve got to be at the studio at two o’clock, and he said, ‘Nah, man, I’ve got to get these done. I’m just about done. We were two hours late getting to the studio and had no sleep whatsoever. But he had finished what he was doing. He had completed these three projects together in the space of from about four o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon after being up the day before at the sessions all night on the Sunset Strip with about three bites of a grilled cheese sandwich and about a gallon of coffee. He was just so focused. When he got into something he had to see it through the way he wanted it. He would not settle for ‘that’s good enough’ and that’s why he couldn’t settle with what some people were doing in some of the bands he was in. He drove them nuts and they drove him nuts. It was a two-way street.

It was great to learn more about Gene Clark, but it’s such a sad story, with a terrible, pathetic ending.

Weeknotes #114 — Steve from Hemel

Mid-bike ride pub lunch

Mid-bike ride pub lunch

It’s still very cold here in the UK, and strange to think that we are only a few weeks away from the longest day of the year. Since signing up to the 300km Audax ride in July my spare brain cycles have been spent thinking about cycling. I do so hope that the sun is shining by then — or, at least, that the rain stays away.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got my first COVID-19 vaccine. The whole process was incredible from start to finish. I booked both of my vaccinations online, choosing Hemel Hempstead Hospital as the place where I wanted to go. So many volunteers were on hand to welcome us, direct us to parking and through the screening to the waiting room. Sitting there waiting to be called into the vaccination room was quite an emotional moment, reflecting on what has happened over the past year and a half. The day after my vaccine I felt rubbish, like I was about to come down with something; although the worst of it was over quickly I’ve spent most of the week feeling like I have a mild hangover that gets worse in the evenings. Still, I suppose it’s good to know that they actually administered something to me and it wasn’t just a placebo.
  • Reviewed a number of documents relating to our infrastructure programme, reconciling a completion report for one of our recent projects to our document library and refining statements of work for two projects that we plan to complete this year in Beijing and São Paulo.
  • Had a few meetings and vendor discussions in preparation for our investor conference in June, reviewing what was done last year and planning our activities for the next few weeks.
  • Spent more time in meetings for our large group programme, understanding how the processes work to obtain funding for projects.
  • Discussed the concepts of customer journey mapping and how it applies to our work.
  • Completed the sessions to review the Kanban board for our Infrastructure and Operations team. One of the team members said the process was “cathartic” and I know what he means — everyone is now up to speed with the content of the board and knows what is in the backlog.
  • Saw another product demonstration for analysing large volumes of news feeds and generating leads.
  • Attended a session on changes to our performance management approach and the system that will be supporting the process from this year. There is an emphasis on developing staff even beyond the boundaries of the organisation, which seems very forward-thinking.
  • Learnt that trying to help isn’t always the right thing to do, and that you should always check ahead of time whether a presenter can still make a session.
  • Attended an online event organised by our Marketing and Communications team and hosted by Mr Plant Geek. Gardening and botany aren’t really my thing, but the attendees seemed to really enjoy it. Our team do a fabulous job of thinking up new themed events every few months, which is great for keeping connected and making everyone feel like they are part of something bigger.
  • Pulled back from evening Meetup sessions in order to try and get a bit more balance in my life again. Although meeting up with people from other organisations is great, I’m not sure how healthy it really is just to have another couple of hours of video calls after a long day at the desk.
  • Reviewed the school budget for 2021–2022 as well as our draft financial self-audit.
  • Rode 50 miles with my eldest son, his first half-century. He asked me if we could plan a route and go for a long ride — I know that the answer almost always needs to be yes. It was so lovely to do something together. I’m now planning to take him on his first 100km ride.

  • Rounded off our Saturday of cycling with a family dinner at The Alford Arms in Frithsden. Although it was outside, like in many pubs the area we ate in was pretty self-contained and shielded from the weather which I am not sure how COVID-safe it really is. Having been vaccinated and knowing that cases and transmission rates are low right now I definitely feel much more relaxed than at any point in the past year and a half. They took good care of us and did everything they could to make us feel as safe as possible.

  • Booked my bike in for a service at the end of May. There’s nothing immediate that needs an emergency fix, but I do want to make sure that everything is running well before I set out on my monster ride. The bike shop said that they are still busy, but the wait for a service is much shorter than it was last year.
  • (Eventually) successfully changed the chain on my bike for the first time, getting through a few pairs of disposable vinyl gloves in the process. Twice (twice!) had to undo my good work to find that I had threaded the chain around the derailleur incorrectly. Every day’s a school day.
  • Continued our journey through police dramas by watching Spiral season 4 and Line of Duty season 3, which are both excellent in their own way. It’s good to know we still have lots of episodes of both to get through.

Next week: A four-day week, with a focus on all of the usual projects and trying to get the statements of work agreed for the pieces of work we need to kick off.

Why are Microsoft Word table defaults so poorly chosen?

  • Rows break across pages
  • If your design has a header, it doesn’t repeat on each page
  • Headers get detached from the first data row if there is too much content above

I’ve spent so many hours over the years fixing tables.

🚲 Signed up for my first Audax ride, the Mid Bucks Vale of Evesham 300 in July. I’m putting it out there now that if the weather is terrible, I reserve the right not to set out! Hoping for a glorious day in the saddle, and a sense of achievement at the end of it.

An incredibly small price to pay

Post-vaccine update: Feeling nauseous and shivery today, like the start of a fever or food poisoning. But it’s mild. And an incredibly small price to pay given what is happening in some ‘majority world’ countries at the moment.

I am so grateful for the luck I have to be here at this time, doing the work that I do, for a company that has been keeping me safe.

I know it has almost become a cliche, but the amount of volunteers and the scale of the operation to roll out the vaccine in the UK is mind-boggling. I can’t believe that what I saw yesterday is replicated up and down the country. An incredible operation.

Weeknotes #113 — St George’s

Friends reunited! (Photo: Daniel Russell)

Friends reunited! (Photo: Daniel Russell)

The weekend was so busy that I didn’t get a chance to write up my weeknotes until Monday. Once again it felt like a heck of a lot of meetings, with any spare time focused on getting things over the line. I struggled to prioritise work for school and have a few governor things piling up which I need to address during the coming week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Welcomed new members of the team. Although it has been sad to say goodbye to colleagues in recent months, it is great to have some new minds and fresh thinking as new people join.
  • Spent a number of hours reviewing Kanban boards and cards with the IT team and coaching them on the best ways to work with the boards. The timing is good given that we have a number of new people in the team.
  • Created some templates on one of the team Kanban boards for our joiner/leaver checklists.
  • Reviewed a vendor proposal for assistance with our flagship conference to be held later this year. Agreed in principle how we will approach it with our internal team.
  • Spent a lot of time on the large group programme, attending design authority forums and co-authoring a presentation to get our closest business colleagues aligned with our thinking.
  • Reviewed and submitted materials for our company governance committee, in a colleague’s absence.
  • Reviewed our self-assessed risk controls.
  • Saw a demo of a powerful desktop analytics tool that examines and processes news feeds, with a view to looking at whether we could make use of it for client work.
  • Attended a leadership talk hosted by the CEOs of our offices in China and Kenya.
  • Hosted a talk by one of our colleagues in the Finance department on the impact of our automation work over the past few months. It was very powerful to hear not just about the time saved, but what it has meant that he can do with the additional time each month.
  • Enjoyed a lovely, inspirational ‘random coffee’ with an IT colleague. They have been going through some personal challenges over the past few years and it was great to have the space to understand more about them.
  • Attended a Meetup on the use of coaching and mentoring as a way for teams to ‘get back to normal’ after the pandemic. I’ve made a resolution to be a bit more selective about the Meetups that I join.
  • Joined, and spoke, in a Twitter space for the first time. It’s like an even more ephemeral version of Clubhouse.
  • Heard a rumour that the NHS were taking vaccine bookings for the under-45s and got myself booked in for both appointments.
  • Found out about and signed up to the St George’s Sportive, along with my friend Ian. Many thanks to my colleague Dan (photo above) who let me know it was happening. It was great to see him after more than a year. I decided to ride there and back as well in order to make it a century ride. It was brilliant to be back outside again, riding with other people. So many hills, but it meant that the views were beautiful. The food wasn’t brilliant — cheap flapjacks, as many fig rolls as you can handle, and no hot drinks — but it didn’t take the shine off of the day. Many thanks to another Andrew who showed me the way out of Princes Risborough and into Great Missenden so that I could navigate my way home.

  • Spent a lot of my spare time thinking about cycling. I stumbled across Katie Kookaburra’s brilliant YouTube channel and have spent time lining up videos from her archive to watch. She started cycling around the same time as me but now looks like she has made it her career. Such infectious enthusiasm for riding — it’s a joy to dip into any of her videos. I’m now pondering a 300km Audax ride that is scheduled for July. It would be a massive personal challenge, but that’s the attraction.
  • Loved hearing Counting Crows’ August And Everything After again at Album Club. It had been a while.

Next week: My first vaccine! A plethora of documents to review for work and school, a couple of evening Meetups and the next F1 race of a very exciting season.

First dose! Incredible operation from start to finish, with so many volunteers. To think of the scale of this effort going on up and down the country is mind-boggling. I’m so grateful. 🙏

On every iOS training app, my heart rate is never detected properly at the very start. My HR should have been >100 but <150 for this whole run. TrainerRoad on my iPad never has this problem. Are all the apps using the same buggy software library, or is it something else?