Weeknotes #68 — New job

A week in which I…

  • Felt like I luxuriated at work for the first couple of days of the week. With only a couple of meetings each day I could stretch out and get some focused work done. I managed to get a project definition document moved from draft to ‘version 1.0’ and caught up a little with my gigantic email backlog. Sadly the meetings crept back in as the week progressed. I’ve come to dread that ‘eighth videoconference of the day’ feeling.
  • Along with my family, felt as though we had settled into some new routines. The angst of being together all day every day has passed, and everyone seems to be getting on much better. We’re all having dinner together every day, and finishing off with a family game of UNO or a movie. I’m still struggling with finishing my work day much earlier than I otherwise would, but I’m sure I’ll get there.
  • Celebrated my eldest son’s 13th birthday. The years are short; from baby to teenager has gone by in a flash.
  • Started a permanent role with my client, putting on hold my short career as a contractor. I absolutely love working there and it’s great to properly join the team. My main role is going to be organising how we source, prioritise and deliver change work for our business in five major financial centres. It’s going to be strange — in a nice way — to get back into the mindset that I can take the Easter weekend off and I will still get paid.
  • Kicked off my time as a ‘permanent’ employee by taking the team through a slide deck on how we look at prioritisation using ‘cost of delay divided by duration’ (also known as ‘weighted shortest job first’ or ‘WSJF’). I had good feedback on the material and people have already started using the language in our discussions. I’ve adopted a simple model that I found in this presentation by Kim Harbott, as shown below. I’ve added some guidance on what constitutes a short, medium or long piece of work. My next problem is what orders of magnitude the ‘cost of delay’ side of the matrix should take. I’d be interested if anyone has any good examples of this.
Prioritisation matrix

Prioritisation matrix

  • Closed off a mini-project to get our Beijing staff working while they are out of the office and in lockdown. In the absence of having ordered our proper end-state laptops, we had some of our employees purchase consumer devices from JD.com. Our team were able to walk them through the process of upgrading from Windows 10 Home China edition to Windows 10 Enterprise, extracting the hardware hash so that we could register the laptops as ‘ours’, and then taking them through the Autopilot/Intune build process. The choices we made a couple of years ago are really paying off in just the way that we envisaged.
  • Attended a ‘town hall’ meeting with the rest of the International team. It was excellent to get a business update and understand how the company has been helping our clients, particularly given how troubled the economic waters are.
  • Had a wonderful end to the week where our COO and his daughter broadcast a gig to all of us from his living room using Teams Live Events. It sounded amazing, and was lovely to be a part of something with the rest of the staff around the world as we headed into the weekend.
  • Continued to exercise every day, although my legs have started to complain. I’m planning to take advantage of it being a little rainy on Monday to have a rest day before getting back to it. I just need to make sure that my food consumption also has a bit of a rest.
  • Couldn’t get enough of video calls during the the day, so joined both the Remainiacs vs The Bunker and Smoke Fairies live sessions. None of the live events I’ve attended have been entirely successful, but it felt important to be there and support them. Everyone’s trying!

  • Had a beautiful spring family walk on Saturday across the fields and woods behind our house. We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep and I will never take it for granted.

Next week: Trying to fight my diary to get more space to work. And my first paid day off in a quite a few years.

I love this time of year. The big beech tree in our garden has all its buds ready to go. They all seem to unfurl on the same day in one big explosion of green.

It’s not often that you get a flat tyre riding on a turbo trainer. Had to abandon my ride this morning. Inner tube had a puncture but I can’t work out where I picked it up from as the tyre looks fine. 🤷‍♂️

🚴‍♂️ Getting started with indoor bike training

Given how much time people are spending indoors due to the coronavirus, I thought it might be useful to write down some quick thoughts on how to get riding your road bike in your house.

My son’s road bike on the turbo trainer

My son’s road bike on the turbo trainer

It doesn’t cost that much to get started with an indoor setup. The main thing is to have the space to do it in, and some tolerant neighbours if you don’t live in a detached property. First, you’ll need a road bike — and this post assumes you have one already. From that point, you will need:

The basics

  • A turbo trainer
    • These range from low-end like the one I have, a Tacx Blue Motion for about £180, to very, very expensive.
    • The cheaper ones work by running your back tyre against a resistance wheel. Generally, the more you pay the greater the range of resistance, i.e. you can pedal harder. The trainers come with a ‘skewer’ that goes through the middle of the back wheel, replacing the one you already have, and this allows it to be seated into the clamp that keeps the bike in place (see picture below).
Basic resistance wheel trainer, bike clamped in place

Basic resistance wheel trainer, bike clamped in place

  • The more expensive ones let you remove your back wheel and plug your bike straight onto a set of cogs. They can sometimes also electronically adjust the resistance as you ride along, to simulate going up a hill, for example.
    • It’s probably worth getting a cheaper one first to see if you can develop the habit, you can always eBay it afterwards if you want to upgrade.
  • A mat
    • To keep sweat off of your floor. You will sweat a lot on a turbo trainer so this is well worth an investment.
    • I have a Giant mat, which is about £30, and comes with a bag for storage.
    • Any other exercise mat will probably work just as well.
  • A water bottle
    • To replace the sweat!
  • A floor standing fan
    • I think I already mentioned that you sweat a lot when riding indoors. Trust me, you need this. Even on days where it is so cold you can barely stand around in your shorts, you need this to be on maximum before you get going.

That’s the basics. You can happily hop on and ride along, watching TV or listening to your favourite workout music. BUT…it is pretty boring, and tough to go for longer than half an hour without wanting to get off.

Making it fun

To do this, you’ll need a couple of extra things:

  • A speed and cadence sensor
    • These attach to the bike and will measure how fast you are going (by how often your back wheel is rotating) and how quickly you are pedalling. The data will feed into an app that you set up on your computer/tablet/phone via Bluetooth.
    • A good one is the Wahoo RPM. It will set you back around £55.
  • A heart rate monitor (optional)
    • Not essential by any means, but very useful to see how hard you are working. You will get used to knowing when your heart is reaching maximum output and can get feedback from the various apps to see how hard you have been pushing.
    • You may already have one if you own a smart watch.
    • I have a Wahoo Tickr (about £40) which straps across my chest and pairs with apps via Bluetooth.
  • Apps
    • With the speed and cadence sensor you can download an app to your phone such as Polar Beat, Wahoo Fitness, or loads of others, pair up your devices and just ride. They will track all of the data and keep a record of what you’ve done. You can then upload your workouts to Strava and share with your friends.
    • More fun is to use an app. Zwift is really popular as it looks like an arcade game, and the harder you pedal the faster you move through the virtual terrain.
    • I use TrainerRoad which is a bit more data-focused; you tell it what turbo trainer you are using and what resistance setting you are on and then it will give you a workout programme where you have to continually hit a target power output. It takes the bordom away completely, and there’s a massive sense of accomplishment at the end of a long or hard ride.
    • There are loads of other apps available.

You can go further than this. I have a cheap spare wheel which has a specific indoor training tyre attached to it, so I don’t wear out the one I use on the road too quickly. But the best advice is to make a small investment — you can always upgrade later if you find that you get the bug.

Weeknotes #66–67 — Lockdown

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Spent one anxious day in the office before an email arrived from the Group CEO to say that everyone in the company, globally, should work from home for the foreseeable future. I felt like crying. I knew that I had been extremely uptight at having to travel to work, but felt that I couldn’t unilaterally decide not to go in while we still expected others in the team to be there. I could almost hear the hiss of the pressure being released in my brain during the first day we were at home.
  • Had a daily family debate about whether the children should go to school. I felt another massive wave of relief when the decision was made to close the schools and we could keep them safe at home. I’m sad for my youngest, who is finishing off his final year of primary school, but no amount of celebrating is worth the risk to all of us. It’s been strange to try and get them set up, focused and working while I’m spending most of my days in video meetings. They’re into a rhythm where they make a start around the same time that I do, get their work done by lunchtime, and spend their afternoons with their friends playing games on the Internet. Like most of my time as a parent, I am always full of self-doubt as to whether I’m doing it right.
  • Continued to worry about my wife as she made the journey into school while the three of us stayed at home. I felt so fortunate when they said that they didn’t need her to be there for the next couple of weeks, which takes us up to the Easter holidays.
  • Found that I had less time to myself, as my family now come looking for me at the end of the working day to join them for dinner. It’s amazing that we have this time together, but it has made me realise how much of my job I squeezed into the daily commutes and a few nights a week of being back home a couple of hours later.
  • Counted my blessings for everything I have right now. We’re all healthy. I’m working in a job that I can do from home, without coming into contact with anyone else in person. We have a house which we have recently expanded so that we have space to stretch out while we are all spending so much time under one roof. We live on the edge of town, with farmland and open spaces right behind us to escape into. I hope to never take these things for granted.
  • Thought about what the world will look like out of the other side of this crisis. Poorer, slower, with less privacy, new social conventions and powerful governments. The rate at which the whole world has come to a juddering halt has been staggering. This chart from The Economist showing new jobless claims in the US shocked me, and is an illustration of how crazy things are.

  • Spent the first week of work at home fielding a lot of support issues, lending a hand to our Helpdesk team as our staff got used to the new setup. I seemed to fall further and further behind with my regular work as the days went on, but getting people up and running had to take priority. It’s going to take me a week or two to get properly back on track. We’ve delayed the formal close-out of the main programme work in our final two cities by a few months and will need to see how we get on.
  • Inspired by the suggestion of a friend who works at Google, and Matt Ballantine’s now regular Global Canteen meetups, I set up an internal Microsoft Teams channel called The Water Cooler, where our staff can have some informal and fun interaction. It’s been great — it separates out the non-work chat and gives everybody a space to keep connected. This Friday we decided to all wear hats to our daily team meeting, and after posting some photos we saw everyone joining in across the organisation.

  • Noticed how many interactions with colleagues, vendors and everyone else starts off with a sincere ‘how are you?’ So far the crisis has brought some humanity and mindfulness into situations where previously we were all in a great big hurry.
  • Tried to get my head around LTE wireless routers as a backup solution in case we lost our wired ISP connections in our offices. There are some really interesting products out there.
  • Continued our investigation into automation software, getting demos of a couple of products that we’re considering trying out. Use of these tools is a ‘pull’ from our colleagues outside of IT and we need to make sure that we can help meet the business need, but we don’t yet have much knowledge internally to give considered opinions. We’re going to time-box an investigation and trial of one of them and see how quickly we can get some tangible value from it.
  • Took a new colleague through how we are using LeanKit. I am still in love with this product. Our team is still far from being an amazingly-optimised productivity machine, but LeanKit gives us so much and we’d be lost without it. It’s a solid base to build on. Our new colleague ‘got it’ instantly and has been happily using the advanced features from the get-go.
  • Took part in two virtual school governor meetings, both using Microsoft Teams. Everyone seemed to get the hang of the technology and we had a couple of great meetings — much more efficient than when we meet in person, despite having a lot of additional items to talk about. The people still going to their jobs every day are my heroes right now, including the school staff. I’m in awe of how they have kept focused and kept going during all of this.
  • Have taken advantage of not having a commute by replacing it with exercise. It’s like the Christmas period all over again, with a run or turbo trainer session every day. I still haven’t made it out on my bike on the road this year and don’t plan to change this anytime soon; risking an accident and hospital visit doesn’t seem like a great idea right now.
Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

Strava’s view of my fitness over the past six months

  • Haven’t been able to look at a TV show or film without noticing how close everyone stands to each other, or how much handshaking goes on. After finishing season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm my wife and I were looking for something to give us a giggle, and Impractical Jokers has filled the void. I’m properly laughing out loud every night.
  • Have been watching lots of films with the family. We even managed to finally spend a whole afternoon watching Ben Hur (1959) over the weekend. We now have a round-robin system in place so that everyone gets to choose. I’m currently pondering whether the wonderful Top Hat (1935) or Swing Time (1936) would go down well; I suspect not, but it’s worth a try.

Next week: We suddenly have our first teenager in the house.

Live stream concerts

I use a couple of services to track upcoming gigs for bands that I like, SongKick and BandsInTown. As there are no gigs to go to, both of them have taken different approaches to what you can do instead. SongKick has a list of upcoming concerts that will be live-streamed, and BandsInTown has its own live Twitch channel where they will be streaming music from this evening.

I managed to get the Smoke Fairies gig on 3 April added to the SongKick list, and now just need to decide whether it is worth opening a temporary Facebook account to attend!