Weeknotes #83 — Network upgrade

As the the calendar turned to September it seemed as though Autumn arrived right on schedule. Temperatures have dropped, shades of gold and brown have started to creep into the leaves on the trees, and I have suddenly noticed how early sunset arrives.

Monday was spent enjoying our last public holiday in the UK before Christmas, so I had a four-day week ‘in the office’. My week off hadn’t felt like much of a break, probably because the two nights we had away were spent slightly on edge. It’s hard to relax during a global pandemic. Still, this squirrel came to check up on me on a regular basis throughout the week, which helped.

A week in which I…

  • Slotted back into work on Tuesday a little bleary-eyed, but didn’t take long to get going again. My first day was full to the brim with meetings so I had little chance to catch up with all of my emails and Teams messages, and this persisted for most of the week.
  • Got involved in a deep-dive for an issue with our sole on-premises shared drive that we are in the process of moving away from. Lots of our staff suddenly found themselves with errors when trying to access the server. We have a few leads but have not yet got to the root of the problem.
  • Prepped the materials and ran the project Steering Committee meeting for moving off of the shared drive. We’re on track to report that we have hit our first and most significant milestone on Monday, which is an amazing team effort.
  • Had an engineer come to my house to run some Cat6 Ethernet cable out the front of the building, up over the roof, down the rear and then up the garden to my office. Where I was previously getting around 10Mbps download speeds I am now getting 210Mbps. It took two hours and has already been transformative — I should have done it sooner.
  • Met with a company to discuss supporting our various telephony installations across our five global offices.
  • Stepped in to run our Change Approval Board meeting.
  • Tried to spend time in Salesforce Trailhead each day. Our company is pushing for as many staff to become ‘Rangers’ as possible. I need 50,000 points and 100 badges, and I’m currently on 6,575 and 26 respectively.
  • Arranged dates for our Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meetings for the coming school year. It’s difficult to get dates that fit everyone given the parameters of not being too close to other meetings, and taking place soon after the monthly finance admin visits.
  • Enjoyed a fun end-of-week team meeting where we were given a ‘little-known fact’ and then had to guess who in the team it applied to. It’s great to throw these things into the meetings occasionally to let off a bit of steam.
  • Arranged a visit from the company that built our garden decking and got them to re-fasten some of the boards that had expanded and bowed over the summer.
  • Saw our youngest boy start secondary school. He seemed to take it all in his stride. He’s with two or three of his best friends in his form group, so was very pleased on Friday evening.
  • Started a new kids’ football season with a short friendly match at the local Astro pitch. I ran the line, and had to re-acquaint myself with the offside rule. It was great to get back to some kind of normalcy, although I am pessimistic about how long it will last; there were three or four matches going on and I was the only person wearing a mask, with social distancing between the spectators being very limited. Come on people, make mask-wearing just something that you do now.
  • Watched a thrilling Italian Grand Prix and was overjoyed at Pierre Gasly’s win. He’s been through so much over the past year. To win in Italy with an Italian team is really something, despite the tifosi being absent.
  • Finished reading Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary. As a long-time reader and listener of Stratechery it didn’t give me any massive new insights, but I do like the way they organised their information and reasoning on platforms today. I have another couple of books lined up on the same topic which I’ll be starting soon.
  • Watched a couple of classic 80s films with the kids. They loved Coming To America (1988) (which is one of my favourites), but thought that Big Trouble In Little China (1986) was just ok. I had great memories of watching the latter film with my brothers when we were kids and finding it a wild adventure, but it now just seems full of plot holes, terrible acting and poor one-liners.

Next week: In the house on my own for the first time since March, with everyone else back at work and school. Focusing on trying to get as much of our Beijing IT infrastructure set up as possible, so expecting a few early morning meetings, starting with one on Monday. At least the commute is short right now.

Today’s Bandcamp Friday purchases

It’s Bandcamp Friday, where the company forgoes their revenue share from everything sold on their platform for the day. It’s a great way to support artists, particularly during a time where they are unable to make any money or promote their music with live performances.

Over the past few months I’ve really enjoyed exploring Bandcamp and finding new artists to listen to. It takes a little bit of effort, and that’s part of the fun. I tend to take a look at who else has bought/supported an artist I like and see what else they have been buying. Finding something new that you love is very rewarding.

I’ve bought vinyl copies of everything where I can. The lovely thing about Bandcamp is that you can stream from the website or download lossless files while you wait for the physical music to make its way to you.

What I bought today:

Magdalena Bay — A Little Rhythm And A Wicked Feeling and mini mix vol. 1

I’ve been listening to Magdalena Bay for the past few weeks and really love what they do. Their music and videos both have a very home-grown feel, crossing 1990s sounds with graphics that look like they came out of the early days of the web crossed with GTA: Vice City.

They refer to both of these records as EPs, but A Little Rhythm And A Wicked Feeling is pretty much album length at just under half an hour. There are so many good songs here, and it’s a fabulous journey from start to finish.

mini mix vol. 1 is only 13 minutes long, but you don’t feel short-changed when you hear it. The songs are dreamy and catchy, and you want to start the whole thing over again once you get to the end.

What has recently blown me away is how incredible their songs are when they are stripped back. Paste Magazine posted a set to YouTube earlier this year which has three of their songs with just vocals and keyboard and they are stunning. My favourite is Mine from mini mix vol. 1:

Helena Deland — Someone New

I raved about Helena Deland here a few months back. It was great to get an email to say that her first album will be out soon, so I’ve taken the opportunity to pre-order it today. The title track has been released and I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest.

Incidentally, one of our cats seems to be mesmerised by the video to this song, which is a ringing endorsement.

Peggy Sue — Vices

A band with a very un-Googleable name. Their music is a little bit 1960s surfer guitar mixed with now and the results are splendid. The guitar in the chorus of In Dreams reminds me a little of the climax of Belle and Sebastian’s Lazy Line Painter Jane, in a very very good way.

MUNYA — MUNYA

I’m still exploring Munya’s music but didn’t want to wait until next month. Her mixed English/French dream-pop has pulled me in.

Our youngest boy starts secondary school for the first time today. The eldest is back on Monday. Feels like another step towards normal life. I have my fingers and toes crossed that it lasts and we don’t find them both back at home in a state of lockdown again.

Since Strava dropped support for heart rate monitors I’ve been trying to find an iOS app to track my run data that syncs/uploads to Strava. All seem to struggle with HRM accuracy. TrainerRoad tracks HR great on the bike, so I know it’s not a hardware problem. What do people use?

Had Brightwell Aerials install Ethernet from my router, over my house roof and down to my garden office today. Excellent job. I’ve gone from having 8Mbps download ‘if the door is open and nobody is downloading an Xbox update’ to over 200Mbps. It’s like Christmas has come early.

UC Today podcast

I really enjoy the UC Today podcast. If you’re involved in administering or working with Microsoft Teams, the latest episode is well worth 20 minutes of your time.

Key points covered in this episode that stuck in my head after listening:

  • Calling plan will now be part of the Microsoft E5 licence (so no additional purchase necessary) everywhere that Microsoft is a telco except the US and Puerto Rico.
  • Teams is getting native integration to WebEx meetings, so you can join WebEx calls from Teams meeting rooms.
  • Microsoft are selling a bolt-on for API access to record calls/meetings. The list price is USD 12/user/month, which seems quite expensive. You will also need a third party tool to record.
  • Other features and enhancements to the user interface including the ‘Together’ mode, which is meant to make calls less tiring.

Weeknotes #82 — Mathon

I spent Monday ‘at work’ to hand over the various in-progress technical projects to our CTO for the coming week, and then took the rest of the week off. I hadn’t had a break since Christmas and it was good to have a few days to think about other things. While I was away, the team worked with our on-site partner in São Paulo to establish our ‘minimum viable office’ of SD-WAN sockets, a server, a switch and some wireless access points. If staff return to the office they will now be able to seamlessly connect and get things done.

A week in which I…

  • Took some time to catch up with a few school governance items. The government guidance for the full opening of schools in September took around 90 minutes to read, but it was good to go through this ahead of reviewing our own school’s risk assessment for reopening. The staff continue to do amazing work. Things will be very different when children go back, but it will be good to have some degree of normality again. I really hope it lasts.
  • Spent two nights away at a rented house in Mathon, near Malvern in Herefordshire. We were there with my wife’s parents and one of her brothers to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. My wife had picked the house as there was enough space inside for us to keep physically apart, with different lounges, kitchens and toilets to go with the many bedrooms. It was lovely to see and spend time with everyone, but I still found being inside very uncomfortable — mask on, sitting away from everyone. The first night was great as we all sat outside and ate home-made pizzas cooked in our new oven, but it rained for most of the second day which really limited what we could do.

  • Took a wander up British Camp in the rain for a couple of hours and marvelled at the views. It always amazes me how little vertical distance you need to cover in order for the climate to change. As we started our walk down, a strange fog covered the area which muffled the sounds we were making.

  • Carried on with running in place of being on my bike. Unfortunately I forgot to take my heart rate monitor away with me, so my efforts don’t show up in my training log on Strava. Only three or four weeks before I get my bike fixed so that I can start training on the turbo again.
  • Missed out on Album Club #114 as we were away, but I caught up with Idlewild’s 100 Broken Windows in my own time. I used to read about the band in NME back in the day, but never listened to them, so this was a new experience for me.
  • Caught up with my personal and governor emails, getting my backlog down from around 1,000 to about 50 in a few hours. I now need to do the work contained in those remaining 50.
  • Swept out the gutter on our garden studio and set up a GutterGrid system which will hopefully mean that I don’t need to do it again.

Next week: Back to the race against our deadline to get our Beijing ‘minimum viable office’ up and running, and completing the first phase of our unstructured data migration project. Plus the first day of secondary school for our youngest boy.

Used Strava’s ‘suggested route’ for a run in the countryside this morning. There were footpaths but they seemed seldom used, so it turned into a mini jungle adventure. Finally gave up and backtracked when I entered a field and found a bunch of hungry cows running towards me.

I’ve been trying out Readwise to re-surface my Kindle highlights. It’s good, but it still feels like a poor cousin to the Readmill experience.

I think of this passage often when I feel annoyed, particularly at the kids. The annoyance is mine to control and not their fault.

Weeknotes #81 — Rangers

A week of trying to ‘dig in’ and getting things moved along and prepped as much as I can for when I will be ‘out of the office’ for a few days next week.

A week in which I…

  • Got a contract in place with our local IT support vendor in São Paulo, ready to rack and build our new ‘minimum viable office’ setup next week.
  • Agreed that the same vendor will also be in to get our new desktop equipment — monitors, webcams, and wireless keyboards and mice — onto staff desks in the same week. We’re not anticipating that anyone will be back there soon but it will be great to be ready for them.
  • Agreed in principle the ‘minimum viable office’ work for our Beijing office with our local IT support vendor there. Spent some time drawing up the ‘after’ version of our rack diagrams for the implementation document.
  • Had a visit from a third company to get a quote for hard-wiring my garden office back to my router. Looking forward to getting this in place in the next couple of weeks so my Teams calls no longer have to have Wi-Fi battles with Xbox game updates.
  • Met with the CEOs of our Dubai and São Paulo offices to go through the current IT status and plan for the next couple of months.
  • Reviewed a presentation by one of our team members on how they will be pushing Salesforce Trailhead over the next few months. The whole company is making a big push to upskill as many of our ~55,000 employees as possible and a significant number of our most senior leaders in the firm are already ‘Rangers’ with 50,000 points each.
  • Continued to support teams and individuals with the work to move 5TB of data from a shared drive up to Teams/SharePoint Online. We only have a week to go and things are going well with surprisingly few issues.
  • Ran a Steering Committee meeting for the migration project where the sponsor reiterated their commitment to a hard end date. I now need to spell out what the impact will be to the wider team so that there are no surprises for anyone when we close down access to the old drive.
  • Reviewed another batch of CVs for a senior technical leadership position that we are recruiting for. Barely any of them were suitable — we’re after a person who can lead and inspire a small geographically-dispersed team, who can argue a point with our CIO and CTO, credibly present to our business leaders, and also roll their sleeves up and do the work themselves when necessary.
  • Attended a presentation on the firm’s interim results. The company continues to do well but you can’t escape the clouds on the horizon related to the pandemic.
  • Attended a webinar on options for integration LeanKit with JIRA. LeanKit is really embedded in our team but the business unit/company dashboards all use JIRA so we need to find a way to keep them in sync.
  • Started to use WhatsApp on my desktop to get in contact with some old friends and colleagues. I’ve been reconnecting with a different person each day. Sometimes a conversation sparks and sometimes it doesn’t, but I feel that I’m scratching a long-neglected ‘keeping in touch’ itch.
  • Continued my journey through John Steinbeck’s bibliography by devouring the second half of The Grapes of Wrath, including a blissful 90 minutes of reading outside at our local cricket club while my youngest son attended practice. Sitting outside reading a book is sublime, and I need to do it more.
  • Continued our round robin of family movies with The Last Samurai (2003) and Titanic (1997). I’d forgotten the Samurai film — it’s fine, but doesn’t linger for very long in my memory. I don’t think I’d seen Titanic since it was released in the cinema and it was great to revisit it, the boys loved it. It was interesting to see it so soon after The Abyss (1989) as so many of the early ‘exploring the wreck’ scenes could have come from either film.

Next week: A day ‘in the office’ for a handover to our CTO, and then a few days off for the first time this year.