🎶 George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is unbelievably 50 years old this month. Living In The Material World is my favourite Harrison album but only just, with ATMP a very close second. The BBC have released a superb Archive on 4 episode where Nitin Sawhney explores the album.

Weeknotes #90–91 — Double Diamond

Another couple of weeks that went by in the blink of an eye. The overwhelming feeling from the team is that everyone is worn out. December in South Africa is like August in the UK in that it is typically a time at work where things completely wind down; people are hanging on in there for their break.

Since we hit the last of our firm committed deadlines for 2020 a few weeks ago, things have felt a little bit adrift for me. There’s a lot happening, but I feel like I am in the ‘discover’ phase of the Double Diamond model, except that there are at least three or four Double Diamonds in play at the same time. More new things and pieces of information are landing on my desk than I am able to keep up with.

The wider organisation has kicked off some major initiatives and we are still working out what the impact is on us, and what we should do in response. I really suffer from being interested in everything, and wanting to learn as much as I can about the topics that come up. I need to try and keep myself operating at a higher level as there is no way that I can do it all.

Over the past two weeks I:

  • Have once again rediscovered my love of reading. When I felt ill a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t able to do much other than sit around and read, and I loved it. I felt the same when I found myself in hospital on holiday a few years ago — it was rubbish, but at least I could spend hours on end reading my book. I’ve taken to reading again whenever I get the chance, avoiding other distractions like social media and reading the news. It’s amazing how much material you can devour when you prioritise it.
  • Lost out on a key hire that we were making into our team when the candidate was offered a dream job in another company. We’re back to square one, and need to think of a different approach. Not having someone in this role continues to hamper us.
  • Heard some bad health news from two of my friends. It’s really been a year for it. Hoping they and their loved ones are on the mend soon.
  • Had a brilliant introductory meeting with a promising vendor in Beijing. They asked all the right questions and made us feel like they are there to help solve our problems, not to just throw things our way to make a quick buck. I’m hoping that they live up to their initial promise and our discussions bear fruit.
  • Spent a lot of time contributing our formal annual risk assessment for IT, and stepped in to represent IT in reviewing the summarised report across all of the departments.
  • Made some steps forward with establishing a regional IT Architecture board.
  • Reviewed our project backlog and made a quick and dirty summary of where any of the initiatives would require funding, if they were to be prioritised.
  • Chaired the Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting at our school. I continue to be so impressed and proud of all the work that the staff are doing. They are incredible people.
  • Met with the Chair of Governors, the Headteacher and our Improvement Partner for the Headteacher’s annual appraisal.
  • Interviewed a prospective new governor. After a few years of drought it feels as though there are quite a few people putting themselves forward for the role, which bodes very well for the future.
  • Attended the latest LeanKit product update. Planview have just been acquired and I was concerned about what this meant for the company, so I continued my recent run of asking lots of questions in all of the webinars that I’ve been going to.
  • Got brought up-to-date with the state of Microsoft Project at the Microsoft 365 UK User Group meeting. Project for the web seems like a very basic ‘minimum viable product’ at the moment, and is definitely something that I won’t be using any time soon.
  • Thought a lot about the words of one of my colleagues when he said that “You spend time with the people you love”, or something to that effect. My boys have a couple of days off school soon, so I’m planning to take one of the days off to do whatever they want to do, even if that means playing some Xbox and going out for a takeaway lunch. Hopefully we can get dinner sorted for mum as well.
  • Had a random coffee with another of my colleagues in Sao Paulo, and had a lovely chat about how they had been getting on given that they had joined a new company in the middle of a global pandemic. The next week, my coffee was with a colleague in London that I knew only vaguely, so it was great to be able to get to know them a little better.
  • Spent time with a friend who is going through some difficult job-changing decisions to help him work through the various scenarios. I have my fingers crossed for him that all of the variables and timings land in his favour.
  • Popped into a live recording of the Postlight Podcast. It didn’t seem to work as well as the show normally does, but it was fun to see the two hosts live. I don’t know what I was expecting, but Rich Ziade looks nothing like his voice!
  • Enjoyed another Album Club, with a great off-piste choice by the host.
  • Joined Marika Hackman for the her new album launch gig, recorded live in an empty swimming pool.

Next week: Reviewing the project backlog with the CIO and fleshing out how we will prioritise and plan what we will do, and not do, in Q1 next year.

🎬 Finally watched 3 Idiots (2009) last night after years of people recommending it to me. A really fab mix of comedic and tear-jerking moments, with just the right level of cheesiness. You really get to feel like you know the characters. The musical numbers were a real delight.

(Re)discovered a good way of saving content for later in WhatsApp. Create a new group with you and one other person (mine’s called ‘Note to self’.) Immediately boot them out. You now have a channel you can forward messages and docs to. Useful for good content in busy chats.

📚 With Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez by Audry Lynch

A really lovely supplement to the main Sea of Cortez book. This should probably have been attributed to ‘Sparky Enea with Audry Lynch’ as it is essentially his story, which Lynch put together through hours of interviews. There is much more substance and detail here than in Steinbeck Remembered, another of Lynch’s works that I read recently, which covers a greater expanse of his life at much less depth.

There are some fascinating insights, such as the fact that the boat hired for the trip, the Western Flyer, was hired for $2,500, which sounds like a gigantic sum of money for 1940. Carol Steinbeck doesn’t come across very well, and not just because the men on the trip seemed to assume that she would cook for everyone (she didn’t.) I plan to read Susan Shillinglaw’s Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of Marriage to get a much better understanding of this important person in Steinbeck’s life.

Hearing that Steinbeck and Ricketts took a bit of artistic licence with the things that happened on the trip when they wrote ‘Sea of Cortez’ doesn’t take anything away from their story.

It’s a tiny book — more of a pamphlet — and well worth a read if you are familiar with the story of the original journey.

Written many years ago, but sadly just as relevant now. It’s interesting to talk to my boys about our leaders. I wish they were people that they could look up to.

Weeknotes #89 — Dizzy spells

A week where I seemed very busy but ended up without any big achievements at the end of it. The three days that I took off the week before only served to give me a taste of pottering around the house reading, playing board games and generally not doing too much. I wasn’t quite ready to get back to the keyboard on Monday.

Our eldest boy, who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, finished his 10-day isolation period and went back to school on Tuesday, but my wife and younger son were at home all week while we continued to isolate. On Wednesday I started to feel light-headed, spaced-out and tired, and this gradually got worse through Friday afternoon, where I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate as the week came to an end. I went up to bed straight after dinner and got myself a solid night’s rest. This helped, but I still felt weird on Saturday. Another early night followed, and by Sunday I was starting to feel myself again. Of course, I was concerned that it was COVID-19, particularly as I have had no exposure to anyone and it is the only confirmed illness that we have had in the house. But I had none of the symptoms that are prerequisites to getting a test — no temperature, no coughing, no loss of taste or smell. Hopefully whatever it was is behind me now and I can get back to feeling normal again.

We’re out of our own personal lockdown and find ourselves emerging into the broader second lockdown for England. I suspect that this will be far less effective than the first as there is still so much activity going on with children attending school etc., as well as less of an acceptance by people to stay at home.

A week in which I:

  • Felt pleased at how the team had managed without me in my few days off. I had been tempted to jump into Teams chat threads a few times but held back, and I’m glad I did.
  • Marvelled at reports of how ‘normal’ life is for my colleagues in Beijing, particularly outside of the office.
  • Decided on a plan of action to improve the Wi-Fi in two of our locations, to be followed up quickly next week.
  • Was grateful for a colleague stepping in to cover early morning while we work on a more permanent support solution for our Asia time zone.
  • Seemed to quickly move from sleep credit to sleep deficit. Sunday night we had 50mph wind gusts keeping us awake, Monday night I had one my very occasional ‘oh my, what has happened to the world’ moments and Tuesday night I had a bizarre nightmare where I was climbing up a very tall aluminium ladder for no good reason and suddenly realised how high I was. It still makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
  • Attended a small internal seminar on mental wellbeing with Colinda Linde. The session had a specific slant on looking out for your team as a manager. It’s definitely a lot more difficult to do this when you aren’t seeing them on a regular basis, and need to be deliberate about scheduling face-to-face time.
  • Went to a short internal training course with Stuart Mann for a refresher on programme-level agile. He’s an excellent instructor and an even better writer. I need to try and spend some time with him to help focus on our specific concept, as our team is a weird shape and doesn’t quite fit the mould.
  • Gave a short demo of LeanKit to some internal staff, who are now interested in looking at it for their own purposes.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague from our Dubai office. I can’t believe it has been over a year since we were there putting the new IT infrastructure in place.
  • Was sad to see grassroots football cancelled with the second lockdown. Given how close everyone is to each other at the matches — the spectators to each other, the children playing the game, the managers and the linesmen — it felt inevitable.
  • Was pinned to CNN and Twitter during the aftermath of the US Election, seemingly like everyone else. The result is fascinating — just enough of a narrative for Trump to capitalise on, and nowhere near the complete rejection of the right-wing narcissistic fascism that he represents. Sadly people aren’t savvy enough, or interested enough, to understand how the vote changed as the postal ballots were counted. Perhaps it would be better not to report the totals in real-time at all?
  • Continued my journey through Steinbeck’s works by starting on Sea of Cortez. I read the ‘log’ portion as a teenager and found it a little boring, but coming back to it now as an adult it feels much more relatable. Stories of setting off on a quest, of the relation of tide pools to the universe, and of the boat crew to each other as they journey around Baja California is just the thing for a person who hasn’t left the house in weeks.
  • Treated myself to a few books written by people whose work I follow and enjoy on the Internet. Ian Dunt, Nina Schick and Katherine May. Kindle where it makes sense, and physical copies from Bookshop.org I want to pass them on.
  • Settled in and watched another paid gig from the comfort of my lounge, this time the Smoke Fairies live from De La Warr Pavilion. The gig wasn’t truly live, having been recorded a few weeks before in an empty venue. But it felt like a good compromise to avoid all of the potential Internet connection and quality problems that being truly live might bring. The sound and vision were superb. The band joined everyone watching in the YouTube comments as we watched along, which was a lovely touch. They really are a special band.

  • Stumbled across Hope Griffin playing a live set at a vineyard. After the election was called for Joe Biden on Saturday evening, I browsed around Periscope to find some unfiltered ‘on the ground’ reaction. An acoustic gig was much more relaxing than what I had been seeking. I’ve found a few live musicians on the platform, and it’s magical when you stumble across someone that’s really good.
  • Had a scheduled ‘active recovery’ week on the turbo trainer, filled with low-intensity workouts. I’m doing a ramp test for the first time in quite a while on Tuesday and am interested in where Trainerroad thinks I’m at.

Next week: Hoping to have my energy back to attack the long list of things I need to get done. Many, many meetings at work and some important school governor duties to fulfil. Watching Marika Hackman live on Friday evening will be a great way to start the weekend.

🦠 Happy to say that our household got to the end of our 14-day self-isolation with nobody else developing symptoms of COVID-19. I still find it strange that we don’t retest positive people 10 days later to check it has gone, or automatically test the people they live with.