Andrew Doran

Weeknotes #152 — Expired furry thing

A regular week, full of meetings once again. It feels as though I am still struggling with the ratio of ‘meetings attended and actions picked up’ versus ‘time spent closing out the actions’. Next week looks a little clearer so I am hoping to get back on track.

At the end of the week I was acutely aware of being able to decide how I felt about things. I’d been working hard all week and still had lots to get done, but it didn’t feel like it was crushing me — I could just choose to be grateful to have lots to do and that I was making progress. This year has brought a renewed sense of optimism which I am trying to hang on to.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a very successful, long-awaited meeting with one of our in-country CEOs, agreeing proposals to implement a meeting room videoconferencing upgrade and network change in their office. Scheduled and had a number of follow-up meetings off the back of the decisions to ensure that colleagues across the organisation understood the implications of what we had agreed.
  • Attended a number of meetings relating to our flagship conference that is scheduled for the summer. It’s great to be involved so early on. The past two years have been virtual conferences and it was entirely in-person before that. This year it will be hybrid. I thought that holding hybrid meetings was difficult, but a hybrid conference is a whole different ball game. I know we’ll make it a big success — we always do — but there’s a lot of hard work to be done between now and then.
  • Joined a kick-off meeting with a new team member who will be working on a series of MIS dashboards for us on one of our key platforms.
  • Had a demo from another digital signage vendor. Based on what we’ve seen, we now have two different platforms that could foot the bill of being a global platform for us, powering our in-office displays across our five offices. I’m planning to go into the office next week to get the Raspberry Pi-based platform up and running so we can see how it performs over a number of days and weeks.
  • Met with our account managers for our main IT platform to discuss our planned transition to Teams telephony in two of our offices.
  • Walked our team through the planned delivery roadmap for the year across all of our areas. It generated some excellent discussion about how we may want to reprioritise some of the work over the next few quarters.
  • Met with an external consultant to brief them on a real estate project that we are kicking off, and to request a proposal for how they would approach it.
  • Attended a very early morning Programme Increment (PI) planning session for one of the streams of the big strategic group-wide programme. I’m grateful that most of my overseas colleagues are in South Africa and we don’t have much of a time difference, but 9am there is still 7am here which makes for a very long day.
  • Joined an internal update briefing from our Governance and Control and Cybersecurity teams.
  • Had our final management team workshop on team effectiveness, this time covering the topic of resilience.
  • Enjoyed an excellent internal presentation on the capabilities of Microsoft Defender.
  • Met up for a one-on-one with the last colleague to come back from their Christmas break. It’s great that we now have a full team once again.
  • Had a random coffee with a colleague that joined us during the pandemic. I hadn’t realised until recently that they are also a LearnedLeague player, and from what I can tell they are much better with their general knowledge than I am.
  • Had a chat with a colleague about their financial situation and how they can manage it going forward. Over the years, I’ve preached to many people about how life-changing the You Need a Budget (YNAB) app has been for us. I may put together a short internal presentation for our team on the topic.
  • Did some preparation for our school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting next week. I still struggle with fitting in keeping up with all of the school governor work around everything else in my life and have a few actions outstanding from the last meeting. It’s been a tough first couple of weeks for our school given the level of COVID-19 infections amongst staff and pupils. Although the government are behaving like the pandemic is over, it most definitely isn’t.
  • Spoke to Deco Audio about the best way to get CDs, SACDs and Blu-Ray audio to my analogue amplifier. They don’t recommend doing anything other than buying a decent CD player. I have a cheap one that I bought 20 years ago, but the tray has stopped working. I need to decide whether to get it repaired or to save the money towards something new.
  • Took my eldest boy to the orthodontist. It’s strange how open-ended the work is; they aren’t able to tell us when it will all be done. I remember the same thing when I was a child, going to appointments every few months and constantly being told to ‘wait and see’.
  • Changed the rear brake blocks on my eldest son’s road bike from the standard ones that came with the bike to Swissstop Full FlashPro BXPs. I’ve only ever changed brake blocks once before and struggled to get these on due to there not being enough clearance between the brake and the rim. A quick call to my wonderful local bike shop told me what I needed to do. My son’s yet to try them out but from what I can tell they seem to rival F1 cars for stopping power. I’m glad it’s the rear brakes I’ve changed.
  • Didn’t manage to get out on the bike this weekend. The weather looked very cold and I’m not one for chancing it when there’s a possibility of ice. Our club ride was cancelled on Saturday. The indoor trainer is so attractive given that I can be on and off in a set time, have very little chance of a puncture and don’t need to clean the bike afterwards.
  • Spent a couple of hours on Friday night picking up my son and his friends from Vicarage Road after the Watford v Norwich game. It sounded farcical, with 15 minutes of injury time due to some of the floodlights going out, but the pundits arguing that it was still bright enough to play.
  • Spent a few hours in the garden clearing up the mountain of leaves that fell last autumn. It’s been so wet since late last year that I’ve not been able to get out and do it before now. In the process of vacuuming up half a foot of leaves at the rear of the house I came across a furry paw of something that had expired some time ago. I nearly jumped out of my skin, wondering if it was a large hare or a small cat. Fortunately it turned out to be a very smelly dead squirrel. I’m so glad I cleaned up the leaves before it started getting warm again.

Next week: A school governor meeting, my first trip to the office of the year, and trying to use as much of my free time as possible to catch up with meeting actions and keep the momentum on our key initiatives.

Weeknotes #151 — Winter Warmer

The first full working week since Christmas, with many more team members back at their desks. Monday and Tuesday felt very different to last week in that they were packed with meetings; by the end of Tuesday I felt that I had just been collecting tasks and not getting any of them done. Thankfully meeting-free Wednesday is still a company initiative at work and I could use the time to catch up with everything.

I tentatively got back on the indoor bike trainer on Monday after my vaccine-related illness and had an easy week of spinning every day. By Wednesday I was feeling pretty much 100% match fit.

This was a week in which I:

  • Took part in a couple of reset meetings for one of our Engineering teams who are looking to shake things up for 2022. This precipitated some interesting discussions about product management for internal products and how there is a dearth of information out there on how to go about it. It was lovely to be invited along to act as a sounding board for the team.
  • Had a governance meeting with the CEO of our office in the Middle East, reviewing the changes and finances for the past year and looking at changes that we plan to deliver in 2022.
  • Completed the architectural reviews for our new door access system in one of our offices, paving the way for implementation.
  • Took part in our bi-monthly Information Risks group and got some useful input on the preferred way to configure an audio recording system that I’m working on, and to hear more on how we handled some recent security-related risks.
  • Revised my proposal for security groups for the audio recording system and reviewed it with a couple of the key teams.
  • Updated the slides that we are using for a meeting with one of our country CEOs next week. It’s been some time since we spoke and we have a lot to get through.
  • Had a series of successful 1:1 meetings. I’ve gone back to the discipline of writing down agenda points throughout the week and keeping my meeting notes in the same place, making the conversations much more valuable beyond relationship building. As part of sorting out my digital life I’ve landed on one place to take meeting notes and it’s really helping me to stay focused.
  • Rebooted our weekly ‘learning hour’ with a brilliant talk from our CTO on things he had learned from setting up a trading floor.
  • Also rebooted my weekly staff meeting with a standing agenda, which seemed to go well.
  • Had a good ‘random coffee’ with our Chief Risk Officer. We’re heading for our organisation’s 3,000th coffee in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Attended a useful short webinar from the NGA on An introduction to the board’s role in environmental sustainability. We’re moving this up the priority list in our school so it was great to get some insight into what’s out there that we can leverage.

  • Worked with our school Office Manager on the proposal for moving to a new Management Information System, and circulated a summary to the rest of the Governing Board.
  • Rode the 105km Westerley Winter Warmer reliability ride with my eldest son. We had to get up and out early to drive to the start for our 9:12 start time. It was cold, foggy and damp, but quite some way freezing with no rain. We’ll take it!

  • Enjoyed the third Album Club with some of my colleagues from work. The ‘host’ picked the brilliant Cold Fact by Rodriguez, and eloquently told us the back story of the album when we paused halfway through. I love Album Club as it’s some time spent listening to music where I don’t feel guilty that I should be doing something else. Great album, great company, great evening.
  • Booked tickets to go and see Aldous Harding at the Barbican in March. Having had COVID-19, and with three vaccinations behind me, I think it’s time to start getting out to gigs again.
  • Was shocked at the ending of Dexter: New Blood but absolutely loved the series. We then moved on to, and completed, The White Lotus which was equally brilliant.
  • Watched Playing By Heart (1998). I saw this a couple of years after it came out and it looks amazingly dated now. Despite (or maybe because of) having so many stars — Gillian Anderson, Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie, Dennis Quaid, Madeleine Stowe and even Jon Stewart — it falls flat. I think it just tries to do too much.

Next week: The first two crazy early morning meetings of the year, a management team masterclass and trying to push forward with all of the open project loops.

My Nan is so lovely. When I was a teenager, my brothers and I started calling our mum ‘Mumm-ra’, after the Thundercats character. So then dad became Dad-ra and my nan ended up as Nan-ra. She wrote me a letter this week and is still using it 🥰

📚 I don’t understand. There are recipies and techniques online for adding egg to coffee granules before brewing, but the point here seems to be the eggshell. What am I missing?

Weeknotes #150 — An ounce of prevention

I needed that.

I needed that.

I had my COVID-19 booster vaccine on Friday, 29 days after having tested positive for the virus. This Moderna jab (now seemingly named Spikevax‽) completely knocked me for six. I spent a lot of Friday night awake and shivering in bed and the whole of Saturday oscillating between freezing and boiling, drifting in and out of sleep between doses of paracetamol. I wandered off to bed at about 7pm on Saturday night and didn’t get up for twelve hours. My fever has now gone but I’m sitting here still feeling spaced out and groggy. This is the the most ill that I’ve felt in years.

It’s been frustrating to be incapacitated as I had a long list of things I wanted to get done this weekend, but I am grateful to get an immune system boost while the virus is circulating around the country in such crazy numbers.

The news that the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer tested positive for the virus for the second time in three months is worrying. At some point the pandemic becomes endemic, but at what level? Will we all just be catching the disease over and over again?

This was a week in which I:

  • Took advantage of a break in the weather to chalk up the first 100km bike ride of the year with my eldest son. It was the furthest either of us had ridden in some time, and I was proud of him getting to the end. Our route took us directly past the flight path into Luton Airport.
  • Felt good being back at my desk, ready to grab the reins of 2022 and get a lot of stuff done this year. The children went back to school a few days later which wasn’t good from a sleep perspective; they were still up late mooching around the house when I was trying to wrap things up for the day. I managed to deal with all of my new emails and Teams messages within a day, made possible by working in a small team, in a company where most people go on holiday at exactly the same time.
  • Completed a review of all of my open projects, as well as my team’s entire Kanban board of work.
  • Baselined our department budget for 2022 so that we are able to track variances throughout the year.
  • Started thinking about the list of key documents and artefacts that we need to review in the first few weeks of the year, including our Team Charter.
  • Reviewed the backlog of suggested topics for our weekly team learning/presentation session and encouraged colleagues to think about moving forward with some of them.
  • Met with the internal technical team to review and agree next steps for putting Teams mandatory compliance call recording in place.
  • Reviewed a matrix I put together on the monitoring, support and maintenance of all of the components in our infrastructure environment and agreed some next actions for areas where we have gaps.
  • Reviewed the delivery goals for 2022 put together by our Networks team.
  • Reviewed initial proposals for reconfiguring our audio/visual setup in our meeting rooms. We’re still at a very early stage in determining our needs, given the small number of weeks that we have been back in the office using the rooms since the pandemic struck.
  • Created a first draft delivery roadmap for 2022 for our department as a whole.
  • Spent some time reading and digesting On Industrialization: A Technology-Driven Path To The Next Generation Organization by Simon Wardley. Interesting, but not surprising, conclusions.
  • Published the first set of ‘random coffee’ pairings for 2022. Since May 2020 we’ve had over 2,900 randomly-selected pairs across our part of the organisation and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
  • Finished my Evernote to OneNote migration. It took me days to review the 6,500 notes and get them down to just over 5,000, and the process to export and import them was a multi-day affair as well. I’ve now turned off my premium auto-renew in Evernote and have a few months to make sure that I’m not missing anything before I delete all my data there.
  • Watched The North Water. Beautifully shot, but one of the bleakest stories I’ve seen in some time. Colin Farrell was incredible, and almost completely unrecognisable from previous roles.

Next week: An almost full compliment of colleagues at work and a return to the normal schedule of things.

📚 Finished reading The Treasures of Queen. Aimed at casual fans, it gives a basic chronology and overview of the band’s history. There was no depth and it felt lazily edited; the penultimate chapter was written in 2011 and not updated, with a final chapter bolted on the end.

🎬 Elliot Roberts’ video review of The Beatles: Get Back is absolutely spot-on. Makes me want to go back and watch it all over again. I hadn’t realised how much technology had been used in improving the sound and picture quality of the raw material.

I’m planning to open a kitchenware store in Barbados, having thought of the name this evening.

Pyrex of the Caribbean.

🎶 I don’t often watch multi-hour videos on YouTube, but this is an incredible labour of love. All of Paul McCartney’s albums ranked from worst to best with detailed explanations as to why. Amazing video. I haven’t heard them all but I generally agree with the rankings.

🚲 Uh-oh! Time to get a new turbo trainer tyre. First time I’ve worn one of these out. It’s done 18 months service. I’ve only just noticed that it is split in different places almost all the way around.

Weeknotes #149 — Out on the road again

After the fun of our Christmas weekend we spent this week mainly at home, and generally indoors. Here in the UK it has been unseasonably warm but also very rainy, which has limited how much anyone wanted to get out of the house.

I’ve tried to be productive over the past couple of weeks, but as always I never feel as though I have done as much as I wanted to by the time the holiday is over. I also don’t feel quite as rested as this time last year, but I’m ready to get back into a routine of work again. When I left work at the end of 2021 I had mapped out the tools that I use in my digital life with the intention of getting things in a good starting state for 2022. I’ve barely scratched the surface with getting organised, so I’ll have to continue the work during the year.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got back on the indoor bike trainer again and went out on a long run, rounding out my year of exercise. For me, working from home during the pandemic has been transformational for my physical fitness. In 2021 I managed to do something on nearly 70% of the days of the year, and this doesn’t include the times that I walked to and from my office as part of my commute.

  • Had a family day out in London to see Circus 1903 at the Southbank Centre. Although it was almost sold out when we booked it, the seats were probably only about 75% full which I assume is a result of the pandemic. We all loved the show and marvelled at the incredible circus acts, including Florian Blümmel who did unbelievable things on a bike. We ate out at a nearby branch of Ping Pong and it was good for the boys to try some new cuisine.
  • Had a wonderful birthday on New Year’s Eve at the house of some close friends. A deluxe karaoke machine had been installed as a Christmas present which was literally music to my ears. We had so much fun singing the night away, but it was all over far too quickly.

I don't look 54.

I don't look 54.

  • Got up relatively early on New Year’s Day for the first weekly ride with Berkhamsted Cycling Club. My eldest son made it out too and we had a lovely ride, yet again meeting more people that we didn’t know already. Due to COVID-19 and Christmas we hadn’t been out with the club for about a month and it was a joy to go riding again.

  • Took my eldest son for his second COVID-19 vaccination. My youngest son is still yet to get a vaccine due to having had the virus recently and I’m still a week away from being able to have my booster for the same reason.
  • Finished reading the brilliant East of Eden and indulged my enjoyment further by watching the movie and reading a book of Steinbeck’s notes that he made as he wrote the novel. I’ve now got to decide what to read next; more Steinbeck indulgence or something non-fiction that will focus my mind on work?
  • Reviewed the 6,500 notes that I have accumulated over the past decade in Evernote. I ended up deleting around 1,000 of them. The rest I am in the process of exporting and moving over to OneNote. This is one of the steps I am taking to try and simplify my digital life, and in this case cut down on costs too. I already pay annually for a Microsoft 365 account and will no longer need to pay for Evernote once I stop using it.
  • Watched a lot of TV with my wife, finishing off the latest season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, completing Only Murders In The Building, continuing with Dexter: New Blood and starting The Tourist.

Next week: A final day off with plans for more outdoor cycling, getting back to work and finally getting my booster vaccine.

📚 Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck

This is a wonderful companion to the East of Eden novel. I am so glad I read it straight after, as I could still recall exactly the chapters and characters that Steinbeck refers to in his notes.

All of the notes are addressed to Pascal Covici, Steinbeck’s editor. The author uses them in order to warm up for the day’s writing:

You must think I waste an awful lot of time on these notes to you but actually it is the warm-up period. It is the time of drawing thoughts together and I don’t resent it one bit. I apparently have to dawdle a certain amount before I go to work. Also if I keep the dawdling in this form I never leave my story. If I wrote my dawdles some other way I would be thinking all over the map.

It’s so interesting to see ‘behind the curtain’ and read the mental struggles that he went through in the process of creating his book. Over the past two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and working from home I have noticed how some days feel great and others awful, for no discernible reason whatsoever. It seems that this is a shared experience:

This is not a morning of great joy for some reason or other. I don’t understand why some days are wide open and others closed off, some days smile and others have thin slitted eyes and others still are days which worry. And it does not seem to be me but the day itself. It has a nature of its own quite separate from all other days.

Today is a dawdly day. They seem to alternate. I do a whole of a day’s work and then the next day, flushed with triumph, I dawdle. That’s today.

Went to bed early last night, read happily, slept happily. Got up early and suddenly felt terrible—just terrible. Fought that off and was drained dry. Then I forced the work and it was as false and labored and foolish as anything I have ever seen. I tried to kid myself that it only seemed bad but it really was bad. So out it goes. And what do you suppose could have caused it? I just don’t know.

He also procrastinates when he has a particularly difficult piece of writing coming up:

I wish I knew how people do good and long-sustained work and still keep all kinds of other lives going—social, economic, etc. I can’t. I seem to have to waste time, so much dawdling to so much work. I am frightened by this week before it even happens.

I feel just worthless today. I have to drive myself. I have used every physical excuse not to work except fake illness. I have dawdled, gone to the toilet innumerable times, had many glasses of water. Really childish. I know that one of the reasons is that I dread the next scene, dread it like hell.

It was interesting to read his thoughts on the structure and content of the book which ended up being quite different in the finished novel. It boggles the mind how this was achieved during a time before word processors and the Internet, with precious handwritten pages being couriered from the author’s home to the publisher, and typed manuscript being reviewed and edited by hand.

East of Eden is long and it seems that Steinbeck knew this would be the case from the start. He has a theory about the impact of long versus short books on the reader:

Now—we must think of a book as a wedge driven into a man’s personal life. A short book would be in and out quickly. And it is possible for such a wedge to open the mind and do its work before it is withdrawn leaving quivering nerves and cut tissue. A long book, on the other hand, drives in very slowly and if only in point of time remains for a while. Instead of cutting and leaving, it allows the mind to rearrange itself to fit around the wedge. Let’s carry the analogy a little farther. When the quick wedge is withdrawn, the tendency of the mind is quickly to heal itself exactly as it was before the attack. With the long book perhaps the healing has been warped around the shape of the wedge so that when the wedge is finally withdrawn and the book set down, the mind cannot ever be quite what it was before. This is my theory and it may explain the greater importance of a long book.

If you read East of Eden and enjoyed the work, this additional book is well worth your time.

🎶 Cover song grab bag

I am an obsessive. When a song gets inside my head, I find myself wallowing in it. Part of my wallowing is to scour YouTube for cover versions of the song, finding wonderful versions that people have recorded and uploaded. Here I have gathered together some that I’ve found and loved over the past few years.

I’ve often thought that the fidelity of a recording isn’t as important as the performance. Despite some of these being recorded in unusual locations and on basic equipment, the quality of the music shines through. They all make me smile.

Erin Rae — Some Misunderstanding (originally by Gene Clark)

Mike Massé and Jeff Hall — SOS (originally by ABBA)

My Morning Jacket — Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)/Rhythm Nation (originally by Sly & The Family Stone/Janet Jackson)

The Decoders — Black Gold Of The Sun (originally by Rotary Connection)

500 Year Flood — I Got The (originally by Labi Siffre)

Laura McFett — Your Eyes (originally by The Sundays)

DaViglio — Acapella (originally by Kelis)

Amy Tighe & Yuni Sabatino — Power of Two (originally by the Indigo Girls)

Walk Off The Earth — Shape of You (originally by Ed Sheeran)

Tyler Kealey — Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (originally by Elton John)

Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou — Your Love Is Forever (originally by George Harrison)

Indianna Dawn — Fuzzy (originally by Grant Lee Buffalo)

Martina & Peter — So Far Away (originally by Roxette)

nonotnowjim — Cancer (originally by Mansun)