📚 Finished reading The Harvest Gypsies by John Steinbeck, a collection of articles he wrote before working on The Grapes of Wrath. Such clearly-written, simple, powerful and moving articles about refugees in California in the 1930s.

The migrants are needed, and they are hated.

Weeknotes #78–79 — Light and shade

A fortnight of light and shade. My downbeat, frustrated mood from a couple of weeks back carried on to the following week and I just couldn’t shake it. Work weighed me down, I seemed feel miserable and couldn’t find much joy in anything. But for no obvious reason, everything felt so light and breezy during this past week. I am not sure which one of the two ‘modes of being’ is more accurate — should I be stressing about my many impending deadlines or should I be assuming that it will all just work out ok?

The only thing I can think of that contributes to my mood is that I struggle with the weeks where I am in back-to-back meetings for a number of days in a row, feeling that my time is not my own. The pressure and frustration seems to crank up with each meeting. To combat this, on Monday mornings I now religiously block out whatever free time I have that week with some ‘keep free’ appointments, minimising the number of late-breaking meetings that go into the diary.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Saw our team start and finish a rollout of new laptops to all of our staff in China. It was an incredible job, taking staff through the Autopilot/Intune processes and then giving them the ‘white glove’ setup treatment despite language and time zone barriers. An incredible achievement to get it done in just over a week.
  • Was grateful that our Beijing office allowed external contractors to enter once again. We’ve now got our new-spec monitors on each of the desks, and the local contractor has carried out a server room audit for us.
  • Also managed to complete the server room audit in our São Paulo office. It’s now back with us to check that we understand the findings, and to plan the deployment of our new equipment.
  • Made a decision to go with a local vendor for a new telephone system in São Paulo. The implementation cost difference between the local solution and an alternative is too good to pass up. The beauty of it all being cloud-based is that if things don’t work out, we can easily change it.
  • Completed a review of our proposed new telephone system in Beijing. Of the five countries on our rollout, no two telephony setups are the same from a technology perspective, and the Beijing one is in some ways the most complex. We’re not quite there yet in terms of signing off on the work but I am hoping we can get it done early in the coming week.
  • Road tested a training course that we plan to roll out to most of our staff. Half of it is on functionality within Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Online, and the remainder is on how we intend to use the tools in our specific setting. I’m very impressed by the trainer and am hopeful it will give people what they need for the upcoming data migration project that we plan to involve them in.
  • Relieved some pressure on myself by moving a couple of our upcoming Steering Committee meetings around. Sometimes I forget about the amount of control I have over events.
  • Attended a few more town-hall style work events. We have a brilliant colleague who gave everyone a brief masterclass on how to present yourself well on videoconferences. Updates from the revenue-generating side of the business were also very good; the idea to do them has come as a result of the pandemic but we should have started them years ago.
  • Spent time thinking about the structure of the team, and looking at the key roles that we will be hiring for over the coming weeks.
  • Heard the sad news that a colleague I worked with briefly many years ago had passed away.
  • Attended our final school Governing Board meeting of the year. The pandemic has made it feel like the end of term has come around even more quickly than usual.
  • Continued with the bike training, although I am incorporating a few more rest days into the schedule now. Abandoned my planned weekend turbo rides in favour of a run with my wife, a bike ride to Savill Garden with my 13-year-old son and a ride home on my own, all in the same day. I ended up with that lovely feeling of being a bit physically broken at the end of it, hoovering up food and looking forward to climbing into bed. It was really interesting to see on Strava the difference in ‘effort’ (and presumably therefore, benefits) between time on the turbo and time out on the road.

  • Saw our youngest boy turn 11 the day after he left primary school. It’s a strange feeling to know that they have both left primary school behind them now and we’ll soon be a house full of GCSEs and A-Levels before we know it. It was such a shame that the end of term was curtailed for him — yes, no SATS, but also no residential trip or social events. I hope he has enough fun experiences in his life ahead of him to make up for it.

  • Watched the Dacorum Sports Network awards for local schools. Our youngest son and his friends won a few different categories and it was lovely to see their football coach, one of the dads from school, get recognised for his contribution. Sadly the Zoom call was set up in such a way that it let people draw on the presentation; I am guessing that parents wandered off during the call and their young children ended up doodling on what they were watching.
  • Delivered a couple of special presents for friends, via James Buckley and Jody Watley.
  • Have been loving the return of the F1 to the TV. It’s so lovely to have the qualifying and the race to look forward to. I’m part of a random ‘F1 Geeks’ WhatsApp group and someone has added a friend to the channel who used to be a senior member of an F1 team. It’s been amazing to get their take on a whole bunch of different things.
  • Met up with friends on a couple of different occasions for a socially-distanced chat. I’m still pretty terrified of catching the bug, and it feels like it takes a lot of mental strength to get together right now. I definitely have FOGO, and think I am an outlier amongst my social groups.
  • Finished reading John Steinbeck’s The Long Valley. Definitely not my favourite of his books so far, and the short story collection format almost felt like a step backwards, with the clear exception of The Red Pony.
  • Continued reading Michael Lopp’s Managing Humans. I started years ago and put the book down for some reason. There are a lot of tips and advice to take in, but some of it seems to be sticking. Reading books in an alternating fiction/non-fiction way seems to be a good balance for now.

Next week: Another Steering Committee meeting, planning our next steps in Sao Paulo and Beijing in order to beat our deadline, and the first week of the school holidays.

We finished the final two parts of I May Destroy You last night. Such a powerful, thoughtful drama of emotional highs and lows over its twelve episodes, which made me feel very old. None of the characters are likeable all the time, but they all come across as human and authentic.

Updating the maps on my Garmin cycle sat-nav is an excruciating affair. Download speeds via the Express (!) app that make it feel like I am draining a bath with a syringe. Been going for nearly 12 hours and not done yet. Still, I did get to see and screen grab this gem.

So lovely to receive some random vinyl in the post from a friend. There was no note, so I had to track them down. Random gifts out of the blue are so great, no matter whether you’re sending or receiving.

Does anyone have any good gift ideas for an 11 year old boy? We don’t have long to go until your youngest’s birthday and are stuck for ideas; web searches generally just yield tat which will be fun for five minutes.

Weeknotes #77 — Worn out

A really tough week where I felt completely drained right from the start, and this time it didn’t improve as the days went on. My emotions were sapped. Partially it felt like I had caught some kind of bug but I also wondered whether I had just been overdoing it with all of the bike training and was just generally worn out. I had a completely exercise-free day on Friday and felt much better for it afterwards. I had so many meetings that it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that I felt that my time was my own again.

A week in which I…

  • Took part in a technical workshop for our new phone system setup in New York. It’s good to finally get this one properly underway and to have some next actions written down.
  • Met with our on-the-ground IT partner in Dubai to review a long list of changes and ‘snagging’ items that we need to tackle.
  • Kicked off the rollout of new laptops to staff in our Beijing office. This is our final site for our rollout, and we’re doing it one year after finishing London, our first site.
  • Received a last minute proposal for a telephony solution in São Paulo that looks too good to be true, so I’m doing all of the things I can to make sure it that it isn’t the case before we dive in.
  • Took part in a number of preliminary discussions with different departments in London on their upcoming move of documents (‘unstructured data’) into a new platform.
  • Reviewed the materials for a new training course on the unstructured data project that we plan to roll out to our London team.
  • Had a catch-up with our key IT partner in London. We hadn’t spoken in a while and it was good to get aligned again.
  • Admired our CTO as he took part in a Computerworld panel discussion on data centre modernisation.
  • Agreed to move some of our key meetings to the afternoons so that our New York team members can participate. I’m really looking forward to them becoming a more integrated part of what we do.
  • Basked in a little bit of internal glory as our team were given an award at the Group-wide IT awards event. I’ve loved working in this team for the past few years and we’ve really achieved some great things to make a big difference to the organisation.
  • Found the ‘build’ phase of TrainerRoad really challenging, although I do realise that this is probably the point. I’m almost halfway through this phase and have a low-intensity ‘recovery week’ next week to look forward to before it ramps up again.- Spent some time at the weekend doing minutes again. I really need to try and work out how to get these done during the week.
  • Attended a National Governance Association webinar on what school governing boards need to start thinking about and doing ahead of the autumn term.
  • Called Virgin Media to start a new Sky Sports subscription ahead of the F1 season. Managed to negotiate an 18-month contract at a reduced rate with a new ‘V6’ TV box thrown in for free. It’s always better to phone them up. Activating the box was a little bit painful; I had to diagnose that my Pi-Hole was preventing it from reaching a URL that seemed to only be known to the Virgin Media DNS servers. I put the box to good use over the weekend through enjoying the Austrian Grand Prix; it’s so great to have the racing back again.
  • Enjoyed my amazing prize for winning our team quiz night last week. My family and I have made light work of this over the past few days!

  • Finished reading Biko by Donald Woods. I’d had it on my bookshelf for a long time and was drawn to it as the Black Lives Matter protests got some momentum. A big chunk of the book is taken up with what happened at the inquest into Biko’s death, which seemed less important when reading it 42 years after it was published. The old, racist, South African government is now consigned to museums and memory. What I did find interesting was his philosophy of Black Consciousness:

Biko saw white racism in South Africa as the totality of the white power structure. He argued that under apartheid, white people not only participated in the oppression of black people but were also the main voices in opposition to that oppression. He thus argued that in dominating both the apartheid system and the anti-apartheid movement, white people totally controlled the political arena, leaving black people marginalised. He believed white people were able to dominate the anti-apartheid movement because of their access to resources, education, and privilege. He nevertheless thought that white South Africans were poorly suited to this role because they had not personally experienced the oppression that their black counterparts faced.

  • For my sanity and emotional wellbeing I need to intersperse some fiction into my reading. I’m continuing the journey through Steinbeck’s works that I started last year by picking up The Long Valley.

Next week: Trying to focus on those things that will make or break us in terms of hitting our agreed deadlines.

So good to have the F1 back again. Incredible job by everyone involved in order to stage a race. Action throughout, with three different teams on the podium. I’m looking forward to next weekend already.

Weeknotes #76 — Unlearned

A really busy week that got more enjoyable and less stressful as it wore on. I seemed to get less tired towards Friday, probably rejuvenated by the falling temperatures from the soaring highs in the middle of the week.

A week in which I…

  • Only remembered that I was due to start the week with an 8:30am meeting when a Teams notification popped up on my phone and I was just out of the shower. I joined the Teams call very carefully, making sure video was turned off. Getting dressed and picking my moment to brush my teeth were a bit of a struggle but my colleagues were sympathetic to me. I felt like I was on the back foot all day after that. I then overslept on Tuesday and could only manage half of my scheduled turbo trainer session, but this bonus period in bed seemed to do me some good.
  • Started to think that the week was against me when we had a couple of micro power blips at home. It turns out that the Pi-hole running as a Docker image on my NAS drive doesn’t auto-restart if the NAS ungracefully shuts down. Whatever cumulative speed-saving the Pi-hole had bought us from sucking away all of the Internet adverts and trackers evaporated in the course of the morning while I diagnosed the problem. I’ve now got the secondary router DNS pointing at something internal, so another power outage won’t take down the whole house.
  • Reviewed and agreed on next steps on some key aspects of our network security architecture.
  • Attended a kick-off of the project to move our New York office over to Teams telephony. We’ve bought the our licences and can’t wait to put them to good use.
  • Was asked to give a brief whole company update on a critical project that I am running. I had a couple of days to prepare. I like to think that one day I will be the ‘slide deck full of nothing but amusing photos or phrases no longer than three words’ guy, but I’m not there yet. I tried my best to make a dry subject a little more engaging, and from the feedback I got I think it went well. (I’m assuming that if it was terrible, nobody would have said anything. At least, not where I could have heard them.)
  • Ran the steering committee meeting for the same project. Things have started to drift a little from our original plan, partially due to our underestimation of the duration of work with a key vendor and partially because we’ve uncovered a lot of complexity that we hadn’t realised was there. We have two months to get the first phase of the work completed which is now looking increasingly difficult.
  • Found that a lot of my 1:1s didn’t focus on the work very much. I think this is ok — I get the feeling that people really do need to heave a big sigh and let off some steam right now.
  • Tweaked my already complex email filters a little bit so I can get to be even more efficient. I’m finally resigned to never ever reaching Inbox Zero again, but I do need to make it easy on myself to not miss anything critical.
  • Attended our first quarterly review with our backup vendor. It was a great start and covered all of the key things as well as giving me some food for thought about the needs of our sites outside of London. We need to re-validate our RPO and RTO against the architecture that we have in place.
  • Took delivery of a new sofa bed for our new family room. We ordered it about six months ago and it got lost/delayed in the pandemic. Finally we can start to make a bit more use of the space.
  • Enjoyed yet another Tuesday evening of F1 2019 with my friends. A decent showing, with a race win and some good placings. I’m also getting much better at calling it quits at a reasonable time so I don’t get to bed too late.
  • Spent an evening online taking part in a quiz which a couple of our team had organised. Even after another long day of video meetings, it was lovely to let our hair down and be a bit silly with everyone. One of my colleagues and I ended up going down to a tie break which I won — I’m not sure what the prize is yet but hopefully it is something we can share.
  • Really enjoyed Album Club #112 even though the host’s choice was an album I already own. It was lovely to have an excuse to sit back, relax, turn the volume up and luxuriate in the beautiful songs.
  • Finished the latest Learned League in the relegation zone. I had the least number of correct answers in the whole league, so I feel lucky that I wasn’t in last place. In the previous league I had spent some time at the top of the table before finishing in the upper half, so I am not sure what went wrong. Maybe this extended period of lockdown is making me less smart.
  • Had a lovely weekend walk with Mat and his dog. We always have so much to talk about, and we rarely take the time out to spend with each other. It’s been over 30 years since we met and given we only live a few doors away we really need to try and see each other more when we can.
  • Saw my parents for the first time in almost half a year, for a barbecue in their back garden. My eldest boy and I rode over there on our bikes, which was his longest ride yet at around 33 miles. He did fantastically well. There were no hugs and kisses at my parents’ house, but it really brought home to me how difficult social distancing is, particularly when sudden downpours forced us indoors on multiple occasions. The boys loved playing with their new table-tennis table and it was fun to do something that felt a little bit normal once more.

Next week: Hoping I can keep my Friday mood all through the coming week. We’re definitely entering an exceptionally busy period at work with three or four major projects all needing to be completed by August/September. I hope we can rise to the challenge.