Been anxiously watching the forecast all week. If it stays this way, sadly I don’t think I’ll be riding the Harp Hilly Hundred tomorrow. I don’t mind the cold, but I’m not prepared for the risk of crashing on ice.

Chris Grey: A dangerous political void

Chris Grey’s Brexit blog has always been well-written and thought-provoking throughout the process. We’re so stuck at the moment and his latest post has now got me worried.

Unless something radical changes – and it may, precisely because of the desperate plight we are now in – then it seems highly likely that Britain will leave the EU with no deal. That will mean that in ten weeks’ time we will face severe economic and social dislocation, with the probability of food and medicine shortages, troops on the street, disruptions to travel and much else.

It would be an outcome desired by only a tiny minority of grossly irresponsible ideologues in parliament and amongst the public. The division, crisis and extremism it would unleash make that feared were there to be another referendum, or even a revocation of Article 50 without a vote, seem like a walk in the park.

Keeping a ScanSnap going on macOS Mojave

After trying a few different apps, I switched to ExactScan Pro on macOS given that Fujitsu no longer support my scanner. Expensive, but not as much as buying a whole new piece of hardware to achieve the same result. I’ve only scanned a few thousand pages and it seemed tragic to get rid of it when it was working perfectly well.

The saddest thing was the way the old Fujitsu software died. It still seemed to work, but created PDFs with the pages out of order. I was scratching my head as it was almost like someone had deliberately sabotaged the code so that it wouldn’t work properly.

This tool is fabulous. I needed to validate an estimate for a large irregular-shaped flat roof and could use the tool to plot the area from a Google Maps satellite image. Bravo.

Weeknotes #49 — The days are long but the years are short

It’s been a ‘quietly confident’ start to 2019. I had intended to take off all of the days between Christmas and New Year, but as the week before drew to a close I realised that this wouldn’t work. There was so much planning and organisation to be done; we have such a tight schedule that it would make no sense for me to be doing this whilst everyone else on the programme tries to gather themselves and get going again in January. So, I worked from home for a couple of extra days. I’m so glad I did. I now have a very large list of tasks, more than halfway to becoming a detailed plan, which I’m already using to good effect to set direction and give focus across the team on what we need to complete. Having an ‘old school’ project plan feels a bit strange in this day and age where people are practicing Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and all other manner of agile development methods. However, it feels right to me given that the programme is mainly infrastructure-focused (there are little in the way of ‘features’ to prioritise), is heavy on dependencies and critical path analysis, and is a much bigger piece of work than a classic agile team of 5–9 people could manage. There are too many things going on to fit into my field of vision and this ‘advanced checklist’ approach feels right.

I have a new project manager that joined the team on Friday who I will be handing this immediate detailed management work over to, so that I can spend more time looking further out and across the programme. The work we are doing will impact six cities around the world and everything we are focusing on at the moment is just for the first one.

The detail-oriented approach feels right, and it is helped by the start of a new financial year. With the calendar ticking over from 2018 to 2019 we suddenly have funding to buy the new infrastructure components that we will be deploying. I’ve also been working with the internal communications team to kick-start a plan for how we will present and absorb a significant amount of IT change across the organisation this year. It feels like there is some excitement in the team to be getting on with the work; I hope it isn’t just me.

Over Christmas I started to read the Word for Windows 1.0 postmortem, which although 30 years old I am sure will have some useful lessons and prompt some thoughts on how to avoid issues on our programme. I’ve already made a note about avoiding introducing too many new techniques and processes along the way.

I also took advantage of the Christmas break to get back on my bike again. I managed to get out and about, or on the turbo trainer, almost every day that I had off. It was a slow start, but I’ve got some momentum with me now. I’ve learned that a 30-mile ride of two hours isn’t unreasonable to fit into a Saturday or Sunday around family activities; previously I felt glum if I couldn’t go out for double that. Maybe this is one advantage to starting over. I’ve managed to fit longer rides in where the family have been going somewhere and I can meet them there. On the days that I work from home I’ve also been getting the bike set up on the turbo so I don’t have to think too much in the morning before jumping on. I really want to embed cycling as a thing that I do all the time, not just a thing that I do occasionally as a special event.

There’s plenty more to note but the topics will have to wait. The past two weeks have seen a few 9/10pm finishes with work and today is no exception, plus I spent the weekend ill with a little fever which I only seemed to get over this morning. Battling my way into 2019 but feeling positive.

Cleaned out our tiny lounge fireplace 13 hours after we last added some fuel. A strange smell alerted me to this. I had no idea coals could burn for that long.

Popped into the Bank of England to change some old notes into new ones. Was strangely exciting! Feels like a little thing ticked off the ‘life experiences’ list. Grabbed a snap of the Royal Exchange to send the kids after we saw it in Mary Poppins Returns on New Year’s Eve.

The discipline of a blank piece of paper

The ever-excellent Track Changes podcast caught my ear today. They have an interview with Michael Shaoul, who is the Chairman, CEO and Portfolio manager of Marketfield Asset Management.

I think that it’s always interesting to hear about what someone’s job involves day-to-day, particularly when they have such a senior position. Shaoul says that he spends a lot of his day reading articles to get a sense of a broader economic picture. From the podcast transcript linked above (light editing and emphasis mine):

I have the Terminal, so obviously it’s Bloomberg News,  but what I have is the raw news feed which has hundreds and hundreds of newswires. So you know, I literally have the world’s news scrolling past my eyes in real time and if I ever see something interesting, I click on it, and I probably read two, three hundred stories a day. I don’t necessarily finish them all […] If it’s really interesting, I might email it out. I might send it to someone, I might, as you say, jot it down in a notebook. You know, I’m lucky that I have really an excellent memory and the Terminal itself makes it relatively easy to go back and find something that you looked at […] but that altogether sort of forces me to […] have a constant view on what I think is going on.

I’m on the telephone, talking to people. I’m constantly reading stories. It’s a lot. So how do I synthesize it? Partly through the discipline of writing. I’ve been writing daily and weekly stuff now for years […]  people say, “Well how do you have enough time to write if you’re like reading and talking to people?” I’m like, “Unless I write something, I don’t know what I understand.” And it is that discipline of a blank piece of paper — or a blank screen and typing away — that forces you to decide what you actually care about and what doesn’t really matter.

I think this goes hand-in-hand with one of my favourite quotes:

I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.

The interview got me thinking about the weeknotes that I’ve written here during 2018, and more broadly why I’ve kept a blog — on and off — for the past 15 years. I’m not a CEO of an asset management firm, am not selling anything and typically don’t get too many views of the things I write. The audience for ‘everything Andrew is possibly thinking about’ is an extremely narrow one, and doesn’t even include my wife or my mother. But that’s okay — the main purpose is for me to work out what I think about things and what I want to say about them. Connections made with anyone else are amazing, but they are a bonus.

I’m going to try and continue with my weeknotes in 2019. I need to seriously work on keeping them brief so that they don’t take up quite so much time, as I already have more things to do than I can possibly complete this year. I’ve no idea if I’ll succeed or not, but the point isn’t the output as much as it is the discipline and process of creating something on that ‘blank piece of paper’.

Simon Ricketts

I started using Twitter in 2009. I quickly found that social networks are much more fun with other people to talk to, so I used the search tools to find local people to follow. Simon N Ricketts (as I will always say his name in my head, thanks to his Twitter handle) was one of the first people I stumbled across and tweeted with regularly. In those early days on the platform it seemed that those of us who found each other were building something special. A community. It felt great. The tools weren’t yet toxic and we helped each other out. Someone sent me some documents to help me with my work. I remember sending Simon some spare iPhone headphones after he had reported that his cat had eaten his original pair. It felt amazing that we could make these connections with each other.

Meeting up face-to-face with our online friends seemed like a great idea. Late in 2009 I organised a ’Tweetup’ to turn our online connections into ones in real life. Simon intended to join us, but had to pull out on the day due to a cold. He came along for the next one a few months later. It was such a pleasure to meet and have a drink with him. These evenings were such fun and have stayed with me all this time — they enhanced the connections between the people who came and made our online interactions even more enjoyable. I can still feel the glow from those evenings all these years later.

Although Twitter faded into the background in my life, I kept up with Simon as his presence expanded. He gained a well-deserved big following from his wit, compassion and humanity which came through in his tweets. I’d find myself talking to random friends, people from other circles, who followed him. My wife would tell me whenever she heard anything about him. He didn’t write many articles for his newspaper, but when he did they were excellent. One Christmas he even popped up on a TV show talking about how Twitter reacts to news stories.

News of his illness was a shock, and the science-fiction-esque treatment that he received was incredible. We kept in touch, mainly through brief check-ins via private messages to see how he was doing. He’d tell me that he “had a fight on” but was always positive. After going through such an incredible trauma, it was so horrible to hear a few years later that he had to take on yet another fight, this time with cancer. As our mutual friend Paul Downey says, life really isn’t fair.

Simon’s writing was always wonderful, and I loved reading his blog posts, even when they were about such difficult and poignant topics as his health. Earlier this month my wife told me that he had posted a note which sounded like he had taken a turn for the worse. As I went to bed a couple of nights ago I checked the news on my phone, and was so sad to read that he had passed away. The outpouring of affection on Twitter and in wonderful blog posts that his friends have written are a measure of the person he was. I am so sorry for the loss that his family and friends must feel right now.

Simon and I weren’t close, but I feel privileged to have known him just a little. Memories of meeting him at our Tweetup, the chats we had online, and our little check-ins over the years will stick with me. The world is a poorer place without him.

Weeknotes #47–48 — Ask me again

The past two weeks which have bled into each other to make one big fat week. We’re still battling away at work and unfortunately won’t have finished all of the things we intended to complete this year before people disappear on their Christmas holidays. It’s not a disaster but it does mean that we’ll need even more energy for the start of next year to complete the things we didn’t finish, as well as start the rest of the critical work. I’m going to need to take advantage of the coming relatively quiet week before Christmas to get as much prep done as I can so that we start 2019 well. It’s going to be a massive year in so many ways.

We’ve been interviewing people this week to join the team as a project manager. It’s critical that we get the right person on-board; interviewing seems so inadequate a mechanism to decide who that right person is, but we don’t have much else. Hopefully we’ll find the right person and get them in place for the start of January.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about get fit again. Strava’s annual update reminded me that my exercise levels have been relatively pitiful this year, with less miles completed than I did on a single event a few years ago. I’m surprised they still think I am alive.

Thanks Strava.

Thanks Strava.

I love being out on the bike. I’m holding myself back from committing to a regular schedule for all kinds of reasons, but the reality is that I need to prioritise my health and fitness somehow. Both of my boys have different sports at the weekend that my wife and I need to take them to. This, together with the need to use some of the time at weekends to get school governor and client work done means that I’m non-committal. It was so much easier when I had a big event to aim for and needed to get fit for it. At that time I had publicly declared that I was going to do a big ride and was raising sponsorship, so I felt I had to prioritise fitness so as to not let anyone down. My boys were younger then and didn’t have as much going on, so I could easily disappear for hours of pedalling. Their earlier bedtimes meant I could jump on the turbo trainer before dinner, something I can’t really do anymore. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing the Chiltern Classics reliability rides but it may not be the right year to do them again for all of the reasons above. Something to give some thought to over Christmas.

Last weekend I had to pull together the materials for our programme Steering Committee meeting. The past two weeks have been pretty much back-to-back with meetings so I knew I didn’t have time to prep during the day and would need to use the weekend. However, Sunday 9 December saw yet another ‘People’s Vote’ rally being held in central London which I felt I had to attend. Saturday and Sunday became a mad blur of work, travel, rallying and more work, all before heading back to the office on Monday for wall-to-wall meetings. I managed to get things done although had to compromise with a ‘catch-all’ slide in the deck containing a simple big list of things I needed to either inform the Committee about or get their decision on.

The rally itself was really good. It is weird to be a few feet away from people whom you seemingly know so well from their presence in the media. The speakers were excellent, particularly the ever-articulate Caroline Lucas. Michael Heseltine stole the show with his unexpectedly moving speech. He talked of the EU being an effective peace project which had followed centuries of various wars between its member states. The whole room was quiet as he gestured to the young people behind him and made reference to the fact that generations of people like these were sent off to fight in Europe’s wars. See here from approximately 9 mins in, but the whole thing is worth viewing. His point is very well made; a long-lasting peace is a bigger ideal than the ‘take back control’ narrative.

Most of the speeches were excellent, but the one from Rosena Allin-Khan rankled me and left me with a sense of annoyance all the way home. When she was announced and she came to the stage it seemed that she was coming out in support of a People’s Vote. Her speech reached a crescendo with her stating that she supports a People’s Vote only if a call for a general election is dismissed. She seemed to be at the wrong rally — the crowd wasn’t just a bunch of Labour supporters. It was great to hear some of the crowd chanting “People’s Vote first” as she walked off stage left.

Brexit is occupying my mind massively at the moment. My attention turns from the ever-present ‘live blog’ horror show on the Guardian homepage to slower, more considered blog posts that people are putting out. Both Chris Grey’s post on his excellent Brexit Blog and Chris Weston on the WB-40 podcast WhatsApp channel pointed me in the direction of Sir Ivan Rogers’ speech at the University of Liverpool. It’s sobering reading and leaves me feeling despondent for the future. If we get what I want — a second referendum resulting in us remaining in the EU — I can completely understand that people who want us to leave would feel cheated based on the result of the 2016 referendum. I disagree with them, and personally believe that more democracy of being asked again is absolutely not undemocratic, but I do understand how they would feel. If we do end up leaving, and in the worst case completely crashing out, I will have to do what I can to moderate how bitter I think I would feel at the people that got us there. If we have a second vote and people still want to leave with all of the information that we now have available to us, I’d have to accept that this is the country I am living in and would need to make my own views about what is best for my family and I in the long term. Plenty of people have done the same thing in the past during difficult times. Sir Ivan’s speech makes me realise just how divided we are and it is so difficult to see how we can come together again.

One thing I have noticed recently are blog posts mentioning a potential narrative of people being ‘stabbed in the back’. This could come from the extreme Brexiters if they don’t get what they want. A similar narrative took hold in Germany after World War I, contributing in the rise of the far-right:

The stab-in-the-back myth (German: Dolchstoßlegende) was the notion, widely believed and promulgated in right-wing circles in Germany after 1918, that the German Army did not lose World War I on the battlefield but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front, especially the republicans who overthrew the Hohenzollern monarchy in the German Revolution of 1918–19. Advocates denounced the German government leaders who signed the Armistice on November 11, 1918, as the “November Criminals” (German: November­verbrecher).

When the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, they made the legend an integral part of their official history of the 1920s, portraying the Weimar Republic as the work of the “November criminals” who stabbed the nation in the back to seize power while betraying it. The Nazi propaganda depicted Weimar as “a morass of corruption, degeneracy, national humiliation, ruthless persecution of the honest ‘national opposition’—fourteen years of rule by Jews, Marxists, and ‘cultural Bolsheviks’, who had at last been swept away by the National Socialist movement under Adolf Hitler and the victory of the ‘national revolution’ of 1933”.

It’s chilling to see people involved in the ‘Brexit Betrayal’ march the other day as it has similar echoes. I hope I’m just putting two and two together to make five.

In other news…it’s been busy a couple of weeks of socialising with various festive events. We had our annual school governor Christmas curry which was lovely — it’s really nice to get to know each other better when we spend almost all of our time together focused on the work. I’ve been to a comedy night on a boat in the Thames as well as a marathon karaoke session, both of which were a lot of fun. December is a constant reminder to me of why I gave up drinking a couple of years ago; I’m tired enough from just attending different events and would find it so hard to cope if I had to carry a hangover around with me as well.

I ran a Crowdsourcing Christmas session, inspired by Jamie Arnold’s blog post from a few years ago. The idea is simple: you write some details on a sticky note about who you need to buy for, how old they are, what they like and what your budget is, and everyone else then offers suggestions of what to buy with other sticky notes. Everyone seemed to love it and a lot of people found it useful. It has given me an idea for Mrs D which I’m now following up with that I hope she’ll love.

The cats still boggle my mind. We went away for a night at the weekend and left them with two timer bowls of kibble. We came back to find carnage in our kitchen where they have torn the things to shreds in a mad (and presumably successful) attempt to get at the food. They seem to act more like dogs than cats where food is concerned, and for one of them we don’t seem to be able to subdue his appetite in any way.

As Christmas approaches I’ve put the brakes on with my vinyl purchases. However, I couldn’t resist when the Super Deluxe Edition blog pointed out that Amazon US are selling repressed copies of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass for half the UK price, including postage and customs charges. It took a while to get here but it is completely gorgeous and sounds amazing.

Next week: Partying nights out are behind me for this year. Hectic until Tuesday and then a run of minimal-meeting days towards Christmas where I need to use the time to get a lot done. Coffee and headphones all the way.