Had our first ‘virtual’ school governor meeting tonight. Impressed that everyone worked out how to use Microsoft Teams. Not quite the same as being there but close enough. Amazing how many actions and concerns we had last time seem trivial given the new context we are living in.

Difficult decisions

For the past two days we’ve had major debates in our house about whether our children should be in school. I’m now working from home, and am certainly not planning on being out of the house much. Our soon-to-be 13-year-old made some very reasoned arguments this morning about why he shouldn’t go. I tend to agree with him. As he gets older I’m less sure of myself in terms of how much control we should have over his life. I’d never let him stay home from school on a regular day, but what’s happening in the world right now is so irregular that I’m not sure the old rules apply.

From The Guardian: How do coronavirus containment measures vary across Europe? — 16 March 2020

From The Guardian: How do coronavirus containment measures vary across Europe? — 16 March 2020

Despite the almost all of the rest of Europe deciding to keep their children at home, the UK has decided not to. I am deeply distrustful of the government, but I can see the reasoning as to why they would be kept open:
– Parents who are unable to work from home may need to ask elderly relatives to look after the children
– We have vulnerable children across the country who rely on free school meals to keep them nourished
– Schools aren’t really set up for teaching via remote means.
For our family, we are fortunate enough where only the last point impacts us.

It’s still not a slam-dunk. My wife works as a teaching assistant in a primary school and she is providing a valuable service to society by continuing to go, for all the reasons above. (She is amazing.) I’m a Vice-Chair of Governors at another primary school; we have to rely on advice from government, Public Health England and others on what to do, and my role is to support the school in this. We also have a friend who works as a Paediatric Matron at a local NHS hospital, and she is still sending her children to school — if she felt that the risk was significant, she would keep them at home.

It’s a tricky one with no easy answers, and I am sure that there are so many people going through similar dilemmas right now.

What do other runners use to track their heart rates on iOS now that Strava doesn’t do it? I’ve tried using Wahoo but it’s rubbish — the heart rate gets stuck at the same number for the first part of the run, despite using a Wahoo Kickr monitor. Is there anything better?

Weeknotes #64–65 — Pandemic

A week in which I…

  • Like everyone else, entered the waking nightmare of the coronavirus spreading all over the globe. If I’m being honest, it’s been tough to cope with even though as yet I don’t personally know anyone with a diagnosis. Even if I decide to ignore the news updates and do something more mentally healthy, I then find myself running or contributing to meetings where it is the number one topic. We were already running daily discussions to try and help those from our Beijing office who have been in lockdown for weeks, and now that continuity planning has spread everywhere. You go to sleep, wake up and then realise that it hasn’t all been a dream. Days are spent watching The Guardian’s Liveblog and the Coronavirus Worldometer, waiting for the UK to report its daily infection and death totals at 2pm. It’s a hideous double-whammy of being concerned about how we could all be contributing to the demise of loved ones whilst knowing that if activity seizes up, we could be in for an economic shock that puts the 2008 financial crisis in the shade. When the first crash happened a week ago I immediately turned to FT’s Alphaville blog, somewhere that I used to hang out all those years ago. My timing was excellent as I found that they had restarted their ‘Markets Live’ chat on Telegram. The Telegram feed is an excellent resource to follow what’s happening in the broad financial world in real time.
  • Went to see Marika Hackman play at the Kentish Town Forum. I’d bought tickets last year and had been looking forward to the gig for ages. She didn’t disappoint, and the friends I had brought along who were less familiar with her work thought she was great too. As we left, glowing, I realised that part of my enjoyment had been that I hadn’t thought about the coronavirus for a couple of hours. We’ll all need some distractions over the coming weeks and months, albeit from home. How quickly will gigs move online?

  • Wrestled with friends and colleagues that think that the UK government is doing a good job and we should just trust what they say. But these are the same awful, lying, incompetent and criminal clowns that were in government two weeks ago. I would like to think that if they were doing a good job I would be able to swallow my pride and say it. But a policy where we all get and share the virus because we would then develop ‘herd immunity’ and we are forced to lose loved ones, I can’t get behind. People didn’t stop getting all of the hideous viral diseases in history because we developed immunity. This article is the best thing I’ve read as a riposte to the government position.
  • Had so many discussions about what to do in response. My client still has staff going to the office and I’m not prepared to start working from home full time until that’s the expectation for everyone in our team. We’ve moved to ‘split working’ for the coming week where there is one team in one week, and another the next, but given the rate of spread of the disease I can’t see this lasting for too long. (UPDATE: It lasted for one day, and we’ll all now be working from home.) The programme I have been running for my client for the past few years has delivered a technology platform that allows staff to work from anywhere. However, I need to temper my enthusiasm for home working for everyone with the understanding that:
    • Not everyone would be happy to work from home — being a geek it’s fine for me, but for others being at home alone and trying to get their IT to work, no matter how good it is, may be a very daunting prospect.
    • Not everyone can work from home. Not everything is completely digital. What do you do about those that still need access to the office?
    • Not everyone has a great home working environment that lets them be productive.
    • There is a mental health tax associated with being at home and not socialising, which could also have serious long-term impacts on people.
  • My concern doesn’t really lie with my family or I getting the disease myself, more that we are contributing to the overall spread of the thing in society. I was meant to have my friends over on Saturday night but cancelled, much to their surprise. I weighed this up and didn’t think it was the right thing to do. I do feel like I’m living a hypocritical life at the moment, as I write this from the train heading into London for a day at the office. We replaced an evening together in person with an evening of them beating me at Forza on the Xbox. Something tells me that will be the first of many evenings spent virtually with friends.
  • Discussed with my children whether they should go to school or not. Yes, it’s up to my wife and I from a legal perspective but it doesn’t sit well with me, particularly with my eldest son who is about to become a teenager. How much control over his life should he have? I can’t dismiss his fears of being irrational, particularly when he tells me he worries about spreading it as opposed to getting it. We’ll take it day by day. As I write this, #Covid19Walkout is trending on Twitter, encouraging pupils to stay home.
  • Managed to get some work done in between all of the coronavirus drama, but still not all of it was planned. I gave a little bit of help to a colleague who was managing the process of a mobile phone refresh, arranging for some additional staffing to help with migrating people from their old iPhones to new ones.
  • Ran our monthly steering committee, where I presented a view of the size and shape of the project portfolio. It was great that the committee could see it and grasp the problem of trying to do too many things at once. The next step is to work out what the priorities are that we will commit to.
  • Celebrated my wife’s birthday with dinner at a local Turkish restaurant. It’s not the typical place we would go; our boys, like me when I was a child, aren’t exactly adventurous. Somehow I ended up offering them a small cash incentive for everything that they tried that they had never tasted before, and it was enough to get them diving in. It ended up being a lovely evening with everyone having been part of the food experience.

  • Finished a couple of graphic novels — Hostage by Guy DeLisle and They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Both were very good, but I preferred the style of the DeLisle book. At one point the hostage of the title starts dreaming of ‘normal’ things he could be doing if he was at home, and this image stuck with me: I’d generally like to be doing that too!

Next week: The great working from home marathon begins.

Weeknotes #63 — Running in the family

A week in which I…

  • Had to work with the team to cover the gaps left by the sudden departure of a key technical colleague.
  • Saw the team land a number of significant changes, resolving some long-outstanding issues we have had with our new platform in London, and paving the way to turn off even more SLAs with our previous vendor. Feedback so far has been very positive. I am hoping the changes have bought us capacity to deal with some bigger items that we have in the backlog.
  • Felt the weight of expectation from a wide range of business stakeholders, each of whom have ‘top priority’ work that we need to get done. Next week is going to be tough as we need to make tangible progress on all of them.
  • Visited school for our Headteacher’s mid-year appraisal. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to be involved, and it was a good chance to catch up with her and our Chair of Governors.
  • Had my social life affected by the coronavirus, twice. First with Album Club being cancelled due to the host’s son having just got back from a skiing trip to Italy. A planned meet-up with my brothers and their families was curtailed when one of them was informed that a staff member at my niece’s school has tested positive. Something tells me this is going to be the new normal.
  • Competed in the Berkhamsted 5-mile Fun Run, along with my 12-year-old son. We both had a great race, with him finishing seventh and me a little further back in 21st. I don’t think I could have gone much faster than that so I’m pretty pleased with it. The event is lovely as there are so many faces from around the town, and it’s great to see them all as they start and cross the finish line.

  • Visited Cliveden with my one brother and his family that so far remain unaffected by the coronavirus. It was lovely to go on a cold, brisk winter walk through the grounds and to spend time with them. Hopefully the others will be able to join us again soon.
  • Took the children and their friends swimming in Aylesbury, giving me an excuse to visit Deco Audio to stock up on some beautifully-cleaned vinyl. From Billie Holliday to Robert Cray to the soundtrack to Little Shop Of Horrors, they all sound great.
  • Gave up on Stewart Lee’s March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Print and Performance 2016–2019. I love Lee’s standup, and once went to a three-hour marathon of him performing at the Royal Festival Hall. But his Observer columns felt like a slog, particularly with the massive amount of footnote navigation you need to do in this book (it feel as though at least half of the work is footnotes written from a present-day perspective). I ended up skipping this part of the book and moved onto a transcript of his standup routine, but without the comic timing and intonation I found this to be equally tough. It feels good to have given up; life is too short to stick with a book you’re not enjoying.
  • Finished the second season of Succession. My wife have quickly munched our way through both seasons over the past month or so and can’t wait for the next one. Great characters, intriguing plot and so many laugh-out-loud moments.

Next week: Head down at work, my wife’s birthday, and going to see Marika Hackman in concert. Assuming that the coronavirus doesn’t put a wrecking ball through all of the plans.

Weeknotes #62 — Beyond

Flying over London on my way to Heathrow

Flying over London on my way to Heathrow

A week in which I…

  • No, we, successfully completed our New York end-user infrastructure rollout. Half of our deployment team had to leave last week, so I ended up having to sit one-to-one with half of the office to take them through how to set up and use their new kit. It was great to be out in the field again. Everyone seems very pleased and we’ve had a few notes thanking us for the work that has gone into the new platform.
  • Ran a couple of training courses for the New York office, giving everyone a proper introduction to Microsoft Teams as well as showing them the real-time collaboration and versioning features of Office 365. In the past we’ve suffered from deploying technology within the organisation and not giving staff enough knowledge on how to use it. I didn’t go into too much depth in the couple of hours I had available, but hopefully it was enough to make the team realise the possibilities that are open to them.
  • Spent the day on my own in the office on Monday while everyone was off for Presidents’ Day. Although I was all alone, getting out of my hotel room felt a lot healthier than just sitting there, and I got to play some loud music and greedily use all of the new network just for myself.
  • Worked very late on Tuesday as a vendor got our new wireless access points installed into the ceiling voids, and connected back to the server room. I spent time the next day wandering around the length and breadth of the office on a Teams video call to check coverage is good, and it’s superb.
CAT6 cable, a patch panel and a long pole — ready for anything!

CAT6 cable, a patch panel and a long pole — ready for anything!

  • Was grateful to not get caught in the second storm in as many weeks in the UK. Our neighbour’s front garden wall didn’t fare so well; apparently my children woke up in the middle of the night because of the noise and one of them had reported hearing a bang.
Thank you, Dennis

Thank you, Dennis

  • Discovered Beyond Meat. New York has a massive variety of restaurants for an aspiring vegan. Eighteen years after having last been there I had the fortune to dine again at the Candle Cafe, a wonderful cosy and homely vegan restaurant. I was intrigued by the ‘Beyond Burger’ they had on the menu, but went for something different. A few days later I saw the same on the menu at MTHR Vegan, a small fast food joint tucked out of the way on 49th Street. After one bite I had to go back to the menu to check that I had ordered the right thing; despite the name of the place I wasn’t convinced that I’d bitten into something that had once been wandering around. It was incredibly tasty. Kebabs made from the same stuff at Beyond Sushi were also excellent. It seems that Beyond Meat has only reached the UK very recently, so we’ll have to make a special trip to Tesco to eat some more at home. It’s like Quorn, but super tasty. I’m sure the amount of processing doesn’t make it very healthy, but it’s nice to be able to reach for the junk food occasionally without the guilt of eating animals.
Beyond Burger and fries from MTHR Vegan

Beyond Burger and fries from MTHR Vegan

Beyond Meat kebabs from Beyond Sushi

Beyond Meat kebabs from Beyond Sushi

  • Managed a few runs in Central Park. The full circuit makes a great course at around 7 miles, with just enough hills to be a bit of a challenge. At the weekend I treated myself to my first new pair of trainers in ten years, and could immediately feel the difference. I don’t want to go faster, but I do want to try to avoid injury as I have a history of knee pain.
Central Park reservoir

Central Park reservoir

  • Drove my eldest son up to Nottingham to compete in the National Cross Country Championships. The awful weather in the week leading up to the event meant that the car park was closed and the routes leading there had gigantic traffic jams. After over an hour in a queue I managed to watch the boys race through the muddiest course I’ve ever seen before getting a little cleaned up and heading for home again. At least it wasn’t raining!
  • Finally finished reading Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, literally two years after I started it. The book is organised into chapters or essays on a variety of historical figures, which the author uses as a jumping off point to explore a particular set of thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts they veer way off course before coming back around again. It’s never boring, but I found it extremely challenging and hard-going, and don’t mind admitting this text is probably at the limit of my intellectual capacity. I have no idea where he found the time to read so much , and what perseverance he must have had to learn French and German by picking up classic texts in those languages. Amazing.
  • Have been completely obsessed by all things Smoke Fairies, ten years after the first time, trying to catch up with the music I missed out on after Blood Speaks. Their new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, is simply stunning, with big guitar riffs and wonderful vocal harmonies throughout.

Next week: Back in London again, turning my attention to all of the things I have had to put aside while I focused on New York. Attention turns to São Paulo now. Plus an Album Club.

Weeknotes #60–61 — Storms

Somewhere over the Atlantic

Somewhere over the Atlantic

An incredibly eventful fortnight in which I…

  • Had a very busy week in London, getting ready to head to New York for the configuration and rollout of my client’s new IT stack.
  • Made a good connection with the account manager at my client’s laptop supplier. The devices have been brilliant and the support we have been getting has been very welcome.
  • Started to think about how we can respond to staff impacted by the coronavirus. It would be simple and easy to just delay our IT rollout in China, but much better if we can somehow work around the problem, bringing the new IT equipment to where people are to enable them to work more easily.
  • Was impacted by the Microsoft Teams outage for a few hours, along with the rest of my colleagues and bazillions of other companies around the world. It failed for a shocking reason, but it was refreshing to see a large company like Microsoft admit what it was. My client is so heavily-dependent on Teams that it caused a few problems, but a great feature of cloud software is that you don’t need to do the running around yourself to fix it — the best people for the job will work on it and let you know when it’s sorted.
  • Debated what a good post-incident root cause analysis (RCA) looks like. The write-ups from Monzo set the gold standard for me. Attaining this level of quality is probably unachievable, but it is great to have something to aim for.
  • Revamped our daily team ‘standup’ meeting. We’re trying out LightningTalks on Wednesdays. Eventually I hope that these can be shared with a wider audience but while we get them off the ground it seems right to keep it within the team. On Fridays we are running a ‘wins’ session as described in Christina Wodtke’s Radical Focus:

“In the Friday wins session, teams all demo whatever they can. Engineers show bits of code they’ve got working and designers show mockups and maps. But beyond that, every team should share something. Sales can talk about who they’ve closed, Customer Service can talk about customers they’ve rescued, Business Development shares deals. This have several benefits. One, you start to feel like you are part of a pretty special winning team. Two, the team starts looking forward to having something to share. They seek wins. And lastly, the company starts to appreciate what each discipline is going through and understands what everyone does all day.”

  • The wins session has been amazing right from the start, for all of the reasons above, plus the fact that everyone gets to speak. I wish we had started this years ago.
  • Was sent flowers by a colleague in South Africa. I had joked the week before when we met on a video call that he never wrote, phoned or sent flowers to me anymore, so he took it upon himself to rectify it. I don’t remember ever having been sent flowers before!

  • Felt proud to be part of the team that enabled a couple of excellent office-wide collaboration sessions to take place in London. My client’s CFO is one of only 70 women who have scaled all of the Seven Summits, something she has completed in less than a decade, and it was incredibly inspiring to hear her talk about how she did it. A couple of days later the space was used to discuss client strategy, and it was amazing how everyone had an opportunity to get involved. A wise person once said to me that if you find something difficult or challenging, do more of it, so I put my hand up to give feedback from my group to the rest of the office and I am glad I did.

  • Spent a lot of time at the weekend preparing for our school governor Finance Committee meeting. I felt I was well briefed to chair it, and we got through everything we needed to. Unfortunately I couldn’t make our full governing board meeting due to being out of the country, but I tried to read as much as I could for that one as well.
  • Went out with my old pal Mat to see the Smoke Fairies play at the beautiful Hoxton Hall in London. I first heard them in 2010 when Through Low Light And Trees came out and saw them live a couple of years later when they launched Blood Speaks. After that I lost touch and their eponymous album in 2014 passed me by. In January they released a new record, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home. It is incredible —possibly the best thing they’ve done — and we both can’t stop playing it. Live, they seem to have become much better, more confident players than I remember from all those years ago. The gig had the hairs on my arms standing on end from the first song. We’ve booked in to see them again when they play The Lafayette in October and I can’t wait.
Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

Photo by Mat Harden

  • Had a weekend of socialising, with a lovely dinner at Mat’s house for his birthday on Friday and then attending my first ever bar mitzvah on Saturday night. The bar mitzvah was amazing, with a big emphasis on getting everyone up to dance at regular intervals — including before any of the wonderful food was served. The dancing was helped along by a very vocal DJ and two dancers up on stage facing the crowd leading the moves. There was a lot of bringing everyone together in circles and dancing around the boy at the centre of it all as well as his family, and you couldn’t help but get swept along by the joy of it. The highlight of the evening for me were the speeches — a hilarious Stewart Lee-style delivery from the dad, an amazing poem by the boy’s younger brother and sister, and a final one from the boy himself. Everyone had a brilliant evening and went home smiling.

  • Watched as Storm Ciara put paid to my travel to New York on Sunday. In retrospect, with Storm Dennis now hitting and pulling down a massive chunk of wall between our and our neighbour’s front garden, it could have been worse. Virgin cancelled the plane and put me on a later Delta flight, which itself was then cancelled. A couple of calls to the travel agent got me set to go on Monday instead, compressing an already busy week into an even smaller number of days. What was bad for us going west seemed to be great for those going east — a couple of flights broke the records for subsonic transatlantic flight, with a Boston to London plane making the journey in 4h48m!
  • Once again had the privilege of enjoying one of Virgin Atlantic’s new planes. I spent the entire journey working, but had the wonderful tail camera on to see what was happening outside, and loved the view under the plane as we landed at JFK.

  • Enjoyed getting stuck into the rollout of another site. Seeing the office go live on our SD-WAN network console gave me a feeling of accomplishment, and watching our staff start to enjoy their new kit both inside and outside of the office was fantastic. Once again I was glad to have such great members of the team on site as they worked through the various challenges; IT infrastructure work does seem to involve much more improvisation than I am used to with software projects. Due to the storm delays and staff being out we still have a lot more to get done than I had hoped, so a lot of my week next week will be taken up with the one-by-one ‘white glove’ user process.
  • Loved introducing New York to one of my South African colleagues, who had never been to the USA before. I lived here for a twelve months almost two decades ago, but it feels like yesterday. We managed to cover a lot of ground in the evenings and on Saturday — Grand Central Station, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, the Strand Bookstore, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the World Trade Center. It didn’t help that on Saturday the temperature was a bone-aching -8C with a frosty wind to boot, which must have been shocking for my colleague who came from her Southern Hemisphere summer. There was ice everywhere, and we even found a fountain in Bryant Park that looked like it was straight out of Tom and Jerry’s Mice Follies cartoon.

  • Had some lovely meals out and about in NYC. It has been great to spend time with colleagues without having to rush off to the next meeting, I am very grateful for the opportunity. I hadn’t been to the lovely vegan Candle Cafe since I visited with my friend Marc 18 years ago and it was great to find it in rude health.

  • Ran a few times in Central Park. When my knees don’t hurt, I really enjoy running, and love the fact that I can just put my trainers in my suitcase and run anywhere I happen to be.

Next week: Getting the New York user rollout finished, trying to shape the same in São Paulo, and attempting to turn the various pieces of work that the team are picking up into something that looks like a project portfolio.

Weeknotes #59 — Moving

A week in which I…

  • Did very little other than client work, with quite a few late evenings in London.
  • Helped my client move into their new office space. It is beautiful, and people seem to really appreciate the new space and facilities. The technology we have put in through the programme I have been running has allowed staff to get up and move around the office for ‘activity-based working’, and this is further enabled by the different types of space in the office. There are sitting desks, standing desks, single-person soundproof pods, two-person meeting rooms, collaboration desks, and a large communal space with plenty of technology such as a Surface Hub and a big presentation screen. The office is now completely Wi-Fi enabled and all of our desk screens use USB-C, so staff can pick up their laptops and headsets, and plug in with one cable wherever they need to.
  • Held my head in my hands as the keyboards, mice and dongles that were meant to be at each desk became separated from each other during the move. The Microsoft Wireless Desktop 900 model doesn’t allow you to re-pair the devices with different dongles so we ended up with lots of devices that we need to try and match together. It was like trying to pair up socks for people with three feet after having spread the washing across multiple launderettes. One of the team looked like a hurried Rick Wakeman at his 1970s peak as he ‘played’ each keyboard in an attempt to match them dongle by dongle. Sadly, we now have a cupboard full of wireless junk until somebody gets some more time to try pairing them up again. We’ll now be (a) labelling the three elements of each device and (b) looking at buying a different model in the future, one that can be re-paired if it gets separated from its partners.

  • Marvelled that the keyboard and mouse issue was the biggest problem we had. There had been so much IT work in the background to make the move a success that we breathed a sigh of relief when things went well. The first week in the new space went by in a flash and everyone felt like they had been working there for a very long time after just a few days.
  • Closed out on a couple of snagging items for the Dubai office. The technology there is now completely independent from our previous vendor, and run by us, paving the way for them to decommission all of the old equipment over the next couple of weeks.
  • Tried to delegate as much as I could so that I can continue to focus on the bigger aspects of the main programme. We still have many small projects in the sites where we have already gone live so pulling people in to help is going to be key to getting it all done.
  • Confirmed our rollout schedule for the New York office, and booked up my travel.
  • Watched as lots of people in the team were out sick on various days. There seems to be something (or some things) going around at the moment. I felt like I was catching a bug as the end of the week approached and it stuck with me throughout the weekend. Hopefully it will go before it gets any worse.
  • Spent quite a few hours getting up-to-date with some of my school governor work, ahead of a Finance Committee meeting on Monday evening. It reminded me that to do it justice it really takes one or two days every week, particularly if your want to do more than the bare minimum. I’ve been struggling to prioritise it over the past year or so with so much going on at work, and it felt good to get a few things out of the way.
  • Watched Catch Me If You Can with the family. I’d missed the film when it first came out nearly 20 years ago (!) and it really holds up. Amazing story, even more so that it really happened.
  • Caught up with the first two episodes of Star Trek: Picard. My boys and I think it’s brilliant already. It’s a bit shocking to see how much Patrick Stewart has aged in 18 years when they seem to have gone by in a flash.

Next week: More chasing of vendors for quotes, deliveries and installations, with focus shifting to Brazil. A school governor meeting. And seeing the Smoke Fairies with a friend.

Weeknotes #58 — Young Voices

A week in which I…

  • Got hit with a complete office networking outage first thing on Monday morning. I was so grateful that it happened just before 9AM, when most of the team were there, than an hour or two beforehand. It didn’t take long to resolve. We still have much to do to improve the resiliency of what we’ve built.
  • Locked in the dates for the end-user rollout in New York next month, and booked up travel for the team that will be going there. We still have a few key things to complete, but we’re now at the stage where we will be able to improvise if necessary. I’m very excited about getting another of my client’s sites online.
  • Agreed in principle the support model for my client’s sites in the Americas. The details need to be ratified, but I’m optimistic as we seemed to reach a general consensus very quickly.
  • Spent Thursday and Friday evening at the office as we completed the migration from our old infrastructure in Dubai. Yet another change that took far longer than it should have. I’m not sure if the world of infrastructure is always like this, with more improvisation during a change than the sort of detailed testing beforehand you would have in a software release. I suspect that we have much to improve. The unexpected late nights meant that I nearly missed my youngest boy’s performance as part of Young Voices at the O2, and sadly missed Album Club. I woke up very early on Sunday to check in with the office and was so relieved when they reported that all was well.
  • Really enjoyed the Young Voices concert, and was so pleased that my son and all of his classmates had a great time. The school works so hard to make Year 6 a memory factory with lots of rich experiences; I’m sure he’ll look back on his time there with a lot of fondness in the years to come.

  • Tried to find yet another angle for getting a Microsoft Teams telephony project up and running across my client’s remaining sites. For some reason it seems very difficult to get much traction with any vendor we’ve been speaking to. I had a good new lead on a company we could work with and I’ll be following that up next week.
  • Got things moving again with the vendors in São Paulo, ready to start ordering the bulk of the equipment we need next week.
  • Added the coronavirus to our programme risk log. I remember how locked down things got when SARS appeared in 2002–03, and then swine flu in 2009–10, with people needing to stay at home for incubation after coming back from business trips. Like everyone, I am hoping it will pass without much of an impact on people around the world. It may well curtail any plans we had to travel to China for the final part of our programme in the first half of this year.
  • Enjoyed a ‘welcome home’ celebration in my client’s refurbished offices. Move in day is Monday and the whole team needs to be in early to pre-empt any connectivity and other IT issues that people may have. There has been a lot of change in a short space of time, with server room moves, wireless access point deployment, desk migrations and implementation of a completely new audio/visual system in the meeting rooms, so I am sure there will be a few glitches. I have my fingers crossed for everyone as they have worked so hard to get it ready on time.
  • Watched as the ‘digging things out’ stage of our home extension came to an end, moving into foundation-laying and building things up.
  • Kept up my fitness regime, jogging with my wife on Saturday morning, refereeing my youngest son’s football match on Sunday and also jumping on the turbo trainer. I may be getting fitter, but all the calories and then some are getting replaced by all the snacking I seem to do.
  • Finished reading Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke after hearing the WB-40 podcast on OKRs. The book is so much more accessible and practical than John Doerr’s book on the same topic. Like a lot of new techniques, a little consulting and coaching would go a long way and I might approach my client to look at this for the IT team at least.
  • Watched Star Trek: Nemesis with the boys. It was so much better than I was expecting, and is probably my favourite film of the four Next Generation movies. From what I have read, it suffered from being released in 2002 alongside the latest Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and James Bond films and got lost as a result. The story is great and the effects are excellent, even 18 years on.
  • Rewatched The Sixth Sense with my eldest boy. He’s been on at us to watch a horror film for a long time and I don’t think it is a good idea, so this seemed like a good compromise. The film holds up well but he wasn’t overly impressed. “It’s not really horror, Dad — more romantic gore.” I’m not sure that’s a genre, but I know what he means.

Next week: Early start in the new office, getting my bearings with not having a regular desk every day. Pushing to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s for New York, resolving any snagging issues in Dubai, trying to make quick progress with the equipment orders for Sao Paulo and watching the news closely on the coronavirus epidemic. Plus prep for the next round of school governor meetings.

Weeknotes #57 — Furrowed glabella

A week in which I…

  • Kept driving forward on our focused list of tasks for each city in our IT programme. Orders were placed, network capacity was upgraded, and detailed plans were made for the work we need to finish before the end of the month to meet a hard deadline.
  • Saw the team solve the key problem that caused us so much trouble when we made infrastructure changes last weekend. Never underestimate the power of ‘turn it off and on again’.
  • Facilitated a new architecture proposal from the CTO which will see us use the same building blocks, but configured differently, as a pattern for our future country rollouts. Hopefully this will lead to an infrastructure which is much more simple and easy-to-maintain. This change in direction comes at a critical juncture, as we are trying to close out on the contract to configure the equipment, but in this case it makes sense to absorb the cost of a couple of days’ delay for the potential payback it will bring.
  • Welcomed back the last key team member from their Christmas and summer holiday break.
  • Attended a Town Hall meeting about our move into a revamped office in the same building later this month. As part of the efficient use of space, the organisation will be moving from desk pedestals to personal lockers for storage, so they ran a Dump The Junk Day to clear out anything no longer required, including an amnesty on stationery and IT equipment.
  • Continued to focus on chasing vendors across the globe for quotes, reports, proposals and orders, as well as holding some introductory meetings. My client’s small footprint in each city means that I am often doing the chasing, which feels very different to being pursued by pushy vendors. Perhaps we need to do a better job of selling the organisation as a whole, which is in twenty countries with tens of thousands of staff. I had a couple of early morning meetings with companies in China, and need to get used to these as we turn our attention towards Beijing in the first half of this year.
  • Was let down by a vendor putting in our Internet circuits into our next office on our rollout schedule. It’s a critical keystone to our whole setup, albeit not quite yet on the critical path. While we wait, our colleagues in-country managed to deploy all of our new desktop equipment — monitors, wireless keyboards and mice — and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
  • Agreed to start looking at business demand for end-user applications, such as business process automation. This will ramp up as a focus for the team as we complete the global IT infrastructure deployment. It is going to be a challenge to balance spending the right amount of time on this without compromising the timeline of the core infrastructure delivery.
  • Ran the first Steering Committee meeting of the year. In line with the point above, we have tried to re-brand this as the IT Steering Committee which looks at all demand, not just that of the core Infrastructure rollout. I managed to get the slide deck down from the usual 41 slides to a more palatable 11. I am used to producing packs with lots of appendices, so that if there are difficult or controversial questions on the facts in the meeting, they can be resolved there and then. However, experience over the past couple of years with this particular committee, and the fact that we now have all of the data available to us everywhere through Office 365, shows that this really isn’t necessary.
  • Had a meeting to dig into a production issue I discovered on the evening of New Year’s Day. My focus was less on the issue itself (which had a straightforward fix) and more on the monitoring, alerting, and how we managed the incident to a conclusion in the early hours. We avoided an outage, but we have a long way to go before we are able to say that the processes are working like a well-oiled machine.
  • Worked from home on Tuesday as we commenced our next home improvement project, a small extension to give us more living space downstairs. It should only take 8-12 weeks. So far, the builders seem really lovely and are being very considerate, particularly with keeping things tidy, although there is still so much stuff everywhere. The amount of earth taken from digging out a metre or two of our garden is incredible, and filled our entire front lawn as it waited for the grabber lorry.
  • Met up with a prospective school governor. They would be an excellent addition to the team, and hopefully at some point in the near future they will decide that they want to join us. Part of being a governor is a constant quest for new members of the board. My experience of watching people over the past seven years as a governor is that it takes an average of nine months from joining to feeling like you are adding value to the board, having the confidence to speak up, ask questions and challenge effectively.
  • Took receipt of a new pair of glasses. To keep things simple, I bought the same frames as my last two pairs. This meant that (a) I didn’t need to go trying on specs in any shops and (b) I could just order them online with confidence that I knew what I was buying. My prescription had a significant change as I’m now having to sport varifocal lenses. So far so good — there has definitely been a big reduction in the amount of ‘bringing the words right up to my face and peering over the top of my glasses’ which made me feel ancient over the past few months.
  • Finished reading Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love. I bought a copy for my wife for Christmas, then saw it come up as a 99p Kindle Daily Deal and thought it would be fun to read the same book for once. I really enjoyed it; it’s very well-written, and a good balance of introspection, humour and poignancy. My twentysomething years are way behind me, and the chapters on the existential crisis of turning 30 described in the book really hit me when I reached 40. It was fun to have a book that could be so easily picked up, and I must have ploughed through half of it on my phone.
  • Started, and quickly abandoned, a biography of John Lennon. I don’t mind a conspiracy theory backed up by facts, but when they are so easily disprovable so early on it felt like a waste of time.
  • Somehow found time to watch the first three Next Generation movies with the boys. Generations was better than I remembered from the cinema and First Contact was pretty great, but Insurrection just felt like a long, big budget episode of the TV series. I don’t hold out much hope for Nemesis, but it will be good prep before Picard starts to air on Amazon later this week. It’s amazing how dated the movies look compared to recent sci-fi films (and even TV series), and I have to keep reminding myself that they were made two decades ago — it’s like watching something made in 1970 in 1990.
  • Didn’t make it out for Sunday’s Harp Hilly Hundred due to the freezing conditions. I came off a bike on black ice a few years ago and landing in the middle of the road both hurt and scared me silly, so anytime the temperature drops close to zero I won’t ride. A friend of mine took a tumble on ice right at the end, along with a few others; I’m glad to say he’s fine. I felt pleased to have stayed in for a go on the turbo trainer instead.
  • I’ve been making my way through Matt Forde’s Political Party Podcast, starting from episode one. There’s a lot of material to get through and it’s fascinating listening. He started the podcast a couple of years prior to the 2015 UK general election, and it’s interesting to them now with the benefit of hindsight. Cameron versus Clegg versus Miliband seems like very recent history, but when I listen I realise just how much time has passed since those relatively innocent days. Brexit is part of the discussion but it isn’t the main narrative, and it will be interesting to hear it come more to the foreground as the episodes go on.
  • Didn’t make much time for music, although I have been enjoying The Big Moon’s new album. I love this song:

Next week: Another big go-live, an attempt to lock down the detailed plans for our next site rollout and getting the orders underway for the one after that. Watching my not-so-little one at Young Voices at the O2, and an Album Club.

Weeknotes #56 — All good things…

A week in which I…

  • Had almost every waking moment completely dominated by work. Every night I found myself heading home, seeing my boys and my wife for a little bit before reopening the laptop and carrying on until midnight. It was a race just to get back to ‘net zero’ every day. It was lovely to have most of the team back in the office, but I really could have done with being in ‘everyone’s out of the office for Christmas’ mode for another week. Having said that, by the end of this week everyone will be back, which means that I can hand back some of the additional work that I agreed to take care of over this period. It was also lovely to be genuinely grateful to see the team members back at work; they are a lovely bunch and a lot of fun to work with.
  • Once again relearnt the lesson that things in IT are always more complicated than you expect. I think the fact that the code I wrote for my final year project at university compiled and worked first time was unfortunate in the long term, as it lulled me into a false sense of security which still lives with me now. Having now spent nearly two decades managing IT projects and implementations, I have learned to include plenty of contingency in my plans so that we have time to work around problems, but I still feel bad when my optimism is sometimes crushed as it meets the gargantuan weight of reality. A two-hour infrastructure change scheduled for Thursday night in an office in the Middle East ended up being a multi-day event, taking up all of Friday and Saturday, capped off by a 3:30am start on Sunday to make sure people were able to work when they got in that day. Back to bed for a few hours sleep, and then some clean-up the rest of Sunday morning. I felt so grateful to my wife for stepping in to take over the football run on Sunday while I was stuck ‘at work’. A big chunk of the start of the coming week will be to assess what our next steps are to complete the work we had to de-scope during the weekend, before an immovable deadline hits at the end of the month.
  • Spent lots of time talking to a smorgasbord of vendors across five cities, juggling agendas and action items so that we kept momentum on all fronts. Everything from initial introductory chats with Beijing in the early morning through to monitoring desktop equipment rollouts in New York and chasing up delivery dates for kit we have ordered for Dubai.
  • Ventured into meetings to discuss technical topics that I don’t understand very well such as Cisco ISE and VMWare VMotion. I’m proud of my ability to search the Internet for things, but from the short time I spent looking I’ve not been able to find good introductory resources on these that are pitched at the right level for me. Either they are so rudimentary to be next to useless, or they leap deep into the pool so quickly that they are quickly unintelligible.
  • Marvelled at the science behind a really well-executed Wi-Fi survey, and took pleasure in being in the hands of an expert in his field as he took us through it. Learned about RX-SOP, which forces wireless access points to reject connections from devices below a certain RSSI threshold. This stops those devices from getting stuck on particular APs even though the device may have moved some distance away and be closer to a neighbouring AP. It’s an advanced feature and is one tool in the toolbox for establishing a great Wi-Fi network.
  • Purchased a couple of additional licences for LeanKit due to our expanding team. This has become an invaluable tool for us in keeping track of all of our shared work. Its beauty is its simplicity. We have a long, long way to go to find our optimal way of working but after six months I couldn’t imagine being without it.
  • Had an iPhone repaired in ‘while you wait’ lunch-break fashion, by iSmash at Bank station, in one of the smallest shops I have ever seen. My youngest boy was over the moon when I gave him my old iPhone for Christmas but I felt sad that I’d chipped the screen and that after a couple of years the battery was on the way out. They did a brilliant job of replacing the glass and the battery, and had it back to me in less than an hour.
  • Finished watching the final episode of the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation with the boys. All Good Things… was a fitting ending, and genuinely made me well up in the final scene. Half of the reason for being so emotional was probably that over the past few years the three of us have journeyed through through the entire Original Series and Next Generation episodes and now it’s all over. Yes, there is Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise, but these are uncharted territories for me as I never caught them the first time around. We’re going to have to choose between watching the TNG movies, the sadly un-restored Deep Space 9 or the new series Picard which is due to come out soon.
  • Smiled when the boys came up with the idea of turning our lovely new kitchen table into a table tennis arena. They’ve invested in bats and balls and even had their friends around for a tournament. As much as we don’t want our new table to get damaged, when they are telling me that they are so happy to be doing something that doesn’t involve screens, how can you resist?
  • Was impressed and proud of my eldest son’s Chiltern League cross country run, although sadly I couldn’t be there to see it. He had a fall during the run but kept going. It looked incredibly tough — it amazes me that the children are happy to put themselves through the torment of running through water hazards in January. I am sure I would have long since given up when I was his age.
  • Managed to do a little bit of governor work for an hour or two. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
  • Wondered how everyone keeps up with their reading. I’m working my way through Stratechery posts that date back to the middle of last year, and have no hope of catching up with the NGA newsletters I have missed. Does having time to read The Economist mean that you’re a person of leisure and have already made it in life?
  • Saw my fitness slide after not getting on my bike at all this week. I’m hoping to get back in the saddle for at least one turbo session before the Harp Hilly Hundred next weekend.

Next week: More of the same, plus the first programme Steering Committee meeting of the year, and work starting on our next home improvement project.

Weeknotes #55 — Forty-three

A week in which I…

  • Worked from home for the whole week. With people out of the office and barely any meetings to speak of, I managed to get my email backlog down by about two-thirds, and caught up on a number of important items that I had missed. I questioned whether chunking through emails was the best use of my time, but there were so many items that revealed themselves and needed to be actioned that my conclusion was a definite ‘yes’. I managed to get lots done, but there is still so much to do and I didn’t get close to completing all the tasks I wanted to. It is going to be an extremely busy first quarter.
  • Was able to get my head down and work on things continuously without interruptions or meetings, which was lovely. Quite a few people started to come back from their holidays on Thursday but due to it being the traditional summer holiday in South Africa, we won’t be back up to a full compliment until the middle of the month.
  • Worked for the first time ever on New Year’s Day. A lovely, quiet day’s work ended up turning into a very late night when I found an issue with one of our critical infrastructure systems that evening. After working through it with the support teams we managed to resolve it around 3am, so that people could come back to work and be up and running, oblivious to anything being wrong in the first place.
  • Felt no guilt at all for indulging myself with all the Christmas food. I’ve now had three years with no alcohol, and managed to either run or ride my bike every day of the Christmas period. I’ve probably not been this fit since I was getting ready for Ride 999 and it feels great. At the primary school where I am a governor, their philosophy is to focus on getting children in a place where they have their basic needs met before they focus on teaching and learning. In a similar way, I’m finding that if I focus on keeping myself fit, everything else is easier — I’m more alert, feel happier and have more energy to get things done. Sadly my daily routine will come to an end as I start to commute again from Monday, but hopefully my fitness will stay with me.

  • Turned 43. An age where you stop being able to instantly recall how old you are and have to do a little mental arithmetic to check. We spent the evening with some very good friends a few doors down from us, eating and seeing in the New Year with the kids. My friend hasn’t been well over Christmas and had to cancel all of his planned family events, so it was good to see him doing a little better.

  • Signed up to the BFI Player and then cancelled it again. Even though it is only £4.99 a month and is an organisation worthy of support, I will never make use of it enough to justify the subscription. Of all the things I prioritise in my life, watching movies isn’t one of them, although I would like it to be. Perhaps becoming a movie buff is something I can do when I eventually retire.
  • Was awestruck by how amazing the Chernobyl TV series is. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a better drama. My wife and I watched it over a few evenings and were entranced as the story unravelled. I was nine years old when the disaster happened and I remember the news reports on the fallout cloud that was spreading across Europe, and the questions as to whether the food supply was safe in the UK. The screenplay is so well put-together; it shows you enough of what went on without ever being gratuitous, and the acting is completely first-rate. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
  • Continued with preparation for our house extension which starts later this month. Cleared cobwebs from our garden shed that Miss Havisham would have been proud of, and made a couple of major trips to the recycling centre. A few more hours left and we’ll be ready to go.
  • Bought a lovely kitchen table to replace the almost 20-year old workhorse we bought when we lived in New York. My wife had been on the lookout for a bargain on eBay and pounced when the right one came up. We hired a ‘man with a van’ to collect it for us; all seemed to be going well until his assistant dropped it onto one of its corners as they unloaded it at our house. Despite the resulting dent, it looks great and it’s so nice to be able to stretch ourselves out. We’re hoping it will inspire us to have more people over for lunch or dinner this year, something we’ve really fallen out of the habit of.
  • Refereed my youngest son’s football match. Something clicked for me in this match where I started to share the accountability with the linesmen and didn’t feel as much pressure to monitor everything that was going on, which worked really well. I am one of the least football-minded parents in the team and find refereeing a challenge, which is one of the reasons I do it and enjoy it. The other is that it’s a great job to have on a cold winter’s day as opposed to just standing around and watching! At the same time as the match was in progress, my eldest boy was running to ninth position at the Hertfordshire County Cross-Country Championships and we are so pleased to see him do well.
  • Set up a monthly $25 deposit to the microfinance lender Kiva, inspired by Ton Zijlstra’s blog post on how he gives Kiva Cards as client Christmas gifts. I’ve made a couple of deposits and loans in the past, and even given cards as gifts to friends, but I ended up with just a few dollars left in my account and stopped thinking about it. I’m looking forward to watching my micro lending portfolio grow and to see some of the projects that the money helps bring to fruition.

Next week: The proper start to 2020 at work. Writing up minutes from last year’s final steering committee meeting and planning the focus of the next one. Getting a baseline plan in place for Q1 that we can share with the team and a the wider audience, and trying to deal with the puzzle of team members needing to be in multiple countries at once. And trying to pick up and give some focus to my school governor backlog.