Weeknotes #223 — Many workshops

Caught this rainbow as I went out into the garden early one morning this week.

Caught this rainbow as I went out into the garden early one morning this week.

For the second week in a row I unexpectedly found myself at home every day. Very early morning meetings coupled with a train strike put paid to any ideas of heading into London. It’s been good to be at home but I’m looking forward to going into the office again.

The boys have been off school for the half-term holiday. Our eldest son is midway through his exams, with two weeks to go before he gets to have eleven weeks of summer holidays. The lucky thing.

This was a week in which I:

  • Completed a final review of a draft lean business case for an important piece of work we are looking to do with an external vendor. We met with the vendor at the end of the week for an update on where we are.
  • Watched a playback of an important internal product that our team have been working on.
  • Attended a town hall meeting for our global IT division. It reminded me again of how difficult hybrid events are, but that this is now what we’ve come to expect. Encountered keynote speaker Bruce Whitfield for the first time; he’s very well-known in South Africa but was completely new to me.
  • Joined a meeting to start to plan for the equivalent town hall meeting to be held at the end of the year. Our department will be ‘hosting’ the event, so it’s up to us to plan the format and content.
  • Went to a briefing on an all-day online culture workshop due to take place next week. I have a very small part to play in presenting on the day.
  • Attended a workshop on The Art of Storytelling. I’m not a seasoned presenter, so deliberately following a story arc seems like a level up from where I am now.
  • Joined a workshop to start to discuss our organisational design across our technology division.
  • Attended the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Had our monthly departmental risk review meeting.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss an upcoming move for one of our offices.
  • Ran our monthly Lean Coffee session. Found myself getting the hang of InVision Freehand.
  • Had a lovely catch-up with a colleague that runs our API practice.
  • Spent time trying to understand my personal information workflow. Just the act of writing it down has helped me to tweak things a little. I’ve now started to annotate where the pain points are so that I can look to improve and simplify it. There are little tweaks around the edges; I managed to manually remove all of my spurious tags in Remember The Milk that had been hanging around in the tool unused for about a decade.
  • Hosted the first round of a new Album Club group that I’ve found myself in. Being the first ever comes with a little bit of pressure in that I didn’t want to put everyone off. I treated them all to Siren by Roxy Music. It blew all of our minds that the album is 48 years old.

  • Decided to deal with the problem of my home office TV being unreadable unless I’m sitting with the blinds down, cave-like. Bought a new heavy-duty cantilever bracket and fitted it at the weekend. Like all my DIY projects, there was a little bit of drama, and the bracket doesn’t seem to be level to the naked eye despite the spirit level telling me that everything is fine. But the problem I started with is solved. I’ll make some minor adjustments when I’m at home this week.
Distressing image.

Distressing image.

  • Bowed out of the Saturday cycling club ride in order to cycle to Oxford and back. My eldest son was competing in a race there, so this was a good way of combining a longer distance with seeing him compete. It’s the longest — and hottest — ride I’ve done for a while, so I was feeling a little jaded for the rest of the weekend.
An incredible time of year to be out cycling.

An incredible time of year to be out cycling.

  • Enjoyed — I think? — the finale of Succession. What horrible people. But what compelling viewing.

Next week: Back to a regular schedule again.

Weeknotes #222 — Workflow

Our beech tree has been shedding a tremendous amount of male catkins over the past two weeks which have blanketed the garden. This may happen every year, but I have never noticed it before.

Our beech tree has been shedding a tremendous amount of male catkins over the past two weeks which have blanketed the garden. This may happen every year, but I have never noticed it before.

My plans to go into the office this week were hampered when I caught a cold. I sounded worse than I felt — I was in full Barry White mode — but a quick straw poll of friends informed me that heading into work is a no-no in this post-pandemic world.

It’s taken me a while, but recently I’ve been enjoying a mix of working from the office and working from home. Two or three days seems to be the sweet spot for me.

This was a week in which I:

  • Finished the first version of a presentation on large language models and generative AI. By the end of the week my boss and I had delivered it three times to various groups of people, refining the message as we went. It seems to be landing well.
  • Continued work on getting more of our colleagues signed up to our password manager. Colleagues in the deskside support team covered the one-on-one sessions that I had scheduled for the week as I couldn’t be in the office. Getting people set up remotely is just too difficult, with the mixture of devices that they have to use.
  • Completed the setup of single sign-on for our digital signage platform.
  • Had a couple of conversations about the architecture of interfaces that we have built with upstream systems and what we need to do to improve them.
  • Represented our team at the steering committee for a Group-level cybersecurity programme as well as the lower-level working group later in the week.
  • Met with a consultancy that we work with to discuss how we can upskill our department in the art of storytelling.
  • Attended an online internal People and Culture-hosted summit.
  • Had a brief pre-meeting with colleagues that are running an organisational design workshop next week.
  • Met with a researcher who is organising a follow-up to the London CTOs chat on Leveraging GenerativeAI (including ChatGPT) in Business and Organisations.
  • Enjoyed a Random Coffee with a colleague I hadn’t spoken to in some time.
  • Joined an online Microsoft event entitled Optimising the Employee Experience in the Age of AI. The speakers, Bruce Daisley and Alexia Cambon, were both engaging and interesting. I keyed in a question about the role Microsoft should be playing with regard to the negative aspects of these new AI tools, but it didn’t get picked up.
  • Briefly joined a meetup for people who are taking the Center for Humane Technology’s course on the Foundations of Humane Technology. I signed up to this a few weeks ago but haven’t managed to start it yet. The meetup was very welcoming but not quite what I thought it would be; it felt a bit like a therapy group.
  • Spent some time thinking about my personal workflow and the apps I use. I started to draw it out and can already see why it feels like there is so much friction. I’m not quite done with the ‘as is’ diagram yet; once I have it down I’ll start to look at how I can simplify things.
An incomplete draft of my workflow.

An incomplete draft of my workflow.

  • Attended our school Full Governing Board meeting, the first with our new interim headteacher. We sadly said goodbye to another governor, a colleague from the local community that we recruited through a letter drop, who has been with us for many years.
  • Had a checkup at the dentist. No need to go back until early 2024!
  • Failed to finish my first difficult workout of the week. It’s such a strange thing when this happens; I’m determined not to give up, but then suddenly find that I’ve stopped. I used up the rest of the time with an easier workout.
What failure looks like.

What failure looks like.

  • Found myself with a broken spoke 10km into the Saturday cycling club ride. Nobody likes to be the guy that holds everyone else up and I figured the problem might be terminal, so I told the group to carry on without me. I managed to secure the spoke around a couple of the other ones so that it wasn’t rattling around and then figured that I’d carry on. It turned out that someone had another mechanical; I managed to catch up with the group at the top of Bison Hill. It is a beautiful time of year to be out cycling. I popped my bike into Lovelo in town who fixed the problem in no time.
  • Hoovered up all of the beech catkins and remaining piles of leaves in the garden. There’s still a bit to do to prep it so that we can enjoy sitting outside this summer.

Next week: Yet another four-day work week, and the start of another Album Club.

Weeknotes #221 — Interesting

This week I spent four days in the office in a row, as if I was single-handedly trying to bring 2019 back into fashion. Going out after work in London is fun, but getting home just in time to go to bed and then doing it all again six hours later, not so much. It was lovely to get back to my home office on Friday.

Being in the office was useful as the week was peppered with people who needed a helping hand in getting set up with our password manager. It’s such a lovely feeling to walk away from someone’s desk after they’ve realised how much easier it will be to use the software instead of whatever they have been doing up to that point.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent most of the week in between meetings working on a presentation about large language models and generative artificial intelligence for a general audience, which I hope will help our staff to get up to speed. It still needs a bit of work, but the first run through with a group of people close to the topic has been booked in for Monday.
  • Continued conversations about the team that I run and where our focus lies. It feels like we need to increase the amount of time we are spending on the ‘portfolio management’ part of what we do, but it’s difficult to see how we can reduce the effort in other things.
  • Drafted some rough criteria for when a piece of work should have some involvement from my team.
  • Set up a tracking spreadsheet for all of our staff and where they are in the process of getting set up with our chosen corporate password manager. Recruited our Helpdesk team to join me in tackling the remaining staff one by one.
  • Sat with three members of staff to get them up and running with the password manager, and lined up some more appointments for next week.
  • Attended the formal Governance Committee for one of our regional entities to give a brief IT update.
  • Reviewed the recommendation to procure some IT services.
  • Caught up with one of my colleagues to review the ‘brands, products and objectives’ for the function that they run.
  • Briefly tried out Google Bard. The interface is interesting when compared with GPT-4 in that all of the response text appears at once. I’m not sure if I prefer the text to slowly appear as if it is being typed, or I am just used to it. The quality of the responses didn’t seem to be as good, so haven’t yet gone back.
  • Attended our Diversity and Inclusion forum.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour talk from a colleague in our Finance team on Why Banks Fail. We have quite a few guests speakers lined up in the coming weeks which is quite exciting.
  • Had a few conversations which got me wondering whether someone’s viewpoints and values of cultural issues depend on the time horizon that they think about and whether their concerns go beyond the span of their own lifetime.
  • Joined the first part of TechSmith’s Level Up, but left soon after when I figured I would be able to watch the key presentations at a later date. Their products are great and I think we could be doing a lot more to get better use out of them as part of our Digital Literacy initiative.
  • Wandered along to Interesting, a couple of hours with nine splendid presentations on various topics. It was lovely to bump into Paul again; we carried on with our chat all the way back to Berkhamsted. I also said “hi” to Alice as an admirer of her blog, and thanked her for recommending it in her weeknotes. It’s lovely to go to something so random. Stef Posavec’s name was familiar; a quick search of my own blog revealed that I’d taken one of her evening classes at The Guardian back in 2018. (Thank you, external brain!) Hilary Nightingale’s talk on the shopping lists that she has found and collected over the years made me chuckle. Sarah Drummond’s talk about the Don’t Say Gay film she is making, all about Section 28 (a series of laws across Britain that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities), got me thinking about how things can fade into obscurity if people don’t keep them alive in our collective consciousness. And Jeffre Jackson’s talk about misophonia was superb. I always feel like a bit of an outsider at these events as everyone seems to know everyone else, but I’m not sure how true that is.

  • Caught up with our school’s IT provider and our Office Manager to talk through where we are with our various IT infrastructure projects.
  • Reviewed material for next week’s Full Governing Board meeting. Created a version of the budget that allows us to compare the figures to our year-end actual spend figures for the same categories.
  • Met up for a drink with a raft of colleagues that I first met when I started work in 1999. One of the group now lives in Australia and is the catalyst for getting everyone together when he’s back here. They are lovely people and it was great to see them again. I was so lucky to start my career in that team.
  • Bought and set up another pi-hole as a secondary DNS server. I previously had my router pointing to a single pi-hole for its primary DNS and to OpenDNS for secondary, in order to avoid my whole family shouting at me if the pi-hole went down. But some of the clients on the network seemed to always query OpenDNS, so the advert blocking wasn’t as comprehensive as it should be. Adding a second pi-hole solves the problem. For now, they are configured completely independently and are both running the default block list. But the pi-hole remote app allows me to see a consolidated set of data.

  • Finally took delivery of a mini hard drive interface that I ordered from Amazon US over a month ago which enabled me to wipe two more old hard disks.
  • After almost a week off of my bike, the Saturday club ride was brilliant. It was a chilly start but soon warmed up; I’m going to have to take the plunge and ditch my full finger gloves for next week. We covered some very different territory from our usual roads. I had my first puncture in a while and realised that the time to try to learn how to use my CO2 pump isn’t when I have 11 other cyclists waiting for me to get going again.

  • Finished watching series two of Slow Horses. AppleTV+ does have some excellent shows at the moment.

Next week: Presenting about AI, a school governor meeting, and meeting an old friend.

Weeknotes #220 — Tog downgrade

Another four-day week that felt like five. For some reason — or multiple, I’m not sure — I’ve been sleeping badly again. It feels as though there’s a lot going on.

Things have started to warm up so we decided to make the switch to the summer duvet. I think we’ve called the switchover point just about right. I can’t believe that for so many years we just had one duvet that we used all year round, waking up late on a summer weekend feeling like two strips of beef jerky in a desert cowboy’s saddlebag.

Our eldest son finished his last day of school this week, with his exams starting in earnest from Monday. We have our fingers crossed for him. In five weeks’ time he’ll be all done, with a long summer stretching out ahead.

This was a week in which I:

  • Realised that the feeling I have had over the past week or so since watching The A.I. Dilemma has been similar to how I felt in the second quarter of 2020 while the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. In both cases I have had to try to concentrate on my work, which felt trivial in the context of the ever-growing threat outside the door. I don’t like to think of myself as an anxious person (does anyone?) but I’ve started to question this a little bit.
  • Watched the recording of a discussion on the issues raised by The A.I. Dilemma that was hosted by the Center for Humane Technology. The concept of a multi-polar trap is useful; it feels like a good encapsulation of the arms race currently in progress. The video and the slides from the session are available.

  • Discussed how getting our staff up the A.I. knowledge curve in a short space of time is an imperative for my Digital Literacy initiative and started to discuss ways that we can approach this.
  • Finished the draft of the breakdown of brands, products and objectives for our team. In our fortnightly department team meeting I presented an update on the structure and function of our team, touching on these brands and products. We had an excellent discussion, with some challenging questions from colleagues that have given me things to think about.
  • Attended the monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting. There are a lot of initiatives that I am involved with or running right now that feed back into this forum.
  • Ran a training session for ten colleagues on our new password manager. It was an interesting hour. Everyone came out of the session further along the journey of signing up, importing passwords, setting it up on their devices and using it in their day-to-day life, but it felt a bit chaotic with everyone getting stuck at different steps. I don’t think this format is well-suited to the topic and won’t be doing it again. There are other tacks for us to try on the journey to getting as many people on-board as possible.
  • Joined the fortnightly working group meeting for a cybersecurity project.
  • Attended our monthly departmental risk review meeting.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how we can move forward with training courses on clear writing for our department, personal development planning, and Microsoft Copilot.
  • Made some quick updates to the list of applications and IT systems used by our part of the organisation.
  • Talked about why you would want to bring the work to the people and not the people to the work.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour session on a recent trip taken by some colleagues to the offices of one of our technology vendors in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Joined Matt Ballantine for a chat as part of his 100 Coffees project. We had an hour together and covered a lot of ground.
  • Attended an interesting Thoughtworks webinar hosted by Martin ter Horst and Rebecca Parsons on The State of Responsible Technology. They recently sponsored a report published by the MIT Technology Review which I’ve now added to my reading queue.
  • Made the first half of this month’s Teams Fireside Chat, which always gives me some interesting insights.
  • Joined an internal webinar on the South African banking sector.
  • Attended a Better Value Sooner Safer Happier meetup with Mike Burrows on the topic of Between spaces, scopes and scales: What the scaling frameworks don’t tell you. The session left me feeling a bit baffled, as if my brain wasn’t competent enough to really grasp the topic properly.

  • Hosted a relatively informal school governor get-together at my house to discuss roles and responsibilities for next year.
  • Joined/set up a third Album Club, this time with some friends from the WB-40 podcast community. Our first online meetup is towards the end of this month and everyone is busy pondering what they will play when it’s their turn.
  • Loved this week’s cycling club ride. The shorts came out, although I hedged my bets by sticking to full-finger gloves. The route was pretty flat and it felt like we smashed it.
  • Signed up to go to Interesting next Wednesday evening. Looks…interesting. Alice Bartlett’s weaknotes told me about it.
  • Thought that our cats were making friends with a beautiful big black cat that has been appearing at our back door. Then they had a fight and we haven’t seen it since.
Cat stand-off in the Berkhamsted Serengeti

Cat stand-off in the Berkhamsted Serengeti

Next week: Four days in the office, meeting up with old friends and attending something Interesting.

Weeknotes #219 — Word wrestling

A four-day week of two distinct halves. Work felt quiet with so many people in the team out of the office. I love it when there are big chunks of empty space in the diary that I can use to get things done.

On Wednesday afternoon I joined the London CTOs group for a virtual meetup on the topic of Leveraging Generative AI (including ChatGPT) in Business and Organisations. It fascinated me that most of the conversation focused on the rate of change and the ethical considerations rather than specific business problems that were being addressed through the technology. James Conroy-Finn suggested taking a look at The A.I. Dilemma, the recent video from the Center for Humane Technology. After a long day, I settled down to watch — and afterwards couldn’t stop thinking about it. It left me in a funk that I carried into the office the next day and all the way through to Saturday when I got it out of my system.

When something starts to interest or bug me, I get the urge to work out my feelings through writing about it. Getting the words down feels like wrestling, but it’s so satisfying when it’s done; it feels as though my brain is freed-up again. Clicking the ‘post’ button this week was a big weight off — for now, at least, as I know I’m barely scratching the surface on the topic. I also figure that I will never be a writer, as getting out a blog post that takes just eight minutes to read can be a four or five hour effort spread across commutes, evenings and weekends.

This was a week in which I:

  • Completed a thorough review of a lean business case for a new initiative at work.
  • Spent more time with my immediate team, refining our ideas for the ‘brands and products’ that we provide to the rest of the organisation.
  • Revised and refined the text for our quarterly report to the company board.
  • Met with a new joiner in our team to welcome him and introduce him to my corner of the world.
  • Was given a fantastic idea by our Marketing and Communications team for how we can try to drive further adoption of the new password manager that we have introduced at work.
  • Attended a presentation on cloud security given to our internal Technology Architecture community. The talk got me thinking about how complex the cloud platforms have become, wondering how people can possibly keep up with all of the concepts and facilities available to them. I guess that there a need for some kind of automated ‘reconciliation’ of a cloud configuration back to a blueprint or spec. I also guess that this exists already.
  • Joined a meeting to hear feedback from two senior Architecture forums that took place in the past month.
  • Met with colleagues to look at the processes around our Information Asset Register and the impact or overlap to some work we have planned for this year.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour session with our Head of Tax as our guest speaker. Getting people to talk about what they know is fascinating. We have a healthy pipeline of talks to take us to the end of May.
  • Prepared for, and chaired, our school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting at school. It was great to spend time with our new interim Headteacher.
  • Was very proud of my eldest son who ran a personal best of 4m02s in a 1500m track race. His time means that he is in with a good shot for representing our county at national level.

  • Did some much-needed housekeeping on my wife’s laptop, upgrading the operating system and making sure that her Time Machine backups were working.
  • Had a fabulous Friday night out with friends, taking full advantage of their home karaoke setup to sing songs ranging from Young MC, Omar, Billy Bragg and Elvis Presley. All bases covered.
  • Met up with my family for a barbecue for my niece’s birthday. We found ourselves together on a beautiful sunny afternoon sandwiched between days of rain. Getting together for an afternoon is always too short, especially after we were spoiled by a whole week together last year.
  • Started watching Silo on AppleTV+. So far, so good. I love a dystopian drama, especially at the end of a week of thinking about AI.

Next week: Another four-day week, with a busy diary again.

Weeknotes #218 — Aldous Harding

A strange week, with a busy start and a quiet end. The quiet was exacerbated by being in the office on a Friday with just half a dozen other people.

This year’s Freedom Day in South Africa landed on a Thursday; combined with another public holiday on Monday, most people decided to take Friday off in order to make it a very long weekend. Here in the UK we have two four-day weeks coming up which inevitably make things a little fragmented.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent time with some of our senior executives, bringing them along on the journey to getting set up with our new password manager. A couple of them had missed out on the Don’t Get Hacked presentation where I had framed the need for the tool, so I took the time to bring them up to speed. I also sat with some of them throughout the week to clarify a few points and help them optimise their setup. It’s labour intensive, but a good investment considering that the help is a pull rather than a push. I’m hoping that they will champion the tool within their teams. Adoption is creeping up globally, but not as quickly as I would like.
  • Got booked in to run a workshop in a couple of weeks’ time for one of our departments to help them get up and running with the password manager.
  • Fed back to my team about last week’s ‘brands, products and vision’ discussion and debated the best way to take it forward. We need to give this some focus to get it nailed down next week.
  • Discussed where we are with a significant initiative that our team wants to drive forward, which may lead to a number of business opportunities.
  • Had a catch-up with an external advisor on where we are with our overall strategic journey for our team.
  • Reviewed the progress of a proof-of-concept for reorganising our department’s unstructured data.
  • Had a Lean Coffee session with the team during our weekly Learning Hour slot.
  • Joined the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting. Enjoyed a fascinating discussion about the problems caused by inconsistencies between periods/full-stops and commas as delimiters in currencies. Computers are hard.
  • Confirmed that we definitely have foxes living under our garden building. As I sat there working I could hear them scrabbling around, at one point just below my feet. I’m pretty sure that the building has deep enough foundations — giant screws — so that it won’t be impacted by any burrowing. I quite like having them there.
Ground screws. Not an art installation.

Ground screws. Not an art installation.

  • Was disproportionately elated by a free lunch at Island Poké in Bow Lane. I’d never been in before as there is always a queue. Being in the office on a Friday does have its advantages — the city is dead, so there was hardly anyone around and the poké queue was non-existent. It was the end of a long week and I couldn’t quite make up my mind about what to have. I apologised for changing my mind halfway through the order and also mentioned that I’d never been in before. The next thing I know, it was on the house. Delicious.
  • Enjoyed another great Album Club night, listening to something that I would never have picked up on my own. I’m hosting the one in May which is only a week away, so I spent time at the weekend stocking up on supplies. I think I’ve chosen an album too.
  • Finally got to see Aldous Harding at the Barbican after a COVID-19-related delay of a year or so. I had two tickets but my original date had pulled out, so I roped in Nick from Album Club to join me. The seats weren’t great but it didn’t matter that much; the music was absolutely class from start to finish. She is an incredible performer. Chrissie Hynde agrees. I’d bought her latest album, Warm Chris, when it came out last year but had only played it through once. Hearing the songs live I realise that I’ve been missing out.

  • Enjoyed this week’s cycle club ride. We managed a great average speed despite it being a pretty hilly route.
  • Finally — FINALLY! — got my home NAS drive to where I want it to be. I upgraded the hardware a few years ago as the old device went ‘end of life’. At the same time I added two more disks, going from two to four, with the intention of adding resiliency as well as ensuring that the data is encrypted. I couldn’t work out how to easily move from an old ‘legacy’ unencrypted volume to a new encrypted one, and never seemed to find enough time to dive into the problem. This week I bit the bullet and dived in. The whole process has taken days, with migrations of data between volumes, changes to the RAID array, and cleaning up and moving files that no longer make sense to keep there. I’ve also taken the time for a fresh cloud backup to Backblaze B2 which itself now has more features which can only be used on a new backup container. NAS drives are brilliant things, but they don’t feel like they are for the casual user.

Next week: A four-day week and hosting an Album Club.

Weeknotes #217 — Den under den

A frustrating stop-start week. After two weeks off at home, it was good to get back behind a keyboard again. However, family medical appointments meant that I was out of the office for two half-days which made it feel like it was a bit of a staggered return. Towards the end of the week I felt as though I was getting my teeth into a few things again. I’m looking forward to next week being the first full ‘normal’ week in some time.

This was a week in which I:

  • Headed into London and decided to leave my coat at home as we’re now deep into April, with temperatures rising (a bit). What seemed like a good idea in the morning seemed foolish in the evening as it felt much colder on the return leg. I hadn’t appreciated how much the sun is hidden by the tall buildings on my journey home.
  • Spent time with my team working on our strategic ‘brands, products and vision’. Reviewed this with the management team alongside those from my colleagues and got some very useful feedback for shaping it further.
  • Met with a colleague to agree next steps on our joint project on managing unstructured data. I also created a Teams thread to outline the work that we’re doing and to get feedback from the rest of my department.
  • Caught up with the vendor for our password management tool and discussed how we can increase signups and usage of the tool. The meeting generated some great ideas, such as putting something into the tool that people want (or need) and can only access by signing up, as well as running adverts on our digital signage players in the office.
  • Worked with colleagues and an external vendor to get access to one of our externally-hosted tools, in order to give access to another colleague to be able to raise tickets. I like the structured way they took us through the security process as it gives me confidence that people would have a hard time socially engineering their way into the system.
  • Updated our Team Charter with some new draft statements sourced from the team a couple of weeks ago. Having this in the team has been so beneficial over the past couple of years.
  • Finished updating our department financial forecast with the agreed foreign exchange rates for the year.
  • Discussed how our team uses Planview AgilePlace to manage risk and whether it would work for a sister team. It’s a natural fit for us as we already use the software to manage our work; using it solely for risk management feels like ‘sledgehammer to crack a walnut’ territory, but I’m not sure of a better tool.
  • Took part in the monthly risk review meeting.
  • Had a good discussion about psychological safety and how well we really know our team. Generally I feel like I have the pulse of the organisation — but doesn’t everybody? A small number of times over the past few years I have had to question myself on this. It would be good to explore how we can get some true insights and improve this further.
  • Gave a tour of our office and server room to an executive from a sister company, who are looking at potentially revamping their own space.
  • Enjoyed a meeting with the executive team from our Côte d’Ivoire office, learning more about the country and our business there.
  • Joined two meetings to learn more about ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools. I don’t think I’ve ever known a hotter topic in technology.
  • Joined this month’s Teams Fireside Chat. It’s consistently a very useful hour with some incredible people.
  • Played with the new SnapChat lenses in Teams. They are fun but I’m not sure they have much business value. I nearly joined a meeting with a chicken on my head as the settings persisted as the defaults for the next call.
  • Was so pleased when the hospital gave my wife the all-clear following her operation for a detached retina a few weeks ago. She can now drive and exercise again. I’ll also be able to reliably hop on my indoor bike trainer again as the dad taxi morphs back into the mum taxi.
  • Took receipt of an external hard disk drive enclosure that I wanted to use to wipe two very small disks ahead of recycling them, but I found I had ordered the wrong thing. Placed another order and have my fingers crossed that I’ve got the correct thing this time. I also managed to wipe an old Sony M2 memory stick from a device that was long since forgotten.
Disk, I am determined to wipe you.

Disk, I am determined to wipe you.

  • Cursed the Apple Music app on my Mac. iTunes has always been a pain in the butt. This time I found that some recent CD rips had landed on my Mac’s internal hard drive instead of the network drive where my music library lives. Trying to consolidate everything into one place was a challenge; I ended up with gigabytes of files in multiple locations. Gemini was very useful in finding the duplicates and giving me confidence to delete the additional copies. I’ve installed the app via Setapp which has also given me access to a wealth of other applications.
  • Decided to trial YouTube Premium with the family. Giving my children access is a bit more difficult than I anticipated as I need to authorise their sign-ins on new devices. The experience is worth it, with no ads, picture-in-picture and playback on a mobile device even when it gets locked.
  • Enjoyed an online Album Club night with colleagues and alumni from work. The host’s choice was Urban Hymns by The Verve. I was given the album as a Christmas present in 1997 and I don’t think I had heard it all the way through in one sitting for 15 years or so. It was great to revisit it. The hits are over familiar, but I loved hearing Space And Time, One Day and Come On.
  • Had an amazing night out at the local cinema with some of the local Album Club crew. The remastered/restored version of Dance Craze (1981) was showing, which I figured would be right up our street. I don’t know that much about Ska music besides the big hits, so I was keen to see it. I wasn’t disappointed. The film is incredible — it’s mainly a montage of live performances by the leading Ska bands of the day, but with most of the camerawork being done from the perspective of the stage. The music is brilliant and the energy of the concerts seeped through the screen. When it was all finished after 90 minutes, we all felt like we had been to a gig.

  • Enjoyed watching lots of videos of foxes — probably a vixen and her cub — mooching around our garden during the night. I think they have made a den under the garden building which is why we are seeing them so often. Hopefully they will stay for a bit.
  • Via Ton Zijlstra’s blog, found out that this website is the 2,591,736th site in Google’s C4 dataset, use to train large language models. That number seems very small to me, given the size of the web is and the insignificance of this website.

  • Enjoyed a wonderful Saturday morning bike club ride.

Next week: Fingers crossed for a return to normal.

Weeknotes #216 — Suzume

And just like that, my time off work comes to an end and I’m back in the office tomorrow. I’m not quite sure where the week went. I’m ready to get stuck into work again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Cleared out our ‘box room’ in an attempt to start to turn it into something useful. Took a gargantuan amount of stuff to the recycling centre and charity shops, as well as giving away a couple of useful things to neighbours. We’re not quite done, but we’ve recovered a lot of space.
  • Left my computer chugging away for days as it did a three-pass secure erase on some old, redundant or faulty hard disk drives. Erasing a 2TB drive takes a long time.
  • Took an epic amount of old cables for recycling. I’ve realised that SCART is never coming back and after 20 years I am unlikely to use the extra length of speaker cable that I was keeping ’just in case’.
  • Installed a Unifi Protect camera in the doorway of our garden building. I didn’t want to faff around with Ethernet cables or PoE injectors, so went for another G4 doorbell which works over Wi-Fi. This was my third time setting one up, and it was the easiest yet.
  • Replaced a faulty downlighter on the garden building.
  • Managed to jump on the indoor bike trainer every day this week, compensating for my near-constant snacking.
  • Took a trip to Burford with my wife to meet her parents for lunch at the lovely garden centre. The coffee and cake there is lovely, but buying something from the deli requires a level of wealth equivalent to a small nation.
  • Enjoyed a rare family movie and pizza night. My eldest boy had loads of suggestions as he’s cottoned on to the IMDB list of top-rated movies. We ended up watching One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), a film I must have seen a dozen times. The acting and script are incredible; it’s a perfect movie. After the family disappeared I indulged myself through watching the ‘making of’ and was pleased to learn that they had deliberately made Nurse Ratched’s character morally ambiguous, which is how I had always seen it. It’s not clear whether she was truly nasty or just someone who meant well and was working under pressure.
  • Drove to Loughborough University and straight back again, dropping my wife and eldest son at a running camp that my wife had organised for their club. They came back late the next day tired and happy.
  • Went to the cinema with my youngest son to see Suzume (2022). It may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely breathtaking The story was delightfully bizarre, and made more poignant to me when I read some of the Letterboxd reviews. A great night out.

Next week: Back to work, with a sprinkling of Album Club.

Weeknotes #215 — Interlude

The first of two weeks off work. I spent my days pottering around the house, dropping my eldest son to school for revision sessions in the morning, wandering into town with my wife for a coffee or lunch and dialling into the odd work meeting that I didn’t want to miss. As much as I love going away on holiday, I am very happy at home, getting bits and pieces done. Not doing much always leads to the weird paradox of feeling even more tired than usual, but I’m taking that as a good sign. I have next week off work as well, and need to get on with a few things in order to avoid that feeling of having frittered away the whole two weeks.

This was a week in which I:

  • Hosted the final planned training session for our London office for our password management tool.
  • Ran a workshop to review the results of our team charter survey, using Teams breakout rooms and 1-2-4-All to surface thoughts from the whole virtual room.
  • Had an informal meeting with our divisional CIO.
  • Worked with the Chair of Governors on thank you messages to our interim headteachers for everything they have done during the Spring term.
  • Had a wonderful dinner with some close friends, and their family who are visiting from New Zealand.
  • Enjoyed a stroll through Tring Park with a bunch of friends, followed by coffee and cakes.
  • Had a lovely afternoon barbecue at my parents’ house, along with aunts, uncles and cousins that we hadn’t seen in years.
  • Managed to get outside on my bike for the first time in a couple of weeks. On Friday I rode a route that I had missed the Saturday before, and then made it out on the weekly club ride the next day. Despite leaving in a big group, an early — and ultimately terminal — mechanical by one of our fellow riders resulted in just three of us together, bringing up the rear.
  • Mowed both lawns, front and back. The amount of grass cuttings that I left in my wake resulted in me buying a replacement lawnmower blade.
  • Started reading Holy Shit by Melissa Mohr, a fascinating history of swearing. There is so much in this book from a cultural and anthropological perspective, such as the grand arc of whether at different times in history the ‘holy’ or the ‘sh*t’ has been more offensive, to tidbits such as the historical name for the kestrel.

Next week: Trying to make the most of another week off.

Weeknotes #214 — One conversation at a time

The second week in a row where I felt like I had grabbed it around the neck and held on as we galloped through the days. Work continued to be very busy and it was coupled with more medical appointments for my wife as well as my son. Our school Chair of Governors was also away on holiday, so for the first time in a few years it fell to me to prepare for and chair our full governing board meeting. A while ago I had decided to book two weeks off at Easter in order to use up some carried-forward holiday; I’m so glad I did as the break comes just at the right time.

This was a week in which I:

  • Reluctantly headed into the office on Monday in order to deliver my Don’t Get Hacked presentation. My wife woke up early so that I could apply her eye drops; she had a friend visiting who could apply the second lot later in the day. (It turns out that trying to land an eye drop into an eye that you can’t see out of is quite tricky.) I had mixed feelings about the presentation. I’d delivered and tweaked it about 20 times in the past couple of months, so I knew my stuff, but presenting to a room full of people isn’t something I’ve had a lot of experience with. In my head I had envisioned a packed audience hanging on my every word, but the reality didn’t quite match my expectations. At the time we were due to start there were far more empty chairs than full ones, so I wandered out onto the floor to remind people that we were about to get started. Once things got going there seemed to be a good level of engagement, including with people that had joined the session remotely. Watching the video back, I felt as though I had done better than I remembered, which I guess is unusual?
  • Sent out invites to password manager training sessions to all of our London staff. Our on-boarding manager at the vendor had told me that from her experience, if you send out invites to a large group of people, the number of attendees will naturally end up being roughly the same across all of the sessions. So far, she’s absolutely right.
  • Invited all of our remaining staff to join the password manager tool.
  • Saw a whole range of responses to the presentation and training ranging from those that are already enrolled with the password manager and have got their families on board as well, to massive confusion and overwhelm at what they are being asked to do. It brought back to me Euan Semple’s thoughts about change:

Many moons ago I wrote “Social media adoption happens one conversation at a time, and for their reasons not yours.” This is true for all change where you require other people to behave differently. They need to have understood what is proposed at a personal/conversational level and seen what is in it for them.

  • Our part of the organisation is small enough to make it feasible for us to give a ‘white glove’ service, working with with our colleagues one person at a time. Driving adoption of a password manager is going to be a long road.
  • Prepared material for the second part of a review of our department’s operating model, and took part in the session. We’ve not quite concluded but there is great progress being made, and the discussion was exciting.
  • Took part in a number of individual strategic planning sessions with the managers from our team. We are trying to think of the work we do in a ‘vision > brand > product > strategy’ format which is proving to be quite useful.
  • Deputised for our CIO at an IT security programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Met with a representative from our digital signage vendor to give them some feedback on our experience with the product.
  • Attended our monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Took Wednesday afternoon off to go into London for a hospital appointment with my son. We had an early dinner together at Pizza Sophia and it was lovely to spend some time together and chat for the first time in a while. He turned 16 this week. Time flies.
  • Took my wife to her check-up following her operation last week. We could feel a weight lift when they told her that she’s doing well, and is now allowed to get out and about again. It’s going to be a while until she can exercise and drive, so I’m going to be doing a bit more of the shuttling children around for a while yet.
  • Had a number of school meetings, including chairing the Full Governing Board meeting. Due to a clash with a school disco we found ourselves in one of the classrooms, a good environment to try out the Jabra Speak 2 75 conference speaker for the attendee that couldn’t get there in person. I set up my MacBook in the corner of the room and paired the speaker via Bluetooth, using the battery for the duration of the meeting. It was absolutely superb:

Honestly the sound quality was amazing. I heard every word clearly and I know from experience that is rare when being the only one dialling into a group meeting.

  • Prepared and coordinated a number of letters to go out to governors, staff, and parents and carers.
  • Enjoyed a lovely family dinner on Sunday at Per Tutti in Berkhamsted, in celebration of our son’s birthday.
  • Ran the line at my son’s football match for possibly the final time. Their season has now finished already. Next year the boys would get mixed with the age group above them, if he chooses to continue with it.

  • Have missed going on the indoor bike trainer during the week due to the additional responsibilities at home. I made up for it at the weekend with a couple of long rides. After some major rain the weather seems to be taking a turn for the better, so I’m hoping to get outside for some more rides soon.

Next week: A week off, pottering around the house and attending the odd work meeting.

Weeknotes #213 — Retinal detachment

Also no deep-sea diving allowed.
Also no deep-sea diving allowed.

After our family dinner last Saturday night, my wife said that she thought she had something in her eye that she couldn’t shift. I had a look but couldn’t see anything. It was casting a bit of a shadow at the bottom of her vision. As a precaution, she made an appointment with the optician and went along on Monday afternoon.

Our worst fears were confirmed. The ophthalmologist told her that her retina had started to become detached and that she needed urgent attention. They handed her a referral letter and told her to head straight to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage without delay. We weren’t sure what would happen next, so I left my office in London to get the train there too, just in case she had any kind of procedure which meant that she couldn’t drive home again. A train and taxi ride later, we bumped into each other at the hospital reception; a grumpy receptionist told her to come back the next evening, without any kind of examination and despite protestations that she had an urgent problem. It was stressful — everything we read had told us that it was a race against time to get it fixed. So we made a plan to jump into the car early the next morning and head over to the Ophthalmology department at Stoke Mandeville hospital.

The experience at Stoke Mandeville was amazing. We didn’t need to wait long before she was examined and the diagnosis confirmed. They booked her in for surgery first thing the next day. She was now under instructions to go home and rest, minimising movement for the rest of the day to prevent it from getting worse. When we got home we called a couple of private consultants to see if she could be seen any faster, but everyone advised us that waiting until the next day was the best we could do.

We were back at the hospital even earlier on Wednesday, ready for the operation. It’s not a difficult decision to make between losing your sight in one eye and having a medical procedure, but my wife amazed me how she took it all in her stride. The work is all done under local anaesthetic, so you are completely aware of what’s happening as its done. They start with a vitrectomy, where they remove all of the jelly-like vitreous humour from the centre of the eyeball. They then repair the damaged retina with a laser and freezing treatment, before filling the eyeball with a gas to keep the repaired retina in place. The gas means that you can’t do anything that involves any kind of change of pressure. It sounds dreadful. It was all over in an hour or so.

She was told to keep her head facing downwards towards her lap for ten hours, and afterwards to make sure that she get as much rest as possible and sleeps on one particular side, so that the gas bubble continues to push against the repaired part of the retina. Tablets to relieve the swelling and pressure were accompanied by three types of eye drops which need to be administered four times a day. Currently she has no vision out of that eye and will only know how well the repair has gone in the next two to four weeks. Over time, the gas bubble dissipates and is replaced naturally by fluid again. We have our fingers crossed. Unfortunately, most people that have a vitrectomy are guaranteed to develop a cataract within a few years after surgery and nobody knows why.

Why it happened is a mystery. Apparently it is more common for people that are short-sighted, but it seems quite random. I am so grateful that my wife got the urgent attention she needed and for the fantastic care that she has been given at the hospital. My colleagues have been amazing, offering lots of support and empathy where I’ve had to duck out of scheduled meetings at short notice. I feel very privileged to be in a position where something like this can happen and I am empowered to prioritise caring for my family over everything else. Our friends have been so lovely, with a steady stream of flowers and hampers arriving at our door.

Most of all I am so glad that my wife is now on the mend. It’s been an emotional week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Reviewed the work that has been done so far on our revamped change portfolio and roadmap.
  • Ran a password manager training session for one of our offices, along with our onboarding manager from the vendor. Only one office to go now.
  • Was pleased to hear that our proposal for unstructured data management was well-received by the Governance Committee. Now to put the wheels on it and get going.
  • Continued planning for an operating model review meeting scheduled for next week.
  • Took part in our weekly Learning Hour session where we experimented with the Lean Coffee format. The team really embraced it and we are now planning to make it a regular thing.
  • Met with the technical team to discuss a change required for new Android mobile users in our environment.
  • Suggested getting our small one or two person ‘booth’-style meeting rooms removed from the booking system. I’ve been nipping into these rooms quite a bit when I’ve been in the office. I’m not sure that everyone knows that they can be booked, so kicking someone out because you have booked it may not be well-received.
  • Caught up with the planning meeting for our annual investor conference.
  • Joined an internal Diversity and Inclusion forum for the first time. Discussed ways in which we can keep LGBTIQA+ staff safe and supported when they travel, as well as what it means to be an active bystander.
  • Had some brilliant and brave conversations in our management team meeting which got me thinking about the psychological safety of the team.
  • Took delivery of a Jabra Speak 2 75, a significant upgrade from the Jabra Speak 510 that I’ve been using fro the past few years. The addition of a light on the device which gives you visual feedback on how clearly you can be heard is a genius idea.
  • Attended a very interesting webinar by Leesman on A Decade of Change, showing workplace trends over the past ten years. It may be obvious to some, but I didn’t realise that London is so much bigger from a commercial real estate perspective than anywhere else in the country. If companies find that they have too much space and there is a trend to downsize, that’s potentially a lot of floor space coming onto the market.
  • Along with our Interim Headteacher, met with a consultant at HFL Education on how we can further market the school’s Nursery.
  • Attended a very worthwhile in-person training session on Knowing Your School with the rest of our Governing Board.
  • Started preparation for the school Full Governing Board meeting next week. Our Chair is on holiday, so I’m in the hot seat.
  • Skipped the Saturday morning cycling club ride as I wanted to maximise my time at home, making sure my wife is ok. Spent time on the indoor trainer instead. For the first time I can remember, I started to get knee and hip pain; I’m hoping that some small adjustments to the saddle and handlebar positioning will be able to dial those out.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s last home match of the season. A complete mud-fest.
  • Mowed three quarters of the back lawn for the first time this year, before a big rain shower stopped me in my tracks. I was very glad that this frog (or toad?) didn’t end up in the lawnmower. You know your lawn is long when you have animals of this size hiding in it.

Next week: Presenting to the whole office, and running a full governing board meeting for the first time in a while.

Weeknotes #212 — Spattered

I walk past this office block on my way to work. There’s always such sad beauty in seemingly abandoned buildings. I wonder what it was like when it was shiny and new.

I walk past this office block on my way to work. There’s always such sad beauty in seemingly abandoned buildings. I wonder what it was like when it was shiny and new.

Even by recent standards, this was an extremely busy week. Not stressful per se, just so much crammed into it so that it felt like an endurance event. Experience told me that a planned train strike for Thursday may mean that the service might could also be a little suspect on Wednesday and Friday, so I front-loaded my time in the office to the first two days. The days were super long.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had to move my planned Don’t Get Hacked presentation to the London office back by a week due to a clash with a board meeting.
  • Ran the presentation for the penultimate office and followed up by inviting the staff to join the new password management tool. They didn’t hold back with their questions; it was immensely satisfying to see everyone so engaged with the topic.
  • Met with a front office colleague to workshop an approach to revamp how we manage certain types of document using standard Microsoft tools. We’ve collaborated on a set of slides to be taken to a senior governance forum next week.
  • Caught up with one of the teams that are impacted by the document management approach and was pleased to hear that they see no showstoppers for what we want to do.
  • Completed preparation for the first steering committee meeting for an initiative we are running with a sister organisation. Attended the first recurring working group meeting for the same programme.
  • Took part in our information risk review meeting, giving updates on where we are with our password manager rollout and other topics.
  • Attended the monthly departmental risk review meeting.
  • Joined a meeting with colleagues in the Legal department to talk about one of our client management systems and where they need to be involved in the changes that we are making.
  • Had a brief catch-up with the Marketing and Communications team ahead of the big Don’t Get Hacked presentation in just over a week’s time.
  • Caught up with a colleague who was spending the week in one of our other offices. Hearing about the technical issues that she found reinforced to me that there can sometimes be no substitute to going somewhere in person.
  • Joined a very early morning meeting to refine a number of statements on the culture of our wider technology department ahead of a workshop next week.
  • Had a number of meetings with our school leaders on various topics, and arranged an in-person training session for the board for next week.
  • Along with the rest of the Governing Board, attended a Meet The Ofsted Inspector training course for a mock grilling. Many years ago, we attended this course in person without understanding exactly what it was — it was a shock to come face-to-face with three stern-looking trainers who were all in character for the first half of the session, with us woefully unprepared for their questions. We were better prepared this time, but know that there is always more we can do ahead of it happening for real.
  • Chaired the school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting at school.
  • Interviewed a prospective new school governor. We’ve recently been having great success in using the Inspiring Governance service. It’s amazing that there are so many people out there who are willing to volunteer.
  • Had an electrician come to our house to finally resolve a few issues. We now have a working immersion heater, a new extractor fan in the bathroom and an outside light switch no longer trips the circuit breaker.
  • Enjoyed a weird but fun Friday night out at Chesham Grammar School for their annual comedy night. Compèred by Alex Horne, it was a strange mixture of great comedy with drinks and fish and chips in a school sports hall. The headline act was John Robins; I spent most of the first half of his set wondering where I knew his voice from, with the first thought that he had a very similar voice to one of my friends. Then it hit me — he’s one of the regulars on the superb Queenpod, which I’ve been spending a lot of time with over the past few months. It turns out that he’s quite famous, and I’m very out of touch with pop culture.
  • Had a lovely family dinner at Lussmanns in Berkhamsted. I think that it might be my favourite restaurant in our town. All of the food is delicious, with a lot of thought put into sourcing the ingredients.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match. Unfortunately he only got to play for 15 minutes before coming off with a nasty gash from a stud on his knee. I like Strava’s heatmap view for events like this:

  • Experienced my muddiest ever bike ride on Saturday morning with the cycling club. Despite everyone having mudguards fitted, there was nothing I could do to avoid getting spattered as I rode behind others in the group. At one point I ran out of clean parts of my gloves that I could use to wipe away the dirt from my mouth, and every time I closed my jaw I could feel a crunch between my teeth. It was fun though —once you’re wet and dirty, it doesn’t matter about getting even more wet and dirty.

  • Took delivery of some Ubiquiti Unifi Protect door chimes after my custom-built Home Assistant version suddenly stopped working. I figured that buying dedicated devices would prove to be more reliable than my cobbled-together YAML scripts. Out of the box the devices are a bit disappointing; we have two Unifi doorbells and each chime can only pair with one of them, and you can’t change the sound of the chime. Having said that, everything I have previously bought in the Unifi Protect range has got significantly better after I purchased it via firmware updates. I’m hopeful that the chimes will follow the same path.
  • Indulged myself through watching the latest video from Elliot Roberts, ranking all of George Harrison’s albums from worst to best. Although I had some minor quibbles with some of the rankings, I think he’s broadly spot on. I found myself grinning at some of the wonderful detail that he found in the songs. My favourite album of all time — let alone favourite George Harrison album — remains Living In The Material World from 1973, and it was great to see it chart so highly.

  • Enjoyed the second Formula One race of the season, despite it lacking any significant action points. If the comments immediately after the race are anything to go by, it looks as though the rivalry to watch will be the one between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

Next week: Hoping for a quieter, head-down kind of week.

Weeknotes #211 — Wrist

Dot matrix information signs have recently been replaced with full colour ones at the station. Just because something is high resolution doesn’t mean you should just cram more things on there. The sign is barely readable unless you’re directly under it.

Dot matrix information signs have recently been replaced with full colour ones at the station. Just because something is high resolution doesn’t mean you should just cram more things on there. The sign is barely readable unless you’re directly under it.

Here in the UK, temperatures plummeted again and we found ourselves living through frozen mornings and snow showers. The week was very busy; I ended up having to spend some of Saturday catching up with some of the tasks that I hadn’t had time to complete by Friday. Next week looks just as hectic.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a bizarre pain in my right wrist, seemingly caused by nothing in particular. I’ve never had repetitive strain injury or anything similar, so it was a bit weird. On Monday and Tuesday it hurt so much that I reached for the paracetamol, but by the end of the week it had completely gone. Things got weird when a colleague told me he had exactly the same thing, along exactly the same timeline.
  • Gave my Don’t Get Hacked presentation to two of our offices. Both sessions went really well, with lots of engagement and questions from the attendees. We rolled out our password manager to the teams immediately afterwards. I am hoping that by giving people context as to why we are doing it we will get many more people enrolling and using the tool.
  • Spent a lot of time putting together a couple of slide decks to be used for an impromptu project that has been set up to address some specific issues. Met with the representatives of the working group that has been assembled to coordinate responses to the problems and made further changes based on the feedback they gave me.
  • Had to join an all-day workshop with senior technology leaders across our organisational division. We are still two hours behind Johannesburg until the end of the month, so the session started at 6:30am. It was also scheduled for a day where I had to go into the office for other reasons, and was snowing heavily. I started off by being on video on my phone at home as I wrestled my coat on, wandered to the station with my hands freezing as I held my phone in front of me, then switched to an iPad on the train, back to the phone when I got to London and then on my laptop in the office. It was a very janky experience with patchy network connections and device handoffs in Teams, but if the me of 20 years ago was told that I would be able to be on a videoconference on my commute to the office, my mind would have been blown.
  • Took part in an operating model review for our department, along with my colleagues in the management team. We aren’t done yet, but we made a good start.
  • Met with an internal software architect based in Johannesburg to go through the idea that we have for how we can manage our unstructured data. I’m still looking for someone to tell me why the approach won’t work as it seems such a simple solution, but I haven’t found a showstopper yet.
  • Ran through some revised internal dashboards for interrogating the Microsoft Teams and private channels that staff are members of. One of my colleagues was new to the conversation, and brought some excellent thinking about what good could look like.
  • Started a discussion on a development/product roadmap for our Cybersecurity team.
  • Baselined our department’s financial forecast for the year, effectively giving us a budget to work against.
  • Contributed to the monthly Governance Committee pack for one of our legal entities.
  • Had my weekly catch-up with our Marketing and Communications team and agreed the final details for the big Don’t Get Hacked presentation in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Started to prepare for a review of our Team Charter which is planned for next Wednesday.
  • Joined an early morning feedback session for architecture decisions that have been made in the senior governance forums in the past month.
  • Attended a town hall-style meeting in our London office to hear about our annual results, which were fantastic. We heard from one of the senior business leaders of our organisation who happened to be in town; I was blown away by his presentation, particularly as he spoke about APIs and microservices with some authority and could articulate the need to adapt our systems architecture for the future. It was the first meeting in our large collaboration space since we revamped the technology to make it a fully-fledged Teams meeting room for hybrid sessions, and it worked brilliantly.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour session with an external guest who spoke to us about renewable energy schemes in developing economies.
  • Attended Digital Showcase Friday to learn about our Investor Insights platform.
  • Had a short Random Coffee with one of my colleagues in the Engineering team.
  • Joined everyone from our London office for drinks and food at a local bar, the first time we have all got together since Christmas.
  • Watched with admiration as once again Sharon O’Dea took companies to task on LinkedIn as they posted their commitment to gender equality on International Women’s Day, whereas in reality they have substantial gender pay gaps.
  • Started paying more for train tickets, with a return to London increasing from £25.50 to £27. Tube fares in Zone 1 also went up from £2.50 to £2.70. I’m just grateful that I no longer have an annual season ticket, which now costs an incredible £5,864.
  • Had a meeting with a representative from Hertfordshire County Council to discuss strategies how we can improve on the number of children applying for nursery places. We have a few things that we can try.
  • Attended the HFL Education Chairs Strategic Information Briefing. There is always so much good content.
  • Met with our personal financial advisor for the first time in a while. It’s reassuring to know that we have someone who is keeping an eye on things for us as we plan for our future.
  • Enjoyed two album club nights, hosting one online with a few friends from work and going to another in person on Friday night. I chose The Who’s Quadrophenia, which is the first album of theirs that I ever got into. It was wonderful to sit down and listen to it closely the whole way through.
  • Continued to make my way through Chris Packham’s Fingers In The Sparkle Jar. I don’t think I’ve read an autobiography quite like it.
  • After a week of gentle ‘recovery’ indoor riding, took part in the Berkhamsted Cycle Club Spring Classic reliability ride. The weather had warmed up a little, and stayed almost completely dry throughout. It’s a much tougher ride than it looks on paper, with big headwinds to deal with, but I felt better than when I did the same ride last year.

  • Enjoyed a lovely dinner out with some close friends at Per Tutti in Berkhamsted. They serve lovely, simple, delicious Italian food. We had a table booked before 7pm and I think it’s the way forward — it’s was great to be back at home with a little bit of evening to spare.

Next week: A train strike, a school governor meeting, some school governor training, a presentation and a comedy night.

Weeknotes #210 — Sit bones

A four-day week as I took Friday off for my wife’s birthday. Work is ramping up. For the first time in a while I found myself picking my laptop up again in the evenings, trying to wrestle a few things forward.

On the one day I worked from home my two boys both had the day off school due to a teacher strike. There are more to come later in the month.

March has started with a cold snap, with snow forecast for next week. I’m back to wearing multiple jumpers around the house as we try to keep the thermostat down.

This was a week in which I:

  • Ran through my Don’t Get Hacked presentation another couple of times, with our CEO and our Head of Global Markets. The material is very well-received and I feel as though I’m ready to deliver the presentations to the wider audiences over the next three weeks.
  • Discussed the short data management proposal that I put together, with a growing set of colleagues from across the organisation. I am waiting for someone to flag a showstopper issue with what I have proposed, but so far nothing has come up. The work could be transformational. It requires very little technology but lots of persuading people to work in a slightly different way, which may actually be more difficult.
  • Joined an impromptu technology strategy meeting.
  • Set up a meeting for next week for a new project that I am participating in with colleagues from other divisions of the organisation.
  • Met with our audio/visual vendor to discuss the upgrade and simplification of two of our key internal meeting rooms.
  • Felt privileged to be invited as a guest speaker to our People and Culture department’s strategic workshop. My first job out of university was working in an investment bank’s Human Resources IT department for nearly seven years; I’m still in contact with my wonderful colleagues from that time, and lent on them as I gathered my thoughts ahead of this week’s session. It felt like a very productive conversation.
  • Met with colleagues to review the operating model of one of our sub-teams and to talk about succession planning.
  • Caught up with the recording from the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting. Playing meetings back at 1.5x speed is a game-changer.
  • Attended our quarterly architecture governance authority meeting and reported back on why we did not proceed with the ‘location broadcasting tool’ that we trialled over the past few months.
  • Enjoyed this week’s internal Learning Hour session on the Banking Tech Awards that a colleague attended on our organisation’s behalf.
  • Attended a short training session on cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of a defibrillator. It was my first encounter with the inflatable ‘mini Annie’ trainers, which were really effective and can be easily stored away in large numbers.
  • Watched the third and final instalment of Ivar Jacobson’s Organising Around Value webinar series. I liked the sentiment on the ‘minimum viable bureacracy’:

  • Reviewed options for my school’s supplier of Occupational Health services and an Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Had a lovely day off for my wife’s birthday. A slightly lazy morning was followed by lunch at Crockers in Tring. The food was delicious, but the restaurant felt quite empty.
  • Started to get used to the new indoor bike trainer. My first proper training session started out feeling much too easy, so I ended up completing it at 115% of my measured FTP. I’ve since bumped it up so that future workouts should be more in-line with what I’m used to. My FTP is now about 60 watts higher than it was on the old ‘wheel on’ trainer, which makes me think that the old figure was meaningless as an absolute measure. On Sunday I did a two-hour ride, with my sit-bones wincing at me after 90 minutes. The reviews of the trainer are very complimentary about the saddle, so I’m now wondering whether I need to refresh my bib shorts.
  • Enjoyed Saturday morning’s bike club ride. It felt very cold, and added to the list of reasons I was giving myself not to get up on Sunday for the Verulam Cycling Club Reliability Ride. By Saturday night I was completely exhausted; I dragged myself up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire just after 9pm. I’m signed up for our own club’s reliability ride next Sunday but the weather doesn’t look great from here.
  • Wandered down to the cricket club to watch the Berkhamsted five mile fun run and half marathon. My eldest boy took part in the fun run and was hoping for a win, but felt dizzy and had to stop when he was halfway round.

  • Welcomed the Formula One season back for 2023. It was so great to see Alonso do so well with his third place finish. It’s interesting how he’s turned from pantomime villain to hero in the past few seasons.

Next week: Back to five days again. Delivering the Don’t Get Hackedpresentation to two of our offices, and joining two album clubs.

Weeknotes #209 — Stages

Delicious pavlova, cooked by my youngest son as part of his Duke of Edinburgh course.
Delicious pavlova, cooked by my youngest son as part of his Duke of Edinburgh course.

I’m enjoying myself. Work is really busy, but it’s fun. There is never enough time to do everything, but every day has seen progress with the initiatives that I am running with. It feels good.

Quote of the week comes from a colleague who sagely commented that “There is no ‘business and technology’, only the technology of business.” Every time I see ‘the business’ and IT separated in a written artefact, or the phrase is dropped into conversation, I think about what I read in Mark Schwartz’s A Seat at the Table. Working to get rid of the old way of thinking is going to take many years.

This was a week in which I:

  • Continued with my individual meetings to give my Digital Literacy: Don’t Get Hacked presentation to senior leaders. I’ve now covered almost everyone, and have their full support. I made even more tweaks to the deck based on the feedback and am now very well-rehearsed for delivering it to a larger audience. I’ve locked in dates to present to each of our four offices in turn, culminating with an in-person presentation in London towards the end of March. I feel more excited than nervous.
  • Picked up a new project to coordinate some risk mitigation work. Had a couple of meetings to explore the issues and what can be done to solve them.
  • Reviewed the outcome of an RFP that we have been running over the past few months.
  • Met with a colleague to talk about how we can improve the on-boarding experience for new joiners in the organisation. Learnt a lot about what is being done behind the scenes to make the existing experience as good as it is.
  • Coordinated the second end-user training session for our password management tool, for our Engineering team. I need to think about how we will offer these sessions to the rest of the organisation when we go live.
  • Attended the first in a series of roadmap planning sessions for our department. We may need to do the work in two passes.
  • Ran our bi-weekly management team meeting. We’ve decided to rotate the chair as well as the preparation of materials; it was my turn to go first.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour meeting, hosted by our CTO, on the topic of our architecture.
  • Had an impromptu check-in with some colleagues in the office at the end of the day on Monday. We covered a lot of bases. It was the sort of gathering that would never happen accidentally if we were all working from home.
  • Completed all of the pre-reading for, and attended, our school Full Governing Board meeting. At the meeting I let the board know that I will be stepping down as a school governor at the end of the summer term, having been a board member for a decade. With a new headteacher joining the school from September, it feels like the right time for me to move on.
  • Had a lovely random drink with another member of the governing board. I can’t remember the last time that I spontaneously ended up in a pub.
  • Took delivery of a smart bike trainer to replace my indoor training bike that recently died. The company were at pains to say that the delivery wouldn’t go any further than the hallway, and when it turned up I could see why. The box weighed around 75kg, so we had to unpack it where it landed and take it to its final resting place piece by piece. After spending Saturday evening assembling it, I’ve tried it out for a couple of rides. So far, so good.
Ridiculously heavy.
Ridiculously heavy.
  • Went out for a couple of morning runs due to having no indoor exercise equipment. It was good to get out multiple times in a row and to start to feel ‘running fit’, without walking around like John Wayne for a couple of days afterwards. I find it quite a difficult habit to keep up, particularly in winter as the indoor trainer is always more tempting than getting out in the cold.
  • Decided to delay Saturday morning’s club ride by an hour due to the risk of ice. We’re into that spring period where it can be very cold overnight but very lovely when the sun shines. Five of us went out in a group for a great ride. About 10km from home I was struggling to keep up and found that I had a slow flat. Fortunately for me, one of the group knew of a nearby cycle shop where I could borrow a track pump to fill it with enough air to see me home. It turned out that the owner is the person who sold me my last road bike back in 2013.

Next week: In the office for most of the week, with a day off on Friday.

Weeknotes #208 — Dead bike

A week stuffed to the brim with meetings. I’ve not been sleeping well, waking up in the middle of the night each night to check the time, mildly panicking that I’ve overslept. I’m not sure why.

The bike that I bought back in 2013, which had recently been relegated to indoor training only, finally died. It left me with no means of riding indoors. So on Friday morning I dragged myself out of bed to go for a run. I’ve ordered an indoor bike trainer but have no idea when it will be delivered; I may be running for a while yet.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a number of meetings with senior leaders in the business to take them through my ‘Digital Literacy: Don’t Get Hacked’ presentation. Presenting the material over and over again is making it better, as I am incorporating feedback and refining the delivery as I go. Everyone so far has been completely supportive. I have a few more lined up for next week and then need to lock in a date for presenting the material to the rest of the organisation at a kick-off event.
  • Completed writing the first draft of a proposal for how we can standardise our management of unstructured data, potentially enhancing the experience of our key clients as we go, for very little technology investment. I realise that I do a lot of my thinking out loud in written form, but this isn’t how many people want to consume it, so we’ll probably need a meeting to walk through the key points.
  • Reviewed a PowerBI report that we have developed for some rudimentary insights into the Teams and private channels that staff have set up. We have plans to enhance and expand it.
  • Used our weekly Learning Hour for a colleague to present the concept of our new portfolio roadmap with our department. The team are never reluctant to share their thoughts and opinions and we had an excellent discussion which gave us lots to think about. We will probably end up having the roadmap in two places — in our Kanban tool so that work can be directly linked and traced to the roadmap, as well as in a more presentable format elsewhere.
  • Closed out on the ‘location broadcasting tool’ project after speaking to the vendor. It’s a beautiful, functional tool, but we weren’t ready for it. After a vote in our team meeting, we’ve reverted to using a Teams chat channel for ambient knowledge on where everyone is every week.
  • Took part in our internal annual review of services from our SD-WAN network provider as we approach our renewal date.
  • Organised the first session of end-user training for our password management tool. The session was excellent; even those people who have used this specific tool for many years said that they learnt some new things.
  • Attended a meeting to review and reflect on the internal product journey that the team have gone on so far, and what they had delivered.
  • Joined the final weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our regional offices. There are still things to do, but no need for us all to get together on a regular basis anymore.
  • Attended the second of three webinars from Ivar Jacobson on  Organizing Around Value, this time on Development Value Stream Patterns. Brian Tucker has an excellent and engaging delivery style, but when I watch this kind of presentation I always feel that I want to dig into specifics of my environment instead of keeping things at a generic high-level.

  • Joined a Better Value Sooner Safer Happier meetup for a presentation on Architecting for Outcomes with Simon Rohrer. He had some excellent thoughts on the role, patterns and outcomes relating to Enterprise Architecture in a modern delivery organisation. I put in an appearance to ask a question at around the 33m30s mark, which Simon very kindly answered.

  • Briefly attended the first part of an internal webinar with Randy Conley on the topic of Unleash The Leader Within.
  • Caught up with a colleague and friend who now runs our API Marketplace.
  • Enjoyed listening to an Arcade Fire album for the first time at an online Album Club night. I didn’t fall in love with the music, but it was lovely to have an evening to listen to something I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up on my own.
  • Enjoyed a lovely long cycling club ride on Saturday morning, with only one puncture in our group.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match.

  • Was given a couple of lovely random gifts from a friend: Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s Live: Manchester and Dublin album as well as Randall Munroe’s What If? 2.
  • Started reading Project to Product by Mik Kersten. So far so good, but I have my fingers crossed that the book doesn’t concentrate wholly on software development. There seems to be so little literature out there that speaks to how you can apply modern product, agile and lean thinking to the non-software development aspects of running a Technology team.

Next week: Another packed calendar with a surprisingly free Thursday (that I probably need to block out before more meetings end up there).

Weeknotes #207 — Mechanicals

Euston station, Monday at 8am. There used to be an office block between this forecourt and the buildings in the background.

Euston station, Monday at 8am. There used to be an office block between this forecourt and the buildings in the background.

A really busy week that zipped by.

This was a week in which I:

  • Found that I was unable to book time with all of our senior executives to take them through the presentation to frame and launch the password manager rollout. So I have bitten the bullet and booked individual meetings with each of them. This week I met with the first three and found that the material was well-received. I now have a date pencilled in to present to our entire office in a few weeks’ time; by then I should be very well-rehearsed.
  • Spent time reviewing our roadmap framework and how we intend to link it to the strategy of the organisation.
  • Decided to park the location broadcasting tool, following feedback from the pilot of the software. The tool would be very useful, but the potential downsides are too great for us to push forward with it.
  • Met with a vendor that is in the process of launching a digital workplace experience study, with a view to trying out the product while it is in beta. It has appeared at just the right time for us, as I have been looking for a way to baseline where we are as well as find out what people really feel that they need to help them in the digital workplace.
  • Gave another demo of our Microsoft Teams Room setup to a sister company, this time to their CIO. We have some shared meeting spaces that are due for a technology refresh; if we can make them work for both organisations it will be a big step forward. I posted a question on this to the empowering.cloud community and got a swift response from the founder. We have some testing to do.
  • Enjoyed our weekly ‘learning hour’ on the topic of product engineering.
  • Was given a demo of MURAL. There are a lot of products occupying a similar space and it is difficult to know which one to invest in. Friends have told me that Miro is probably the best out there, but is banned for use in some organisations due to its Russian origins. We’ve been tinkering with InVision Freehand which doesn’t come up in conversation as much as the others.
  • Had the first of a new series of weekly meetings with colleagues in our People and Culture, and Marketing and Communications departments. We have a lot of work that we are doing together this year and I want to make sure we stay aligned.
  • Attended the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our regional offices.
  • Joined the project call for our annual investors’ conference.
  • Attended an update on our diversity and inclusion forum.
  • Joined an online meeting with our company pension provider to learn more about their digital offering.
  • Met with a colleague in the Compliance team for a ‘random coffee’.
  • Joined the excellent monthly Teams Fireside Chat meeting.
  • Attended a ‘digital showcase’ meeting about a platform that we are using for digital fund administration.
  • Had a school meeting with our Interim Headteacher and Acting Headteacher.
  • Reviewed the minutes from our recent governance committee meeting.
  • Had our annual boiler service. Finally booked in an appointment to get our very dodgy water immersion heater socket repaired, along with another electrical fault that we’ve been living with for a while.
  • Attended school with our youngest son for his GCSE options evening. It’s amazing that we’re at this stage already; it’s a cliche, but they really do grow up so fast. He seems to have a clear view about what he wants to do and it was only reinforced by getting previews from each of the subject leads.
  • Enjoyed the weekly cycling club ride, although it seemed to be a day of mechanical failures up and down the field. One of the riders suffered a ride-ending puncture early on and another saw the rim of his rear wheel disintegrate, locking it in place. We hadn’t had any rain overnight but the roads were strangely wet and greasy.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match. They won 2-1 with an amazing last-minute cross and header into the back of the net.
  • Took delivery of my new passport, in Brexit blue.
  • Started series nine of Grange Hill and now feel like I’ve caught up to the episodes I watched as a kid.
  • Enjoyed getting a lot of attention from this guy, the most dog-like cat that there ever was.

Next week: Half term for the family, but another packed week at work.

Weeknotes #206 — Dot-joining

Despite best intentions, going away on business means that to some degree everything else gets put on hold. This week I got back to work in my usual locations with tons to catch up on. Although there is barely any jet lag to speak of when travelling between Johannesburg and London, my flight landed at the eye-rubbing time of 4:30am, leaving me a little shell-shocked all weekend. I carried this through to the week, drifting into pre-sleep while trying to get some work done in the evenings. Every time I snapped out of it I could feel my heart racing, which was a little disconcerting. The week was fun but full on.

This was a week in which I:

  • Joined some dots between a planned piece of work that will help us to improve how we manage our unstructured data, and issues we have around client onboarding. I spent Monday evening getting everything out of my head and into a draft document that spells out the opportunity, as well as all of the assumptions that I am making. It feels like we are onto something.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the unstructured data management initiative and how we intend to move it forward.
  • Along with my peers, fed back key takeaways from the IT strategy offsite to our entire team. It’s fascinating how we can all be in the same room and yet come away with such different highlights and perspectives. People see and hear everything through their own filters.
  • Encountered some teething issues with the Teams chat channel that I set up for last week’s offsite participants. I’m not giving up, and am thinking about how to keep nudging it until it takes off. The most valuable community that I participate in is the Signal group that was set up for listeners to the WB-40 podcast; the group can have 300–400 messages posted on a particularly busy day. I keep it muted and catch up when I can. I know that not everyone is ready to see the value of a group chat (despite many people in the world talking about the need for ‘water cooler moments’ in the office), but I am convinced that we are better off with it than without it.
  • Set up a Team in Microsoft Teams for the people that want to use dedicated topic-focused channels for their discussions.
  • Collaborated with a colleague on the new format of our delivery roadmap, to be presented to the department next week.
  • Reviewed the first pass of individual and collective scoring of an RFP that we are currently running.
  • Read through Microsoft’s root cause analysis report for the cloud services outage that we experienced last week. Met with colleagues to discuss and agree additional things that we need to put in place for when this kind of outage happens.
  • Had a follow-up session with a colleague in a sister department to talk about delivery tools such as Jira and AgilePlace.
  • Ran our weekly Learning Hour meeting, showing our team how to get more out of searching in Microsoft 365. We had a fascinating discussion which jumped from searching for information to publishing it, and what barriers people may have to putting themselves out there.
  • Agreed to try out a Lean Coffee format for a future Learning Hour session.
  • Set up and sent out a survey for our proposed ‘location broadcasting’ tool. In order for us to push it, we are going to need it be convinced that it will solve more problems than it creates with its transparency.
  • Had our monthly call with the Head of Operational Risk to discuss key initiatives and operational risk issues in our department.
  • Took part in our department’s monthly risk review meeting.
  • Met with our laptop manufacturer to get an overview of their latest products and their plans for this year.
  • Met with a colleague in our team who I haven’t spoken to since before Christmas. We finally have everyone back together after the holiday.
  • Said goodbye to our team member in São Paulo as part of the formal office close-down.
  • Had a call with our account manager at a vendor where they told me that they are moving on. The discussion was refreshingly honest, and is useful input into some work we have planned for this year.
  • Watched a webinar from Ivar Jacobson on Organising Around Value, the first of three in the series. It was good to see Brian Tucker again; he has an excellent delivery style which he now manages to make work in an online environment. The webinar was quite high-level. I am hoping that we get into a lot more detail in the next two sessions.
  • Tuned into an internal all-company town hall event held in the gigantic atrium of our head office in Johannesburg. Alongside speeches and chats with senior leaders of the company, we got to see Mango Groove perform some songs. I’d never heard of them before; apparently they are a South African staple that everyone knows there. Our firm certainly knows how to hold an event — the production was amazing.
  • Watched in wonder at the dishes people brought to the office on Monday for a multi-cultural buffet. Although they looked and smelled amazing, I avoided them as I wasn’t sure which dishes were completely vegetarian and which had been cooked with animal stocks and sauces I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by asking.
  • Heard someone senior comment again how you can’t build a culture and relationships when you’re working remotely. I stand by my view that you absolutely can, although it would help if people put their cameras on. Put your cameras on, people!
  • Attended the monthly virtual Architecture Community of Practice meeting. Banged the drum for people to put their cameras on in the meeting.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with one of our lawyers, who joined the firm relatively recently.
  • Assembled the agenda for our school Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee and then chaired the meeting. It was the first with our interim headteacher and felt very productive.
  • Attended an online school finance briefing run by HFL Education.
  • Caught up with a Modern Governor online briefing about the strike action by the National Education Union. I am completely in support of the strike. In my ten years of working as as a school governor, I’ve seen the demands on school staff increase dramatically, with nowhere near the pay increases that they should get for such important roles. Coincidentally, this week’s episode of the Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast is an interview with Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU. She comes across as very reasonable and level-headed in terms of what she would like to happen.
  • Sent off for a new passport. I have my fingers crossed that a new one gets to me sooner than the 10 week estimate.
  • Enjoyed the first Saturday cycling club ride for many weeks. It’s been cold and rainy since Christmas which has stopped me going out, and sometimes has cancelled the ride altogether. It was so good to be back with everyone.
  • Had a fabulously fun evening at Mat’s birthday party, singing karaoke songs long into the night.

Next week: Attempting to squeeze the work into gaps in the diary again.

Weeknotes #205 — Summer strategy

Final approach to Johannesburg

Final approach to Johannesburg

The last time I was in South Africa was in August, the middle of winter. This week it was flipped around as I left the sub-zero temperatures of the UK for a scorching 32°C in Johannesburg. All of the senior IT staff in my part of the company were coming together to spend two days focused on our strategy. It’s a great way to kick off the year.

View from the top floor of our head office

View from the top floor of our head office

The topic of ‘load shedding’ is on everybody’s lips when I work with my colleagues in South Africa. There is not enough capacity in the electricity grid to meet demand, so the national power utility, Eskom, deliberately cuts power to avoid a larger issue1. People suddenly disappear from video calls and reappear once their back-up generators and batteries have kicked in. Back in August I didn’t think about the issues, but this time the problems were really noticeable. In the car journey from the airport to the hotel there were so many junctions without working traffic lights2. On the first day of my trip I was in a supermarket when all of a sudden we were plunged into darkness for half a minute or so before the power came back on. The same thing happened every day in my hotel, as well as a couple of times at our conference venue. Most large businesses have back-up generators, but not everyone is so lucky to have one in their home. Looking at the charts from The Outlier, it’s easy to see how bad the situation has become:

Businesses in the mall next to my hotel were advertising their ability to keep going during the blackout periods:

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

People are stoic, but it must be horrible to live with the ongoing problems, chipping away and your psyche on a day-to-day basis. I think it would wear me down.

I’ve worked in and around the organisation for nearly 13 years and still love it. The company has such a wonderful culture. A visit to Johannesburg always feels like a homecoming — a chance to reconnect with people I know and care about, as well as meet new faces. This time was no different. I spent three days of the week in the office and two at a conference venue in Houghton. It was so valuable to be there with everyone.

This was a week in which I:

  • Enjoyed the two-day strategy workshop. Our first day was spent listening to and asking questions of senior leaders from our business division. The second day was where we came together to do some work of our own in response. So often these events are fantastic when you are there but quickly fade from memory when you walk away. I’ve set up an internal Teams chat channel with everyone for the session so that we can collaborate informally on a day-to-day basis. It’ll be interesting to see what impact it has.
  • Met with the vendor of a ‘location broadcasting tool’ that we are trialling, and agreed to extend our pilot by a couple of months. We still need to decide whether the transparency will solve more problems than it may create.
  • Presented the location broadcasting tool to our Cloud Architecture Review Forum, as the tool is a software-as-a-service solution.
  • Watched our team deal with a Microsoft 365 outage which caused problems with a number of our core services. When something like this happens we don’t need to run around fixing things ourselves; instead, the job is all about communicating quickly and clearly to our staff, offering them alternative ways of navigating through the issues to get their work done.
  • Read through the responses we received to an RFP and completed a scoring spreadsheet.
  • Attended the weekly project meeting for the closure of one of our offices.
  • Had a tour of our ‘Digital Disruption Centre’, used for events, workshops and outreach programmes. I loved the giant touchscreen display that faced the public walkway in the building.

Now *that’s* a touchscreen.

Now *that’s* a touchscreen.

  • Enjoyed a lunch with the senior managers that report into our CIO. I hadn’t met a number of the team in our sister department in person, so it was great to sit down with them for an hour or so.
  • Kicked myself for talking in two meetings this week where I jumped straight into the content without introducing myself properly.
  • Didn’t get much exercise. Running outside in central Johannesburg isn’t considered a great idea from a personal safety perspective. The hotel I stayed at didn’t have any on-site workout facilities, but they had a deal with a local gym. This turned out to be a ten-minute walk away at the other end of a nearby shopping centre. On Monday I got up early, went to get a voucher from the reception desk, found that I needed some ID, went back to my room to get my driving licence, went back to reception, got the voucher, walked ten minutes to the gym, filled out a lengthy form on their computer, found out that they didn’t have any towels and then promptly gave up. On Tuesday got up early again as I was determined to get some exercise; this time the hotel reception desk suggested they give me a gym bag including a towel and a bottle of water, which didn’t seem to come up on Monday. I headed over and whizzed into the gym. The place was busy and well-equipped, but I could only find two exercise bikes. Hopping onto the first one didn’t bode well; after a few turns of the pedals the software booted up into an old Windows CE desktop and didn’t give me any options to start the exercise bike software. I transferred my stuff to the second bike which did boot properly. Thirty minutes later I had spun myself into a sweaty mess.

9 Nov 2012, an auspicious day in the world of exercise bikes.

9 Nov 2012, an auspicious day in the world of exercise bikes.

  • Joined a friend and colleague for an evening run with local club. It felt like a ParkRun, but a little tougher with the choice of a 5km or 8km route. We opted for the longer run and I was soon wondering whether I made the right choice. My heart rate hit its maximum very quickly. We were a couple of kilometres in when my friend reminded me that we were running at altitude which meant that it would be a lot tougher. I eased up a bit and managed to complete the hilly course with a decent time.

A beautiful evening for a run

A beautiful evening for a run

Start of the run

Start of the run

Post-run recovery

Post-run recovery

  • Crawled into bed at home on Saturday morning to try and steal a couple of additional hours of sleep. The flight back landed at the uncivilised time of 4:30am which meant that I was wide awake on-board from 3am.
  • Ordered a new washing machine after ours finally died. The new one won’t turn up until the end of the week, so we’ll be paying a couple of visits to the laundrette.
  • Spent hours — hours — changing an inner tube on my new bike. It turned out that I’d picked up a small flint on my ride the weekend before which slowly deflated the tyre. Taking the tyre off and finding the problem was easy, but getting the tyre back on was a challenge of epic proportions. To my dismay, the first inner tube that I used was itself already damaged, so I had to start all over again. At one point I thought that I was getting grease on my jeans, before noticing that I’d cut myself in my gargantuan effort to get the tyre back onto the rim. I’m worried that if I get a flat when I’m out and about I’ll never be able to get a repair done in any reasonable amount of time. Any tips would be welcome.

The tyre won the battle but I eventually won the war.

The tyre won the battle but I eventually won the war.

  • Enjoyed watching The Proclaimers — This Is The Story on BBC iPlayer. I loved their hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s but never explored their work beyond this. It was fascinating to learn about what an important and political band they are.
  • Started watching series eight of Grange Hill on BritBox. I’m now used to the introduction of a whole new set of characters every few years. This time there has been an influx of people that I remember from my childhood; I’ve finally caught up with the Grange Hill that I knew as a kid.
  • Downloaded Ivory for Mastodon on my phone and iPad and started a subscription. Tweetbot was a beautiful app which I used for many years; having its connectivity to Twitter wrenched away in such a brutal fashion must have been awful for the developers. I’m happy to support them in the next adventure.
  • Sold my ticket to the Amber Arcades gig on Wednesday as I have too many things going on in the evening this week. Something had to give.

Next week: Back to my keyboard and back to the office in London. A couple of school governor meetings and an Album Club.

  1. If the power goes out completely, it could take a number of weeks to get things going again. 
  2. Charmingly known locally as ‘robots’. 

Weeknotes #204 — Sausage on a fork

An early morning walk across Holborn Viaduct on my way to the office.

An early morning walk across Holborn Viaduct on my way to the office.

An incredibly busy week both in and outside of work, but an enjoyable one. I commuted into the office on Monday and Tuesday, which gave me a chance to recover from Sunday’s long ride before hitting the indoor trainer again. I made good progress with a lot of the initiatives that I am running and finished the week tired but happy.

The weather has turned very cold again, which made for a bracing walk to and from the office. I’m very grateful for my big headphones, which doubled-up as earmuffs under the hood of my coat.

This was a week in which I:

  • Agreed to participate in reviewing responses to an important RFP by the end of next week.
  • Made lots of progress with the configuration and setup of our password manager. We held the second owner/administrator training session with our technical team and as a result took away a number of actions to harden and integrate the software. The scope of pilot users was widened to include some of the senior staff involved in managing information risk as well as a member of our Communications and Marketing team. Our support staff have started to get to grips with the administrative processes such as resetting accounts. Most of the hard work ahead will be in explaining the context and benefits of the tool, training staff in an effective way and helping them to get on board as users. I have refined my Don’t Get Hacked presentation and plan to deliver it to our senior leadership team in a couple of weeks. There’s a lot to do.
  • Had some interesting discussions about our planned implementation of a location broadcasting tool. There are big upsides to knowing where colleagues plan to be every day in the coming weeks, allowing people to plan meetings and diaries effectively. But being this transparent also presents potential downsides. We may need more time in the pilot, and a broader set of people to agree that this is the right direction for us to move in.
  • Met with our cross-functional product team to discuss how we move towards getting the green light to proceed with a pilot of a new tool. When you’re in a small team, it doesn’t matter who writes the first draft of something, it just matters that the team now have something to review, work with and shape. All first drafts are bad drafts.
  • Worked with a colleague on an updated portfolio roadmap for our department and reviewed the first draft with our CIO.
  • Gave a presentation to our department on the Digital Literacy initiative that we are kicking off this year. The material was well-received and generated a lot of conversation.
  • Agreed a technology plan for our two largest meeting rooms in our office. The space is complex from an audio/visual perspective as it consists of two rooms that can be combined into one, which leads to some unusual failure modes. We now have some concrete actions to look at simplifying the setup.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the challenge of how we on-board clients across multiple countries in the simplest and cleanest way possible. It’s a difficult problem, as Conway’s law is against us.
  • Attended our bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Worked with a colleague to plan an approach to reviewing our Team Charter. We’ve had the Charter in place for two years, tweaking it a little last year.
  • Met with colleagues in South Africa who look after our company’s JIRA instance to get an overview of how things are set up and what the possibilities are. I don’t see us moving to or adopting JIRA any time soon; the benefits would have to significantly outweigh the cost of moving away from what we do now. Knowing more about it is useful for us offering help to another department that we have started working with more closely.
  • Ran our weekly Learning Hour session where we got to see a prototype of a new Azure Bot which can give directions and answer questions for our staff, such as how to book travel or obtain a corporate mobile phone. The technology is relatively simple — at least when compared to something like ChatGPT — but still very effective.
  • Met with the leaders of our Innovation and Community Development team in South Africa to catch up on each others’ plans for 2023. I think that this is the year that we may go places together.
  • Attended the internal project team meeting for our annual investor conference.
  • Joined the weekly meeting for the close-down of one of our regional offices.
  • Helped solve a colleague’s travel documentation issue through concatenating and compressing a bunch of images and PDF files into one small file using Adobe Acrobat.
  • Completed a lot of school governor work, including final versions of two letters to parents, organising meetings and completing a draft contract.
  • Watched Billion-Dollar Downfall: The Dealmaker on iPlayer. I used to work with the CTO that was involved in bringing the alleged crimes to light, and heard about it via a post on LinkedIn. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but it appears to be yet another case of corporate fraud, misappropriating client funds in a similar way to what happened at FTX.
  • Started reading Lurking by Joanne McNeil. It is as great as I hoped it would be — a journey through communities and interactions on the Internet through the lens of someone who must be of similar age to me. It’s so fascinating to look back at things that happened twenty years ago which still feel very recent.

  • Ploughed through season 7 of Grange Hill, supplemented by a few episodes of the brilliantly-named Sausage On A Fork podcast. It was weird, but not surprising, to see Letitia Dean turn up in a cameo role; so many actors from Grange Hill ended up going to work on EastEnders. Season 8 should be fun; the crop of new characters will be ones that I am familiar with from when I watched the show as a kid in the mid-1980s.
  • Had a delicious Saturday brunch with my family at Daisy & Co in Berkhamsted. It’s so lovely to stop for a minute and see how the boys are growing up.
  • Headed to the airport for my first business trip of the year.

Next week: Catching up with colleagues and attending an offsite on our divisional strategy for 2023.