Weeknotes #168 — Kathryn Joseph

A fun week. I planned my days of going into London around events that were happening there. On Tuesday we had the CEO of our division of the company visiting from South Africa, with office drinks drawing a line under the day. Then on Wednesday I wandered over to St Pancras Old Church to see Kathryn Joseph, supported by Sophie Jamieson. The venue was beautiful and both artists were incredible. There’s something delicious about going to a gig on your own; I managed to grab a spare seat in one of the front rows between two couples that had left a gap between them. I can’t remember quite how I came across Kathryn Joseph’s work. I wasn’t very familiar with her music, but what I had heard was good enough to take a punt on going to see her. I’m so glad I did. I came home feeling full of life. Live music is magical.

I’ve not been sleeping well for the past few weeks. I can’t work out why. In one of my dreams, a stranger came up to me and started asking me about things that are on my real-life to-do list. I seem to always be awake before my alarm and then try to get back to sleep again. Hopefully it will pass.

A week in which I:

  • Welcomed one of my peers back after a long break. We hadn’t seen each other in five or six weeks due to our overlapping holidays. There was much to catch up on.
  • Finished the Teams regulatory recording project after the final system user confirmed that they can access the recordings.
  • Kicked off some work with a colleague to look at our old voice recording archive to see whether we should just leave the system where it is, or formally move it to a read-only silo.
  • Enjoyed seeing us switch our London office telephony over to Microsoft Teams. We say goodbye to the unloved Cisco Jabber after three years of service. We are edging towards our vision of replacing the server room in each of our offices with a simple cabinet on the wall.
  • Had a number of meetings relating to our upcoming annual conference, including our internal and external project status updates and a session with the technology vendors to discuss how the on-site and online components will integrate.
  • Prepared a team member to look at the architecture of how we will configure ‘Internet of Things’ devices on our network, ahead of us rolling out our new digital signage solution.
  • Updated one of our test digital signage players with the latest Internal Communications slides and was reminded how simple it is to use. I’m excited to roll this out across our offices.
  • Took part in our monthly risk management meeting and reviewed all of my risks. The process that we have put in place is working well.
  • Reviewed a number of CVs for the Agile Coach/Product Manager vacancy that I have in my team.
  • Discussed our approach to revising our major incident response process.
  • Attended the ‘steering committee’ for our big group programme.
  • Joined a couple of meetings with our agile development team working on dashboards from the group system.
  • Completed all of the online annual mandatory training courses at work. After working in financial services for 23 years, I’m in the habit of doing them as soon as they turn up and skim reading the content to get straight to the assessments.
  • Enjoyed drinks and nibbles with the London office, a random coffee with someone from our Operations team and another with a colleague in New York.
  • Enjoyed the fourth session of The Micro Blog Readers’ Republic, an online meeting with other microbloggers where everyone shared their selection of fiction and non-fiction book recommendations.
  • Reviewed the 2022–2023 draft school budget ahead of our Full Governing Board meeting next week, as well as the collaborative visit report from our recent Governors In School Day.
  • Spoke with our school catering provider about their compliance with food standards, closing out an action that I took following our review of a school policy.
  • Got a couple of screws fixed in our garden decking that we had installed last year when the gardeners came to pick up their lawn roller.
  • Had a good week on my bike, with some indoor training sessions and a great ride out with the club on Saturday morning. There’s a joy to sitting outside the cricket club with a well-earned coffee and cake at the end.

Next week: Moving to Teams telephony at our final site, another school governing board meeting and home alone with the boys for a few days.

Weeknotes #167 — GoldenEye

#Octothorpe

#Octothorpe

If it wasn’t for the fact that the train operator is running a reduced timetable “that reflects the current demand for our services”, I would say that the commute to work is now back to the pre-COVID-19 experience. The trains are packed both into and out of London, often standing room only at peak times. I’m enjoying the fact that going into the office feels like just another thing that I do now and isn’t a big deal. I still love working from home and the benefits that it brings, but being in the office doesn’t feel as much of a bother as it was at first. We had a four-day week due to the early May bank holiday in the UK, and I found myself in the office for three of those days. It’s definitely enough.

A week in which I:

  • Exhausted myself on the bank holiday by going for a decent run and then spending over ten hours painting two sides of our garden fence. I felt like a consultancy who had bid too low on a job and had to see it through for reputational reasons. I still have the panels at the back to do, but they will have to wait for another weekend where I have a day to spare. I’m really pleased with the end result. Having a vast backlog of podcast episodes to listen to was a great help. I’m not sure the spray tool that I bought for the job did much to help, so next time I’ll need to remember to just use a paint pot and a big brush.

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

Obligatory before (left) and after (right) photos

  • Said goodbye to one of my team members as he moves onto his next chapter with a move abroad. It was great to see him one last time in person before he left us. He was a very popular colleague and will be missed.
  • Had a meeting with the team and vendors involved in our annual investors’ conference. There are still lots of variables; from a planning perspective it would be good to fix them as soon as we can, but there is value in keeping things fluid for a few more weeks.
  • Met with our audio/visual vendor to discuss our two most complex rooms in our London office, and what we can do to improve things in the short term ahead of some more fundamental changes.
  • Had two members of the audio/visual vendor come on-site to get our office collaboration space up and running with a permanent solution for hybrid ‘town hall’-style meetings. We still have a lot to do to optimise the space, but the technology has taken a big step forward thanks to their help.
  • Wrote, edited and sent out communications on our planned move to Teams telephony in our London office next week.
  • Caught up with our front office business manager on a project we ran a couple of years ago to fundamentally change the way we manage unstructured data. Agreed that it is time to revisit the principles and run some refresher training.
  • Spoke to one of the potential digital signage vendors about the next steps in testing their solution in our environment.
  • Spent time with our CIO to discuss and agree how to represent our project portfolio. I need to try and spend more time in this space if I can.
  • Started thinking about and researching how we can increase digital literacy in our part of the organisation.
  • Took part in a meeting on an initiative to revamp how we create and manage our internal and external presentations. It got me thinking about the excellent Clear Writing For Busy Readers training I did a few years ago.
  • Attended a surprise online celebration for a colleague who has 40 years of service with the company.
  • Enjoyed the first weekly buffet lunch in our London office. They’ve been scheduled to take place every Tuesday. Hopefully people won’t just grab some food and head back to their desks. I think these things need a little curation to make them work, but the first one was pretty good as I ended up talking to some colleagues that I don’t usually interact with.
  • Prepped and then chaired our school governor Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee meeting. I joined the meeting from my office; although it meant I was home late I much preferred it to the evenings pre-pandemic where I used to have to rush away early from work to get to school. As part of the preparation I for the meeting I brought our projects/big spend list up-to-date and plan to keep it current for future meetings.
  • Had an hour to make a decision about buying a ticket to a gig next week. The venue only holds 150 people and it’s been a while since I’ve gigged solo, so I decided to go. I’m not that familiar with the artist’s work but from what I’ve heard so far it should be great.
  • Cleared out our bedroom so that it could be repainted, along with our downstairs toilet. All done in a few days and we’re back in again. They look great.
  • Enjoyed listening to a whole Erasure album for the first time at Album Club. I know lots of their singles but had never listened to a whole album. This is one of the many, many reasons why Album Club is so wonderful.
  • Didn’t make it out for the cycling club ride on Saturday, opting for an indoor ride instead. We had a little rain which wasn’t forecast and I couldn’t bring myself to contemplate cleaning the bike after the ride. After the past couple of weeks it was quite good to have a less demanding exercise schedule. I’ll get back on it again next week.
  • Had a friend over again to watch the Formula 1 race on Sunday evening. I’m loving sharing the excitement of the races.
  • Spent Saturday evening at the Centre for Computing History for a Dev Talk on 25 Years of GoldenEye. Three of the original development team members were on stage — Martin Hollis, Dr. David Doak and Brett Jones — and they kept the audience transfixed with the stories of their experiences. I’ve never been much of a gamer but I have many happy memories of playing hours and hours of GoldenEye with my friends, back in the days when I had far less obligations and responsibilities. The development work seemed to fall somewhere between the small teams of the 1980s and the larger teams of the modern era. They had to make do without the Internet as a reference tool, meeting the challenges of fitting the code within the restrictions to processing power of late-1990s consoles. It was fascinating to learn that the multiplayer mode which made the game live so long in the collective memory was added just four months before their deadline. The museum itself is a wonderful place and it was fantastic to see the CEO Jason Fitzpatrick again; I first met him at the BBC Micro 30th birthday party about a decade ago, before the museum was established.

A sellout event

A sellout event

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Multiplayer GoldenEye split across four monitors!

Event poster

Event poster

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

An incredible array of consoles from the earliest times to the modern day

Silicon dreams

Silicon dreams

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Sinclair ZX Spectrum prototype. No rubber keys!

Next week: A big go-live of our Teams telephones in London,a work social event and a solo trip to a gig.

Weeknotes #166 — Back in school

I paid a price for last weekend’s all-out cycling in that I was feeling a little tired and run down this week. I sloped off to bed early on a couple of evenings but didn’t seem to be able to catch up. The week was bisected by the welcome return of Governors In School Day which we hadn’t been able to hold since the pandemic began. It was wonderful to spend time with pupils and staff on a typical school day. It reaffirmed the reasons why we volunteer for the role.

Going into the office has started to feel normal again. We have some physical infrastructure work that I need to complete there; as long as there is a purpose to travelling in, it doesn’t feel like there is a presenteeism aspect to it. Quite a few of our global team are still on holiday so it has been noticeably quiet, but we should have a full compliment again in a week or two.

It feels as though the pandemic is all but over here in the UK with masks now relatively rare in any situation. We seem to have seamlessly moved on to other things. I still have friends and family members catching the virus but thankfully they aren’t getting very sick. It feels like the best we can hope for, and remembering how I felt back in 2020 I will definitely take it.

Although we’re at the end of April it is still pretty chilly. I ditched the bib-shorts and went back to winter gear for this weekend’s cycling club ride and was glad I did. When the sun breaks through the cloud things warm up pretty quickly, but it’s been cold and frosty overnight. Hopefully the weather is saving the best for a glorious summer.

A week in which I:

  • Ran the weekly project meeting for our annual conference, which is now only two months away. We have an important meeting with our technical partner next week, after which I will be able to put more meat on the bones of the plan.
  • Joined the broader bi-weekly project meeting with the conference sponsors and executives.
  • Got a second digital signage solution up and running as part of a trial. The display box is Ethernet-only, so I had to rig up an Ethernet to Wi-Fi bridge in order to get it to work. It sprang to life with a carousel of COVID-19-related visuals about washing hands and maintaining social distance, presumably installed by the last company that were testing it out.

  • Took part in a prioritisation and planning meeting for our component of the big group programme.
  • Joined the monthly meeting with the Head of Operational Risk to discuss hot topics.
  • Ran our bi-weekly all-team meeting.
  • Met with one of my team members for a handover. Sadly he’ll be leaving the team next week and will be sorely missed. We gave him his virtual leaving card this week (Thankbox is brilliant for this) and I’m hoping to see him in the office on Tuesday for a final day of work together.
  • Picked up an issue with a new starter who doesn’t fit any of the models that we have for on-boarding people.
  • Had a wonderful catch-up with an ex-colleague that I hadn’t spoken to in some time. Checking in with her is always food for the soul.
  • Met with a colleague in one of our client-facing functions for a random coffee. The last time we met was over a year ago and it was great to catch up.
  • Had an incredible time at Governors In School Day. Going and seeing things for yourself is so important, and reconnects you with the purpose behind the work that you do. The Deputy Headteacher had put together a well-structured timetable for the day and I got to visit lots of different classes and lessons. I also got to talk to smaller groups of pupils for feedback about their experience and the work that some of them are doing as anti-bullying ambassadors. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed being in school over the past couple of years. All of the staff and pupils made me feel so welcome and the children were eager to answer the questions that I had about their work in the lessons. Our day finished just after three o’clock in the afternoon and I was exhausted; the staff do an incredible job that I know I would be terrible at, and I take my hat off to them.
  • Wrote up my notes from the day and submitted them to the governor that is collating feedback from everyone.
  • Attended my youngest son’s parents’ evening online from home. I still think this is one of the best things to come out of the pandemic and hope it stays for the rest of the time that they are both at school.
  • Enjoyed a relatively flat club ride on Saturday morning. A cold start but by the end of it we were sitting in the sunshine on the terrace at the cricket club and I was reluctant to leave.
  • Had my eyes tested for the first time since before lockdown. I’m getting old and already wear varifocals. It was interesting to see that my short-sightedness that I’ve had since the age of nine is now steadily improving, but offset by ongoing development of near-sightedness. I need a new prescription. Getting old is an expensive business.
  • Mowed the lawns and prepped the back garden fence ready for painting tomorrow. These kinds of jobs always feel less of a burden now that I can wear my headphones and chug through a few hours of podcasts.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

The lilac is coming out and it looks stunning.

  • Experienced what my eldest son identified as a lucid dream. At some point in the dream I became suspicious that I was asleep but wasn’t sure if I was really there or in bed. I took out my phone to take a photo of a building and deliberately turned on the front-facing camera, only to find someone else’s face staring back at me. This jolted me out of the dream. I was very happy to find myself in my bed, having been proved right.

Next week: Another public holiday, staining the garden fence, prepping for and holding our next school governor meeting, saying goodbye to a team member, celebrating an anniversary and mapping out the technical work for our annual conference.

Weeknotes #165 — Hillbuster II

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Having lunch in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral

Back to work with a bump. Tuesday was a shock to the system with a return to the office; I had a feeling of being slightly punch-drunk by the time the evening commute came. I’d spent the day in an attempt to catch up with colleagues as well as get on top of two weeks of emails, messages and other notifications. Some projects had moved on in leaps and bounds during my absence while others were just as I left them.

I went into the office again on Wednesday prior to a couple of days working from home and think that I’ve finally started to enjoy the variation of where I’m working. I still need to have a purpose to travel in and be there, but we have enough going on physically in the office to make it worthwhile.

A week in which I:

  • Concluded the latest ‘request for proposal’ process for the technical components of our annual conference. It’ll be great to start working with the chosen vendor on the delivery timeline now.
  • Had the weekly internal project meeting for the annual conference project.
  • Met with a colleague to give an overview of a project I ran a couple of years ago to change the way in which we manage unstructured data in our London office. Agreed to meet again in a week or so to see if there are any follow-up actions we need to take.
  • Met with the head of our API Marketplace to discuss the approach that we are taking as a company to launching and promoting it.
  • Caught up on the programme relating to the lease expiry events for two of our offices.
  • Reviewed the status of work to improve the physical and audio/visual aspects of our office ahead of a town hall meeting in a few weeks’ time, and our annual conference later in the year.
  • Discussed progress with the dashboards that we are creating as part of the big group programme.
  • Reviewed the final draft contract for renewing our helpdesk and ‘level one’ support function.
  • Updated the monthly London Governance Committee pack, including a slide on the audio/visual changes we are working on.
  • Had the bi-weekly management team meeting.
  • Ran my first ‘wins’ session with the team for a few weeks. The sessions always seem to start slowly but then build to a decent set of achievements.
  • Pondered why some people don’t take time to clear out their diary ahead of a holiday, cancelling and declining meetings that they can’t attend. Doing it is both helpful and joyous.
  • Was treated to two small work lunches on Tuesday and Wednesday, one in a restaurant and the other sitting on a bench in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. I was very grateful for both. It felt good to be back with the team again. I also discovered that Hotel Chocolat now sell ice cream, and enjoyed a tub on the way back to the office.
  • Had the mid-year appraisal for our Headteacher. It was lovely to spend some time catching up with her and the Chair of Governors.
  • Enjoyed a lovely family barbecue with my brothers, hosted at a new house that one of them has just moved into. It felt like forever since we had got together.
  • Renewed our home buildings and contents insurance by phone after three unsuccessful attempts to buy it online at the weekend. All of the multi-factor authentication mechanisms didn’t seem to be working on multiple cards that I tried. However, I now find that I’ve paid for the insurance four times over so will need to call them again.
  • Made some headway on catching up with my personal emails again, and then immediately fell behind. I’m not sure what changes I need to make to get on top of it.
  • Substituted Monday’s scheduled indoor trainer recovery ride for a run. Compared to the running that I had done on holiday it felt very hard, but I was glad that I did it.
  • Started watching the Ken Burns documentary on Muhammad Ali. Of course, it’s superb.
  • Thoroughly enjoyed the latest Album Club.
  • Did a lot of cycling. Saturday morning’s club ride was full-on, with an average speed of over 17mph. I then did the Hemel Hillbuster on Sunday, a charity ride in aid of the Dacorum Emergency Night Shelter (DENS). Usage of the DENS food bank has increased by 15% in the last three weeks alone, and I suspect that this will only get worse. Last year’s ride was in July and I was grateful that they had moved it to April, turning down the heat. After all that riding, I felt a little destroyed by the time I got home.

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

Queuing to register at the start of the Hemel Hillbuster

  • Had a friend over on Sunday afternoon again to watch the F1 Grand Prix. Not the most exciting race I’ve ever seen, but there was enough to keep us entertained. I’m really looking forward to the circus going to a brand new track for the next race.

Next week: Another four-day week, bisected by the welcome return of the annual Governors in School Day.

Weeknotes #164 — Evaporated

Bristol

Bristol

Although we were no longer on a ‘proper’ holiday, I had another week away from work. This one seems to have quickly evaporated without me making much headway into my personal to-do list.

A week in which I:

  • Took my youngest boy for an eye test and booked myself in for one, the first since before the pandemic.
  • Had two visits from our plumbing insurance company to try and resolve the issue with our immersion heater electrics. The first guy turned up to tell me that he didn’t fix ‘unvented’ things (like immersion heaters), only ‘vented’ things (like boilers). This resulted in a second guy turning up, who took a look for two seconds and then told me the electricity supply to the immersion isn’t covered under our insurance. What a waste of time.
  • Took a trip to Ross-on-Wye to see my wife’s parents for the day. We stayed overnight and travelled to Bristol the next day to visit my brother-in-law, his wife and our newest nephew. Children really grow up quickly when you don’t see them day-to-day. He’s six months old already and so different to when we saw him last time, with his lovely smile being beamed to everyone. As we went to find a spot to eat our lunch, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a giant seagull take someone’s wrap from their hands as they ate.

Stuff in the muddy riverbanks in Bristol

Stuff in the muddy riverbanks in Bristol

  • Travelled into London to see Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Trains into and out of Euston were cancelled all weekend due to engineering works, so we planned to go into town via the tube from Chesham. But when we got there, the line had stopped running due to an incident. Our only choice was to bite the bullet and drive in, paying the congestion charge and parking as close to the theatre as we could. The venue is lovely to look at but let down by modern impracticalities — the un-amplified voices of the actors were regularly drowned out by the sounds of passing aircraft and helicopters, and as it was so hot we saw four people in the audience collapsing and being taken out in wheelchairs. It was fun to go once, but I won’t do it again.

London was busier than I have seen it in years

London was busier than I have seen it in years

  • Paid a visit to Deco Audio in Aylesbury to pick up my repaired CD player and browse the second-hand vinyl. I was very restrained, picking up only a couple of records. I’ve wanted to get the player up and running again as quite a few boxed sets I’ve bought recently have included CDs. Playing them over the air in the house isn’t quite the same as settling down to listen to something physical.
  • Had a sunny Sunday lovely afternoon at a friends’ house, with drinks and nibbles in the back garden.
  • Spent a lot of the week exercising. I feel like I’ve been overdoing it a little bit and could do with a lie-in, and Strava seems to agree. But I’m also conscious that I will be back at work next week and won’t be able to exercise on the days that I go into the office. Ideally I’d like to keep up the running habit that I got into in Málaga alongside my bike riding. It has been brilliant to get back out riding outside on multiple days.

This week’s efforts

This week’s efforts

Riders passing us on Saturday as our group stopped to solve a puncture

Riders passing us on Saturday as our group stopped to solve a puncture

A beautiful place to stop

A beautiful place to stop

Next week: Seeing my brothers and their families for the first time in a long time, a couple of album club evenings, and getting back to work.

Weeknotes #163 — Málaga

The port of Málaga

The port of Málaga

For the first time in over two years we hopped on a plane and went off on holiday. I’ve been feeling for some time as though I needed a change of scenery and a proper break; I have weeks of unused holiday days to spend before the end of June which itself tells me how little I’ve been away from work. Finding somewhere that was guaranteed to be warm in April, wasn’t too far away from the UK and wouldn’t cost the Earth was a tall order. We found ourselves crossing our fingers and heading to Málaga, a city on Spain’s south coast that was previously only familiar to me through the pages of my ¡Vaya! Libro 1 textbook at school. We had a rough sketch of a plan for the week but I was keen to not book in too many activities, fearing that a plan would detract from taking things easy. We had a wonderful time.

Although we live close to London, we thought that we would experiment with flying out of Birmingham Airport as it is only 90 minutes north of here. The experience was excellent — the airport is smaller and much less busy than those that we normally use and we were through the check-in and security processes in no time. We were travelling with Jet2.com; I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they are the UK’s third-largest scheduled airline with 94 aircraft in their fleet. For a short-haul flight they were fine. The staff were super friendly and helpful, and the aircraft itself was sparse but functional. We didn’t need anything else.

Flying through the clouds

Flying through the clouds

Our base for the week was the Barceló hotel, located above the central train station. We managed to get two interconnecting rooms, which allowed us to go to sleep while our two (almost) teenage boys could stay up and turn their light off when they were ready to do the same. The room was fine, although it had a strange view over the gigantic rooftop of the station. Most of the old town with its sights and restaurants was located a short walk away, which we ended up being grateful for after our evening meal. The hotel didn’t seem to quite know who it was pitched at. We didn’t see many other families there and there were a few businesspeople at breakfast, but it also had a slide going down from the dining area into the lobby which the kids loved.

Barceló Málaga

Barceló Málaga

Hotel slide

Hotel slide

Almost every time we went out we had to cross the dry river bed of the Guadalmedina. It divides the city in two and the concrete channel looks quite an eyesore; from what I could tell it is used a place for people to take their dogs to use the toilet. But it serves a bigger purpose. Back in 1907 Málaga suffered devastating floods; presumably this construction would prevent something similar happening in the future.

Dry Guadalmedina

Dry Guadalmedina

For a working port city, Málaga is beautiful. We acquainted ourselves through an evening walk on the day that we arrived as well as a run the next morning. The port area has been made attractive by all kinds of lovely architecture, from the Centre Pompidou to the wonderful zig-zagging pergola (‘The Palm Grove of Surprises’).

The Palm Grove of Surprises, covered in red dust

The Palm Grove of Surprises, covered in red dust

In the old town

In the old town

The food market

The food market

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

All of the buildings, windows and pavements were covered in a fine red dust, the consequence of gigantic Saharan dust storms that had engulfed the region a few weeks before. We had some rain for the first few days that we were there but it didn’t seem to do much to shift it.

The meals we had throughout the week were excellent, and great value when compared to the UK. We had a few adventures with churros and chocolate, as well as tapas, and dinner at a wonderful homely restaurant that was recommended by a friend.

Churros and coffee

Churros and coffee

Tapas at Mesón Ibérico

Tapas at Mesón Ibérico

Indonesian satay vegetables at Mamuchis

Indonesian satay vegetables at Mamuchis

Pasta at La Pala D’Oro

Pasta at La Pala D’Oro

Tapas at Casa Lola

Tapas at Casa Lola

There are a few sights to see in the old town, including Gibralfaro Castle and the Alcazaba fortress, both of which give spectacular views of the city. At their base is a Roman amphitheatre.

View from Gibralfaro

View from Gibralfaro

One of the many splendidly perilous walkways around the Castle

One of the many splendidly perilous walkways around the Castle

The Roman ampitheatre

The Roman ampitheatre

View of the bullfighting ring near the port

View of the bullfighting ring near the port

Religion seems to play a major part in the life of the city. The cathedral is breathtaking in its size and ornateness. While we were there, the city was getting ready for Holy Week, erecting portable stadium seating and laying out thousands of chairs ready for a week of parades.

Málaga Cathedral

Málaga Cathedral

Detail inside the cathedral

Detail inside the cathedral

Surprisingly, not the main entrance to the cathedral

Surprisingly, not the main entrance to the cathedral

The city is also famous as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. In the centre of the old town is a lovely museum of his works. There is plenty to see, covering his paintings, drawings and sculptures broadly in chronological order.

Contemplating a Picasso

Contemplating a Picasso

My eldest son and I hired some road bikes from bike2malaga. Along with our wonderful guide, we had a great day puffing our way out of the city and into the mountains. My son had never been up a proper mountain pass before but he seemed to love it. We had a comedy moment where one of us fell off on a climb, causing the others to stop and check they were ok, and then struggling to get back into the pedals and get going again. The day started a little cloudy, got very hot on the way up the first pass and then was freezing on the descent. We wisely decided to avoid the village we were heading for when we could see it getting rained on from our view on the other side of the valley. By the time we got back to the city the sun was shining and I was ready for an ice cream.

Mountains, with all the weathers

If you look closely, you’ll spot my son

If you look closely, you’ll spot my son

View from the road

View from the road

“I’ve never seen it looking greener than this.”

“I’ve never seen it looking greener than this.”

“I’ve only ever done this as a descent, I’ve not climbed it!”

“I’ve only ever done this as a descent, I’ve not climbed it!”

At the top of a climb

At the top of a climb

We hired a car for a couple of days and made a journey out to Ronda. (No, not that one. Similar.) The town is divided in two by a deep chasm which has been bridged by a magnificent construction. It is stunning. We spent most of the day wandering up and down the various paths, getting different views of the town and its surroundings.

Seems as good a place as any to build a town

Seems as good a place as any to build a town

A view of one side of Ronda from the other

A view of one side of Ronda from the other

The bridge across the chasm

The bridge across the chasm

Looking out from Ronda

Looking out from Ronda

On the way back, we stopped at the town of Setenil de las Bodegas, famous for its houses that have been built into the sides of overhanging rocks. It was strange to peer into some of the empty dwellings to see literally one room, with a back wall made up of the rock face. Leaving the town was terrifying; our sat-nav took us on a route through the narrowest of side streets, underneath rocks and passing by people atop ladders that were painting their houses. I felt like Clark W Griswald in European Vacation as I edged the car forward, expecting an accident at any moment.

Houses built into the rock face

Houses built into the rock face

Wandering around the town

Wandering around the town

View from the car. Even more terrifying than it looks.

View from the car. Even more terrifying than it looks.

On the second day with the car we ventured to Marbella to take a look around. Although the sea front was pretty, it wasn’t worth the visit. Being there would be great if we were in our late teens as there were plenty of bars to hop around, but it didn’t seem as though it had anything that central Málaga couldn’t offer.

Marbella seafront

Marbella seafront

To cap our week off we booked tickets to watch Málaga CF play Real Valladolid CF at La Rosaleda Stadium. Sitting in the afternoon sun was such a treat. The atmosphere was brilliant despite the stadium not being full. There seemed to be so many more families at the game than I’ve seen at other places. Málaga went 2-0 up before the visitors pulled it back to 2-2, with the second goal happening right in front of us. We loved it.

Heading into the stadium

Heading into the stadium

Beautiful venue, beautiful game

Beautiful venue, beautiful game

We all had such a lovely week, with plenty to fill our time. I’ve returned home not quite as rested as I expected, but this was self-inflicted through early morning starts for running, cycling and watching the Australian Grand Prix, as well as tons of walking every day. Malaga was well worth a visit.

A chilly Málaga morning

A chilly Málaga morning

Next week: Another week off, this time at home. Catching up with sleep and eyeing up my personal to-do list.

Weeknotes #162 — The fault in our boilers

The spring that sprung to life in the UK last week seemed like a false dawn, as the warm weather was replaced by a cold snap. On Tuesday we had our boiler serviced for the first time since the pandemic started and felt very pleased when it was given a clean bill of health. A couple of hours later, we stared in disbelief when it wouldn’t fire up. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an engineer to come and look at it for a couple of days. At this point we found that the immersion heater wasn’t living its best life, with a socket that got too hot to the touch and an electricity arc when we turned it on or off. We managed to get enough hot water in the tank to last for the first day, but when it tripped the circuit breaker we figured that it was game over. For the first time since I was a child we resorted to flannels, soap and cold water instead of showers the next morning. I spent the day feeling like I hadn’t woken up properly, pondering how my family and I would fare if real hardship ever hit us. Perhaps you just quickly adjust and get on with it.

I spent only one day in the office this week, a relief after the four days I spent there the week before. I had a variety of in-person meetings which made it feel worthwhile being there. I’m still a big believer in giving people as much autonomy as they need with the expectation that they will make good decisions, but if there has to be a set number of days in the office, one or two is more than enough.

I have a couple of weeks off work over Easter and a lot going on. For the first time in a while I had an acute sense of pre-holiday panic, with a number of late nights to try and complete as many of my commitments as I could. It’s never good enough, but I got myself into a place where I felt as though I could walk away from the keyboard for a while without any major open loops.

A week in which I:

  • Engaged with staff that were recently impacted by a technical implementation to check how they are getting on. Instead of one-to-one conversations and emails, I’ve experimented with setting up a chat group in Teams for this purpose. I also spoke to the vendor to discuss how other firms are using the functionality, and relayed my findings back to the team. By tackling it head on it seems to have taken away some of the noise, but it is still early days. The departments that depend on the system being in place are happy with the approach.
  • Ran a short training session with our Compliance and Legal teams on the new tool.
  • Took part in a meeting to discuss our status, options and approach for a lease expiry for one of our offices. There are so many variables in the equation, not least of which is what an office will look like and be used for in the next couple of years.
  • Along with the other teams involved, decided to go back out to the market to try and find a technical partner for our upcoming conference. We made some minor revisions to the brief and re-issued the request for proposal. The submission process will close a day before I am back from my break.
  • Was delighted to see how quickly our first agile team has taken to the work ahead of them, and the level of understanding that they have about the processes. They are quickly getting to the point where they will be able to get a minimum viable product out of the door, which is very exciting. I was also struck by how much non-technical staff know about the affordances of user interface components, such as radio buttons and multi-select dropdown lists.
  • Discussed the bigger picture of our agile development work and how we will manage our portfolio.
  • Reviewed our quarterly roadmap in our all-team meeting, reflecting on what we achieved in the first quarter and what lies ahead. We’re largely on track; a couple of deliveries didn’t quite make it over the line but we also got things done that weren’t due to be completed until Q2, so I’m calling it a draw.
  • Started to pull together a more detailed milestone plan for the team. I have a first draft, but we’re either going to need to prune the items we are tracking or split the view across a couple of pages.
  • Met with a colleague in our HR team to discuss their project on the topic of ‘sustainable careers’. Working for a small part of a large company has so many advantages; career advancement may not come in the classic form of a promotion, but instead the opportunity to experience working and collaborating across so many areas of the organisation.
  • Had a recurring thought about how to get the organisation working out loud more, and what the barriers are. Remembered Euan Semple’s quote that “no matter what you are trying to achieve social media adoption happens one person at a time and for their reasons not yours”. I’m happy to lead by example — weeknotes would be great to get going internally — but being a pioneer can be tricky. Maybe I just need to write a Teams post about it in the same way that I started my weeknotes a few years ago.
  • Got asked the question “Did you make a difference today?” by one of my close colleagues. I think they were reflecting on their own day but I love the question — responding to it made me feel like I was creating weeknotes.
  • Reviewed the licencing and support for our Cisco estate ahead of our latest renewal. It was invaluable to have an expert in the room to guide us through the myriad of line items.
  • Met with one of the vendors we are considering for our digital signage solution to continue the process of on-boarding them.
  • Discussed our approach to a ‘first responder’ scenario, where someone in the team discovers a critical outage. We’re planning on running some crisis simulations later this year.
  • Was very pleased to see the welcome return of one of our key team members after his holiday. A couple of critical items have been on hold for a little while which we can now try and make rapid progress with again.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a new member of our Distribution and Loan Syndication team, a South African who recently moved to the UK.
  • Got my annual goals into our performance management system.
  • Had a school Full Governing Board meeting. At nearly three hours, it felt like a long one. It’s difficult to know how to shorten the meetings without impacting on the breadth of topics and critical questioning that we cover. The headteacher and staff continue to do an incredible job, and I’m always left wondering how they manage it. I wish there was something significant that we could do to improve their wellbeing.
  • Made further edits to a letter from the Governing Board and circulated it for review.
  • Wished my lovely eldest boy a happy 15th birthday. The years have flown by.

Next week: A much-needed break, away from the keyboard.

Weeknotes #161 — Senses working overtime

An unanticipated confluence of events at work meant that I spent Monday to Thursday in the office this week. It’s so hard to believe that five days there used to be the norm. The office-based sensory overload that I’ve been feeling went off the charts; by Thursday afternoon there were more than one of us that were talking about how frazzled we were. The clocks going forward by an hour here in the UK and early starts for cycling on both days of the weekend meant that I haven’t managed to catch up on sleep yet.

One of the side effects of being in the office more is that ironically I felt more remote from my colleagues, specifically those that are located in other countries. It was great to reconnect with them through our team meetings on Friday.

I’ve officially called the start of spring through leaving my coat at home. The morning commute was a little chilly but things soon started to warm up. A little raising of the temperature does so much to lift the collective mood.

This was a week in which I:

  • Proved how frazzled I was by ending up running for a train, catching it, and then finding that it whizzed past my stop at Berkhamsted and on to Leighton Buzzard. I had to do the journey of shame back down the other line. No alcohol was involved, just inattentiveness.
  • Saw the team manage three ‘town hall’-style meetings across three days. The presenters were in our London office along with a large in-person audience, and we had others dialled in via Teams from all over the globe. The equipment we used wasn’t really fit-for-purpose and we had a few technical glitches. Simplifying the technology is on our to-do list.
  • Went live with our Teams mandatory compliance audio recording project, paving the way for an office telephony migration at two of our sites in the coming months.
  • Had a one-on-one meeting with a colleague in Asia via the new meeting room Teams videoconferencing equipment that we’ve installed there. The implementation is ahead of schedule and the quality of the video is stunning.
  • Ran the weekly project meeting for our upcoming investors’ conference. Reviewed and responded to questions from a technology vendor on the revised brief.
  • Placed an order for an industrial Mi-Fi device to be used during the conference, giving us a network SSID in an area where we currently don’t have any coverage.
  • Took part in an end of iteration review for a dashboard/reporting project. A productive discussion but we have work to do in terms of structuring the sessions.
  • Looked at the planned renewals for our networking equipment licencing and support.
  • Agreed a simplified strategy for video feeds to our office digital signage, avoiding the need for us to install hardware.
  • Joined a number of meetings relating to our expiring office lease agreements, including some with vendors who can help us with the projects.
  • Had the monthly check-in meeting with our Operational Risk department.
  • Met with a small team to talk through a number of cyber risk scenarios.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour session on the topic of Navigating in a world without landmarks or maps.
  • Did the preparatory reading for our school Full Governing Board meeting on Monday.
  • Had a friend over to my house to enjoy the second F1 race of the season. Sport is a lot more fun in the company of others. My eldest boy cooked some delicious food for all of us while the race was on, part of his journey to getting his silver Duke of Edinburgh award.

  • Had an unconventional but enjoyable Mothers’ Day family meal out at Nando’s.
  • Saw my youngest boy take part in his first cycling time trial, involving three laps up Whiteleaf Hill, one of the toughest climbs in the Chilterns. When we saw the entrant list and started looking at the profiles of the other 16 riders we wondered what he had signed up for. But the organisers and marshals were very welcoming and encouraging. I don’t think I would have been up for this kind of challenge when I was 14. He completed the course without bailing out and was completely shredded by the end. I was proud!

  • Enjoyed a superb no-nonsense club ride on Saturday morning, shaking off the cobwebs from the week in the office.
  • Enjoyed an eclectic Album Club #133.
  • Took a trip to Whitecross Street Market as part of our team day in the office. Now this is a great reason to go in. Hoxton Beach Falafel are just as good as they used to be.

Next week: A school Full Governing Board meeting, objective setting, portfolio planning and managing the aftershocks of project implementations.

Weeknotes #160 — Saddle bag

A really busy week which felt like a taste of what’s to come. Despite rising COVID-19 case numbers in the UK, travelling to the office for a couple of days this week felt as though the world had got almost completely back to normal, with packed trains and busy London pavements. I’m finding being in the office to be quite a sensory overload for most of the time; I find myself struggling with the fact that everyone has unfettered access to my ears and can feel my heart rate being a few beats per minute higher. Next week I’ll be in the office almost every day and am anticipating feeling quite toasted by Friday. Another theme of this week was a few frustrations that have crept into things at work which I need to try and manage in a positive way.

This was a week in which I:

  • Found out that we have three ’town hall’ style hybrid meetings to run next week. We spent some time developing a plan for configuring the equipment we will use in our collaborative meeting space and need to have a final run-through before the first session scheduled for Monday lunchtime.
  • Ran a couple of training sessions to show colleagues what will happen when we switch on mandatory compliance audio recording in Teams. Everyone needs to know about it as they may find themselves on a recorded call because another participant has recording enabled.
  • Reviewed an updated technology vendor briefing for our planned conference in June. Spent time testing and reviewing some of the invites that will be going out shortly and met a new team member who will be working on the conference project in the Marketing team.
  • Investigated different ways in which we can obtain TV streams for our planned digital signage. It’s interesting that you seemingly can’t (yet?) buy a private stream that doesn’t involve hardware at any site of the way. I was hoping there would be an equivalent to a private URL that you can only access from a specific IP address that gives you raw channels for the cost of a commercial subscription. In the age of fast Internet, why do we need satellite dishes and decoders?
  • Discussed how we can on-board one of the digital signage vendors given the relative sizes of our organisations and the heavyweight nature of our process.
  • Agreed the next steps for rolling out Windows 11 across our laptop estate.
  • Joined a number of internal and external meetings relating to lease expiries for some of our offices that will happen in a couple of years time. It’s an exciting project to be part of.
  • Attended our Information Risk Steering Group and agreed some changes to further reduce our risk of data loss.
  • Joined the monthly overview of what’s happening in our internal Governance and Control team.
  • Hosted one of our business teams who took our whole team through their business strategy for the year and what areas they think we can help with.
  • Had a delicious posh lunch with our London team in one of our client meeting rooms.
  • Chaired the latest Finance, Premises and Personnel committee meeting at school.
  • Spent some time talking to the brilliant people at HfL Governance Services. I’ve called on them a number of times over the nine years that I have been a school governor and are always my first thought when a tricky issue arises.
  • Drafted a letter from the school on behalf of the governors.
  • Finished watching the latest season of Drive to Survive on Netflix, just in time for the start of the new Formula 1 season. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous seasons and wonder if the format is already getting a little stale.
  • Enjoyed having a friend over to watch the first race together.
  • Had a good cycle club ride, at a slightly slower pace than the rides last weekend. My saddle wedge bag broke in two places as I went up a hill early on in the ride. I had to work under the pressure of the rest of the group watching me as I tried to reattach it to my bike just enough to last the rest of the route.

  • Wrestled with getting my thoughts together on Violent Borders. Writing a blog post on something I’ve read really does help to get my head around the topic.

Next week: The majority of the week in the office, and another Album Club.

Weeknotes #159 — Spring Classic

Incredibly busy week from start to finish. I felt ready to drop on Friday night. But it was a good form of tiredness — we’d managed to move a number of projects on significantly this week.

After feeling a little croaky for a few days, my youngest boy tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time in six months and had to stay home from school. I keep hearing reports of people catching the virus a few months on from when they previously had it; I’m not sure this is the endemic state we really want to be in.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a significant amount of my week on our planned conference in June. I established and chaired our first weekly project meeting that covers the technology aspects of the conference. We also met on site with a prospective vendor to go into detail about their proposal to run the digital components, and continued the discussion later in the week via diagrams and email. Some very big decisions on the format are lined up for next week.
  • Completed testing on the Teams mandatory regulatory audio recording system. Ran a demo of the system for the CEO and their staff in one of our offices which went brilliantly — ‘feeling’ the change has so much more value than reading about it. I’ve now set up two more demonstration meetings next week and opened them up to the rest of our colleagues around the world.
  • Circulated details of the financial implications of further simplifying our wide-area network. We’re planning to proceed with the changes this year.
  • Participated in our digital working group.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how we can improve digital literacy throughout our firm. The conversation expanded to discuss how we can more generally become an organisation that communicates on all sorts of topics. This stuff really excites me; the possibilities are vast.
  • Had a couple of random coffees with colleagues. We’re almost two years in but I still love having these scheduled catch-ups.
  • Met with an old colleague for our regular check-in to keep in touch.
  • Attended the Leesman Hybrid Working Employee Experience Data Debrief webinar. Lots of data and interesting highlights and insight, but I didn’t feel as though there were enough concrete statements about what companies should be doing in response. Perhaps this is asking too much given how unique each company’s setting is.
  • Enjoyed an interesting internal ‘learning hour’ presentation on our RADIUS/NPS servers, what they do and how we have been optimising them. The weekly session continues to be a great place for people to practice presenting in a relatively safe space.
  • Attended our annual ‘in-house’ school governor training, this time on on Knowing Your School and Ofsted, run by Herts for Learning. As always, the course was superb and gave us lots to think about.
  • Hosted the latest Album Club that we have started up at work. I’m not sure that my choice of PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake was the right one, but given recent global events I’ve been thinking about the album a lot. Any night when I get to sit and listen intently to an album is a good night.
  • Joined the first session of the second Micro.Camp, to hear from the team on the state of all things micro.blog. The sessions started on Friday evening UK time and continued throughout Saturday so I couldn’t join any of the others, but I am looking forward to watching the videos.
  • Pushed hard on my bike. Our Saturday morning club ride was satisfyingly punchy once again. The next day it was followed by the club’s annual ‘spring classic’ reliability ride. For a 106km route, the classic was really tough, with rain showers, headwinds and punctures adding to the challenge. I was so hungry at the end, and satisfied my savoury craving by gorging on an unseemly number of sandwiches.

Next week: Big project decisions, hosting some short on-line demonstrations, a school governor meeting and a team lunch.

Weeknotes #158 — Shaggy lawns

A very busy week where I made progress with lots of initiatives, but got to Friday evening with some very important items still on my to-do list. It feels as though the next few months will ramp up significantly as some of our projects reach a conclusion and we prepare for the annual conference in June.

This was a week in which I:

  • Tried to avoid doomscrolling Twitter and following the various live blogs on the Russo-Ukrainian War. I consciously tried to catch up with news in a slower fashion. On Friday we had a town hall-style online meeting with our CFO who, along with her husband, has already made a return journey by car to the Poland/Ukraine border to deliver medical supplies. They’ve now appeared on the BBC Breakfast News as well as in the New York Times for the work they have been doing, and are taking donations for British-Ukrainian Aid.
  • Spent an evening watching Winter On Fire (2015), a Netflix documentary on the events in Ukraine in 2014. It’s a brilliant way to understand a little more about the recent history of the country. Netflix have made it available on YouTube for free.

  • Started the week with memories of yesteryear. Rain, a train that was half the size of what it should have been (and therefore twice as busy) and crowded London pavements due to a tube strike. I really haven’t missed any of this.
  • Reviewed the responses to a short procurement exercise to assist us with our annual conference. Made arrangements for the preferred vendor to visit us on site next week so that we can go through their proposed solution in much lower detail, and potentially do some basic testing.
  • Made progress with our planned Teams mandatory compliance solution. Testing is nearly complete. We reviewed the setup with a couple of our key executives and they are happy for us to take it forward. I’ve drafted communications to go to all of our staff on what to expect when we turn it on. Hopefully it will go live in the next week or two.
  • Reviewed our planned contract renewal for our SD-WAN network.
  • Reviewed the plan to optimise the technology in three of our office meeting spaces with our Head of Infrastructure and Operations and our CIO. It was great to do this in person while we were in the spaces themselves.
  • Made updates to our Team Charter following our review a couple of weeks ago. Nobody commented on the draft I circulated so it looks like we have our second version.
  • Attended our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting. The team did brilliantly to present four separate changes in an hour without any significant questions being raised.
  • Took part in our monthly department risk review meeting.
  • Ran our management meeting as my colleague who usually runs it was away.
  • Met with company that was recommended to me. I’m looking to bring someone onto the team that will increase our agile delivery and product management skills. Unfortunately I found out that they aren’t a company that provide staff in the way we want. I may need to think about a different approach.
  • Enjoyed a ‘learning hour’ talk from a colleague on the topic of the climate crisis and renewable energy sources. It sparked a great conversation and an internal Teams thread. The team continue to amaze me with the talks that they are bringing to our weekly forum.
  • Attended an Agnostic Agile MeetUp with Manuel Pais on the topic of Remote-First Team Interactions with Team Topologies. The concept of formal team topologies is great; like everything else it is probably about taking the appropriate bits from this to apply to your particular setting.

  • Celebrated my wonderful wife’s birthday. We’re the same age again for the next nine months. We enjoyed a family takeaway and all stumbled into spending an evening watching the Everton vs Boreham Wood FA Cup match on TV. We then went out on Saturday night with some close friends for what turned out to be an amazing meal at Lussmanns in Berkhamsted. The sticky date and ginger pudding was incredible.

  • Joined the Micro Blog Republic of Readers meetup with a wonderful bunch of Micro Bloggers that I have been talking to over the past few years. The time zone differences of the attendees was massive. I’m really glad I joined; the conversation was excellent.
  • Attended a couple of DfE-funded webinars on school benchmarking and integrated curriculum financial planning (ICFP) metrics. They were fine, but pitched at the wrong level — you really don’t need the lowest level of detail on these topics until you are actually going through the motions yourself. I left both sessions early; I know where to get this information in the future if I need it.
  • Enjoyed a brilliant cycling club ride on Saturday morning. It was a completely flat route. My specialism is in climbing hills and I sometimes struggle to keep up with the faster groups on the flats but I felt like I held my own.
  • Cut the front and back lawns for the first time this year, and applied lawn feed to what I could before it ran out. I didn’t expect the lawns to start growing already as it has been so cold but they were both looking very shaggy.

Next week: Pushing to close out on the voice recording project, a crucial meeting with a vendor, governor training and an album club.

Weeknotes #157 — War

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant that this was anything but a normal week. Like the death of a loved one after a long illness, it felt inevitable but was still completely shocking when it happened. Like many others, I’ve been reading and watching the news and trying to understand what it must feel like to have normal life wrenched away from you so brutally. Two of my colleagues are Ukrainian and one of them is headed for the country with her husband and medical supplies. I’ve heard stories from my friends doing what they can to help their colleagues in Ukraine get to safety, such as finding shelter for them in neighbouring countries and advancing them a number of months’ pay. So far, the global response seems to be near-unanimous in condemning the aggression and imposing penalties on Russia. The situation is horrible. It has been difficult to keep focused.

This was a week in which I:

  • Agreed a strategy for moving forward with our new network design. We are balancing our need for additional Internet service provider connections and the possibility of moving offices in the next couple of years.
  • Discovered that the purple banner for Microsoft Teams compliance call recording is a mandatory feature.
  • Continued testing of the Teams call recording software and completed a short guide on how to use the playback tools.
  • Documented the workflow for emails and mailboxes for our investors conference taking place in June.
  • Discussed next steps with our CIO for putting together a portfolio-level overview of the work in our department.
  • Agreed a way forward for the use of alternative videoconferencing and communication technologies within our organisation. Every company has a preferred tool and sometimes these do not match up between firms, so somebody has to compromise.
  • Agreed the sequence of events for a number of significant IT infrastructure changes in one of our offices with the principal vendor involved in the work.
  • Attended an excellent internal ‘leadership talk’ on the topic of environmental, social and governance factors in the work that we do.
  • Attended a ‘learning hour’ refresher session on the financial governance processes used across the offices that we are responsible for.
  • Enjoyed an office lunch with one of my team members.
  • Had meetings on the big group programme to align on where we are with the work so far and what we want to achieve this year.
  • Had our monthly meeting with the Operational Risk team to discuss hot topics ahead of the Governance Committee session.
  • Congratulated one of our team members on becoming a dad again. We’d presented him with a ‘baby shower’-type card and gift earlier in the day, so it was perfect timing.
  • Met with our school Headteacher to review our list of larger one-off projects that we need to budget for.
  • Had another online parents’ evening for our eldest son. Moving these events online during the pandemic has been a massively positive change. I seldom made them in the past; to be there I had to race across London to catch a train home in order to get to the school on time. The five-minute ‘speed dating’ countdown clock is brilliant for focusing the mind.
  • Was very pleased to have a couple of my questions used on this week’s WB-40 podcast. I’ve been listening since the first episode and it has been consistently excellent. Its accompanying Signal group continues to be one of the most supportive, interesting, amusing and inspiring communities that I’m fortunate to be a part of.
  • Hosted an impromptu Album Club at my house on Friday evening due to our planned host having a suspected case of COVID-19. After assembling a shortlist of albums I ended up going with the first one that I had thought of, The Black Crowes’ Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which I have listened to and loved for thirty years.
  • Woke up at 6:30am on Saturday to go on the weekly cycling club ride but found it to bee far too cold out. Went back to bed and then headed out with my son around 10am to cover the route. We got to the cafe at the end of the ride to find other cycling club members there who had also delayed their start for the same reason.
  • Refereed my eldest son’s football match, a high-stakes cup game. I have a love/hate relationship with reffing, and only put my hand up when we don’t have a qualified referee for our home games. It was as tough as I thought it would be, with plenty of calls from the players for me to give decisions their way. Our team did an incredible job, coming from 0–2 down to win 3–2 after extra time.

  • Enjoyed a long Sunday afternoon walk with a couple of friends, through the woods and to a pub in Little Gaddesden. Spring is definitely in the air, but as the sun drops down to the horizon the temperature plummets.

  • Booked a short family holiday. It feels like it has been a very long time since we’ve gone anywhere.
  • Had bizarre, vivid dreams on Sunday and Monday night which lingered with me at the start of the week. In one of the dreams I saw a woman fall off of a balcony and land in the middle of a public square while I was sitting on a bench eating a sandwich. I went over and asked the people attending to her whether they wanted help, but nobody responded or even acknowledged my presence.

Next week: Ramping things up on a number of projects, trying to keep focused.

Weeknotes #156 — Smoke Fairies

At the station on Tuesday morning.

At the station on Tuesday morning.

A much better week than the one before. The melancholic fog had dissipated and things felt much more normal. I had a lot to look forward to this week as on Tuesday I was finally going to see a live band again. Just before the pandemic struck I had been increasing the amount of gigs that I had been going to and like so many other things this came to an abrupt halt. I had bought tickets to the gig in early 2020 and it was originally scheduled for that October. This then became April 2021 and eventually landed on February 2022. The evening didn’t disappoint; the bands, the venue and the company were all wonderful and the evening resonated with me throughout the rest of the week. It felt impossible to be COVID-safe with so many people packed into such a small space and so many of them, including me, not masked up as we had a drink. I guess we’re just going to have to be comfortable with being a bit uncomfortable for now.

The beautiful venue, Lafayette in King’s Cross.

The beautiful venue, Lafayette in King’s Cross.

Samana

Samana

The wonderful Smoke Fairies

The wonderful Smoke Fairies

My boys were both off school for their half term holiday. They took a trip with my wife to their grandparents on Monday, so I was home alone for the evening. It’s been a very long time since I was the only one at home. Heading out to work early for my commute on Tuesday, getting back very late from the gig after everyone was asleep and then heading out again the next day before they were all up was strange; it used to happen so much in the old days and now it was an exhausting novelty. I was very grateful to be back at home on Thursday and Friday to finish the week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Took on responsibility for managing the IT component of our company’s flagship annual conference, to be held in our offices in June, which will be hybrid for the first time. This week we had presentations from technology vendors who will take on the bulk of the technology work. Gave a brief update to the steering committee at the end of the week.
  • Took part in a couple of kick-off meetings for a programme to look at our office locations ahead of the leases expiring in a couple of years’ time. There are so many permutations of what we might end up doing, and it’s difficult to imagine exactly what an office should look like 2025.
  • Met with the IT management team to discuss a challenge with part of our end-user support model and agreed a way forward.
  • Reviewed where we are with our Windows 11 pilot and agreed next steps to move across to the new platform during the course of this year.
  • Wrote a document on what the user experience should be for our largest meeting spaces in our London office. We’ve had technical difficulties with the rooms since they were commissioned, partly due to not having had the opportunity to thoroughly test them before the pandemic hit, and partly due to them being too complex. I’m hoping that we can do something that will simplify the technology while still giving staff as good an experience as possible.
  • Reviewed the success criteria that we will use to evaluate two different digital signage platforms before implementing one in the next few weeks.
  • Ramped up trying to get our mandatory compliance recording for Teams in place. We have a few administrative issues to close out, along with some technical tweaks and some staff communications to draft.
  • Ran a review of our Team Charter, a year after we first put it together. I tried using the 1-2-4-All Liberating Structure using breakout rooms in Teams. Given how little time I had to prepare, I was quite pleased at how well it went. Running the session in this way definitely generated more feedback from some of the less vocal members of the team. The team largely felt that the Charter was good as it was, but I made note of some suggested minor updates.
  • Reviewed the first iteration of some management information dashboards being put together as part of the big group programme. Discussed how we can use a two-weekly iteration plan to get into a rhythm of delivery.
  • Had an excellent long one-on-one meeting with the CIO, reviewing and agreeing how we approach the change portfolio for the rest of the year.
  • Attended a webinar on  Joined-up Leadership for Effective School Resource Management.
  • Woke up to a red ‘danger to life’ weather warning on Friday. Watched the garden furniture wander around the garden as Storm Eunice hit on Friday. I flinched a couple of times as branches from the tree above my office broke off and hit the roof but we got through it largely unscathed. Unlike, it seems, this bar in Hove.

  • Found myself on a severely delayed train for the first time in years. Fortunately it made it to the station before my destination before stopping. My friend’s wife kindly came to pick us up, saving us from what turned out to be a 55 minute delay.
  • Went to change my bike wheel early on Saturday morning from the one I use on the indoor trainer to my outdoor one, only to find that I had a flat. I changed the inner tube but didn’t have time to do a full investigation of the source of the problem, and assumed that it was just an old tube whose time had come. My son and I rode down to meet the rest of the club riders and just as we were about to roll, I found myself with another flat. It looks like I picked up a tiny flint the last time we went out and this had made holes in both of the tubes. My son got to go out with the group but I had to walk home to find and fix the problem. Time for a new tyre.

  • Enjoyed taking advantage of the modern world. Last Sunday evening I was thinking about how I am always the idiot in the suit when I go to gigs after work. Determined to avoid this, I ordered some brown shoes and black jeans that I thought I could get away with wearing in the office. Both items were delivered to my house by the middle of the day on Monday. I try not to buy things for same or next day delivery as I assume the environmental cost is higher than waiting, but it’s amazing to be able to do this on the rare occasion I need it.
  • Tried an escape room for the first time. My wife found one locally and thought it would be a fun thing for the family to all do together on Sunday afternoon. Surprisingly, we broke the escape time record! Once we got out of the first chamber and through to the second one, we found a cabinet in the corner with the room escape key on view for us to see. The cabinet was bolted with a four-digit combination lock. While everyone else went about solving the various puzzles in the room, I went straight for the lock and carefully listened and felt my way to the right combination. I felt like a character from a 1960s heist movie. The guy on the front desk then came to see us and showed us all of the puzzles that we skipped. As the game was to try to escape as quickly as possible it seemed like a good strategy, but felt a bit of a hollow victory.

The infiltrated cabinet.

The infiltrated cabinet.

Next week: Another couple of days in the office. Ramping up the pressure on the Q1 project milestones as we are already halfway to the end of the quarter.

Weeknotes #155 — Echo

Last week I started sleeping poorly, waking up at a random hour of the morning before my alarm went off. This week it seemed to get a little worse. Many years ago during my time at university I had my first, and worst, brush with a poor period of mental health. Occasionally I feel an echo of this. I’ve been feeling very down, but frustratingly can’t work out what the root cause is. There’s probably more than one. Most of the week was tinged with a feeling of melancholy, not enough to be debilitating but enough for me to know that something was up. It feels as though it is passing so I’m hoping for a better week ahead.

Things are ramping up at work and I feel that I am a critical link in the chain for a number of our ‘must do’ projects. We’re still on track for everything that we said we would do, but I need to keep focused so that this remains the case.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a discussion with our management team about how we can look at plugging a gap in our team’s architecture skills.
  • Discussed an approach for further simplification of our network and IT infrastructure stack and agreed next actions. This has rapidly become one of our highest-priority projects due to the vendor licence and support costs it will help us to avoid later in the year.
  • Reviewed our stance on digital meeting technologies that colleagues want to use based on client preference.
  • Had a catch-up call with our key contact at our main IT vendor, ensuring we are aligned on a number of in-flight projects.
  • Undertook a detailed review of a proposal and quote for significant physical infrastructure changes for one of our offices. It involves re-cabling the floor, implementing modern UPSes, decommissioning unnecessary patch panels and installing environmental monitoring equipment.
  • Took part in a kick-off meeting with an external vendor ahead of our external conference planned for June.
  • Attended a talk from our CIO where he ran through his thinking and aspirations for our team for this year and beyond.
  • Met with colleagues in South Africa who are managing work on a large shared platform to discuss and align on the progress that we have been making.
  • Spoke to a colleague who is responsible for an offshore development team to understand what agreements we have in place as part of the setup.
  • Took part in another discussion on our office-based audio/visual solutions and looked at how we can simplify the setup whilst improving the experience. I have an action to start off a paper-based testing/walkthrough document for how we expect the rooms to work in the future. It’s amazing how much complexity can be increased by each additional variable.
  • Met with our head of Cybersecurity to run through updates to his quarterly roadmap and Kanban board.
  • Heard someone say that our organisation is “the least toxic place I could be working”, and had to agree with them. I feel so fortunate to be part of the company.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with one of my close colleagues.
  • Spent time reading about ‘web3’ and started to write a post for our internal Teams channel for our part of the company. It turned into a blog post that I figured I would test in public first. (If I’m wrong about anything, I hope someone will point it out.)
  • Attended our school Full Governing Board meeting, having got all of my preparation work done at the weekend. This time I managed to complete a couple of my actions straight after the session.
  • Joined a meeting where the school’s Improvement Partner reported back on her deep-dive into Maths. These sessions are so valuable; we get to hear from someone external to the school on how things are actually going, where the school is excelling and what we need to focus on.
  • Attended a couple of school webinars, including an Introduction to Procurement sponsored by the Department for Education and a HfL session on Edtech in the Primary Classroom.
  • Enjoyed an evening of music courtesy of an Album Club with some close colleagues. We’re at the end of the first round and the host’s choice didn’t disappoint; we listened to Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights which was completely new to me. It seems as though it defined a sound for the next decade or so with many other bands being influenced by it.
  • Had our main bathroom repainted. If anyone can tell me how to get teenage boys to remember to open the bathroom window and take shorter showers, I am all ears.
  • Woke up on Saturday intending to join the cycling club for the weekly ride but was put off by frost on the cars in our street. Having come off of my bike on black ice many years ago I am very risk-averse, and won’t go out if there is even a teeny inkling that there may be ice around. I made do with a session on the indoor trainer, which I’ve come to enjoy nearly as much as getting out.
  • Took my youngest boy to go and watch Watford play Brighton and Hove Albion at Vicarage Road. It was a shame that the home side lost, but it was fun to go and we enjoyed our afternoon out. Our seats weren’t the best as our view was partially blocked by a TV camera but it didn’t matter too much. My ticket was £30 and my son’s was only £5 which seems like good value for a Premiership match.

  • Spent a chunk of my time at the Watford match watching the assistant referee as I knew I would be running the line myself at my eldest son’s match the next day. I was curious to measure how much exercise this is; it turns out that over the course of an 80-minute match, nearly 50 of those are spent moving around. I thought it would be higher.

  • Finished off After Life. It felt like it was probably not a good show to binge watch. There were moments of poignancy and other times where the main character wasn’t believable. I’m not sure if you need to have seen the show first, but the out-takes of seasons 2 and 3 on YouTube nearly had us in tears of laughter.

Next week: The welcome return of Learned League, and heading to a gig for the first time in two years.

Weeknotes #154 — Purple banner

A good week where I felt as though I kept my focus on the right things and got stuff done. It started terribly on Monday; I got down to the kitchen to find that the cats had decided to wreak havoc while we slept. After cleaning up the mess I had no time for breakfast if I wanted to make my train. Just as I was about to leave the house the zip on my backpack broke. So I jogged down to the station, clutching my bag in front of me as I went, and spent my commute trying to find a replacement backpack that wasn’t going to necessitate remortgaging the house.

This was the first week that we restarted our ‘hybrid working’ experiment, where we are expected to be in the office around 50% of the time. I went in on both Monday and Wednesday. After my handful of days in the office at the end of last year it no longer feels like a novelty. The free meals and a coffee from the on-site canteen that were in place throughout the pandemic have now ceased, which will be interesting in terms of their impact on staff experience and whether people now choose to go and buy their meals outside.

Although the week felt productive, I’ve been sleeping poorly and it has taken its toll. Sitting here on Sunday evening I’m really feeling it. I’ve always been late to bed; most evenings I get a second wind and have to force myself to go up the wooden hill. I’ve managed to get the bedroom light out by midnight most evenings and I think I need to keep trying to push this earlier.

It’s gotten cold and windy here in the UK and has felt pretty wintry. January felt warmer than usual and lulled me into thinking that spring is around the corner. Snow on Friday morning was a sharp reminder that we’re still in winter.

This was a week in which I:

  • Refined our 2022 roadmap with input from our Operations and Cybersecurity teams.
  • Got a second digital signage player up and running. It has been very beneficial to soak-test the devices as we found that our first display had a memory leak; after waking up at 7am a couple of the display components would consistently crash around 4:20pm every day. The fix is simple; we’re now refreshing the rogue component on a regular basis in order to free up memory. We’ve still got some way to go to prove to ourselves that they would be a robust solution for the five global offices that we are responsible for, but we’re on the right path.
  • Learnt a lot from a presentation given by our CTO on the evolution of our SD-WAN network and what the future looks like. The whole team were invited to attend and it feels like we now have strong alignment on what we plan to do to further simplify things this year.
  • Had a brilliant one-on-one discussion with the Head of Enterprise Architecture for Technology and Operations. A recent meeting with a big group of internal technologists raised a lot of questions in my mind about a significant strategy initiative that we are undertaking, but I felt as though I was alone. It turns out that my questions were valid and I’ve been asked to join a strategy session later this month.
  • Met with the team that are working on some reporting dashboards for our part of the organisation as part of the big group programme.
  • Closed out on a number of contracts and purchase orders, keeping us on track for our project deliveries this year.
  • Reviewed our risk log with my peers in our monthly meeting.
  • Took part in a meeting with a CIO adviser from Gartner on ‘building the digitally dexterous enterprise’.
  • Made great strides with testing our Teams mandatory compliance audio recording solution. After getting the recordings to show up on Monday, I spent time familiarising myself with the end-user experience from as many angles as I could think of, as well as the experience of the person who has access to the playback portal. I have lots of questions and actions to close out on before we can go live.
  • Joined the first Teams Fireside Chat session. In the invite the hosts had said that the presentation part of the session would be recorded and the recording would stop before Q&A. I looked on in horror when I realised that my testing of our Teams mandatory compliance recording tool meant that everyone saw a purple recording banner way before the other recording started, and after it ended. I pointed it out during the Q&A session and we actually had a very useful discussion about it; it was fascinating in that almost everyone dismissed the notification without reading it.
  • Met with the son of one of my colleagues who has recently got himself qualified with Microsoft and CompTIA courses and is looking for his first employment break into the world of IT. I really love explaining what I do and took some time to go through the world of portfolio, programme and project management, with a little Kanban thrown in as well.
  • Met with an old colleague for the first time this year. We’re scheduled to catch up every few weeks but the meeting tends to move around. It’s always great to reconnect and find out what has been going on with her and her part of the company.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with a colleague in our New York office who is from Argentina and lived in Manchester many years ago.
  • Learned never to ask “if anyone has any good jokes” when trying to fill time before a meeting starts.
  • Attended a couple of DfE-funded seminars on school resource management. The first was on the topic of school estate management and the second gave an overview of integrated curriculum and financial planning (ICFP). I haven’t put time aside to properly digest all of the material, but it is great to know that so many excellent resources exist to assist with these topics.
  • Caught up with a set of actions that I had taken at the last school Full Governing Board meeting, ahead of our next session on Tuesday.
  • Kept an eye on the goings-on in parliament. It felt as though we got two ’Prime Minister’s Questions’ sessions this week with the release of the Sue Gray ‘pre-report report’ on Monday and the regular session on Wednesday. Jonathan Pie’s Opinion piece in the New York Times sums up the situation quite well.
  • Went out for dinner at the Dog and Partridge in Sunninghill on Saturday night with old friends. Great company, average food.

  • Did a whole week of indoor bike trainer riding due to the club ride being cancelled again. Next week it is currently predicted to be -5°C overnight so it’ll probably be the same situation.

Next week: More days in the office, many school governor meetings and an Album Club.

Weeknotes #153 — Return of the commute

A busy week, broken up by my first day in the office of 2022. Officially we restart our ‘hybrid working’ pilot from next week, but the office has been open throughout the latest restrictions for anyone that wants to use it. I missed my morning exercise, but made up for it by walking to and from the office instead of using the tube, a 40 minute journey each way.

It feels that this is going to be the year of getting on with things. My boss took his first business flight in almost two years, which is a real return to previous times. Through some combination of optimism and fatigue we seem to be reaching the point where ‘the new normal’ is almost here. Masks seem to be on their way out, but I’m going to keep wearing mine on the train and in other enclosed spaces.

The start of the week seemed stressful; I woke up at around 2:30am on Monday and 4:30am on Tuesday with lots on my mind. Usually I fall asleep super quickly and sleep right through to my alarm. By Wednesday things felt back on track.

This was a week in which I:

  • Updated our budget and financial forecast to classify our work into ‘operations’, ‘projects’ and ‘products’. I also put together some draft materials on how we distinguish the different types of work and our approaches to them. Things seem to be crystallising around these ideas and things are falling into place.
  • Spent a lot of time chasing up outstanding work on our various in-flight projects. I’m pushing things quite hard this year as I am keen to meet our planned roadmap dates in the first two quarters. We have some work we want to complete by the middle of the year to avoid renewing support agreements and licences for legacy technology. One day lost on a piece of work can have a knock-on effect to a number of other projects, so it’s important that everyone is pushing to get tasks done as quickly as possible.
  • Reorganised our team’s Kanban board to ensure that anything we have committed to delivering in Q1 is clearly signposted, as well as items that are on the critical path for committed deliveries later in the year.
  • Took part in the successful test of a configuration change that allows us to join Zoom meetings from our Teams-enabled meeting rooms.
  • Got one of our Raspberry Pis up and running in our office as we try out a new digital signage solution. I want to leave it running there over a number of days and weeks to see how it performs over time. A new metal case with a heat-sink seems to have improved the temperature and performance of the Pi and it’s all running well so far.

  • Met with our telephony migration vendor to review our comments on their detailed statement of work, and agreed next steps.
  • Attended a meeting for our big group programme where I learned that the way in which the pipeline of work will be organised and managed is being realigned.
  • Took part in a reference call for a vendor which we are thinking of using to help us with our annual conference. It’s amazing that people are are happy to give up their time to talk about their experience with a vendor, and so valuable in terms of getting some real-world insight.
  • Decided to skip a couple of meetings where I was likely to be purely an audience member and I knew that the sessions would be recorded. I skim-watched the meetings later and took some notes and screenshots for the wider team, which felt like a much better use of time.
  • Attended a superb ‘learning hour’ session, where one of my colleagues gave a presentation on how technology has massively improved the quality of life for her family. She has a young son who is diabetic, and they use a number of different tools to monitor his blood sugar level, automatically administer insulin and monitor his health over time, all via Internet of Things-connected devices. The whole talk was completely fascinating.
  • Had a lovely ‘random coffee’ with a colleague that I hadn’t spoken to in some time.
  • Met with a small group of fellow WB-40 podcast listeners to discuss how product thinking can be applied to internal products, and physical infrastructure. We didn’t reach any profound conclusions, but it was great to talk the problems and goals through. The WB-40 community is such a wonderful thing to be a part of.
  • Took up the role of Finance, Premises and Personnel Committee Chair at school once again and ran our latest meeting. I have some carry-forward actions that I still need to complete over the coming weeks.
  • Attended another excellent briefing from Herts for Learning, this time on the school curriculum and the role that governors have to play. As usual, there is so much to think about.
  • Had a great time at Album Club #131, listening to El Camino by The Black Keys. Lots of the club members had heard it before but it was completely new to me. It was a classic Album Club evening, with lots of laughs, great music and very generous hosting.
  • Took a trip with Mat to Deco Audio in Aylesbury to buy some second hand records. It was just like our teenage years, when we used to head to The Rock Box in Camberley to browse the CDs. Compared to back then, it’s great that I can now afford to buy more albums, but there was something about really thinking hard about a purchase and squeezing the joy out of the few that I owned that is now a little lost.
  • Enjoyed the mild temperatures on our Saturday morning cycling club ride. The previous couple had been cancelled due to freezing temperatures so it was great to get out again.
  • Got out for a run for the first time since Christmas. It felt like a more efficient use of time than spending 90 minutes on the indoor bike trainer. I’m not looking forward to having stiff legs tomorrow.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match. A brilliant 3-0 win for them on a stunning astro pitch.
  • Watched season one of After Life. I don’t think Ricky Gervais is the world’s greatest actor, but the story had some interesting angles which made me laugh out loud multiple times and was also moving in places. I’ll definitely line up season two.

Next week: Back to the office more than once, pushing forward with our burgeoning project portfolio and preparing for our next school governor meeting in a couple of weeks’ time.

Weeknotes #152 — Expired furry thing

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #151 — Winter Warmer

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Weeknotes #150 — An ounce of prevention

I needed that.

I needed that.

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #149 — Out on the road again

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

I don't look 54.

I don't look 54.

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

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

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