Weeknotes #281 — Crumpled

Our local second hand bookshop always has the most splendid window display of topical books, coordinated this time with the British Grand Prix.
Our local second hand bookshop always has the most splendid window display of topical books, coordinated this time with the British Grand Prix.

Another difficult week. I’m feeling a little crumpled by the weight of work at the moment, something that hasn’t happened in years. July was always going to be a difficult month with the amount of change that our projects are running through the organisation. It’s not a surprise, but it still feels difficult. I’ve found myself waking up somewhere between 4am and 5am, struggling to get back to sleep.

I’m typically in the office three days a week and usually end up being one of the last to leave. I cover the same hours at home, but the difference is that my commute is 30 seconds from my home office versus 90 minutes on the train. Later this year there is likely to be a push to get staff into the office at least four days a week. When we get to that point I’m going to need to try and adjust to getting out of the office at a reasonable time so that I don’t just get to see my family at weekends.

My colleagues and team members are excellent. Most of us have worked together for many years, which makes delivering a complex programme so much easier. Autonomy and division of responsibility are features of what we do. I’ve also brought in some external management assistance for our two main projects which has made things much easier. Most of the time I don’t need to micromanage or chase people up for things. But despite the load that the team are carrying, there is still too much left on my plate.

At the back end of the week my wife and I found ourselves home alone for a couple of evenings, a little sample of the future. Our youngest boy had gone to the Peak District for his Duke of Edinburgh expedition and our eldest was up in Birmingham, running for Hertfordshire in the English Schools Athletic Association Track and Field Championships. On Friday we had a lovely impromptu dinner out in town. Both of us were exhausted, falling asleep in front of the TV by 10pm. Hopefully we won’t be quite as worn out by the time we get to retire.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met to run through the pre-construction programme plan for changes to one of our offices.
  • Reviewed the scope of our major programme with our Procurement team.
  • Gave an overview and update on our programme to our divisional CFO.
  • Met the divisional CFO again in a town hall meeting, hearing about his career and his view of our priorities.
  • Was thrown a curveball from another company which means that we need to modify one of our plans.
  • Prepared for and chaired a short Programme Steering Committee meeting. Getting into executive diaries is a problem that gets much more difficult as the summer months approach. Big decisions were made at the meeting, resulting in work to replan one of our projects.
  • Had the first of a series of meetings with individual teams in one of our offices, taking them through the background to one of our key projects, explaining how the changes will impact them and fielding questions. We’ve got four or five more of these sessions lined up for the start of next week.
  • Reviewed the responses to a request for quotation that we issued the week before and agreed our follow-up actions.
  • Helped a colleague with a niche Office Timeline issue. I love it when someone says “don’t just do it for me, please show me how to do it.”
  • Had conversations with members of our HR teams on a vacancy that I have in my team.
  • Had our regular catch-up with our Non-Financial Risk team.
  • Spent time looking at a long-running document management project, agreeing an approach and next steps with the project team ahead of talking to representatives from each of the departments who will be impacted by the proposed changes.
  • Concluded that quality coffee is not my thing. I’ve been conducting a small unscientific experiment, trying americanos with oat milk from various coffee shops on my way into the office. I’ve had brews from Blank Street, Rosslyn and Dartbrooke, all shops of some renown. I consistently find the taste of the coffee to be too strong, too bitter, with an unattractive curdling of the oat milk. Starbucks was by far and away the most enjoyable. It’s not you, good coffee, it’s me.
  • Was too tired to contemplate getting up early for a sixth day in a row to go on the weekly cycling club ride. I love it when I’m out there but I couldn’t summon the energy, particularly as it was going to be yet another grey and damp day, in a summer filled with grey and damp days.
  • Enjoyed hosting Album Club, having picked an album that split the room.

Media

Podcasts

  • It was interesting to hear Lisa Nandy speaking to Matt Forde in 2022 when she was the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, passionately talking about towns and communities not being left behind. I wonder whether part of the solution to distribute wealth and spending into more parts of the country could be to give white collar workers more rights to live and work remotely?

Articles

  • Ian Dunt writes about how campaigning for proportional representation is still the right thing to do, despite it meaning that our voices will be united with the most unsavoury parties in parliament. I often wonder whether the Brexit referendum would have happened if the UK Independence Party had been represented appropriately in parliament; in the 2015 general election they had 3.9m votes, 12.6% of the total, and yet only ended up with one of the 650 members of Parliament. I disagree with UKIP, the Brexit Party and Reform UK with every bone in my body, but I do not think it’s democratic for such disproportional representation. Having them in parliament with the light shone on them, needing to work with other parties in order to get anywhere near power would likely have neutralised them and left the main parties to focus on their traditional centrist policies.
  • Project 2025 looks like a nightmare. When I read Heather Burns’ 2023 end-of-year reading list I made a note of the books as I thought they seemed interesting. I’m now prioritising them, starting with Barbara F. Walter’s How Civil Wars Start, as I can now see more clearly why she made the list that she did.

I hate to break it to you, but you need to be preparing for the very real prospect of the second Trump presidency.

And to bring it full circle, you need to be preparing for what a second Trump presidency will likely mean for internet governance and infrastructure.

This goes well beyond platform T&Cs, or culture wars over content moderation, or pushes for surveillance disguised as child safety. This goes to what happens when the country which happens to host most global platforms, and a good chunk of physical infrastructure, either splits into 1990s Yugoslavia or splits into 1920s Germany. Because it’s going to be one or the other. Whether you want to deal with that or not.

Video

  • We’ve been enjoying Kin on Netflix, an Irish crime drama. It’s interesting to watch this so soon after The Dry as it has some of the same actors in the form of Cairán Hinds and Sam Keeley. They are superb, being quite believable in very different roles.

Audio

  • Magdalena Bay announcing a new album resulted in an instant purchase from me. It comes out in August, giving me three months to get to know the songs before I see them live in November. I love them.
  • I’d forgotten how good All About Eve’s In The Meadow is. I bought a second hand copy of their debut album on vinyl a few weeks ago. The record is missing a couple of songs that are on the CD, so this song finishes things off, and does it in style.

Next week: Turning the handle again.

Weeknotes #280 — Relief

Polling Day in Bloomsbury, 4 July 2024
Polling Day in Bloomsbury, 4 July 2024

Work continues to be tough. Every day feels like a battle, ticking things off the to-do list and trying to keep our projects moving forward. Most of my regular working day is spent in meetings, leaving a few small gaps and the time after work to get things done like reviewing documents, preparing information and drafting communications. Sometimes I look at my diary for the week ahead and wonder how I will get to Friday evening having done all of the things I need to. Somehow it happens.

Mostly meetings. Is this normal?
Mostly meetings. Is this normal?

Trying to keep focused was supremely difficult as we went into Thursday’s General Election. I had my fingers crossed for a good outcome. I’d already voted a couple of weeks ago by post. In 2019 I voted for the Green Party in the knowledge that my constituency was going to return a Conservative MP as it had done in every election since it was created in 1950. They didn’t have a hope of winning, but I wanted to register that I saw the climate emergency as the biggest crisis that we face. This year, a boundary change meant that I am now in the newly-created Harpenden and Berkhamsted constituency. If the constituency had been around in 2019 it would also have been Conservative, so initially I didn’t have much hope that it would change. Tactical voting websites showed me that the Liberal Democrats would be the ones most likely to topple the Conservatives here, so they got my vote. And they won, spectacularly. Victoria Collins is our new MP.

On Thursday night I went to bed at my usual time but had a restless sleep, knowing that the election result would be revealed to me when I woke up. A few times I stirred, wondered what time it was, checked my watch, saw it was the middle of the night and resisted the temptation to pick up my phone, rolling over to try and get back to sleep. The exit poll and the early declarations in Sunderland had spooked me, with the far-right party company Reform UK being predicted to win 13 out of our 650 seats. What if the poll was wrong and they ended up with many more? I expelled a giant sigh of relief when they only ended up with five. My hope is that now they are in the spotlight, needing to meet parliamentary standards and actually do things for the constituents that they represent, they will be seen for what they are. I feel so sorry for the constituencies that elected them.

Watching Keir Starmer on the steps of 10 Downing Street, and in his press conference the next day, a feeling of relief washed over me. There is a lightness knowing that we have competent, decent, grown-up people running the country once more. I haven’t felt like this for a very long time. There is hope again, where it has been so long since there has been reason to be hopeful. Of course, the new government won’t get everything right and I’m sure they will have their own demons. There are very difficult times ahead immediately. But it’s the turn of a page and I am absolutely here for it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with two of our vendors to discuss a ‘change tracker’ for construction works we plan to do at one of our offices.
  • Had to move our programme Steering Committee meeting out by a few days as we didn’t have enough attendees. I’m grateful for the additional time to put the material together.
  • Took part in a final review of the plan to vacate one of our offices for essential works and to set up temporary space for us to work from.
  • Met with our management team to review our collective travel schedule for the rest of the year.
  • Met with our Procurement team to discuss our planned technical/AV fit-out of two rooms in a shared area of one of our buildings.
  • Completed work on the documents proposing how the rooms will be fitted out and run from a technical, financial and operational perspective and sent this to the company with whom we share the space.
  • Had a walkthrough of the latest financial estimates for one of our big construction projects.
  • Met with the technical representative from a vendor whose product we want to trial as part of our meeting room set-up. The product can exist completely outside of our network, which makes life much easier from a cybersecurity perspective.
  • Had another discussion about mandatory compliance call recording in Teams and the options available.
  • Took part in an interview for a technical role in our Johannesburg team.
  • Met with a colleague to brainstorm our approach to document reorganisation across our business unit and how we can use it to streamline our client on-boarding processes.
  • Met with our whole team to discuss the company’s intent to push on with a ‘return to office’ agenda.
  • Had my regular check-in with our technology research and advisory vendor.
  • Caught up with a colleague in Johannesburg. It was interesting to learn that while she is in great demand as a public speaker, she doesn’t like doing it due to the burden of anxiety before and after.
  • Enjoyed this week’s Learning Hour session where a colleague fed back about their experience at the Salesforce World Tour.
  • Had a Random Coffee with a brilliant colleague who studied journalism, joined our organisation as a PA and is now managing clients.
  • Ran our fortnightly team meeting as our usual meeting chair was on holiday.
  • Met with a young boy who was visiting us for his work experience. I was almost the last person on his timetable, so I tried not to bore him by going over the same ground that he would have heard from everyone else. I think that most of the experience is not about the content but more about interacting with adults in a professional setting.
  • Opted for indoor bike training this weekend due to the dreadful weather. The rain made for a brilliant British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but I wasn’t going cycling in it.
  • Enjoyed a weekend of TV sport, with the key F1 sessions being timed perfectly around the Euro 2024 football.
  • Did a bit of preparation for hosting next week’s Album Club. I think I know what I’m going to play, but it’s a bad time to find out that my CD player is on the blink.

Media

Podcasts

There’s a real need for a certain humility here. I always think if you hear a confident pronouncement from somebody that AI could never be conscious or AI is conscious, then I think we should be pretty skeptical.

There are no grounds for extreme confidence either way here. The consequences of being wrong about the fact of the matter, about AI actually being conscious are huge, which is another reason we need to respect this humility. If AI is on a path to being conscious or already slightly conscious as Ilya Sutskever puts it, then we face a moral and ethical catastrophe of kind of unprecedented proportion, and that sounds very dramatic, but I think it’s warranted.

As soon as something is conscious, it has moral considerability. It has its own interests. It plausibly has the potential to experience suffering, and it may be suffering of a kind that we won’t or constitutively unable to recognize because of the very different constitution of these systems. If we artificially bring new forms of suffering into existence through developing real artificial consciousness, well, that is, with capital letters, a very bad thing indeed. So I think it’s really ethically crucial, but epistemologically, which is say, how will we know highly uncertain situation.

Articles

Video

Books

Next week: A delayed Steering Committee, and two Album Clubs.

Weeknotes #279 — Disappearing Basic

The final week of June saw increased pressure on my projects. In just a few weeks’ time, the work we have been discussing for the past half a year will get put into action. People have started to understand that it will impact them. Understandably, there are requests for even more communication; while being the right thing to do, it will add to the workload for the team.

Fears that my phone and its apps are listening to me were compounded when I got this alert from Amazon, accurately describing a big chunk of the scope of the work we are doing:

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with a sister company to review and agree on the proposed technical design for a set of meeting rooms that we share.
  • Reviewed the draft operating model for this shared space.
  • Had a separate meeting to review the financial model for building and operating this space.
  • Reviewed the high-level budget for a construction project that has reached the end of a formal stage.
  • Reviewed a draft request for quotes for some new office equipment.
  • Attended a workshop to review and revise a set of principles for an office improvement project.
  • Participated in a planning meeting to coordinate office reconfiguration activities across a diverse set of vendors.
  • Reviewed a proposal from one of our landlords for work they plan to do in their part of the building and coordinated the feedback and response to the proposal from our company.
  • Kicked off the vendor on-boarding process for a building contractor in one of our offices.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how their platform and tools could be used to build a capability and meet a need within our division of the company.
  • Interviewed candidates for a technical role we have in our Johannesburg team.
  • Enjoyed an excellent Lean Coffee session which covered a couple of very interesting, meaty topics.
  • Resubscribed to Spotify. My gung-ho approach to cancelling it was a bit premature. The main users in the house don’t yet have enough regular disposable income to afford to pay for their own subscriptions and they weren’t ready to switch over to something else. My subscription didn’t lapse…but then it did, with consequences. When I went to resubscribe, my current month was still active. I was delighted to find that Spotify offered a ‘Family Basic’ plan for £17.99 a month instead of the £19.99 ‘Family Premium’ plan, which excluded audiobook listening. So I switched to it. On renewal day, I received an email to say that my credit card had expired — for some reason it had reverted to an old card as opposed to the one I’ve been using for the past few months. I logged in to update the details and found that Family Basic is no longer available to me. After spending hours in chats with the Spotify support team who told me that there was no way of moving me onto the cheaper plan, I’m now wondering whether this forced bundling is something the UK, EU or US regulators would be concerned about. It’s made me want to put some more effort into getting off of their platform, but that’s going to involve services to copy and recreate playlists on another service.
  • Enjoyed a night out at Album Club, listening to a CD that made me think about what a creative time the early 1990s was, before the Britpop explosion. There were so many bands that were playing little venues, sounding quite like this:
  • Went out for a drive with my son who’s hoping to pass his test this year. He’s been practicing every chance he gets and it shows.
  • Had a lovely evening at a 50th birthday party with lots of old faces that I haven’t seen in years.
  • Enjoyed a gloriously sunny club bike ride. Five minutes from home, I had yet another spoke break on my rear wheel. The bike shop repaired the wheel and got it back to me the same day. I had my last bike for a decade, rode over 30,000km and didn’t break a spoke once. My new bike has suffered three breaks in quick succession.
  • Spent Sunday afternoon watching two football matches and the Austrian Grand Prix. I’m not quite sure where the next race is…
Billions of dollars and no spellchecker.
Billions of dollars and no spellchecker.

Media

Web

  • To no great surprise, Vote Compass plotted me as a leftie progressive. I’ve voted Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green in the past. This year I’ve gone for the Liberal Democrats as the candidate in my constituency is the most likely person to beat their Conservative opponent. I am so excited to be saying goodbye to this government on Friday, the complete opposite of how I felt back in 2019.
Feels about right.
Feels about right.

Books

  • I’ve been working my way through Troy Hunt’s Pwned, made up largely of a hand-picked selection of his blog posts, blog comments and additional commentary. I admire him very much. His work makes me wish I had a similar flag to plant that I could focus my career around as opposed to being a generalist.

Next week: Election.

Weeknotes #278 — Explainability

Paula Radcliffe Stadium, Loughborough
Paula Radcliffe Stadium, Loughborough

I really enjoyed this week. My weekend work paid off, as I started Monday morning with the wonderful feeling of being completely on top of my brief. By lunchtime we had already finished a two-hour Steering Committee where we had made lots of decisions, giving us much more clarity on the work ahead. There’s so much to do, but it feels a lot easier when we know where we’re going.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up and circulated the Steering Committee minutes.
  • Sat down with each member of my permanent team to review their objectives and have a mid-year check in. In a normal year I would have already spent significantly more time on this with them.
  • Continued to add to the list of things we need to manage as we clear out one of our offices for some essential maintenance works.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with the general contractor that will be doing the maintenance works. They spent a few days on site this week in order to get used to the space and to start to validate their assumptions, which meant that for the second week in a row I was in the office for four days out of five.
  • Reviewed a comprehensive tracker for all of the variances to the initial scope of work that we will be asking the contractor to do.
  • Met with our audio/visual design team to review their draft proposal for how we will kit out a meeting space that we share with a sister company.
  • Found that once again, it’s all about change management.
  • Bought yet another copy of Jeff Gothelf’s Forever Employable to give to a friend. I think I’ve probably bought about four or five of these now.
  • Completed some annual Compliance training.
  • Called our vet to let them know that Ollie the cat is doing fine. Our insurance claim was processed; an email telling us that we would be paid £736 was immediately followed by another that says that he will no longer be covered for respiratory distress at renewal time.
  • Spent a late afternoon and evening up in Loughborough for my eldest son’s track meet. There was a horrible fall in his race where three runners went down; he managed to jump them and continue but it was never going to be a new personal best. I’m getting quite used to driving up there and back now.
  • Opted out from the Saturday bike club ride as, once again, the weather took a turn for the worse. I was grateful for the rain as what I really needed was to catch up with some sleep. Another couple of hours in bed followed by a session on the indoor trainer was a perfect start to the weekend.
  • Gave our bathroom a deep clean. We recently said goodbye to our cleaner of many years, which means that we’re back to doing it ourselves. I’m thorough — it’s sparkling — but I’m inefficient. We’re on a mission to find ourselves a new cleaner.
  • Have been enjoying having football to watch every evening. I typically get home in time to catch the second half of whatever match is on.

Media

Podcasts

  • This interview with Iliana Oris Valiente, Managing Director and Innovation lead at Accenture Canada, made me shudder. She’s using a ‘digital twin’ that she sends along to meetings on her behalf. It sounds completely tone deaf in terms of how this must feel to the people further down the organisation who won’t have the agency to be able to protest. The podcast isn’t long enough to tackle the bigger questions of the power disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and whether the ultimate endgame is a bunch of peoples’ AI bots meeting with each other.
  • The series continued with a discussion about using AI for recruitment. At no point in the conversation does it touch on the ethics of ‘explainability’. If I’m rejected for a job, who can tell me why? And if you can’t tell me why, how do I know if you’re breaking discrimination laws?

Video

  • Finished season two of The Dry on ITVX. It’s not the most profound thing I’ve ever seen but I’ve grown to love the characters and hope there will be a series three.

Books

  • Continued devouring Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. Fiction is food for the soul and this book exactly what I was looking for. When I’m reading fiction I find that I have to immerse myself in it and can’t put the book down for too long. This probably has a positive impact on me in that I am often reaching for the book on my phone as opposed to opening any other app.

Next week: A little heatwave and an Album Club.

Weeknotes #277 — Work experience

Doing much better, busy making mischief again
Doing much better, busy making mischief again

Rewarding, but knackering. My youngest son was with me for a week of work experience while my wife was away staffing a Year 6 residential trip. After four days of regular office hours, my son was ready to drop. But, he did so well and I’m so proud of him.

Back when I was his age, you could go to an office and reasonably expect to be given productive things to do. Some of my early jobs involved lots of data entry — taking a bunch of handwritten forms and copying the data by hand into a computer. In those innocent days, typically the computer itself would have a password as opposed to the individuals who used it. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Instead, he spent time with me in meetings and had individual sessions with around 20 of my wonderful, generous colleagues throughout the week. On the rare occasion he didn’t have much going on, he sat at his desk working through some freeCodeCamp tutorials on a laptop.

Usually I have days full of meetings and then spend two or three hours catching up with work at the end of the day. But this week we had to get out of the office on time in order to get home, get the family fed and make sure everyone was all set for the morning. I then found myself trying to cram in as much as I could before I found myself falling asleep.

We’ll both have fond memories of the week. It was so lovely to share a bit of working life with him. From what I can tell, he got a lot out of the experience and understands much more about working life.

Ollie got better every day and now seems almost back to normal, a remarkable turnaround from last week where the emergency vet indicated that he could be on death’s door. Strong cat! 💪

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with a real estate/construction/facilities specialist whom we plan to work with. I am hoping that by bringing him on board, even part time, it will free me up a little bit and help to de-risk our projects.
  • For the first time since they were awarded the contract, met with the general contractor team who will be doing the construction work in one of our offices and showed them around our space. We’ve made a plan for them to work on site next week so that they can rapidly develop their plans, ask questions and validate assumptions.
  • Had meetings with our sister company to review the latest version of the construction project costs as well as the planned changes to the shared mechanical, electrical and technology systems.
  • Met with our CEO to review the total cost projections for our real estate and facilities portfolio for the next decade.
  • Discussed with my team about how I want to use our two vacant roles to take us in a slightly different direction.
  • Gave an update on our real estate projects at our quarterly senior management technology town hall meeting. As much as it would have been good to be there in person, joining the meeting remotely gave me the opportunity to write a script and read it as if from an autocue.
  • Helped a colleague to figure out the next steps to prove that a system isn’t working as it should be, so that the team responsible for it will prioritise fixing it.
  • Heard that a project will be delayed until next year. Although this isn’t good news in itself, it helps in that it means our team will be pulled in one less direction and can focus on the projects that are still on track.
  • Listened to feedback from one of our senior executives on a leadership conference that was held the week before. We got to watch a fascinating interview with one of our key clients. For those of us who don’t work directly with external clients every day, it gave us invaluable insights into the impact of our work.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour on a tool that has been built to track the expiry dates of service accounts.
  • Attended a Technology Leadership webinar hosted by our Group CIO and COO.
  • Decided to give the weekly cycling club ride a miss. The weather didn’t look too good and it was all the excuse I needed to opt for a lie-in on Saturday after what had been an exhausting week. I opted for a ride on my indoor trainer instead, looking out of the window at the rain coming down.
  • Managed to catch a couple of Euro 2024 football matches. If it was another year I’d be following more of them but things are just too busy right now.
  • Spent one of the days at the weekend catching up with work. It’s not great to work on the weekend but I’m so glad I prioritised it. For me, anxiety builds up when things feel like they are out of control. It was good to take each topic — finance updates, where we are with fitting out meeting rooms, creating the next Steering Committee pack — and get on top of them.
  • Does anybody want a pianola? It belonged to my nan who recently passed away and family are trying to find it a good home. I have so many fond memories of playing the piano rolls as a kid. Unfortunately we don’t have room for it in our house, otherwise I would gladly take it in.
New home wanted, apply within
New home wanted, apply within

Media

Podcasts

Articles

  • I’m gutted to catch up on the news that Stages Cycling seem to have gone out of business. I bought a Stages SB20 smart trainer back in February 2023 on a 0% finance deal over two years and am still paying it off. The trainer needs a smartphone app to control the virtual gear settings, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do when it’s time to upgrade my phone but the app is no longer available.

Next week: Another four-day week in the office.

Weeknotes #276 — Vetmergency

Lieutenant Commander Oliver Bongos standing guard in the garden.
Lieutenant Commander Oliver Bongos standing guard in the garden.

A very tough week. Ollie1, one of our two cats, had started being a bit off his food for a few days. This was completely out of character for him. We’ve always joked that he thinks he’s a dog, as usually he will be at his bowl until there’s nothing left and then continues to look around for more. He’d also started doing his ‘furball cough’ routine a bit more than usual. Typically every evening he would come for a cuddle and a gigantic purr, which quite often would make him cough. Once he’d cleared his throat he’d be back for more attention and purring. But over the past few days we’d found him coughing randomly around the house.

As I got ready to head into the office on Monday, I looked out at him in the garden and noticed that he was breathing very rapidly. Later that morning I called the vet to try and make an appointment to bring him in the next day. After describing the symptoms, I felt as though I was being told off; they said that they really needed to see him sooner. So I packed up my things and left the office at lunchtime in order to take him for a diagnosis.

Ollie didn’t come home again until Tuesday evening. Our regular vet examined him until the clinic closed for the day. We then had to take him over to the emergency/out of hours vet where he stayed the night. In the morning we then had to pick him up and get him back to the regular vet. Scans, x-rays, examinations, oxygen and intravenous fluids were all deployed as they tried to find out what was wrong with him. The suspicion is that he has some kind of lung infection or pneumonia which he’d been fighting for a few days. Apparently cats hide their illnesses, so by the time that there are visible signs, things may have already progressed quite far.

After we got him home, he couldn’t seem to settle down. It was difficult to know whether it was the illness or just the experience of being away from home for a couple of days that had got him excited. Late that evening, he lay on the couch, breathing rapidly and panting. So we decided to take him back to the emergency vet once more.

Upon arrival, the vet told me that she had done some calculations as to what the worst case could be financially if they kept Ollie in overnight and had to do various things while he was there. £1,600. This is a lot of money, but I said that it didn’t worry me too much as I knew he was covered under an insurance policy that we’d had in place for years. As he’s almost eleven years old I knew that there would probably be a copayment of 20% or so, but I was confident that we could manage it. The vet kindly suggested that I take a look at the policy as sometimes there were caps and limits on various things. I’m so grateful that she did. Ollie was taken off to spend a bit of time in an oxygen box and I went and sat in reception, looking up the details of our insurance policy on my phone. I could have cried. The policy has a limit of £1,000 for any vet treatment as well as much smaller limits such as £100 for an overnight stay — a crazily small amount given that a consultation fee at the emergency vet is about £285, and our 90-minute visit on Tuesday cost us £444. So far we have spent about £2,000 and won’t expect to see much of the money back. I was kicking myself. Usually I am so risk averse and make sure that we have insurances in place to cover any unexpected financial event. I guess that life was busy when we took out this insurance policy and I didn’t take the time to read through the terms and conditions. I won’t make that same mistake again.

I could have wept.
I could have wept.

Ollie’s now at home with us and doing much better. He’s on a course of antibiotics and seems to be taking less rapid breaths. Hopefully he’s on the mend. We’ve moved his sister over to a much more comprehensive insurance policy so that we don’t end up with another major unexpected bill.

Managing the cat’s health and dealing with the stress of trying to balance the books hasn’t been the best set of circumstances for getting back into work after a week off. We’re at a very critical time for our major projects. Lots of information needs to be gathered and written up so that we can make some key decisions on the scope of the work at a meeting the following week. I also have my youngest boy joining me for work experience next week; it’s exciting for both of us and I can’t wait to have him there, but my time is going to be spread even more thinly than usual.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular project meetings.
  • Tried to catch up with emails and teams messages. The amount of things going on has meant that I’ve finally reached the stage where I never get to ‘Teams Inbox Zero’ anymore.
  • Spent a significant chunk of time helping to diagnose and remediate some network issues in one of our offices.
  • Reviewed a consolidated cost view for all of our real estate/facilities cost centres for the next decade ahead of a senior leadership meeting next week.
  • Started to prepare for a quarterly leadership meeting taking place next week.
  • Met with a colleague in the Marketing and Communications team about the project that I am running for our London office. It’s going to cause significant disruption to everyone working there, so we need a proper communications plan for the next few months. It was also good to hear about the leadership offsite that took place the week before.
  • Had a meeting with colleagues from Marketing and Communications and Corporate Services to talk through our plans to move out of one of our offices. Every time we get something out of someone’s head that we haven’t considered yet, the risk of a problem goes down.
  • Dug into our proposed doorbell/intercom system for one of our offices. Although it’s a great solution, we may need to scale it back for day one to avoid having to wait for various assessments and approvals.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of the proposal for AV equipment upgrades for our office.
  • Had another discussion about mandatory compliance call recording.
  • Met with the real estate team to review our progress in opening a new office from scratch.
  • Met with my project leadership team to discuss how we can optimise our delivery process. The distinction between ‘acceptance criteria’ (what we plan to deliver) and ‘definition of done’ (the quality criteria we need to meet) is a useful one. I think that I’ve been conflating them in the past, using a list of ‘things that need to be true in order to mark this as complete’.
  • Joined a webinar hosted by our Senior Political Economist on the outcome and implications of last week’s election in South Africa. The next two weeks are going to be fascinating as the ANC tries to form a coalition government or a ‘government of national unity’.
  • Attended the bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Met with the vendor of our corporate password management solution. They were very impressed with our >90% signup rate, something that we’ve managed to maintain through enrolling all of our new joiners as part of the setup process.
  • Met with our new interim head of Operational Risk for a general catch-up and overview of our function.
  • Had my regular catch-up with our technology research and advisory firm.
  • Had a long, and long overdue, one-on-one meeting with my boss. All bases were covered.
  • Was proud of my son who passed his driving theory test. He’s been spending a lot of time behind the wheel, mainly with his mum, and is improving all the time.
  • Finished planning my other son’s timetable for his work experience at my office next week. I am so grateful to work with such a lovely bunch of people who are happy to give up some of their time to spend with him.
  • Was bowled over by an unexpected kindness. Some people are so incredibly generous.
  • Cancelled our family subscription to Spotify. It’s recently gone from £17.99 to £19.99 a month. We already pay for YouTube Premium Family for the same price and it was only this week that I realised it includes YouTube Music. I’ll need to find a tool to recreate a bunch of playlists, but in the context of the recent vet bills it will be great to save £240 a year. Most of my mobile music listening is done through PlexAmp anyway, but it’s good to have the use of a ‘listening post’ for albums I might want to buy.
  • Enjoyed hearing a recent Vaccines record at the WB-40 Album Club. It took me back a decade or so to when a friend of mine used to rave about their first album.
  • Missed my youngest son as he was away on a practice DofE expedition.
  • Had a lovely meal out at Warehouse Pizza with my wife and my eldest son. It’s so good to have a proper sit down meal instead of getting takeaway, scoffing it down and then everyone scurrying off to do their own thing again.
  • Loved this week’s cycle club ride. It was a bit longer and lumpier than usual, super fast in places where I was drafting with another couple of riders who were hitting it hard.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

Audio

Web

Books

Next week: Work experience.

  1. Also known as Great Uncle Bongos (amongst other aliases), for reasons that are lost in time.

Weeknotes #275 — Belly dancing

Sunny Sunday
Sunny Sunday

This was my first week off work since Christmas and I was ready for it. Of course, my body decided that it was a fantastic time get sick. I spent most of the week with the various symptoms of a heavy cold. I’m sure it must have happened, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a day off from work because of sickness. Particularly now that there is no technical reason to go to an office, I would have to be at least mown down with a fever not to be able to drag myself to my desk at home.

Despite feeling rubbish, it was lovely to have some time to potter around at home and then later in the week to get things done. It felt like time well spent.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a couple of hours writing up the minutes from last week’s Steering Committee meeting. I didn’t want it hanging over me into next week where I should be focusing on the next cycle.
  • Got almost all of the remaining post-kitchen installation tidying done. We took a big load of things to the recycling centre, where for the first time since we moved here 20 years ago they asked us for proof that we lived in the area.
  • Cleaned our small patio and mucked out all of the floor-level gutters that surround the back of our house. A perfect job for a week off at home.
  • Got through my backlog of about 500 personal emails, leaving a small handful of messages that I want or need to do something with. Every time I do a big purge I wonder how it got to this stage and vow never to let it happen again. But then it happens again.
  • Bought a second car, a 15-year old Mini. We’ve got by with one car forever, but now that we have a 17-year old who is learning to drive, with his brother following fast behind him, it made sense to have something that they can get insured on. The first car I bought in the mid-1990s was a Ford Escort that cost about £500, which is £993 in today’s money. Those cars don’t really exist anymore; at least, not safe ones. And insurance for a newly-qualified 17-year old now seems to be about £1,800 whereas thirty years ago it was a few hundred pounds. With both boys learning to drive and thinking about going to university, we’re realising that we’re about to enter a very expensive period of our lives. The new car is great and very fun to drive.
  • Had dinner with some old friends that we hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I had no idea that we had such a good Lebanese restaurant so close by. The food was excellent but the music accompanying the belly-dancing was SO LOUD.
  • Met up with the neighbours in our street for a party in our road. We’ve had a few of them over the years, usually coinciding with a royal anniversary. This one was just because it was a fun thing to do. The sun shone all day and everyone had a great time.

Media

Podcasts

Compare this [nuclear energy] to a solar panel, which is essentially an inert piece of glass. In fact, solar panels are about as expensive as glass right now, and you don’t need any advanced technology, or labor, or understanding, or certifications or anything to deploy, you literally put it in the sun.

To put it in Nick Bostrom’s terms, AI is like philosophy on a deadline, we have these urgent philosophical questions and now we have a deadline to actually answer them because we are instrumenting our society with more AI.

So if you can compress parts of that loop that are easy for automation to do, you can expand more space for humans, if you are the only one doing this. But when your competitor is doing it, they’re accelerating their time cycles too. And now you get into this dynamic where everyone’s just having to make decisions in split seconds. Now we’ve seen this in stock trading. This is not a theoretical concept. We’ve seen this whole domain of high-frequency trading emerge where algorithms are making trades in milliseconds, at superhuman speeds that humans could never try to be in the loop for those kinds of trades.

And then we’ve seen accidents like flash crashes as a result of that because of, I mean in part because of high-frequency trading and other factors too, of just these sort of weird interactions among algorithms because of course you’re not going to share with your competitor exactly how your algorithm works, whether you’re in finance or in warfare. I think what’s concerning to me is the way that financial regulators have dealt with this problem is they’ve installed circuit breakers to take stocks offline if the price moves too quickly, but that doesn’t exist in warfare. Right? There’s no referee to call time out in war if things start to get out of control. So how do you then maintain human control over war when war is being fought at superhuman speeds?

Video

  • We finished watching series one of The Dry on ITVX. It’s not the greatest show I’ve ever seen but it’s very good.
  • Ever wondered what happened to the guy that was found in the grounds of John Lennon’s house in Ascot in 1971? You’re not the only one.
  • Watched Slade in Flame (1975). I’d heard that it was a lost classic, a gritty film about the music business that most people had forgotten. It turns out that they had forgotten it because it’s pretty forgettable. Bizarre characters with a storyline that is simultaneously simple and yet hard to follow. (I don’t understand how Noddy Holder’s character ended up as the lead singer of the band.) See for yourself:

Audio

  • Took a trip to Deco Audio in Aylesbury to go crate digging. It’s my favourite place to buy second hand vinyl as the quality is so consistently high. As well as a few LPs I picked up seven CDs for £12, all of which I’ve ripped to my NAS drive so that I can stream them to my ears through PlexAmp.
Bargain.
Bargain.

Next week: Back to it, with an online album club thrown into the mix.

Weeknotes #274 — Long drive

What’s making the trees so sad?
What’s making the trees so sad?

After a week in New York, it was back home and back to the office. Jet lag messed with my sleep for a couple of days but it wasn’t too much of a struggle. It was good to be back in the same time zone as most of the rest of the organisation, feeling as though I was getting back on top of things.

I’d booked next week off as it coincides with school holidays, and I’m entering the ‘use it or lose it’ phase with leave days that I carried over from last year. I haven’t taken any time off since Christmas as there never seemed to be a gap in the work. At the start of the week I found out that my leave coincided with everyone else’s, but I’m so thankful that one of my colleagues gracefully and lovingly moved his leave to a week later to allow me to get a break.

Of course, now I’m off I’ve suddenly got sick with some kind of lurgy. At least I’m in the slow lane for a few days.

I’m so glad that we now have a date for our election here in the UK. Getting a different government in won’t solve the myriad of problems here overnight but it will be a new beginning. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s first week of campaigning has been so awful that people are wondering whether he’s actively trying to lose the election. Given how awful his party is, what a hash he’s made of the job since he came to power and what he could be doing with his time instead, what if he really is trying to lose it? My constituency is changing from South West Hertfordshire to Harpenden and Berkhamsted, a change that is moving us from a location that has never voted in anyone other than a Conservative to one that would have voted for the same party in even greater numbers. My vote is usually wasted given our ‘first past the post’ system. If anyone other than a Conservative gets voted in here on 4 July, their party is toast.

From the Guardian’s tool to review how people would have voted if the new boundaries were already in place in 2019.
From the Guardian’s tool to review how people would have voted if the new boundaries were already in place in 2019.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Met with our senior leadership team to review the 10-year financial projection across our real estate/facilities cost centres.
  • Ran the programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Held a walkthrough of one of the real estate/facilities projects we are running this year with the leads of each of the streams of work. It’s very effective to get everyone in a room to go through each of the deliverables as a team.
  • Hosted a presentation to our sister company on how we plan to move forward with a proof-of-concept meeting room technology setup a space that we both share. We have many follow-up actions and questions from the meeting and a closing window to get the work done.
  • Met with our own team to discuss how we will go about supporting the PoC and what our plans are for the longer term.
  • Reviewed the latest version of the mandatory refurbishment costs for one of our offices.
  • Fed into the decision-making process for our door access, CCTV and intercom/doorbell technology choices for fitting out a new office. Met with our technology supplier to run through the choices and get a quote.
  • Had an introductory meeting with a senior consultant who works for one of our vendors, with an intent to bring him in to help us with our real estate/facilities projects.
  • Discussed mandatory compliance call recording with one of our regional Compliance officers.
  • Reviewed the proposal for revamping our internal meeting room technology with our design vendor.
  • Had an introduction to our new interim head of Non-Financial Risk.
  • Reviewed and revised the documentation on the intercompany services that my team provides.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour on the development of our infrastructure architecture and where we are going. It’s such a lovely thing to see how the presentation skills of our team members have grown over the years.
  • Along with other qualified first aiders, met with an occupational health specialist to talk about how to deal with issues resulting from type 1 diabetes in the workplace.
  • Joined some meetings to talk about how we can support a colleague and friend who has been going through some very difficult events, as well as supporting each other. I’m so grateful that it’s 2024 as I don’t think the support would have been in place back when I started my career.
  • Continued filling out a timetable for my son’s work experience week at my office. People are so generous with their time.
  • Found myself with three train tickets left in my flexi season bundle. Managed to get a £70 refund, minus a £10 admin fee, just through making a quick phone call. It feels so good when customer service just works.
  • Spent about eight hours driving to and from Manchester on Saturday. My eldest son had a race meet at the lovely running track that sits in the shadow of the Manchester City ground. We had a fright on the way home when a lorry started moving into our lane and I had to swerve to avoid hitting it, but otherwise the journey was uneventful. Just long. We got back home just before 1am. I’d decided ahead of time that I wouldn’t take part in the RideLondon-Essex 100 cycle as it would have meant getting up super early to drive myself and my bike to the start line. Maybe some other time.
Running statue at the Ethiad Stadium
Running statue at the Ethiad Stadium
  • Met up with my family at my brothers’ house on Sunday for a lovely impromptu barbecue.
  • Continued the long process of getting the house back in order after getting a new kitchen fitted. We’re down to the last few items that we need to find a home for, as well as trying to sell a lovely sideboard on eBay. I’m sad to see it go but there’s no room for it anymore.

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Next week: A week off, pootling around at home. I can’t wait.

Weeknotes #273 — Under construction

A rainy morning in New York City.
A rainy morning in New York City.

New York City was the destination for my first overseas business trip this year. Of all the places that we regularly visit, New York is my favourite. Having lived there for a year in my early 20s and visited many times since, it feels like home away from home. It’s relatively safe, so despite not having access to my bike or indoor trainer I usually manage to get some exercise by running around Central Park in the morning and going for a wander in the evening. This was a rainy week, so I crammed my running into the first two days of my trip. Not having run for a while, I found myself walking like John Wayne for the rest of my visit, struggling to descend any staircase that put itself in my path.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park in the morning.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park in the morning.

Business travel stopped being exciting some time ago, but the opportunity to be in the same place as people that I usually work with remotely is golden. Going on a trip forces me to squash all of my weekend jobs into one day before I leave and to do the same thing when I return. The journey to New York was a very long day — literally five hours longer than usual. Despite following Mark Horstman’s advice on how to pack (using the plastic wrappers that dry cleaning is returned in to put shirts into), inevitably I have to spend an hour or so re-ironing everything once I arrive.

The main purpose of my visit was to see the work being done to build out a floor for our new office as well as to meet the myriad of people working on the project across a number of different organisations. I’ve spent 25 years working in Technology but this year find myself running a number of real estate and facilities projects. This is part of the fun of being in a small team.

Under construction.
Under construction.

A highlight of this trip was meeting up with two old friends from Ride 999 who have recently moved to the city. It was nine years ago this month that we rode from London to Milan; it was fun to reminisce and catch up with what they’re doing now. We had drinks and shared food at Dutch Fred’s, discovering the most incredible alcohol-free IPA.

Ride 999 mini reunion!
Ride 999 mini reunion!

The journey home from New York is only six and a half hours, which always feels too short for travelling overnight. Between the half hour to get airborne and the need to be sitting upright an hour before landing there’s really only an opportunity to grab five hours sleep. (If there was an option, I’d definitely choose a slower plane.) A big sleep on Saturday night helped me to reset but going to bed on Sunday was difficult as I lay there wide awake.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings. In our team, most of my colleagues are based in the UK/Africa timezones so I had to rearrange a few meetings to be able to attend them from five hours behind. Each day became a burst of online meetings in the morning followed by local in-person meetings in the afternoon — a pattern that is quite normal for people in our New York office.
  • Reviewed the furniture choices for the new office.
  • Utilised a portable conference speaker that we took on site for our weekly office build-out meeting. It worked fantastically well.
  • Met with the landlord for the new office in person for the first time.
  • Reviewed the technical specs for the technology, audio/visual and security build-out of the office.
  • Wrote up and sent the minutes from last week’s programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Enjoyed some great things to eat. Bill’s Bar and Burger does exactly what it says (with superb service), Abitino’s pizza by the slice was excellent (and cheap), Il Gattopardo was a treat, The Little Beet was a saviour for healthy fast food, Pasta Corner had perfect handmade pasta and Café Luce left me full for most of the next day.
Beyond Meat burger at Bill’s Bar and Burger.
Beyond Meat burger at Bill’s Bar and Burger.
  • Took advantage of being downtown for a meeting to visit the Strand Bookstore. I think it’s one of my favourite places in the world.
  • Watched my eldest son compete in a 4x400m relay at Eton athletics track.
Post-race photo.
Post-race photo.
  • Was delighted to come home to a completely finished kitchen. We’re so pleased with it.
  • Missed the Interesting conference as I was away. I’m also missing RideLondon at the weekend. Perhaps I need to stop buying tickets to things.
  • Got back on the bike on Sunday morning after a big sleep, doing a two-hour turbo ride. I could still feel twinges in my legs from my runs on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Had some terrible news from a close friend and wished there was something I could do to help.

Media

Podcasts

  • Being away without my usual indoor cycling and commuting routines meant that I fell behind on all of my listening. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Video

  • Thought that ABBA: Against The Odds was much better than the blurb that was posted on iPlayer. It covers their whole career, not just their Eurovision Song Contest entry fifty years ago. Well worth a watch.

Books

  • Started reading Mapping the Roads by Mike Parker, which explores the history of road maps in the UK. It’s a lovely thing, with lavish illustrations alongside the written history.

Next week: Turning my attention back to my other major projects, with an Album Club to round out the weekend.

Weeknotes #272 — Aurora

Incredible scenes on a magical evening.
Incredible scenes on a magical evening.

On Friday night I was lying on my couch, idly browsing messages on various WhatsApp and Signal groups, when I spotted a photo posted by a neighbour. She’d taken it a few steps away from our house. It was amazingly beautiful. All of us went outside to see for ourselves and were joined by neighbours from up and down the street who had the same idea. To the naked eye we could see streaks and patches of purple sky, but the beautiful shapes and colours were revealed as soon as we raised our cameras to take photos. It was a night to look up in wonder, and to talk to neighbours that we rarely see as we shared the experience. Years ago I remember walking to the pub with my dad and both of us stopping to watch comet Hale–Bopp as it hurtled through the night sky, something we knew we might not see again. Friday night felt the same way.

Last week’s Bank Holiday bike ride took it out of me; I was feeling the effects throughout the first couple of days at work. I’ve ridden much longer distances before but nothing of this size for a while, so maybe I’m just out of practice.

Most of my week was spent at home, with only one venture into the office. I needed to be around to let various tradies into the house and we also had a midweek train strike. Our kitchen renovations are now almost finished; the flooring and skirting boards are down, the plumbing is complete and the worktops are on. We’re just waiting to get our hob installed, the decorating to complete and a couple of small adjustments to various things before we can return to normal. We’re so pleased with the work that everyone has done and can’t wait to start having people over to visit again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Pulled together the latest Steering Committee pack for our programme and chaired the meeting. I used the first part of the meeting to have our audio-visual designer present the ideas for what we will do in a couple of rooms that we share with another organisation.
  • Attended the first construction meeting for a new office, hosted by the general contractor. It was based on-site with an audio-only Teams conference for everyone else to dial into, which instantly took me back 15 years to how we used to get together remotely. We have to get a proper conference speaker on-site for the meetings in future.
  • Reviewed and agreed the list of items and their costs that we will spend on beyond the standard fit-out for the office.
  • Met to review the responses to our RFP for fitting out our new office from a technology, security and audio-visual perspective, and appointed a vendor.
  • Reviewed our real estate and facilities costs for one of our offices as preparation for our planned work over the next couple of years. We ‘filled in the blanks’ with super rough estimates for everything we don’t have a proper estimate or quote for yet. Some number is always better than no number at all.
  • Met with our internal insurance specialist to discuss our cover for a space that we share with a sister company.
  • Discussed the risk of a popular tool that comes with its own cloud storage and whether we should be removing it as an option. It’s not a trivial decision as the storage offers better functionality than our other cloud applications for certain tasks and we know that people are using it in their workflow.
  • Had a discussion on how our twice-weekly change approval process could be improved and offered some suggestions to help us make changes faster, with less risk and with more of an audit trail.
  • Assisted a colleague as they got to grips with Office Timeline Pro+. The software is such a time-saver and works beautifully. Sometimes you just need someone to spend 10 minutes with you to show you how to get the best out of a tool.
  • Met with a sister company to discuss the process we went through to move from hard phones on desks to soft phones. We spent a painful time with Cisco Jabber before moving across to Teams when it was ready for prime time.
  • Was fascinated by a colleague’s presentation at our weekly Learning Hour as they talked about their recent visit to Beijing.
  • Had a delightful Random Coffee with a colleague in China that I’d never properly met with before. It turns out that she was born on the exact same day as my two brothers.
  • Replaced the doors on our fridge freezer, ridding ourselves of random dents that have accumulated over the past few years. Swapping them over wasn’t trivial but we managed to do it in a couple of hours.
  • Enjoyed the latest WB-40 podcast Album Club where our host chose Hard-Fi’s Stars of CCTV for us to listen to. I’d never heard it before; the first few songs didn’t grab me, but somewhere halfway through side A I started getting into it.
  • Had the spoke repaired on my bike’s back wheel ahead of the weekly club ride. £1.25 in parts and £20 in labour.
  • With both children out of the house, my wife and I decided to wander down into town for a casual dinner. I guess we’ll be doing more of this again now that the boys are older.
  • Got myself ready for a business trip, the first one in over a year.

Media

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Audio

Next week: Travel.

Weeknotes #271 — Shout

It’s that short bit of the year where the lilac is out in full bloom.
It’s that short bit of the year where the lilac is out in full bloom.

Another busy week, but one that led into a three day weekend. Here in the UK we like to have our public holidays on Mondays, which means our ‘labour day’ holiday took place almost a week later than lots of other places around the world.

The weekend was as busy as the week. It culminated in me going out on Monday for my longest bike ride in years, a lumpy jaunt over the Chiltern Hills. Apparently, 25% chance of rain translates into ‘sunglasses until around midday then you’ll need a snorkel’. I broke a spoke early on in the ride and made a temporary fix by weaving it in and out of its neighbours. This was fine until it worked itself loose as I was hurtling down a hill at high speed. The noise it made was terrifying; both I and the rider behind me thought my wheel had completely given up. I managed to improvise a more sturdy fix and it didn’t give me any more trouble for the rest of the ride. The route was perfectly pitched for a longer day out. It was lovely to ride with some friends from the cycling club twice in one weekend.

Broken spoke, covered in road gunge, tired but happy.
Broken spoke, covered in road gunge, tired but happy.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the regular programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up the minutes from the previous week’s programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Met with a sister company to review the latest design deck for our shared spaces in one of our offices.
  • Had a kick-off meeting with the various companies that will be involved in the design and specification of the audio/visual component of the shared spaces.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the principles to be applied for an office seating plan restack.
  • Discussed our upcoming temporary move out and move back from/to one of our offices with the vendor that will be helping us with the changes.
  • Spent a day at a vendor’s office to take part in interviews for a general contractor for the construction/refurbishment that we need to do over the next couple of years. It was humbling to be knee-deep in a world that I haven’t spent a lot of time in — I’m a technologist, not a building or facilities specialist. The complexity of the work and the number of companies and individuals involved is mind-boggling.
  • Submitted my notes and a scoring sheet following the interviews.
  • Joined a meeting to kick off a conversation about how we will go about staffing and providing a technology support service to a sister company.
  • Booked some time off at the end of May. I’ve not had a day’s holiday since Christmas and I’m beginning to feel it. We don’t have plans to do anything but it will be good to be pottering around and not sitting at my keyboard.
  • Met with colleagues from our user experience (UX) practice to discuss how we might leverage their work in our small part of the organisation.
  • Had some good conversations about the positioning of my team and the work we will focus on in future.
  • Tried to diagnose an issue where I can’t decline incoming external calls to my Teams-based office phone number. I hit the red button but it just keeps immediately ringing back. Of course, I couldn’t reproduce the issue when we got someone from Microsoft on a call with us. I get so few external calls to my office number, I have no idea whether this was just a one-off or is something that will come back.
  • Got some objectives into the HR system. Before we know it we’ll be writing our annual reviews.
  • Said goodbye to our dishwasher after only a couple of years of service. Our kitchen refit has meant we have moved to in-built dishwashers, so we sold our old one. It sold after about 5 minutes of being listed on eBay; I guess this means that we could have got a little bit more for it, but we had to get it out of the way ready for the next phase of our kitchen refit.
  • Bought a chisel and then spent Sunday afternoon removing the final section of floor tile grout from the kitchen, ready for the new flooring to go down next week.
Before and after. Old towel to rest my knees and butt at various stages of the work.
Before and after. Old towel to rest my knees and butt at various stages of the work.
  • Enjoyed a lovely lunch at Faire in Berkhamsted. Poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms on sourdough, all cooked to perfection. Pondered why nobody seems to give away toothpicks after meals anymore. I’m sure this used to be a thing?
Tasted as good as it looks.
Tasted as good as it looks.

Media

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Articles

Video

  • Gave up on Netflix’s 3 Body Problem after eight or so episodes. The show had started to feel like work and I didn’t feel as though I cared about any of the characters. There was too much in the show and it kept getting more ridiculous. It was easy to switch off.

Audio

  • I’ve been discovering Tears For Fears’ 1985 album Songs From The Big Chair. The band’s hits were part of my life as a kid just by simply being part of our shared culture, so I knew some of the songs already. But the ones I didn’t know weave things together beautifully. It’s an incredible record. It starts with this which is a piece of pop perfection — what a vocal:

Books

  • Started reading Attack Warning Red! by Julie McDowall. A fascinating insight into Britain’s nuclear preparedness in the Cold War.
  • Had a chat with someone working in an independent bookshop about how much money they make from sales in the shop versus the contribution they might get from bookshop.org if they were the buyer’s adopted bookshop. She was very grateful for bookshop.org for saving so many shops throughout the pandemic, but it is still better to buy something from the shop than to order it on the Internet.

Next week: Kitchen progress, project progress a train strike and two online Album Club nights.

Weeknotes #270 — Oh Makita, you will never know

A grey cat perched in a resting position on a person’s arm as they try to use a laptop computer. The cat is staring at the person taking the photograph.
It’s very difficult to work under these conditions.

The feeling of being slightly broken followed me into a third week. But somehow, like a change in the weather, it cleared as the days went by. I remember heading out to this month’s Album Club evening feeling light and unburdened and I wasn’t sure why. I wonder how much stress and anxiety is a function of a big to-do list versus something more basic. Working from home on Thursday and Friday meant that I got my morning exercise in on both days; maybe that has something to do with it.

There are so many projects in progress at the moment. As well as all of the initiatives at work, we have a new kitchen being fitted at home. All of the contents of the kitchen have been distributed around the house, making every step a perilous one. It also makes unloading the dishwasher look like an episode of The Crystal Maze as we run around the house trying to find where everything goes. Friends have kindly lent us a portable induction hob so we aren’t just eating microwave meals and takeaways, but we’ve had our fair share of both over the past couple of weeks.

I had Elton John’s Nikita as an earworm for the first few days of the week and couldn’t work out why it had popped back onto my inner turntable. Then I noticed all of the power tools that our kitchen fitter had been using.

Two Makita rechargeable hand drills on a partially-constructed shelf.
Counting ten tin soldiers in a row.

At one point early this week it looked as though a family project that we had outsourced was going to come back to us to do ourselves and I found myself staring into space, wondering how we would fit it in. Thankfully it was a false alarm. Our plates are full and there is no room for anything else.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Prepped for and ran our fortnightly programme Steering Committee meeting, including a first draft proposal of how we can break one of the programme’s projects down into individual streams.
  • Found that the materials we had sent out as part of an RFP were missing a file, so had to quickly follow up to get it distributed to all of the companies that have been invited to respond.
  • Held Q&A sessions with the prospective vendors as part of the RFP, collating a summary of all of the questions from all of the sessions for distribution straight afterwards.
  • Met with a colleague from our People & Culture team to work out how I can kick off recruitment for one of the vacancies in my team.
  • Fleshed out a job spec for the other vacancy in my team and sent it to my team for review.
  • Attended a meeting to kick off a review of some of our Group-wide internal processes.
  • Welcomed a new team member on board for one of our projects, an old colleague who is now working on a freelance basis. He should add some invaluable experience to our team.
  • Agreed how we would progress with setting up a hardware ‘lab’ environment in our office in order to do development and evaluation work without putting our production environment at risk.
  • Met with a colleague in another department to discuss our approach to the use of AI in our respective businesses.
  • Had our monthly Lean Coffee session, where — in response to a topic — most attendees learned that the office dress code has indeed changed at some point in the past few years.
  • Enjoyed our monthly office lunch and catch-up with colleagues.
  • Was amazed at how much progress our kitchen fitter made in just a few days. I can start to see how it will all look when it’s done. It’s quite exciting. Our appliances have arrived and should be fitted soon.
  • Spent a big chunk of the weekend loading up a skip outside our house. We’d waited to do it, keeping our driveway free so that the people delivering the new kitchen and appliances would have easy access to our door. As a result, all the pieces of the old kitchen had accumulated on our back patio. We had to borrow a sledgehammer from a friend in order to break up old pieces of granite that were otherwise immovable. I’ve used muscles this weekend that had previously lain dormant for decades.
  • Enjoyed hearing a Janis Joplin album for the first time. I don’t know much about her, but her voice was old beyond her years.
  • Dropped the manufacturers of Ulysses a question about how to add alt text to images. Apparently this isn’t a feature yet, but it’s now on the list.
  • Sent a note to the folks at Readwise to ask for a couple of new features. Sometimes I flit between the digital and physical versions of a book; currently Readwise will log highlights from these under two separate entries. It would also be great to be able to use the OCR capability when I’m offline or have a poor Internet connection. Both feature requests are now on their list.
  • Moved my website hosting from SiteGround to Cloud Above. My new host came highly recommended from a friend and I can see why; the move was painless and they were so helpful and responsive as I sorted out the tiny issues that come with jumping from one host to another. I was on the 10GB plan at SiteGround and had used up over 90% of the space. Moving to 20GB was going to cost around £345 per year. Cloud Above do it for £96.
  • Had a delicious impromptu dinner at Prime in Berkhamsted. (We are easily swayed when the only options at home are microwave meals or some kind of pasta.)
A bowl of tortelloni in tomato sauce, covered in almonds and watercress, already partially consumed. Two small side bowls of tenderstem broccoli are nearby.
It’s still pasta, but a cut above what we had planned at home.

Media

Podcasts

  • Took the first step at pruning my ‘current affairs’ listening by unsubscribing from The Rest Is Politics. Of all of the politics shows that I listen to — Oh God, What Now?, The Guardian’s Politics Weekly UK and America, and the Financial Times’ Political Fix — it feels like it is the least valuable. When I first started listening I was hoping that Alistair Campbell and Rory Stuart would spend time arguing from different points of view; perhaps the Overton window has shifted so far that they seem like two sides of the same coin.
  • Politics Weekly America continues to be fascinating. The latest episode digs into humour in US politics. It gives a fascinating insight into Trump as he attempts a joke whose basis and setup doesn’t sit within the parameters of our shared reality.
  • Also stopped listening to The Nowhere Office. The latest season looks to be snippets of discussions that have just gone behind a Substack paywall, so I’m out.

Articles

Video

  • Re-watched Reservoir Dogs (1992). I was 15 when it came out and I remember what a cultural impact it had. Watching it now, it’s jarring to hear so many N-words from a nearly all-white cast.
  • In what turned out to be a 1992-themed week, I also watched Scent of a Woman again. I still adore this film.

Web

Books

  • Started Heather Burns’ Understanding Privacy, a super clear articulation of what privacy is and the different approaches taken to it between the US and the EU.

Next week: An offsite meeting.

Weeknotes #269 — Captain, we’re being hailed

The blossom even looks good at night.

The blossom even looks good at night.

Another overwhelming week. I felt I carried a bit of last weekend’s funky malaise into the start of this week. And then, before I knew it, it was Friday. There’s a lot going on at both work and home at the moment. I’m getting a bit frustrated at myself for dropping things. Going too fast also means that quality suffers and the work ends up taking even more time anyway.

Years ago I read this quote from cyclist Steven Abraham as he abandoned his attempt to break the record of the most miles ever ridden in one year:

“The only way I can do more is by getting faster, but the only way I can get faster is by doing less.”

I’m trying to do less so that I can go faster, but there’s not much more that I can cut out.

This was a week in which I:

  • Held all of the weekly programme and project meetings.
  • Wrote up and circulated the minutes from last week’s programme Steering Committee. I’ve now also started a thread in Teams where I’ve published the minutes from every Steering Committee to date so that there is more transparency.
  • Started to receive responses for a technology RFP for fitting out one of our new offices.
  • Onboarded a technology consultant that we have worked with in the past. I am hoping that he will help to ease the pressure on at least one of our projects.
  • Met with our sister company to agree in principle how we move forward with spaces that we share.
  • Held my second weekly team meeting. Things seem to go well when we have everyone in the same meeting together.
  • Had a guest speaker from our Global Markets team at our weekly Learning Hour, giving us an insight into Foreign Exchange.
  • Had my regular catch-up with our head of APIs.
  • Started the process to recruit for a couple of roles in my team.
  • Was fortunate to get a call for a same-day medical consultant appointment on a day that I was working from home. Private healthcare is such a privilege and I am grateful for it, although I would rather it was the same standard for everyone. They are trying to diagnose something which I am hoping isn’t much of anything.
  • Seem to have become addicted to Garbanzos falafel bowls for lunch. I’m not sure deep fried falafels are strictly a health food but I find myself drawn there anyway.

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

  • Enjoyed a brilliant Cycling Club talk from Andy and Becky Kervell. They rode the length of Patagonia for six weeks on a tandem during November and December last year. The photos were stunning, so seeing the sights in real life must have been mind blowing.

Patagonia by Tandem

Patagonia by Tandem

  • Felt a little bit out of my depth with the speed of the club ride on Saturday. Spring is still in an epic battle with Winter, which doesn’t seem to want to leave. We set out in 3°C weather, but it felt much colder. Everyone seems to have a collective malaise with how long it’s taking for the weather to turn.
  • As our kitchen has become increasingly out of action with the refit, we’ve drifted heavily into regular takeaway territory. This week I tried the Szen noodle bar in Berkhamsted. Again, not a health food but quite delicious.

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

  • Spent Sunday afternoon with a bunch of geeky friends at Bridge Command in Vauxhall, playing at piloting a starship. We’d booked ourselves in months ago, and the venue had only been open a few weeks. The idea is brilliant and the environment is very well done, with lots of stations and computer systems that all work in tandem with each other. I was channelling my inner Lieutenant Uhura, sitting at the communications console with an audio headset on. I have to admit it felt magical to get ‘hailed’ by another ship, to speak to them and then to pass the video feed to the ‘main screen’ at the front. The whole setup feels a little bit too complex and ambitious as it took a long time to go through a very extensive in-person tutorial before we were handed the controls. But I get the feeling that it will only get better over time as more people play and they fine-tune the scenarios. I would definitely go back.

The entrance to Bridge Command

The entrance to Bridge Command

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Not in the least because if these tools were as productive and useful as promise, we’d be flooded with new and useful end-user software created by these newly productive organisations. If these products were the productivity boon boosters claim they are, workplaces everywhere would have been transformed by now.

Web

Next week: Our house goes full ‘Steptoe & Son’ — having no kitchen means that you can’t move anywhere in the house without bumping into things that used to be in the kitchen.

Weeknotes #268 — Unlicensed ice cream trading

I must have walked past this sign a hundred times without noticing it. Quite a specific restriction for a particular road junction.

I must have walked past this sign a hundred times without noticing it. Quite a specific restriction for a particular road junction.

The week wore me out. It steadily built towards the fortnightly programme Steering Committee meeting on Friday afternoon; after that I crashed. I’ve spent a lot of the weekend in a sleepy stupor. On Saturday afternoon I wandered into town for an errand and found myself browsing lazily through the bookshops. It was good to be doing something that wasn’t thinking about the work I haven’t done yet.

Spring is breaking through. Trees are blossoming and down by a footbridge that crosses the little river that runs through town a swan has built its nest. It didn’t seem bothered by the crowd of people that had stopped on their walks to take a close look.

Blossom everywhere.

Blossom everywhere.

The swan was more focused on making tweaks to her nest than to the people passing a couple of feet away from her.

The swan was more focused on making tweaks to her nest than to the people passing a couple of feet away from her.

This was a week in which I:

  • Enjoyed a near-empty train on Monday morning and suffered from massive overcrowding on the same train on Tuesday. There were less trains running because of strikes, so presumably each one was carrying the people that would usually be on two or three different services. Do people not go in on Mondays anymore and I just haven’t noticed?
  • Had the weekly programme meetings.
  • Met with our sister company for our monthly programme check-in.
  • Reviewed and consolidated the documents to issue as an RFP for the technology, audio/visual and security fit-out of one of our new offices.
  • Had a number of meetings to review the financial forecast for the same office in preparation for the programme Steering Committee meeting.
  • Started a new weekly meeting with my entire Digital Product team.
  • Met with a cross-functional team who have been making good progress in making improvements to one of our long-standing, and much derided, critical business processes.
  • Enjoyed a Learning Hour session that gave an overview of the technical processes we use for building digital products. We also explored the concept of an internal Technology Radar.
  • Had my six-weekly check-in with our Technology research and advisory team.
  • Had a lovely Random Coffee with a colleague that works in our Marketing and Communications team.
  • Caught up with Matt Ballantine for a virtual coffee and a chat.
  • Revised the dates of my upcoming business trips to fit in better with everything else that is going on.
  • Enjoyed another wonderful club ride on Saturday morning. We had 10 riders in our group; I don’t think I’ve ever ridden with such an evenly-matched set of cyclists. I appreciate TrainerRoad’s new ‘Red Light Green Light’ feature as it looks at what work I’ve been doing and adapts my planned rides accordingly. After Saturday’s club ride, a planned two-hour indoor push on Sunday was relaxed to a one-hour near-recovery ride.
  • Moved to the next stage of kitchen renovations as we said goodbye to our trusty old oven. Some close friends have lent us a portable induction hob which will help us avoid microwave meals and takeaways for the next few weeks.

It’s the ‘getting worse before it gets better’ stage.

It’s the ‘getting worse before it gets better’ stage.

Media

Articles

“I am not saying anyone’s particular policies are wrong, but if the premise that generative AI is going to be bigger than fire and electricity turns out to be mistaken, or at least doesn’t bear out in the next decade, it’s certainly possible that we could wind up with what in hindsight is a lot of needless extra tension with China, possibly even a war in Taiwan, over a mirage, along with a social-media level fiasco in which consumers are exploited in news, and misinformation rules the day because governments were afraid to clamp down hard enough. It’s hard to put odds on any of this, but it’s a sobering thought, and one that I hope will get some consideration both in Washington and Beijing.” — What if Generative AI turned out to be a Dud? (substack.com)

Audio

So my argument, in brief, is that humans had a play-based childhood for millions of years, because that’s what mammals do. All mammals play. They have to play to wire up their brains. But that play-based childhood began to fade out in the 1980s in United States, and it was gone by 2010. And that’s because right around 2010 is when the phone-based childhood sweeps in. Our children are now raised largely with a phone at the center of everything. And let’s talk about what happened when that change happened. Another way I can summarize my book is by saying we have overprotected our children in the real world and we have underprotected them online. And both of those are mistakes.

…multiplayer video games take up a huge amount of time. They’re great fun. They’re incredibly immersive. And so anyway, the point is boys’ lives have been upended too. It doesn’t show up as much in depression and anxiety. It shows up as just withdrawing from effort in the real world. Boys are just not really doing the things. They’re not making the efforts and experiencing the failures and setbacks that would strengthen them to grow into men. So Tristan and I will talk about this, but there’s actually a way out, because almost all the parents hate what’s going on. All the teachers hate what’s going on. All the principals and heads of school hate what’s going on. And guess what? Gen Z hates what’s going on. They see it. They’re not in denial.

They really see that they’re trapped. And you say, “Well, why do you waste your life this way? Why don’t you just get off?” I can’t because everyone else is on. So it’s a social dilemma, it’s a collective action problem.

And then the final point is in every previous moral panic, one of the features is lurid stories about this thing that happened. A kid smoked marijuana and then he chopped off his parent’s head or whatever, some thing. And I read it in a newspaper. And, “Oh, my God, this is terrible.” And so maybe most of them didn’t happen. Maybe some did. This one is entirely different. As I go around, almost every journalist who interviews me, either before the interview or during the interview, they say, “I’ve seen this in my own kids,” or, “I’ve seen this in my kids’ friends.” Everyone sees it. This is not lurid examples trumped up to make people afraid.

Books

Next week: Going even deeper on the projects and looking at how we need to re-gear the work for the next stage.

Weeknotes #267 — Electricity

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

A four-day week, but it didn’t feel like it.

On Monday our eldest boy turned 17. How I am suddenly a parent to a 17 year old, I really have no idea. It feels no time at all since he turned up in our lives. As usual, we celebrated a family birthday with a meal out together. I love these moments. It’s always so fascinating to think how much our boys have both changed as they grown; thinking about our birthday meals together is a lens to look at how the years have passed. Our boy has some driving lessons as his birthday gift and has his first one booked in for next week.

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

It finally feels like spring is here. Despite being on the edge of Storm Kathleen this weekend, it was lovely when the sun broke through. The outdoor clothes dryer has carried its first load and I’m going to mothball the jumpers from my working from home wardrobe.

This was a week in which I:

  • Gave my ‘digital literacy’ presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI at an internal quarterly online town hall-style meeting. There were over 350 people online, but the beauty of presenting remotely is that it would have felt no different if it was ten times as many.
  • Had the weekly project meetings for the office refurbishments and moves. A colleague and I had to quickly sketch out a Technology and Real Estate ‘shaping’ budget for a new office we are opening.
  • Wrote up and published the minutes from last week’s programme steering committee.
  • Received a first draft of the AV/IT bill of materials for a new office that we are moving into.
  • Met with the CIO for our African footprint to talk about our office footprint and how we should work together.
  • Spoke to our corporate insurance broker to update him on our upcoming office changes.
  • Met with one of our business line heads to introduce our development team and look at what her business priorities are.
  • Had a check-in with the landlord of one of the new offices we are moving into.
  • Met with our Finance team to review the first draft of our cost projections for our office refurbishment project.
  • Met with a real estate project company to look at bringing in additional support for the work we are doing.
  • Attended our working group for Microsoft Copilot and Teams Premium. I’m still not incorporating Copilot into my everyday workflow. I try, but so often I just get this:

  • Got lucky with the trains despite major disruptions on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. They had closed the lines for four days over the Easter break for engineering work. I’m assuming this didn’t go quite to plan as they would have liked.
  • Booked some overseas business trips. I’ve been trying to keep my business travel to a minimum, but I can’t put these visits off.
  • Made some suggestions to how we can improve some of our facilities management processes and our overall office experience.
  • Bought a bunch of appliances for our new kitchen that is getting fitted out over the next month or so. The changes we are making are complicated and there are lots of moving parts — and people — to coordinate. As ever my wife is doing an amazing job of getting everything lined up.
  • Finally had our house connected directly to the power line in the street after 70 years of being ‘looped’ off of our neighbours’ supply. I love it when the infrastructure beneath our feet gets revealed. Our supply is the black cable at the bottom of this picture, connected into the grey plastic-looking container that sits atop the main power cable.

  • Heard that England and Wales are the only countries in the world that have fully privatised their water supplies. It’s insane to privatise an essential utility where customers can’t choose between providers. Thames Water are in deep, deep trouble and it’s going to be a scandalously expensive problem to resolve.
  • Pondered, yet again, whether I listen to too many podcasts and not enough music. I loved Elliot Roberts’ ’reaction video’ to Rob Sheffield’s list of the 100 best Beatles solo songs that he made for his Patreon Supporters. When I was a teenager I would have been so excited to read a list like this and to seek out the songs and albums I hadn’t heard. I spend so little time listening to music as I’m constantly trying to keep up with all of the time-sensitive podcasts that I subscribe to — tech and cybersecurity news and commentary, politics, F1 news etc. But I love these podcasts; many of them are useful in the work that I do. There’s just not enough time.
  • Finally made it out for a club bike ride again. The start of April means that the club’s ‘mandatory mudguards’ rule is retired and people can opt to head out a little earlier to do a longer version of the route. It was a glorious morning and so lovely to get out.

  • Enjoyed a lovely dinner hosted by our close friends, who put up with my fussiness of admitting that I’m not a fan of quiche. I can’t wait to get our kitchen finished so we can once again do some entertaining of our own. It’s been years.

Media

Podcasts

Benedict Evans: Years ago, someone pointed out to me something, I was very annoyed at myself for not realizing it, that Google Search is manually curated, Google doesn’t give you the answer, it gives you ten links and ask you to pick the right one.

Ben Thompson: That’s right.

BE: Google doesn’t say, “This is the answer”, and there’s a product problem here in that an LLM says, “This is the answer”. Or at least as they’re currently constituted, they do.

BT: This was the Gemini problem, in that it was giving you one answer, so the sense of burden of proof, Google took that on, as opposed to it’s always been on the user previously.

Articles

Next week: Wrestling with trying to fit everything into five days again, an album club and this blog’s 20th birthday.

Weeknotes #266 — Doughnuts

London Bridge, 30 March 2024

London Bridge, 30 March 2024

I really struggled this week. I knew something was up on Sunday night when I sat down to watch TV with my wife and I just couldn’t get into it. My brain was filled with clouds which meant that I couldn’t focus. I carried this feeling into the office on Monday and spent all week waiting for it to pass. The root cause is that there’s just too much going on at the moment. Work is exceptionally busy and we’re in the middle of some major house renovations. It will get better. I’ve been very glad that the long Easter weekend had arrived.

This was a week in which I:

  • Juggled preparing for a programme steering committee with coordinating with our plumber, builder and kitchen fitter as we navigated problems thrown up by our chimera of a house and the order in which things need to get done.
  • Ran the programme steering committee and agreed on an approach in principle for one of the more complex aspects of the work we are doing. Putting the slides together to frame the problem took me the best part of a day complete. One of my colleagues has volunteered his time to run with this issue which lifts a significant piece of work from my shoulders.
  • Met our AV/IT vendor at our office to review our current internal meeting room setup.
  • Met with a prospective vendor whose product we are looking to install in our spaces to monitor a vast array of metrics such as air quality, temperature, humidity, meeting room usage etc.
  • Attended our weekly programme meetings.
  • Met with the Head of Operational Risk to review our programme risks.
  • Caught up in-person with a senior colleague in the Risk team who was visiting from South Africa for the week.
  • Attended our Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Enjoyed our monthly free lunch in the office, catching up with colleagues that I don’t usually speak to.
  • Had our monthly Lean Coffee session, using FigJam for the first time. Switching over from InVision Freehand was pretty seamless, with the session made easier by not needing to have everyone set up with an account beforehand.
  • Said goodbye to two colleagues, one who has retired after 42 years with the firm and another who is closer to the start of his career than the end. It’ll be strange not having them around in the team anymore.
  • Enjoyed two Album Clubs on successive evenings. As well as instalment 157 of our long-running in-person OG club, I joined the good people of WB-40 for our online meetup. Our host went left-field by choosing a ‘video of an album’ to play. I’m not sure it was entirely within the rules as the video cut some songs short and left others out, but we loved it.

  • Went shopping in search of chairs and pendant lights for our kitchen but came up empty-handed.
  • Popped into my brother’s house who was barbecuing for the family. Our boys were busy doing their own thing, which made me wonder how many family gatherings will include all of the children in the future. It was lovely to see everyone.
  • Had the most fabulous time at Bread Ahead in Borough Market doing a three-hour doughnut-making course. My wife booked it when she spotted a ‘two for one’ offer at Christmas, mainly (I suspect) as a vehicle for us to all do something together. As the kids get older we have to be more deliberate about putting time aside as everyone is usually busy with their own things. We had so much fun. Our host, Victoria, was excellent — she had a great sense of humour, kept everyone on track and was super knowledgable about all aspects of baking. I’m no chef but I do enjoy the process as long as someone is supervising me or I have super clear instructions to follow. We walked out of the session with 24 doughnuts and four brioche loaves between us.

The queue for doughnuts outside of Bread Ahead was a sight to behold. They sell thousands each weekend.

The queue for doughnuts outside of Bread Ahead was a sight to behold. They sell thousands each weekend.

Frying the doughnuts, popping bubbles in the dough with a stick.

Frying the doughnuts, popping bubbles in the dough with a stick.

Cream, honeycomb and jam doughnuts

Cream, honeycomb and jam doughnuts

Brioche loaves. Recommended as the basis of a fish finger sandwich.

Brioche loaves. Recommended as the basis of a fish finger sandwich.

  • The train line was undergoing significant work all weekend so we had to drive from Berkhamsted to Borough. JustPark is an invaluable tool for a trip like this, finding us somewhere safe and secure to park close to the venue. Although we had to pay £24 for parking, £15 for the Congestion Charge and whatever it cost us in fuel, between the four of us it probably didn’t work out any more expensive than taking the train.
  • Switched from the AA to the RAC for breakdown cover, thanks to my brother’s ‘friends and family’ discount. He’s saving us around £200 a year.

Media

Podcasts

  • Enjoyed listening to Martha Lane Fox talk about her life and experiences that have shaped her. I loved hearing her honest admission that her wealth saved her life.

Articles

Video

  • Thought Anatomy of a Fall (2023) was excellent. I couldn’t quite place the lead actress, until I realised that I’d seen her in Toni Erdmann (2016) a few weeks ago.
  • Enjoyed 2 Tone: The Sound of Coventry and Terry Hall at the BBC on iPlayer. I much prefer the ‘…at the BBC’ shows where the music isn’t strictly chronological as you never know what gem is going to turn up next.
  • Started watching Shogun on Disney+. Very enjoyable so far.

Books

  • I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. I love picking up a book which looks like it might be hard work but you find yourself enjoying such quality writing that the pages are almost turning themselves.

Next week: A four-day week, getting disconnected from our neighbour’s power supply and presenting to 800+ people on the topic of Generative AI.

Weeknotes #265 — Marika Hackman III

Stop. Stop. No. STOP.

Stop. Stop. No. STOP.

Another typically busy week with a huge amount of context switching. Monday morning started with a drive to an appointment with a medical consultant. (I’m happy to report that I have a resting heart rate of a measly 42bpm.) Getting back to my desk and starting work late morning left me a bit out of sorts, a feeling that I carried with me through the rest of the week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had meetings with our senior business product leaders to try and understand their biggest pain points, checking whether the development work we are doing is underpinned by their needs.
  • Wrote up and published minutes from last week’s programme Steering Committee meeting and submitted an update to one of our Governance Committees.
  • Had the ‘page turn’ meeting with the landlord, architects, property consultants and AV/IT specialists for an office building that we are moving into later in the year. Office blueprints get detailed.
  • Completed the RFP process for selecting a furniture vendor for the new office.
  • Reviewed the financial forecast for the new office.
  • Met with colleagues in our Group Real Estate team to check in on our progress towards opening another new office.
  • Had the weekly meetings with our sister company on our office upgrade works.
  • Reviewed a draft operating model for our digital product team.
  • Tested out FigJam as an alternative to the collaboration whiteboard tool that we currently use, which is due to be shut down later this year. It looks as though it could save us in licence fees as it gives you the ability to temporarily open up a board to guests, so not everyone needs to have a permanent account.
  • Undertook acoustic testing of the meeting rooms in our office in an attempt to diagnose the various issues that we have with the sounds in each of them.
  • Loved hearing about a colleague’s 42-year career with our firm at our weekly Learning Hour meeting, ahead of his retirement at the end of the month. It was fascinating to hear what things were like when he joined the company in 1982 and the journey that he has been on since then. He had us laughing as he recounted his time in the Y2K ‘war room’ on 31 December 1999; at the exact point that the clock flicked over to midnight, one of the team turned the lights off and set everyone panicking for a few moments.
  • Enjoyed seeing Marika Hackman at the incredibly beautiful Church of St John-at-Hackney. We ate beforehand at The Square, Clapton, a lovely little restaurant with delicious modern tapas-style dishes. The gig was good, but I think I was spoiled by how electric Helena Deland was last month. I definitely have a strong preference for smaller, more intimate venues.

Marika Hackman at the Church of St John-at-Hackney, 21 March 2024

Marika Hackman at the Church of St John-at-Hackney, 21 March 2024

  • Had an eventful journey home from the gig. We missed the 2309 from Euston by a whisker, which meant that we had to endure the long, sad wait for the 2342. The later the train, the more likely it will be filled with people who have had too much to drink. And so it was. As my friend and I talked to each other, I could sense that something was happening a few people away from us in the carriage. From what I could make out, a couple of blokes were being rude to a woman who ended up walking away from them in tears. Things escalated from there. While people close by started getting into shouting matches, I texted the British Transport Police to let them know that things were going pear-shaped. I’ve never done that before. The service sends you a message back to let you know that it has been acknowledged and it was followed up by a constable getting in contact via text and phone the next day. Apparently there were three of us texting the BTP at the same time. They plan to follow it up as a hate crime.
  • Watched our driveway and front lawn get dug up and put back together again by UK Power Networks. Our neighbours want to be able to charge an electric car and found that in order to upgrade their supply, we need to be disconnected from them first. Apparently, the people who constructed our house in the 1950s made cost savings by ‘looping’ the power supply connection between neighbouring properties. Once the work is done, we’ll be connected directly to the street, 70 years after our house was built.
  • Had our annual boiler inspection.
  • Watched a significant chunk of our kitchen get dismantled, on our way to putting a new one in. With a bit of jury-rigging we’ve managed to keep our dishwasher plumbed in for now. Appliances and cabinets have been ordered, worktops have been chosen and we feel like we have all of our tradies in a row.
  • Enjoyed a Friday night and Saturday morning with my brothers and their wives at the Crazy Bear hotel in Beaconsfield. We’d all been treated to a night away as a Christmas gift from my mum and dad (thank you!) and as always it was fun to get together. The hotel is quite something. Spread across a number of old buildings in the town, each room has velvet-covered walls, draped curtains for en-suite doors and leather carpets. The bar looked and felt like a project commissioned by a Russian oligarch with some significant input from Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen. After an evening of laughter we wandered into Beaconsfield for a delicious breakfast at The Cape.
  • Rolled my eyes at my annual AA membership increasing from £250 to £350 with a note from them saying that I could get a better deal if I shop around. So, I’ll call them and they will either drop the price or I’ll become an RAC customer.

  • Managed to avoid any news about the F1 Australian GP qualifying or the race before I watched them on catch-up. After over 30 years of watching I’m still a committed fan, but a 4am start was not going to happen.

Media

Articles

What I fear isn’t automation taking our jobs, but the bottom falling out of generative AI as companies realize that the best they’re going to see is a few digits of profit growth. Companies like Nvidia, Google, Amazon, Snowflake and Microsoft have hundreds of billions of dollars of market capitalization — as well as expected revenue growth — tied into the idea that everybody will be integrating AI into everything, and that they will be doing so _more_ than they are today.

If the AI bubble pops, the entire tech industry will suffer as venture capitalists are once again washed out through chasing an unprofitable, barely-substantiated trend. And again the entire industry suffers because people don’t want to build new things or try new ideas, but fund the same people doing similar things again and again because it feels good to be part of a consensus, even if you’re wrong. Silicon Valley will continually fail to innovate at scale until it learns to build real things again — things that people use because the things in question actually do something.

Audio

Books

  • Bought Bad Writing by Baldur Bjarnason. I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I’ve been enjoying his writing and blogging on AI.
  • Picked up a copy of Tim Burgess’ The Listening Party from Oxfam for a few pounds. I never took part in any of the events but they seem to be in a similar spirit to our Album Club, putting time aside to listen with intent.

Next week: A four-day week that contains two Album Clubs.

Weeknotes #264 — Board

Maybe I’m just noticing now that I’m going into the office at least three days a week again. Or maybe the train service really is getting back to being its rubbish self once more.

Thursday morning gave us last-minute cancellations and trains rolling into the station on the wrong platform. There may have been some warning on the new digital signage, but only a person with a backstory of being bitten by a radioactive owl would know for sure.

Waiting for the London-bound train to arrive on platform 4. If you squint, you might be able to see a shade of orange on the digital signage that indicates all is not well. But what it says? Who knows!

Waiting for the London-bound train to arrive on platform 4. If you squint, you might be able to see a shade of orange on the digital signage that indicates all is not well. But what it says? Who knows!

Zooming in, we can just make out that the next train is bound for London Euston, but the black on orange text is completely unreadable unless you’re directly next to the sign, like this guy. Higher resolution displays to not automatically mean better visibility, people.

Zooming in, we can just make out that the next train is bound for London Euston, but the black on orange text is completely unreadable unless you’re directly next to the sign, like this guy. Higher resolution displays to not automatically mean better visibility, people.

The delays led to a collision with Ed from Album Club, which was a delightful way to pass the time on our drawn-out journey into London.

This was a big week for me, with a couple of important presentations to senior forums. I feel like I’m just about keeping afloat.

This was a week in which I:

  • Gave a presentation to one of our executive governance committees, asking them to ratify decisions that we made at our programme steering committee. All of the decisions were supported.
  • Took our board of directors through my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI. It went down so well that I’ve now been invited to speak to all of our Compliance professionals across the group.
  • Hosted the steering committee meeting for the main programme I am running.
  • Spent some time with our CIO on our strategy.
  • Met the CEO of a company that we are looking to work with to give us data and analytics about our offices — temperature, CO2, humidity, occupancy, light intensity and noise levels. It’s exciting to think about what insights we might get from all of this information.
  • Reviewed the technical AV/IT designs with our vendor and the landlord’s team for a new office that we are moving into.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for an office fit-out and move.
  • Got to see a number of 3D renders of the planned ‘work cafe’ space in one of our new offices, helping us to make decisions about the AV kit that we will install there.
  • Assisted a colleague with how to put together a financial projection as part of a business case.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening a new office.
  • Reviewed a conceptual design pack for the spaces we share with a sister company in one of our offices.
  • Had my first set of one-on-one meetings with my recently expanded team.
  • Joined the quarterly town hall event for our technology staff.
  • Said goodbye to a couple of colleagues. One my peers is retiring after 42 years at the company. We surprised him by sending a parallel invite to our all-team meeting to a whole bunch of old friends and colleagues. It was lovely to hear stories from over the years. Both he and another team member are leaving us for their next adventures at the end of the month.
  • Enjoyed a work social event at M Restaurant. It was great to talk and have a laugh with colleagues that I don’t usually speak to.
  • Kicked off our project to remodel the kitchen. We sold our kitchen corner sofa to a guy who drove down from Derby to pick it up. When he got here he was on his own, which I thought was taking a little bit of a chance that there would be someone to help him to get the parts out of the house and onto his flat bed truck. We’ve also had all of our tiled floor removed, ready for the underfloor heating to be expanded to cover an area that will be open flooring in the new configuration. I’d forgotten how much dust gets generated when a workman even thinks about doing something. Next week we are having the remains of the floor tile adhesive being sanded down, so I expect our kitchen to be in full ‘moon simulation’ mode.

Black granite worktops. Nothing can escape…THE DUST.

Black granite worktops. Nothing can escape…THE DUST.

  • Spent Saturday at the SportsShoes.com Podium Festival in Leicester. My eldest son was looking to get a good 5km time on the board. He managed to get around in 15m22s; it was so great to see him happy after his run. The festival itself was really cool — a mixture of running, live bands and DJs — but would have been so much better if the sun was shining. It had threatened to rain all day but had held off until the elite races in the evening. As soon as we saw the men cross the line in the last race we made a run for the exit. Returning to our car we found ourselves locked in a car park along with a bunch of other people who found themselves in the same boat. Fortunately, another driver made contact with the landowner who kindly send someone with a key to rescue us.
  • Opted not to do the cycle club’s ‘Spring Classic’ reliability ride on Sunday. I’d paid to enter some time ago, but couldn’t face turfing myself out of bed into the pouring rain.

Media

Podcasts

  • I’ve been enjoying this week’s discussions on the Stratechery, Sharp Tech and Dithering podcasts about TikTok and the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. If the act becomes law, TikTok owner ByteDance will be pushed to either divesting the app in the US (whatever that means on a technical level) or face having the app removed from the Apple and Google app stores. One thing is puzzling me though. Given that the bill may take a protracted time to get through the processes and become law, what would stop TikTok from using their platform in the run-up to the election to push content that paints the Republicans — and Donald Trump in particular — in a good light, influencing the vote? If this fails, at this point they probably haven’t lost anything. If it works, Trump may look more kindly on the platform from the help it gave him. He may decide not to sign the legislation when it comes to his desk, or revoke any law that has been put in place. What am I missing?

Articles

Video

  • Finished watching season four of For All Mankind. What an incredible show. It feels bizarre to look up all of the main actors and find that most of them are younger than me; they play the parts so well.

Audio

Web

Books

  • Manuel Betancourt’s book on Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall informed me that there is a person called Mayo Simon. As Wikipedia says, “Not to be confused with Simon Mayo.”
  • Bought a couple of books from people whose work I appreciate:
  • Started reading Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman.

Next week: A medical consultant, a driveway excavation, a dusty kitchen, a boiler inspection and a gig.

Weeknotes #263 — Codenames

Looking up on my Monday morning commute

Looking up on my Monday morning commute

Demands of my work have started to exceed supply of my time and it’s starting to get a little bit stressful. It left me feeling out of sorts at the start of the week. I’ve been here before and I’ll get through it, but it’s uncomfortable. A couple of hours at the weekend can usually go quite a long way to bridging the gap, but the next few are already filled with things, so I’m going to have to cram during the week. Radical diary prioritisation is required.

Away from my desk, Spring has arrived. Armies of daffodils having sprung up seemingly everywhere. It’s not completely pitch black when I get up in the morning. There’s a promise and excitement to this time of year. If only it would stop raining so that I can mow the lawn.

Outside the church of St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall, London

Outside the church of St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall, London

This was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly and monthly meetings with the real estate project team at our sister company. We’ve now made some decisions about the work we are going to do in one of our offices which means that the detailed planning and execution can get underway.
  • Created and submitted a set of slides to our senior governance committee on the decisions made in our programme steering committee. I’ll be presenting these to the forum next week.
  • Updated my introductory presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI ahead of presenting it to the board next week.
  • Learned that my foundational knowledge of accounting and finance isn’t enough. It’s not just a about opex, capex, cash flow and depreciation. It also matters what you’re spending the money on and what that implies. It’s so great when you get into the weeds on a topic with a specialist who knows their stuff.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for setting up a new office. Dates have started to firm up.
  • Discussed an approach for how we would provide day-to-day technical support to the new office.
  • Met with our Procurement team to review all of the currently active and upcoming work that we are doing with vendors.
  • Attended our quarterly Architecture Governance Authority meeting where we reviewed the architecture of our scripted, rule-based chatbot that assists staff with navigating our policies, processes and procedures.
  • Made progress with bringing a consultant on board to help us with our move to a new office.
  • Reviewed proposed artwork for our new office and reviewed the floor plan to agree where it might be displayed.
  • Had the weekly meeting with the design team for our new office.
  • Agreed on details of how the server room will be configured in our new office.
  • Had the weekly meeting with our AV/IT design vendor.
  • Agreed on a plan to use one of our small meeting rooms as an easily-accessible demo/infrastructure room.
  • Met with the cross-functional team that have been collaborating on new digital products within our part of the business. We are at a crossroads in terms of what comes next and it was good to hear and understand the different points of view.
  • Joined a couple of meetings on our document management initiative.
  • Had an introductory meeting with an acoustician who then came along to our office later in the week. It is fascinating to see a space that I am so familiar with through the lens of someone who has never been there before. We have some acoustic issues in a number of our meeting rooms; I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to get a full diagnosis of the underlying issues.
  • Was so pleased to see one of my colleagues do his first ever presentation at our weekly Learning Hour meeting. A crash course on PowerPoint from his daughter helped him to structure his talk. It was a brilliant overview of the finances of the modern gaming industry.
  • Got one-on-ones in the diary with all of the members of my recently expanded team.
  • Enjoyed the monthly free lunch at the office.
  • Met my financial advisor for a check-in. We’ve got two children who are both potentially going through university over the next few years, so I’ve put together a simple spreadsheet to see what the projected impact could be on our finances.
  • Had a fabulous board games night at our new neighbours’ house. We brought along two of our oldest and best friends that also live in our town as they also love a board game. I thought I wasn’t much of a board game fan, but Codenames was so much fun. We had a lot of laughs.
  • Made it out for a Saturday morning cycle club ride for the first time in weeks. Had some lovely chats with riders that I don’t know that well — a Compliance officer in a bank based near to my own office, and a photographer/journalist who (amongst other things) reviews bikes and cycling gear.
  • Enjoyed a curry with some fabulous old friends at Maya in Sunninghill. Everything, including the pubs, seemed a bit more upmarket than when I lived in the area thirty years ago.
  • Made some decisions about upgrading our kitchen. The wheels are now starting to turn very quickly. It’ll be so good to have a space that will make us want to have guests.

Media

Articles

The driver is the apotheosis of quick-moving prowess, total focus and control. The car is both the most studied piece of human engineering, tuned and devised in lab-like environments and at the same time a variable entity, something that must be wrestled with and pushed. The numbers are crunched, the forms wind-tunneled. And yet some spirit escapes their control, and that spirit is known only by the driver. Yes, we watch this perfect blend of man and machine, but we speak of the machine as though it were not of human origin, as though the machine, being born from science could—eventually, through its iterative processes—sublimate human flaws. The driver, being human, knows this is false. His intimacy with the machine is the necessary missing connection, and even if the machine were perfect, it was made for imperfect hands. But it is never perfect. The gaps in its perfection are where disasters transpire, but also miracles.

Video

Web

Books

Next week: Many days in the office presenting to governance committees and boards, meeting vendors and heading out for a company social event.

Weeknotes #262 — Heath Robinson

Random graffiti spotted on a wall on my walk to the office

Random graffiti spotted on a wall on my walk to the office

Another very busy week, primarily focused on preparing for a steering committee. This mainly involved trying to gather together as many estimates and quotes as I could for work that might be in scope for one of the projects. The meeting was exactly what we needed in that we’ve now got some very clear direction on what to do. Next week will be all about trying to push the work into execution mode.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was on the receiving end of a lot of blank looks when I used the phrase ‘a bit Heath Robinson’ in a meeting. Of the 10 people in the room, I realised that I was the only English person old enough to know what this meant. I need to check my metaphors.
  • Had a lot of impromptu conversations with people that drifted to my desk. There really are positive things about returning to the office, although I do wonder if being in a two parent family with older children and a wife who works locally to our home means that I’m seeing it through rose-tinted spectacles.
  • Went to various meetings with our sister company on our joint real estate/facilities project, including a recap of the analysis so far on our shared spaces.
  • Wrote a short note explaining how to use a Microsoft Teams Room (MTR) for an online meeting if you are not the originator of the invite. The best approach is to create a whole new parallel diary entry, copy the Teams joining instructions across to the body of the entry and use this to invite the room you wish to use. You then get to keep control of the room booking. Forwarding the invite means that the room will respond to the originator; you won’t know whether your booking was successful or not, which becomes a bigger problem if the meeting starts getting moved around.
  • Found that you can attend a Teams Live Event from a Microsoft Teams Room, as long as you book the room in a particular way.
  • Had the weekly check-in with my product leadership team.
  • Joined the weekly meetings with the project team for moving into a new office in one of our locations.
  • Agreed the Internet service providers that we will use for the new office, which involved looking at where we think the cables run out of the building — you don’t want physical works in the street suddenly severing all of your connections at once.
  • Had the next audio/visual design meeting with our design vendor. We’re very close to being done with the drafts of the spec.
  • Met with a vendor for a demo of their financial data platform.
  • Had a check-in call with our research and advisory partner.
  • Had a surprise resignation in our team. I’m very pleased for our colleague who is moving on to a great opportunity. We are such a small team and people seem to leave so rarely that it always feels like quite a big event when they do.
  • Disabled ‘emoji reactions’ on most of our AgilePlace Kanban boards. It feels like an uncharacteristically poor decision to turn these on by default across all boards. At least we were given a few days warning before they made the change.
  • After much deliberation, decided that we won’t be removing a structural pillar from the middle of our kitchen/dining room. We want to refresh the kitchen and it’s very much in the way, but getting it sorted with the structural works would completely blow our budget. We’ll have to learn to love it.
  • Watched our son come second in the Berkhamsted Rotary Club five mile run.
  • Was glad that the F1 returned, although the Bahrain Grand Prix was a bit of a yawnfest.
  • Got annoyed at myself for forefeiting on a Learned League match. I haven’t done it for quite a few seasons. It’s an awful feeling when you realise the next day that you missed the deadline.
  • Brought my wife’s laptop up-to-date and installed CleanMyMac to keep it in good running order. I’m guessing that there aren’t that many years left before both of our laptops stop receiving security updates.
  • Went out for a splendid family lunch for my wife’s birthday.
  • Finished setting up a second Pi-hole on a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B to replace an old model that had been causing me problems.

Media

Podcasts

Audio

  • Two Album Club meetups this week. At the first we heard Blood by Lianne La Havas. I’d heard Is Your Love Big Enough? a few years ago and found it interesting, so it was good to listen to another of her albums. I found myself hosting the second one and opted for Mercurial World by Magdalena Bay, which I am still deeply in love with.

Web

  • Conventional comments look interesting. It’s the kind of thing that a whole team would need to commit to adopting before it becomes muscle memory.

Next week: Ploughing on with the projects.