Weeknotes #261 — Helena Deland

Helena Deland live at the Oslo, Hackney, 21 February 2024

Helena Deland live at the Oslo, Hackney, 21 February 2024

I was home alone for most of this week. My youngest son was on a school skiing trip, and my wife and eldest son took a short break to Marrakesh. I have too much going on at work right now to contemplate any time off. Things are actually going in the opposite direction for me; I am finding that I have to take time at the weekend to knock a few things off of the to-do list. I think the volume of work this year will peak at both the start and the end, so I’m just going to have to plan other things around it.

Monday was filled with a man-cold aftershock. After being ill over the weekend, I went to bed feeling ok-ish on Sunday and woke up the next day feeling fine. By the time I made it to the office my eyes were watering and I was charging my way through packets of tissues. I don’t really have time to be ill.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was completely blown away by the Helena Deland gig on Wednesday night. Oslo is an excellent little venue which was perfect for the show. I’ve been listening to her music for many years; her wonderful songs sounded even better live.
  • Worked over the weekend to write-up and publish a few things, including the minutes from our recent steering committee. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to write formal minutes and I’d forgotten how much of a slog it is. “Record the meeting and use the AI!” I hear you say. Forgive me if AI-generated statements like this one don’t give me confidence to cede control to the computers just yet:
    What does this even mean?

    What does this even mean?

    The meetings are every two weeks, a self-imposed schedule that comes from the need to drive a lot of decisions during this part of the year. That’s a lot of meeting minute slogging, but I can’t see another way.

  • Got in the habit of recording my daily ‘standup’ meetings. I’ve been using them to share updates on our major programme but not everyone can make that slot every day. We spent a lot of time in our two-weekly management meeting going through the programme steering committee deck, which reminded me how difficult good communication is. I went into the conversation thinking that everyone knew all of the things, but there was much to talk about.
  • Had a number of meetings with our audio/visual technical design vendor. We now have the first draft of a design for one of our offices for review as well as the project proposal for some adjacent work. We have two other projects to agree.
  • Had the two-weekly real estate team meeting to review the status of opening a new office.
  • Joined the weekly design meeting for one of our new offices.
  • Met with the landlord of one of our new offices, along with our CEO and CIO.
  • Took a look at a meeting space in our building with our COO, to see if it would be suitable as a temporary home while we complete some major work this year.
  • Had the weekly project meeting with our sister company on the coordinated building works taking place this year.
  • Met with our sister company to progress the discussion of us taking on the management of technology in a space that we share.
  • Met with colleagues to review the proposed solution for managing documents between our region and a country-focused business function.
  • Had a lovely Random Coffee with the business manager of one of our front office functions.
  • Caught up with an old colleague who now runs our API practice. It’s always so lovely to speak with her.
  • Hosted the weekly Learning Hour meeting. Our guest speaker was the head of our Global Markets Technology department who spoke about her recently completed Master of Financial Technology degree.
  • Attended the two-weekly internal generative AI forums.
  • Assembled my new Raspberry Pi 4 Model B with the intention of swapping it out for an old, problematic Pi that I use as one of my pi-holes. After burning the operating system image onto the microSD card and getting my keyboard ready for setting it up, I found that neither the existing power supply nor HDMI cable will fit into this new model. So I’m back to the shops again.
  • Had a random email from a fellow BookCrosser
  • Bought some new work shirts as quite a few of the current stock have reached their last outing. It’s still amazing to order something on Sunday night and have it there on your doorstep at lunchtime the next day.
  • Pondered how I now seem to need to visit the barbers every three weeks and wondered if faster hair growth is part of the aging process.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

  • Phoenix (2014) was both somewhat wooden and quite beautiful. I found I had to suspend disbelief at how quickly the story ran along, but I was glad to have watched it.

Web

Books

Next week: Two online Album Clubs and the next steering committee meeting.

Weeknotes #260 — We are the world

A huge banner now hangs from St Pancras New Church near Euston Station in London, raising awareness of the climate emergency

A huge banner now hangs from St Pancras New Church near Euston Station in London, raising awareness of the climate emergency

I’m enjoying my work, but this week was super hectic. To add to the fun, on Thursday afternoon I started getting a cold and by Friday evening it was in full swing, forcing me to load up all of my pockets with tissues. As of Sunday night I’ve started to turn the corner, just in time to get back to work again.

This was a big week for the main programme that we are running this year. I’d set up our first Steering Committee meeting for Friday afternoon and I had to prepare a slide deck for the team to review. Getting ready for a governance meeting isn’t something that you can start too early, otherwise the information changes and you end up tweaking and reworking the slides multiple times. Once I’d aligned with our CIO on the information we wanted to present it was then just a case of getting my head down and creating the document, which I did through Thursday evening and Friday morning. The meeting went well and I feel as though we have a good collective understanding of where we are and what we need to do.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had several meetings with our audio/visual technical design vendor who are working on multiple projects for us.
  • Met with our Finance team to discuss the approach to modelling our property programme costs. We’ve now got a clear view of what we need to pull together.
  • Continued with the process to bring additional project management support on board for our team.
  • Had the weekly project meeting with our sister company for renovating our main office.
  • Spent half a day in vendor presentations that were in response to an RFP issued by our sister company. We may have some involvement with the organisations so it was good to see what they have to offer.
  • Had the weekly meeting for the move of one of our offices.
  • Reviewed the latest draft of an RFP for furniture in our new office.
  • Wrote my sections of our quarterly report to our Board of Directors.
  • Attended a vendor demo of a web-based software tool that may help us with originating new business.
  • Met with a colleague who is getting an internal Engineering Community of Practice off the ground. Offered my thoughts that we need to encourage our staff to be members of communities of practice beyond the boundaries of our organisation, and that we should use the internal forum for the things that are unique to us.
  • Drafted text for an article in our in-house monthly magazine about speaking to the Technology team ahead of planning an important meeting or event. Although the technology in our office is relatively straightforward and intuitive, this doesn’t always hold when people start to do something exotic such as using shared meeting spaces and expecting a particular conferencing platform to work.
  • Reviewed text for another article that encourages people to take part in our Random Coffees initiative. After nearly four years we’ve had over 5,000 pairings and still have about 60 people that regularly take part. Staff joining our organisation have consistently said how useful it has been to be able to meet other people through this process.
  • Took part in a half-day mandatory training session on the topic of Meaningful Conversations.
  • Had our monthly catch-up with the Operational Risk team.
  • Had my weekly meeting with my product leadership team.
  • Decided to replace an old Raspberry Pi with a model 4B. I use two Pis for running redundant pi-holes at home, but this old one regularly gives me trouble when I try to upgrade the software. The rpilocator website is an incredible tool for finding where Raspberry Pis are in stock.
  • Heard an unexpected clatter and thunk as I drove my car off of our driveway. It turned out that one of our front coil springs had failed, leaving a piece of it in the road. Getting the pair replaced and getting four new tyres at the same time left us unexpectedly £900 lighter.
  • Had a very informative meeting with a company that specialises in sports-based scholarships at US universities. It now feels like a real possibility for our eldest son.

Media

Video

  • One of my Album Club friends was gushing about how good Netflix’s The Greatest Night in Pop (2024) is. He wasn’t wrong — it’s superb. I remember watching the music video for We Are the World, tucked up on the sofa with my parents when I was about nine years old, with them delighting in telling me who was singing each part. Watching it all come together in this movie is an absolute delight. There are so many amazing moments which I won’t spoil here. But, the next time I start thinking that I’ve had quite a long day, I will channel my inner Lionel Richie and push on through.
  • My family are more of a TV series kind of people than movies. I took advantage of being home alone one evening by watching Toni Erdmann (2016), a three-hour German film. It’s a slow-burning delight which made me laugh out loud, a weird thing to find yourself doing when you’re watching a movie alone. Loved it.

Audio

  • Loved hearing Soundgarden’s Superunknown at Album Club. I listened to the album a little bit around the time that it was released but probably haven’t heard it in 25 years or so. Spoonman has been rattling around my head ever since.

Books

  • Needing to feed my soul with some fiction, I picked up a copy of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning from my bookshelf. I was delighted to remember that it is a BookCrossing book that was sent to me by someone I met on Twitter some 15 years ago. Once I’ve read it I’ll drop it off somewhere for the next person to enjoy.

Next week: Quote-gathering, and finally seeing Helena Deland live.

Weeknotes #259 — Fake eyes

Pre-pandemic levels of congestion on the way into Euston Square tube station

Pre-pandemic levels of congestion on the way into Euston Square tube station

There’s so much work going on. I feel the stress when I know I have a pile of work to do but my calendar is forcing me to do something completely different instead. I ended up working late into the evenings as well as most of Saturday afternoon, when all the meetings were done, just to ensure that I’m keeping things on track.

This week we had our annual two-day strategy meeting with all of the technology leaders in our division. Most of the 80 attendees gathered in a conference venue in Johannesburg. Last year I joined them, but this time I stayed at home. Although the 7am starts were a little painful, I was grateful to be able to dial in, saving the financial and environmental costs of the trip. The format of the event was mainly a series of presentations and conversations with senior leaders across the company; there is much less reason to be in the room than if it was a workshop.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was sad to see that my usual train was still missing in action on Monday and Tuesday, meaning that there was no time for the 40 minute walk from the station to my office. The overtime ban should be done for now so normal service should resume from next week.
  • Had to switch to a helpdesk role on Monday morning as many staff found that they had trouble connecting to our Wi-Fi. The team found the root cause and fixed it, but it was a bumpy start to the week.
  • Held a meeting with my newly formed team to talk through our structure, where we fit into the organisation, what we do, how I think we should work together.
  • Had meetings with our technology design vendor. We looked at their draft ideas for a new regional office that we move into later in the year as well as taking a walk around our meeting room spaces in London. We’ve started to imagine how we can improve the experience for everyone that uses the rooms, whether they are in them or they are joining remotely.
  • Reviewed the draft service request for the technology design vendor work.
  • Joined the ‘design development’ meeting for the new office. Our Head of Marketing and Communications was there in person, looking at colour and material choices for the fit-out.
  • Completed the RFP process for assistance with real estate/facilities project management, shortlisting and meeting with two vendors before finally agreeing our intent to move forward with one of them.
  • Met to discuss the approach we will take to RFPs in our regional office that we are moving later this year.
  • Had the weekly meeting with our sister company to discuss mechanical works that we are undertaking together.
  • Met with our sister company to discuss upcoming changes to the technology in spaces that we share.
  • Reviewed a proposal for how we intend to share documents with a product-aligned team so that our staff do not need to spend lots of time moving files and folders.
  • Took part in our Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Had the weekly meeting with my product delivery management team.
  • Stocked our Kanban boards with lots of cards relating to our core ‘hard deadline’ projects, for items that are due in the next week or two. It was great to get these things written down and on the right team boards.
  • Felt very frustrated with yet again being the only person that had their camera on in a large working group meeting. I channeled my frustration into reposting a polemic on why I think this is important onto our ‘All Company’ Viva Engage channel.
  • Enjoyed the latest Teams Fireside Chat session, this time with Michel Bouman. Every time I join one of these sessions there there seems to be someone in the room that is demonstrating new technology. Michel was using NVIDIA Broadcast software to ensure that his eyes were ‘fixed’ on the webcam lens. The effect was very convincing, but people in the chat called it out after a while. There’s a debate about whether the eye contact increased or decreased engagement on the call; my view is that it was pretty unnerving. I value the authenticity of seeing people’s faces and expressions without AI augmenting them.
  • Enjoyed the weekly cycle club ride. It was possibly the wettest ride I’ve had where it wasn’t actually raining. We passed through four or five major flooded roads. At one point I got my foot caught in my front mudguard and thought I was going to go down into the lake that we were travelling through, but managed to save it just in time.
Double puncture stop, very early into the ride

Double puncture stop, very early into the ride

  • Needed to replace my cheap Bluetooth sports headphones. I tend to do this every year as they seem to stop working after a while. This time a particularly sweaty bike ride meant that I lost sound in one of the earbuds. I picked these up on Amazon and am blown away by what you can get for £16. They are quite amazing.
How can these be just £16?

How can these be just £16?

Media

Podcasts

  • Enjoyed this twopart series on the careers of the B-52’s and REM.
  • The Microsoft Teams Insider podcast is essential listening for anyone working in the AV/IT space. This week’s show features an interview with Mark Licinio, the Service Owner of Video Conferencing and Teams Devices at BP.

Articles

Video

  • My youngest son and I finally finished the third (and hopefully not final) season of The Orville. What started out as a kind of slapstick Star Trek turned into something beautiful. More than once, the show moved me to tears. If they don’t make any more episodes, I’m going to miss those characters like crazy.
  • Continued with For All Mankind season two and are having to force ourselves to stop watching as bedtime approaches.

Next week: The start of Learned League 100, plus an album club.

Weeknotes #258 — Goodbyes

On Friday we headed town to Bournemouth to say goodbye to my nan. It was a beautiful and moving service, reminding us of what a lovely woman she was. My uncle gave a wonderful eulogy and had us all in tears. She is going to be missed.

The four days at work were busy ones. An overtime ban at the rail company meant that my usual morning train wasn’t running, something I found out on Monday morning after I jogged all the way to the station to avoid missing it.

I also said goodbye to my colleague who has been over with us from Johannesburg for a couple of weeks as she headed off home. Time goes so fast.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got agreement from our internal governance committees to go ahead with the programme structure and steering committee that I have proposed. The next step is the near-impossible job of getting the meeting series in the diary at a time that the everyone can make.
  • Responded to questions from potential suppliers as part of an RFP and had a quick glance at the responses once the deadline passed.
  • Brought our Head of Marketing and Communications up to speed with where we are with our office move project, looped her into the fit-out discussions and arranged for her to have an on-site meeting with the team next week. It’s fascinating what someone with a particular eye for detail will think about that I would completely miss on my own.
  • Had a step-by-step walkthrough of the office move plan with the landlord’s project manager.
  • Joined the weekly meeting with our sister company who are also moving to new premises in the same city. We said goodbye to a colleague in their team that we have worked with for many years and welcomed a new team member to the meetings.
  • Had our weekly meeting with our office technology design vendor to agree next steps for the two office projects they are assisting with.
  • Reviewed the core financial data for an office upgrade/refit project.
  • Gave a tour of our office to a leader from our sister company who occupy the same building as us. They are looking to undertake their own refit next year and wanted to see what we had done.
  • Reviewed the plans to fit out our office with carbon dioxide meters and started to discuss how we might take an alternative approach to meet the requirement, giving us more data and potentially more control in the long term.
  • Had conversations about the Microsoft suite of Generative AI tools and started to look at budgeting for licencing.
  • Had the weekly Digital Product team meeting, discussing how we will approach the work on the backlog and how we will communicate the process to the rest of the team.
  • Met with colleagues in South Africa to discuss approaches to document sharing between our offices.
  • Agreed an approach to some information-gathering work on tools that can potentially help our Investment Banking business.
  • Had an interesting discussion on avatars and authenticity at our monthly Lean Coffee meeting.
  • Attended a town hall meeting where we heard from colleagues in Compliance and a reorganised revenue team.
  • Had two lovely random coffee meetings, one with a friend that I’ve made through the WB-40 podcast community and another from India who works in our Credit Risk team.
  • Enjoyed the first free office lunch of 2024, a delicious poke bowl handmade by our in-house chefs.
  • Enjoyed a Saturday afternoon dog walk and cup of tea with a friend. Discovered how bad a dog can smell after it has rolled itself in fox poo.
  • Popped to the doctor’s to check out what I’m hoping is a small medical issue. Popped back a couple of days later for a blood test and made an appointment with a consultant in March.
  • Had a visit from UK Power Networks who will be removing us from a looped electricity supply with our next door neighbours.
  • Got outside on my bike for the first time in three weeks. Club rides have recently been cancelled due to the cold weather; we don’t go out if the temperature is 2°C or below at 8am. This week it was actually warm enough for bibshorts, but I was the only one in the group to turn up suitably kitted-out.

  • Attended an Academic Speakers Bureau taster session at the LSE, hearing from Nick Robins, Liz Stokoe and Alexander Evans on the topics of a Transforming Finance for a Just Transition, The Conversational Racetrack: The Power of Words in Motion and Cyber, Geopolitics and AI: Navigating a Volatile World.

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Next week: Fitting all of the work around a two-day offsite meeting that I’ll be joining remotely.

Weeknotes #257 — Offsite

An extremely busy week. Three of my colleagues on our management team came over from Johannesburg, so I went into London every day in order to maximise our time together. (Being with them on a Teams call with me at home and them in our London office would have felt so wrong.) Every time I head into the office for five days in a row I wonder how I used to do it week in, week out. I’m knackered.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent offsite at Etc. Venues Monument, right next to where the Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane. I’d been beavering away on the agenda for the past few weeks and it came together well. Everyone seemed to get a lot out of the two days. It was wonderful to have all of us together in the same room, away from the distractions of the office. The venue was perfect; not too expensive, well-equipped and with lovely food throughout the day.

At the end of the week we fed back to the whole department, giving everyone an overview of the ‘hard landscape’ of the year ahead, with the work we have to get done across our property/facilities portfolio taking priority over everything else.

I still feel that I’m working on a ‘just in time’ basis, looking ahead to what the next immediate deadline is and getting the work done for that. It’s hectic.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a revelation as we prepared for our offsite meeting, realising that there are two types of work that we do. The first is ‘don’t ask me what I want, tell me what I need’ which covers the core IT infrastructure, meeting room technology etc. The second is ‘ask me what I need’ which sits more in the digital product development space. The approach to each type of work is different.
  • Met with our meeting room technology vendor, to review the setup of two of our key internal rooms and see if there are any simple improvements we can make. They introduced us to Grid View, which we’ve now enabled in both of the rooms. It has completely transformed the experience for remote participants, with zoomed-in tiles for each of the groups of people in the room.
  • Had a workshop with our meeting room design vendor, reviewing the new office space that we are moving into in one of our cities and talking about what kind of technology might work there.
  • Had a briefing on Sustainable IT at our offsite meeting, with an expert researcher in the field. I learned so much in 90 minutes, but realise how much more there is to know.
  • Enjoyed a recap of the strategy of our part of the organisation from our business manager at our offsite event.
  • Took some colleagues up to see another part of our building which we may want to use while some major works are undertaken in our main office later in the year.
  • Had the monthly project meeting with our sister company on the planned office renovations.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening a new office in a new country.
  • Met with our main technology partner to discuss the big projects that we need to complete this year, so that they are able to come back with a proposal for how they might tackle the work.
  • Had an in-person meeting with our Microsoft licence vendor and discussed other services they offer beyond what we use them for today.
  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to our team of Corporate Finance analysts in Johannesburg.
  • Provided some content for an in-house version of the Thoughtworks Technology Radar that we’re trying as an experiment.
  • Met my product development leadership team for a weekly check-in.
  • Bumped into an old friend from university at the offsite venue, someone that I haven’t seen in over a decade.
  • Wondered how I suddenly became the parent of a son old enough to go to a work Christmas party. I feel like I was his age a moment ago.
  • Had a wonderful dinner at Manicomio City, celebrating a colleague’s birthday and another colleague’s imminent retirement. The table was set up perfectly for the ten of us to all be able to hear each other and the food was exceptional.
  • Enjoyed a team drink at the rooftop bar at Coq D’Argent. The heaters and sheepskins kept us cosy despite the cold.
  • Heard Portishead’s Dummy for the first time in decades at the WB-40 album club. I admire the album more than I love it, which is maybe why I’ve never gone back to it since the time it was released. It’s quite a downbeat record and it’s not often that I want to feel quite like that.
  • Enjoyed a lovely dinner with my wife, her fellow running club coaches and their spouses at someone’s house. It was a good way to unwind after a very busy week.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match.
  • Was pleased to see my Bookcrossing stickers and labels drop through the post. I’ve got a lot of books lined up to release. It rarely happens, but there’s nothing quite like the fun of hearing from a book I released years ago.

Media

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Audio

  • Ben Thompson’s Stratechery interview with Netflix Co-CEO Greg Peters was excellent. I loved the point that Peters made that building institutional capability is only something that you build over time once you’ve hired great people. He also gave some great insight keeping things disciplined and strategic:

Ben Thompson: To our point about the operational stuff, what is fun for me about Netflix is it feels like a deeply strategic company.

Greg Peters: I think of it as that for sure, and Reed [Hastings, Netflix Executive Chairman, Co-Founder and ex-CEO] really instilled that value in that sense that you want to be very considerate about what you go do, you want to only go do the things that really will lead to a gigantic revenue and profit pool. We have this thing we call the lemonade stand in front of the gold mine, which is don’t get distracted building lemonade stands in front of the gold mine — you want to find the gold mines and that’s what you really want to work on. So that discipline, that focus, I think is important.

The other one that really I take away with me is probably the under-recognized benefits of being extremely disciplined about having top talent in all your positions and this goes a little bit back to that strategic mindset versus what it looks like in practical operations, and having great people everywhere just means you can get tons of stuff done.

Web

Next week: Saying goodbye to my nan.

Weeknotes #256 — 2^8

A ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ kind of week. There’s so much going on. Work needed to be regularly prioritised so that we didn’t miss the next deadline or scheduled event. At points it felt almost overwhelming. But I’ve been loving it. It’s been a very long time since we’ve had such important hard external deadlines to meet. They act as a forcing function, making it easier to separate the most important or urgent things from everything else. Out of necessity, my delegation instinct has also come to the fore. It feels very good to decisively hand things over to colleagues who probably should have had the work on their plate long ago; hopefully it feels the same for them.

Next week we have the three Johannesburg-based colleagues from our management team joining us for an offsite. We’ve been preparing for weeks, so I have my fingers crossed that Storm Isha doesn’t disrupt our plans.

I had to spend some time at the weekend catching up with work in order to release some of the pressure next week.

Hitting weeknote ^8 feels like a beautifully geeky milestone. Sometimes it has felt like work, but overall it’s been fun.

This was a week in which I:

  • Put together a proposed programme structure for the real estate/facilities work that we are doing over the next couple of years. Submitted the proposal as well as a high-level project plan to two of our senior governance committees for approval. Once this is in place, I can start to convene a steering committee and get into the critical decisions that we need to make.
  • Created a slide showing all of the organisations that are involved with the programme. It’s incredibly complex.
  • Put together an initial draft list of all of the income and expenditure for our office refurbishment project.
  • Met with our vendor who specialise in meeting room technology design and agreed to schedule a workshop for next week.
  • Updated and issued an RFP for real estate/facilities project management capability.
  • Reviewed the high-level plan for moving office in one of our cities, along with the remaining outstanding points that need to be resolved before we can sign the new lease.
  • Finalised details for our offsite meeting with the venue, including putting time aside for two sets of guest speakers.
  • Took a look at some spare office space that we might utilise while we carry out some invasive works in our regular office later in the year. Met with our Marketing and Communications team along with our Company Secretary to discuss what this process might look like.
  • Started to discuss an alternative approach to one of our office upgrades, future-proofing ourselves so that we are able to take advantage of any core building changes as and when they happen.
  • Was presented with the idea of taking ownership of the technical aspects of our shared meeting room spaces.
  • Met with our Legal team to discuss how we manage requests for Teams meeting recordings from external participants.
  • Spent time with my product management and development team, agreeing both our immediate focus and the approach we will take to any major initiatives.
  • Reviewed the team’s progress with a new tool that we hope will help to surface issues (and impending issues) across our end-user endpoints. Agreed to roll it out to a pilot group of users.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour on the topic of an internal women’s accelerator and networking programme.
  • Had an excellent Random Coffee with a colleague based in our Global Markets team in Johannesburg. He’s an expert in foreign exchange, and was able to give me an education in what it means for there to be ‘a shortage of dollars’ in a particular country. We agreed that he’d come and talk to our team at a future Learning Hour.
  • Found a way to tweak my Obsidian query to surface any open tasks from my meeting notes, grouping them by note but sorting the notes in descending ‘last modified’ order, so my most recently captured tasks appear at the top. Some would argue that this is back to front, but that’s not really how I work. If something is really important and I haven’t done it yet, I’m likely to capture it more than once; doing so will mean it is near the top.
  • Discussed that when a conversation gets tricky, it is always best to jump to the highest-fidelity medium to resolve things. Speaking in person beats a video call, which beats an audio call, which beats text messages.
  • Had a lovely call with my parents after work one evening. Despite them having a lot going on, it was so lovely to feel how much they are there for me and my family.
  • Renewed my Learned League membership for another year. I’m rubbish at it, but it doesn’t stop it being a lot of fun. I’m so grateful that Matt Haughey and Jessamyn West introduced me to it.
  • Got by without buying lunch for a whole week. I’m trying to pull the reins in on spending after having been out a few times in December. I’m not sure how long it will last, as man cannot live on protein and cereal bars alone.
  • Was blown away by watching Queen Rock Montreal in IMAX. Of course the images were amazing, but the sound — THE SOUND. It was so loud. I loved it.
  • Had the insides of our two roof lanterns professionally cleaned. It was long overdue. They look lovely and sparkly now.
  • Designed and ordered a custom stamp for labelling the cross-section end of books that I want to give away via Bookcrossing. I’m a lapsed Bookcrosser, having started in 2006, but for some reason I’ve now got the itch again.
  • Went out for a Saturday night curry in Chertsey with my lovely old friends.
  • Had a satisfying week on the bike trainer, completing some rides that made me feel like I had stretched myself.

Media

Podcasts

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Video

  • Caught the Algeria vs Angola match in the Africa Cup of Nations.
  • Continued watching Grange Hill series 14. Just a few episodes to go.
  • Was brought to tears by The Orville S3E5. I think it’s my favourite show. Absolutely beautiful storytelling with such incredible characters. I didn’t expect this when I first started watching it.

Music

  • I’d never realised that the lyrics to Shake, Rattle and Roll are so obscene.
  • Enjoyed a wonderful online Album Club listening to Bass Culture by Linton Kwesi Johnson. I’ve struggled to get into reggae as I couldn’t find my way in, but this album is super accessible. Loved it.
  • Learned that Seal’s Kiss From A Rose is ‘33% sharp’. Amazing.

Next week: Keeping my fingers crossed that the trains are running despite the storms, so that I can make it into London five days in a row.

Weeknotes #255 — Meetings are not enough

Mentally this was an extremely busy week. From a work perspective, there’s a mountain to climb this year. But, I have a map, a compass, provisions, fair weather and an excellent team; it’s going to be tough but I think we can do it. This week felt as though I spent a lot of time wrestling with the problems we need to solve, but I didn’t feel like I was tackling them on my own. I love working in our team.

The weekend was so busy with unplanned events that I wasn’t able to get my weeknotes written up in good time. It happens.

This was a week in which I:

  • Was sad to hear that my nan had passed away. But so grateful that she had lived a long and independent life.
  • Had a visit from the ‘couldn’t make it up’ department where my first commute of the year was delayed as the doors stopped working on our brand new train. After the crew wrestled with them for 20 minutes at Bushey station, they eventually made the decision to take the train out of service. It wasn’t an auspicious start to the year.
  • Continued work on the ‘kickoff deck’ for the year, including what will be the hard-edged immovable deadlines that we need to hit this year. Our plan is to review this at an offsite meeting the week after next and then take it back to the whole team.
  • Made progress with booking a venue for the offsite meeting. We’ve agreed where we plan to go and now need to get the contract signed.
  • Got my head around a building infrastructure project, primarily through re-reading materials that had been sent to me over the past few months and asking questions of the team that have been leading the work. Things are starting to make sense. It made me realise that there is no substitute to burying yourself in the work; attending meetings is not enough on its own. Finished the week by sending out an advisory note to our senior leaders about the broad shape of the work for this year, trying to prompt issues being raised as early as possible.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening a new office.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for moving offices in one of our cities. We are very close to a significant milestone, after which our team needs to spring into action.
  • Had a couple of meetings for the project to address the way in which our teams store documents. Information management is a difficult problem to solve in a way that meets the needs of all interested parties.
  • Had a call with a senior internal stakeholder to close out on an initiative that we had decided against taking forward.
  • Had an impromptu conversation with one of our business heads about a gap that they have in their business process. Next steps are to set up a call with a vendor and start to map out where a tool could fit into a broader set of steps to plug the gap.
  • Agreed with a vendor to postpone some team-wide training on clear writing that we had planned for Q1. We don’t have enough time available to make sure that we do justice to the preparation and delivery of the material. Hopefully we’ll be able to complete this once all of our main projects are up and running.
  • Held the first Learning Hour session of the year. The talk continued the theme of 2023, with a focus on Generative AI. Our presenter gave a high-level overview of LM studio which allows you to download and run large language models on your PC. The conversation made me realise that most people — including me — have an imperfect knowledge of how the tools work. It got me searching for an analogy that I had encountered before Christmas which you can find in the podcasts section below.
  • Met with colleagues across our Group to discuss Generative AI patterns and guidelines and our approach to utilising the technology.
  • Had our monthly meeting with the Head of Operational Risk.
  • Met with a senior colleague who is struggling with their personal productivity workflow. Our conversation was a reminder that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I’m very much a text-based note-taker, whereas a big part of my colleague’s job is marking up PDF files across a number of different devices. Our team needs to get good at using the same tools so that we are able to help with requests like this.
  • Said ‘Happy New Year’ to the final set of colleagues who returned from leave. It’s great to have the whole team back in action again.
  • Had a lovely lunch with our divisional CIO and my colleagues in our management team. Found out that one of my colleagues is allergic to shellfish, not great when you’re sitting down to eat at a restaurant called Burger & Lobster. They (both the restaurant and my colleague) were very good about it; the restaurant let him nip over to Nando’s and bring back something to eat at our table.
  • Had a random coffee with a fellow member of the WB-40 podcast Signal group. He is an IT Director at an events company. It was fascinating to hear about the challenges he has had with deploying IT infrastructure in unusual places, as well as occasional problems with event attendees.
  • Started to look at what it would take to remove a support pillar in our kitchen. Exchanged emails with an architect friend who previously worked on our house to see what the possibilities are. Our kitchen is old and tired. When we last had it fitted we couldn’t afford to do anything with the pillar, but it’s meant that we’ve had to compromise on everything else.
  • Decided to stop using the Kagi search engine, two months after I started a subscription. This forum thread was the catalyst, and another sealed the deal for me. I’ve switched back to DuckDuckGo.
  • Took down our external Christmas lights at home.
  • Didn’t make it out for a bike ride as the temperature has dropped too low. TrainerRoad  had me on a recovery week so I had a few easy rides lined up. I think that perhaps they are too easy and I’m not convinced that a whole week of gentle rides is really necessary. The next time they turn up in the calendar I may opt for something heavier.
  • Joined seemingly everyone else in the country in watching Mr Bates vs The Post Office. I approached it gingerly as I am not usually someone who likes an ITV drama, but it is actually superb. Brilliant storytelling that brings a complex, technical narrative to life.
  • Had a great time at Album Club, listening to an excellent album, enjoying our host’s fabulous hospitality and talking a lot of nonsense.

Media

Podcasts

Aza Raskin: Just quickly for listeners, I want to give an analogy because a lot of this can feel confusing, like model weights and source code. How does all this stuff work? I think a useful analogy is sort of like an MP3 player, model weights, when you say a model weight, what is that? That’s like an MP3 file on your computer. And if you’re open up in a text editor, it would just look like gobbledygook. But if you have the right kind of player, you take your MP3 and you put it into a music player, an MP3 player, you can hear the song. And it’s very similar with AI. Weights are just like this MP3 file. If you open it up just looks like gobbledygook. You put it into an AI player, and then you get the blinking cursor that can start to think and do cognition. And then there’s the code that generates the MP3, that’s the training code. It takes all the data and it makes MP3 file, an AI file. Inference is what we normally call the player. So those are some of those terms. And when we say that the weights are open, it means that the MP3 has sort of been put out onto the web and anyone that has a player can now play that thing, and there’s no way to take the MP3 off of the web. Once it’s out, it’s out forever.

Articles

Video

  • I have had a major earworm of this song for the whole week after it turned up on a random playlist. I first heard it on a VOX magazine cover CD. Press play and you too can have an earworm of your own.

Websites

Next week: Trying to move forward on all fronts at work, an online Album Club, and heading to the cinema to see Queen rocking Montreal.

Weeknotes #254 — Scratchy fox

Originally I had booked this week off work. But seeing as everyone else in the house was going back to school on Thursday I decided to get back to it, using the two days to get a head start on the year. Things looked promising to start with as I only had three meetings booked in the diary across the two days, but by the time I finished on Friday evening I had been in many more.

I love working in my home office. It’s such a productive space for me. My furry friend from down the road came to visit. Foxes are back as well; I could hear them scratching and digging under my feet as I sat at my desk. I assume that within a few months we’ll start seeing a cub or two popping into our garden at night.

Welcome back, foxy friend.

The friendly neighbourhood friendly cat popped by to wish me a Happy New Year

The friendly neighbourhood cat popped by to wish me a Happy New Year

Our love of the Darts World Championship continued through to the final on Wednesday night. Before this year I don’t think I’d really appreciated how much of a mental game it is, with momentum and form swings potentially happening a number of times during a match. It feels like it shares a similarity with a great tennis match, where a particular game could mean that players draw level or are suddenly two sets apart.

Having a week at home meant that I’ve managed to get on a bike every day so far this year. Cardio exercise will come to a juddering halt with my return to the office on Monday but it was good to start things off the right way.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got through my entire personal email inbox. I haven’t got this close to ‘inbox zero’ for years, mainly as my personal mails sat right next to my school governor ones. It feels good to know that I’ve flushed out any demons that were lurking there.
  • Sent an email to our Group CEO to let him know much I have enjoyed his monthly video updates. This time last year we heard from him on ‘being fully present’; I suggested that a company culture of putting cameras on in meetings could go a long way in this regard. I think it says a lot about our company that I felt comfortable doing this and even more that I received a response.
  • Continued work on the ‘kickoff’ deck that I plan to use with the whole team to get us off on the right foot for the year.
  • Met with contacts in a sister company to discuss our office refurbishment and the approach to technology shared spaces.
  • Reviewed the latest architectural drawings for a new office that we hope to move into this year and agreed the tweaks that we want to make to the design.
  • Completed a long-overdue handover of our digital signage platform to our Infrastructure and Operations team. We have a handover checklist, the master template of which I revised as I spotted gaps and changes that we should make. Going through the process was useful and it’s good to have a completed task on the board this early in 2024.
  • Made some prioritisation decisions about things I (and we) are not going to do in the first part of the year, clearing the decks to focus on the must-do projects.
  • Looked into the possibility of my youngest son coming to my office for his work experience later in the year. We’ve had lots of children spending time with us over the past year and everyone has been very willing to give their time to our young guests.
  • Went all in on my Obsidian sync subscription, opting for an annual rather than monthly payment in order to make a small saving. It took me a little while to get my head around it but I’m glad I switched; linked text files are very aligned to how I like to work.
  • Booked a ticket to the Interesting conference in London on 15 May. I really enjoyed it last year — an eclectic mix of topics in a lovely setting.
  • Booked in a plumber to look at our external drain which seems to be blocked. Normally I have to clear it out a few times a year, but this time I don’t seem to be able to get at whatever’s stopping the flow.
  • Went to pick up the match day delegate bib at my eldest son’s football match but then found myself with the assistant referee flag instead. It was probably my busiest game ever as a linesman, with the opposing team getting frustrated with multiple offsides. It was great to feel confident in what I’d seen and what I’d called, despite the abuse that came my way.

Starting this week, I’m going to try an experiment with my weeknotes, logging media items that have struck me as particularly interesting or useful. I got through over 1,700 podcast episodes last year; perhaps logging the highlights here will help me to remember what I read or heard.

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

Next week: Back to the office.

Weeknotes #253 — Feliz COVIDad

COVID-19 grabbed hold of me and took me down on Christmas Day. I spent most of the first half of the week lying on the sofa, as getting up led immediately to watery eyes and sneezing fits. It’s such a strange illness; highly contagious — every time I’ve had it, I’ve been one of many that tested positive after a social event — and yet I don’t think we’ve ever passed it onto each other at home. It wasn’t fun, but it could have been worse. I didn’t develop a fever, and by Wednesday evening I felt that I had turned a corner, with my tests being negative by the weekend.

In my infected haze I somehow managed to get the dishwasher and laundry tablets mixed up. I can report that washing clothes with dishwasher tablets does no discernible harm, apart from to your ego as you have your geriatric moment pointed out to you.

We managed to make the most of Christmas Day, getting around the table for a rare family game of Ticket to Ride before the lovely dinner that had been hastily bought the day before.

I don’t think I’ve watched so much television in years. I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of putting on an old classic film that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) — my favourite film of all time — is in that category, as is Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and White Men Can’t Jump (1992). You can put the film on, half-watch it, stop it at any time and come back to it whenever you feel like your brain needs to veg out. My mission of trying to get through the first 14 seasons of _Grange Hill_1 is entering its third year and has slowed up; I’ve lost interest a bit as the key characters and storylines are now in the past.

We also watched some excellent TV series and films. AppleTV+ seemed to be on a roll with both Slow Horses and Severance. The last episode of Severance literally had me on the edge of my seat, exclaiming out loud at how good it was. We continue to love The Orville on Disney+ with season two taking things to much greater heights than I had expected. Disney+’s documentary of the Brawn F1 team’s incredible lone season in Formula One was also excellent. We caught How To Have Sex (2023) on MUBI, a superbly-acted portrayal of a hedonistic holiday in Greece which tackles issues of peer pressure and consent. On Saturday we even made it to the cinema to see Everything Is Illuminated (2005); it’s amazing how something so recent already feels so distant, with its story of an American visiting Ukraine for a road trip to trace his ancestors being something that is sadly impossible to conceive of as we enter 2024.

I turned 47 on Sunday. We spent the day with my wife’s parents, as my illness had meant that we couldn’t visit them at the start of the week. It was lovely to see them and to get a couple of things done to help them out. While we were there, the boys were fishing around on the television for something to watch and discovered the World Darts Championship. Like most sports, I don’t follow it but love to watch it when it’s on. The remaining matches have now been etched into the family calendar.

My family and friends bought me so many lovely gifts for Christmas and my birthday. I’ve got a backlog of vinyl records to listen to and new books to read. Some of the books have been put on the shelf next to others that were bought for me this time last year that are still unread. The speed at which the years now whizz by make me more aware of how the only real limiting factor is the time available to me to sit and listen to music or burrow into a book.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet night in, save for picking up my eldest son from a party. I’m looking forward to 2024. It’s going to be a very busy year at work with some critical deadline-driven projects to deliver as well as taking on some additional responsibilities. We are also likely to have an election here in the UK for the first time since 2019. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to finally see the back of the dreadful government that we’ve had for the past 14 years and start to have a positive vision of the future again.

Next week: A few more days off before getting back to work.


  1. Headteacher Mrs McClusky — probably the most famous of the Grange Hill headteachers — retires at the end of series 14, so this seems like a suitable place to stop. 

Weeknotes #252 — Change of plans

I’d been relishing the prospect of this week. After months back to back meetings, people started to drift away on holiday and my diary finally opened up. The days were super quiet. I had to remind myself of how to approach a day where my next task wasn’t being dictated to me by my calendar.

It was a week of reunions. On Monday night I met up with the wonderful people from the WB-40 podcast Signal group, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. We had such a good time; I hadn’t laughed so much in a while. I love these people. Dinner was at Granger & Co in Clerkenwell, a beautiful art-deco style restaurant where we could actually hear each other — at our (average) age, an important feature for a venue to have.

Keeping an eye on the WB-40 crew in their upstairs room via the pub’s CCTV system.

Keeping an eye on the WB-40 crew in their upstairs room via the pub’s CCTV system.

The next evening I went to the pub to meet friends that I made in my first job after I left university. We’ve got that all-important member of the group who lives abroad, so when he’s in town he’s the one that suggests getting together. (It’s interesting to me how physical distance can often bring people closer.) I’m so lucky to have worked with such a wonderful group of people so early on.

Thursday was Open Mic Night at The Goat in Berkhamsted. Fellow Album Club member Ed and his band Pulling Mussels had a slot booked as the ‘feature act’ halfway through the evening, so a couple of us went down to support him. They were excellent. However, I’m not sure someone shouting out “They’re better than the house band!” was that useful when the landlord of the pub plays in the house band. Fingers crossed that they will get asked back.

As Friday evening approached, I started feeling a bit groggy. It’s sometimes difficult to separate the feeling of having had a busy week with lots of late nights from actually getting sick. I had been seeing the reports that COVID-19 cases were on the rise so it was somewhat inevitable that I tested positive on Saturday morning. We had to hastily rearrange our plans so that none of us carried the virus to our older, more vulnerable relatives and instead opted for Christmas at home.

Here we go again.

Here we go again.

This was a week in which I:

  • Created an outline for a slide deck to be used to kick off 2024 with the whole team. We have a very busy year ahead, with some immovable dates that we need to hit, so I want to try to get everyone aligned right at the start. The first part of the deck looks back at 2023; I’ve used WordCloud for Python to pull together a representation of all of our ‘wins’ from the year, with very pleasing results.
  • Started to pull together a plan for a management team offsite in January. Requested quotes from a few different venues that are not too far from our office. Arranged a slot for an analyst to come and talk to us about ‘sustainable IT’.
  • Reviewed the latest architectural drawings for a new office ahead of signing the lease next month.
  • Met with colleagues to review a slide deck that we are submitting to a an executive leadership offsite event taking place in January.
  • Created a ‘Map of Content’ page in OneNote and pinned it as a tab in our main Teams channel. It’s a simple concept that I stumbled across when getting into using Obsidian this year. The reason for pulling this together is to help relieve the problem of people in our team wondering “where the heck is everything?”
  • Got everything out of my head relating to our unstructured document management project and wrote up a proposal onto a short set of slides. Quickly reviewed these with a colleague.
  • Created a new AgilePlace board to be used as a risk log for our change initiatives. This plugs an obvious gap for the team, and will sit alongside the one we already use for managing ongoing operational risks.
  • Renewed our password manager subscription for the next 12 months.
  • Uploaded our Group’s latest social media video to our office digital signage platform.
  • Spent time fixing a presentation, aligning objects and ensuring that images kept to a fixed aspect ratio. PowerPoint is great but there is so much more that it could do by default — there should be a warning to people who try to stretch a photograph.
  • Hosted our monthly Lean Coffee session. These sessions have been a big hit in our team and the discussions have resulted in us making some tweaks to how we work together.
  • Enjoyed a Random Coffee with our head of Business Services, a close colleague who is retiring in a few months’ time.
  • Attended a Product Culture-hosted meetup on Handling the Demand for Fixed Dates when putting together a roadmap.
  • Enjoyed a pre-Christmas meal with my family at a local restaurant before I got properly ill.
  • Loved listening to these two podcast interviews with the Smoke Fairies. They sound so relaxed and confident. Their new album is wonderful and there is such an incredible body of work to explore in their back catalogue.

Next week: An unplanned Christmas at home, trying to get well again.

Weeknotes #251 — Lurking Lucas

Don’t strain your next looking for when the next bus is.

Don’t strain your neck looking for when the next bus is.

Although the meetings have started to thin out, it was another busy week. There’s still plenty going on in the run-up to Christmas. Some big gaps opened up in my calendar which felt like suddenly vacant spots in an otherwise rammed car park in which I’ve been driving around in circles. I still didn’t have enough time to finish all of the things I needed to, so had to spend some time working on Saturday to catch up.

On my way into work on Monday I started to get a sore throat and thought that I was about to get properly sick. Thankfully it never materialised. There are so many coughs and colds around at the moment and I’ve even seen a couple of colleagues take time off with bronchitis and pneumonia, so it felt like a lucky escape.

This was a week in which I:

  • Hosted the third and final workshop to review the status of all of the components that make up the core services in our offices. The next steps are to fill in the blanks and to use the data for scoping some of our projects for next year.
  • Joined a Generative AI workshop with a well-known vendor. I’m really struggling with the cognitive dissonance between a company having ’responsible AI principles’ but basing their technology on a model that is opaque about its training data and uses low-wage workers to train it. Generative AI can be incredible, but I am in ‘full skeptic’ mode as I think we’re still at the ‘peak of inflated expectations’.
  • Spent a lot of time discussing the architectural plans for a new office. We joined that office’s all-hands meeting to present the drawing and the thoughts behind it to the whole team.
  • Met with the project team from a sister company who are coordinating internal building works in our shared office over the next couple of years.
  • Met our COO and CIO to discuss our approach to the shared spaces within our office, as well as some relatively minor changes that we plan to make.
  • Reviewed a document that is intended for our division’s executive offsite meeting in January in order to kick off and frame the year ahead.
  • Put together my half of a slide deck about the ‘Digital Immersion’ that a colleague and I attended in October and presented to the department at our weekly Learning Hour session.
  • Had the monthly vendor call with the analyst service that we subscribe to.
  • Fed back to a potential vendor that we will not be signing a contract with them.
  • Joined the weekly project meeting for opening an office in a new country.
  • Prepared an outline for how I think we should move forward with the management of unstructured files across our division.
  • Attended an interesting Gartner webinar on The Basics of Product Management in IT. The poor presenter told us she wasn’t feeling well at the start of the session and seemed to be melting in front of our eyes as the webinar went on. We had to let her know through the Q&A that we were rooting for her. She managed to get to the end while keeping it engaging. Very impressive.
  • Was interviewed by two Year 11 students about diversity of people in Technology as part of a ‘Business Insights Programme’ being run by a sister company.
  • Enjoyed a ‘Christmas’ lunch with a big chunk of the team from our London office. I hadn’t been to Ping Pong in some time so I was excited to go. Our fabulous colleague who arranged it could only get us a table at 2pm, a little late for lunch, so treated us to a ‘social’ from Ole & Steen.1
  • Walked past Caroline Lucas and a small Channel 4 TV crew as I walked from my office to the train station. I thought I recognised her but I wasn’t sure; I stopped and stared for just a bit too long for things to be comfortable. They were set up in a weird alcove just off of Holborn Viaduct, which is why it took me some time to process. Looking at the video I can see that it’s a pretty good spot, with Amazon’s headquarters in the background providing a ‘random central London location’ vibe.
At the top of the stairs leading down to the road below.

At the top of the stairs leading down to the road below.

  • Enjoyed bumping into a friend from Album Club at the train station. It’s not often I see people I know on my commute, probably as a result of most of us not going in as much as we used to.
  • Had a great Saturday morning bike ride, my first outdoors for many weeks. The cycling club organised their annual Mince Pie Ride which had us all meeting up at a local cafe for a free coffee and a pie at the end when we were done. It was so lovely to get out again.
Mud-spattered and happy.

Mud-spattered and happy.

  • Met up with my family for our pre-Christmas Christmas at my mum and dad’s. They cooked a fabulous meal for everyone. I felt like the cliched uncle who kept remarking on how my nephews and niece have grown. (But they had!) After having been able to spend lots of time together on holidays over recent years, half a day with everyone felt way too short. Hopefully we’ll see more of everyone in 2024.
  • Tried getting a doctor’s appointment three different ways, all of which ended in failure.

Next week: The WB-40 podcast Christmas meetup, seeing some very old friends and going to see a friend drumming at a local gig.


  1. Such an unassuming name. This ‘social’ has to be one of the top five things that I’ve ever eaten. Ever. Absolutely incredible. People were standing around, nibbling them to make them last longer, all agog at how good they were. 

Weeknotes #250 — The Works

Things are getting Christmassy. Boxes of chocolate biscuits have been cracked open in the office and I’ve found myself nibbling the more extravagant chocolates that have been gifted to colleagues from clients. Particularly when nobody’s looking.

Work commitments and social events meant that for the first time in a while I spent Monday to Thursday in the office. Once again I found myself wondering how I used to commute five days a wee for many weeks at a time. I really noticed the impact of not being able to exercise on my sense of wellbeing; getting back on my bike on Friday morning was wonderful and set me up for the day. I’ve also realised that I’m allergic to ‘perc’, the solvent used in dry cleaning; a day of wearing work trousers results in my legs itching for days afterwards. Our dry cleaner told me that nobody has ever mentioned it before. It can’t just be me?

On Wednesday we had our end-of-year regional ‘town hall’ meeting to reflect on the past twelve months and celebrate the winners of our internal awards. Panic set in on Monday when we found that the camera in our event space wasn’t working; it was eventually traced to a faulty cable which was swapped out on the morning of the event. We then had a power failure during the broadcast, but due to the resiliency that had been designed in, nobody noticed. The event itself went without a hitch. (This is what happens behind the scenes, people.)

Most of the office went out that night for the Christmas party, a black tie event at an iconic venue in central London. I’d declined to go, mainly because the idea of coordinating the logistics of different outfits and navigating late night trains filled me with angst. Perhaps it was the memories of the office Christmas parties of the past. Everyone had a wonderful time and the pictures were stunning, but on Wednesday night I felt grateful to be at home, tucked up on the sofa.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my role at work and mentally preparing for next year. There’s much to do.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent a lot of time in project meetings for the new offices that we are moving into in a couple of our locations.
  • Met with colleagues to run through the potential operational and project risks for the office projects.
  • Made some crude revisions to the floor plan of one of our spaces and sent it back to the building architects.
  • Continued the workshop to review the status of the components of our offices and to refine the strategy and philosophy for each item.
  • Created and sent a questionnaire to an office space vendor to clarify details of how the setup might work.
  • Agreed in principle how we plan to work with a vendor that specialises in the meshing of office spaces with technology.
  • Met to agree a plan to resolve audio quality issues with one of our key meeting rooms.
  • Had our monthly operational risk review meeting.
  • Met with a team who have been working on a proposal for improving our ‘know your customer’ (KYC) workflow across our global organisation.
  • Had a follow-up meeting to discuss the taxonomy of document organisation within one of our functions.
  • Attended an excellent internal meetup organised by our Delivery Management Community of Practice on the topic of Value Stream Management. I’ve never seen so many cameras on in one meeting before; it was amazing.
  • Joined the monthly Teams Fireside Chat with Ilya Bukshteyn, Microsoft’s lead for Teams Calling and Devices. There’s nothing quite like getting your questions answered by the person directly responsible for the technology. I asked whether a solution is coming for being able to share Microsoft Teams Room devices between different organisations. He said that they get this question all the time from organisations like hotel chains; the answer is that it’s a difficult problem and won’t be looked at until 2025 at the earliest.
  • Took part in the office fire drill.
  • Spent time with one of our divisional CIOs who was in town for the day.
  • Prepared and ran a quiz using Kahoot! for our final all-team meeting of the year. It’s not cheap, but it’s quick to set up and works well. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.
  • Used ChatGPT to help me with my Christmas shopping. I started with a plea for help and narrowed the focus to small, boutique shops that sold the kind of things that I was looking for. It worked pretty well and seemed much better than wading through pages of search engine results.1
  • Loved hosting this month’s Album Club. I can’t believe it’s taken me 12 years to get around to picking a Queen album. Lining it up for everyone to hear made me feel like an excited kid again.
  • Met up with two very old friends that I first met at university back in the late 1990s. It had been about eight years since we last met up so we had plenty to talk about. Names of things I thought I had long forgotten were brought up and made me chuckle. Great to see them.
We’ve come a long way from the computer labs all those years ago.

We’ve come a long way from the computer labs all those years ago.

  • Was so pleased to see my brother starting an excellent new role after having had some time out for a while.
  • Discovered that I own digital copies of a lots of albums that I have bought in physical format over the past few years. Amazon offer their AutoRip feature for certain albums, adding them to your Amazon Music library when you buy a physical copy. Installing the Amazon Music client on my computer meant that I could download whole albums and move them into my collection. When I’m out and about I mainly use Plexamp to listen to music streamed from my network drive, so having these albums added to my digital library is great.

Next week: Getting down to work as the diary continues to open up.


  1. ChatGPT seems to be having some issues right now, with disappearing responses and regular reports of a ‘network error’. I ended up resorting to taking screenshots of responses in case I lost the output, and resubmitting my prompts multiple times. 

Weeknotes #249 — Loughborough to Leicester

Going to have to take your word for it, Gartner.

Going to have to take your word for it, Gartner.

This week felt as though I spent a lot of time in the office on video calls. I’ve been trying to adhere to the mandate of being in the office for the majority of the week, as well as sticking to our agreed ‘team days’ of Mondays and Thursdays. It feels bizarre to commute to the office for a day filled with back-to-back video calls in order to hit an arbitrary number of days, but I’ve stopped thinking about it too much.

Quite a few of our team were in Johannesburg this week, hosting the final Technology ‘town hall’-style meeting for the year. The rest of us dialled in remotely. Our week centred around this event, with a number of final preparation and dress rehearsal meetings to check both the running order and the audio/visual setup. The day couldn’t have got off to a worse start; a sudden Technology emergency meant that some of the speakers couldn’t be there. The team did a brilliant job of quickly improvising to keep the session on track. I was grateful to get to stay in the UK. It’s lovely and rejuvenating to go and visit the team in Johannesburg, but I’m keen to avoid business travel if I can.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a number of meetings discussing and planning the design of a new office that we will be moving into in one of our cities next year. We have to finalise the design in order to sign the lease, as the majority of the fit-out work is included in the rental cost. One of the best things about my job is the breadth of things that I get involved with. I’ve never been this involved in the design of an office before. There’s so much to learn every week.
  • Ran a short workshop to run through the status of all of the 160+ ‘components’ that make up each of our offices, from the lease upwards. It was great to get the whole of our management team on the same page. We only got halfway through, so need to follow up with a part two next week.
  • Reviewed the submitted responses from a landlord as part of our vendor on-boarding process.
  • Met with a sister company to review the initial ideas for how we can revamp the communal spaces in a building that we share.
  • Tried to push forward with a decision on whether we will formally engage a vendor that we have been speaking to for most of this year.
  • Met with representatives from two of our vendors to look at whether it is feasible for companies to share Microsoft Teams Room (MTR) installations. Our conclusion is: you really shouldn’t.
  • Caught up with the Head of Strategy Enablement for one of our business areas to discuss how they are asking staff to manage their documentation. There is a conflict with how we have asked staff to do this across our region. I’m keen to ensure that they are left to focus on their work while we get to a resolution that suits everyone.
  • Ran our monthly Lean Coffee session. As a direct result of the discussion in the meeting we’ve set up an internal informal chat channel for the whole team.
  • Refreshed the videos running on our digital signage players around the office. A combination of Downie and Permute allows me to grab a video and its auto-generated subtitles from YouTube so that I can burn them into a new video file that will be played silently on our screens. I’ve now set up an alert for our company’s main social media channel so that I can grab any new and relevant content as it is published.
  • Was given feedback that I’m too negative in a couple of forums that I attend. I welcome this; if someone was brave enough to say it to me then I am sure that there are others that are thinking the same thing. I seem to be a lone voice on the risks and downsides of new technologies that we are investigating, so I often play the role of tempering the enthusiasm of the rest of the group. A good example is that Microsoft Copilot gives you the ability to catch up with whatever you missed if you join a meeting late: my concern is that this gives people another reason to not join meetings on time, giving us a worse company culture. I’ll keep giving the feedback, but with the knowledge that I have to turn the volume up on my positive comments as well. (I’ve also been wondering whether not being particularly thick-skinned is a good or a bad thing. Probably the former, but it does bother me that I end up thinking about things like this for a while.)
  • Watched 45 minutes of A Haunting In Venice (2023) before switching it off. Utter drivel.
  • Had a parking fine land on my doormat. I’ve never disputed a penalty before but I’m annoyed at this one; I stopped with the engine running while my wife nipped into a shop, keeping my car well out of the way of other traffic. It’s now ‘on hold’ while they respond to my challenge.
  • Felt frustrated in my attempts to get people across the wider organisation to turn their cameras on in meetings. How do you go about changing a broad company culture? Am I wrong to pursue it? Am I doomed to fail? Has anyone else cracked it?
  • Was reminded that a text-based chat is no substitute for hitting the ‘dial’ button and having a face-to-face conversation with someone, especially when you want to give some feedback.
  • Spent a cold and slushy Sunday up in Loughborough and Leicester as my eldest son was attending an England Athletics Youth Training Programme National Day. I had eight hours to kill and thought I might spend them in Loughborough, but abandoned the plan when I found barely anything there.
  • Finally dived in and started to get myself set up with Obsidian. It meets my need for having my digital notes encrypted when they are in the cloud. I’m glad I took the time to watch a few videos beforehand and let the concepts sink in over a couple of weeks. Backlinks are a game-changer. Within the next few weeks I hope to have removed Dynalist from my workflow. I’ll write a longer post about it at some point.
  • Started to use Kagi as a default search engine after a few months with DuckDuckGo. Both seem to yield consistently better results than Google. Kagi is a “premium search engine” in that it is supported by paid subscriptions rather than advertisements. It isn’t yet available as a default search engine on iOS/iPadOS so is a little clunkier to get to, but I’m hoping that will change with time.
  • Was mildly shocked by my ‘wrapped’ summary in Pocket Casts. I’m not sure this was the goal that their marketing team were going for. I guess it answers my question of whether I’m listening to too many podcasts and not enough music.
Time well spent?

Time well spent?

Next week: Four days in the office, meeting up with old friends and hosting another Album Club.

Weeknotes #248 — Carried in Sound

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

On Thursday night I had the privilege of seeing the Smoke Fairies play live once again. The venue was St Matthias Church in Stoke Newington, a beautiful Grade I-listed building. The setting was perfect for the ethereal, haunting songs from their new album, supplemented with other brilliantly selected numbers from their back catalogue. Their voices and harmonies have never sounded better.

The Smoke Fairies’ equipment at the end of the gig.

The Smoke Fairies’ equipment at the end of the gig.

I’d booked tickets to the gig as soon as they were announced. Two of my friends had to drop out due to COVID-19 and other logistical reasons, so I scrambled to find another two to take their place. We ended up enjoying what felt like yet another night where I knew everyone, but nobody knew each other. We ate at the nearby Plant Club, a “plant-based, gluten-free, organic Italian Restaurant” that is located in a strange ‘greenhouse’-type building surrounding a co-working space. The food was outstanding.

The venue wasn’t that close to any tube stations, so I used CityMapper to find the best route to get there. I absolutely love this app — long gone are the days when I’d board a bus with trepidation, repeatedly asking fellow passengers and the driver to let me know when I needed to get off.

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

This was a week in which I:

  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI as a guest at the internal Investment Banking Operations Town Hall meeting. I’ve been presenting on this topic for most of this year and things have moved on, so I made a few updates ahead of the presentation. Great examples of how these technologies go wrong continue to appear on social media; these are very useful for supporting some of my key points.
  • Spent a lot of time thinking through the problem of two organisations sharing Microsoft Teams Room devices. We’re reaching the conclusion that whilst it is doable in theory, there are a myriad of reasons as to why it should be avoided.
  • Met with our technical team to agree the evolution of our Azure Information Protection and sensitivity label settings and behaviours in Outlook.
  • Wrestled with an issue that has appeared in one of our core desktop applications, grabbing log files and passing them to the support team members who are working with the vendor.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss how our Technology work should be pitched at the senior management kick-off meeting in January.
  • Introduced two of our vendors to each other, one that is helping us with a real estate rental agreement and office fit-out, and another who are experts in blending technology with office design.
  • Met another vendor who provide technology and office fit-out capabilities within Africa.
  • Joined the weekly project meetings to coordinate the new leases and fit outs of our office spaces.
  • Contributed to a draft response to a technology-focused questionnaire from one of our regulators.
  • Continued work with our product management and product development leads, aligning on the work that we need to do and where we have gaps.
  • Met with colleagues who are being asked by two different teams to store their core data in two different ways and took an action to try and resolve the conflict.
  • Joined a meeting between our development team and another within our division who have been thinking deeply about data architectures. There is plenty that we can leverage that they have created.
  • Was introduced to a company that produce IoT in-ceiling devices that monitor all of the core thing that may need monitoring in an office environment: heat, light, presence of people, air quality etc.
  • Met a vendor to hear their proposal for how they could work with us from a software development perspective.
  • Continued internal discussions on an external vendor tool that we have been assessing.
  • Enjoyed a very informative Learning Hour session with an expert from the company that provides us with our SD-WAN.
  • Had Brightwell Aerials complete the installation of a wired ethernet connection to a corner of my house that had poor Wi-Fi coverage. I couldn’t seem to get a good connection from just relocating the Wi-Fi mesh points. They ran a cable around the outside of the house to avoid creating a mess indoors. I’ve set up an additional Ubiquiti Amplifi HD router that I bought on eBay and configured it to use Ethernet backhaul.
  • Started the second round of the WB-40 Album Club. I had to play what I consider to be my favourite album of all time, George Harrison’s Living in the Material World. Album Clubs are so great — my least favourite song on the album seemed to have an emotional impact on one of the other members. We all hear different things.

  • Enjoyed a random coffee with a cybersecurity expert from the WB-40 community.
  • Had a lot of fun at a friend’s 50th birthday party. It was fancy dress, with a theme of ‘things beginning with the letter C’. Our cosmonaut costumes were a hit, as were my light-up silver shoes. Our hosts had hired a mini play casino for the night. I’d forgotten how much fun blackjack is, despite getting through all of my fake cash within the first half an hour of being there.
Cosmonauts

Cosmonauts

  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match.
  • Spent some time thinking about my next choice for ‘the original’ in-person Album Club that I’ll be hosting in a couple of weeks. It’s fun revisiting potential choices and giving them a run-through on my commute.

Next week: Meetings, meetings everywhere.

Weeknotes #247 — Back to back to back

Meetings. So many meetings. This week, my calendar looked like this:

At one point I had to pick between five meetings all booked to start at the same time.

At one point I had to pick between five meetings all booked to start at the same time.

One of the benefits of sitting down to write these weeknotes is that I take the time to look back over what happened in the past seven days. There was so much in quick succession, with so much context switching, that it was difficult to take stock as I went along.

It was busy, but it was fun. For the second week in a row I felt like some major puzzle pieces slotted into place in terms of what my focus needs to be and what is being asked of me and my team. I’m hoping that I’ll have plenty of time to develop my thinking as we move into December, traditionally a very quiet period for a South African company as lots of people go on their summer holidays.

This was a week in which I:

  • Continued the weekly meeting series with our product development and product management leads.
  • Joined meetings with a number of senior leaders to showcase the work our team has been doing on the prototype of a new internal product. The session with our CEO was invaluable, both for his insight and direction on the product and our business more broadly.
  • Ran a short workshop on our real estate and facilities-focused programmes with the other leaders in our Technology team, outlining the approach to the work so far and indicating what will be needed from them.
  • Joined the project team meeting for the planned opening of a new office.
  • Met with vendors that specialise in fitting out modern office spaces.
  • Reviewed the latest internal architectural drawing for a new office that we are moving into in one of our locations. Discussed the timeline with our commercial real estate partners and agreed next steps.
  • Had some insightful, useful and impromptu end-of-day meetings with members of our management team in the office. These types of conversations wouldn’t happen if we were working from home.
  • Met with colleagues across our division to discuss the feasibility of setting up an internal ChatGPT-like capability.
  • Took part in an internal review our Microsoft licence requirements ahead of our annual renewal.
  • Attended our weekly Learning Hour meeting to hear our CTO talking about the future of the office from a technology perspective.
  • Met with the host of an offsite session taking place next week. I have been invited to present on the topic of large language models and Generative AI. It was so lovely to meet someone that is so organised.
  • Joined the penultimate weekly preparation session for the town hall meeting that our department is hosting in a couple of weeks’ time.
  • Reviewed the risks that I own as part of our annual self-assessment.
  • Had our Information Risk governance meeting.
  • Came to the realisation that we need to think of a different way to get one of our projects completed. Despite best intentions, a colleague and I haven’t been able to put enough time aside to move it forward. I need to try to dedicate some time next week to articulating the intent of the work; we’ll then use this as the basis of getting it done through a third party. (Why is it always a third party? What’s a second party?)
  • Was sorry to hear that a colleague had gone off sick with pneumonia. It brought back memories of when I was hospitalised with it almost a decade ago. Hoping she’s on the mend and back with us very soon.
  • Attended a vendor webinar on how to Unleash Business Agility with Planview Roadmaps. We’re already using roadmaps; apparently there will be a free product for existing customers (e.g. those people using AgilePlace, like us) and an Enterprise product.
  • Took the plunge and paid for The Sweet Setup’s To Obsidian and Beyond video course. I managed to watch a handful of videos from the first module and need to put some time aside to go through the rest.
  • Was let down twice in one day by a local network installation company. We have a dead spot in our house that I’m planning to fix via an additional Amplifi router (already purchased from eBay) and a physical ethernet cable that we’ll route on the external walls of our house.
  • Enjoyed hearing a Rush album for the first time, at Album Club. After the album, our host played us some of their most famous hits and I didn’t recognise any of them. How have I managed to avoid exposure to them for nearly 47 years?
  • Was so pleased to have both the Helena Deland and Smoke Fairies new albums drop onto my doorstep. They are beautiful records.
  • Finished watching the Beckham documentary series on Netflix. I’m still getting to grips with the fact that that events I remember from my lifetime are now the subject of historical documentaries. He and his family come across very well, but I’m not sure it was ever going to be any different given that Beckham himself was an executive producer.
  • Rolled straight into the Robbie Williams series. Similar programmes always seem to come along at once.
  • Burnt my throat on a hot veggie roll that had just come out of the oven. I’ve burnt my tongue and mouth many times in the past but this was a new one for me. Not recommended.
  • Had a midweek trip with my youngest son to our beautiful local cinema to watch Killers of the Flower Moon (2023). The film kind of smoulders instead of hitting you in the face. Despite that, it didn’t feel as long as its 3h26m running time. We both enjoyed it, but it felt a far cry from Martin Scorsese’s best movies.
  • Joined some friends at a quiz night in aid of two local youngsters who are raising money for their World Challenge expedition.
  • Invested in an iPad for our eldest boy in the hope that it will help him with his school work. We popped along to the Apple Store in Watford in order to check out the devices in person. Apple being Apple, you can’t just decide what you want and then buy it, you have to book a time slot where someone will help you. As we waited, I amused myself by playing this week’s earworm as loud as I dared on the HomePod speakers.

  • Was grateful that my eldest son’s football match was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. The weekend was packed so it was great to get some time back. Instead of spending Sunday morning running up and down waving a flag I watched other people do it on TV at the third ever F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix.
  • Took advantage of a relatively dry spell to get out in the garden to vacuum up the tons of leaves that have landed. Our big beech tree has been completely stripped naked by the high winds, but our neighbours’ trees still have some way to go. I only got through half of the work before our garden waste bin filled up.
  • Helped my wife to shop for some new glasses.
  • Demolished the first mince pie of the season. It’s never too early.

Next week: An online Album Club and the return of the Smoke Fairies.

Weeknotes #246 — The man in seat 61

Waiting for a keynote session to begin

Waiting for a keynote session to begin

Most of my week was spent at the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo in Barcelona. This is a gigantic gathering of 6,500 Chief Information Officers and other IT executives along with 1,500 Gartner analysts and staff. I’d previously been to a couple of Gartner conferences that were focused on Programme and Portfolio Management, so I knew roughly what to expect. What I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer size and scale of this event.

But first, I had to get there.

Working for a global organisation, I’m very conscious of my carbon footprint, particularly due to stories of ‘extreme’ weather events hitting the news almost every week. Flying short-haul from London to Barcelona seemed like an easy but excessive thing to do, particularly when seat61.com informed me that I could make the trip by rail in a single day. Almost two decades ago, at another employer, I had tried to suggest that I take the train for a business trip to Zurich; I was laughed out of the room. I’m glad that times have changed. As soon as I knew I’d be going to the conference, I booked my train tickets through our corporate travel agent in order to secure a good fare. Sunday morning was an early start; I soon found myself on a near-deserted Berkhamsted station waiting for the train into London. The train rolled in on time, but to a completely different platform to the one scheduled. I found myself hitting my maximum heart rate as I picked up my suitcase and ran down and up the flights of stairs to get to the train before it departed.

The process to get on board the Eurostar was straightforward, and very familiar to anyone who has been through airport security. Bags had to be x-rayed and bodies scanned. Both the British and French immigration staff are located in the station, so you pass through both checks in quick succession.

I had an economy ticket for the Eurostar journey to Paris. The seats were comfortable but I found myself trying not to bash my feet into those of the person sitting opposite me.

The seats soon filled up and we found ourselves travelling at an impressive 300km/h.

The seats soon filled up and we found ourselves travelling at an impressive 300km/h.

Upon arrival at Gare du Nord I had to make my way through the Paris Metro to get to Gare de Lyon for the next major leg of the journey. A single Metro journey was cheap at less than £2, but obtaining a ticket was filled with frustration. The ticket touch screen terminals work fine, as long as you know exactly what buttons to press. Any doubt, or use of the ‘go back’ button, resulted in the screen freezing up for a minute or two. I was worried that the people behind me would start getting shirty but they seemed to know this is just how things are.

At Gare de Lyon I armed myself with a sandwich for the journey and navigated myself to the platform where my TGV train sat waiting. As this leg was going to be six and a half hours, I had booked a first class seat for a little more comfort. I smiled when I found myself in seat 61 and now know why the famous website has that name — it’s the best single seat in the carriage, with only a luggage space for company and easy access to both the toilet and buffet car.

A bit dusty and dated, but with everything I needed for the journey.

A bit dusty and dated, but with everything I needed for the journey.

The train travels like a rocket from Paris down to the south coast of France. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out of the window to find the Alps on the horizon so soon after we had departed. Once we hit Valence, the journey slowed as the train made its way around the south coast and down into north-east Spain, stopping at places such as Nîmes, Montpellier and Girona before finally pulling into Barcelona.

On advice from my contacts at Gartner, I had booked a hotel adjacent to where the conference was to be held. This was some distance from the station so I had to grab a taxi there. By the time I reached the hotel and unpacked my things it was around 10pm and I was exhausted, but happy that I’d saved around 80% of the carbon emissions versus flying there.

The conference itself was incredible. Lots of my tech-focused friends don’t think very highly of Gartner due to the cost of accessing the services and questions around the objectivity of their research. However, they absolutely know how to run an event. Over the next four days there was an incredible number of keynotes, presentations, workshops, roundtables and networking opportunities. And catering — a seemingly non-stop conveyor of things to eat and drink appeared throughout each day. Early on Monday and Tuesday I had managed to get out for a 10km run so I felt free to indulge in all of the things.

Breakfast smoothie bowls, cakes, cookies and three types of churros. Who could resist?

Breakfast smoothie bowls, cakes, cookies and three types of churros. Who could resist?

The joy of an early morning run...

The joy of an early morning run…

...is that you get to see the sunrise

…is that you get to see the sunrise

As well as the Symposium there was a giant hall which hosted the IT Xpo, where Enterprise technology vendors lured IT executives into conversations through various free items, ranging from pens and notepads to gigantic bars of Tony’s Chocolonely. I could resist the pens but not the chocolate. Free things would be exchanged for a scan of the QR code on your lanyard so that the exhibitor could add you to their marketing database and send you email.

The IT Xpo hall

The IT Xpo hall

On Tuesday someone came knocking on the doors of the hotel rooms that were adjacent to the conference, dropping off a Gartner bag filled with leaflets from some of the vendors. Included in the box was half of a set of knockoff Apple AirPod headphones, the idea being that you would have to visit the vendor’s stand to pick up the other half. I suspect that many people didn’t go. What a waste. The ‘climate neutral transport’ badge on the back of the box felt deeply ironic.

Half a set of headphones.

Half a set of headphones.

Of the sessions themselves, as you would expect, Artificial Intelligence was everywhere. So much so that some of the presenters would drop jokey warnings into the start of their sessions to say that there would be minimal AI content for the next 30 minutes. The first keynote session of the week was AI-focused and offered some interesting insights, such as how “ethical decisions often disguise themselves as IT decisions” and that all companies should look to have their own principles for the use and adoption of AI.

There were many more sessions throughout the week than it is possible to attend. Many ran at the same time, forcing you to choose which one to go to. By the end of the week I had learned to opt for sessions on topics that I know the least about. My favourite was one called The Neurodiversity Advantage: Create a Win-Win for Neurodiverse Talent and Your Organisation presented by Rob O’Donohue who told me that:

  • 15–20% of people are neurodivergent, i.e. have ADD, ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, Tourette syndrome or others. Of those, only 3% are employed versus 68% of neurotypical people.
  • Only one in 10 companies have a neurodiversity programme.
  • Companies can offer a menu of interview options ahead of time, accommodating people that may struggle with one or more elements of a standard interview. For example, questions could be shared before or a candidate may prefer a one-on-one interview versus a panel.
  • Staff could create a ‘personal user manual’ which outlines their communication preferences, learning styles, work habits etc.
  • We have to be careful with analogies as they can be confusing for someone with autism. (In our team we use analogies all day long, so this really got me thinking.)
  • Companies could offer proactive diagnostic support as an employee benefit, helping current employees but also making the organisation more attractive prospective employees.

I also attended a Women in Technology Roundtable on the topic of Building and Leveraging Powerful Allyship which was incredibly inspiring. Our hosts kicked off the conversation and we didn’t stop talking until we were out of time. A participant relayed a story from a video call where her child had jumped on her lap. Her colleague remarked something along the lines of “It’s so lucky for you that you can do that these days as it’s now acceptable to have children on calls.” She responded “It’s lucky for you that I’m able to do this and to keep contributing.” Touché.

Three of the sessions that I attended were led by Helen Poitevin, suggesting that my interests are aligned with hers. One of her presentations tackled the concept of a Digital Twin of the Employee which I am still not sure I truly understand.

Helen Poitevin giving a keynote on AI and the Future of Work

Helen Poitevin giving a keynote on AI and the Future of Work

Another session on Digital Ethics made me conscious of Article 22 of the General Data Protection Regulation that:

The data subject shall have the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her.

It also got me thinking about the juxtaposition of modern slavery statements and the use of tools from companies like OpenAI.

I found the keynotes more fun and interesting than directly useful. Hearing from Peter Hinssen that the Pope has an AI adviser made me think about how we are organised within our own company. Seeing Martina Navratilova live on stage was wonderful. I was familiar with her incredible life story from recently watching Gods of Tennis on BBC iPlayer, but I didn’t know that she had recently been diagnosed with, and subsequently beaten, cancer in two parts of her body. The interviewer tried to bring the conversation towards some ‘key takeaways’, but in truth just to be that close to someone so inspirational was more than enough for me.

An interview with the wonderful Martina Navratilova

An interview with the wonderful Martina Navratilova

On one of the evenings we had a dinner organised by Gartner where we could meet and network with some of our peers from the same industry. I also found a couple of vegan restaurants close by who served delicious food, including this bizarre-looking charcoal, pumpkin cream and shiitake mushroom pizza:

Attendance at the conference seemed to thin out as the week progressed. It completely wrapped up by 4pm on Thursday, at which point the buzz of the hive of IT executives was replaced by trucks and barriers as the venue was disassembled. As I was going back by train, I had to stay for an extra night.

Friday’s journey home was a useful exercise in seeing how well someone can work from a train, the conclusion being ‘adequately, but not optimally’. The guard told me off for joining a Teams call from my seat, so I spent most of the journey sitting in a little ‘phone lobby’ between the door to the carriage and the toilet. The train’s Wi-Fi was surprisingly resilient, if very low bandwidth; I found that Teams degrades quite well, allowing voice traffic whilst reducing the number and quality of video streams.

Watching the South of France whizz by my window. I hadn’t seen any of this landscape on my journey to Barcelona as it was already dark as I passed through.

Watching the South of France whizz by my window. I hadn’t seen any of this landscape on my journey to Barcelona as it was already dark as I passed through.

I finally got back home around 10pm on Friday night, exhausted but marvelling in the fact that I could travel by land from Barcelona in such a short amount of time.

Overall, the conference was an amazing experience. It was lovely to finally meet up with some previously ‘virtual’ contacts in real life, as well as to make some new, valuable connections with others that are tackling similar problems as IT leaders.

Aside from the Symposium/Xpo, this was a week in which I:

  • Had the weekly project meeting with the team looking at the lease for a new office.
  • Joined a conversation with the Marketing team to talk about how to present a story on the tools being delivered by our cross-functional agile team.
  • Met with the vendor whose AI product we are considering for use within the organisation.
  • Joined our bi-weekly management meeting.
  • Decided to jump into Obsidian as my note taking app. I’ve been using Dynalist for a few years but am increasingly concerned that the data isn’t encrypted on the company’s servers. Obsidian allows you to set up an encrypted vault that can then be synced between devices. There’s a bit of a learning curve and I’m keen to not just replicate how I’ve been working in one app without taking advantage of the advanced features in the new app. I have my eye on The Sweet Setup’s To Obsidian and Beyond course, but the $197 price tag is making me wait until I can put some time aside to dive in.
  • Took advantage of a free seven-day subscription to Paramount+ in order to watch the Milli Vanilli movie. As an 11-year old boy, I loved their singles when they came out. The story is tragic, but it was great to see Fabrice Morvan performing and singing live at the end of the movie.
  • Had an impromptu family lunch with my parents who came over to Berkhamsted for a visit. It was so lovely to see them again.
  • Ran the line at my eldest son’s football match, the first time in half a year or so since I had last picked up the flag.
  • Won an eBay auction for an additional Ubiquiti Amplifi router. I’m planning on getting a wired connection between two rooms in my house and installing it there for better coverage. I can’t remember the last time I bid on an eBay auction for anything. It’s still exciting to watch the last few minutes tick down and to end up as the winner.

Next week: Back to the office, and Album Club time again.

Weeknotes #245 — Dog cat

The edge of Storm Ciarán brought the leaves fluttering down

The edge of Storm Ciarán brought the leaves fluttering down

A typically busy week that flew by. There’s a growing pressure to be in the office for the majority of the week. It’s not a new policy, so I resolved to park any debate and to just start doing it, upping my typical attendance from two days to three. I’ve been enjoying a mixture of office and home working over the past couple of years. The office environment is great, but every day I come in is a day that I don’t get the time to exercise. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after a few months.

This was a week in which I:

  • Spent all of my available time between meetings to try to put some shape and structure around our office fit-out/refit programme. This is quickly becoming the most prominent initiative in our portfolio. Most of my thinking is done through creating something, in this case some simple Excel-based dashboards for each of the things we need to consider in each place. It seems so simple, but there’s a massive amount of utility that comes from having artefacts like this.
  • Had a number of meetings and debates about the vendor product that we are considering. We broadened the exposure by floating the idea with one of our front office teams, as well as having a separate demo and discussion with the vendor.
  • Attended the steering committee for a cybersecurity programme that we are running with a sister organisation.
  • Joined a kick-off meeting between our digital development team and the data team of another department to agree how we will work together.
  • Attended a half-day training session on Information Risk Management, run by a colleague from South Africa that I have been bumping into and working with over the past few months.
  • Joined our fortnightly Generative AI working group.
  • Took part in a cybersecurity ‘tabletop simulation’.
  • Caught up with our Account Manager at our primary technology partner, briefing each other on what’s been happening at our respective organisations.
  • Met with some technical contacts to unpack how two companies would be able to effectively share Teams Meeting Rooms. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to the problem, with every potential solution compromosing on either the technical/security aspects, the end-user experience, or both.
  • Wrestled with getting my head around the practical details of how we employ contractors now that they must be inside IR35. It’s complicated.
  • Enjoyed dinner with our new next-door neighbours who moved in a few weeks ago. It was lovely to get to know them a bit better.
  • Finished watching Barry. We ploughed through all four seasons in quick succession after hearing about the show. It’s a skilful balance between comedy and drama, with a big pivot halfway through the final season.
  • Started watching the Beckham documentary on Netflix. There’s something jarring about seeing footage from what feels like very recent events and realising how long ago they took place. The lack of mobile phones is striking in the footage of people collectively watching football matches at pubs and bars. I remember watching the 1998 England vs Argentina match in a pub and feeling the sense of disappointment and menace when we lost. Someone in the pub walked up to the TV and ripped the plug out of the wall by the cable. The public shaming and abuse that Beckham received afterwards was completely disproportionate to what had happened; as Rio Ferdinand points out in the documentary, mental wellbeing was not a topic that people openly talked about at the time.
  • Spoke to a friend who referees for the Hertfordshire Football Association. He told me that reports of referee abuse has tripled since the pandemic. It does seem that there’s some kind of collective PTSD that is driving people’s bad behaviour; COVID-19, Brexit, dreadful governments, the cost of living crisis and a sense that the country is falling apart probably all play a part.
  • Wondered whether we really do have a cat that thinks he is a dog. He craves attention, flopping himself next to me with his paws across my lap. A few years back, he demolished a whole jam doughnut that had been left on the kitchen worktop. This week he attacked a packet of mince pies. And I thought my sugar addiction was bad.
Waitrose Mince Pies — no match for a cat that thinks he’s a dog

Waitrose Mince Pies — no match for a cat that thinks he’s a dog

  • Wondered at the unbelievable power of machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data when I received this incredible phone notification:

Next week: Symposium.

Weeknotes #244 — Bristol

The Granary, Bristol

The Granary, Bristol

Four days in Berlin knocked me out. Prior to the trip, I’d already decided to take off an extra couple of days after I got back, as the rest of the family would be off work and school for half term. I’m so glad I did. Tuesday was spent pottering around the house in a daze. On Wednesday the four of us jumped in a car for a day trip to Bristol, to see my wife’s brother and his family.

We had a lovely day out. Vegan pizzas at the Left-Handed Giant brewpub were followed by extraordinary hot chocolates at neighbouring Ruby Hue’s. It was so great to see everyone and particularly to spend time with the youngest member of our extended family who has recently started to talk.

Left-Handed Giant labels. All of their beers have fantastic artwork.

Left-Handed Giant labels. All of their beers have fantastic artwork.

Who knew that hot chocolate could be so complex?

Who knew that hot chocolate could be so complex?

I got back to work on Thursday for a two-day week, still feeling out of sorts. I wondered whether I’d picked up an illness but with the benefit of hindsight I think I was just worn out.

This was a week in which I:

  • Joined a presentation to our Technology Executive Committee to give feedback on our recent ‘immersion’.
  • Met with a member of our Investment Banking team to talk through the AI components of a client’s business model.
  • Attended a kickoff workshop to look at simplifying the complex process of onboarding staff to the organisation.
  • Met with the Finance team to review the approach to a major project that we are running over the next couple of years.
  • Reviewed the latest iteration of a proposed vendor contract with our Procurement department.
  • Continued the series of meetings with my product development and product management leads. It feels like we are making good progress in getting everything pointing in the same direction.
  • Met to discuss the status of one of our prototype products and how we will take it forward.
  • Gave yet another presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to a team of client-facing staff in Johannesburg.
  • Wondered who looks forward to eating jackfruit? It seems to be a staple vegetarian option in a cafe close to the office. I’ve never heard anyone drool at the sound of it, or say how much they are looking forward to it.
  • Went to my eldest son’s football match, my first of the season. He’s now playing in the Under 18’s, with players who span the ages of 16 to 18 years old. I couldn’t believe the amount of abuse that the referee got from the spectators and had to intervene at half time, siding with the ref and persuading him to stay for the second half.
  • Started to think about getting a new kitchen to replace our old and tired one.
  • Enjoyed a lovely meal out at Tabure in Berkhamsted with old friends. We felt a little unloved by the waiting staff as they seemed to leave us to our own devices for far too long. The manager told us that they are trying their best, but are struggling to find staff at the moment.
  • Had a visit from a neighbour’s cat who decided to make himself at home in my office.
Not my cat

Not my cat

Next week: Getting to know our neighbours.

Weeknotes #243 — Berlin

This week’s umlaut forecast: SIGNIFICANT.

Berlin’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower), seemingly visible from everywhere in the centre of the city.

Berlin’s Fernsehturm (TV Tower), seemingly visible from everywhere in the centre of the city.

A really busy week, which culminated in a trip to Berlin with my two brothers and my dad as our gift to him in celebration of his 70th birthday. After last year’s big family holiday, we figured that the best present would be to spend some more quality time together. It was wonderful, but I am exhausted.

Friday’s alarm went off just after 5am as I had a taxi picking me up an hour later. The week had been hectic, and I was already worn out before we got going. We’d collaborated on our schedule using a shared Apple Note; all that we had planned for the first day was dinner in the evening. It was great to land at the lounge and get some breakfast.

An early morning birthday toast at Heathrow

An early morning birthday toast at Heathrow

Berlin has so much to offer. It’s a city with an incredible history, but like London it blends this with modern architecture. Our hotel was situated next to the sparkling glass-clad Central Station, a short hop from the Bundeskanzleramt (German Chancellery) and Reichstag buildings. The accommodation was great — a very modern, classy, business-focused building with a decent bar and an excellent buffet.

After checking ourselves in, we asked the front desk for a recommendation for somewhere to grab a beer and a light bite to eat. They pointed us towards Lindenbräu in Potsdamer Platz. It’s a strange place to go for beer; the vibe was more ‘Saturday afternoon shopping experience’ than ‘traditional German bierkeller’, but we were too tired to start traipsing around the city. It was here that we met Jürgen, our dad’s doppelgänger. Over the course of several beers we established that both men were the same age, both semi-retired and working in order to keep themselves active and busy. Jürgen kept everyone’s glasses full and made us feel right at home.

Doppelgängers

Doppelgängers

In the evening we took a taxi across to Zur Letzten Instanz, ‘Berlin’s oldest restaurant’, which recently celebrated its 400th birthday. The food was excellent. The meat-eaters tucked into their first taste of traditional pork knuckle and I sampled the mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

Pork knuckle, mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

Pork knuckle, mashed potato, eggs and mustard.

The next morning we were up bright and early to take advantage of the hotel’s excellent buffet before heading out to meet our guide for a World War 2-themed walking tour. It was a quick couple of train stops to Hackescher Markt, the meeting place for Original Berlin Walks. James, our tour guide, was excellent. Half of the tour was close to the meeting point and the other was over towards the central government buildings.

We started at the Alter Jüdischer Friedhof (Old Jewish Cemetery). James explained that back in the 1700s, Jews were invited to come and live in Berlin. This cemetery was established around this time. Outside the cemetery there is a haunting sculpture called Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert.

Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert

Jewish Victims of Fascism by Will Lammert

Our next stop was The Missing House, the site of a residence that was bombed during World War 2. Artist Christian Boltanski installed plaques on the houses either side of the gap to show who lived there at the time of the bombing.

The Missing House

The Missing House

As we walked, we noticed the ‘stumbling stones’ that are placed in the pavement. This is a project of remembrance for victims of the Nazi extermination or persecution. The stones are placed at the last place that they lived or worked before they were taken. Each one is tiny story. Given how difficult it is to get one’s head around the magnitude of the violence and atrocities, I love how this project gives a slice of access into individual narratives.

Stumbling stones

Stumbling stones

A nearby park is home to a metal sculpture called The Deserted Room. It depicts a fragment of the scene of a room that has been deserted by its occupants who have been forcibly taken away. Our guide observed how the sculpture isn’t very prescriptive in terms of what it represents and how you should feel when you look at it; there is lots of room for interpretation and projection.

The Deserted Room

The Deserted Room

Our next stop was the New Synagogue, a surprisingly ostentatious building in central Berlin. Our guide relayed how the building was saved from arsonists during the November Pogrom on 9 November 1938 by Otto Bellgardt, a local police officer who was on duty that night. He ran into the building clutching some random papers from his desk which he claimed were orders to preserve it as a historical landmark, and to avoid the fire spreading to the post office a few buildings away. The vandals didn’t bother to read the documents and left, allowing the fire to be put out. Nobody understands why he did this.

New Synagogue, Berlin

New Synagogue, Berlin

We walked by the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof, the now ruined remains of a railway station that was used for thousands of deportations.

The ruined remains of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof

The ruined remains of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof

A few minutes walk brought us to Wilhelmstrasse, site of a striking memorial to Georg Elser. Elser had tried to assassinate Hitler in Munich in 1939 by putting a bomb under a stage where he was due to speak. Unfortunately, the weather was poor so Hitler decided to leave the venue early. His lucky escape was interpreted by Hitler as a sign that he was destined to continue towards his goals. Elser was kept alive until 1945 in anticipation of using him for propaganda in the form of a show trial. He was murdered four weeks before the end of the war in Europe.

Memorial to Georg Elser on Wilhelmstrasse

Memorial to Georg Elser on Wilhelmstrasse

We next came to the site of Hitler’s bunker. Fittingly, no traces of the bunker remain and it is now an unremarkable car park.

Site of the Führerbunker

Site of the Führerbunker

Our next stop was the massive Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s another artistic work that is not prescriptive — the 2,711 concrete blocks that make up the site are open to interpretation, in both their form and number. At the edges of the installation the blocks are relatively short; as you move towards the center of the matrix, along the uneven paths, they begin to tower over you. Towards the Tiergarten some trees appear, blending the memorial with its surroundings. It’s a moving and affecting place.

At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Towards the centre of the At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Towards the centre of the At the edge of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Later in the day, once our tour had finished, we came back to visit the Information Centre located under the memorial. It is the opposite of the sculpture in that it contains lots of information about the Holocaust, with photographs, letters and other exhibits from the period. In ‘The Room of Names’, every minute the name of a victim is shown on the walls as an audio biography is read out. With the amount of information currently held by the Centre, cycling through the names takes a staggering six years, seven months and 27 days.

We had a couple of stops left on our tour. Wandering past the Brandenburg Gate, crossing over a line of stones in the road that denoted the previous location of the Berlin Wall, we found ourselves in front of the Soviet War Memorial. Two T-34 tanks are located in front of the memorial, one on each side; apparently they are meant to be the first two Soviet tanks to enter Berlin in 1945. The site is located in what was the British sector of the city, but Soviet guards were allowed to stand watch on the site. The city is such a mishmash influences, something we found over and over again on our visit.

The Soviet War Memorial, Tiergarten

The Soviet War Memorial, Tiergarten

Our last stop was the Reichstag building, site of the German parliament. The building played a pivotal role in the Nazi rise to power, with a fire in the building in 1933 being blamed on Communists, pushing the President to give Hitler additional powers as a result. Our guide showed us a fascinating photo of a soldier raising the Soviet flag on the roof of the building in 1945. The photo was used as propaganda. However, if you look closely you will see that the person helping the soldier to raise the flag is wearing two watches, implying that he had stolen from someone — presumably a victim of the fighting. The photo was later edited to remove one of the watches.

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei, 2 May 1945

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei, 2 May 1945

Today, the Reichstag has a transparent glass roof, allowing visitors to see into the work of the parliament below. Our guide said that it was a deliberate design decision, offering transparency in stark contrast to the the way that the Nazi regime operated. It’s a beautiful building with a fascinating history.

The Reichstag building

The Reichstag building

Next to the Reichstag is another memorial, one which we would have missed if it hadn’t been pointed out to us. Jagged slabs of metal stick out from the floor, each one representing a member of the Reichstag who was murdered between 1933 and 1945.

Memorial to the Murdered Members of the Reichstag

Memorial to the Murdered Members of the Reichstag

It was an incredible four hours. So good, in fact, that we decided to book ourselves on another of the company’s walking tours the next day, this time to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial.

This trip started an hour earlier as it involved a 45 minute train ride out of Berlin to the town of Oranienburg. Gregor was our guide for the day, a Berliner by birth who was still living in the city. Our tour party had almost twice as many people as the previous one, with people from India, Taiwan, South Korea, the USA, Columbia, Guatemala and many other countries joining us for the trip.

Oranienburg seemed to be an unremarkable suburban town. We walked a mile or so from the station, along a main road and through residential streets before stopping in a cul-de-sac. Here, past the end of the row of houses, was the entrance to the former concentration camp site. It was startling in its plainness.

Hans-Von-Dohnanyi-Straße, Oranienburg. The entrance to the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp can be seen at the end of the street.

Hans-Von-Dohnanyi-Straße, Oranienburg. The entrance to the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp can be seen at the end of the street.

Our guide explained how the camp served as a design experiment and training centre for SS officers. The layout of the camp was such that all of the barracks ‘faced’ the central tower, known as ‘Tower A’, which was mounted with a machine gun. This meant that the prisoners would feel as though they were being watched at all times.

Looking at a map of the camp

Looking at a map of the camp

Walking towards the main entrance to the camp we saw that the adjacent former SS camp is now used for the Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences. A sign that faced the fence separating the two locations explained why:

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences (www.fhpolbb.de) has been located here on the grounds of the former SS camp adjacent to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial since 2006. The prime educational objective is commitment to the primary principle of the Basic Law: Human dignity is inviolable. As part of their studies students learn about the history of what happened here and the crimes committed by the police under the Nazi regime.

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences

The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences

The site itself was overwhelming in its scale, both physically and in terms of the dreadful things that happened there. We had a look at the main entrance tower and saw how the SS would have had a full view of the camp, at least initially until it was later extended. Inmates would be lined up in front of the tower to be counted twice a day, with the counts sometimes lasting for hours. A semicircle of rugged terrain was used by prisoners to test shoes for many hours at a time.

View from the tower

View from the tower

Beneath the tower is a gate with the phrase arbeit macht frei (‘work sets you free’) which is found in many Nazi concentration camps.

The entrance gate to the camp

The entrance gate to the camp

We learned about the ’neutral zone’, a perimeter area of the camp upon which, if you were found there, you could be shot without warning.

The ‘neutral zone’

The ‘neutral zone’

Much of the camp was destroyed by the Soviet Union after the fall of Berlin, but the outline of the buildings remain. The buildings that are still standing, or have been reconstructed, serve as museum pieces with various artefacts and narratives on display.

Site of the former prison within the camp — a prison within a prison

Site of the former prison within the camp — a prison within a prison

Site of one of the barracks

Site of one of the barracks

The Soviets repurposed the site, adding a gigantic concrete obelisk and statue in memorial to the victims of the Nazis. The site was used for celebrations of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) during Soviet rule.

Soviet obelisk and statue inside Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Soviet obelisk and statue inside Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Our tour finished with a visit to ‘Station Z’, named as a sick joke by the Nazis as the final place that the prisoners would go to after they began their time at the camp by entering through Tower A. The area consisted of an execution trench as well as the remains of buildings that were used to systematically execute and burn thousands of people. Despite looking at it in person, it was so difficult to comprehend and feel what had happened here. Our guide made the point that without visitors who are willing to see the site, to learn and to remember, it is just a pile of bricks and statues. The act of us taking the time to go there was important.

Our tour lasted six hours. Having a well-informed guide was excellent, but there was still so much that we didn’t see and didn’t read as we were under a little bit of time pressure to get back for our train.

It was a very heavy day. After getting back to the city, we needed some light relief, so we made our way to a riverside bar to talk and unwind.

Berlin is an incredible place. There is modernity, history and complexity at every turn.

Our favourite building, right next to our hotel and the main train station. A beautiful glass cube with restaurants and cafes at the base.

Our favourite building, right next to our hotel and the main train station. A beautiful glass cube with restaurants and cafes at the base.

Through the rest of the trip we found ourselves singing in the amusingly bizarre Monster Ronson’s Ichiban Karaoke Bar

To the extreme...

To the extreme…

…gazing out across Berlin from the roof of the Futurium

On top of the Futurium. The glass dome of the Reichstag building is right behind me.

On top of the Futurium. The glass dome of the Reichstag building is right behind me.

…spotting the route of where the Berlin Wall used to be…

The site of the Berlin Wall is marked by cobblestones across the city

The site of the Berlin Wall is marked by cobblestones across the city

…and visiting a surviving section of the Wall which had been turned into an open air art gallery.

Section of the Berlin Wall painted with artwork from Pink Floyd’s The Wall

Section of the Berlin Wall painted with artwork from Pink Floyd’s The Wall

I also enjoyed a 10km run with one of my brothers on the last morning of our trip.

In our four days know that we only scratched the surface of all of the things that the city offers. I’d love to go back.

The Reichstag at sunset

The Reichstag at sunset

Aside from the trip, this was a week in which I:

  • Welcomed my wife back from her own long weekend away with her friends. On Monday I had to delay getting out of the house and into London until after I’d made sure that the boys were well on their way to school.
  • Consolidated information and revised the materials for an initiative that we may undertake with a vendor. I’ve got some meetings set up to review them and agree on next steps.
  • Continued work with my product development and product management functions to bring them closer together.
  • Reviewed the summary of a business case for a software deployment by our infrastructure team.
  • Worked on some slides for an IT-department wide initiative.
  • Completed a document that presents an overview of my team’s capabilities/services, products and current initiatives.
  • Attended Microsoft-led training on their 365 Copilot product.
  • Decided to move our ‘clear writing’ training to the start of next year, giving us the time to plan and schedule it properly.
  • Attended a webinar from BIE Executive on Challenging the norms to create real inclusion.

  • Had a second Virgin Media TV box installed, part of the new contract that they gave me for the same price as the last one.
  • Enjoyed a random coffee with a high-profile member of the WB-40 podcast community who had some very unusual challenges ahead of him.

Next week: A trip to Bristol, two days in the office — and catching up with weeknotes, as I’m now a week behind.

Weeknotes #242 — Work is like water

Monday morning commuting fun

Monday morning commuting fun

This week I’ve been thinking about how giving up my role as a school governor a couple months ago hasn’t resulted in me feeling like I’ve got any more spare time. The cognitive load must have lifted, but I’m not living a life of leisure. Work is like water in that it floods into whatever gaps are created.

There is so much to do at so many levels. At times this week it has been difficult to balance my attempt to draw and articulate the top-down ‘big picture’ stuff versus contributing to some of our individual projects. I think the top-down work will ultimately have to take priority; it will give me, and the wider team, a framework to think about everything that’s going on. It’s helpful that some of the initiatives have very hard deadlines as this will give us a skeleton to build our planning around.

It’s been a strange weekend, with my wife away on holiday and both of my sons being away from home for a night. There’s a mental pressure to make the most of the time when other people aren’t around. I like to think of myself as a person who enjoys his own company and just gets on with things, but it is a bit weird when the structure and buzz of the house disappears.

This was a week in which I:

  • Hosted the CEO of a major desktop and collaboration equipment manufacturer at our office, along with two members of his senior team. We love their products and they were interested to find out what we have been doing with them. We used the opportunity to more formally introduce our own company the services that we provide. It was great to see our Technology team move so far away from being “the people that fix the Wi-Fi”.
  • Got involved in a number of meetings for the project to renew an office lease and refresh the space in that office. We met a vendor to give feedback on what does and doesn’t work in the areas that we share with other building tenants as it is an opportunity to re-think the design.
  • Created a simple analysis of the usage data for our shared meeting rooms as input into the redesign process.
  • Met with our Company Secretary to get brought up to speed with our project to establish a new office.
  • Found myself nominated as the spokesperson for our department at the quarterly Technology ‘offsite’ meeting. I only had two evenings to prepare a script to go with the slides we had already submitted. I’m so thankful that Microsoft 365 exists; it allowed me to create an outline in a Word document, share the link with the team and then watch as everyone contributed directly into the document at the time it was convenient to them. On Tuesday night I went through and edited the whole thing before I presented on Wednesday.
  • Enjoyed the ‘offsite’ better than any that I have attended. Most of the team were together in an auditorium in Johannesburg, with a small number of us dialled into a Teams meeting. The production of the session was incredible; we had three or four camera operators in the room which gave us a real sense of being there, along with someone who could switch between showing slides and our video feeds as needed. It was probably about as good as it could have been without actually being there in the room. The content from all of the teams was also excellent.
  • Had a series of calls with an external vendor as we try and further refine the proposal for a new service.
  • Reviewed a proposal from two internal teams who are looking to collaborate on a common internal product.
  • Attended a meeting with a cross-functional working group for a product that we have prototyped and agreed how we will get it to the next stage.
  • Joined meetings to receive feedback from review by a cybersecurity vendor.
  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to another internal team, this time a group of client-facing staff based in Johannesburg.
  • Discussed how we enable the Microsoft Copilot AI tools on our desktops. Getting a licence means that Copilot shows shown up in Teams as well as the mobile iOS/iPadOS applications, but to use it on the desktop you need to be on the current or monthly update channels.
  • Finally finished and published an internal blog post calling for colleagues to put cameras on in meetings. I started the post months ago but was triggered into finishing it following a broad technology chat with our COO.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a recent joiner in our New York office who has worked for the company for over a decade.
  • Met with a colleague’s son who is looking for guidance about what to do after he finishes his university placement year. I don’t have any answers, just a story about what I’ve done and some reassurance that it will probably work out ok.
  • Continued the meeting series between our heads of Product and Engineering.
  • Took my wife for a check-up following her cataract operation a few weeks ago. She now has “better than 20/20 vision” in that eye, a remarkable turnaround after nearly losing her sight.
  • Went along to two different online Album Club evenings that happened to get booked back to back. We heard the eponymous first album by Broken Bells as well as O by Damien Rice. I remember a copy of O floating around my flat around 2003; someone must have dropped it there in a “You have to listen to this!” moment but I never got around to playing it. Twenty years later and I’ve discovered that it’s quite lovely.
  • Felt proud of my eldest boy who has been accepted onto the England Athletics Youth Talent Programme. He, along with three other members of his running club, spent the weekend at Loughborough University for the first of their National Training Days. From their feedback it all sounds very impressive.
  • Had a no-show from a plumber that was due to come and fix a toilet that has been in need of repair for a few months. I’ve never been through such a painful process than trying to get this fixed.

Next week: Squeezing five days into four.