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.

Weeknotes #241 — Gang of Four

On Friday evening a friend and I drove into London to catch the Gang of Four gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. My desire to go was based entirely on the strength of their song  I Love a Man in a Uniform from 1982:

We got there halfway through first act Hallan’s set; things were already getting loud. Next up were The Miki Berenyi Trio. I recognised some of their songs from Split, Lush’s excellent record that I first heard at Album Club some years ago. And then it was time for Gang of Four.

The gig was incredible. My friend and I sat there open-mouthed as they ran through their songs. Hard-edged and funky, with an incredible performance by all of the members of the band. We couldn’t stop foot tapping. At one point, a microwave was wheeled onto the stage and lead singer Jon King proceeded to batter and destroy it with a baseball bat throughout a song. I have no idea why.

I’ve since listened to their 1990 compilation A Brief History of the 20th Century and can’t recommend it highly enough.

This was a week in which I:

  • Dealt with Monday morning train shenanigans. I ended up getting on one that was trying to accommodate its usual compliment of commuters as well as those from the two cancelled trains before it. Tempers were frayed, with people on train platforms swearing at those packed into the spaces near the doors. So very 2019.
  • Drew up a model of my recently expanded department and reviewed it with my management team. Lots of good feedback means that a second draft is now in the works.
  • Resumed a series of meetings to help align product and engineering management within my team.
  • Met with our head of Investment Banking and our CIO to review the proposal for investing in a new AI-powered tool.
  • Continued to plan for a move to a new office in one of our locations, and created a brain dump of all of the things we need to consider for the build-out of the space.
  • Spent time with a senior client-facing team to look at how they manage their documentation. Learning how people work is always fascinating. The session gave me some great insights into how we can refine the approach that we plan to promote to everyone in our division.
  • Got access to Microsoft 365 Copilot and started experimenting with it in Microsoft Teams chats.
  • Had a lovely catch-up with a colleague who is leading our company’s API strategy and tooling.
  • Planned and delivered our weekly Learning Hour session on the topic of the information available to us through Gartner.
  • Got everything out of my head for our planned clear writing training and shared the content with our training vendor.
  • Reviewed where we are with setting up our own version of the Thoughtworks Technology Radar.
  • Joined the fortnightly Generative AI working group meetings.
  • Had the weekly project meeting for planning our ‘town hall’ session at the end of November.
  • Joined a technology meeting on the topic of Environmental, Social and Governance investing.
  • Fixed the timing of our digital signage carousels so that they aren’t chopping and changing too quickly.
  • Felt great on my weekly club bike ride, smashing out personal bests on some well-known local hills. What a difference a week makes.

Next week: Meeting a CEO, an all-day hybrid workshop, an online Album Club, and getting stuck into all of the content I need to produce.

Weeknotes #240 — PJ Phillips

PJ Harvey and band at the Roundhouse, London, 28 September 2023

PJ Harvey and band at the Roundhouse, London, 28 September 2023

My life is filled with so much music at the moment. In some ways it’s like being a teenager again. I seem to spend most of my spare cash on vinyl, CDs, downloads and tickets to gigs. I’m now in three different album clubs, which means that typically there will be three nights in a month where I will sit down and dedicate to intently listening to an album. I love it.

This week I heard a Velvet Underground album for the first time, as our album club host had picked Loaded for us to listen to. It was superb. Hearing Lou Reed sing “fine, fine music” in Rock And Roll made me think of Kill The King by Lena Deluxe and reminded me to check out her album from a few years ago.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights were spent with two of my best friends. We went to see PJ Harvey play her new album plus a selection of her old songs at the Roundhouse in London. It’s an incredible venue but could benefit from a sloped floor — we ended up behind some tall guys and people with massive barnets which meant that we were straining to see her as she moved around the stage. The music and performance of the whole band was incredible. Hearing The Words That Maketh Murder was electrifying.

Photo taken with my phone held very much aloft in order to avoid the giant-haired people directly in front of me.

Photo taken with my phone held very much aloft in order to avoid the giant-haired people directly in front of me.

The next day we found ourselves in the basement of Pizza Express in Holborn to see Grant-Lee Phillips. I’ve been listening to his music since Grant-Lee Buffalo’s Mighty Joe Moon album in the mid-1990s but had never seen him live. The venue is absolutely beautiful — it has a classic intimate jazz-club vibe — and was a perfect setting for him and his guitar. Hearing so many songs that I’ve loved for years sung by someone so close that you could almost reach out and grab them was something special. His voice and his music are criminally underrated.

Grant-Lee Phillips, Pizza Express Live, London, 29 September 2023

Grant-Lee Phillips, Pizza Express Live, London, 29 September 2023

I do wonder whether I should be prioritising even more time to music as I love it so much. I spend a significant part of my week with podcasts on politics and current affairs but I’m not sure it does me much good. It’s great to be informed, but life is short; I get the feeling that it would be better spent with music than hearing about the latest drama happening in the world.

This was a week in which I:

  • Got back to work after a week out of the office, catching up with the team on what was going on.
  • Created and a short summary of risks related to Generative AI and Large Language Models, much of it based on the recent book by Baldur Bjarnason, and published it to our internal working group.
  • Gave my Digital Literacy presentation on Generative AI and Large Language Models twice, to one of our Executive Committees and one of our regional offices. I’ve now covered everyone in our part of the business, having given the presentation around 25 times.
  • Reviewed a draft set of learning patterns and frameworks that we plan to offer to the rest of our department.
  • Looked at the Planview roadmap functionality and reviewed a proof-of-concept that the team had pulled together last week. Got SSO working with Roadmaps and AgilePlace again after we discovered that the settings of the former override the latter.
  • Attended a town hall meeting for our part of the business and heard some wonderful stories of the work we have been doing with, and for, our clients. We had some lovely office drinks and chats afterwards.
  • Met with the project team who are coordinating our Technology town hall meeting in November.
  • Extended our finance tracker out to 2024 given that the end of the year is fast approaching.
  • Reviewed and updated my open operational risks.
  • Had our monthly Lean Coffee session.
  • Attended the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Scoped out a draft agenda for the Gartner IT Symposium in November.
  • Enjoyed a lovely ‘random coffee’ with a fellow member of the WB-40 podcast community.
  • Completed my tax return. Always takes more time and effort to think about it than it does to do it.
  • Had an eventful Saturday morning club bike ride. Halfway round I felt as though I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs and found myself coughing, spluttering and unable to keep up with the group. I’d had a Barry White voice on Friday and had just put it down to too many late nights, but this seemed like some kind of bug. Two COVID-19 tests were both negative and by Sunday I was feeling a lot better. A couple of other cyclists in our group got stung or bitten by insects and one of them has had a nasty reaction, his face blowing up like a balloon.
  • Had a wonderful dinner with friends on Saturday night that featured a banoffee pie of epic proportions.
  • Deleted my Clubhouse account. I think we knew at the time it took off during the pandemic that it was just a fad.
  • Tried to diagnose some home network problems where everything felt like it was being transmitted through treacle. Rebooted the router. Unplugged it and plugged it back in again. Restarted both of my Pi-holes one after the other. Changed our Internet DNS from OpenDNS to 1.1.1.1 for Families. Nothing seemed to make any difference. Finally tried rebooting the Virgin Media router — which is running in ‘modem mode’, so I assumed wouldn’t have a significant role to play in terms of network performance — and it all suddenly started working fine. I wish there was an easier way to investigate where network bottlenecks and issues are.

Next week: Seeing Gang of Four and making some big project decisions.

Weeknotes #239 — Immersion

Hello Johannesburg!

Hello Johannesburg!

Spent the entire week in South Africa with colleagues from our Technology and Digital teams to take part in an inaugural ‘Digital Immersion’. Organised in conjunction with The Field Institute, we spent time with a variety of companies in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

In Johannesburg we met Motus, Teraflow.ai, the Innovation Leadership Group, Covalense Global, SuperUltra and ThoughtLab. Cape Town was our base for meeting with Shoprite Holdings, Predictive Insights, Thought Machine and UVU Africa. As they say in South Africa, it was a ‘hectic’ week, with early starts, coach journeys to the venues, intense sessions, working lunches and little personal time in the evenings. By the time I got on board the plane to head home on Friday night I was ready to drop.

Shoprite Technology

Shoprite Technology

Although I’d been to South Africa many times over the years, I had never ventured beyond the few square miles around the airport and our offices in Johannesburg, so I was excited to head down to Cape Town. It’s a two hour flight further south, which means cooler temperatures. The cloudy and drizzly weather, along with the buildings along the sea front, reminded me of an English seaside town. The famous Table Mountain didn’t reveal itself to me until the last day because of the low-lying clouds.

Cloudy Cape Town

Cloudy Cape Town

People told me that from a cultural perspective, Cape Town it is akin to San Francisco; I saw a little bit of this through the weird and wonderful people at a local karaoke bar near to our hotel. I couldn’t resist getting up and trying my hand at Build Me Up Buttercup, but only after checking whether everyone else there would be likely to know it.1

Fun in Cape Town

Fun in Cape Town

On Wednesday I started feeling unwell and ended up not eating much at all for a couple of days. This made an already intense week that little bit more difficult, but by Thursday evening I had started to recover.

Aside from the companies and people that we met, there was so much value in being there in person with colleagues from across our division of our company. Old friendships were deepened, new ones were formed, and we made each other think, smile and laugh in equal measure.

It’s going to take some time to process my thoughts — and my notes — from the trip.

Goodbye Cape Town!

Goodbye Cape Town!

Next week: Normal schedule resumes, including an online Album Club and two (two!) gigs to attend.


  1. Wikipedia told me that it had been a number three hit in South African 1968, so I figured I was on safe-ish ground. 

Weeknotes #238 — Flyying Colours

Flyying Colours at The Lexington, London, 11 September 2023

Flyying Colours at The Lexington, London, 11 September 2023

An exhausting week that whizzed by. On Monday morning I took my wife for a cataract operation. A cataract was the almost inevitable side-effect of the operation she had to repair a detached retina back in March. We arrived very early at the hospital to go through the various registration and preparation procedures. There was quite a bit of hanging around, but once she was called in it took no time at all. We didn’t hang around the post-op waiting area for very long before she was quickly discharged, multiple bottles of eyedrops in hand. The operation is incredible; it has restored her sight in the affected eye to the point that she no longer needs a prescription lens on that side of her glasses. (Of course, for some reason it costs £55 at the opticians to get the old lens replaced with a basic plastic one.) I don’t really understand the sorcery of putting a plastic lens into an eye and it being exactly right.

The care that my wife received was superb. I know we fund the NHS through our taxes, but it still feels amazing to walk in and out within a few hours with the only cost that day being a £9 parking charge.

This was a week in which I:

  • Finalised the details for a statement of work with an external vendor and created a small set of summary slides for internal review.
  • Reviewed a first set of architectural fit-out drawings for offices that we are considering as a new home in one of our locations.
  • Kicked off a series of internal meetings with our heads of Product Management and Engineering, alternating our focus between the two areas with the intent that we coalesce round one agreed way forward.
  • Started to look at Planview’s new Roadmaps product. As AgilePlace users, it’s an attractive prospect as it would mean that the digital representation of our work would all be kept in the same space.
  • Attended a kick-off session for a ‘digital immersion’ that I am attending next week. We had a keynote speaker and a very free-flowing discussion about all things cryptocurrency and blockchain-related. I’m still of the view that the technology is interesting but is still in search of a use-case.
  • Received a preliminary update on some recent cybersecurity testing.
  • Had a check-in meeting on the current state of our unstructured document management programme.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the challenges we are having as participants in developing changes for a large group-wide platform.
  • Spent some time with a colleague who wanted some guidance on how to approach rolling out a solution for a client across multiple countries.
  • Attended a workshop on a proposed updated approach to managing non-financial risk.
  • Met with our Group Head of Enterprise Architecture for a catch-up while he was in London for the week. It’s always great to see him.
  • Did some online pre-work for a training course which was then cancelled at the last minute.
  • Enjoyed a colleague’s presentation at our weekly Learning Hour meeting on the topic of meditation.
  • Met a colleague’s son for a chat as he spent the week in our office for his work experience.
  • Removed my school governor accounts from all of my devices now that I am no longer part of the board.
  • Attended a Sixth Form induction meeting with our eldest son. From what I can remember, these next two years will go by in a flash for him.
  • Fielded a couple of requests to join Album Club after my article appeared in the Berkhamsted Town Council newsletter. In retrospect, the article should ideally have been clearly marked as a ‘what local people get up to’ story so that it couldn’t be mistaken for an appeal for new members. By mutual consent, I’ve put the people that contacted me in touch with each other and suggested they set up their own club.
  • Enjoyed hearing Love’s Forever Changes at Album Club. It had been on my list to listen to for years but I’d never got round to it.
  • Went to see Flyying Colours at The Lexington in London. Four of us had intended to go, but one had COVID-19 an another was under the weather, leaving just Mat and I. The band were excellent; I’d never heard them before but they were instantly likeable. At times they felt like a fantastic cross between Ride and Lush.
  • Can’t quite work out why I’m finding cycling on the indoor trainer so difficult at the moment. I suspect that TrainerRoad has miscalculated my abilities, but I also don’t seem to be able to ‘push through’ one of the harder segments.
  • Enjoyed my weekly Saturday morning club cycle ride. Autumn is definitely in the air; I was questioning my choice of fingerless gloves for the first few minutes of the ride. It won’t be long until the winter gear gets donned again. In a break from our usual routine we went for a coffee and cake at the Dower House on Berkhamsted High Street. I’m not sure I was completely aware that the place had been turned into a cafe. It’s a splendid one.
  • Sampled gelato from a bicycle that has appeared in the High Street on a Saturday. (Yes, I know — cake and ice cream on the same day.)

  • Finished the first season of Barry. It did not disappoint.

Next week: Digital immersion.

Weeknotes #237 — Marika Hackman

Marika Hackman and band on stage at the ICA, 6 September 2023

Marika Hackman and band on stage at the ICA, 6 September 2023

A run of live gigs in my diary started this week with Marika Hackman playing at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. The last time I saw her was back in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its initial acceleration phase. The two friends who came with me to this week’s gig are the same two that accompanied me back then. It was strange to recall the underlying feeling of stress and foreboding from back then, wondering at the time whether we should even be there. It was so good to see her live again; apart from a Covers album that was released during the pandemic she has been very quiet. Her new songs sounded fantastic and her old ones gave me goosebumps, despite the whole room sweltering in sauna-level heat. Her new album will be an insta-buy.

This was a week in which I:

  • Saw everyone else in the family head back to school for the start of a new year.
  • Met with a vendor for another review of a draft contract that we are trying to get in place.
  • Had a couple of excellent conversations about team retrospectives, specifically on whether metaphors are useful or a distraction. I came at the question from a cynical position but the feedback was overwhelmingly that metaphors help. You have to pick the right one for the audience and also think about neurodiversity.
  • Met with colleagues in China as part of our programme to change the way that we manage unstructured data.
  • Was given an education about data mesh architecture and how it differs from traditional approaches.
  • Met with the project team planning our technology-focused town hall event in November.
  • Reviewed a whole host of material that I have gathered about the future of the office, capturing the relevant content into a mind map. iThoughts is so good in that it is intuitive and frictionless, but I do wish that it could be used for real-time collaboration.
  • Met with colleagues and our People and Culture team on our ‘sustainable careers’ framework. Most of us being in the same physical space for the meeting felt like old times.
  • Had some excellent conversations with colleagues about how to build specific relationships within our team.
  • Met with the vendor that we are working with to deliver ‘clear writing’ training to our team later this year.
  • Heard about a couple of new projects that will soon be added to an already long list.
  • Met with our real estate vendor who are helping us with an office move in one of our locations over the next year.
  • Took part in our monthly non-financial risk review meeting.
  • Gave my presentation on large language models and generative AI to our office in China. It was interesting to think about how to reframe some of the messages given that access to ChatGPT and similar tools is restricted for people living there. It was interesting to read up on China’s new laws on generative AI, whose guidance seems eminently sensible to me.
  • Had some conversations following my blog post on how generative AI gets riskier as it improves. People pointed out that humans make mistakes too, so they may mess up when they create summaries or minutes of meetings. This is, of course, correct. But the instincts of a human as to what is or isn’t important, or what should be ‘left on the cutting room floor’ will be far better than a large language model that is summarising a meeting transcript. I use the screenshot below from this YouTube video to make a point — these tools don’t ‘understand’ what’s relevant and what isn’t.
Humans would not come to the same conclusion.

Humans would not come to the same conclusion.

  • Started coming to the conclusion that despite the issues, it is less risky to use a large language model to process and ‘translate’ your own data than it is to get it to generate something new for you. This seems counterintuitive, but the real risks lie in it making things up, which is exactly what it is designed to do.
  • Joined an internal webinar about a ‘hackathon’ that we run annually with Stellenbosch University, learning about how a winning team approached a data science problem.
  • Had a lovely random coffee with a colleague in New York and talked about their upcoming trip to Africa.
  • Turned another random coffee into a random lunch as my coffee partner and I were in the same office.
  • Stumbled across a PETA demonstration against Jet2’s sale of tickets to marine parks, outside their annual general meeting on Cheapside.
PETA’s demonstration outside the Jet2 AGM on Cheapside, London.

PETA’s demonstration outside the Jet2 AGM on Cheapside, London.

  • Continued to suffer from what I now think was a horsefly bite. At the start of the week, I thought about strapping my wrists to my desk to stop me from scratching it. It’s largely faded now, but gets worryingly visible whenever I exercise.
Horsefly bites are the gifts that keep on giving

Horsefly bites are the gifts that keep on giving

  • Loved the Saturday morning cycle club ride. A lot of the usual riders were away on a cycling weekend so there were some new faces that joined the group this week. The route, already long, was extended by some HS2-related roadworks that we couldn’t navigate our way through. It was super fast and super fun. I tried getting on the trainer on Sunday morning but struggled mentally and physically to get anything decent done; my legs were tired and it was so hot.
  • Went to a friend’s 50th birthday party. The birthday boy is a fellow Album Club member, so we decided a few weeks ago to buy him a vinyl box set as a treat. I was so relieved when it finally turned up the day before the party; someone had misinterpreted my post code which meant that the parcel had been on quite a journey around the country. The party was brilliant, with the weather being warm enough that people could be outside in the garden all night.
  • Enjoyed a lovely random Sunday afternoon barbecue at with lots of parents of our younger son’s friends. It was great to get to know them a little bit.
  • Started watching the TV series Barry after reading a review from earlier in the year. It’s exactly what we were looking for.

Next week: A gig, an Album Club and an eye operation.

Weeknotes #236 — Stang

A hummingbird hawk-moth that paid our garden a visit

Four days at work this week, but it felt like five. My mission on Sunday night/Monday morning was to get to Reading in order to pick up my eldest son and three of his friends from the festival. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a car journey where Waze has rerouted me so many times. The closer I got to Reading, the more cars joined me in a convoy to the town centre. Things ground to a half a couple of roads away from the pickup point. The wonders of modern technology were put to good use where my son could see exactly where I was stuck in traffic; it was much easier for him to walk to me than it was for me to get to him. They all had a great time. We chuckled as we dropped them off one by one at their respective houses and watched each of them shuffle, slightly broken from the raving, to their doors.

We had lots of people out of the office at work this week, but it still felt very busy. Holiday season hasn’t quite come to an end yet.

This was a week in which I:

  • Completed vendor on-boarding for a technology company we are hoping to work with. We now just have the statement of work to agree.
  • Did some research into the state of Generative AI and Large Language Models in China ahead of a presentation I will be giving to our office there on Monday morning.
  • Met with a colleague in the Non-Financial Risk team to discuss our team’s approach to Large Language Models and Generative AI.
  • Took part in the steering committee for an important cybersecurity initiative that we are involved with.
  • Met with colleagues for our quarterly architecture governance meeting. Had a long discussion about the need for a bill of materials and bill of behaviours for any software product we use, and how far we are from this being a reality in the software industry.
  • Spent time with my team to review all of the ‘task’ cards on our Kanban board. As well as discarding a bunch of items, we decided that our research-focused cards would be better focused as topics for future Learning Hour sessions.
  • Stocked the Kanban board with a number of strategic tasks that are aligned to our team’s roadmap.
  • Set up a webhook-based interface between AgilePlace and Microsoft teams to alert us when new cards are created on our Kanban board.
  • Joined the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Fixed a defect with the world clock webpage that we display on our digital signage players in our office. For some reason, requests for the JavaScript libraries hosted on CloudFlare had started either being rejected or timing out. It was trivial to download the libraries, repackage them as part of the widget and reference them locally. It probably saves on bandwidth too.
  • Took part in our monthly Lean Coffee session.
  • Recorded a video pitch for how I think we can improve our regular weekly office lunch and sent it off to our head of Marketing and Communications. I’d been thinking about it for a while and decided that a long email wasn’t going to cut it.
  • Ran our weekly team meeting. We have an amazing bunch of people that are not afraid to speak up and share personal things with the rest of the team.
  • Met with a vendor who provide ‘team building’ activities in both London and Johannesburg. (What’s a better phrase than ‘team building’? It has such negative connotations based on what people have experienced in the past.)
  • Pondered when it is best not to reply to a group email and take the high ground, and when a reply is needed to make sure that everyone is aligned.
  • Met with Mark Wilson for a random coffee. WB-40 podcast host Matt Ballantine set up the coffees as an off-shoot of his 100 Coffees project, specifically for members of the podcast community. I consider Mark to be my ‘Internet twin’ given how many times we find ourselves talking about things we have in common. It was lovely to chew the fat with him.
  • Hit the milestone of 5,000 ‘random coffee’ pairings for our team at work since we started the initiative in May 2020. We still have new people joining on a regular basis, typically people that have just started with us and want to get to know more of their colleagues. At some point I need to off-load the work to a system as it is still a manual process right now.
  • Had a short discussion with a technology consultancy vendor on what I look for in a technology partner. A friend of mine works for the company and was keen to get input from a broad swathe of people across IT.
  • Heard from a friend that he is selling his dream home that he has poured a lot of his life into over the past few years. He already knows that when his fixed rate mortgage deal ends he won’t be able to afford it, so is taking preemptive action. Given how the UK interest base rate has risen from 0.1% to 5.25% in less than two years, I wonder how many other households are in the same situation?
  • Met with UK Power Networks to discuss the project to remove our house from our neighbour’s electricity connection. Hopefully they’ll be able to connect us directly to the street without digging up the full length of our driveway.
  • Had a lovely brunch with my wife at Jester, a new cafe in Berkhamsted. The coffee is large and the honey and fruit granola is plentiful.
  • Kicked off the new season of Learned League with four wins in a row, taking me to the top of the table, dropping to fifth when I lost the last match of the week. This is comical, given that I finished both of the past two seasons in the bottom third. I haven’t suddenly got that much smarter in a few weeks.
  • Struggled to find a new TV series to watch with my wife. We’ve tried a few things but have lost interest quickly. Even the latest series of Only Murders In The Building seems a bit tedious. We’ve started watching Once Upon A Time In Northern Ireland which seems to be an incredible piece of filmmaking; we weren’t looking for a documentary but it has us hooked.
  • Finally watched Judy (2019). It’s not the greatest biopic that I’ve ever seen, but Renée Zellweger’s performance was superb and the ending broke me. I don’t think anyone would claim that Judy Garland has the best voice of all time, but there is something about the emotion in her performances that makes them so compelling to me. Years ago I was commuting to work, listening to Tony Bennett on Desert Island Discs, when he picked Judy Garland singing Last Night When We Were Young. I’d never heard it before; it literally stopped me dead in my tracks. It is absolutely beautiful.

  • Got bitten or stung by some kind of insect on the Saturday morning club ride. I was descending a hill at the time so have no idea exactly what it was, other than that it was painful. At first I thought a stone had pinged up to my leg, but then the pain kept coming. To say it is itchy today would be a massive understatement.
Must...not...scratch...

Must…not…scratch…

Next week: More AI, the welcome live return of Marika Hackman and an online Album Club.

Weeknotes #235 — Happy place

The early cycling group, grateful for a rest having just climbed up Whiteleaf.

The early cycling group, grateful for a rest having just climbed up Whiteleaf.

Back to work. My main thought when I landed at my desk on Monday morning was how lucky I am that being in front of my keyboard is my happy place. Well, at least one of my happy places, anyway. It was good to be back.

It was one of those weeks where I felt that I put my seatbelt on and rode the rollercoaster all the way to Friday afternoon. The week was filled with catching up with Teams messages, emails and meeting recordings, with lots of new meetings to go to as well. But I did enjoy it.

This was a week in which I:

  • Started playing with a trial of Teams Premium. It’s a strange bundle of enhancements. The feature I am most interested in is the AI-generated summaries and suggested actions for recorded meetings. Having used it for a week, it has got me thinking deeply about the potential disillusionment ahead for these kinds of tools. The marketing hype has been so loud that there is no way that it can meet the expectations that have been created.
  • Completed updates for our quarterly report to the company board.
  • Chased up documentation for on-boarding an external vendor as well as the next draft of the contract.
  • Attended the steering committee for a real estate programme.
  • Joined a conversation about tweaks to the design of one of our office spaces.
  • Met with the project team for the move of one of our offices planned for next year.
  • Continued team-by-team conversations for our unstructured data management initiative.
  • Attended a half-day hybrid workshop between colleagues across our company and a well-known IT consulting vendor to discuss artificial intelligence. Separately, it seems that not a week goes by without some kind of AI-focused webinar being in the diary; they rarely have anything significantly new or interesting to say.
  • Reviewed our team’s approach to Microsoft software updates across our endpoint estate and agreed next steps.
  • Had a number of conversations about a set of technical issues that the team have been dealing with for the past few weeks. Suggested that we go right back to where we started to see if there are different approaches to getting us to where we want to be as opposed to trying to fix a number of components of the current solution.
  • Caught up on the plans for an event that our team are hosting at the end of November.
  • Enjoyed our weekly Learning Hour, where our development team took us through the architecture of a system that they have built.
  • Had a great conversation with my team on the implicit assumptions that we make and when they can be harmful.
  • Took part in a number of conversations about mental health and how someone can be going through something that is completely invisible to everyone around them.
  • Had a meeting with a young man who joined us in the office for a day’s work experience. There’s nothing like talking to someone who is 17 to make you realise how long ago it was that you were in his shoes.
  • Recommenced a review of my team’s Kanban board, looking at all of the tasks/features. The cleanup is going to take a few sessions but it is so worthwhile; we’ve ditched a number of tasks, have made sure we all understand the cards that are left and have decided that the ‘do some research on this new thing and decide’ cards should really be Learning Hour talks. More to come next week.
  • Heard that Verizon are sunsetting the BlueJeans platform after having acquired it three years ago. BlueJeans was my first regular everyday videoconferencing tool back in 2017 but its desktop application seemed to be stuck in the past. The technology was great for bridging between modern platforms such as Teams with legacy IP-based videoconference rooms; if a company has a need for this I’m not sure what tools will do it as easily.
  • Thought about how children are inadvertently brought into the workplace through people now working at home, which means that we need to watch our language in meetings.
  • Met with a colleague to talk through some ‘team building’ ideas. (What’s a better phrase for ‘team building’ that doesn’t have all of the negative baggage?)
  • Went to a colleague’s leaving celebration at a pub near the office, another sign of post-pandemic normality. Had a great long conversation with a colleague who humoured me as I geeked out with questions about how her day is structured and how she goes about her work. I have, and have always had, so many meetings every week and it was interesting to hear how she has very few.
  • Watched Hijack on Apple TV+ as recommended by a friend. It was cheesy in places but enjoyable enough to keep me coming back for the next episode. I wonder if I’m doing something wrong with the Apple TV+ interface in that we always have to remember ourselves what the last episode was of something we are watching; there seems to be no way of just jumping back in where you left off.
  • Was pleased that my eldest boy got the results he needed in his GCSEs to take on the A-Levels that he wants to do. Only one week of the school holidays to go.
  • Took one for the team by picking up my son and three of his pals from Reading Festival on Sunday night/Monday morning. We didn’t make it back until 2am; it was amusing to see each of them get out of the car and shuffle towards their respective front doors, slightly broken from a couple of days of raving. They all seemed to have had a brilliant time.
  • Tried to complete the deletion of all of the tweets and likes on my Twitter account, using Tweeteraser. I’ve got rid of most of the 30,000 tweets but 409 ‘ghost’ tweets remain, none of which I can see from the web interface. Deleting likes doesn’t seem to work using the tool, but I can’t see myself removing nearly 5,000 of them manually. I’ve sent an email to the support team, but given that it’s surprising that the tool works at all following the restrictions that Twitter has imposed on its API, I don’t hold out much hope.
409, but where are they?

409, but where are they?

  • Had a belated anniversary dinner out with my wife at Tabure in Berkhamsted, which didn’t disappoint. The food is fantastic.
  • Met up with lots of friends for a late lunch/early dinner. They were incredible hosts and it was so lovely to get together with so many friends all in one place.
  • Booked some business travel for the first time in a while.

Next week: Only four days at work, with hopefully a bit more time outside of meetings to get things done.

Weeknotes #233–234 — Montenegro

The first ‘double helping’ of weeknotes for a very long time. This year our summer holiday started and finished on consecutive Wednesdays, which made it difficult to grab the few weekend hours that I need to be able to cobble these notes together. On reflection, this is probably a good thing as it makes more sense to cover the whole holiday in one post.

Our destination was the small Balkan country of Montenegro, part of the former Yugoslavia. With a population of only 602,000 people, it’s a relatively tiny place. The country isn’t (yet) part of the European Union but they use the Euro, a consequence of hyperinflation of their former official currency.

Our home for the week, Topla Bay

Our home for the week, Topla Bay

We travelled with our close friends, the same ones that we holidayed with last year. The journey started with a 5am taxi from home to Gatwick Airport, which despite being ‘just around the M25’, always feels like it gets further away every time I go there. We’d booked a local taxi to take the eight of the 12 of us that live in Berkhamsted as it seemed like a bargain. I felt like an idiot when it turned out that I had misheard the cost on the phone.

Each family had booked a package trip with British Airways, flying into Dubrovnik in Croatia and then being driven across the border into Montenegro. We had read that the border crossing could take up to six hours at the busiest times; thankfully we hardly had to wait at all before we got to the other side. We were staying at the all-inclusive Iberostar Herceg Novi, named after the local municipality as well as the town facing us across the bay.

The town of Herceg Novi across the bay

The town of Herceg Novi across the bay

The hotel itself was good. It bills itself as ‘four star’, but star ratings are often dubious and I thought this was being a little generous. One of the reasons we booked was the relatively low cost compared to neighbouring destinations; it was definitely good value for money.

Hotel swimming pool at night

Hotel swimming pool at night

The location is incredible; photos of the beautiful, mountainous landscape around where we stayed will never do it justice. We got very used to wandering up and down the stairs between the facilities and our hotel rooms. The hotel had everything you would expect, with a decent swimming pool, a ‘beach’ area with sun loungers and private area for sea swimming, a buffet restaurant, a small number of bars — including a beautifully-situated rooftop bar that was ideal for looking over the bay at night — and a coffee house. But the drinks were quite lacklustre, with odd-tasting cola, and wine dispensed through red, white and rose taps. Towards the end of the holiday we started going to the little shop located outside of the hotel to buy decent beer, with and without alcohol.

The town of Herceg Novi from the hotel

The town of Herceg Novi from the hotel

Looking directly out across the bay from the hotel

Looking directly out across the bay from the hotel

One of our first challenges was trying to get the shower to work. We could get the water flowing out of the tap into the bath, but couldn’t see how to divert it to the shower head. After both my wife and I puzzled over it for twenty minutes or so, our friend popped into see if he could work it out. But the mystery remained. The only option left was to call the front desk to see if they could get someone to come and fix it. Ten minutes later, a maintenance guy showed up. He walked into the room, saw the tap and said “Ah yes! Everyone calls about this. It’s the only one in the hotel like it.” And then he showed us how to use it. It seems that our holiday brains were not equipped for the lateral thinking that was required:

Across the week, our children didn’t spend any time in the pool, instead opting for the swimming area in the bay. We hired a paddle board for €50 a day which the kids loved playing with, ferrying each other to and from the diving platform at the far edge of the safe zone.

Paddle boarding to the diving platform

Paddle boarding to the diving platform

Everyone thought that the food at the hotel was good, although by the end of the week it felt a bit repetitive. Unlike other all-inclusive hotels that we have stayed at, there were no on-site restaurants to book alternatives to the buffet. My options were a little limited as I don’t eat meat and try to avoid fish, so most evenings I found myself having a good salad course followed by a ‘kids course’ of pizza and a few chips. The restaurant itself was quite functional and had the feeling of a brightly lit cafe.

One evening we took the taxi boat from the hotel to the town of Herceg Novi to eat in a local restaurant, the amusingly-named Konoba Feral1. It was great to have a change of scenery. The food was really good, but it all came out too quickly — the mains appeared before we’d made much progress with our starters, which left us feeling a bit rushed.

Konoba Feral

Konoba Feral

The hotel’s evening entertainment was unwaveringly awful. Towards the end of the trip we lost hope that it would improve and stopped wandering down the steps to the beach bar to see what was on. At the swimming pool bar there were a variety of singers with guitars across the week. The best of them played towards the start of the week, but the lasting memory of the evening was a random guest getting up on stage to sing The Cranberries’ Zombie, which is my musical kryptonite even in its original form. It was traumatic.

On our first full day we took the taxi boat over to Herceg Novi. Billed as ‘the Town of 100,001 Steps’, it lived up to its reputation. A wander through the old town area mainly involved ascending and descending lots and lots of stairs. It’s a very cool place, with lots of little alleyways and shops to see as you explore.

Some of the ‘100,001 steps’ in Herceg Novi

Some of the ‘100,001 steps’ in Herceg Novi

Halfway up we came across the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel in a beautiful little square. There was a constant trickle of people going in and out of the tiny church, stepping backwards and crossing themselves as they left.

Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, Herceg Novi

Church of Saint Michael the Archangel, Herceg Novi

At the top of all of the stairs is the Kanli Kula Fortress, which translates from Turkish to ‘bloody tower’. It’s an interesting place which is now used as an amphitheater, with spectacular views.

Kanli Kula Fortress, Herceg Novi

Kanli Kula Fortress, Herceg Novi

View from Kanli Kula, Herceg Novi

View from Kanli Kula, Herceg Novi

Herceg Novi also introduced us to Montenegrin street food. An incredibly reasonably-priced bakery sold us some spinach, potato and onion-filled burek which tasted so good. (They looked just like these ones.) Others in our group found a street-facing serving hatch off the side of a restaurant that sold bread pockets of various meat fillings with self-serve sauces. It was also our first encounter with Moritz Eis, manufacturers of wonderful, delicious ice cream. We kept finding their shops in different places that we visited throughout our stay. Wandering around Herceg Novi was one of my highlights of the trip.

Moritz Eis — so good

Moritz Eis — so good

We hadn’t planned to hire cars when we were there. Getting around mainly consisted of speaking to Bobana, the representative of Petar Boats at our hotel, about trips that we could do. We booked ourselves in for a half-day private boat for a trip to the ‘Blue Cave’, which made economic sense for 12 of us, as well as trip to Kotor — which we were told was a must-see — on a large shared boat.

The two trips we took with Petar Boats

The two trips we took with Petar Boats

Our Blue Cave trip was fantastic. We quickly passed Mamula Island, a former concentration camp that is now surprisingly a luxury hotel, and powered our way towards the cave.

Mamula Island

Mamula Island

The cave didn’t let us down. Our skipper navigated us through the narrow entrance before hooking the boat to the cave wall. Inside it was beautiful — the water really did glow iridescent blue. We were told that it was safe to dive in the water as long as we stayed close to the boat, as lots of other boats would be coming and going. I didn’t need asking twice. Swimming in the cave was so much fun.

Inside the Blue Cave; another picture that doesn’t do it justice

Inside the Blue Cave; another picture that doesn’t do it justice

On our way back from the cave we entered a tunnel that was used by the Yugoslav navy to hide submarines during the Cold War. It was interesting to see, but the fumes from our boat were overpowering in the enclosed space and I’m glad we didn’t stay long.

Inside a ‘secret’ submarine tunnel

Inside a ‘secret’ submarine tunnel

Our second boat trip felt like a bit of a let-down compared to the fun we had on the first one. It was a very long, very hot day, and we were on a strict time schedule. After breakfast, we grabbed the taxi boat across to Herceg Novi in order to board the larger tour boat that would be our home for the day. We were told to find some seats and make sure that we kept to the same ones throughout the trip — not as comfortable as being able to move around with a breeze blowing at you. The places we stopped at were extraordinarily beautiful — the Church of Our Lady of The Rocks, Perast with its incredible number of churches for a population of just 269, and the pretty Donji Stoliv with its luxury hotel — but we were too hot, too thirsty and too worried about missing the time to get back onto the boat to explore very far.

Kotor was what we had really come to see. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, founded in the 5th century BC and surrounded by fortifications originally built in the Middle Ages. The old town is one of narrow alleys which I thought would be like wandering around Herceg Novi. We had just under two hours to look around, but spend the first half of the allocated time trying to find somewhere that would serve us some quick street food; we didn’t want to use our whole time there sitting down for a meal. We resorted to a pizza joined staffed with gruff, grumpy people after exhausting all other options.

Grumpy pizza. But the slices were big!

Grumpy pizza. But the slices were big!

By the time we were done we had to start to make our way back to the boat again. The town was much, much busier than any other place we went to and I know we just scratched the surface. The gigantic staircase up into the mountains and distant mountainside chairlift gave us some of idea of what we were missing. I’d love to go back.

Entering the old town of Kotor

Entering the old town of Kotor

A Kotor street

A Kotor street

Kotor

Kotor

During our stay I was pleased to get a few runs in. Getting to the taxi boat jetty at the other side of the bay and back was about 11km, so running was a great way of offsetting the endless portions of food available throughout the day.

A short stop on our morning run to Herceg Novi before heading back the way we came

A short stop on our morning run to Herceg Novi before heading back the way we came

The weather was superb all week. On our last day, one of my friends said that a storm was due to roll in, which felt impossible given the clear blue sky. And then we saw it come over the mountains behind Herceg Novi.

Storm clouds gathering over Herceg Novi

Storm clouds gathering over Herceg Novi

Once the lightning started to strike, it seemed as though the whole population of the hotel retreated from the beach and the pool back to their rooms. I spent my time on our balcony, trying to capture some slo-mo footage of the spectacular lightning strikes.

Our journey home was eventful. We passed the time in the airport buying overpriced food and watching the England vs Australia World Cup match on our mobile phones. Our BA EuroFlyer service, provided by Avion Express (no, me neither), upgraded our family to the front of the plane. Despite the improved leg room, this may have been a poisoned chalice. The food was dreadful, with three sandwich ‘fingers’, a scone, an incredibly bizarre blue cake and some very stewed, bitter tea. I was the only one of the four of us to eat the sandwiches; that night and throughout the next day I was ill at home with what I can only assume was food poisoning.

Not consumed due to the ‘don’t eat what you don’t understand’ rule

Not consumed due to the ‘don’t eat what you don’t understand’ rule

We made great time towards Gatwick. As we descended, our captain came onto the intercom to tell us the airport had suddenly shut for emergency repairs. We circled a few times before the decision was made to divert to Stansted in order to refuel. The cabin crew were visibly distraught at the news. Once we landed, people started asking questions about whether they could get out and the head of the cabin crew said something along the lines of “due to European law, the only way you can leave is in an ambulance.” True to his word, the only people let off the aircraft was a mother and her son, the latter of which had been having a panic attack.

At this point, everyone on the plane seemed to need (a) a glass of water and (b) to use the toilet. The captain then announced that the earliest landing slot at Gatwick would be around five hours later, so we had to scramble to get in contact with our waiting taxi drivers to work out what the best plan would be. The head of the cabin crew told off one of his colleagues for being at the front of the plane when she should be at the back; she had wandered to the front as she “couldn’t stand the sound of the toilet constantly flushing.” Fortunately, the refuelling didn’t take long — the captain announced that Gatwick had given us the go-ahead to leave and we would soon be on our way again. In what seemed to be the aviation equivalent of “if you’re only driving round the corner you don’t need your seat belt”, the cabin crew didn’t walk through the plane to check everyone was ready to go and instead spent the entire take-off procedure showing each other funny videos on their phones. Stansted to Gatwick is a short journey on an A320, so it wasn’t long before we were on the ground again.

Holidaying for a week always feels quite rushed. If we had spent more time in Montenegro I would have liked to have travelled around to see more of the country, as the little we saw was unbelievably beautiful. But an all-inclusive hotel takes a lot of the stress out of a trip when travelling with children, especially when you are in a large group. I’m so grateful that we got to spend time there with our friends.

Happy times

Happy times

Aside from our trip, in the past two weeks I also:

  • Was shocked to learn of the passing of yet another person that I went to school with. I know it is inevitable, but we still seem so young for so many of us to not be here anymore.
  • Watched England progress through the World Cup before ultimately losing to Spain in the final. Spain were definitely the better team on the day.
  • Enjoyed Album Club #150. I can’t believe we’re halfway to our next century already.
  • Cleared the gutters in our back garden in an attempt to stop a small waterfall from appearing above the patio doors when we get anything more than a small rain shower. It then rained, and the problem seems to be worse. Further investigation required.
  • Finally got someone to come back and look at our leaking toilet for the second time, two and a half months after the first visit. Apparently a part is definitely on order now.
  • Had a visit from a Virgin Media installer to upgrade our home hub to the latest model. We’re now on a plan where we can get 1Gbps downloads. I haven’t noticed the difference with anything except upload speeds, which now exceed 100Mbps.
  • Watched Right to Fight (2023), an incredible documentary about the early days of female boxing in the USA. The early pioneers of the sport were amazing in so many ways, pushing for recognition but being met with sexism and hate.
  • Had a rare trip to the cinema with my wife — without the children — to watch Oppenheimer (2023). I am so glad that we opted for the IMAX screen, for the sound as much as the picture. The film is SO LOUD and shakes you in the chest, but it never felt inappropriate. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, with wonderful actors and performances throughout.

Next week: Back to work!


  1. ‘Feral’ in this context means a ship’s lantern, not wild animals. 

Weeknotes #232 — 70th

My lovely dad (who I know reads these weeknotes — hello dad 👋) turned 70 this week. On Saturday we headed to my aunt’s house — she also hit 70 this year — for a double birthday celebration. The weather on our drive down was atrocious with torrential storms and flooded roads, a big worry for a party that was due to take place outside. But soon after we arrived and the band started to play, the rain stopped.

We had such a lovely time. It’s wonderful to get together with lots of family and friends like this, particularly after the COVID years. As the sun went down, the party continued indoors with some impromptu microphone-free YouTube-powered karaoke. It’s going to take a couple of days for my shredded vocal chords to recover.

Our birthday present to dad is a long weekend trip for him, my two brothers and I to Berlin later in the year. After our brilliant holiday with all of our families last year, I realise how much the best gift is just being able to spend some quality time together.

This was a week in which I:

  • Appeared as a panellist at an internal event, discussing large language models and generative AI. The whole event was excellent, with an impressive keynote speaker in the form of Mushambi Mutuma and a good, diverse panel.
  • Continued work to on-board a vendor and get a contract in place for delivery of an interesting new capability for our firm.
  • Agreed a contract with an external vendor to deliver ‘clear writing’ training to our department towards the end of the year. The content needs some customisation, but if it can be anywhere near as good as the training I attended some years ago it will be well worth the effort.
  • Had a walkthrough of our software development team’s proposed strategy for delivering against one of our strategic objectives.
  • Joined colleagues in meetings with individual representatives for our programme on unstructured data management.
  • In response to feedback from the team in that we aren’t having as many fun, inclusive events anymore, I prepped and ran our team meeting with a couple of exercises. In the first one, each team member had one minute to try and sell a bizarre object to the rest of the attendees, before nominating who would go next. We also played a variation of the game You Think You Know Me which translated quite well to an online format.
  • Watched an excellent Learning Hour session, led by a colleague who gave us an update on our CRM system and a conference that she recently attended.
  • Attended a security programme steering committee in place of our CIO.
  • Took part in our monthly risk review meeting.
  • Had my mid-year review and completed a half-year self appraisal on the system.
  • Tentatively agreed to presenting at a town hall event towards the end of the year.
  • Attended a webinar on The CIO’s Evolving Role in Supporting Digital Products.
  • Joined a Gartner meeting on the topic of ‘the future of the office’.
  • Went for a rare dinner with some of my colleagues from work. We had such a lovely evening, with great conversation and lots of humour. We don’t do it enough.
  • Had a lovely Sunday lunch out with my wife.
  • Didn’t get out on my bike over the weekend, due to the rain, social commitments and being generally knackered (in that order).

Next week: A couple of weeks off work for the summer. I’m trying not to make too many mental commitments of all the things I’ll get done during this time, so that I don’t end up disappointed with myself.

Weeknotes #231 — Ramekin atoms

Summer rain leads to rainbows

Summer rain leads to rainbows

Another super busy week at work, coupled with four nights out1 in a row. The week seemed to accelerate as it went, leaving me with a feeling of not having enough time to catch up by the time we hit Friday. But it was fun.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a chat with the team about when we move our password manager rollout into ‘business as usual’ now that we have signed up 90% of our staff. We’re nearly done.
  • Sat with one of our executives to talk through and answer questions about his specific workflow when using the password manager.
  • Wrote a memo about the coming AI tools and what we need to do to prepare our organisation for them.
  • Attended the steering committee for our real estate programme, part of which I am due to pick up and run over the next 18 months or so.
  • Caught up with an external consultant who we last worked with four years ago when we remodelled our office. It was interesting to discuss what we’re thinking about, and to get his input on what other companies are doing with their offices from a technology perspective.
  • Met with colleagues to continue planning for an office move in the US.
  • Had a couple of meetings with an external vendor as we work towards getting a contract in place for their services.
  • Gave my presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI to our Generative AI working group. It seemed to be well-received, even by this audience who are more involved with the technology than anyone else I have presented to.
  • Met with fellow panellists ahead of an online event at work on Monday to go through the kinds of topics and questions that will be asked. I’m a little nervous as I’ve never been on a panel before, but the conversation we had allayed some of my fears. Hopefully my appearance won’t be legendary for all the wrong reasons.
  • Had an introductory meeting with the representatives from a technology consultancy that we are working with.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss progress towards the end of year ‘town hall’ event that we are hosting.
  • Spent time cleaning up the ‘drop lane’ on our Kanban board, fleshing out an amazing number of placeholder cards that I had created over the past couple of months. We continued our sessions to clean up the board and get aligned on what we’ve decided to keep.
  • Attended the monthly Architecture Community of Practice meeting.
  • Had our monthly team Lean Coffee session. I think we need to extend this to 90 minutes in future as we often don’t get through that many topics.
  • Attended a presentation on the view of our organisation from the perspective of one of the major cloud infrastructure vendors.
  • Found that our Monday all-office lunch is on hiatus for the summer, so had lunch and a chat with the team instead. It’s been a while since we got together like this.
  • Had a long, impromptu meeting at the end of the day with a couple of colleagues, covering a vast array of topics about life, the universe and everything.
  • Managed to drop a glass ramekin in the kitchen five minutes before I was due to be in a meeting. When dropped they seem to split into individual atoms, requiring a ‘three pass vacuum’ across a wide area to ensure that every last piece has been safely removed found.
  • Enjoyed the third instalment of the WB-40 Album Club. Our host had chosen to take us back to the mid-1990s when he spent time in Russia, choosing Несчастный Случай’s (Neschastny Sluchai’s) Mein Lieber Tanz from 1995. He had kindly and painstakingly translated the lyrics to the album, which revealed it to be quite bonkers. I love an Album Club — when on earth would I ever have listened to this otherwise?

  • Loved going to see Julie Byrne and Juni Habel on Wednesday night, and getting to meet Katie Von Schleicher in person.
The beautiful Kings Place in London on Wednesday night

The beautiful Kings Place in London on Wednesday night

Sorry, do you have a larger specials menu please?

Sorry, do you have a larger specials menu please?

  • Enjoyed this week’s cycling club ride. I hadn’t managed to fit much cycling in this week but felt very strong as we took on a relatively long and hilly route.
  • Put my running shoes on for the first time in months, joining my wife while her usual running partner is away. Every time I run I love it, but I don’t ever seem to build it into my exercise routine as I love the bike even more.
  • Took a rare family trip to the cinema to see the latest Mission: Impossible film. It was…fine. Super formulaic and forgettable, but I didn’t really expect anything else. We thought about going to see Oppenheimer but apparently cinemas are now very strict about verifying children’s ages. Our 14 year old may not have got in to a 15 and we didn’t want to take the chance.
  • Did the ‘renewal dance’ with Virgin Media after our 18 month contract ended. It looks like we’re going to end up with much more stuff for slightly less than what we were paying.

Next week: Trying to get as much done as possible before a couple of weeks off.


  1. Technically one of those nights was at online from my house, but I’m counting it. 

Weeknotes #230 — Diamond

Another week where I’ve felt exhausted for most of it. I’ve resolved to try and get some more sleep, scaling back the day so that I head up the wooden hill thirty minutes earlier than usual. The first day I tried it I immediately felt better, so I’m going to try and keep it up. Since the pandemic hit I’ve been very good at making sure I prioritise exercise as often as I can; sleep feels like the next puzzle to solve. It can be difficult now that we have teenagers in the house who, if left unchecked, will tend to a completely nocturnal lifestyle. We find ourselves picking them up at late hours or chasing them up to bed when we should already be asleep.

When I’ve been this tired in the past, I’ve found that I end up oversleeping when I should be leaping out of bed. I dismiss my alarm, think about gathering the strength to peel back the duvet and roll onto the carpet, and all of a sudden an hour has passed. It happened again on Saturday. I’d planned to go out with my usual cycling group but was never going to make it on time, so ended up in a group of three that left half an hour later. We had a no-nonsense, speedy ride around the route until being foiled by a puncture about a kilometre from the end.

This was a week in which I:

  • Delighted in seeing the signup figures for our password manager rollout climb to over 90%. We now have follow-up meetings in the diary with almost everyone who has yet to sign up, or is yet to start using the software across all of their devices. By any measure, it feels like the team has made a real success of it. I had a coffee with one of my colleagues who was concerned about signing up and I think I put her fears to bed.
  • Gave my final scheduled introductory presentation on Large Language Models and Generative AI. There are couple of teams that I am still yet to get booked in, but the focus now needs to shift to what comes next.
  • Met with an external vendor to discuss where we are in the on-boarding and contractual agreement process.
  • Had a meeting to review two of our real estate/facilities programmes and agree how we would structure the work now that we are clear on the scope.
  • Met to review a compliance report and agree proposed remedial actions.
  • Continued preparation for a meeting on how we manage unstructured data. Met with colleagues to agree how we will take this forward.
  • Met with colleagues to discuss the global Technology town hall meeting that we are hosting in November.
  • Hosted our weekly Learning Hour session. Two members of the team gave us an update on some software we are using to gather telemetry across our end-user equipment, helping us to proactively respond to potential issues instead of waiting for failures to happen.
  • Had an introductory meeting with the team at Gartner as I am now taking up one of our ‘seats’ for the next year. I am hoping that their research and consultation can help me further shape the Digital Literacy initiative that I’m leading.
  • Attended a Microsoft demo where they showed us the capabilities of Teams Premium and Copilot. That these are two products seems to be an accident of timing, at least with regard to the ‘meeting catch-up’ features of Teams Premium.
  • Worked with my team to clean up our Kanban board, getting rid of a bunch of items that we are never likely to progress. We’re not quite done yet.
  • Reviewed a short slide deck giving an update and recommendations for a change in approach for one of our teams.
  • Was excited for the children at the school behind our house when a helicopter landed in their field as an end-of-term treat. Helicopters are still rare enough to be a talking point, particularly when they land a few hundred metres away from you.
  • Met one of our two next door neighbours and was delighted to find out that we have a lot of common interests. They are renovating their house and have discovered that our mains electricity supply is looped via their property instead of being attached directly to the street. I can see our driveway being dug up at some point in the near future.
  • Went on a family trip to the Diamond League athletics meet at the London Stadium. I’d never been to that part of London before. It has a very modern vibe with lots of modern shops and apartments but there’s still lots of construction taking place. Like many sports, I think I prefer watching it on the TV than seeing it in person. With the running, pole vault, discus, shot put, high jump and long jump all overlapping with each other it was difficult to keep track of who was where. But you can’t beat the vibe of everyone in a stadium reacting to something at the same time. If we do go again, we’ll take our own refreshments; four soft drinks were £19.60 and two hot dogs came to £18.

  • Have been spending a lot of time thinking about the climate emergency. I’m seeing more and more protestors in the streets near my office as well as hearing about their impact at sporting events. On Wednesday night I caught the BBC news report on what’s happening in the northern hemisphere this summer, with record temperatures and wildfires all over the place. On my commute to work the next day I came across some Just Stop Oil protestors who were doing a slow walk in front of traffic on the A40. It takes some serious guts to put yourself at risk like this for something you believe in. Some of the passing drivers on the other side of the road shouted abuse as they passed. A driver behind the protestors nudged their legs and knocked them with their wing mirrors as they tried to squeeze past.

  • With the protests in mind, opted to book train tickets for business travel to Barcelona later in the year. You can leave London just after 10am and be in Barcelona less than 12 hours later. It’ll take me longer, but it seems like the right thing to do.
  • Informed the school governing board that I will be stepping down from my role at the end of the summer. I’ve been a governor for 10 years, with most of that time as either Chair or Vice Chair. We have a new Headteacher joining the school in September and it will be great for someone new to build a good working relationship with her. School governance has been a very big, rewarding part of my life over the past decade and I would like to come back to it in the future.
  • Had a sad end to the week when my wife popped in to feed our neighbour’s cat but found that it couldn’t get up. After a few phone calls, we found ourselves heading to the vet where they recommended euthanasia. The cat had been fine in the morning, bouncing around as usual, so hopefully it hadn’t been in that condition for too long. It didn’t seem to be in any pain.
  • Wrote a feature for the Berkhamsted Town Council newsletter on our Album Club, which is still on an unbroken run of monthly meet-ups since February 2011.
  • Managed to close my eldest son’s GoHenry account now that he has a ‘proper’ bank account of his own. It seemed impossible to do this from their website so I had to chat to a human to get it done.
  • Finished season 11 of Grange Hill. The 25 minute episodes have been perfect mindless TV for when I’ve just wanted to switch off from everything. I’m now at the point where I’d stopped watching the show regularly the first time around and it definitely feels as though it has passed its zenith.

Next week: Music front and centre, with two album clubs and a gig to go to, and a meal out with my brothers for their birthday.

Weeknotes #229 — Dismantled

Generated by DALL-E 2. Almost like looking in a mirror.

Generated by DALL-E 2. Almost like looking in a mirror.

This week felt stressful. For the first time in a long while, I cancelled my attendance at an after work in-person event as I felt that I had too much on my plate. At the weekend, my wife told me that she’d noticed that I’d been a bit snappy. It was good to reach the weekend and catch up with a couple of extra hours of sleep.

This was a week in which I:

  • Worked with the team on a couple of rare production issues with one of our desktop applications. There is no substitute to going through the problems forensically, step-by-step, and writing down something that people can either challenge or agree with. Specificity of language is so important. We have a temporary fix in place for now.
  • Continued coordinating the one-to-one appointments to on-board staff to our password manager. We are reaching the tail end of the initial rollout and need to turn our attention to those people that signed up to create an account but haven’t fully adopted it yet.
  • Made progress with a vendor on-boarding process. Created the outline of a draft contract for the work we hope to get started with this year.
  • Met with a colleague to discuss next week’s working group meeting for a project that we are running. Spent a few hours on Sunday getting some diagrams out of my head and onto something that we can use in the meeting.
  • Discussed plans for technology changes to three of our internal meeting rooms. The work will simplify the technology setup as well as give a better end-user experience.
  • Met with the cross-functional team working on one of our pioneering client-facing projects to check where we are and agree next steps.
  • Continued work with my team on moving us towards getting a roadmap in place.
  • Had the bi-monthly Information Risk Steering Group meeting.
  • Hosted our weekly Learning Hour with guest speakers from our Foreign Exchange Technology team.
  • Attended two Generative AI working group meetings.
  • Had one-on-one meetings with a couple of members of our team that I don’t usually speak to day-to-day.
  • Continued to plan the facilitation of an online team social event next week.
  • At my team’s ‘standup’ meeting on Friday morning, I asked them “what is the one thing that you’re committing to finishing today?” It felt like a simple but powerful question. We’ll check in on Monday to see how we did.
  • Met with our school Chair of Governors along with colleagues at HFL Education to talk about school governance in general.
  • Caught up with our school’s incoming Headteacher who is due to start in September.
  • Completed formal interviews for two potential school governors, one of whom is looking to come back to the board after a 20 year absence.
  • Worked on end-of-term draft letters to staff and parents.
  • Bowed out of the Saturday morning cycling club ride due to the threatened rainmaggeddon. I love going out with the club, but I was secretly relieved that I wouldn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a sixth day in a row. Despite the threat of bad weather cancelling sporting events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, all of the cyclists reported that their ride was dry and “not too windy”.
  • Ate out at Per Tutti in Berkhamsted to celebrate our youngest boy turning 14. Delicious as always. I remember being that age and talking to my mum about how birthdays didn’t feel as magical as they did in the past.
  • Got the car serviced and MOT tested. (I had to check that sentence as I assumed the ‘T’ meant test and I didn’t want to commit a ‘RAS syndrome’ error. The acronym actually stands for ‘Ministry of Transport’, a defunct government department. Who knew?)
  • Dismantled an old chest of drawers that we had bought from Ikea years ago. As I took it apart I found some forgotten temporary fixes that I’d made years before. Taking the furniture apart in a structured way is almost as laborious as putting it together.
  • Booked an airport taxi for our summer holiday. It made me realise that I’ve not travelled much this year. I’m fine with that.

Next week: More of the same.