Weeknotes #219 — Word wrestling

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

The hallucinations of AI creators

Naomi Klein, writing in The Guardian:

The former Google CEO Eric Schmidt summed up the case when he told the Atlantic that AI’s risks were worth taking, because “If you think about the biggest problems in the world, they are all really hard – climate change, human organizations, and so forth. And so, I always want people to be smarter.”

According to this logic, the failure to “solve” big problems like climate change is due to a deficit of smarts. Never mind that smart people, heavy with PhDs and Nobel prizes, have been telling our governments for decades what needs to happen to get out of this mess: slash our emissions, leave carbon in the ground, tackle the overconsumption of the rich and the underconsumption of the poor because no energy source is free of ecological costs.

The reason this very smart counsel has been ignored is not due to a reading comprehension problem, or because we somehow need machines to do our thinking for us. It’s because doing what the climate crisis demands of us would strand trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets, while challenging the consumption-based growth model at the heart of our interconnected economies. The climate crisis is not, in fact, a mystery or a riddle we haven’t yet solved due to insufficiently robust data sets. We know what it would take, but it’s not a quick fix – it’s a paradigm shift. Waiting for machines to spit out a more palatable and/or profitable answer is not a cure for this crisis, it’s one more symptom of it.

The whole article is an excellent read. I’d love us to move to a Star Trek-like future where everyone has what they need and the planet isn’t burning. But — being generous to the motives of AI developers and those with a financial interest in their work — there’s an avalanche of wishful thinking that the market will somehow get us there from here.

Increasingly obscured future

I recently watched this video from the Center for Humane Technology. At one point during the presentation, the presenters stop and ask everyone in the audience to join them in taking a deep breath. There is no irony. Nobody laughs. I don’t mind admitting that at that point I wanted to cry.

Back in the year 2000, I can remember exactly where I was when I read Bill Joy’s article in Wired magazine, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. I was in my first year of work after I graduated from university, commuting to the office on a Northern Line tube train, totally absorbed in the text. The impact of the article was massive — the issue of Wired that came out two months later contained multiple pages dedicated to emails, letters and faxes that they had received in response:

James G. Callaway, CEO, Capital Unity Network: Just read Joy’s warning in Wired – went up and kissed my kids while they were sleeping.

The essay even has its own Wikipedia page. The article has been with me ever since, and I keep coming back to it. The AI Dilemma video made me go back and read it once again.

OpenAI released ChatGPT at the end of last year. I have never known a technology to move so quickly to being the focus of everyone’s attention. It pops up in meetings, on podcasts, in town hall addresses, in webinars, in email newsletters, in the corridor. It’s everywhere. ‘ChatGPT’ has already become an anepronym for large language models (LLMs) as a whole — artificial intelligence models designed to understand and generate natural language text. As shown in the video, it is the fastest growing consumer application in history. A few months later, Microsoft announced CoPilot, an integration of the OpenAI technology into the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. At work, we watched the preview video with our eyes turning into saucers and our jaws on the floor.

Every day I seem to read about new AI-powered tools. You can use plain language to develop Excel spreadsheet formulas. You can accelerate your writing and editing. The race is on to work out how we can use the technology. The feeling is that we have do to it — and have to try to do it before everybody else does — so that we can gain some competitive advantage. It is so compelling. I’m already out of breath. But something doesn’t feel right.

My dad left school at 15. But his lack of further education was made up for by his fascination with in the world. His interests were infectious. As a child I used to love it when we sat down in front of the TV together, hearing what he had to say as we watched. Alongside David Attenborough documentaries on the natural world and our shared love of music through Top of The Pops, one of our favourite shows was Tomorrow’s World. It was fascinating. I have vivid memories of sitting there, finding out about compact discs and learning about how information could be sent down fibre optic cables. I was lucky to be born in the mid-1970s, at just the right time to benefit from the BBC Computer Literacy Project which sparked my interest in computers. When I left school in the mid-1990s, I couldn’t believe my luck that the Internet and World Wide Web had turned up as I was about to start my adult life. Getting online and connecting with other people blew my mind. In 1995 I turned 18 and felt I needed to take some time off before going to university. I landed on my feet with a temporary job at a telecommunications company, being paid to learn HTML and to develop one of the first intranet sites. Every day brought something new. I was in my element. Technology has always been exciting to me.

Watching The AI Dilemma gave me the complete opposite feeling to those evenings I spent watching Tomorrow’s World with my dad. As I took the deep breaths along with the presenters, I couldn’t help but think about my two teenage boys and what the world is going to look like for them. I wonder if I am becoming a luddite in my old age. I don’t know; maybe. But for the first time I do feel like an old man, with the world changing around me in ways I don’t understand, and an overwhelming desire to ask it to slow down a bit.

Perhaps it is always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in the vortex of a change. Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been driven by the overarching desire to know that is the nature of science’s quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies can take on a life of its own. —[Bill Joy, Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us]

I’ve had conversations about the dangers of these new tools with colleagues and friends who work in technology. My initial assessment of the threat posed to an organisation was that this has the same risks as any other method of confidential data accidentally leaking out onto the Internet. Company staff shouldn’t be copying and pasting swathes of internal text or source code into a random web tool, e.g. asking the system for improvements to what they have written, as they would effectively be giving the information away to the tool’s service provider, and potentially anyone else who uses that tool in the future. This alone is a difficult problem to solve. For example, most people do not understand that email isn’t a guaranteed safe and secure mechanism for sending sensitive data. Even they do think about this, their need to get a thing done can outweigh any security concerns. Those of us with a ‘geek mindset’ who believe we are good at critiquing new technologies, treading carefully and pointing out the flaws are going to be completely outnumbered by those who rush in and start embracing the new tools without a care in the world.

The AI Dilemma has made me realise that I’ve not been thinking hard enough. The downside risks are much, much greater. Even if we do not think that there will soon be a super intelligent, self-learning, self-replicating machine coming after us, we are already in an era where we can no longer trust anything we see or hear. Any security that relies on voice matching should now be considered to be broken. Photographs and videos can’t be trusted. People have tools that can give them any answer, good or bad, for what they want to achieve, with no simple or easy way for a responsible company to filter the responses. We are giving children the ability to get advice from these anthropomorphised systems, without checking how the systems are guiding them. The implications for society are profound.

Joy’s article was concerned with three emerging threats — robotics, genetic engineering and nanotech. Re-reading the article in 2023, I think that ‘robotics’ is shorthand for ‘robotics and AI’.

The 21st-century technologies—genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR)—are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses. Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them. —[Bill Joy, Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us]

The video gives us guidance of “3 Rules of Technology”:

  1. When you invent a new technology, you uncover a new class of responsibilities [— think about the need to have laws on ‘the right to be forgotten’ now that all of our histories can be surfaced via search engines; the need for this law was much less pronounced before we were all online]
  2. If the tech confers power, it starts a race [— look at how Microsoft, Google et al have been getting their AI chatbot products out into the world following the release of ChatGPT, without worrying too much about whether they are ready or not]
  3. If you do not coordinate, the race ends in tragedy.

It feels like the desire to be the first to harness the power and wealth from utilising these new tools is completely dominating any calls for caution.

Nearly 20 years ago, in the documentary The Day After Trinity, Freeman Dyson summarized the scientific attitudes that brought us to the nuclear precipice:

“I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it’s there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles—this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.” —[Bill Joy, Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us]

Over the years, what has stuck in my mind the most from Joy’s article is how the desire to experiment and find out can override all caution (emphasis mine):

We know that in preparing this first atomic test the physicists proceeded despite a large number of possible dangers. They were initially worried, based on a calculation by Edward Teller, that an atomic explosion might set fire to the atmosphere. A revised calculation reduced the danger of destroying the world to a three-in-a-million chance. (Teller says he was later able to dismiss the prospect of atmospheric ignition entirely.) Oppenheimer, though, was sufficiently concerned about the result of Trinity that he arranged for a possible evacuation of the southwest part of the state of New Mexico. —[Bill Joy, Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us]

There is some hope. We managed to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons to a handful of countries. But developing a nuclear weapon is a logistically difficult process. Taking powerful software and putting it out in the world — not so much.

The new Pandora’s boxes of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics are almost open, yet we seem hardly to have noticed. Ideas can’t be put back in a box; unlike uranium or plutonium, they don’t need to be mined and refined, and they can be freely copied. Once they are out, they are out. —[Bill Joy, Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us]

The future seems increasingly obscured to me, with so much uncertainty. As the progress of these technologies accelerates, I feel less and less sure of what is just around the corner.

Weeknotes #218 — Aldous Harding

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Ground screws. Not an art installation.

Ground screws. Not an art installation.

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

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

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

Weeknotes #217 — Den under den

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Disk, I am determined to wipe you.

Disk, I am determined to wipe you.

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

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

  • Enjoyed a wonderful Saturday morning bike club ride.

Next week: Fingers crossed for a return to normal.

U.S. music revenues

A recent Stratechery post pointed me in the direction of these wonderful graphs of music revenues and sales. They fascinate me.

Some random thoughts:

  • Ringtone revenues were massive, for a very short period. 2005 is when they register on the graphs, but by 2008 they are already in decline. I would have thought that they would be correlated to the introduction of the iPhone, but the sales seem to pre-date it.
  • I’d never heard the term ‘synchronisation’ before. Apparently it is the payment for using songs in films, TV shows and adverts (and presumably videogames too).
  • Physical music video sales were never a big thing but they don’t seem to be killed off until 10 years after YouTube turned up in 2005.
  • I’d forgotten that cassette singles were a thing. I had some. I barely played them.
  • 1998 was the peak revenue for recorded music in the U.S., adjusted for inflation. Paid streaming subscriptions now dominate, as you would expect, but the revenues are way down. Spotify has never turned an annual profit. It would be interesting (and probably impossible) to see what a graph of total artist payouts for recorded music sales looks like. Maybe the revenue decline for artists is a return to a historical norm.
  • I don’t know what the ‘Kiosk’ category is. It seems to start in 2005, but is barely noticeable.
  • LPs/EPs really dominate the early years of the graph. I guess that by 1973 we are already beyond the era of singles being the main focus.

Weeknotes #216 — Suzume

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

🎶 Stumbled across the Women of Rock Oral History Project through a search for Dandy Warhols-related material. The interview with Zia McCabe is fascinating; her story of getting involved in music, having previously had no experience at all, is incredible. Lots more to watch.

🎬 Watched Dig! (2004). A superb documentary, following The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre across seven years of their early careers. One band sees their career go stellar in Europe while the other disintegrates into chaos. Interesting to see where they are now.

Weeknotes #215 — Interlude

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

📚 Finished reading Fingers In The Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. I’ve never read a memoir quite like this. It took a few chapters for me to orient myself. School years can be hard; as a neurodivergent child in the 1970s they were even harder. I’d love to read a sequel.

Weeknotes #214 — One conversation at a time

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

🎶 The Kinks’ 20th Century Man has been my earworm for the past few days. What a song. Half a century old and it still resonates.

This Ray Davies live version is superb:

This is the age of machinery
A mechanical nightmare
The wonderful world of technology
Napalm, hydrogen bombs, biological warfare