📷 A neighbour took a photo of my son and I looking up in wonder at the Northern Lights last night.

📚 Finished reading Understanding Privacy by Heather Burns. An excellent, comprehensive guide to privacy aimed at web developers but useful to anyone working with technology, particularly those that create websites and other digital products for the North American and European markets. The author is an advocate for a principles and ethics based approach no matter what the law says in a particular country. A very useful reference that I’m glad to have in my library.

Weeknotes #271 — Shout

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Media

Podcasts

Articles

Video

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

Audio

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

Books

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

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

Weeknotes #270 — Oh Makita, you will never know

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Media

Podcasts

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

Articles

Video

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

Web

Books

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

Next week: An offsite meeting.

📚 More than a Glitch

I’ve finished reading More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech by Meredith Broussard.

Quote from the book ‘More than a Glitch’ by Meredith Broussard: “ Tech is racist and sexist and ableist because the world is so. Computers just reflect the existing reality and suggest that things will stay the same-they predict the status quo. By adopting a more critical view of technology, and by being choosier about the tech we allow into our lives and our society, we can employ technology to stop reproducing the world as it is, and get us closer to a world that is truly more just.”

The book is a polemic that explores technology, algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence and asserts that they are always biased. It has really got me thinking and seeing things in a different way. It reminded me of when I read Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Antiracist in that it has given me a completely new way of seeing the world. Recently I have been reviewing documents on ethical AI and I am now looking at them in a completely different light.

This coded language shows up everywhere once you are attuned to it. Consider this IBM AI governance report, which reads: “Extensive evidence has shown that AI can embed human and societal biases and deploy them at scale. Many experts are now saying that unwanted bias might be the major barrier that prevents Al from reaching its full potential. . . . So how do we ensure that automated decisions are less biased than human decision-making?” This is problematic because it assumes that Al’s “full potential” is even possible, which has no evidence aside from the imagination of a small, homogenous group of people who have been consistently wrong about predicting the future and who have not sufficiently factored in structural inequality. The question of “How do we ensure that automated decisions are less biased?” reinforces this problematic assumption, implicitly asserting for the reader that computational decisions are less biased. This is not true, and IBM and other firms should stop writing things that include this assumption. The technochauvinist binary thinking of either computers or humans is the problem: neither alone will deliver us.

I loved the insights on how inputs into machine learning models come from a world that is inherently biased, which will always lead to tools that are biased in some way. Many examples are given of how the systems that have been trained on this data enforce and amplify the existing patterns. For example, where exams couldn’t take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, algorithms were used to determine pupil grades instead. The book gives examples from the US, but I distinctly remember the fiasco here in the UK. Assigning grades to students based on historic data from their school, or through the use of any other other demographic information, may seem ‘fair’ to those people designing the algorithm. But to any one person being judged by the system it is deeply unfair.

The book explores the use of machine learning systems by the police. Historic data shows where arrests have been made and who was arrested, but not necessarily where crimes have been committed and who did them. This bias creates a feedback loop where predictive technology asserts that future crimes will be committed in similar areas, by similar people.

The thing is, everyone is a criminal to some extent because everyone has done things that violate the law. For example, white and Black people use drugs and deal drugs at equal rates. Bias determines who gets constructed as a criminal; not everyone gets caught, not everyone gets punished, and some people get punished more than others. The unequal application of justice can be seen in crime maps. Look at a crime map for any major city, and it’s pretty much the same as the map of where Black people live. Again, not because Black people commit more crimes, but because the things we call “crime maps” are actually arrest maps, and Black people are arrested for crimes at a higher rate. When you train algorithms on crime data, you are training the algorithm to over-police certain zip codes or geographic areas, because that is what has happened in real life in the past. You are training the algorithms to be biased.

There’s a fantastic example where someone has put together a ‘White Collar Crime Risk Zones’ tool which identifies ‘hotspots’ in a similar way to other systems. For New York City you can see that the major ’risk areas’ are clustered around the financial districts.

Screenshot from the website ‘White Collar Crime Risk Zones’. A map of New York City is shown, zoomed in to show parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Yellow and red ‘clouds’ are on the map to show zones of white-collar crime risk, clustered around the Financial District and Midtown Manhattan. Brooklyn and Queens have almost no yellow or red blobs.

Broussard asserts that people coming from the data science/technology world often assume that they can use their tools to get insights in whatever field they are applying them to, without considering the long history, large body of work and experts that have been in this space for many years before them:

One of the big misconceptions of data science is that it provides insights. It doesn’t always. Sometimes the insights are merely things that the data scientists didn’t know, but people in other disciplines already knew. There’s an important distinction between what is unknown to the world versus what is simply unknown to you. Data scientists in general need to do more qualitative research, and talk to experts in relevant fields, before designing and implementing quantitative systems.

I loved the insight that designing tools for inclusion actually makes them better for everybody. It got me thinking about the minimal effort that I have been putting in to adding alt-text to images on this website. The tools I use for blogging don’t help me but I know there will be a way to do it. I’ll try harder. It’s not really acceptable that images are inaccessible to vision-impaired readers in 2024.

Useful innovations like the typewriter, text messaging, audiobooks, remote controls, wide rubber grips on kitchen tools, voice assistants, and closed captioning all stem from designs for disability. “When we design for disability first, we often stumble upon solutions that are not only inclusive, but also are often better than when we design for the norm,” Roy said. “This excites me, because this means that the energy it takes to accommodate someone with a disability can be leveraged, molded, and played with as a force for creativity and innovation. This moves us from the mindset of trying to change the hearts and the deficiency mindset of tolerance to becoming an alchemist, the type of magician that this world so desperately needs to solve some of its greatest problems.”

Although I found the writing style quite dry, I’m very glad I picked this book up. I’m going to be thinking about its insights long after I’ve put it down.

Weeknotes #269 — Captain, we’re being hailed

The blossom even looks good at night.

The blossom even looks good at night.

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

Garbanzos. Unbelievably good.

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

Patagonia by Tandem

Patagonia by Tandem

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

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

Noodles and tofu from Szen in Berkhamsted

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

The entrance to Bridge Command

The entrance to Bridge Command

Media

Podcasts

Articles

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

Web

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

Weeknotes #268 — Unlicensed ice cream trading

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

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

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

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

Blossom everywhere.

Blossom everywhere.

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

Media

Articles

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

Audio

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

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

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

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

Books

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

📚 Finished reading  Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder. I’d been saving this until I had almost completed my read-through of all of Steinbeck’s works. Over 20 years ago I read Jackson J Benson’s biography of Steinbeck which comes in at around three times the length. Both are great books. I enjoyed Souder’s writing and appreciated his use of more recent sources to build a picture of the man, although the end felt rushed. I also remember Benson going into a lot more detail about Steinbeck’s practice of writing. If you don’t have the time or interest to tackle over 1,100 pages, this is a good place to start.

20 years of blogging

Twenty years ago today, I started writing here. When I say ‘here’, I don’t mean at andrewdoran.uk — domain names ending in ‘uk’ weren’t a thing back then — but at this digital home of mine on the web. I feel so lucky to have been in my late teens when the Internet started to make inroads to our lives. As a child I voraciously read computer magazines of all shapes and sizes, getting through piles of back issues for computers I didn’t own or had never seen. The articles that talked enthusiastically about modems and dial-up bulletin board systems were fascinating. Being part of it seemed so out of reach; even if I could save up to buy the equipment there was no way my parents would agree to pay the eye-watering call charges. 5p a minute is a lot, even in 2024.

The regular ‘Communications’ feature in Acorn User. I used to eat this stuff up despite never going anywhere near a modem.

The regular ‘Communications’ feature in Acorn User. I used to eat this stuff up despite never going anywhere near a modem.

Back in the early 1990s, ‘getting online’ effectively meant getting an email address. The web followed close behind. I can’t be sure, but I think that my first email account was the one I was given at a summer job at Cable & Wireless. They paid me as a temp to learn HTML and set up the first internal website for the Purchasing & Logistics department. Having the freedom to email anyone else in the world who also had an email account fascinated me, as did websites with digital ‘guestbooks’ to say that you had stopped by. Later, after a decade spent with emails, Usenet posts and chatrooms, getting a blog up and running felt like the next step. I had opinions to share. Putting them out there in the world for anyone else to see meant that I could speak my mind and let them go.

Despite blogs having been around for a few years before I got involved, getting one up and running in 2004 wasn’t as simple as it is today. I bought myself some web space, registered a domain name (applecrumble.net, a name chosen for no particular reason that I can remember), downloaded Movable Type and went through a whole bunch of steps to install the files and the database to get it set up. My friend Mat used his web design skills to make it look pretty; I still don’t understand quite how he did it.

The first capture of applecrumble.net on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I was very proud of the Yahoo Messenger status button and the ‘on my speakers’ sidebar to share what I’d been listening to.

The first capture of applecrumble.net on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I was very proud of the Yahoo Messenger status button and the ‘on my speakers’ sidebar to share what I’d been listening to.

Running a Movable Type blog was challenging. The software was incredible in that it let you post something and all of the web pages and links between them would be auto-generated. But updates were manual and could be very tricky to fix if something broke. You had to check with your web hosting provider whether they ran the relevant Perl modules to power the software. Despite all of the ’back of house’ shenanigans, it was fun.

I remember getting hold of a copy of the book We:Blog, written by Paul Bausch, Meg Hourihan and Metafilter founder Matt Haughey. By the time I was reading it, the details in contained were out of date but the enthusiasm and general guiding principles were there.

In the days before Facebook and Twitter, blogs filled the ‘one to many’ communication niche. If you wanted to tell a few people, you would email. If you wanted to say something to the world (or nobody in particular), you could write a blog post. Most of the comments on this blog stem from that time where friends would check your website to see what you’ve been up to and comment on your posts. It doesn’t really happen very much these days.

I remember emailing Anil Dash, who at the time was working at SixApart, the company behind Movable Type. I’d started toying with the idea of getting blogs up and running at work, but my company’s stance was that if an application needed a database it would have to use Oracle. Anil was helpful — there had been requests from other people asking the same question — but I couldn’t get the initiative off the ground. Eventually I switched to WordPress.com and then to my own hosted instance of WordPress.

The things I wrote 20 years ago are usually trivial, sometimes embarrassing, and reflect someone who wasn’t really worked out why they are writing. The emergence of Twitter (and to a lesser extent, Facebook and Instagram) meant that posts here became extremely rare. Those platforms scratched my ‘connection itch’. Twitter was wonderful back in the day. We made friends and met up in real life.

Somewhere along the way I started to learn about IndieWeb thinking, where you own your content, publish it on your own site first and syndicate it to other services. I started worrying that all of the content I had posted to Twitter might disappear someday.

The struggle with blogging is that creating and publishing something always felt like a giant task. Micro.blog made me realise that publishing little ‘snippet’ updates to your own website is okay; not everything needs to be an essay. I started writing more frequently again. Becoming a weeknoter has also been a major help in keeping up a regular writing practice without having to think too much about what to write about. What could be simpler than writing about what you’ve been up to? A decade and a half after starting my blog, I felt like I’d finally found a bit of a rhythm to getting my thoughts out there.

Looking back, I didn’t expect the post that gave me the most satisfaction would be about the world of professional wrestling, something I haven’t watched since I was a teenager in the early 1990s. Starting to tap out a few notes on a book I had read on holiday quickly turned into something much bigger.

The most read post on this site is my response to a meeting of Berkhamsted Town Council where they debated the building of a multi-storey car park in our town. It had been shared on local Facebook groups and it felt a little intimidating to get a couple of thousand views in two or three days. I’m so glad that I didn’t have comments turned on at the time.

I still get so much joy from my little hobby of writing here. I don’t write longer posts as often as I would like to, but I love the fact that I have this place when I want to get something out of my head. Writing sometimes helps me to work out what I think, or lets me feel that I’ve been able to express myself and let go instead of carrying it with me. Writing recently about the Ofsted process comes to mind. It takes hours to wrestle with the words, but it’s worth it.

By any measure this is a teeny, minor corner of the Web. But it’s mine, and I can’t imagine wanting to be without it.

Weeknotes #267 — Electricity

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

Amazing new street art on my commute to the office

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

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

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

Gnocchi with mushrooms at The Highwayman, Berkhamsted

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Media

Podcasts

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

Ben Thompson: That’s right.

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

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

Articles

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

Weeknotes #266 — Doughnuts

London Bridge, 30 March 2024

London Bridge, 30 March 2024

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cream, honeycomb and jam doughnuts

Cream, honeycomb and jam doughnuts

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

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

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

Media

Podcasts

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

Articles

Video

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

Books

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

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

📚 Finished reading Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman. A rallying cry against the culture of ’positive vibes only’ and self-help dogma such as The Law of Attraction. More of a self-help book than I was looking for. There are lots of useful conversational tips in the book, but mainly aimed at avoiding emanating toxic positivity yourself as opposed to dealing with it in others. The section on how we use complaints as a form of social bonding is fascinating.

Weeknotes #265 — Marika Hackman III

Stop. Stop. No. STOP.

Stop. Stop. No. STOP.

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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

Media

Articles

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

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

Audio

Books

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

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

Weeknotes #264 — Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Black granite worktops. Nothing can escape…THE DUST.

Black granite worktops. Nothing can escape…THE DUST.

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

Media

Podcasts

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

Articles

Video

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

Audio

Web

Books

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

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

📚 Finished reading Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall by Manuel Betancourt. Years ago, my brother bought me Rufus Wainwright’s cover version of the entire album which got me hooked. I still love that record, but Garland’s original is even better. Both artists have a voice that takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you’re on their wavelength the music is so rewarding.

‘”There’s something about my voice that makes them see all the sadness and humor they’ve experienced,” she said a few years later about those crowds that clamored for such musical self-flagellation. “It makes them know they aren’t too different; they aren’t apart. That’s the only reason I can give for people’s liking to hear me sing because I’m not that fine a singer.”’ (Manuel Betancourt, Judy Garland’s Judy at Carnegie Hall)

I disagree with Garland’s self assessment. Her singing has an authenticity about it and she nails all of the songs — from upbeat show tunes to beautiful ballads.

These 33 1/3 books, each one about a specific album, are consistently excellent. I’m looking forward to reading more of them.

Weeknotes #263 — Codenames

Looking up on my Monday morning commute

Looking up on my Monday morning commute

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

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

Outside the church of St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall, London

Outside the church of St Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall, London

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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