🎬 Watched King of Jazz (1930) after reading about it in Peter Doggett’s book Electric Shock on the history of pop music. It’s a bizarre, compelling time capsule, made up of a montage of songs, dances and not particularly amusing sketches. A Letterboxd reviewer nails the problems with the movie that are outlined in the book, that it is a cultural appropriation of ‘jazz’ without any acknowledgement or representation of the black African Americans from whom it originated.

I came for the performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, but stayed for the incredible My Ragamuffin Romeo dance between Marion Stadler and Don Rose.

The whole movie can be found on YouTube.

Weeknotes #252 — Change of plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go again.

Here we go again.

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Weeknotes #251 — Lurking Lucas

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

Mud-spattered and happy.

Mud-spattered and happy.

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

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


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

Fearing Ofsted

Content warning: This post mentions suicide and mental health issues, which may be distressing or triggering for some readers.

It did not surprise me at all that Headteacher Ruth Perry’s awful and tragic suicide was, according to the coroner, “contributed to by an Ofsted inspection”. I can’t imagine what her family, friends and community have been going through this past year. Reading the account of her despair last Christmas as she anticipated the Ofsted inspector’s report is deeply harrowing.

Recently I stepped down as a school governor after a decade in the role. I have seen and heard about the pressures that the Ofsted inspection procedure puts schools under. In the corporate world we don’t spend the entire year discussing and worrying about our potential internal and external audits, but this is what happens in many schools. There is a culture of fear. Every week they are waiting for the phone to ring. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief when school closes on a Wednesday, with the realisation that it is now too late in the week to receive ‘the call’. The alleviation is temporary, as the cycle begins all over again the following Monday. As school governors we felt this stress too, but we did not live it day to day.

The fear is not unwarranted. The biggest problem with the inspection process is how high-stakes it is. At the end of the inspection, if a school is rated as ‘inadequate’, the law says that it will be forced to become an academy.1 The school will have its legal status changed so that it is no longer funded by the local authority, and it will be forcibly moved into the structure of a multi-academy trust of the government’s choosing. It would be like a company failing an audit and immediately being pushed by law into being acquired by another firm. For Headteachers, the threat of having this event on your CV forever and having to deal with the inevitable backlash from the community is an incredible level of stress to cope with over a long period of time. Every week you are waiting for a phone call that could start a process that fundamentally changes your life.

You could correctly argue that it is the Headteacher’s job to ensure that the school isn’t ‘inadequate’ and is providing an excellent education for its pupils. A school can be judged as ‘outstanding’ in every aspect of its educational provision, but if the safeguarding arrangements are deemed to be ineffective it will lead to the school automatically being deemed as ‘inadequate’ overall. The forced academisation process will then begin. As school governors, we were told even before we joined that safeguarding is of the utmost importance — we completed regular mandatory training, it was on the agenda for our meetings, we questioned ourselves and our school leaders regularly, and we ensured that one member of the board had a specific ‘link’ role, visiting the school to review the safeguarding processes, procedures and records that were in place. We worked to close any gaps and improve wherever we saw something that could be better. Everyone I have met across the education sector knows how important safeguarding is. Having a snap inspection judgement of ‘inadequate’ for safeguarding that automatically leads to such a fundamental change for a school is brutal.

Being a school governor made me realise that working in a school is a vocation, not a job. Staff are paid so little for the level of responsibility that they have, particularly when compared to the private sector. Before I became a governor, I had no appreciation for how much time staff spend on social work. Schools need to work with pupils and their families to ensure that everyone is safe, fed and calm before they can begin to think about teaching and learning. As a Headteacher you may plan your day, your week, or your term, only to find that you suddenly need to re-prioritise everything in order to safeguard a pupil and their family. Our schools are there to provide education, but they do so much more.

For children with specific additional needs, there have always been challenges in the process to establish an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for them. Once a plan is in place, additional government funding is made available to support the child. However, this funding is only sufficient to employ a one-to-one Teaching Assistant for half of the week, with the school needing to find the money for the other half. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of children that have specific additional needs has dramatically increased, adding financial stress to our schools. This stress is typically shouldered by the Headteacher along with their governing board. The responsibility resting on a Headteacher’s shoulders is immense, despite being in a job that could be paid as little as the starting salary for a graduate who joins an investment bank.2

Schools are stretched physically, mentally and financially in meeting the needs of their pupils, particularly after the pandemic. Currently, with so many major news stories, this issue seems to get so little coverage. It is difficult for me to understand how a Headteacher’s job can be tolerable over the long term. Headteachers need support, not out-of-the blue snap judgements. I would love to see a system that took a supportive approach instead of what we have today. If a school’s provision is judged to be ‘inadequate’, wouldn’t it be much healthier for everyone if resources were deployed to help the school get back to being ‘good’ again, working with the Headteacher and their staff to achieve it? Every school is different; every ‘inadequate’ school will require something specific to help it get to where it needs to be. Forcing a school into automatic academisation and merging it into a multi-academy trust is a disruptive ‘solution’ that can ruin careers without necessarily bringing the benefits that it is meant to.3 The current process has been shown to have contributed to a loss of life. It has to change, as the changes that have recently been put in place don’t go anywhere near far enough.

 If you find yourself affected by the topics discussed here, please know that you can seek support from the following organisations: In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, you can call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 988, chat on 988lifeline.org, or text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org.


  1. Under the Academies Act 2010
  2. In 2023, a Headteacher of the smallest schools could start on £50,122 per year. The median starting salary for a graduate working for an investment bank is £55,000 per year. 
  3. National Education Union: The NEU case against academisation. Of particular note is the section that states that the NEU “…found that schools who join MATs are actually less likely to improve their Ofsted rating and are, in fact, more likely to see a regression in their next Ofsted assessment.” 

A chat with a friend reminded me of the time where I ordered a set of ball pump valves from Amazon for 7p, including postage and packaging from China. I have no idea how this makes any business sense.

📚 Finished reading Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler. This book doesn’t mess around with any preamble, but dives straight into its subject matter. The first half of the book covers the increasing and then widespread use of drugs across Germany in the lead-up to World War II. It seems that the blitzkrieg (‘lightning war’) was chemically assisted, with methamphetamine in the form of ‘Pervitin’ helping to keep German soldiers awake for days at a time. The second half covers Hitler specifically, deconstructing the myth that he was a teetotaller who kept his body and mind pure and free of drugs. He came to depend on regular cocktails of all kinds of strong substances, contributing to his delusions and ultimately his demise.

Weeknotes #250 — The Works

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

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Weeknotes #249 — Loughborough to Leicester

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

Time well spent?

Time well spent?

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

🎶 Never had such an egregiously off-centred label on a record before. Need to be on my toes to get the needle up after the final track.

Weeknotes #248 — Carried in Sound

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

Smoke Fairies, St Matthias Church, 23 November 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

Getting there is easy with CityMapper

This was a week in which I:

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

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

Cosmonauts

Cosmonauts

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

Next week: Meetings, meetings everywhere.

🎶 This song popped into my mind while I was running the line at a football match today. My hands were freezing and I was thinking that it is already late November.

Weeknotes #247 — Back to back to back

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

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

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

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

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

This was a week in which I:

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

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

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

I don’t understand how this is a helpful part of the workflow in Microsoft 365. “The link you clicked wasn’t set up specifically to give you access to the file. But as we know you have access anyway, we’ll let you. Just click one more button.”