📚 Finished reading Acorn: A World In Pixels by idesine. If you have any nostalgia for 8-bit gaming on the BBC Micro or Acorn Electron, you simply have to get this book. It’s beautiful and luxurious, and is about as comprehensive as we are likely to get. 8-bit coders had skillz!

My wife, looking at me reading my book as I wait for the kettle to boil: “You are literally the opposite of mindfulness.”

Some days I feel like I’m a one-man search and replace function, swapping out inappropriate ampersands for the word ‘and’ everywhere.

Terrible night’s sleep. Our bedroom got so cold that when my head moved to a different part of the pillow, the temperature difference woke me up. Are there such things as heated pillows? I may need to wear a hat in bed for the rest of the week.

Weeknotes #102 — Sooner Safer Happier

An enjoyable week. I felt like I got lots done, and had some breakthroughs with the ‘ways of work’ changes that I am trying to define for our department. I am itching to complete this, socialise it, turn it into action and get back to focusing on delivery. Hopefully I will get this out in the coming week.

This was a week in which I:

  • Started Monday morning with my first migraine in a year or so. I’m lucky in that they don’t hit me very hard, but the aura for the hour beforehand is frustrating in that I can’t see to be able to read anything easily.
  • Handed over to my small team to give brief updates on where we are with our key initiatives in a weekly department meeting. It was much more effective and interactive than me giving the updates myself; we should have done this sooner.
  • Went through the third detailed review of our low-level design for our New York office. We are on track to baseline this by the end of next week.
  • Aligned with key members of our the team on the sequencing of our next few large infrastructure changes.
  • Completed the first published version of our Team Charter. The whole exercise felt very positive and the team seemed to feel safe enough to contribute and discuss what we collectively came up with.
  • Prepared my contribution for a two-morning strategy session with the management team on Monday and Tuesday next week.
  • Reviewed and agreed the scope of back-end infrastructure work in our Dubai office following the move out of another company’s equipment from our comms room.
  • Worked with the team on planning roles across the whole of our organisation who will get involved with one of the Group’s signature programmes over the next few weeks and months.
  • Continued interviews for our Head of Infrastructure and Operations role.
  • Arranged for our CIO to meet our planned new hire in Beijing.
  • Started the outline of an ‘introduction to IT’ curriculum for a colleague in China.
  • Agreed next steps for our planned Architecture Board which is still on track to get started this quarter.
  • Discussed another printing solution with a vendor. It’s always a great experience when you feel like you have an expert in the room who can answer all of your questions.
  • Met our new account/sales manager at one of our smaller vendors, and spent some time explaining who we are and our history with their firm.
  • Attended our first school Full Governing Board meeting of the year. I miss meeting the other governors but there is something about being online that makes us more effective — it’s great to have all of the information we need at everyone’s fingertips. Our Chair is really exceeding with the amount of things that she is doing at the moment. It’s great that we now have a number of new governors around the table.
  • Attended a Meetup with the team behind the new book Sooner Safer Happier. It’s interesting how many events of this type are now being brave enough to move away from the ‘webinar’ format, with anyone being able to unmute their video and audio for the session. Telling people that they are on mute is still a regular thing, but telling them to go on mute is rare. After the authors had given us a run through of the key takeaways from the book, I took the opportunity to get some input into my specific situation and the issues I have been struggling with. The feedback they gave me was very useful. I’ve bought the book, and although I know that this won’t be the silver bullet for anything I expect it to be an interesting read.
  • Attended the fourth webinar in the Diverse Governance series, on the governing body’s strategic role in delivering an inclusive education.

  • Enjoyed two ‘random coffee’ catch-ups this week, one having been delayed from last week due to my coffee partner’s workload. It was lovely to talk to someone that I used to chat to late at night in our office that I hadn’t spoken to in almost a year.
  • Struggled to fit in my planned indoor bike exercise with early morning meetings. I had one day where I got up just after 5am to get on the bike and felt horrible all day. The early morning meetings are likely to continue until the clocks go forward at the end of March.
  • Wandered over to drop off a birthday card to a close friend who has just moved to the other side of our town. They moved somewhere bigger and better after having been a few doors away from us for a decade or so. We haven’t really seen each other for a proper catch-up since the pandemic started, but I’m still missing them. Last year I took him to see the Smoke Fairies as his birthday present; I can’t wait to be able to do this again.

Next week: Two mornings in a management strategy session, getting our New York infrastructure design completed, finishing the ‘new ways of work’ initiative, more interviews, more agile training, and trying to stay warm.

The loveliest place on the Internet

A close friend of mine recently asked, out of the blue:

In a word, the answer is yes. For the past few years I’ve been using micro.blog, which I’ve come to think of as the loveliest place on the Internet. It isn’t lovely by chance, it has been deliberately designed that way, and is lovingly nurtured to keep it full of positive vibes across its wonderful community.

On the surface, micro.blog is selling blog hosting. For $5/month, you can sign up and host your blog posts there. The monthly fee makes sure that your site isn’t cluttered with any adverts. You can post using apps for iOS, iPadOS, MacOS and Android as well as via the web. Blog posts can be ‘micro’ status updates of 280 characters or less, and if you go over this limit, the official apps and web interface reveal a ‘title’ field to accompany a more traditional blog post. You can syndicate your posts to Twitter, Medium, Mastodon, LinkedIn and Tumblr, with the full text being posted if it can fit in a tweet, and a title and link posted if it is longer. Photo uploads are included; the official apps helpfully strip out any EXIF metadata, such as where the photo was taken, in order to protect your privacy. A $10/month plan gives you the ability to host short videos or even podcasts (‘micro casts’), which you can record using the Wavelength iOS app.

But this is just where the magic starts. You don’t actually need to host your content on micro.blog. I’ve had my own blog for many years, and have recently started to take my content off of other platforms such as Instagram and Goodreads and host it myself — I want my content on my own platform, not somebody else’s. If you have an existing blog like I do, you can create an account and link it to your existing website via an RSS feed. Any post you write on your own blog then gets posted to your micro.blog account, and syndicated to wherever you want it to go. You can even set up multiple feeds with multiple destinations for cross-posting:

I post at my own blog and micro.blog picks up the feed

I post at my own blog and micro.blog picks up the feed

Once you have an account set up, you can start to use the main micro.blog interface. Here’s where you will see posts from everyone that you have ‘followed’, whether they have a micro.blog hosted account or syndicate from their own site. It’s a bit like a calmer, happier version of Twitter:

Here’s where some of the thoughtfulness of the design comes in. Discovering people to follow actually takes some effort. You can click on the Discover button to see a set of recent posts from a variety of users, lovingly hand-curated by the micro.blog Community Manager Jean MacDonald. If one of these posts catches your eye, you can click on the username or profile photo and press ‘follow’. That person’s posts will now appear in your timeline. By default you will also see their ‘replies’ to other members of the community. You can click on a button to view the whole conversation thread, which can lead you to explore and discover more people. This effort means that the emphasis is on quality over quantity, with gradual discovery.

You can also discover people by selecting someone’s profile and clicking through to see who they follow that you aren’t following:

One of the best design choices made on the platform is that there are no follower counts. I have no idea how many other users follow me, or anybody else. There are also no ‘likes’, just a button to privately bookmark a post for you to access again easily in the future. Reposts (or ‘retweets’) don’t exist either — if you like a post that you read and want to amplify it, you need to create a new post of your own. Hashtags are also not supported. Again, the emphasis is on quality and not quantity, on conversations instead of engagement metrics. This works to reduce people posting content just to ‘go viral’, and keeps the noise down.

So far, so straightforward. But there’s more magic.

The creator of micro.blog has authored an iOS app called Sunlit, which allows the creation of photo posts on your blog, whether you are hosting your content on micro.blog or externally. You can also see posts from other people that you follow on micro.blog. It’s like viewing the micro.blog content through an Instagram-type lens. The photos you see are from the same timeline that you see in micro.blog. You can comment on and bookmark posts, and switch between the Sunlit app and the main micro.blog apps or web interface. I love an occasional browse through the timeline using this app if I’m in the mood just to see some wonderful photos.

So, this means that all of your content sits on your own blog. No more silos of posts on different platforms.

But here’s the thing that feels most magical to me. If someone reads a post of yours on micro.blog, they can reply to it. But in the spirit of you owning your own content, these replies get posted as comments on your original blog post, even if the blog is hosted on your own independent website. Every time this happens, it blows my mind a tiny bit. Here’s an example — I recently posted about how exhausting the Clubhouse app is, which sparked a few comments and conversations. People responded on micro.blog and these ended up as comments on the post on my site:

It really is a wonderful place to spend some time. If you’re looking for an alternative to the noisy, regularly hostile place that the traditional social media platforms have become, and/or owning your content is important to you, it is well worth checking out. It’s been a source of joy over the past couple of weeks to see a real-life friend regularly posting there, and I know from talking to him that he’s loving it.

As a ‘remainer’, I don’t have schadenfreude for the mess we’re in. I’m just sad.

like some character in an ancient myth or a folklore tale, the United Kingdom has chosen to bring destruction upon itself in supposed pursuit of a thing it had already.

📚 Finished reading: A Cure For Gravity by Joe Jackson. Really enjoyed this eclectic musical journey of his early years. There’s more time between when he wrote the book in 1998 and today as there is between then and his first album in 1979. Would love to read a part two.

📺🎶 Just watched Joe Jackson’s 1983 Rockpalast concert at Grugahalle Essen, Germany. One of the best gigs I have ever seen. The band are so tight. Graham Maby is especially brilliant on bass and vocals. It must have been incredible to have been there.

A few hours into having Clubhouse installed on my iPhone and I’m already exhausted. Crazy amount of notifications. I don’t really understand the point, and it makes me feel old. Why not just have a bunch of livestreams of audio-conference meetings on the web?

Bought two more technical books yesterday, both of which should be able to help me with specific issues I am wrestling with at work. It’s frustrating that reading takes so long. I wish I had the abilities of Number 5.

Exercise or sleep?

It was a struggle today. I only managed just over four hours’ sleep last night. I was up just very early this morning in order to fit my indoor bike trainer session in before an early work meeting.

I’m very surprised it was as high as 67%!

I’m very surprised it was as high as 67%!

I had planned to go to bed earlier, but we have a young teenager who has just moved into the ‘not tired at night’ phase and it doesn’t yet feel right to leave him to shut down the house while we ascend the wooden hill.

Due to the lockdown I am missing the hour of walking that used to be part of my daily commute to and from the office, so since March I’ve been prioritising exercise on most days. I enjoy exercise for its own sake, but it’s also motivating that there are numerous articles about how desk-based jobs are literally killing us:

Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with all-cause mortality, suggesting that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death.

But…other research says that lack of sleep may lead to Alzheimer’s disease in later life. I remember hearing how Margaret Thatcher got by on four hours’ sleep a night, making her the “best informed person in the room” according to her biographer; she suffered from dementia in her final years.

A wise man that once worked with me said “you can’t cheat the body”, and he’s right. But given the choice between exercising and sleeping, what’s the right balance to strike?

Weeknotes #101 — Dreaming

So that was January. Over in the blink of an eye. I’m so glad that the days are starting to get noticeably longer. A few bulb shoots and crocuses have started to pop up in the back garden, so despite the recent snow it feels like spring is a little bit closer. I’m really looking forward to things warming up and spending some more time outdoors, even if it is just to have lunch in the back garden during the warmest part of the day.

It felt like another really busy week, with many hours sitting on video calls. Despite getting some exercise most mornings I felt stiff after all of the hours in the chair and can feel the stress inside me. I don’t have enough of a window to go for a good walk during the middle of the day, but I’m going to look for opportunities to get out more, even if it is just to wander around the block.

This was a week in which I:

  • Had a half-day meeting with our CIO and Head of Governance and Control to plan our management team strategy session. It was very productive. We now have an agreed plan, with structured meetings, materials and agendas in place.
  • Followed up with our planned new hire in Beijing as we hadn’t spoken since before Christmas. If all goes well, I am hoping he will be joining us in late February after the Chinese New Year holiday.
  • Continued with interviews for Head of Infrastructure and Operations role. We have now added a stage to the process where I meet the candidates ‘informally’ for a coffee chat ahead of the main interviews; this is very useful for clarifying the role and making sure we’re aligned ahead of the interview itself.
  • Worked with the team running a large Group programme on how we will fill specific programme roles and representatives from our area.
  • Looked at the backup technology used in our wider group. We agreed to stick with what we have for now as there are no significant advantages to changing.
  • Looked at tools we can use to make our IP address management easier.
  • Was grateful for the team who had an early start to run various performance tests on our Beijing network, particularly a colleague in London who is coordinating the efforts. We now have a good set of remediation tasks in place.
  • Revisited how our internal governance and compliance teams interact with the data within Microsoft 365.
  • Continued with work on our Team Charter. We now have draft statements which I put out to a short survey, which everyone completed within a day or two. Hopefully we will complete this work next week.
  • Watched a short external vendor demo on Microsoft 365 Defender. I’m never going to be an expert, but it is good to know that it exists and what its capabilities are.
  • Attended an internal seminar on the UK Africa Investment Conference.
  • Started making my meetings finish 5 mins before the half hour or hour, to give people a little gap before their next one. Microsoft Teams has recently added a banner warning that appears 5 minutes before the end of a session, so this is now 10 minutes before the end of an hour. A small contribution in trying to make life better for everyone.
  • Attended the Liberating Structures London Meetup. It was my first time there, and such a positive experience with a very welcoming group. The hosts were excellent organisers, and the use of the Structures in the meeting served to reinforce how useful they are. It’s one thing to read about them, but another to participate and feel their inclusiveness. Liberating structures has been described as “good practice at being a human being” and “democratising discussion”, both of which ring true.
  • Spoke to my financial advisor for the first time this year. I consolidated my pensions into ethical investments a few years ago now and am so glad I did.
  • Was impressed with my boys and their continued focus on home learning. They struggle with distractions a bit, but don’t we all? I am so grateful that they are of secondary school age and don’t need my constant supervision. My wife worked from home on Thursday which is unusual, but she had a full day of remote work to do as well, so we were all beavering away.
  • Prepared for our first school Full Governing Board meeting of the year.
  • Took part in a family quiz with my brothers, my parents and their families. Kahoot! is a great platform for these types of get-togethers, with live scoring after each round keeping it fun for everyone.
  • Was so pleased to see a close friend of mine sign up to micro.blog, the loveliest social space on the Internet. He was looking for somewhere pleasant to hang out, and micro.blog is definitely that.
  • Got my reading page up and running on my blog, with links added for all books. Missing, ‘mini-reviews’ are to follow where I can remember what I read. I don’t feel like I read a lot but when you see over 10 years’ worth of books on one page it’s quite something.
  • Listened to Tortoise Media’s four-part series on Hidden Homicides, women that have been killed by their partners but not counted. It was harrowing, but encouraging that there is focus on this.
  • Finished reading The End of Epidemics by Jonathan D. Quick. I’d started this back in March/April last year, as we went into lockdown and the pandemic took hold. I had to put it down as I found it all too much to dig into at the same time as spending my days full of anxiety, watching the terrible news roll in. If only people had read this book when it came out and had used it when things started to develop. It’s all here.
  • Continued to have lots of bizarre dreams, although they seem to have stopped waking me up in the middle of the night. Highlights this week have been:
    • One dream where I found myself attending the University of the West of England as a mature student (an institution that I have never visited in real life), but trying to figure out why the Students’ Union was miles away in a different city and I didn’t have a permit to drive. It felt good to be starting something new with a mature mindset, but the overwhelming feeling was one of the people working there frustrating me with their indifference and nobody offering to help me get my driving permit.
    • Another where a close friend and I both had balloons that we could blow up and hold, which would lift us in the air and take us out across the countryside and through weird buildings. I kind of enjoyed this one and was sad when my alarm went off.

Next week: A school Governing Board meeting, a webinar on Sooner Safer Happier and the next in the series on Diversity in School Governance. I’ve also taken to blocking free space in my calendar again to try and move forward on the work I need to do — let’s see if that yields results.

Migraine just started. Haven’t had one in months. I’m lucky in that the headaches are never bad, but the hour beforehand is a pain in the butt as the aura means I can’t see anything clearly. Scared the heck out of me the first time it happened, now it’s just annoying.