Monthly Retrospective: April 2024

Another look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last few weeks…

At work

April marks a year since I started my transition to a new role at Node4. I didn’t move over full-time until July, but that’s when I stopped running what was formerly risual’s Architecture team and joined the Office of the CTO. This is not the forum to share the full details but suffice to say I had manouevred myself into a position where I was very unhappy – neither close to the tech nor able to best use my skills to provide value to the organisation and to our clients.

The change in role has been a breath of fresh air: the focus has changed a few times and there have been some bumps on the road; but one thing is core – I get up each morning and think about how best to add value. Whether that’s building out collateral for our public cloud portfolio, developing a new offering to guard against ransomware, helping clients with their IT Strategy or getting some structure around our “thought leadership” outputs.

The month ended with Node4’s “Go To Market” conference, in Nottingham. It’s an opportunity to set the agenda for the coming year and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. This was the first time I’d attended and it was also a brilliant opportunity to meet some of my colleagues from across the business.

I managed to get myself into the video somehow, despite not officially being one of the presenters…

After two days of socialising, I was completely wiped out and needed some time to decompress. It’s left me thinking a lot about introversion. On the flip side, I also need to work on my FOMO… being one of the last to go to bed on the first night was not smart. At my age, I should know better.

Blogging

As usual, I didn’t find much time to blog this month, but I did write a thing about Enterprise Architecture, based on Dave Clark and Sophie Marshall’s good work…

Away from work

It’s not often that I go to the theatre but I saw the 1990s TV sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey was returning in theatre format with the original cast. I then failed to book tickets, missing it in Milton Keynes by a week. I asked myself if I could be bothered to go to Birmingham instead? Well, why not… I had a birthday so that was an opportunity to do something different!

I loved it, but it’s definitely written for an audience of a certain age (and I fit that demographic). For those less familiar with the original TV programme, it’s still amusing, but it does help to understand the characters and how they have developed over 30 years.

A matinee theatre show in a major city gave us an opportunity for a day out. So, afterwards we wandered down to The Custard Factory in Digbeth, for food and drink at Sobremesa and Rico Libre.

Oh yes, and I couldn’t help but be amused when I spotted that the image on the vinyl wrap in the train toilets contained an empty vodka bottle…

Playing with tech

If last month was about Meshtastic, this month has been Home Assistant. After initially installing on a Raspberry Pi to try it out, I quickly moved to a dedicated device and bought a Home Assistant Green. There was nothing wrong with the Pi installation, but I could use a Raspberry Pi 5 for other things. I’m still getting to grips with dashboards but Home Assistant has pulled all of my various smart devices together into one platform. This thread tells some of the story:

Annoyingly though, iCloud’s “was this you?” messages are not very helpful when you have automated services using your account:

I’ve also been upgrading the home Wi-Fi, moving from a consumer AmpliFi mesh to a solution based on UniFi equipment. That’s been an adventure in itself and will probably be a blog post in its own right.

And, I “went viral” (well, certainly had far more engagement than my normal tweets do), with a family service announcement for Wi-Fi updates…

Elsewhere on the Internet

  • On the need for critical thinking:
  • On outdated anti-WFH rhetoric:
  • On brilliant advertising:
  • On the decline of reporting:
  • On the value (or otherwise) of a degree:
  • On blogging:
  • On whether or not it’s useful to refer to “cyber”:
  • On the reasons that things sometimes cost more than you think they should:

    Travel

    As is usual, supporting Matt with his cycling races has meant a fair amount of travel and this month’s Premier Inn destinations have been… Tiverton and Stockton-on-Tees. Stockton was the overnight stay for the East Cleveland Classic, where I was in the team car all afternoon – and what an experience that was!

    There was also a race in Leicestershire where Matt was in the break for 2 hours before getting caught and then boxed in on the final sprint.

    But the big one was supposed to have been the CiCLE Classic in Rutland, until it was unfortunately cancelled on the day due to biblical rain. I do feel for the organisers in these scenarios, but even more so for the teams that had travelled from overseas.

    Away from cycling, but very exciting, is starting to plan an Interrail trip with Ben this summer. I only have two weeks’ leave available, but i’m pretty sure we’re going to have a brilliant time. It’s not the first time for me – I went solo in the early 1990s – but things have changed a lot since then.

    This month in photos

    Wrap-up

    That’s all for this month… May’s nearly over now but I have some notes ready for a review – hopefully not too long after the end of the month!

    Featured image taken from Node4’s Go To Market video, on LinkedIn

    Some thoughts on the hype around artificial intelligence

    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote something on LinkedIn. It was only supposed to be a short piece. It ended up long enough for a blog post, so I’m re-publishing it here…

    In a week that seems to have had more than its fair share of truly bad AI ideas (including GPT employment vetting and making a single image “sing and talk” from audio), I’m as AI-jaded as anyone right now. So please bear with me on my yet-another-AI-post-on-social media.

    You see, earlier today, someone shared Molly White‘s article about how AI isn’t useless – but is it worth it? It’s a long read (so I recommend listening instead – a great feature of Molly’s website) and there are many parts of the article that resonate for me.

    First up, she compares the current AI hype with Blockchain before in that “they do a poor job of much of what people try to do with them, they can’t do the things their creators claim they one day might, and many of the things they are well suited to do may not be altogether that beneficial”.

    But Molly goes on to talk about some of the use cases where AI is helpful, which I’ll pick another quote from: “I like it for getting annoying, repetitive tasks out of my way; I don’t worry it’s going to take my job.”

    Some of the other quotes that resonated with me were that: “[AI tools] are handy in the same way that it might occasionally be useful to delegate some tasks to an inexperienced and sometimes sloppy intern” and that “ChatGPT does not write, it generates text, and anyone who’s spotted obviously LLM-generated content in the wild immediately knows the difference”.

    I found it interesting when Molly writes about AI-generated images too: “AI-generated images tend to suffer from a similar bland ‘tone’ as its writing, and their proliferation only makes me desire real human artwork more”.

    She also writes about where LLMs are “good enough” – although sadly that seems to be industrialising some of the less desirable behaviours of the Internet (e.g. keyword stuffing and content farms).

    Most importantly, Molly writes about the environmental and human costs of AI – and touches on the truth of it all. Many AI technologies are solutions looking for problems – and really about boosting profits for investors in tech companies.

    And then the final paragraphs nail it for me – I recommend you read Molly’s post instead of me quoting them in full here (or ask an LLM to summarise it ?) but here’s the last sentence, which absolutely matches how I feel about so much technology right now. “We need to push back against endless tech manias and overhyped narratives, and oppose the ‘innovation at any cost’ mindset that has infected the tech sector.”

    I’m not a Luddite. But I do pride myself on my ability to look past the hype and be strategic when it comes to tech. AI’s a long way from its plateau of productivity – and just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

    Oops. I appear to have written enough here for a blog post… oh well, at least it was genuine opinion and not generated by an LLM. And thanks for the inspiration, Molly White.