Weeknote 2/2024: time flies

Writing this weeknote may explain why this week has felt so busy. I clearly try to squeeze far too many personal projects in around my work and family life…

This week:

  • I spent quite a bit of time looking at ways to reduce the cost of moving to Azure for our clients. I’m not going to post the details here, but I think my colleagues and I made some good progress. I’ll have more to share soon, but in the meantime, you can always get in touch. Here’s my Microsoft Bookings link if you want to have a chat about how Node4 could help your business.
  • Talking of which, I set up Calendly to try and pull my various calendars together. It’s kind of like Microsoft Bookings on steroids. Sadly it didn’t do the thing I’m really struggling with and show me my work, home and family calendars in one place. Outlook does that for me, but the family calendar in iCloud doesn’t seem to update…
  • I have been staying up far too late watching too much YouTube. Last night the algorithm decided that I needed to know how to install a French Drain. Actually, it was right… it might help with some of the drainage issues in our back garden. Other gems have included:
  • I did try to create a static archive of my tweets though. It’s not quite as I would like, so let’s just say that’s “work in progress”. Maybe more next week, when I have a working solution.
  • And I questioned how “normal users” must feel when presented with nonsensical or jargon-filled computer messages:
  • The photos are still uploading from my NAS to Azure. Several people have recommended other solutions (e.g. Backblaze or Synology C2) but the granular charging on Azure means that I think my current solution may well cost a little less if I tick over the 1TB mark…

I’ve been watching…

As well as the YouTube content I mentioned above, and the dramas I wrote about last week… 3/4 of my family watched the Barbie movie together last weekend. I really quite enjoyed it. Actually, Mark Kermode’s Guardian review nails it: “It’s a riotously entertaining candy-coloured feminist fable that manages simultaneously to celebrate, satirise and deconstruct its happy-plastic subject. Audiences will be delighted. Mattel should be ecstatic.”

And, away from the screen, I got to watch my youngest son play Hockey at Bedford last night.

I’ve been reading…

Not enough. But I am slowly reading the materials for my amateur radio foundation licence exam… and I’ve made the Man Cave a better place to kick back and relax (including a place to read, or listen to an audiobook):

Some thoughts that won’t make it to a full blog post…

The ITV Drama about the Post Office Scandal is a brilliant illustration of the power of storytelling. Graham Chastney wrote about this before I got around to it and his post about how we are wired for stories is pretty much what I wanted to say. Dan Barker’s tweet looks a bit deeper at why years of quality journalism wasn’t enough and it took an ITV Drama to bring the story to the masses.

Rachel Coldicutt examines why we seem inclined to believe the machine, not the person:

I’ve certainly experienced “management by dashboard”, when a report, which was believed by so many, was flawed and presented bad insights on data.

And, whilst I’m still embarrassed that my former employer is so deeply embroiled in a scandal that led to so many miscarriages of justice, I’m more and more inclined to think that software is imperfect, and that the failure of leadership (and consequential mismanagement of the issues) was the main problem here, as outlined by Professor Damien Page:

What else?

Not enough writing. No press coverage this week. Still working out what my new content strategy is as I try to use less “social” media and make blogging less of a time hoover. Next week’s weeknote might not be such a rush…

Featured image: Author’s own
(screenshot from Microsoft Visio)

Weeknote 49/2023: Back to work

So I’m having another go at writing weeknotes. I think it might even be a mindful exercise and good for me…

I was going to make this “Weeknote 2696” – because that’s the number of weeks I’ve been on this earth (plus 3 days), so it’s not a bad number to use. Then I looked back and realised I did manage a reasonable number of weeknumber/year posts a while back, so that’s the format. I’ll write these on a Friday though, so weekend thoughts will spill over to the next week…

This week’s discoveries/events included:

  • Returning to work after 10 days off, during which I seemed to have forgotten everything!
  • Reinforcing the view that a “strategic discussion about business challenges” with the wrong audience will still end in a conversation about technology. That was even after I’d been clear in the pre-meeting communications, calendar invite, and agenda. Now, I’ll engage the technical team that should have been involved the first time around…
  • Catching up for an overdue virtual coffee with Matt Ballantine (he of the #100coffees experiment), a long time acquaintance whom I now count as a friend.
  • Chatting with Mark Reynolds from Hable about organisational change. That seemed particularly appropriate after British Cycling had emailed me about changes to their coaching framework. It was clearly important to their Learning and Development team but just noise to me, with no clear call to action.
  • Experience of failed digital transformation at Costco, where it appears you can renew your membership online, but it might take 24 hours for the processes in the warehouse to catch up. I made some progress by deliberately crashing and reloading the app. But even then it needed a human to enable my digital membership card. Repeat after me: it’s no good implementing new tech, unless you sort out the business process too!
  • Milton Keynes Geek Night number 46 – at a fabulous new venue (South Central Institute of Technology).
  • Starting to learn about amateur radio, after Christian Payne (Documentally) gifted me a Quansheng UV-K5(8) at Milton Keynes Geek Night. I promised that I would take my foundation exam to get a licence.
  • Taking up the floor in my loft, to expose the heating pipes, to prove to the heating engineers that the pipes are fine and there’s something else in the system that needs to be fixed…
  • Wrapping up the week with a visit to my new favourite local pub (The Bell and Bear in Emberton), with my friend James, for a pint of Marc Antony. This beer appears to have been renamed. It was previously the correct spelling for me – Mark Antony!

Some press coverage

Featured image: author’s own

Compact and bijou – my home office!

This content is 8 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (and they have certainly rushed by), I’m reminded to write about how I spent my previous “holiday”. October half term was a busy one as we swapped my eldest son’s bedroom and our home office, redecorating and refitting along the way… or, as I wrote on Facebook at the time:

“1 half term: 9 days of DIY; 3 visits to IKEA; 40+ boxes of flat-packs; 2 trips to the tip; a car full of cardboard; 11 sacks for the bin men…

…a new (smaller) office for us and two happy boys – one with a much bigger bedroom!

Back to work for a rest tomorrow!”

Now, where’s the relevance of all that for my blog? Well, I thought I might write some notes on how we converted the smallest bedroom in the house (approx. 2.15×2.59m) into a reasonable workspace for two people.

Decorating

First up – making good any damage to walls, etc. A plasterer once recommended Gyproc Easi-Fill to me and it’s wonderful stuff. Easy to work with, and sands to a smooth finish.

Next, white paint.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe Garry Martin’s comment on an earlier post, more that I’d had limited time to prepare and that I thought I’d support a local business instead of my usual decorators merchant. Hey, ho!

Luckily Homebase had an offer on Dulux white emulsion, although I actually used a couple of coats of their own-brand high opacity paint in the end…

Fitting out

With the room repainted (albeit taking more time than I hoped), my attention could turn to fitting things out. My previous office had a length of IKEA Pragel kitchen counter installed as a desk (my son has it in his bedroom now). IKEA don’t make that counter any more, but they do make some good table-tops  (Linnmon) that are very reasonably priced (and also a lot lighter to carry, because the centre filling is basically cardboard – not chipboard).

I needed to cut the table-tops to fit the room and make an L shape, and I also decided to fix them to the wall – lengths of 50x25mm (planed) timber screwed to the wall as battens did the trick there (no need to paint as they are out of sight), with strategically-placed IKEA Adils legs and some brackets to fix the table-tops to the battens (and to hold the table-tops together). The Linnmon tops are also pre-drilled with holes for the Adils legs, which makes things a little easier.  I found some good advice for setting the desk height too.

IKEA Signum desk grommetNext came cable-management. My previous desk had used IKEA Signum desk grommets but they’ve been discontinued. Luckily they are the same size (65mm) as a spare I had from an old desk, so that could be used in my son’s room, whilst I recovered a matching set of 3 for the office.

I also used some IKEA Koppla extension leads with built-in USB ports to provide some above-desk power. Cheaper alternatives are available, but I think they look good screwed to the wall just above the desk.

Shelving came in the form of the ubiquitous Billy bookcase (re-using an existing set of shelves), added to which I put a Bestå frame with a shelf under my desk.  A Stuva wall-cupboard lets me hide away most of my clutter, and some Mosslanda picture ledges finish things off for personal odds and ends around the workspace with a Jansjö LED lamp for desk lighting.

Fixing the cupboard to the wall was a challenge. The wall it’s fixed to is just a stud wall with plasterboard and normal fixings were not really up to the task.  I picked up some 25mm GripIt fixings from my local DIY store that claim to be good for 180kgs each. These fixings (featured on Dragons’ Den) are really strong and easy to use (although drilling a 25mm hole in my wall did fill me with some trepidation at first). I haven’t tested the load up to the full weight but I can say that the cupboard is fixed really solidly now (although I did use some longer M6 bolts to make up for the gap between the back of the cupboard and the wall).

Finally, somewhere to sit. Whilst my wife prefers one of our dining chairs at her desk, I bought a Flintan swivel chair with Nominell armrests (and so far have been very happy with it).

Compact and bijou: my home office
Ignore the apparent curves on the desk – that’s just a dodgy iPhone stitched image!

What next?

I’m trying to keep as little in the room as possible but I think some more bookshelves/another cupboard are inevitable and there’s also the matter of fitting a new blind to the window (on my to-do list, already made to measure by Blinds 2 Go).  I’m also reducing the installed IT: the Cisco 7940 is no longer in use, nor is my old Fujitsu-Siemens S20-1W monitor; and I’m sure Microsoft will want their Lenovo B50 all-in-one PC back soon as I’m doing really badly at writing Windows 10 blog posts (the reason it’s loaned to me), although that means I’ll need to buy another monitor (or two). If you look closely, you’ll also see that I have some work to do tidying some of the cables under the desk…

Cutting laminate worktops – a fine blade makes a huge difference

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Mrs W has promised our eldest son a larger bedroom. That means a smaller office for us… and lots of clearing out plus a week’s DIY planned for October…

Last weekend’s trip to IKEA in preparation also taught me that a) they don’t make the Pragel counters I currently use in the office any more; and b) the Linnmon table tops I’m using in the new office need to be cut down to fit (because they are 2000x600mm and the room is 2590mm wide – so the tops will be 1cm too long to fit in an L-shape!).

My last attempt at cutting laminate tops was pretty awful. Thank goodness the cut edge sits in the corner, against the wall, hidden by the computer monitor on top of it because the chipping is so bad. And I used masking tape along the cut on the finished side – as well as cutting from the under side.

Mrs W did say I could buy new tools… and the guy in IKEA was clearly trying to convince her I needed do do some Makita shopping but, to be perfectly honest, my JCB-branded-Chinese-import-bought-from-a-DIY-shed-circa-2002 only gets used once a year and the biggest job was our decking… circa 2002…

20 teeth circular saw blade is no good for cutting laminate worktops
This is not a fine blade!

It turns out the problem was the blade I used. Lots of reading about cutting laminate worktops told me to get a fine blade… but how do you define a “fine” blade circular saw? One post I read said 24-30 teeth. So I bought one on Amazon that had 100 teeth – that should do the job, right?

Well, a test cut today suggests so – look at the picture here and you can see my old ragged (20 teeth) cut on the left, and the new one on the right (100 teeth). Still not perfect but passable…

On that basis, I’ll risk it. And if it all goes horribly wrong, its only £25 for another counter top… or I could always chip a centimetre out of the plasterboard wall instead!

Further reading

Cutting Pragel countertops (via The Wayback Machine, as IKEA’s lawyers appear to have forced closure of the original Ikeafans website).

Dabbling at DIY: fixing dripping taps and wiring bathroom extractor fans

This content is 9 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

This week, my blog is in danger of transforming from markwilson.it to markwilson.diy. Fear not, normal service will be resumed soon!

As I’ve worked through the seemingly never-ending list of jobs-that-need-to-be-done-one-day this week, I dabbled in some minor plumbing and electrical work… I thought I’d blog some notes because I’m bound to have to come back to this again one day!

Changing the ceramic valve in a dripping tap

The Franke Panto taps that were installed in our kitchen/utility room have been great – after all, their function is pretty straightforward: all I want a tap to do is look good and dispense water on demand!

Unfortunately the kitchen tap had begun to drip on the cold flow. A mini science experiment with my sons told me it was losing quite a lot of water every day so I turned off the cold supply using the isolator valve below the sink. I couldn’t see how to fix the tap though, so we asked advice from a plumber we’ve worked with before. He didn’t know how to get into the tap but told us it would be the ceramic valve that needed replacing (cue sucking of air through teeth and “it’ll cost you” look) and we might as well get a new tap.

What nonsense! After 3 months of confusion about which part to buy based on my Internet “reaseach” and putting off calling Franke’s spares/service partners for fear of being bamboozled, Central Services were really helpful, a new ceramic valve cost me just over £15 and I installed it myself in 5 minutes…

One of the challenges I had was whereas it seems for many taps you can prise away the cap on the end of the tap (the bit with the red or blue marker on it), ours didn’t work like that as the Panto just has a tiny marker on the front of the tap to show which side is hot/cold. Then I realised that there was a cap on the end – it was on a screw thread, which then exposed the grub screw inside, allowing access to the valve, which was then easily removed with a spanner (after removing the collar that covers it).

Of course, after I had asked a plumber, procrastinated, and finally done the job myself I found this video (ignore the sexist comments if you view it on YouTube…):

Blue and yellow wires for live and neutral?

Another job was to change the old, noisy, bathroom fan for something quieter as part of my preparation for an upcoming bathroom refit. When I took the old one out I was surprised to find that the wiring used red/yellow/blue (what appears to be three-phase wiring) instead of twin and earth.

(My house was built in the 1990s – today the red/yellow/blue would be brown/black/grey.)

I could see that blue was neutral and yellow was live (based on how the old fan was wired) but couldn’t understand why until I found this advice on installing a shower extractor fan. Yellow (now black) is switched live (cf. red/brown for live, not used in my installation).

 

DIY home electrics

This content is 11 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

I’m fortunate enough to live in a pleasant market town which generally has a low crime rate.  Unfortunately, recent months have seen a significant increase in the number of burglaries and, with Thames Valley Police seemingly mystified as to who the culprits are (other than suspecting that they are coming in “across the border from Northamptonshire”!), I started to look into ways to increase the security of our home.

Of course, if someone wants to get into your house they will find a way but the advice we’ve been given can be paraphrased as “make sure your house is less attractive than the alternative” and, although I already have several security measures in place, an extra security light (with PIR) on the front drive was an inexpensive modification (and also quite handy when arriving home in the dark).

In the UK, regulations have brought electrical work under the control of the local authority Building Regulations but that doesn’t outlaw DIY electrical work entirely. All it means is that the works need to be carried out to a particular standard, as well as distinguishing between major (notifiable) and minor works. As my household electrics were professionally upgraded a few years ago (including extensive re-wiring for most of the ground floor and a new consumer unit), I know that they are in good shape and felt reasonably confident in my abilities to run a fused spur in our garage from the existing ring main (many projects would be “notifiable” – this is not).

It took me a few hours, and the hardest part was getting cable clips to attach to the blockwork/mortar that makes up the interior walls of our garage but I got there in the end. For a description of the electrical changes, there’s some good advice on the ‘net, like the description of the project at lets-do-diy.com. Unfortunately, there’s also a fair bit of scaremongering out there – this post on the IET forums is a great example, with one user asking if the person asking the question is qualified, highlighting that a circuit could be overloaded and others saying that any circuit can be overloaded, but that’s the point of adding a fuse where the rating of the cable changes! Others point out that there are also degrees of experience and that qualification has very little to do with competence. From my perspective it’s good to see that electricians are no different to us IT bods – still dealing with the fallout from bodged DIY jobs and squabbling over the value of certifications over experience!