Weeknote 2024/04: Coffees, and staying curious

Another week, and lots of positive feedback from colleagues on these weeknotes, so they keep going. This time I’ve written it over the course of the week, rather than in one huge writing session at the weekend. I’m not sure it really helped… it’s still way too long. Anyway, here it is.

(I’m also slightly concerned that some people think I have too much time on my hands. I really don’t. I just stay up too late and don’t get enough sleep!)

This week at work

I struggle to write about work at the moment. I’m doing lots of cool stuff, but I don’t really want to tell competitors what Node4 is developing. Even so, it’s no secret that we’re driving forwards with our Digital delivery (that’s why Node4 bought TNP, risual, Tisski, and ThreeTwoFour) – and public cloud is a big part of that, particularly in the Microsoft space.

My presentation to the Node4 Go To Market community on our public cloud transformation capabilities seemed to go well. And it would be remiss of me not to say that, if you want to know more about how we can potentially help your organisation on its Microsoft Azure journey then I, or my colleagues, would be pleased to have a conversation. Feel free to get in touch on email, or book some time with me.

Beyond that, I joined an interesting call with IDC, looking at the European cloud market in 2024. And I’m just getting involved in a project with some cool tech to help address the ransomware challenge.

Most exciting though is that I’ve submitted a request to join Node4’s Innovate Leadership Development Pathway for 2024. This looks to be a great programme, run over several months, that results in an ILM qualification. The reason I’m excited is that, for the first time in a while, I feel that I’m in a role where I can exploit my leadership potential. I had a career diversion into management, because I thought I needed that experience. Then I got out of it, only to fall back into it (and was very unhappy for quite a long time). Management and leadership are very different things, and over the years I’ve learned that I want to be a leader, not a manager.

Coffees (virtual and IRL)

Much is made of “watercooler moments” as a reason to return to the office (RTO). Well, is there any reason that such moments can’t happen outside the office too?

In 2023, Matt Ballantine ran a “100 coffees” experiment to chat without any particular agenda. It was a big success so it’s rolled on into 2024, currently at around 138. (I was number 49.) Incidentally, you don’t have to drink coffee. It’s about taking the time to chat with people and other beverages are equally acceptable. Or, as Matt describes it in a post he wrote for his employer, Equal Experts, about the process and its benefits:

“Coffee here is a metaphor. A metaphor for being intentional about making space in our working days to create serendipity, build relationships, reflect, have new ideas, share old ideas and a wealth of other benefits that come from conversations without agenda.”

Matt Ballantine: “How to have coffee”

Earlier in the month I had some “coffees” with some colleagues I no longer work with on an daily basis. It was brilliant just to check in and see what they are up to, to keep myself in touch with what’s going on in a different part of the organisation. This week, in addition to some “quick chats” with a couple of my peers, I met several people outside the company for “coffee”. Their roles included: a Chief Evangelist; a Managing Director; and a Digital Transformation Consultant.

One I hadn’t seen since we worked together over a decade ago. Another is part of a “coffee club” that Matt set up to encourage us have a monthly conversation with someone we don’t normally talk to. And one has become a friend over the years that we’ve been catching up for coffee and occasional lunches. My own lack of confidence makes me think “what do I have to add to this conversation”, but invariably I learn things. And I assume that the value of meeting up with no agenda to “just have a chat” goes both ways.

Some of the things we talked about

Our conversation topics were wide and varied. From family life to:

  • Recognising when to buy services vs. learning to do something yourself.
  • “Thought leadership” and qualitative vs. quantitative metrics – looking at the “who” not the size of the reach.
  • Next-generation content management systems.
  • How localisation is more than just translation – sometimes you might rearrange the contents on the page to suit the local culture.
  • How UK town centres seem to encourage chains to flourish over independent retailers.
  • The frustrations of being an end user in a world of corporate IT security (managed devices, classifying information, etc.)
  • Being proud of your kids.
  • What travel was like when we were young, when our location wasn’t being tracked, and when our parents must have been super-worried about where we were. (Is the world more dangerous, or just more reported?)
  • Finding your tribe by showing things in the background on virtual meetings.
  • Bad service and food vs. great coffee but no space. And on what makes a good English breakfast.
  • Parenting young adults and supporting their life decisions.
  • Publishing newsletters, weeknotes, blogs. Owning your own content, and why RSS is still wonderful.
  • Fountain pens, a place for everything (and everything in its place) – and why I’d like to be more like that… but have to accept I’m just not.
  • Four day weeks, balancing work, health and exercise (or lack of).

That’s the whole point. No agenda. See where the conversation leads. Get to know each other better. Learn new things. Build relationships.

And all three “coffees” ran out of time!

This week in tech

  • Here’s something I wrote a blog post about. I had intended there to be more posts, but I overestimated the amount of time I have for these things:
  • A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I’d been looking at Calendly. It turned out to be a trial (I missed that) and I need to subscribe for some of the features that I set up. So, I guess that experiment didn’t work out…
  • I don’t understand why Google opening a new data centre in the UK this is news. All of the hyperscalers already have data centres in the UK. This is just another one. I’m not sure that they contribute much to the economy though, except maybe in construction and through services consumed (electricity, water, etc.). As for the PM’s statement that “Google’s $1 billion investment is testament to the fact that the UK is a centre of excellence in technology and has huge potential for growth”. Poppycock. It shows there is a demand for cloud computing services in the UK. It’s got nothing to do with excellence.
  • I found a new setting in Microsoft Teams that makes my video feed look like I’m using a decent camera! It’s so much better than the old background blur.

Some posts I liked elsewhere

  • On digital inclusion…
  • Of course, not everyone finds online easy. And we have to recognise that sometimes, for any age group, there’s a need for a human connection…

Life

Some readers may know that I have been using the Zoe personalised nutrition programme to see what insights I can get into my diet. I’ve tweeted a bit, and it deserves a longer blog post, but I found this article in the Times very interesting. Jay Rayner has a slightly less reverent view in The Guardian. (Kate Bevan shared both of these articles.)

And I have a holiday to look forward to… or at least a mini-break. Mrs W and I have just booked a long weekend in Tallinn for a few weeks’ time…

This week’s watching

After finishing our recent dramas, it was time to start something new. Several people had recommended Lessons in Chemistry (on Apple TV) and we’re really enjoying it. As an aside, we still have a long way to go on diversity, inclusion and equality but, oh my, we’ve come a long way since the 1950s.

This week’s listening

I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m walking the dog, or when I’m driving alone. The Archers is the first on my list but please don’t judge me.

I also like to listen to The Bottom Line, though sometimes find Evan Davis’ views on modern work to be a little “traditional”. This week’s episode on e-commerce returns was fascinating, though I do wonder why no major UK retailers (e.g. Next, John Lewis) or online-only retailers like Amazon or even Wiggle wanted to take part…

I used to listen to The Rest Is Politics – it’s a great podcast but there is just too much of it – I found the volume of content overwhelming. But I did listen the Rest Is Politics Leading interview with Bill Gates. I was looking for a link to the podcast episode to share, but I found it’s available on YouTube too, so you can watch or listen:

Some of the things I took away from the interview were:

  • It’s well-known that Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, but it’s clear he was a very smart kid… he quietly mentions finishing his classes a year early.
  • I was interested in his responses to tough questions – like asking if his approach at Microsoft was “flattening competition not creating excellence”. And on monopolistic views of the world and how they needed to lower prices to gain market share. Remember the mission was to get a computer onto every desk and into every home.
  • On his position as a rich and powerful person, and why he follows the philanthropic path that he does of trying to kill malaria rather than direct giving to those in poverty.
  • On family, the impact he can have on his granddaughter’s future world, and the advantages/disadvantages of growing up with wealthy/famous parents
  • On the future of AI.
  • On politicians he admires (and giving very guarded responses!)
  • His rather odd (IMHO) views on climate change.
  • On learning from Warren Buffet, and on a lifetime of staying curious.

Maybe that’s what I should call this blog… “staying curious”.

This week in the press

On the PR front, I had a brief quote in Digitalisation World’s Tech Transformations for 2024 article.

…and not in the press

After initially being flattered to be contacted by a major UK newspaper for comment on the importance of public sector work to Fujitsu, I declined to comment. Not sure if it was my media training or common sense, but it feels right. I had already written a brief post on LinkedIn, but a lot will have changed in the time since I left and anything I can remember would already been in the public domain.

More thoughts on the Post Office Scandal

I was going to write about this last week, but I was still reeling from some of the comments I’d received on social media, so thought on for a bit more.

Understandably, this is a very emotive subject. Lives were ruined. Some who were affected took their own lives. It’s nothing short of a tragedy.

Even so, it was upsetting to be told last week on Twitter/X that anyone who has Fujitsu on their CV should never work again (or words to that effect). I was at ICL or Fujitsu for around 16 years over one internship and two periods of employment. In common with most people there, I had nothing to do with (or knowledge of) Horizon, other than knowing of its existence, in a separate business unit. And, in common with most people who saw the recent ITV Drama, I was shocked and appalled.

I can’t defend Fujitsu – but I am going to use someone else’s words, because they sum up the situation about their future in the UK public sector market perfectly for me:

“A lot of innocent people [may] lose work at Fujitsu. All of us who have worked for outsourcing partners will know the nature of contracts means many will know nothing of other ongoing projects. Today many workers at Fujitsu [may] be ‘at risk’ for something they had no control over.”

From a technical perspective, I found this video from Dave Farley to be an excellent explanation of the types of technical issues in the Horizon system that led to accounting errors. Then add in believing the computer over the humans, together with an unhealthy dose of corporate mismanagement (as is being uncovered by the ongoing inquiry), and you get the full horror of the Post Office Scandal.

This week in photos

Looks like I didn’t take many, but I did wrap up the week with a nice dog walk in the winter sunshine.

Featured image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay.

Weeknote 2024/03: missing cyclocross; digitally transforming my family; installing Ethernet and much, much more

Another week has flown by – this time I kept notes to keep track of it all in the hope it would speed up the weeknote writing. It didn’t, so I need to work on the format. Anyway, this is how it looks this week.

My week at work

Understandably, I can’t write much about what I do in the day job. Suffice to say, it’s been busy, busy, busy. I’m preparing for a presentation to the Node4 Go To Market (GTM) team next week. This will be me, along with my colleague Bjoern, presenting to the entire salesforce and trying to convince them why they should be selling more of the services we’re responsible for. And, in parallel, I’m refreshing the collateral to support the sales of those same services.

I also spent some time on a call with one of our business partner this week, learning more about how they are developing their offers and how we can potentially do more work together.

My week in cycling

I know, this blog is supposed to be about tech, but I also have two very sporty teenagers that I’m very proud of. Their sports activities are a big part of my week (and my life in general).

Last weekend, I should have been in Falkirk, supporting my eldest son, Matt, at the 2024 British National Cyclocross Championships. As things transpired, that was not to be…

At 2023’s National Champs (Matt’s first senior year), Cameron Mason was so dominant in the Elite/U23 Men’s race that only 7 riders were permitted to finish the race (under the 80% rule). It’s a big investment of time and money to travel the length of the country for a short race but we would have been there, if Matt felt he was ready for it. Unfortunately, after a challenging few weeks with a return to racing after spending the autumn leading cycle tours in Greece, he decided to end his cyclocross season early. Apart from podiums in the local Central Cyclocross League (CCXL), third place in the Central Regional CX Champs was to be his only significant result this season. He’s preparing to build two new bikes for the 2024/25 cyclocross season – and he has plans for the 2024 road season too. I’m sure those plans will end up in these weeknotes in due course.

Just as a side note, after the demise of GCN Plus, it’s great to see BBC Scotland providing mainstream TV coverage of the national champs!

My week in technology

Adding AirPlay to an old Hi-Fi amplifier

With a bonus weekend at home, I got to finish up a tech project that’s been on the list for a while – adding AirPlay to my old 1990s Technics amplifier. When I moved in with my wife, my mid-range Hi-Fi stack was labelled “black loud crap”. As a result, it was banished from the house, but still lives on in the Man Cave. Adding an old Raspberry Pi 2B running as an audio gateway has provided the necessary tech to cast audio, without needing to invest in more Sonos (or IKEA Symfonisk) as I have in the rest of the house. This is the guide I followed, at PiMyLifeUp.

There’s the odd stutter, which I think may be due to a weak 2.4MHz Wi-Fi signal. It could also be down to running on a relatively old Pi 2. It certainly beats connecting Spotify via Alexa which used my account and so only worked for me and not the whole family. Plus it also works with other apps, like Pocket Casts and Audible.

Wilson family digital transformation

Late last year, I convinced Mrs W that we could use the family calendar on our iPhones to manage our busy family life. Previously, the paper calendar on the kitchen wall was the single source of the truth. That’s not too helpful when we’re not at home. This digital transformation of the Wilson family has been a huge success but it’s also shown me that people use calendars in different ways!

For example, our eldest son is currently away skiing. Is that one long appointment for 2 weeks? Or do we just need to know the dates he leaves and returns? And how do we record our youngest son’s Hockey training sessions? Is it the actual session times, or the times we leave the house and return? I’m trying not to be too “Mark” about this, but it’s an interesting insight into how other people think!

On a related note, I also learned this week that not everyone sees pictures in their mind, like I do. I don’t know what they do “see”, but it explains why not everyone can visualise what something will look like when it’s finished!

AirTag all the the things

After a trial with an Apple AirTag in my luggage (very useful when it wasn’t put on the plane at Stansted one holiday), I’ve been expanding our use of these devices. One use case that’s been particularly helpful is my youngest son’s keys… as he’s already had to replace at least one set that he lost before I tagged them. Now I regularly hear the “FindMy sound” as he searches for them before leaving the house.

On a similar note, for Christmas, my eldest son bought me an Apple FindMy-compatible tracker for my glasses. It doesn’t have the Precision Finding feature of the AirTag, but it does tell me where they were last seen, and lets me play a sound. Now, when I leave them somewhere, I can listen for the chirp of the Orbit sensor. It’s a bit strange charging my glasses though, but this is relatively infrequent.

Other bits and pieces of tech

  • After seeing a thread about date formats, ISO standards and RFCs, I thought about my frustrations with people who write dates “the wrong way”. By the wrong way, I mean not putting the most significant portion first. The US convention of mm/dd/yyyy is nonsensical. UK dd/mm/yyyy is better, but I generally name files using yyyymmdd etc. because they appear in order. On that basis, I realised that my naming for these weeknotes should be year/week number (inspired by Sharon O’Dea). Previously I had erroneously named them week number/year. From this week forwards, that is corrected.
  • After watching a YouTube video, I successfully resuscitated an apparently-dead Li-ion battery pack (the on-board circuitry needed its capacity recharging before it would accept a charge). This is potentially dangerous – I’m not responsible for anything that happens if you try it, but it worked for me, and saved me quite a few quid. Some say to use a resistor for safety. Others stress to only “jump start” momentarily (as I did).
  • I was looking at some communications from Vodafone about the 3G switch off… and wondered if that is the same part of the spectrum as 4G… i.e. more channels freed up for 4G/5G or will 4G/5G have access to extra spectrum now? Twitter helped me out with that…
  • Hopefully that section between the hall (OpenReach ONT) and the garage “datacentre” (ISP router) is all the Ethernet I need to run, but I have plenty of spare cable if I need to pull any more for a potential CCTV project… (I’ve been watching lots of videos about Reolink cameras).
  • Oh yes, one more thing. I finally changed my LinkedIn profile picture… my previous professional headshot was taken when I was in my late 30s, I think. I’m nearly 52 and afraid it’s time to look my age. This may not sound like news but it took me ages to find something suitably professional that I liked!

My week in TV

I’ll spare you all my YouTube highlights this week but, over in streaming TV land, Mrs W and I wrapped up three excellent series:

  • Mr Bates vs the Post Office (ITV);
  • Slow Horses (Apple TV); and
  • The Crown (Netflix).

This last season of The Crown has been criticised for being too dramatic but I thought it was well done. There will be no season 7 and it feels like it was left at just the right point, at the marriage of Charles and Camilla (then Prince and Princess of Wales) and the early days of William and Katherine’s relationship (the current Prince and Princess of Wales). It even contained a nod to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, with her involvement in the plans but also some scenes that linked to the actual events last year.

And in case we hadn’t had enough Toby Jones, we’ve started watching season 2 of Detectorists, for some light hearted relief from the more serious stuff.

Other things that should probably be a blog post on their own

I was going to write some more, but I’m getting bored of writing this now – goodness knows how you feel, dear reader. So there may need to be an overflow post or two about these topics, or maybe the tweets will say enough:

  • Well-paid IT folks moaning about the inconvenience that strikes have on their lives… playing to the “them and us” narrative.
  • Rebooting the car to get Apple CarPlay to work again!
  • CTOs with 30 years of industry experience being approached about a job that claims to need a technical degree.
  • Storytelling. And how pictures can convey messages that words alone cannot. Or bring meaning to words when they are in another language that you only have a passing knowledge of.
  • Rail fare “simplification” and the very different approaches taken by LNER (UK Government-owned) and ScotRail (Scottish Government-owned).
  • Public sector IT contracts, and the need to be a good client – it’s not all about the supplier.
  • The increasingly anti-social nature of social media.

My week in pictures

Featured image: author’s own

Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

Wow, that was a bump. New Year celebrations over, a day off for the public holiday, and straight back to work.

After a lot of uncertainty in December, I’ve been keen to get stuck in to something valuable, and I’m not breaking any confidentiality by saying that my focus right now is on refreshing the collateral behind Node4’s Public Cloud offerings. I need to work across the business – my Office of the CTO (OCTO) role is about strategy, innovation and offering development – but the work also needs to include specialist sales colleagues, our marketing teams, and of course the experts that actually deliver the engagements.

So that’s the day job. Alongside that, I’ve been:

  • Avoiding stating any grand new year resolutions. I’ll only break them. It was literally hours before I broke my goal of not posting on Twitter/X this year. Though I did step away from a 453-day streak on Duolingo to focus my spare time on other, hopefully less gamified, pursuits:
  • Doing far too little exercise. A recurring health condition is impacting my ability to walk, run, cycle and to get back to Caveman Conditioning. It’s getting a bit better but it may be another week before I can have my new year fitness kick-start.
  • Eating badly. Logging everything in the Zoe app is helping me to see what I should avoid (spoiler: I need to eat more plants and less sweet stuff) but my willpower is still shockingly bad. I was also alarmed to see Prof. Tim Spector launching what appeared to be an ultra-processed food (UPF) product. More on that after I’ve got to M&S and actually seen the ingredients list for the Zoe Gut Shot, but others are telling me it’s not a UPF.
  • Redesigning the disaster recovery strategy for my photos. I learned the hard way several years ago that RAID is not a backup, and nothing exists unless it’s in three places. For me that’s the original, a copy on my Synology NAS, and copy in the cloud. My cloud (Azure) backups were in a proprietary format from the Synology Hyper Backup program, so I’ve started to synchronise the native files by following a very useful article from Charbel Nemnom, MVP. Unfortunately the timestamps get re-written on synchronisation, but the metadata is still inside the files and these are the disaster copies – hopefully I’ll never need to rely on them.
  • Watching the third season of Slow Horses. No spoilers please. I still have 4 episodes to watch… but it’s great TV.
  • Watching Mr Bates vs. The Post Office. The more I learn about the Post Office Scandal, the more I’m genuinely shocked. I worked for Fujitsu (and, previously, ICL) for just over 15 years. I was nothing to do with Horizon, and knew nothing of the scandal, but it’s really made me think about the values of the company where I spent around half my career to date.
  • Spreading some of my late Father-in-law’s ashes by his tree in the Olney Community Orchard.
  • Meeting up with old friends from my “youth”, as one returns to England from his home in California, for a Christmas visit.

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg scissors or the blister-pack?

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

  • A return to Team MK Youth Cycle Coaching. Our local cyclo-cross league is finished for the 2023/4 season so we’re switching back to road cycling as we move into the new year.
  • Some home IT projects (more on them next week).
  • General adulting and administration.

Next week, I’ll be continuing the work I mentioned at the head of this post, but also joining an online Group Coaching session from Professor John Amaechi OBE. I have no idea what to expect but I’m a huge fan of his wise commentary. I’m also listening to The Promises of Giants on Audible. (I was reading on Kindle, but switched to the audiobook.)

This week in photos

Featured image: Author’s own
(this week’s flooding of the River Great Ouse at Olney)

Weeknotes 18-19/2021: Doubling up

This content is 3 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.

Last week didn’t have a weeknote. I just didn’t get around to it! To be perfectly honest, my weekends are packed with cycling-related activities at the moment and work has been pretty busy too… so here’s a bumper fortnight-note. Even this is delayed because I locked myself out of WordPress with too many incorrect login attempts… but the very fact I managed to post this indicates that I got in again!

Working

There’s much I can write about my work at the moment but we are approaching my annual review. That means I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the last 12 months and looking forward to where I need things to head in the coming weeks and months. It’s not been a wonderful year: although my family has been fortunate to avoid Covid-19 we’re still living in strange times and I really could do with leaving my home office for the odd day here and there. Procrastination levels are certainly up, followed by evening catch-up sessions. That could be another reason there was no week note last week…

Learning

I did manage to squeeze in another exam. It’s one of the Microsoft Fundamentals series: Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900) and I used Microsoft Learn to prepare, passing with a good score (944).

I’m also really interested in building a body of knowledge around sustainable IT and I worked my way through the Sustainable IT MOOC from the Institut du Numérique Responsable’s ISIT Academy. Not surprisingly, some of the statistics are French-specific but, in general I found the content interesting and enlightening. Definitely worth a few hours for anyone with an interest in the topic.

Watching

I’m a heavy social media user and I’m under no illusions about what that means in terms of my privacy. I often say that, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Even so, my wife and I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix a couple of nights ago. Highly recommended for anyone who uses… well… the Internet. So, pretty much everyone then.

Cycling

After riding England Coast to Coast (C2C) on The Way of the Roses a couple of years ago, I’ve been planning my next big cycling trip.

My eldest son and I were planning to head to the French Alps after his GCSEs this summer but, well, that was before a global pandemic messed up our plans. So we’ve been looking for something a little closer to home. We’re planning on riding the length of Wales – from Cardiff to Holyhead on Lôn Las Cymru

After booking all the hotels, and the train travel to return from Holyhead (5.5 hours, via England, with a change mid-way at Shrewsbury) the biggest challenge was booking 2 spaces for bikes on the train. I had similar issues with the C2C and I’m just hoping that I manage to make the cycle reservations nearer the time. I certainly can’t allow myself to stress about it for the whole 4 day ride up!

Something that will almost certainly come in useful on that trip are the waterproof socks I bought from Sealskins… they are fantastic:

Still on the subject of cycling, the Trek X-Caliber 9 mountain bike that I bought last autumn is back in the workshop. It’s 6 months old, with just 300km on the clock and the forks have gone back for warranty repairs (and that’s after the headset bearings already had to be replaced because they were not fitted correctly in the factory). More generally, there’s a big problem with bike part availability in the UK right now – partly Brexit-related (inability to buy from some EU-based vendors) but some general supply issues with some parts on back order until 2023.

Meanwhile, I’m finding more and more of my weekends involve supporting my eldest son with his racing (either cross-country or cycle-cross, with the occasional road circuit). One bonus was that the usual Saturday Youth Coaching session was replaced by a pleasurable gravel ride (and pub garden visit) this week due to non-availability of our usual venue.

Random techie stuff

The last few weeks in pictures

Weeknote 17/2020: Geeking out and taking advantage of the sunshine

This content is 4 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.

Another week of socially-distanced, furloughed fun: here are some of the highlights…

“Playing” with tech: Azure Sphere

I took a break from exam study this week, partly because I had some internal meetings that made a big hole in the calendar and diverted my attention. Instead, I finally got my Azure Sphere Starter Kit IoT device working, with both Microsoft samples and with some more practical advice from Brian Willess at Element 14.

I’m blogging my progress (slightly behind the actual learning) but over the course of a few days, supported by Brian’s blog posts, I managed to get the sensor readings from my device working locally, with Azure IoT Hub and Time Series Insights, and then finally in Azure IoT Central.

The next stop is to try and write some code of my own rather than using other people’s – it’s been a while since I wrote any C/C++!

Blogging

I also wrote some blog posts:

Other geek stuff

I finished watching “Devs“. No spoilers here, but the ending did leave me a little flat…

I didn’t spot any SpaceX Starlink satellites, despite a few attempts and some very clear evenings. This website seemed particularly helpful, although the developer (@modeless) had to remove the Google Street View content when the site got popular.

Being “too British”

Thursday meant my usual trip to the local market, followed by the supermarket, buying provisions for my family and others. Because product availability is a bit “hit and miss”, in the supermarket (and because I prioritise supporting local businesses over the big retailers, where I can), I bought some peppers (capsicums) from the market greengrocer. There was no price displayed but, as he bagged them, he said they were expensive… and he was not wrong: £3/lb, I think! But I was too embarrassed to say “no thanks at that price” so bought them anyway. Lesson learned…

To add insult to injury, when I got to Sainsbury’s they had plenty, at a much more reasonable price…

“On holiday”, in the garden

The week wrapped up with sunshine, low wind and reasonably high temperatures (19°C is not bad for April in England!). After a decent bike ride with my son (permissible under the current social distancing advice), I made the time to just relax a bit…

What a great way to end the week!

Weeknote 16/2020: new certifications, electronic bicycle gears, and a new geek TV series

This content is 4 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.

Another week, another post with some of the things I encountered this week that might be useful/of interest to others…

Fundamentally certified

Last week, I mentioned I had passed the Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals exam (and I passed the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and Microsoft 365 Fundamentals exams several months ago). This week, I added Dynamics 365 Fundamentals to that list, giving me the complete set of Microsoft Fundamentals certifications.

That’s 3 exams in 7 “working” days since I was furloughed, so I think next week I’ll give the exams a bit of a rest, knock out some blog posts around the things I’ve learned and maybe play with some tech too…

Website move

Easter Monday also saw this website move to a new server. The move was a bit rushed (I missed some communications from my hosting provider) and had some DNS challenges, but we took the opportunity to force HTTPS and it seems a little more responsive to me too (though I haven’t run any tests). For a long time, I’ve been considering moving to Azure App Service – if only for reasons of geek curiosity – but the support I receive from my current provider means I’m pretty sure it will be staying put for the time being.

The intersection of cycling and technology

Those who follow me on Twitter are probably aware that for large parts of the year, I’m “Cyclist’s Dad”. At weekends in the autumn, I can usually be found in a muddy field somewhere (or driving to/from one), acting as pit crew, principal sponsor and Directeur Sportif for my eldest son – who loves to race his bike, with cyclo-cross as his favourite discipline.

This weekend, we should have been at Battle on the Beach (not technically cyclo-cross but still an off-road race) but that’s been postponed until the Autumn, for obvious reasons.

Instead, we’ve been having fun as my son upgraded his CX bike to electronic gears, using a Shimano Ultegra/GRX Di2 mix.

It’s all been his work – except a little help from Olney Bikes to swap over the bottom bracket (as I lack the tools for changing press-fit BBs) – and the end result is pretty spectacular (thanks also to Corley Cycles/@CorleyCycles with their help sourcing some brake hose inserts at short notice). I’ve never had the good fortune (or budget) for electronic shifting on my bikes but having ridden his yesterday (long story involving a mid-ride puncture on my bike) I was blown away by the difference that all the components he’s swapped to save weight have made and the smooth shifting. Oh yes, and it’s finished with a gold chain. I mean, who doesn’t need a gold chain on their bike?

Electronic shifting has its critics but first impressions, based on a couple of off-road rides this weekend, are very positive. Maybe I need to get a couple of newspaper delivery rounds to start saving for upgrades on my bikes…

TV

Right, it’s getting late now and Sunday night is a “school night” (especially true since my Furlough Leave is being spent focusing on learning and development). I’m off to watch an episode of the BBC’s new drama, “Devs”, before bed. I’m 4 episodes in now and it’s a bit weird but it’s got me hooked…

Weeknote 4: music; teenagers; creating a chatbot; tech, more tech and tech TV; 7 day photo challenge; and cycling (Week 46, 2017)

This content is 6 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.

Another week, another weeknote…

There’s not much to say about work this week – I’ve mostly been writing documentation. I did spend a good chunk of Monday booking hotels and travel, only to find 12 days of consulting drop out of my diary again on Friday (cue hotel cancellations, etc.) but I guess that’s just life!

Family life: grime, rap and teens!

Outside work, it’s been good to be close to home and get involved in family life again.

I had the amusement of my 11 year-old and his friends rapping to their grime music on my car on the way to/from football training this week (we’re at the age where it’s “Dad, can we have my music on please?”) but there’s only so much Big Shaq I can take so I played some Eminem on the way back. It was quite endearing to hear my son say “I didn’t know you knew about Eminem!” after I dropped his mates off. I should make the most of these moments as the adulation is dropping off now he approaches his teens!

Talking of teens, my eldest turned 13 this week, which was a big day in the Wilson household:

 

I’m not sure how this little fella grew into this strong chap (or where the time in between has gone) but we introduced him to the Harry Enfield “Kevin the teenager” videos a few months ago. I thought they were funny when I was younger but couldn’t believe how accurate they are now I’m a parent. Our boys clearly understood the message too and looked a bit sheepish!

Tech

I did play with some tech this week – and I managed to create my very own chatbot without writing any code:

Virtual Mark (MarkBot1) uses the Microsoft QnA Maker and runs in Microsoft Azure. The process is described in James Marshall’s blog post and it’s very straightforward. I’m using Azure Functions and so far this serverless solution has cost me absolutely nothing to run!

It’s also interesting reading some of the queries that the bot has been asked, which have led to me extending its knowledge base a few times now. A question and answer chatbot is probably more suited to a set of tightly bounded questions on a topic (the things people can ask about me is pretty broad) but it’s a nice demo…

I also upgraded my work PC to the latest Windows 10 and Office builds (1709 and 1710 respectively), which gave me the ability to use a digital pen as a presentation clicker, which is nice, in a geek-novelty kind of way:

Tech TV

I have an Amazon Prime membership, which includes access to Amazon Prime Instant Video – including several TV shows that would otherwise only be available in the US. One I enjoy is Mr Robot – which although completely weird at times is also strangely addictive – and this week’s episode was particularly good (scoring 9.9 on IMDB). Whilst I was waiting for the next episode to come around, I found that I’d missed a whole season of Halt and Catch Fire too (I binge-watched the first three after they were recommended to me by Howard van Rooijen/@HowardvRooijen). Series 4 is the final one and that’s what presently keeping me from my sleep… but it’s really good!

I don’t have Netflix, but Silicon Cowboys has been recommended to me by Derek Goodridge (@workerthread). Just like the first series of Halt and Catch Fire, it’s the story of the original IBM PC clone manufacturers – Compaq – but in documentary format, rather than as a drama series.

iPhone images

Regular readers may recall that a few weeks ago I found myself needing to buy a new iPhone after I fell into the sea with my iPhone in my pocket, twisting my ankle in the process…

People have been telling me for ages that “the latest iPhone has a great camera” and, in daylight, I’m really impressed by the clarity and also the bokeh effect. It’s still a mobile phone camera with a tiny sensor though and that means it’s still really poor at night. If a full-frame DSLR struggles at times, an iPhone will be challenged I guess – but I’m still finding that I’m inspired to use the camera more.

7 Days 7 Photos

Last week, I mentioned the 7 days, 7 photos challenge. I’ve completed mine now and they are supposed to be without explanation but, now I have a set of 7 photos, I thought I would explain what and why I used these ones. I get the feeling that some people are just posting 7 pictures, one a day, but these really do relate to what I was doing each day – and I tried to nominate people for the challenge each day based on their relevance to the subject…

Day 1

7 Days 7 Photos Day 1

I spotted this pub as I walked to Farringdon station. I wondered if “the clerk and well” was the origin of the name for “Clerkenwell” and it turns out that it is. Anyway, I liked the view of the traditional London pub (I was on my way home from another one!) and challenged my brother, who’s a publican…

Day 2

7 Days 7 Photos Day 2

I liked the form in this photograph of my son’s CX bike on the roof of my car. It didn’t look so clean when we got back from cyclocross training though! I challenged my friend Andy, whose 40th birthday was the reason for my ride from London to Paris a few years ago…

Day 3

7 Days 7 Photos Day 3

Not technically a single photo – lets’ call it a triptych, I used the Diptic app (as recommended by Ben Seymour/@bseymour) to create this collage. I felt it was a little too personal to nominate my friend Kieran, whose medals are in the lower left image, so I nominated my friend James, who was leading the Scouts in our local remembrance day parade.

Day 4

7 Days 7 Photos Day 4

I found some failed backups on my Synology NAS this week. For some reason, Hyper Backup complained it didn’t have enough storage (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Azure that ran out of space!) so I ran several backups, each one adding another folder until I had all of my new photos in the backup set. I felt the need to challenge a friend who works in IT – so I challenged my friend Stuart.

Day 5

7 Days 7 Photos Day 5

My son was cake-baking, for Children in Need, I think – or maybe it was my other son, baking his birthday cake. I can’t really remember. I challenged a friend who runs a local cafe and regularly bakes muffins…

Day 6

7 Days 7 Photos Day 6

Self-explanatory. My son’s own creation for his birthday. I challenged my wife for this one.

Day 7

7 Days 7 Photos Day 7

The last image is following an evening helping out at Scouts. Images of attempts to purify water through distillation were not that great, so I took a picture of the Scout Badge, and nominated my friend Phil, who’s another one of the local Scout leaders.

(All seven of these pictures were taken on an iPhone 8 Plus using the native camera app, then edited in Snapseed and uploaded to Flickr)

Other stuff

I like this:

And I remember shelves of tapes like these (though mine were all very neatly written, or computer-generated, even back in the 1980s):

On the topic of music, look up Master Boot Record on Spotify:

And this “Soundtrack for Coding” is pretty good for writing documentation too…

I added second-factor authentication to my WordPress blog this week. I couldn’t find anything that uses the Microsoft Authenticator, but this 2FA WordPress plugin from miniOrange uses Google Authenticator and was very easy to set up.

Some UK libraries have started loaning BBC Microbits but unfortunately not yet in my manor:

Being at home all week meant I went to see my GP about my twisted ankle (from the falling-into-the-sea incident). One referral later and I was able to see a physio… who’s already working wonders on helping to repair my damaged ligaments. And he says I can ride my bike too… so I’ll be back on Zwift even if cyclocross racing is out for the rest of the season.

Cycling

On the subject of Zwift, they announced a price rise this week. I understand that these things happen but it’s gone up 50% in the US (and slightly more than that here in the UK). All that really does is drive me to use Zwift in the winter and to cancel my membership in the summer. A more reasonable monthly fee might make me more inclined to sign up for 12 months at a time and create a recurring revenue for Zwift. Very strange business model, IMHO.

I particularly liked the last line of this article:

“Five minutes after the race
That was sooo fun! When can I do it again?!”

I may not have been riding cyclocross this weekend, but my son was, and Sunday was the popular Central Cyclocross League race at RAF Halton. With mud, sand, gravel and steep banks, long woodland sections and more, it looked epic. Maybe I’ll get to ride next year!

I did get to play with one of the RAF’s cranes (attached to a flatbed truck) though – amazing how much control there is – and had a go on the road safety rig too.

And of course, what else to eat at a cyclocross event but Belgian fries, mayo and waffles!

Finally, my friends at Kids Racing (@kidsracing) have some new kit in. Check out the video they filmed at the MK Bowl a couple of weeks back – and if you have kids in need of new cycling kit, maybe head over to HUP CC.

Wrap-up

That’s it for this week. Next week I have a bit more variation in my work (including another Microsoft event – Azure Ready in the UK) and I’m hoping to actually get some blog posts written… see you on the other side!

Eurosport Player lets me watch the Giro, without a Sky subscription

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.

Last year, I developed a new sporting interest. In common with many others in the UK, I found myself glued to the TV highlights for the Tour de France, followed by the various cycling events at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Vuelta a España, and even taking a day out to watch the Tour of Britain. I haven’t got a road bike yet (hoping to get one soon – I’ve entered a trialthlon later in the year and am hoping to ride London to Paris next year) but I was looking forward to watching the Giro d’Italia. At least, I was until I found out it’s not available on free-to-air TV:

MT @: Extensive [#Giro] race guide. Stage info and TV times here: http://t.co/FJTZfCHs5J ^MW Gutted it’s not on Freeview @

@markwilsonit

Mark Wilson

Tonight, determined not to miss Bradley Wiggins in action in the first of the Grand Tours, I was searching the Internet for Giro highlights and even considered taking out a Sky subscription after reading that I can get a Sky Go monthly ticket and watch via my Xbox.  An online chat with a Sky representative confirmed that I would need to pay £35 for a single month’s TV and even thinking of that as £1 a day didn’t help.

I considered hitting the torrent sites until I learned (thanks to Ian Murphy/@journoian) that the highlights are on Eurosport as well as Sky SportsA little research suggested that, for £4.99 “Crowd Pass” I could access the Eurosport Player for a month (Android, iOS and Kindle apps, PC and Mac, as well as Sony and LG smart TVs – unfortunately not Samsung…). There’s also a £2.99 “Sports Fan” option but that involves a 12 month commitment.

So, despite being delayed by two sullen blokes hitting coloured balls around a big green table, here I am, watching Cav, Wiggo and co. racing on the Italian riviera, just as I suspect I will be for the next three weeks!

Tweaking the display on a Samsung TV for use as a computer monitor

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.

Samsung UE37ES6300A few weeks ago, I bought my first flat screen TV. The old (c1998) Sony Trinitron still works, but it was starting to lose the colour a little around the edges and was, frankly, taking up a huge chunk of living room so I splashed out and bought a Samsung UE37ES6300 from John Lewis.

I’m not bothered about 3D pictures but the Smart TV (Internet-connected) functionality is a huge bonus. Meanwhile, the availability of HDMI ports (no VGA on this year’s model) led me to hook up my old Mac Mini as a permanently connected place for Internet access in the living room (although the requirement is rapidly dropping as more and more Samsung Apps become available – Spotify appeared last night!).

Using a DVI to HDMI cable, the Mac was able to detect the 1080p display but it did enable overscan which meant I was losing the edge of the picture. Turning off overscan helped, but didn’t use the whole display (and was also a bit fuzzy).  With a bit of help from a friend (who, conincidentally, had come over and hooked his Linux machine up to the display), I worked out that the solution is to leave overscan enabled on the computer but to set the TV Picture Size to Screen Fit.  I’m not sure if I can see much difference betwen 50Hz PAL and 60Hz NTSC but, seeing as this is a European model, I left the computer set to 50Hz PAL.

This resolved the display size but it was still not as sharp as I would expect for a native resolution display. Switching the Picture Mode from Standard to Movie made a big difference (although the colours were a little muted and there was a slight magenta cast) so I started to look at the differences between the two profiles.  Now I’ve tweaked the Standard profile to bring down the sharpness from the default of 50 to 20 and turned off the Dynamic Contrast in the TV’s Advanced Settings and I think I’m pretty much there.

So, there you have it. I haven’t tried a Windows PC yet, but those settings seem to work well with the Mac – and the result is a much improved digital display output.

A few things I tried to resolve my Humax PVR-9300T lockups

This content is 12 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.

A couple of years ago, I bought a Humax 9300-T PVR and, once a firmware update had been applied, it’s been a pretty solid piece of kit.

I had avoided applying any more firmware updates because for consumer electronics my approach is generally one of “if it works, don’t fix it!”. Unfortunately it seems the UK’s switchover to digital TV is working against me with what appear to be constant changes in the infrastructure and an increased number of system lock-ups seems to correlate to a retune. Over the last few months it’s been manageable (it was just happening when we watched Channel 5 – so we stopped watching it!) but yesterday it became worse, on all channels, with the clock on the device staying still and the remote becoming unresponsive within a couple of minutes of a reboot. Yesterday, I must have power-cycled my PVR on at least 10 occasions.

I found an interesting discussion post that seemed to suggest a reset to defaults and manual tune of the receiver might help:

“My 9300T has also started to lock up recently. I contacted Humax Support and they advised me to manually retune so that I only pickup the signals from my area […]. Instructions below:

Please find below the details you will need to follow to manual tune the receiver.

Press MENU
Select Installation
Enter your password (Default – 0000)
Select Default Setting
Select YES
Enter your password (Default – 0000)

The receiver will then take 30 seconds and will switch off and restart.

When the product loads up again it will enter the Automatic Search; please press OK to STOP the search before any channels are found.

If any channels are found and you are asked to SAVE the channels please select NO and press OK.

Press OK twice to access the Installation menu, and then follow below:

Select Manual Search and press OK

You will now need to enter the channel number for each of the 6 Multiplexes available to receive all of the channels. After you enter each of the numbers below select the Search box and press OK. When the channels on each Multiplex are found press OK to save.

Follow the procedure above to search all 6 multiplexes. You will be able to see the signal levels of each of the Multiplexes.

Please ensure that the Network Search option is disabled.

[…]”

The UK digital TV reception predictor gave me the information I needed about the multiplexes (MUXs) to use but, unfortunately, retuning didn’t solve the issue. So I had a rant on Twitter (cathartic, of course) and started to look for updated firmware. I found that an over-the-air (OTA) update is being broadcast this weekend but then I got a tweet from @michealcni to tell me that it was live already (looking back know, I could have found that from the Digital TV Group engineering channel over-air download schedule)!

@ @ 9300T update is on air now. Go to Installation, Software update, select Auto update. You need version 1.00.26 to fix
@michaelcni
MichaelC

After following the update process, I repeated the reset to defaults and retune process (a manual retune has an added advantage that I can skip certain channels that an automatic tune picks up and I might not want the children, in-laws, or others to ask me about – I’m happy answering questions about Father Christmas or the tooth fairy but would rather avoid “Daddy, what’s Adult Filth?”).

It’s early days yet but the system has remained stable overnight so, hopefully, installing the latest firmware has fixed whatever was causing my PVR to crash. In the meantime, I hope the information in this post is useful to someone else!