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

    Monthly Retrospective: March 2024

    I managed the weeknotes for 9 weeks. The last one was posted as I was sitting on a plane, about to take off for a long weekend away with my wife. And then I started to take stock. I don’t have time for them. What had been a weekly reflective activity had become a chore.

    And then the unwritten thoughts started to build in my mind. There were still things that I wanted to share. And the feedback had been positive, though the weekly cadence was probably too much.

    So here we are. A new concept: Monthly Retrospective; 12 posts a year instead of 52. Maybe a better chance of me getting it out of the door on time too? I don’t promise it will be published exactly on the end of each month (I’m a week into April as I finish this post), but it will be there or thereabouts…

    So what’s up this month?

    Here’s a quick summary of what’s in the rest of the post

    • We have the tech – both at work and at home. Plus a few of the many interesting things I’ve spotted on my Internet travels (I still post most of them on X, and a more professionally curated set of posts on LinkedIn).
    • We have the events – typically evenings, attended to expand my knowledge.
    • We have the entertainment – music, film, TV.
    • We have life – family and friends.
    • And we have the photos – snapshots of life viewed through my iPhone.

    So let’s get started…

    In tech: at work

    I’m busy, busy as always at work, with more organisational changes to keep me on my toes. One thing I’ve tended to avoid in recent years is working on bids. This is partly because I find there’s invariably a slow start and a mad rush to complete before the deadline, and partly because I prefer to work on a consulting-led sell where I have helped to shape the solution. In a competitive tender scenario someone else has influenced the client, so you’re already on the back foot, second-guessing what the client needs cf. what the invitation to tender says they want. In this case, one of my colleagues asked me to help out, and we have a few weeks to create our solution. It’s also a really interesting project so I’m enjoying pulling this solution together.

    Meanwhile, the ransomware service is also moving forwards, though not as fast as I would like (or, more to the point, as fast as my boss would like). All being well, I’ll have something to shout about in next month’s retrospective.

    In tech: at home

    I’m still playing around with Meshtastic, with one node travelling mobile with me and another soon to be set up at home. Here’s the thread with the progress:

    In addition to the excellent Meshtastic website, Andy Kirby’s YouTube channel has tons of information.

    Other home projects include researching which CCTV cameras to put up (almost certainly from Reolink) and how to get an Ethernet cable to them…

    In tech: some of the things I stumbled across this month

    Some bits and pieces:

    • Advice to help build genAI prompts:
    • One of the many issues with QR codes:
    • Remembering some security advice I used last year:
    • One of my favourite design projects:

    In events

    March saw me getting out to a few tech events in the evenings

    • Milton Keynes Geek Night (MKGN) is always a good night out. In truth, it’s not really geeky these days – more creative – but I enjoy most of the talks and after a dozen years of attendance, I know a lot of the people in the crowd. This was the thread I created with the highlights from MKGN number 47:
    • A few days later, I headed down to London for the Windows Azure User Group Meetup. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use Node4’s London office, so I worked from the British Library and other locations for most of the day, before heading over to Elastacloud for the event in the evening. After Richard Conway (in/richardelastacloud) introduced the evening, Steph Locke (@TheStephLocke) from Microsoft talked about AI Landing Zones before Andy Cross (in/crossandy) gave a hilarious demonstration of how the death of coding is a little way off yet, even with multiple AI agents collaborating…
    • Towards the end of the month, I went to the inaugural NN1 Dev Club event, mostly to see what it’s about. I’m not a developer (though I might like to be…) and it seemed a good opportunity to get to know some of the tech folks in another nearby town. I enjoyed the talks – both PJ Evans (@MrPJEvans)’ tales of home automation (“Boiling Nemo”) and Dr Junade Ali (/in/junade)’s tales from the world of security research (“The Science of Software Engineering”) – so I’m sure I’ll be back for more events in future.

    In entertainment

    Cover image for The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

    When I was about 8 or 9, I read a book at school. I couldn’t remember much about it, except that it was about some children travelling across Europe, it was set in WW2, Warsaw was a part of it, and I really enjoyed it. I asked a group of friends if they remembered something like this and one asked ChatGPT. ChatGPT thought it might be The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier. I read the synopsis and that was it! Why I never thought to ask an AI, I have no idea, but it worked. I then had a very enjoyable few hours in the car listening to the audio book…

    On the subject of books, some more reading has arrived:

    This month’s TV has been about:

    • Explosive action (deliberate pun) Trigger Point, S2 (ITV).
    • Laid back and delightfully silly Detectorists, S2 (Netflix).
    • Stunning landscapes mixed with murder mystery Shetland, S8 (BBC).

    None are new, but they had been on the list for a while. The jury is still out on Shetland without Douglas Henshall in the main character role though.

    I’ve also decided that I need to get out to some gigs. My wife’s not into the electronic music that I enjoy so much and I was thinking about heading down to Greenwich with my youngest son for a Day with Chicane. Unfortunately the gig is 18+ and he will be 3 months short of adulthood, so maybe that will wait a while longer.

    In life: a trip to Tallinn

    The month started with a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Nikki and I were celebrating 21 years of marriage and we had a fantastic weekend exploring a new city. As a country that’s been in and out of Soviet control several times in modern history we were not sure what to expect. What we found was a beautiful medieval city, food that seemed more Scandinavian than Eastern European, and public transport that was cheap and plentiful.

    Our hotel was only just outside the old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we didn’t actually need to use the transport much (the city is compact enough to walk). Even so, €2 each way for a bus to/from the airport seemed amazing value.

    Similarly, we ate and drank well at remarkably good prices compared with the UK – whether that was hot chocolate in Pierre Chocolaterie, hot wine in Ill Draakon (a medieval-themed bar), or one of the modern Estonian restaurants that we dined in. (For future reference, they were: Kaerajaan, Rataskaevu 16 and Pegasus). I came home thinking that, for the most part, the UK is a very dull and overpriced culinary destination.

    Other highlights were a visit to the top of the tower at the Niguliste Museum for views across the city. We also enjoyed a walk along the old town walls. Outside the old town, we took a short walk to Telliskivi and visited the photography exhibitions at Fotografiska.

    If you’re inspired by this and you fancy a trip to Tallinn (highly recommended), we flew with Wizz Air from London Luton and the Visit Tallinn website has a mine of information.

    Oh yes, and linking back to tech for a moment, I forgot that the delivery robots I see in Milton Keynes and Northampton have Estonian cousins…

    …and was amused to see people out and about experiencing virtual reality headsets in the centre of Tallinn…

    In life: a Welshman in Twickenham

    I may have been born in Northampton, but I identify as Welsh. And certainly when it comes to international Rugby Union, my team plays in red. I wasn’t going to say “no” though when I got the opportunity to watch England host Ireland at Twickenham. What a game! The final drop kick was at the other end of the pitch to me, but it was a brilliant match to be at.

    In life: sporty teens

    As ever, my sons are a huge part of what I get up to outside work. With Matt away in Spain, I was able to get to watch Ben play Hockey a bit more, including the Eastern Counties U17 tournament. Now Matt’s returned and he’s racing as much as he can, trying to get his Category 1 (and maybe Elite, if he can get enough points) road race licence. That needs my support sometimes (passing bottles, driving on the longer trips). At the other end of the scale, it was exciting to be able to watch him pick up a win at our local race:

    It’s fantastic to see the support he gets from his own teammates and some of the guys he’s racing against too (the video cuts off Richard Wiggins exclaiming “he’s got it!” just as I hit record). #ProudDad

    After a couple more races that I didn’t get to see (and didn’t exactly go to plan), he wrapped up the month with a particularly eventful weekend. On the Saturday, a couple of punctures meant his race only lasted a few minutes, but that was probably lucky as we then found the steerer tube at the top of his fork had a huge crack in it…

    That afternoon and evening, he rebuilt onto one of the spare cyclocross frames that were waiting to be set up, and then raced the Fakenham town centre crit’ on Sunday. It was a wet afternoon and my heart was in my mouth for the whole race but coming in third after an early break and leading for a good chunk of the race was a great result.

    In photos

    Wrap-up

    That’s all for this month… please let me know what you think in the comments and I’ll be back in early May to recap on April… plus, hopefully, with extra time for some other posts in between.

    Featured image by 139904 from Pixabay.

    Weeknote 2024/08: re-organisation and recovery

    Last week’s weeknote was huge.

    This week’s weeknote is more… focused.

    (I may finally be finding the right balance…)

    At work

    • There have been some changes. A minor re-organisation that brings the Office of the CTO closer to the delivery end of the business – with a renewed focus on innovation and technology leadership. This makes me much happier.
    • I brokered a successful introduction between a data science contact I made at the recent AWS event and my OCTO colleague who looks after data and analytics.
    • I did some script-writing as preparation for some podcasts we’re recording next week.
    • And I published a blog post about the supposed demise of cloud, where apparently lots of people are moving back on-premises because it’s “too expensive”. Hmmm:
    • Also, because nobody engages with AI blog posts, I made a little observation on LinkedIn:
    • I spent quite a bit of time working on the ransomware offering that I’ve mentioned a few times now. Once we finalise the cost model I’ll start to shout some more.
    • And someone actually booked some time with me using my Microsoft Bookings page!

    At home

    • Mrs W did, as predicted, read last week’s weeknote :-)
      • I’m pleased to report that she had an enjoyable birthday and my cake baking was successful.
    • Matt is happy in Spain (for a few weeks), riding his bike in the sunshine and mixing with professionals and amateurs alike.
      • Two new cyclocross frames arrived last week too, so his bedroom back home looks like a workshop as he prepares for gravel/cyclocross later in the year.
      • Unfortunately, his groupset is wearing out (the interior components on Shimano 105-spec shifters are fine for leisure riders like me, but not for people who ride more miles on their bike than many people drive). Alpkit were selling off some surplus 105 Di2 groupsets and one is now in our house. The theory being that there’s less to wear out with an electronic groupset. I’m not convinced!
    • Ben had a great half term holiday with friends in Devon. He’s back home safely now. The Young Person’s Railcard is a wonderful scheme.
    • And I’m bouncing from day to day, ticking things off lists and generally trying to balance being a good Dad, a good husband, and to get myself back in shape, mentally and physically. Once I’d finished work for the week:
      • I took myself along to a talk about using multimeters, at one of the local clubs and societies in Olney, which filled a few gaps in my geek knowledge before I caught up with my friend James for a couple of pints.
      • And I took a ride on a local railway line that’s recently reopened after a year or so with no service. For a few weeks it’s £1 each way between Bedford and Bletchley so I decided to get a different view of the various developments along the Marston Vale. Old brickworks are now energy recovery facilities and country parks, but there’s lots more to see too.

    In tech

    • OpenAI launched a text-to-video model called Sora:
    • The BBC looked back on child futurologists from 50 years ago:
    • I found Timo Elliott’s cartoons – including this one on AI:
    • And BT sold its London tower, which has long since lost its use for radio communications:
    • Whilst I feel for Kate (@katebevan), I’m pleased to see someone else finds these UI features as frustrating as me. See also country dropdowns where I scroll and scroll to get to United Kingdom but someone thought the USA was important enough to put at the top of the list:

    Next week

    Don’t be surprised if I skip a week on the weeknotes… I’m going to be very busy at the end of next week… but I’ll be back soon.

    Featured image: author’s own

    Weeknote 2024/07: pancakes; cycle races; amateur radio; flooding; and love stories

    The feedback I receive on these weeknotes is generally something like “I’m enjoying your weekly posts Mark – no idea how you find the time?”. The answer is that 1) I work a 4-day week; and 2) I stay up far too late at night. I also write them in bits, as the week progresses. This week has been a bit of a rollercoaster though, with a few unexpected changes of direction, and consequently quite a few re-writes.

    This week at work

    I had planned to take an extra day off this week which looked like it was going to squeeze things a bit. That all changed mid-week, which gave me a bit more time to move things forward. These were the highlights:

    This week away from work

    Last weekend

    I was cycle coaching on Saturday, then dashed home as my youngest son, Ben, said he would be watching the rugby at home instead of with his mates. England vs. Wales is the most important Six Nations fixture in my family. My Dad was Welsh. He wasn’t big into sport, but, nevertheless I remember watching 15 men in red shirts running around with an oval ball with him. Nikki’s Dad was Welsh too. Even though we were both born in England, that makes our sons two-quarters Welsh. Cymru am byth! Sadly, the result didn’t quite go our way this year – though it was closer than I’d dared dream.

    On Sunday, our eldest son, Matt was racing the Portsdown Classic. It’s the first road race of the season and there were some big names in there. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the result he wanted – finding he has the power but is still learning to race – but he did finish just ahead of Ed Clancey OBE, so that’s something to remember.

    I’m just glad he avoided this (look carefully and Matt can be seen in white/blue on a grey bike with white decals on the wheels, very close to the verge on the left, just ahead of the crash)

    The rest of the week

    Our town, Olney, has celebrated Shrove Tuesday with a pancake race since 1445. It even features on the signs as you drive into town.

    I didn’t see this year’s race as I was working in Derby. Then driving back along the motorway in torrential rain, in time for a family meal. We were supposed to be getting together before Matt flew out to Greece for 10 weeks, but those plans fell apart with 2 days before his outbound flight. Thankfully he’s sorted a plan B but I’m not writing about it until it actually happens!

    For a couple of years I’ve struggled to ride with Matt without him finding it too easy (and actually getting cold). I miss my riding buddy, but it was good to hear him say he’d like to ride with me again if I can get back into shape. Right. That’s my chance. Whilst he is away it’s time to get back on Zwift and prepare for a summer on the real bike. I need to lose at least 20kgs too, but that’s going to take a while…

    …which reminds me. I must find a way to pull all my information from the Zoe app before my subscription expires.

    As last Sunday’s bike race was “only” around 75km, I didn’t have any roadside bottle-passing duties so I took “the big camera” (my Nikon D700 DSLR). Then, I got home and realised my digital photography workflow has stopped flowing. My Mac Mini has run out of disk space. My youngest son, Ben, now uses my MacBook for school. And my Windows PC didn’t want to talk to the D700 (until I swapped cables – so that must have been the issue). It took me a while, but I eventually managed to pull a few half-decent images out of the selection. You can see them below, under “this week in photos”. I love using the DSLR, but do wish it had the connectivity that makes a smartphone so much more convenient.

    The Portsdown Classic was my first opportunity to take a hand-held radio to a race. I’d seen spectators using them at other National Races last year but I didn’t have the equipment. I’d asked someone what they used and considered getting a Baofeng UV-5R but didn’t actually get around to clicking “buy now”. Then Christian Payne (Documentally) gifted me a Quansheng UV-K5(8) at Milton Keynes Geek Night. A chat with a friendly NEG rider and a little bit of homework told me which frequencies British Cycling uses. It was fascinating to be able to listen to the race convoy radio, both when driving behind the convoy at the start of the race and then when spectating (at least when the race was within radio range).

    Listening in on the action gave me a whole new perspective on the race. So much so that I’m considering completing the ConvoyCraft training to be able to drive an official event car

    I mentioned that Christian had gifted me a radio last December. That was on condition that I promised to take the exam for my RSGB Foundation Licence. Well, I took it this morning and passed. The results are provisional but, assuming all goes well and I get my licence from Ofcom, I’ll write another post about that journey into the world of RF and antennae…

    Finally, I wrapped up the week by meeting up with my former colleague, manager, and long-time mentor, Mark Locke. I learned a lot from Mark in my days at ICL and Fujitsu (most notably when I was a wet-behind-the-ears Graduate Trainee in the “Workgroup Systems” consultancy unit we were a part of in the early days of Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes; and later working for Mark on a major HMRC infrastructure project); he was the one who sponsored me into my first Office of the CITO role for David Smith, back in 2010; and we’ve remained friends for many years. It was lovely to catch up on each other’s news over a pint and a spot of lunch.

    This week in TV/video

    My wife and I started watching two new TV series this last week. Both are shaping up well, even if one is a rom-com (not normally my favourite genre):

    This week in photos

    Elsewhere on the Internet

    In tech

    At least one good thing came out of the VMware-Broadcom situation:

    The NCSC appears to have rebranded 2FA/MFA as 2SV:

    But this. This is a level of geekiness that I can totally get behind:

    Even I have to accept that playing Snake on network switches is a little too niche though:

    Close to home

    The river Great Ouse in Olney saw the biggest floods I can remember (for the second time this winter). The official figures suggest otherwise but they measure at the sluice – once the river bursts its banks (as it now does) the sluice is bypassed through the country park and across fields. The drone shots are pretty incredible.

    This is a fantastic project. The pedant in me can almost forgive the errant apostrophe in the final frames of the video because the concept is so worthwhile:

    Underground-Overground

    Transport for London decided to rename six formerly “Overground” lines, This is one of the more educational stories about it:

    It’s not the first time naming these lines has been proposed:

    But British Twitter stepped up to the mark and delivered its own commentary:

    Or at least some of British Twitter. Those outside the gravitational pull of London were less bothered:

    St Valentine’s Day

    Every now and again, the social networks surface something really wholesome. This week I’ve picked three St Valentine’s Day posts. Firstly, from “the Poet Laureate of Twitter”, Brian Bilston:

    And then this lovely story (pun entirely intended) from Heather Self (click through for the whole thread of three posts):

    This one just made me giggle:

    Coming up

    The coming weekend will be a busy one. Ben is heading off to the West Country for a few days away with his friends. It’s also Nikki’s birthday… but I won’t spill the beans here about any plans because she has been known to read these posts. And then, hopefully, on Monday, Matt will finally get away to train in a sunnier climate for a while.

    Next week is half term but with both the “boys” away it will be quiet. When they are at home, we have the normal chaos of a busy family with two sporty teenagers. When they are away it’s nice to enjoy some peace (and a slightly less messy house), but it sometimes feels just a little odd.

    Right, time to hit publish. I have a birthday cake to bake…

    Featured image by -Rita-??? und ? mit ? from Pixabay.

    Weeknote 2024/06: more playing with NFC; thoughts on QR code uses; and a trip to AWS’ UK HQ

    Last week’s weeknote taught me one of two things. Either I’m getting boring now; or AI fatigue has reached a level where people just read past anything with ChatGPT in the title. Or maybe it was just that the Clippy meme put people off…

    Whilst engagement is always nice, I write these weeknotes for mindful reflection. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I’m writing them. There’s also a part of me that says “you’ve done six weeks now… don’t stop and undo all that work”. Hmm, Sunk Cost Fallacy anyone?

    So, let’s get stuck into what’s been happening in week 6 of 2024… there seems to be quite a lot here (or at least it took me a few hours to write!)

    This week at work

    Even with the input from ChatGPT that I mentioned last week, I’m still struggling to write data sheets. Maybe this is me holding myself back with my own expectations around the output. It’s also become a task that I simply must complete – even in draft – and then hand over to others to critique. Perfection is the enemy of good, and all that!

    I’m also preparing to engage with a new client to assist with their strategy and innovation. One challenge is balancing the expectations of key client stakeholders, the Account Director, and the Service Delivery Manager with my own capabilities. In part, this is because expectations have been based on the Technical Architect who is aligned to the account. He’s been great on the technical side but I’m less hands-on and the value I will add is more high-level. And this is a problem of our own making – everyone has a different definition of what an (IT) Architect is. I wrote about this previously:

    What’s needed are two things – a really solid Technical Architect with domain expertise, and someone who can act as a client side “CTO”. Those are generally different skillsets.

    My work week ended with a day at Amazon Web Services (AWS). I spend a lot of time talking about Microsoft Azure, but my AWS knowledge is more patchy. With a multi-cloud mindset (and not just hybrid with Node4), I wanted to explore what’s happening in the world of AWS. More on that in a bit…

    This week in tech

    Let’s break this up into sections as we look at a few different subjects…

    More fun with NFC tags

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NFC tags I’d been experimenting with. This week I took it a bit further with:

    1. Programming tags using the NFC Tools app. This means the tag action doesn’t rely on an iOS Shortcut and so isn’t limited to one user/device. Instead, the tag has a record stored in its memory that corresponds to an action – for example it might open a website. I was going to have a tag for guests to automatically connect to the guest Wi-Fi in our house but iOS doesn’t support reading Wi-Fi details from NFC (it’s fine with a QR code though… as I’ll discuss in a moment).
    2. Using a tag and an automation to help me work out which bins to put out each week. Others have said “why not just set a recurring reminder?” and that is what I do behind the scenes. The trouble with reminders is notifications. Instead of the phone reminding me because it’s the right day (but perhaps I’m in the wrong place), I can scan and check which actions are needed this week.

    QR codes are not the answer to sharing every link…

    Yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice how many QR codes featured in my day. Unlike most of my recent journeys, my train ticket didn’t have a code. This is because Thameslink (the train operating company for my train from Bedford to London) appears to be stuck on an old technology stack. Their app is pretty useless and sends me to their website to buy tickets, which I then have to collect from a machine at the station. If I need to collect a ticket I might as well buy it on the day from the same machine (there are no Advance discounts available on my journey). So, paper train tickets with magnetic stripes it was.

    Then, I was networking with some of the other delegates at the AWS re:Invent re:Cap event and found that people share QR codes from the LinkedIn app now. How did I not know this was a thing? (And to think I am playing with programming NFC tags to do cool things.) To be fair, I haven’t got out much recently – far too much of my post-pandemic work for risual was online. I even have paper business cards in my work bag. I don’t think I’ve given one to anyone in a long time though…

    But QR codes were everywhere at AWS. They were In every presentation for links to product information, feedback links, even for the Wi-Fi in the room. And that’s the problem – QR codes are wonderful on a mobile device. But all too often someone creates a code and says “let’s share this – it will be cool”, without thinking of the use case.

    • A QR code for exchanging details in person. Yep, I get that.
    • A QR code on physical marketing materials to direct people to find out more. That works.
    • A QR code on an email. Get real. I’m reading it on one device – do you really want me to get another one to scan the code?
    • A QR code on the back of a van. Nice in principle but it’s a moving vehicle. Sometimes it won’t work so better to have a URL and phone number too. In which case what purpose does the QR code serve?
    • Multiple QR codes on a presentation slide. Hmm… tricky now. The camera app’s AI doesn’t know which one to use. What’s wrong with a short URL? Camera apps can usually recognise and scan URLs too.
    • QR codes for in-room Wi-Fi. Seems great at first, and worked flawlessly on my phone but I couldn’t get them to work on a Windows laptop. Well, I could read them in the camera app but it wouldn’t let me open the URL (or copy it to examine and find the password). For that I needed an app from the Microsoft Store. And I was offline. Catch 22. Luckily, someone wrote the password on a white board. Old skool. That works for me.

    More of my tech life

    • I think Apple might have launched a VR headset. This is the meme that keeps on giving…

    That visit to the AWS offices that I mentioned earlier…

    I started writing this on the train home, thinking there’s a lot of information to share. So it’s a brief summary rather than trying to include all the details:

    • The AWS event I attended was a recap of the big re:Invent conference that took place a few months ago. It took place at AWS’s UK HQ in London (Holborn). I’ve missed events like this. I used to regularly be at Microsoft’s Thames Valley Park (Reading) campus, or at a regional Microsoft TechNet or MSDN event. They were really good, and I knew many of the evangelists personally. These days, I generally can’t get past the waitlist for Microsoft events and it seems much of their budget is for pre-recorded virtual events that have huge audiences (but terrible engagement).
    • It was a long day – good to remind me why I don’t regularly commute – let alone to London. But it was great to carve out the time and dedicate it to learning.
    • Most of the day was split into tracks. I could only be in one place at one time so I skipped a lot of the data topics and the dedicated AI/ML ones (though AI is in everything). I focused on the “Every App” track.
    • A lot of the future looking themes are similar to those I know with Microsoft. GenAI, Quantum. The product names are different, the implementation concepts vary a little. There may be some services that one has and the other doesn’t. But it’s all very relatable. AWS seems a little more mature on the cost control front. But maybe that’s just my perception from what I heard in the keynote.
    • The session on innovating faster with Generative AI was interesting – if only to understand some of the concepts around choosing models and the pitfalls to avoid.
    • AWS Step Functions seem useful and I liked the demo with entertaining a friend’s child by getting ChatGPT to write a story then asking Dall-E to illustrate it.
    • One particularly interesting session for me was about application modernisation for Microsoft workloads. I’m not a developer, but even I could appreciate the challenges (e.g. legacy .NET Framework apps), and the concepts and patterns that can help (e.g strangler fig to avoid big bang replacement of a monolith). Some of the tools that can help looked pretty cool to.
    • DeepRacer is something I’d previously ignored – I have enough hobbies without getting into using AI to drive cars. But I get it now. It’s a great way to learn about cloud, data analysis, programming and machine learning through play. (Some people doing like the idea of “play” at work, so let’s call it “experimentation”).
    • There’s some new stuff happening in containers. AWS has EKS and ECS. Microsoft has AKS and ACS. Kubernetes (K8s) is an orchestration framework for containers. Yawn. I mean, I get it, and I can see why they are transformative but it seems every time I meet someone who talks about K8s they are evangelical. Sometimes containers are the solution. Sometimes they are not. Many of my clients don’t even have a software development capability. Saying to an ISV “we’re going to containerise your app” is often not entertained. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
    • One thing AWS has that I’ve never heard Azure folks talk about is the ability to deliberately inject chaos into your app or infrastructure – so the session on the AWS Fault Injection Service was very interesting. I particularly like the ideas of simulating an availability zone outage or a region outage to test how your app will really perform.
    • Amazon has a contact centre platform called Connect. I did not know that. Now I do. It sounds quite interesting, but I’m unlikely to need to do anything more with it at Node4 – Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx are our chosen platforms.
    • The security recap was… a load of security enhancements. I get it. And they seem to make sense but they are also exactly what I would expect to see.
    • Amazon Security Lake is an interesting concept, but I had to step out of that session. It did make me wonder if it’s just SIEM (like Microsoft Sentinel). Apparently not. ASL is a data lake/log management system not a SIEM service, so bring your own security analytics.

    In all, it was a really worthwhile investment of a day. I will follow up on some of the concepts in more detail – and I plan to write about them here. But I think the summary above is enough, for now.

    This week’s reading, writing, watching and listening

    I enjoy Jono Hey’s Sketchplanations. Unfortunately. when I was looking for one to illustrate the Sunk Cost Fallacy at the top of this post, I couldn’t find one. I did see there’s I see he has a book coming out in a few months’ time though. You can pre-order it at the place that does everything from A-Z.

    What I did find though, is a sketch that could help me use less passive voice in these blog posts:

    Inspired by something I saw on the TV, and after I found my previous notes, some of my thoughts here grew into a post of their own: Anti-social media.

    My wife and I finished watching Lessons In Chemistry on Apple TV this week. I commented previously that one of my observations was we still have a long way to go on diversity, inclusion and equality but we’ve come a long way since the 1950s. And then I read this, from the LA Times Archive, reporting on how a woman was jailed for contempt of court after the Judge took offence to her wearing “slacks”, in 1938.

    This week in photos

    • Only one from my instragram this week:
    • This isn’t mine, but I love it…
    • Also:
    • And what about this?

    This week at home

    Putting home (and therefore family) at the end seems wrong, but the blog is about tech first, business second, and my personal life arguably shouldn’t feature so often.

    The positive side of trying to be in the office at least a day or two a week is that I can do the school run. I may only have one “child” still at school but he’s learning to drive, so he can drive to school and I’ll continue to drive to work afterwards. He’s also driving to his hockey training and matches so its a good way to build experience before his driving test in a few months’ time.

    Next week, my adult son (Matt) heads back to Greece for a couple of months’ cycle training. He’s also building new gravel/cyclocross bikes for later in the year, so “bits of bike” keep on appearing in the dining room… including some new wheels from one of the team sponsors, FFWD Wheels.

    Meanwhile, my wife is very excited because Matt will be invited to Buckingham Palace to receive his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. He can take a guest, hence Mrs W’s excitement. Let’s just hope he’s in the country at the time.

    I really should try and use the time whilst he’s away to get out on my own bike as my own fitness is not where it should be.

    That’s all for this week. See you all around the same time next week?

    Featured image: author’s own.

    Weeknote 2024/05: using ChatGPT to overcome writer’s block; and why do UK supermarkets use technology so badly?

    This week’s weeknote is shorter. Just a few nuggets… but I did actually write some real, standalone blog posts:

    I hope you enjoy them. There was another one I planned about anti-social media. I thought I had it in note form but I can’t find the notes now. Maybe that will follow soon. But there’s also a possibility it will go to the great list of unwritten or part-written blog posts…

    Some artificial assistance from ChatGPT

    For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to write some data sheets to describe some of the Node4 services that I’m responsible for. I’ve really struggled – not so much to understand what the service entails – but to generate lists of features and benefits.

    One of my colleagues is a big fan of ChatGPT. I’m not – because I value quality writing – and I’m concerned it just churns out very formulaic text filled with buzzwords. (Sadly, in this case that might be exactly what I need!). In addition, I’ve probably mentioned previously that my wife is a copywriter so I am a little biased. Even so, ChatGPT 4’s content has at least allowed me to move past my writer’s block – it gave me a draft that I could refine.

    Retail pricing inefficiencies

    I started my career working in supermarkets (Bejam/Iceland, and then Safeway). It was the time when we saw the end of individual price ticketing and the start of barcode scanning. Back in those days (the late 1980s), it was someone’s job to make sure that the shelf edge tickets matched the store computer.

    I’ve just got back from a trip to a major UK supermarket. I’m not going to name the chain, because I’ve had similar issues in others, but it was interesting to see, yet again, an advertised offer that didn’t match the scanned price. And the store’s reaction is almost always to remove the shelf edge ticket (not to correct the computer).

    But we have technology that can keep these things aligned. e-ink displays are used on shelf edges in some other countries – it mystifies me that we don’t use them in the UK.

    Retailers will argue that they work on small margins that that investment in systems is secondary to reducing prices. Except that right now they are doing it badly – and inefficiently too!

    Not only would the use of e-ink displays allow a guaranteed match between the shelf edge and the point of sale systems, but they would remove an admin task of replacing tickets (something which is clearly not done well). They could also allow for demand-based pricing, though I’m less keen on that idea…

    Plus “random” checks for self-scanning

    Then, to add insult to injury, the store systems selected me for a “random” check. For a dozen items, totalling £12.69. And it seems to happen quite frequently (hence the quotes around the word random). Not long ago they were encouraging us to use an app and self-scan. Now they seem to be seeing self-scanners as potential criminals. Either innovate, use the technology, and take action when someone is abusing the system, or pay for more staff to run checkouts. The choice is yours Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, et al. But stop treating the customers that help you reduce your costs as potential shoplifters.

    More “coffees”

    Last week’s weeknote featured the concept of “coffees”, as meeting people without an agenda, to catch-up and to learn. No sooner had I hit publish, then I met up with another old colleague and friend, David Saxon (@DMSaxon). David and I worked together for many years and he’s now at Microsoft so we still have a lot in common. He was staying near me last weekend, so it was a great opportunity for dinner and a chat.

    I didn’t line anything up during the work week but as we roll into a new month there will be another pairing in the WB-40 podcast coffee club, plus I’ve got a couple of former team members that I really must check in with. And, in a few weeks, I’m due to catch up with my former colleague then manager, and long-time mentor, Mark Locke.

    Things that caught my eye this week

    At home

    I’m at the stage of life where frequently at least one of my sons is away from home. Last weekend my wife was too – so there was just me, my youngest son, and the dog. Since Sunday evening, we’ve been a complete family again – which has been good. Matt’s back from two weeks skiing (which he referred to as altitude training) and is quite pleased (and surprised) to have been taking Strava segments on skis (he’s used to it on his bike). I need to make the most of it though before he goes back to Greece for a training camp. He’s racing next weekend, so I have one more trip away to support him before he disappears for a couple of months.

    I’ve also booked the exam for my RSGB Foundation Licence (as promised at the last Milton Keynes Geek Night), so I have some revision to do.

    Finally, I’m giving myself a gold star, because today, I restrained my “inner chimp”. I received a text message from my son’s school, advising me that he will soon be held back for a detention. That’s fine. He needs to learn. But it niggled me that the message contained a glaring grammatical error. This is a school which is very proud of its history and standards for students but doesn’t always follow through with its own communications. The pedantic side of me was desperate to reply and point out the mistake but I managed to restrain myself!

    That’s all for now

    No tech projects, no new TV, no podcasts of note, no photos. I’ll be back next week with another weeknote – and hopefully soon I’ll be able to shout about a cool new service I’ve been working on for Node4.

    Featured image created using the Clippy Meme Generator at Imgflip.

    Watercooler moments, and hybrid work

    In last week’s weeknote, I asked a question:

    “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?”

    I wrote about “coffees” (as a metaphor for meeting up with no agenda), but only this afternoon I witnessed a “watercooler moment” away from the office. Two of my colleagues were on a Teams call, and they discovered that they live only a few streets away from one another. Actually, as the call went on, I realised that 80% of the attendees were in/around the same city (I was the exception).

    But what also became apparent to me is how these four people in the same city had different needs – and that travelling to a city centre location was almost easier for me (80 miles away) than it was for some of them!

    This is where the subject of this blog post shifts to hybrid work. And it seems that the thing to remember about hybrid work is that what works for one does not necessarily work for another.

    It’s complicated

    On the one hand, we want to nurture a culture, and to get people working as a team. One way to do that is to co-locate them. But we have distributed teams too. Regionally, nationally or globally. There’s limited value in going to the office if you won’t actually be in the same place as your colleagues. Conversely, there’s an view that you might meet people from a broader cross-section of the company. That holds some merit.

    I planned to be in an office tomorrow, then my diary filled up and it looks like I will spend half the day on the same Teams calls I would have attended from home. Is that a good reason to be in the office?

    There’s also the view of productivity. Being present in an office isn’t the same as doing good work. Some find it easy to work at home. Others struggle to get motivated. Some find it easier to work in an office. Some struggle with the noise and disruption. Some people have better IT at home (e.g. a faster connection to the Internet).

    Some people will say “you used to come to the office before Covid”. But did we? Working patterns have been changing for a while. Even before the pandemic, I was at home or on client sites most of the time. I was rarely at a company location.

    And there seems to be an assumption by some that employees took remote or hybrid jobs as if it was some kind of favour, and can now absorb the time and costs associated with commuting. I’ve been contractually based from home since 2005. If I travel to an office, it costs the company money, not me. That may work for a professional services business charging me out on a fee-earning basis, plus expenses. But less so when it’s “everyone into the office x days a week”.

    I do feel for those who are starting out or early in their careers. It must be tricky when you don’t see the people you work with. I learned by observing others, and by being shown what to do. We need to find new ways to do that and to nurture people’s growth.

    But, for those with caring responsibilities, the flexibility of working from home means they can continue delivering value to the organisation whilst fulfilling the needs of those they care for. As a society, we’re living longer. Those of us in our middle age are sandwiched between the needs of our children and those of our aging parents. And that’s not considering the changes in our ability to work that come with this time of life, for example adapting to deal with the menopause (that’s a whole blog post in itself).

    We don’t want to lose good skills to when we really just need to accommodate different people’s needs.

    And then there’s the green angle. “How can we be more environmentally-sensitive?”, asks the person responsible for the organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals. Perhaps, by travelling less?

    It’s about autonomy

    I’ll be the first to admit that 100% remote work doesn’t work for me. And I get a lot from being with others to collaborate on something. Earlier this month I did travel to meet a colleague and “write on the walls”. We got a lot of value from that meeting.

    And that’s the nub of it. Not blanket RTO edicts, as I’ve heard mentioned in multiple organisations recently, but autonomy and flexibility. Or, as one Gartner Analyst put it:

    “The key to hybrid work is allowing employees the autonomy to work when they want and where they want.”

    Gavin Tay, Gartner Inc.

    Provide a place for people to meet and collaborate. Provide a place with a desk and decent Internet connection for those who don’t have a suitable workspace at home. Encourage people to come together. But be clear what it is you are trying to achieve. If the answer involves filling up rows of hot desks, then you may want to think again.

    Related posts

    It seems this is a topic I keep returning to (I clearly have Opinions on the topic), so here’s some posts I wrote earlier:

    Featured image by Israel Andrade on Unsplash.

    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 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)