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

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 15/2020: a cancelled holiday, some new certifications and video conferencing fatigue

Continuing the series of weekly blog posts, providing a brief summary of notable things from my week.

Cancelled holiday #1

I should have been in Snowdonia this week – taking a break with my family. Obviously that didn’t happen, with the UK’s social distancing in full effect but at least we were able to defer our accommodation booking.

It has been interesting though, being forced to be at home has helped me to learn to relax a little… there’s still a never-ending list of things that need to be done, but they can wait a while.

Learning and development

Last week, I mentioned studying for the AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials Exam and this week saw me completing that training before attempting the exam.

It was my first online-proctored exam and I had some concerns about finding a suitable space. Even in a relatively large home (by UK standards), with a family of four (plus a dog) all at home, it’s can be difficult to find a room with a guarantee not to be disturbed. I’ve heard of people using the bathroom (and I thought about using my car). In the end, and thanks to some advice from colleagues – principally Steve Rush (@MrSteveRush) and Natalie Dellar (@NatalieDellar) – as well as some help from Twitter, I managed to cover the TV and some boxes in my loft room, banish the family, and successfully pass the test.

With exam 1 under my belt (I’m now an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner), I decided to squeeze another in before the Easter break and successfully studied for, and passed, the Microsoft Power Platform Fundamentals exam, despite losing half a day to some internal sales training.

In both cases, I used the official study materials from Amazon/Microsoft and, although they were not everything that was needed to pass the exams, the combination of these and my experience from elsewhere helped (for example having already passed the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals exam meant that many of the concepts in the AWS exam were already familiar).

Thoughts on the current remote working situation

These should probably have been in last week’s weeknote (whilst it wasn’t the school holidays so we were trying to educate our children too) but recently it’s become particularly apparent to me that we are not living in times of “working from home” – this is “at home, during a crisis, trying to work”, which is very different:

Some other key points I’ve picked up include that:

  • Personal, physical and mental health is more important than anything else right now. (I was disappointed to find that even the local Police are referring to mythical time limits on allowed exercise here in the UK – and I’m really lucky to be able to get out to cycle/walk in open countryside from my home, unlike so many.)
  • We should not be trying to make up for lost productivity by working more hours. (This is particularly important for those who are not used to remote working.)
  • And, if you’re furloughed, use the time wisely. (See above re: learning and development!)

Video conference fatigue

Inspired by Matt Ballantine’s virally-successful flowchart of a few years ago, I tried sketching something. It didn’t catch on in quite the same way, but it does seem to resonate with people.

In spite of my feelings on social video conferencing, I still took part in two virtual pub quizzes this week (James May’s was awful whilst Nick’s Pub Quiz continues to be fun) together with trans-Atlantic family Zooming over the Easter weekend…

Podcast backlog

Not driving and not going out for lunchtime solo dog walks has had a big impact on my podcast-listening…

I now need to schedule some time for catching up on The Archers and the rest of my podcasts!

Remote Work Survival Kit

In what spare time I’ve had, I’ve also been continuing to edit the Remote Work Survival Kit. It’s become a mammoth task, but there are relatively few updates arriving in the doc now. Some of the team have plans to move things forward, but I have a feeling it’s something that will never be “done”, will always be “good enough” and which I may step away from soon.

Possibly the best action film in the world…

My week finished with a family viewing of the 1988 film, “Die Hard”. I must admit it was “a bit more sweary” than I remembered (although nothing that my teenagers won’t already hear at school) but whilst researching the film classification it was interesting to read how it was changed from an 18 to a 15 with the passage of time

Weeknote 14/2020: Podcasting, furlough and a socially-distanced birthday

We’re living in strange times at the moment, so it seems as good as ever an opportunity to bring back my attempts to blog at least weekly with a brief precis of my week.

In the beginning

The week started as normal. Well, sort of. The new normal. Like everyone else in the UK, I’m living in times of enforced social distancing, with limited reasons to leave the house. Thankfully, I can still exercise once a day – which for me is either a dog walk, a run or a bike ride.

On the work front, I had a couple of conversations around potential client work, but was also grappling with recording Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) skills for my team. Those who’ve known me since my Fujitsu days may know that I’m no fan of SFIA and it was part of the reason I chose to leave that company… but it seems I can’t escape it.

Podcasting

On Monday evening, I stood in for Chris Weston (@ChrisWeston) as a spare “W” on the WB-40 Podcast. Matt Ballantine (@Ballantine70) and I had a chat about the impact of mass remote working, and Matt quizzed me about retro computing. I was terrible in the quiz but I think I managed to sound reasonably coherent in the interview – which was a lot of fun!

Furlough

A few weeks ago, most people in the UK would never have heard of “Furlough Leave”. For many, it’s become common parlance now, as the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme becomes reality for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of employees. It’s a positive thing – it means that businesses can claim some cash from the Government to keep them afloat whilst staff who are unable to work due to the COVID-19/Coronavirus crisis restrictions are sent home. In theory, with businesses still liquid, we will all have jobs to go back to, once we’re allowed to return to some semblance of normality.

On Tuesday, I was part of a management team drawing up a list of potentially affected staff (including myself), based on strict criteria around individuals’ current workloads. On Wednesday it was confirmed that I would no longer be required to attend work for the next three weeks from that evening. I can’t provide any services for my employer – though I should stay in touch and personal development is encouraged.

Social distancing whilst shopping for immediate and extended family

So, Thursday morning, time to shop for provisions: stock is returning to the supermarket shelves after a relatively small shift in shopping habits completely disrupted the UK’s “just in time” supply chain. It’s hardly surprising as a nation prepared to stay in for a few weeks, with no more eating at school/work, no pubs/cafés/restaurants, and the media fuelling chaos with reports of “panic buying”.

Right now, after our excellent independent traders (like Olney Butchers), the weekly town market is the best place to go with plenty of produce, people keeping their distance, and fresh air. Unfortunately, with a family of four to feed (and elderly relatives to shop for too), it wasn’t enough – which meant trawling through two more supermarkets and a convenience store to find everything – and a whole morning gone. I’m not sure how many people I interacted with but it was probably too many, despite my best efforts.

Learning and development

With some provisions in the house, I spent a chunk of time researching Amazon Web Services certifications, before starting studying for the AWS Cloud Practitioner Essentials Exam. It should be a six hour course but I can’t speed up/slow down the video, so I keep on stopping and taking notes (depending on the presenter) which makes it slow going…

I did do some Googling though, and found that a combination of Soundflower and Google Docs could be used to transcribe the audio!

I also dropped into a Microsoft virtual launch event for the latest Microsoft Business Applications (Dynamics 365 and Power Platform) updates. There’s lots of good stuff happening there – hopefully I’ll turn it into a blog post soon…

#NicksPubQuiz

Saturday night was a repeat of the previous week, taking part in “Nick’s Pub Quiz”. For those who haven’t heard of it – Nick Heath (@NickHeathSport) is a sports commentator who, understandably, is a bit light on the work front right now so he’s started running Internet Pub Quizzes, streaming on YouTube, for a suggested £1/person donation. Saturday night was his sixth (and my family’s second) – with over 1500 attendees on the live stream. Just like last week, my friend James and his family also took part (in their house) with us comparing scores on WhatsApp for a bit of competition!

Another year older

Ending the week on a high, Sunday saw my birthday arrive (48). We may not be able to go far, but I did manage a cycle ride with my eldest son, then back home for birthday cake (home-made Battenberg cake), and a family BBQ. And the sun shone. So, all in all, not a bad end to the week.

Why landscaping my garden was just like an IT project

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been redeveloping the garden at home and the whole experience has made me reflect on the way that IT projects are often delivered…

Who’s been developing the garden?

Well, when I say “I’ve”, that may be pushing it slightly… I paid other people to do significant chunks of it but that’s the first similarity. I started work and quickly realised that it would a) take me a long time and b) involve the use of tools and machinery that I don’t have so I needed to engage specialist assistance.

This is just like my customers who have something in mind that aligns with their strategic goals and objectives but they lack the resources or experience and so look externally for assistance.

Getting some quotes

Having decided that I needed help, the next step was to get some idea of what it might cost. After speaking to a selection of potential contractors, I knew that my budget was hopelessly optimistic and I’d either need to scale the plans back or dig deeper into my pockets.

Again, just as in my professional world, everyone has their idea of what something might cost but sometimes that’s just not realistic.

How quickly can we start?

Having agreed on a price and a scope, the next question was how soon? Actually, for me this was pretty good: 2 weeks to start and it should take about 2 weeks. Great. Let’s do this.

In my professional life, I come across procurement periods that can run for months but then the project must happen right now. It’s not realistic to expect a professional services company to have people waiting around for your order (if they do, then maybe ask why). Expect to take a few weeks to engage.

The flurry of activity

The big day came. My drive was filled up with a skip and several tons of aggregate, sand and cement. Materials came and went. People were on site. Earth was moved. Things happened.

It always feels good when something becomes real. Progress on any project is good, especially after waiting a while to get going. But don’t expect a smooth ride the whole way…

The first sprint delivered

Whilst my family took a break, work continued at home. Drainage was installed, wooden sleepers were built up into steps and walls and a stone patio was laid.

That sounds like a successful first sprint. Step one completed, demonstrable progress and a milestone payment due.

Slippage

But hang on, we’re already 9 days into a 2-week project and there are still many items on the backlog. The weather had either been too wet or too hot. And there were delays from the skip hire company that led to inefficiencies in removing materials from the site. We were making progress but the timeline (and so the budget) was starting to slip

Many projects will have unforeseen issues. That’s life. Managing them is what makes the difference. And the key to that is communication between client and supplier.

Scope creep

What about the electrics? I had already spotted that they were missing from the quote but there was armoured cabling to be buried before the garden was completed. And that meant bringing in another contractor. Thankfully, he had worked with the landscaping team before, so he could fit around them without delay (at least for the first fix).

More contractors mean dependencies. Even when teams have worked together previously, there will be some complications to work out. Again, good project management helps.

When will this end? And what about the budget?

Sprint 2 was more of a jog. There was still earth to move, a pergola to be built, a concrete base for my “man cave” to be poured and turf to be laid. Time was ticking – the gap I’d left between the landscaping and the project work packages I was due to deliver myself (log cabin construction, garden furniture arrival) was shrinking – and with work taking place on a time and materials basis the budget was stretched.

Time for a meeting. Let’s agree what’s still left to do and how long it will take, lock down the budget and push towards completion.

I have to admit this was frustrating. But I’ve seen it in my world of IT too. Want a fixed price? Be prepared to pay more as the risk taken on by the organisation delivering the work needs to be factored in. Time and materials can work both ways (finish early, pay less – or to project over-runs) and after a while, patience will wear thin. Again, communication is key. Establish what’s left to do in the agreed scope, nail down the timescales and push for completion.

And as for the other work packages, very few projects exist in isolation. There’s nearly always an entire programme of works to deliver to meet the stated goals/objectives. Some realism is required about how dependencies will align because if you expect the various work packages to run on from each other, you should be prepared for the occasional disappointment.

Phase 1 complete

Three and a bit weeks after work started, phase 1 was complete. And it looked great. All the pain was worthwhile. Just in time to start construction of the log cabin on that base.

phase 1 of the garden completed

60% over time, 7% over budget. Not wonderful stats but also not atypical.

Postscript: Phase 2 delayed

The log cabin arrived on time but was damaged on delivery. And it would take 2 weeks for a replacement roof apex to be manufactured and shipped. With most of the materials on-site though, it needed to be built as far as it could be and then wrapped up to protect it from the elements.

Sometimes, even the best planning can come undone. Supplier contracts might help with speedy resolution of issues but sometimes there’s nothing to be done except to sit and wait…

WB-40 appearances

Several years ago, I met Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70), when he was working at Microsoft. Over the years, we’ve had many conversations in person, online and over social media and I’ve been listening to his WB-40 podcast with Chris Weston (@chrisweston) since they started it in 2016.

WB-40 Podcast logo

In recent months, I’ve been fortunate to feature a few times on the podcast:

Appearing on WB-40 (and on The Flexible Movement) has made me think a little about maybe starting a podcast of my own. James Bannan (@JamesBannan) and I had a podcast called Coalface Tech for a while a few years ago but we found working on opposite sides of the planet and recording decent audio challenging at the time. At the moment I struggle to write blog posts so, let’s see if that ever gets off the drawing board.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in the intersection of IT and business then I recommend checking out WB-40, which will also transition from its online form to the physical world next week, with a live event in London.

Mark and Matt’s big bike ride for Kandersteg

Many readers of this blog will be aware that my family is a big part of my life – I have two sons who are growing up far too quickly! Cycling is another big part of my life – it’s one of the ways that I keep fit and it’s also one of my eldest son (Matthew)’s passions, which means I spend quite a bit of time supporting him in various cycling-related endeavours.

Another big part of our family’s activities relates to Scouting. I was a Cub Scout, a Scout, a Venture Scout (for a short while) and a Cub Scout Instructor in my youth – and I got a tremendous amount out of that experience. My sons are both Scouts too… which leads to this blog post…

Back in November, Matthew was lucky enough to be one of just 16 Scouts and Explorer Scouts across Milton Keynes District to be selected for one of two international trips in 2019 – to the International Scout Centre in Kandersteg, Switzerland and the World Scout Jamboree in the United States. Matthew was selected to go to Kandersteg and needs to raise quite a chunk of money to fund this amazing international trip.

As well as various group-related activities, Matthew was looking for an individual challenge that he could carry out in the hope that friends, family and other people who would like to support the cause could sponsor him.

Cycle route from Milton Keynes to Paddington Basin via the Grand Union CanalMatthew and I decided that a sponsored bike ride would be a good idea. But it had to be demanding. Not a few laps of the country park but something that would be a significant challenge for a 13 year-old – so we settled on a bike ride from Milton Keynes to London (in a day).

Because of the risks involved with road riding, we decided to use the Grand Union Canal, which actually makes it longer and a bit harder because not all of the surface is tarmac.

You can see our route on the image in this post – starting at Milton Keynes Central station, and ending at Paddington Basin (just along from the Microsoft offices at Paddington Central…).

I may have done a few 100 mile rides on the road for “fun” but ~70 miles (111km) on canal towpaths will be a stretch even for me… let alone for Matthew, whose furthest ride before we started training was 26 miles (40km). We’ve been training (up to around 75km) and this Saturday we’re hoping to do the ride for real.

Matthew on his bike, in Scout uniformSo, that’s what we’re doing – my ask of you is this:

If you’ve ever found my blog useful, or you have other reasons to support my son in his fundraising (it’s amazing how many people have themselves been on similar trips that have made a huge difference to their lives), please consider donating at Matthew’s crowd-funding page.

I’m sure I’ll be tweeting progress on Saturday… in the meantime – thank you in anticipation of your support.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing, there’s info on Matthew’s crowdfunding page and you can find details about the Kandersteg International Scout Centre on their website.

Kandersteg International Scout Centre logo

Thank you for your support.

[Update 11/6/18: Matthew and I completed the ride on Saturday and he was awesome. I’m incredibly proud of him. He got a bit tired around the 50-mile point but kept on powering through and nailed it. And then an over-zealous security guard at Paddington Basin’s Pocket Park (Merchant Square) told us we had to move our bikes…

Thanks to everyone who supported us on this endeavour – we smashed Matt’s fundraising target for the ride (raising nearly all the money we need for the trip from just this one effort!).

Huge credit is due to the family and friends who joined us at key points on the route as well to my wife Nikki and my youngest son Ben, who followed us along the route and provided food, drink and support.]

Weeknote 11a: A more relaxed pace of life (Week 8, 2018)

Last week, for the first time in ages, I got my weeknote out on time. Indeed, I wrote it on Thursday night, published on Friday afternoon, and then ran away to The Cotswolds.
Restored Massey Ferguson Red Tractor at Vegetable MattersMy wife and I spent the weekend in and around Chipping Campden with great weather, wonderful views, fantastic food and a lovely hotel. And on more than one occasion I felt like I was living in an episode of The Archers (not just because of the restored tractor at the local farm shop).
It was just a more relaxed pace of life in a rural idyll. A place where people are friendly and they talk to one another. And a trip into Moreton-on-the-Marsh showed that many businesses remain closed on Sundays – which is no bad thing either.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove back over the beautiful Cotswolds and the Northamptonshire uplands – then we got to Northampton and boom! Into the chaos of Sunday afternoon the M1, massive distribution centres, traffic, modern life…
It made me think that not all progress is good!

Look after yourself, look after your mind

Last Tuesday was World Mental Health Day – a day aimed at raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health. 2017’s theme was mental health in the workplace.

The thing about mental health issues is that most people don’t understand – until we experience problems ourselves – and then we realise just how common those issues are. That’s why days like World Mental Health Day are so important.

I had my first “episode” back in 2007, when I let work-related stress build to a point where I was diagnosed with anxiety. It took a few weeks off and a change of job role to set me straight.

But stress-related anxiety is not something that one “gets better” from (at least not in my experience). Instead, I’ve learned to spot the signs and to take action. I’ve begun to recognise when I’m heading in the wrong direction because I’m agitated with colleagues or customers over apparently trivial things. My work isn’t going to get less stressful, so I’ve put coping strategies in place: I exercise; I try to take a break most days (even if it’s just a short walk, although I really must stop combining the short walk with confectionary purchases…); I blog (I find the writing cathartic).

Hopefully no-one notices. It doesn’t affect my ability to do my job (unless my job has unreasonable expectations) and a good manager (or team member) will recognise when someone is struggling.

So it’s ironic that, in the week of World Mental Health Day, I found myself finishing the week with a tweet about working late on a Friday again (which I probably should never have sent). And when I finally stopped for the weekend I realised why I was in the state I was in: I hadn’t managed to get to any of my “Caveman Conditioning” (circuit training) sessions; I travelled in evenings to be in the right location for the next day’s work and avoid an early start; I ate crap food; I didn’t get enough sleep (Premier Inn beds may be comfortable but a hotel is still not home); I hadn’t blogged in ages; and I’d had a cold all week.

This week has had less travel but still a lot of pressure. But I’m starting to wonder how much of that pressure is perceived. How much stress do I add by insisting that things are done to a particular standard? And really, does it have to be me? Do I have to say “yes” to every request?

I have deliverables to produce by the end of this week so, yesterday, I set Skype for Business to Do Not Disturb, closed Outlook and got my head down. My productivity soared. Stuff happened without me. The world did not end. Unfortunately, I checked email at lunchtime and fell into a pit of despair but, after responding to some messages, I closed it again and cracked on as best I could with the document I need to write. I wrote some more. I felt (a bit) better.

I won’t pretend that I’m not looking forward to a week off work next week. Even if most of my half-term plans revolve around a huge clear-out and getting on top of my home admin. That will be another set of tasks off my list, off my mind.

I posted another tweet this week – much more positive than last Friday’s whinge:

I was amazed how many liked and retweets it got: that’s a lot of people who recognise the situation. I’m not sure that the person who took the time to say “thank you” yesterday realised the positive impact they made but the little things really do help.

Further Reading

Saving money by fixing household appliances, instead of replacing them!

Over the last few months, I’ve had engineer callouts to our dishwasher (7.5 years old), tumble dryer (13 years old) and washing machine (also 13 years old). All of these household appliances are heavily used but they’re also from good brands (Bosch/Siemens/Neff) and they’re generally going strong… I also managed to get them fixed for very little, in most cases… saving hundreds of pounds against the cost of a replacement.

Case 1: Dishwasher with error message E:24 or E:25

Neff’s E:24 and E:25 errors mean there’s something stopping the dishwasher from draining (generally a kinked hose, blocked filter or something obstructing the pump). Our machine would run the first few minutes of the cycle (a self-test, apparently) before failing with one of these messages.

Despite following advice on the ‘net, I couldn’t work out what it was (I gave the pipes a good clean – especially around where they outlet pipe was plumbed into the drain – and checked for objects blocking the impeller on the pump).

A £65 engineer call-out from a local firm checked the appliance over but the error returned – and so did the engineer. This time he did a more thorough job and, although he couldn’t find what had been preventing the machine from running, the error has gone so whatever it was has been dislodged and our dishes are getting cleaned (without spending a few hundred pounds on a new integrated dishwasher…). Total cost to repair: £65.

I didn’t use the video below (I used others at the time) but this is a pretty complete view of the process I followed, and I didn’t see the engineer do much more!

Case 2: Washing machine tripping electrical supply

A few minutes into the wash cycle, the electrical circuit would trip on our Bosch Classixx 1200 Express. I managed to run the drain cycle and remove the trapped washing. Then I tried plugging the washing machine into a different circuit but saw the same issue – so I knew it wasn’t a general problem with the supply but with the machine. A call to a local engineer (not the one I used for the dishwasher!) was all that was required to get this machine working again (he fitted a replacement heating element). Total cost to repair: just under £75 (including parts and labour).

Case 3: Condensing tumble dryer not heating fully and clothes damp at end of cycle

The engineer who fixed the washing machine didn’t work on condenser tumble dryers, so I had to call Siemens’ official engineers to fix our elderly TXL 733. With the engineer call-out charge and the list of parts required, I was looking at nearly £300. Definitely beyond economic repair! Reviews on new A++ energy-rated models with heat pumps were not great – so we went with another condenser (moving from C to B at least). This cost £95 for engineer call-out plus £299 for a new appliance, minus another £50 cashback (due soon) for buying another Siemens/Bosch appliance.

Incidentally, I didn’t buy from John Lewis (as I normally would) – Co-op Electrical delivered the new appliance the next day.

Case 4: Washing machine making a loud vibration noise

After paying out to get the machine fixed once, it was on borrowed time. No more engineer call-outs – at some point you have to cut your losses and buy a new appliance. For the last few washes, our machine has been incredibly noisy and after returning from holiday with a lot of loads to run, I was ready to have to buy a replacement today.

But, before ordering a new machine, I decided to search the Internet and, thanks to these two videos I found the problem – a shirt collar stiffener that had worked its way out of my shirt and into the workings of the machine!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y8nI7P0XeE

Shirt collar stiffener extracted from noisy Bosch washing machine

Total cost to repair: £0.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replace Repair?

I may still have a teenage washing machine (and a dishwasher heading toward double digits too) but newer appliances are not built to last as long as these were. Maybe these quick and relatively cheap fixes can help others keep their appliances going for a bit longer…

“You need to work less”. Musings on finding the elusive work-life balance

“You need to work less”, said David Hughes (@davidhughes) as we were discussing why I carried a power supply with my Surface Pro. This was in response to my observation that the device will get me through the work day but not through travel at each end as well.

“Actually, you have a point”, I thought. You see, weekdays are pretty much devoted to work and pseudo-work (blogging, social media, keeping up to date with tech, etc.) – except for meals, sleep, the couple of hours a week spent exercising, and a bit of TV in the evening.

David commented that he reads – rather than working – on the train (I tweet and email but really should read more). And when I asked how he organises his day, he introduced me to ToDoIst. It seems that having a task list is one thing but having a task list that can work for you is something else.

Today was different. I knew I wanted to get a blog post out this morning, finish writing a white paper, and find time to break and meet with David in my favourite coffee shop. I’m terrible at getting up on working-from-home days (more typically working well into the evening instead) but I had managed to be at my desk by 7am and that meant that when I left the house mid-morning I’d already got half a day’s work in. For once, I’d managed some semblance of work-life balance. The afternoon was still pretty tough and I’m still working as we approach 7pm (my over-caffeinated state wasn’t good for writing!) but I met my objectives for the day.

Now I’ve added ToDoIst to my workflow I’m hoping to be more focused, to wrap up each day and set priorities for the next. I need to stop trying to squeeze as much as I can into an ever-more-frantic existence and to be ruthless with what can and can’t be achieved. Time will tell how successful I am, but it feels better already.