Weeknote 1/2024: A new beginning

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

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

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

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

Other things

Other things I found noteworthy this week:

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

Press coverage

This week, I was quoted in this article:

Coming up

This weekend will see:

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

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

This week in photos

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

The problem with a subscription culture (“but it’s just the price of a coffee”)

“If you enjoyed this content, please support the channel by liking and subscribing – and hit the bell icon. If you feel able, then consider a regular donation via Patreon.”

Seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Except that we live in a world of subscriptions.

In my house we currently have Microsoft 365 (Family and E1) and Azure, Google Photos, Apple iCloud, Spotify Premium, BBC (TV Licence), Netflix, Amazon Prime (free trial for one month only), Apple TV (free trial for 3 months only), Disney (nope, just culled that), GCN (until it disappears next week) and that’s before we get to apps (Calm, Duolingo, Zoe), newsletters, podcasts, and YouTube channels.

A voluntary donation

I recently found that I was watching a lot of content from one YouTube channel in particular. And it was really helpful with one of my hobbies. So were many others, but I particularly wanted to support this one. Creating video content is time-consuming and it had helped me a lot.

So I signed up to Patreon and donated what seemed reasonable as a contribution. £1 a month for ad-free early access to new content, generally 2 videos a month.

Not much, but a contribution. After all, this is one chap videoing what he learns from his own hobby and sharing with others. It felt like a decent thing to do.

All was good and then the early access emails stopped arriving.

Not a big enough donation…

I queried with the channel producer and he, very politely, pointed out that I was not meeting the minimum contribution. At some point there was a membership structure introduced: $2 for the welcome tier; $5 for a premium level. So I upped my contribution to $2. Except it was actually £2. And Patreon added a fee on top. “$2” was charged at £2.40 (currently around $3).

I know how much effort goes into creating content. Twenty years of writing/maintaining this blog, 14 on Twitter/X, some years on Instagram and elsewhere… and creating video content is next-level…

“But it’s just the price of a coffee”

“But it’s just the price of a coffee”, you may say. Well, I drink one coffee a day… my subscriptions would add up to a lot of coffees.

£2.40 a month for a YouTube channel isn’t much money. But that’s just for two or three ad-free videos (if I watch them before they go public) – the whole of Netflix is £10.99. I don’t know how many Patreon supporters there are – but with just shy of 70,000 subscribers, 1% would be 700. Let’s say 20% pay a fiver (to the channel – so ignoring the Patreon fee) and the rest are on the welcome tier. That’s not a bad income (£1820 a month if my maths is correct). And that’s in addition to the YouTube ad revenue, which I imagine would be significant with that number of subscribers.

What’s the answer?

I don’t know what the answer is. But it feels like there are three “camps” for those producing and publishing content on the Internet in 2023:

  1. Altrustic individuals giving away our knowledge for free.
  2. People trying to turn their hobby into a living, and monetising their efforts.
  3. Corporates providing a service for a monthly subscription.

None of those is a bad thing. Arguably the first is unsustainable. But so is the second, if pitched at the price of a coffee a month and multiplied by many individual producers. Maybe we need micro-transactions. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe I’m just ranting and rambling but what should be the price for good, quality, ad-free content?

Featured image: generated via Microsoft Copilot, powered by DALL-E 3.

Weeknote 49/2023: Back to work

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

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

This week’s discoveries/events included:

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

Some press coverage

Featured image: author’s own

The magic of the Tour de France

It’s July. That means one thing to me. The Tour de France! The greatest cycle race in the world – and three weeks of watching the highlights each evening!

It’s not secret that I enjoy cycling – and that I have passed that on to at least one of my children. It’s also fair to say that he shows considerably more talent and physical ability than me.

I started watching the Tour de France (and the Vuelta a España) in around 2011 or 2012. I’m not sure which but 2012 was the year when Team GB and Team Sky’s success started to switch Britons on to cycling and I think it was before then. I remember the discovery that it was more than just a race to see who is fastest around a course. There are actually several races happening at once. Then there are the team dynamics – who is working with whom to achieve what outcome. It’s a team sport and and individual sport, all rolled up in one. And the three “Grand Tours” (Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España) are huge spectacles, each with 21 stages over three weeks…

In the Tour de France there are several competitions:

  • the overall leader in the general classification (shortest cumulative time since the start of the event) is awarded the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) and he wears that for the next day.
  • the leading young rider (under 26) is awarded the maillot blanc (white jersey).
  • the rider with most points gained for mountain-top positions (based on the difficulty of the climbs) wears the red and white polka dot jersey.
  • the rider with most points in the points competition (intermediate sprints, finish positions, etc.) wears the maillot vert (green jersey).

The other grand tours have similar systems but the jersey colours vary.

There are also prizes for the most combative rider, and a team classification. Put those things together and the dynamics of the race are many and varied.

I watch the Tour de France on ITV – mostly because I like the production style of their coverage. In previous years, the highlights programme has featured quiz questions at the start and end of each advertising segment but this year it’s little facts about the race and the sport – which is steeped in history. I’ve collected some and posted them here, along with a few extras I added myself.

AutobusA group of riders (typically non climbers) who ride together on mountain stages aiming to finish within the time limit.
BaroudeurA rider who attacks the race from the start in order to show off their sponsor and try their luck in winning the stage.
BarrageRace officials impede the progress of team cars when they could affect the outcome of the race.
BonkA sudden loss of energy, cause by depletion of gycogen stores in the liver and muscles. Usually caused by a lack of proper fuelling.
BlockingWhen riders of leading teams ride the width of the road to control the peloton’s speed, to ensure that no more riders join the breakaway.
BreakawayA group of riders who have managed to ride off the front of the race, leaving a clear gap.
Broom wagonA support vehicle following the race, that may pick up riders unable to continue. First introduced in 1910.
Bunny hopTo cause one’s bicycle to become airborne momentarily. Usually performed to avoid pavements.
CadenceThe rate at which a cyclist pedals (in revolutions per minute). High cadence is typical in climbers.
Chasse patateFrench for “hunting potatoes”. A rider caught between breakaway and peloton, pedals furiously but makes little headway.
Circle of DeathA Pyrenean stage including the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. Dubbed the “Circle of Death” in 1910.
Coup de chacalThe “Jackal Trick”. A surprise attack in the last few kilometres to detach from the peloton and win the race.
Danseuse(French: danser – to dance.) Riding out of the saddle, standing up, and rocking side-to-side for leverage.
DerailleurThe gear-shifting device which is controlled with a lever on the handlebars or frame. First permitted at the Tour de France in 1937.
DomestiqueA rider whose job is to support other riders in their team, typically carrying water (literally “servant” in French).
DossardRace number attached to the back of a competitor’s jersey. If not visible then fines will ensue.
DraftingThe ride close behind another rider or vehicle using their slipstream to reduce wind resistance and required effort.
EchelonA diagonal, stagger line of riders in single file. An echelon is formed to save energy when riding in a strong crosswind. The Belgian teams are considered the masters of riding in an echelon.
Feed zoneA designated area for soigneurs and other helpers to hand out food and water to riders.
Flamme rougeThe red flag suspended over the road to confirm that the finish line is one kilometre away.
Full gasRiding as hard as possible, which can leave on needing recovery, and vulnerable to attack.
Hors catégorieA term applied to the hardest climbs on the Tour. A climb that is literally beyond category.
Hors délaiLiterally “out of time” – a rider finishing outside the time limit is eliminated from the race. Typically occurs on a mountain stage.
King of the mountainsThe leader of the mountain classification. First sponsored in 1975 by Chocolate Poulain whose chocolate bars were covered in a polka dot wrapper.
Lanterne RougeFrench for “red lantern”, as found at the end of a railway train, and the name given to the rider placed last in a race.
Magic spannerThe scenario where a mechanic appears to be adjusting a rider’s bike from the support car. The reality is the rider is usually using the team car to rest of get back to the peloton.
Maillot jauneYellow jersey. Firs introduced as the colour of the leader’s jersey in 1919. Yellow was the colour of L’Auto newspaper.
MusetteFrench for a farm horse’s nosebag. Small cotton shoulder bag, contains food and drink given to riders in a feed zone.
MuurDutch for wall. A short, steep climb. Muur de Huy is one of the more famous examples, last used in the Tour in 2015.
PalmaresThe list of races a rider has won. (French, meaning list of achievements.)
PanacheStyle or courage. Displayed by breaking away, remounting after a crash or riding whilst suffering injuries.
ParcoursThe profiles of the race or stage route in French.
PavéRoad made of cobblestones. Significantly cobbled stages have featured 6 times in the Tour de France since 2020.
Pedalling squaresRiding with such fatigue that the rider is unable to maintain an efficient pedalling form that is strong and smooth.
PelotonA group of cyclists that are coupled together through the mutual energy benefits of drafting, whereby cyclists follow others in zones of reduced air resistance.
PullTo take a “pull” is to ride at the front of the peloton or group. Usually done in short bursts, it requires immense power and endurance.
Road rashThe cuts, scratches and bruises that riders pick up after a fall or crash.
RouleurA cyclist who is comfortable riding on both flat and rolling terrain. A powerful rider, they can drive the pace along for hours.
SoigneurThe French term for “healer” who usually specialises in giving the riders post-race massages. A soigneur will also look after the riders’ non-racing needs.
SouplesseThe art of perfect pedalling that gives the rider a smooth and efficient style on the bike.

I’m not suggesting that readers of this blog will suddenly become cycling fans but maybe you’ll understand a little more about how it works when, later this weekend, the Tour de France culminates in a sprint on Paris’ Avenue Des Champs-Élysées and the overall prizes are awarded. And, if nothing else, enjoy the scenery along the rest of the route to Paris!

Featured image: author’s own – a still from the video taken when I was a Tour de France marshall in 2014!

Breaking down and planning big tasks (e.g. for exam revision)

In common with many young people in households across England and Wales, for the last few weeks, both my sons have been taking their end-of-school exams (Scottish schoolchildren finished theirs a few weeks ago).

My youngest son had more than 20 exams for his GCSEs; my eldest had eight for his A-Levels. On the lead up to these (and between them), there was a lot of revision to be done.

Creating a plan

Back when they were sitting mock/trial exams, we noticed that schools don’t teach young people how to plan. At least not based on my experience of two state secondary schools in Milton Keynes and Northampton. They might provide a list of topics, or even a per-subject “revision timetable” but my wife realised fairly early on that our sons could just see some dates, and a massive task ahead of them.

So, we sat them down, and helped to worth things through. Using Excel of course (other Project Management tools are available, but probably overkill)!

  1. First, look how many weeks there are until the exams. The days are your columns. Use borders/shading to see the weeks and weekends.
  2. Then, look at the subjects you need to cover. Those “swimlanes” are the rows. Break each swimlane into 3 rows: daytime; after school; evening.
  3. Then block out the time for actual school, part-time work, sports activities, holidays, etc.
  4. You can now see the amount of time that’s available for revision/study and populate each spare block with one or more topics to cover within each subject row.

I expected some push-back, but was amazed how positively they took on the advice (to the extent that they seemed to work it out for themselves and created their own plans when it came to the final exams).

It’s simple project management!

What we taught them to do was effectively basic project management. It’s effectively using a Gantt Chart to illustrate the schedule for completing a bunch of tasks, along with the resource availability and constraints.

This is a life skill but also a business skill. It amazes me that this isn’t taught in schools (even pretty good ones). Or perhaps it is, but it’s lost in the teenage air of nonchalance!

Featured image by Eric Rothermel from Unsplash.

A little taster of what professional cycling life could be like

This content is 2 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

As a parent, I should never live my dreams through my children, but I will do everything within my power to let my children live their dreams.

It’s no secret (on this blog and elsewhere on social media) that I have two sporty teenagers. My youngest loves his team sports. He runs and cycles too, but he lives for his football and hockey. My eldest is a cyclist. No question of that. His bio says it all: “Matt Wilson. 17. Cyclist.”. Discovering cycling has changed him. Not just the self-taught bike maintenance or his athletic performance, but his social life and his general confidence too.

Self-development

Matt came to the sport quite late (he was about 13 when I took him to a Team MK Youth Coaching session) but quickly took to racing cyclo-cross. He missed out on British Cycling Regional Schools of Racing (RSRs) because of Covid-19 restrictions, but he took advantage of the extra training time whilst school was home-based. He worked hard. He started to win some races.

Last summer he tried his hand at cross country mountain bike (MTB XC) racing. This summer he has focused on the road. He gained his 2nd category race licence after early season success at Deux Jours de Cyclopark (2nd on the podium). He raced some more road races to get experience of riding in the bunch. He rode E12 mid-week crit races at our local circuit (Milton Keynes Bowl). And he “nearly” scored a national point at the Bath Road Club Junior Road Race (came in 23rd, but needed top 20). The culmination of his final season as a Junior rider was to be the Junior Tour of Wales.

Why Wales? Well, there are only two multi-day stage races for Juniors in the UK: the Tours of Mendips and Wales. We were on holiday when the Mendips took place. And Wales is our spiritual home (my father was and my wife’s father is Welsh), even if we were unable to click the “Welsh Rider” box on the entry form because Matt was born in Milton Keynes.

The SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales

Back to its full format for 2022, the SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales (@juniortourwales) is a four-day, five-race road cycling event which features time trial, road and criterium stages. Run mostly on public roads, it has the full experience of a major multi-stage event. That means the rolling road blocks, race convoy, medical backup – the full works. Basically as close to the pro peloton as a Junior rider can get. I’ve also seen it referred to as “the hardest Junior race in the UK”. Regardless, I can now say that it’s an awesome experience for around a hundred 16-18 year-olds each year. (Because of the way British Cycling age groups work, this year’s “Juniors” were those born in 2004 and 2005.)

SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales 2022, Stage 5, Abergavenny, Wales
“Let Stage 5 begin” [image © David Partridge 2022, embedded from the British Cycling Photographers‘ Flickr Photostream]

Initially, it didn’t look like Matt had got in, and then, a few days before the race, I got a call from Richard Hopkins, the race organiser. Matt was on the reserve list, there had been some cancellations – did he want a place? Yes please!!! Even as he was resting, recovering from a stomach bug, there was no question – he would be on that start line on Friday!

Preparation

Bike preparation started. More spare parts were purchased. Two cyclo-cross bikes were set up for road, with another spare set of wheels taken from my road bike, just in case.

For those wondering about why he was using cyclocross bikes – that’s all Matt has, apart from his mountain bike. As it happens, 40×11 is perfect gearing for junior restrictions. Next year those restrictions are going away so 53×11 will be the norm and race speeds will go up.

I already mentioned that Matt does his own bike maintenance. It’s not that I can’t – it’s just that he’s faster than me and it’s good experience. My role for this race was to be Driver (to/from the race start/finish) and Soigneur.

I’d already booked hotels “just in case”, so my attention turned to what we would eat. Carbs. Lots of them. We quickly increased our supplies of Matt’s preferred in-race nutrition (McVitie’s Hobnob’s snack bars, Clif Bloks and Torq gels). Pre/post race there’s also High 5 Zero Electrolyte tablets and an SIS Rego Rapid Recovery drink that he decided to try. Then there was the supermarket visit: Weetabix; fresh pasta; malt loaf; scones; hot-cross buns; Eccles cakes; milk; and fruit. We would be eating from a cool box in my car for a few days (with a frozen home-made Bolognaise slowly defrosting) and we had plenty to keep us stocked. I also bought some spare water bottles because they always get lost on races.

Of course, there was a minor hiccup with the bike prep. The night before we left, Matt test rode his preferred bike, with a new chain. And then we found we needed a new cassette too (that’s not unusual but it wasn’t long since we’d changed the small cogs). Luckily a local independent bike shop had one and would be open for us to collect on our way to Wales the next morning. Competitive cycling is not an inexpensive hobby.

4 days as a Soigneur

I always over-prepare. There was no way I would allow Late Summer Bank Holiday weekend traffic on the drive to Wales make us miss the event. So we were there hours early. No bother. Plenty of time to recce the route, check into the hotel, and head over to race HQ to sign on.

And then it hit me. Most of the riders were on teams. Matt was one of the individual riders. I’d seen that in the race manual the night before but that meant most riders had support cars with Team Managers (Directeurs Sportif), mechanics, spare bikes and wheels. We needed to find the neutral service car and – because Matt’s on 40×11 gearing – make sure they had a wheel for him because a Junior (14 tooth) cassette would be a major handicap!

In addition, I would need to stay at the start of each race stage until the last possible moment and then drive to the feed zone, be ready to pass a bottle or provide technical support, and then drive to the finish.

Not only was Matt getting a taste of life in the peloton, but I was getting a taste of life as a Soigneur. With the added stress of being a parent thrown in!

The racing community

Of course, I’m wasn’t alone as a parent of an individual rider. 98 riders started this year’s Junior Tour of Wales. Even if they were on a team, most had parents/guardians/family friends to help them. Over the years, I’ve got to know many of those people too – it’s always good to say hello as we’re waiting for our children to race past. Some have kindly provided Matt with technical support at times too.

And then there’s the race organisation. The team running the event were, without exception, friendly and helpful at all times. Rich Hopkins responded to emails in record time when we needed to know if Matt had made the cut-off after the disastrous stage 4. And there’s a huge team behind Rich too: Commissaires; Drivers; Motorcycle Safety Officers (from the National Escort Group Wales); Timekeepers; Judges; Race Director; Neutral Service; Safety Officer; Marshalls; Route Managers; Stage Preparation; First Aid/Ambulance; HQ Management; Gear Check; Registration Team and – my favourite job title – the Director of Things. The SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales is a pretty big undertaking! There were also four official photographers and I highly recommend checking out David Partridge’s stunning event photos (a couple of which I’ve embedded in this post from the British Cycling Photographers Flickr Photostream).

So, how did it go?

Well, let’s use Matt’s own words for this:

“A great experience for my last race as a Junior and if it hadn’t been for one shocking stage a Top 40 would have been possible. Instead, [I] came away with the Lanterne Rouge

Matt Wilson

He’s right in everything he says there, but I’ll throw in some more details. This blog post is mostly about this marvellous event for young cyclists – some of whom will go on to ride in the pro peloton. But it’s also, like everything else on this blog, an aide memoire for me to remember the highs and lows. Because, for me, Matt’s 2022 Junior Tour of Wales was an emotional rollercoaster.

Stage 1: Brynmawr-The Tumble (Individual Time Trial)

Results
Matt’s verdict: “My first ever time trial. When I saw the result thought I’d messed it up but no – I rode my best ever 15 min power and just was completely outclassed.”

Lesson learned: believe in yourself. A good chunk of the competition were on TT bikes. Matt was on a cyclo-cross bike with road wheels and clip-on TT bars. [Don’t subject Dad to a mardy teenager all evening until you look at your power numbers on Strava/Garmin Connect.]

General Classification (GC): 57/97 (+1’52”)
Stage 2: Abergavenny-The Black Mountain (Road Race)

Results
Matt’s verdict: “Hit the mountains, felt comfortable in the group all race but hadn’t taken on enough salts and cramped badly on the last climb but held on all be it in the saddle up the Black Mountain”.

Lesson learned: take the electrolyte drink on hot/hilly races!

GC: 61/95 (+5’48”)
Stage 3: Pembrey National Closed Road Circuit (Criterium)

Results
Matt’s verdict: “Crit race. Back to what I’m used to. Extremely sketchy but came away with 26th.”

Lesson learned: cyclo-cross skills can help when avoiding crashes!

GC: 56/93 (+6’54”)
Stage 4: Pembrey-Nantgaredig (rolling-flat Road Race)

Results
Matt’s verdict: “Eventful stage. Caught in a early crash then chased hard. Then the race was neutralised and when we went off it was so fast and spat me out the back. Finished but lost 30 mins”

Matt’s being very matter-of-fact about this but the stage was a disaster (for his overall results). Despite getting caught up in the crash shortly after the race was de-neutralised, he wasn’t badly hurt but he did lose his water (sadly at least one rider ended up in hospital and several had major mechanical issues, including at least one broken frame). He rode hard to catch the race only to learn that it had been neutralised. Later, when the race was stopped, another rider spotted that Matt had worn his tyre down to the beading (when skidding into the crash) so he switched wheels, and then had problems with skipping gears. Next day, we learned that was due to chain damage in the crash. Once Matt had lost the bunch and dropped out of the race convoy he was caught up in normal traffic/road conditions and was losing time. He showed tremendous mental fortitude and made it across the line with seconds to spare before he would have been lapped by the winners!

Luckily, the race jury extended the cut-off time (he was only just outside) but this stage effectively finished any chances of a good place on the GC.

GC: 80/82 (+35’26”)
Stage 5: Brynmawr-The Tumble (Road Race)

Results
Matt’s verdict: “All I can say is the Tumble wasn’t that bad – the earlier climbs however were pain!”

I was worried about how this race was going to go with tired legs, a warm-up interrupted by the need to change a chain, and then an exploding inner tube on the rollers (after last night’s tyre swap). Matt was concerned that the fast roll down the A465 dual carriageway could easily end up in a crash. Luckily, neither of our fears were realised.

Actually, he looked pretty comfortable at the feed zone, and I think he paced this race well. He also got a buzz from managing to keep pace with some of the faster and more experienced riders.

Finishing 39th and only 3’39” down on Josh Tarling, was a pretty impressive result after the previous day. Yes, the Lanterne Rouge was disappointing, but completing the Tour was an incredible achievement.

GC: 71/71 (+37’56”)
SD Sealants Junior Tour of Wales 2022, Stage 2, Abergavenny, Wales
“Snaking” [image © David Partridge 2022, embedded from the British Cycling Photographers‘ Flickr Photostream]

Postscript about “the socials”

There are a lot of posts on my Twitter (and Instagram) feeds about this year’s Junior Tour of Wales #JToW #JTW22, including one where I post how proud I am about Matt’s performance to even finish the race, regardless of position. It may seem a bit narcissistic, but it’s not meant to be – it really is my way of sharing my excitement, sorrow, joy, pride and host of other emotions. A place to ride this year’s tour meant a huge amount to us both and to be given that chance as an individual rider on a reserve list place was really special. It’s great to see other parents of some really successful riders liking my posts because we’ve all had a shared experience too. (Even if their kids are at another level and winning stages, and even landing pro contracts!)

Special mention here to Kate Cole (@KKPreserves) who saw me at the feed zone on stage 5 and said “are you the #CyclistsDad?”. It’s nice to hear that someone likes my posts to hear what’s going on!

And, if you’re reading this and you’re the chap who came up to Matt by my car at Race HQ after stage 5 and said “That was an incredible ride today – especially after yesterday” – thank you. I don’t know who you were (It would be good to know!) but that comment was lovely to hear. I really appreciated it (as did Matt). Actually, it made my day.

So I’m afraid I’ll keep on posting pictures and unofficial commentary, until he says “Dad, stop it, you’re embarrassing me”.

Fear Of Missing Out

The water was swirling in front of me… I wanted to jump in but I couldn’t. “Come on”, said a little lad as he leapt off the cliff with no fear at all. But fifty years of experience told me not to. I really, really wanted to do this. My teenagers had done it a couple of days’ previously and this was my last chance. It had to be at high tide and tomorrow I wouldn’t be in the village at the right time; then the day after we’d be driving home…

It took me 30 minutes of standing there and repeated attempts walking or running to the edge and then stopping. My eldest son was giving his “support” (“come on Dad, you’re over thinking this – you can do it!”) and my youngest was waiting in the water to assist me after the jump. But, however grown up our teenagers are, they are still children. They don’t have responsibilities (yet). Or fear.

I had fear. Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). But also fear of that water. I’ve never been happy swimming at sea. Ever since a wave knocked me over as a small child. Even at school, I learned to swim two years after the others. I was seven and learning to swim a width, then a length, with the five year-olds. Later, as a teenager, I was strong enough in races but in a pool. Taking my dive mask off at the bottom of Sydney Harbour for my PADI certificate was terrifying. And that was over twenty years ago.

We’d started out by swimming to the base of the point, but the waves and the depth (the same depth that made it safe for me to jump from above) scared me. I swam back to shore and walked out to the headland. And all the support from my family (who, let’s be honest, were probably quite tired of waiting whilst I repeatedly failed to jump) was not quite enough. In the end it was my sister-in-law’s quiet words from behind me (I wish I could remember what they were) that flipped a switch and I finally made that leap.

Done. Ticked off the list. Easily the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. And all for FOMO.

The paperless office

This content is 2 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

For decades, the paperless office has been a panacea, sought out by businesses far and wide. Ever since computers became a part of our daily work, there have been those who have prophesised on how we will no longer need to use paper.

And yet, I still receive so much of the stuff. Sure, I can receive most of my invoices and statements electronically – and we all know how print newspapers and magazines are in a state of decline – but paper is still used extensively. Some people just prefer to interact with analogue media – my wife likes a paper book, for example, and never got on with a Kindle. And some business models rely on shoving pieces of paper through the letter box (try opting out of Royal Mail’s “junk mail” deliveries and you’ll find it’s a lot harder than it should be).

Digitising my life

Several years ago, I started to scan important documents at home. The theory was that everything gets scanned, and only the really important papers got filed in paper form – generally those that related to the house (mortgage, building works) or to me as a person (passport, certificates, medical, etc.).

The trouble was, that I got behind on my scanning. Years behind. Boxes of “to be scanned” and boxes of “might have been scanned – who knows”. And my old Canon scanner was not up to the task – too slow and with an unreliable document feeder. It was also connected to an old (slow) PC, and needed two powered USB ports to drive it (which was a problem on any of the newer devices that I had access to). Added to which, there’s still all the pre-scanning regime files that were stored in the loft until we converted that to living space (4 years ago…).

So, whilst I took a few days off over half term, I bought a new scanner. A 35 pages a minute super-duper Wi-Fi connected paper-eating monster from Brother… and I reworked my document scanning workflow. I’m now scanning through the backlog and thousands of pages of paper are being shredded and recycled each week. So much that I keep overheating the shredder!

What’s the point?

All of this is good – it’s making me feel good about the progress I’m making and my family will be pleased to have fewer boxes of paper in the spare room.

But then my friend Matt Ballantine (@Ballantine70) remarked that he didn’t understand – what did I need to scan? The only paper he gets in junk! And I started to wonder if I’m somehow unusual?

Matt has a point. Years of “business transformation” and “digital transformation” has meant that most of the companies I deal with offer options for electronic bill and statements. But not all:

  • Not all of my tax paperwork is digital. Increasingly it is, but not all.
  • I keep a copy of the latest Council Tax bill, and at least one set of recent bank statements for identity purposes. (Some organisations still won’t accept digital versions!)
  • DBS certificates, vehicle “log book” (V5), etc. are all paper documents (and odd sizes too).
  • Add to that the letters relating to investments, pensions, banking, etc. that don’t arrive digitally.

It’s still quite a lot.

Then there’s the backlog. Maybe I should have a big bonfire and be done with it. Except that my mental makeup won’t allow that. I need to sort through it and find *the important bits* and scan it all *just in case*. (I know. It’s just the way I am. Try living with me!). And, anyway, paper doesn’t burn very well, as I found a few years ago when I got rid of 20+ years’ worth of work notebooks that were a potential GDPR nightmare and just gathering dust.

A digital dilemma…

So, now my “paperless office” is getting closer. And I almost never print anything at work. But I create lots. Lots of documents that I write. Lots of photos that I create. Lots of digital files I download (instead of receiving printed copies) or scan (see above).

The trick is to make sure I don’t replace boxes and boxes of paper files with digital mayhem. A digital mess that’s spread across a variety of online services from Microsoft, Amazon, Dropbox, Google and Apple!

Advice and guidance is welcomed… comments are open below!

Featured image: author’s own.

A cyclo-cross racer’s equipment list

This content is 2 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

After last weekend’s UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championship races (with excellent results for Britain’s Nathan Smith, Zoe Backstedt and a lesson in how to ride a course with no mud from Tom Pidcock), the 2021/22 cyclo-cross season is drawing to a close.

Those who follow me on Twitter or Instagram will know that my eldest teenager is a keen cyclo-cross racer and this year has seen me supporting him at all six National Trophy rounds and the British National Championships as well as a few league races. February means I get some weekends back in a temporary lull before road and MTB Cross Country (XC) take over.

Whilst I’d love to travel to races in a van, or even a motorhome, my budget means that transport is an estate car (currently a Volvo V60 D4) and accomodation is often a Premier Inn. So what does an aspiring cyclocross racer need their support team to take?

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the tools in my box. Since then, I’ve added the following:

Then there are the cyclo-cross specifics (although many of these come in handy for other race disciplines too):

  • Water (10 litre AdBlue containers are a good size for transport – I take 4 to a race, inside a 64 litre Really Useful Box to avoid spillages – a lesson learned from experience).
  • A battery powered pressure washer (and spare battery). I use a 20V model from Worx (and newer models are more powerful). There are people who will tell you that a battery washer is no good and that a high-pressure petrol washer is a necessity. Whilst a petrol washer will undoubtably get a bike clean more quickly and I’m always happy to use one if I’m with a team-mate: a) they are unreliable (the battery one is a good backup); b) they are dreadful for the environment (both petrol fumes and volume of water used); c) the better race organisers are now providing decent wash equipment (e.g. the Clanfield Cross event that was sponsored by Kärcher, or the new Hope setup featured at Round 6 of the 2021 National Cyclocross Trophy).
  • A selection of brushes (I use this Muc Off set) and rags.
  • An inverter (to charge stuff using the car’s 12V power supply) – mine is a fairly low power model (150W) as higher wattage inverters need to connect to the car battery, rather than the 12V socket.
  • (Solar powered) battery pack (and Shimano Di2 charger, for those using electronic gears).
  • Spare bike… cyclo-cross is a muddy business and bike changes mid-race are expected, especially later in the season.
  • Spare wheels (with different tyres/tread patterns).
  • A collapsible trolley. Make sure you get a decent one… I bought cheap and bought twice – the first one only lasted a few weeks of being dragged across muddy fields before it became “permanently collapsed”. The replacement was this model, which seems to have got through two seasons now.
  • Rollers (Elite or Tacx – there are plenty second hand on eBay, though you’ll probably have to collect them as they are awkward to post).
  • Luggage (modular sports bags from Kit Brix are really good, though the zips can be cumbersome).

All in all, a pretty full boot…

Estate car filled with cycling equipment

Featured image by Owen Lake/Monument Cycling.

Step back from the problem and think about what “good” looks like

This content is 3 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a Chief Information Officer (CIO) who has a problem. He’s in the middle of a messy “divorce” (professionally, not personally). He is transitioning services from a shared services agreement with another public sector body to a new managed service. His own organisation’s IT maturity is low. There’s an expectation that the new managed services partner will take on everything (except it’s not in a state that is ready to take on). And the shared service provider is both making transition difficult (preserving its revenue stream) whilst ramping up the price to carry on providing services. The divorce metaphor is very apt. 

I was brought in (alongside a colleague with relevant sector experience) to help smooth the pain. I needed to understand what’s holding up the process – why is it so difficult to provide basic information for the managed services provider to take on the service? What are the gaps? How quickly can they be filled? And what is needed to move to the next stage? 

It’s not my usual role, but I’ve been around this industry long enough to be able to take a step back, look at the problem, and try to work out what “good” looks like. 

The challenges

The CIO presented me with two challenges: 

  1. Visibility – of what’s happening. What will be done by when and how far off the target is the transition?
  2. Passiveness – don’t just sit and wait. Bang down some doors and ask for information. If it’s not forthcoming, then flag it. There is no time for delays. 

Searching for a solution

The next day, I was mulling over the issues and I bumped into a friend (on the market in the town where we both live). We went for a coffee, and I told him about my problem (without compromising any confidentiality). My friend has a military background, followed by IT Service Operations and, more recently, security (he’s a Chief Information Security Officer – CISO) so I shouldn’t have been surprised by the advice he gave me. The way he saw it was that there are a bunch of service transition “packages” but the business as usual (BAU) service isn’t complete. Meanwhile the CIO has no visibility and would like to see where things are and the plan for where they will be.

After our conversation my mind was clear. I needed a way to track progress. I wanted a dashboard to tell me the state of each service component or process. Then, the applications, servers and other infrastructure could fall in beneath – but I needed to know there is a service to transition them into. 

There are many problems with dashboards (though the etymology of the word is about protecting riders on carriages from what might be thrown at them from below… so maybe that’s quite appropriate after all). Red/Amber/Green (RAG) statuses can be problematic too (both for cultural reasons and because of accessibility, although that can be overcome with appropriate design). But I didn’t want perfect – I needed functional. At least for the first iteration.

The chosen approach

The Microsoft-focused Solution Architect in me was thinking Power BI but I lacked the skills, time and access to licenses. I needed something that could be developed quickly and updated easily. My initial PowerPoint deck with, “this is what we said we would do”, “This is where we are today” and lots of red, turning amber then green was quickly pushed aside by a colleague in favour of Excel. In fairness, the world runs on Excel – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With the addition of a few formulae, some data validation and some conditionally formatted cells, we soon had a dynamic report. It highlights missing information. It highlights support status. It highlights key dates (and missed dates – because I’m also realistic).

Answering the exam question

The summary sheet should answer the CIO’s visibility issue (once it’s securely shared) and constantly pushing for the detail should strike out any perceived inactivity or a lack of initiative.

It’s not innovative, but it is elegant. And it works. 

So I have the tech in place – now for the difficult bit (the part that involves people) – dragging out the missing information to turn cells from red to amber to green. And the good thing is that, based on a meeting yesterday, it feels like there are a bunch of people in the managed services organisation that can see the value and are invested in the solution (they are even adding sheets for extra information – like tracking risks, issues and dependencies). That’s half the battle. “All” I need now is to get the various projects that hold the information on the various applications, servers, etc. to join in.

I may return to this subject with an updated post when everything goes live. Or I may not, for commercial reasons, but here goes… wish me luck! 

Featured image: author’s own.