Monthly Retrospective: May 2024

May’s update was late, and June’s is in danger of rolling into July, so here’s a few highlights from my life in and around tech…

At work

On the work front, it was a short month – I was on holiday for the last week and with public holidays too there was lots to cram into a few short weeks. Nevertheless, I still managed to:

  • Continue to develop Node4’s new ransomware scanning service.
  • Finalise a dozen product data sheets for our public cloud services.
  • Submit some blog posts to our marketing team to support upcoming campaigns.
  • Keep pushing some pre-sales activities forwards.
  • And mine and Bjoern Hirtenjohann (/in/BjoernHirtenjohann)’s internal Node4 podcast on public cloud was released:

But the biggest activity in the month was presenting at Node4’s Infrastructure Symposium. One of our Practice Directors brought all his teams together to learn about the products and services that we jointly deliver. With four (or five, depending on how you look at it) companies all merged, there’s been a lot of change at Node4 over the last year or so. Getting everyone together is a great way to break down boundaries and understand the direction we’re headed in. And for me it was a chance to outline that our cloud offers span public, private and hybrid delivery models – and that we will deliver what’s right for the client, not for us. We call this Pragmatic Cloud (and I freely admit we didn’t come up with the term, but it I like it a lot).

I also celebrated my 9 year anniversary of joining risual/Node4 in May. And, for those who were confused by my comments last month, I was saying that my recent move has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m in a better place than I have been for a long while!

Elsewhere

Away from work…

  • My youngest son, Ben, passed his driving test. I was ready for a big insurance bill, but what I wasn’t ready for was: a) no decrease on the bill for the 19 year-old’s insurance (now with 2 years’ experience); and b) a 350% increase in premiums between him passing his test 2 years ago and the 17 year-old passing now. Even with a black box, parents as named drivers, etc. the car insurance bill for the two old cars that our family share with the teenagers was around £4500. For contrast, the bill for my Volvo (with just me and Mrs W as drivers) actually fell and is now back under £500. Public transport is just not reliable enough where we live, so the choices are: a) drive the teenagers everywhere; or b) pay the money. I’m still getting over this assault on our savings… some families just won’t have that money and I dread to think how many uninsured cars there are on the road as a consequence.
  • My eldest son, Matt, continues to race his bike up and down the country. After a catastrophic failure of the fork steerer tube, his Canyon road bike was hastily replaced. That meant a drive to Wakefield to collect the new bike, but it is rather lovely. I don’t get to all his races these days but I did manage to watch him in Ixworth and I was in the team car again for the Lincoln GP. Unfortunately, when he went to Ireland to race the Rás Tailteann I had to make do with watching for updates on Twitter!
  • Ben and I have been planning our Interrail trip – and now we have bought our passes along with inbound/outbound travel. Plus, we’re going to be taking the NightJet sleeper train from Berlin to Vienna! There were a few challenges with seat availability (things have changed since last time I went – we can use high speed rail, but there’s limited availability and we need to pay a supplement). This is more of a problem when dates are fixed so we had to change our route a little. On the flip side, with the start and end locked in, the middle section of the holiday is now free for us to be flexible.
  • I completed the home network upgrade. Was the switch from AmpliFi to UniFi worth it? Time will tell. It’s certainly more flexible but it’s cost me more and my house does not lend itself to structured cable runs. Maybe I should have just replaced the broken AmpliFi mesh point but it felt like I could fall into the trap of the sunk cost fallacy.
  • On the home automation front:
    • Octopus Energy sent us a Home Mini, which should give more granular data on electricity consumption, once I get the Home Assistant configuration right (I’m still tweaking).
    • I’ve also continued to play around with Home Assistant, including a bed occupancy sensor (which I can link to turning off the lights). I will admit that’s probably a step too far into nerd territory.
  • The month ended with a short break in Spain. Originally scheduled for May 2021, we never did get to go on a family holiday to Barcelona and the Costa Brava, though Matt made it out there on a training trip to Girona earlier this year. So, half the holiday, with only one of the “children” (though he is now twice the size!), Nikki, Ben and I spent a glorious few days in an around Begur.

Writing

These retrospectives are a bit of a blogging catch-all, but I did write a post on LinkedIn that turned into a blog in its own right. You can read it at the link below:

Photographing

Bits and pieces

  • 300m short of 200km!
  • Choose your PIN wisely:
  • Commentary on technical debt and the British Library’s ransomware attack woes:
  • Who doesn’t love a bit of Top Gun?
  • Thoughts on location tracking for family members:
  • Why it’s better to find a real application compatibility fix instead of just giving users admin access:
  • And why encrypted messaging is difficult:
  • Finally, shipping sunlight for green energy. Not as bonkers as it sounds!

Featured image: author’s own

Weeknote 2024/09: radio; podcasts; AI and more

This week’s weeknote is short. It’s also a little earlier than usual because today’s my wedding anniversary and I was busy trying to get everything wrapped up before flying away for the weekend…

…so, in chronological order – but all mixed up between work and play:

  • Two weeks ago I said One Day (on Netflix) was a rom-com. Well… maybe not a comedy. A romantic drama? Regardless, we finished the series last weekend. There were tears. Mostly mine. And I highly recommend it for anyone who left uni’ in the UK in the 90s…
  • After passing my amateur radio foundation exam a couple of weeks ago, I have my callsign from Ofcom. I’m now M7OLN…
    • Last weekend, I met up with Christian Payne/Documentally (G5DOC) and talked radios among other things over an enjoyable cafe lunch…
    • I’m having trouble getting into local repeaters on a handheld radio from my place but we worked out my config issues so I know the radio is set up properly.
    • I can hear the local repeater but I need to put a better antenna up at home. That could be tricky. If only I could safely get closer to this chimney stack…
    • I’ve also ordered an antenna and window mount for the car. And discovered that there is a radio shop close enough to click and collect (Moonraker).
  • As a slight tangent from amateur radio (I can’t bring myself to call it HAM), I’ve discovered LoRa and some Meshtastic nodes are on their way. More on what that means when I have them set up…
  • I now have an identity on the Node4 Microsoft 365 tenant (don’t get me started on how difficult it is to bring multiple organisations into one but I have huge respect for my colleague who is managing this). Judging by the emails I’m receiving, I’m not the first person to have used this alias. I can deal with the emails for trainers and other fashion items… but it seems they were a Manchester United fan too, which is harder to take.
  • On Tuesday, I recorded a podcast with my colleague Bjoern (in/bjeorn-hirtenjohann). It was great fun and I was very chuffed when the producer, Beth, told me I could have a new career as a radio host. It may have been a joke but I would like to do more of this.
  • Then, I headed Bletchley for the Bletchley Park Microsoft AI User Group event. I was AI-jaded when I arrived. I was AI-buzzing when I left.
    • Will Rowe (@MSFTRecruit) made us laugh, a lot, at about recruiters.
    • I made some great connections.
    • I learned some cool things about AI prompting from Lydia Carroll (in/lydiacarroll) and about digital ecosystems from Chris Huntingford (@ThatPlatformGuy).
    • I also did some improv’ – volunteering for an unscripted, 1-2 minute talk on AI, that children would understand. Thanks to Stephanie Stasey (in/missai) for giving me the chance to get out of my comfort zone whilst practicing something I want to do more of – presenting.
  • I’ve also started to kick some thoughts around about what it means to be technical leader… and how I can encourage others.
  • And, in a discussion about recognition, someone who will remain anonymous shared this comment with me… I feel seen:

“I’m also an introvert that overcompensates BTW. People confuse my enthusiasm, facilitation, and contribution as me being extrovert. Secretly I’m like a Duracell Bunny using a bad battery – it wears down quite quickly!“

  • (I was exhausted on Wednesday, after Tuesday’s exploits.)
  • Thursday ended with an example of when AI chatbots go wrong:
  • There were some blog posts not written this week that need to be:
    • My journey into amateur radio
    • Writing better AI prompts
  • Next week is looking even busier (with only 3 days at work) but I’ll try and write them soon.

Right, time to go, I have a plane to catch.

This week in photos

Not that many… I’m sure there will be more next week.

Featured image: author’s own, from the last time I flew with Wizz Air

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 2024/04: 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 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 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!

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”.

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.

Taking time “off sick”

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.

My family has had various lurgies over the last few days. Stomach bugs, sore throats, colds but mostly feeling “non-specific urgh”. Or just “meh”.

It might have been the ‘rona, but we all tested negative so it’s more likely that 18 months of not mixing with other humans means that, when we do, we pick up their germs and get ill.

After a weekend of broken sleep and with a headache and a sore throat, I needed some rest and I called in sick at work.

Pressure to work

I’ve been based from home for a long time. Remote work is not a new thing for me that started with the pandemic (although exclusively working from home is). A side effect of that is that I rarely take time “off sick”. I might not be well enough to travel to an office and mix with others (potentially making them ill too), but I can generally drag myself to my laptop and push some emails around. And anyway, what about that meeting? Or, if I don’t do that work today, it will only add pressure later in the week. Normally, I’d dose myself up on paracetamol (or similar) and “man up”.

Except, is that really a good mindset? If I’m not bringing my a-game to work, then maybe I should rest up and come back when I am properly fixed. Take some time to recover, step away from the screen. Unfortunately, because I felt able to do something, I felt like a fraud.

I got back from the pharmacy and had woken up. Maybe I could (should?) just check those emails?

Whilst I’m very disciplined at keeping away from work on my weekends and holidays, it was a lot harder when I wasn’t feeling well, but I wasn’t completely ill and confined to bed either.

Is this just a sad indictment of modern life? Implied pressure to contribute at all times. Being a consultant and knowing that it’s an important month and every billable day counts. Or, as one person (who I’ll let remain anonymous) put it:

“You definitely shouldn’t be feeling you have to work because years of conditioning of the UK workforce has led us to a place where unless a limb is hanging off you’re ‘fine’.”

Get well soon

In the end, it was these wise words that I decided to stick by:

“Commit one way or the other. It’s horrible when you half commit to work and half commit to putting your feet up and do neither very well. (Get some rest).”

And, when I got back to work after some proper rest and recuperation, I could bring my a-game with me.

Featured image: author’s own.