Weeknote 22/2021: By the sea

Last week, I was on a family holiday – and the sun shone too. And, for the record, it’s still a holiday even if you don’t go abroad. It’s only a staycation if you stay in your own home.

Connectivity

Sadly, I’ve been strugging with mobile connectivity recently. I finally got around to putting a 5G SIM in my phone. Since then the 3/4G signal has been awful and I haven’t even seen 5G. giffgaff’s Twitter support were worse than useless, eventually demanding a list of personal information in a direct message including things they should know (like the identifier of the SIM they had sent me, which Android refused to show me). In the end, I gave up as I needed a SIM removal tool… I’ll try again this week, now I’m back home.

Meanwhile, in parts of Dorset, I even got a French mobile signal (when I couldn’t get an English one…)

Family History

One evening, whilst discussing family history, I found that my wife’s Great Great Grandfather was quite possibly murdered in the 1890s! The Coroner’s report suggests the body was found buried in a sitting position – so that sounds like foul play. It’s unclear whether there was a severed hand found nearby with some money but the newspaper says “hat” so that may be translation!

This week in pictures

Weeknote 21/2021: Running late

Last week’s weeknote is a few days late…

That was the week when I confirmed that:

  • I’m still not a fan of panel discussions (I did take part in this event, but it still didn’t do it for me).
  • …or online events. Matt Ballantine’s post on “why I struggle with online events” sums up many of the things that I hadn’t quite managed to put my finger on. Basically, just because you can get 1000s of people to attend for virtually no cost, doesn’t mean it’s good value (not for the attendees anyway!).

On the subject of online events, I missed the Microsoft Build keynote completely (because of the poor communications), but I found this nice summary of what Google is up to:

Meanwhile, I’m reading The Human Organisation Report, to help me understand how to make work work.

A colleague shared this great advice for helping neurotypical people communicate in a way that works for those who are neurodiverse – so we can all understand one another:

It was also the week when I saw QR codes being used incredibly badly, and also well.

Last week in pictures

Not much on Insta’ this week…

Next week (now this week)

I’m on holiday now, which leads to my final point. I was reminded that being away from work should be absolute… if you do drop into email to do “just one thing” you may see things that then nag you and you have to fix them…

You have been warned!

Weeknote 20/2021: Echo chambers

This week has been a bit flat. The weather is mostly awful, so I don’t much feel like riding my bike. I hurt my back exercising on Wednesday. And I have 5 weeks to get into shape for my ride across Wales.

This weeknote will be a short one. I can’t believe it’s Friday already…

This week I:

  • Desparately tried to bring some very dry design workshops to life with the inclusion of visual content, only to find that Microsoft Teams isn’t very good at sharing digital whiteboards, yet:
  • Was reminded that annual reviews are a good opportunity to take stock on what’s happened in the last 12 months.
  • Received my new UK (non-EU) driving licence:
  • Escaped from my home office and spent a few hours working inside a coffee shop, for the first time in months.
  • Learned that my social bubble is oh so echoey… when I stepped outside it I heard of people for whom the discomfort of taking a lateral flow test is some kind of hardship (Really? Spreading Covid is a lot worse, I’m sure!) and got called an idiot for not agreeing with conspiracy theories around government tracking of citizens.
  • Felt the need to remind people that there are two NHS Apps:
    • The NHS App (authenticated), which lets you access your own health record.
    • The NHS Covid-19 app (anonymous), which is used for test and trace purposes.

This week in pictures

Weeknotes 18-19/2021: Doubling up

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

Working

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

Learning

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

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

Watching

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

Cycling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random techie stuff

The last few weeks in pictures

Weeknote 17/2021: Not yet digitally transformed

This week I’ve been struggling to focus but still moved a few things forwards. I also kept bumping up against some bizarre (non) efforts at “digital transformation”, courtesy of Standard Life (abrdn), Costco and the UK Government.

This week’s highlights included:

  • Realising that digital transformation hasn’t reached Costco UK yet – and no membership card means no entry and no shopping:

Looking ahead to the (long) weekend, I have no races to take the eldest teenager to and the weather ins’t looking wonderful. So, just the usual Youth Cycle Coaching on Saturday and, hopefully, some relaxing and pottering at “geek stuff” in the Man Cave…

This week in photos

No Insta’ from me yet this week (maybe there will be over the long weekend) so here’s a Line of Duty meme instead:

Weeknote 16/2021: Look after yourself – and watch out for friends and family too…

Most importantly, this week:

  • I was reminded not to take family members’ health for granted. Also, that the NHS has many problems but a) is staffed by some truly wonderful people and b) I’m really, really glad it’s there when we need it.
  • I was also reminded that I have some really supportive friends and colleagues. You know who you are. Thank you.

Lower down the hierarchy of needs:

  • I finally got the (Enterprise) Architecture as a Service service that I’ve wanted to launch off the ground. After years of thinking that it might be useful for clients to have access to someone for a day or two a month, it seems that a couple of days a week is more useful – it’s actually time to do something meaningful. Anyway, it’s given Thom McKiernan (@ThomMcK) an opportunity to go back on site.
  • Related to above, I found I’m a little jealous of colleagues who get to visit clients and interact with humans again. I don’t want it every day – just one or twice a week would be nice.
  • I was frustrated to find that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is very misunderstood – and all too often given as a reason for not doing something, with no apparent knowledge of what the regulation covers.
  • A client project underlined that, even when using SaaS, you still have to plan for and take action around upcoming changes… such as the upcoming retirement of Microsoft Skype for Business Online.
  • I sold a bike. It felt odd:
  • Related to above, I found that Facebook Marketplace is a strange mixture of nice, normal people, and some very odd individuals who didn’t seem to understand why I wouldn’t accept their low offer when I had plenty of interest at the asking price.
  • My weekend activities were mostly cycling-related: riding in the sunshine; transporting my son to/from an XC MTB race; youth coaching, and marshalling at a road race (where my son was also racing).

This week in photos

Weeknote 15/2021: Jabbed!

This week (last week)’s weeknote is a few days late, so here’s what I learned in week 15 of 2021:

  • It’s hard coming back to work after taking a complete break for 10 days.
  • Autonomy over your calendar is a really important part of wellbeing.
  • Flesch-Kincaid readability tests are just a number, but we tend to overestimate people’s reading ability:
  • Email, Teams and other “productivity” tools are real “time hoovers” and reactive working is highly stressful. I’m increasing of the view that such tools hinder productivity in favour of reactiveness. It seems that I’m not alone.
  • The Microsoft Dynamics 365 HR app for Teams is a much better way to access holiday request info than natively in Dynamics. I did laugh at the message that “Human Resources sent a card” though:
Sample of the Microsoft Dynamics 365 HR app in Microsoft Teams
  • How to be a good colleague in Ramadan – Ramadan Mubarak!
  • Not to rely on the NHS COVID Vaccination site to send notifications of bookings, even when given a phone number and email address. I had to ring 119 and navigate minutes of menus before a very helpful human gave me my reference numbers to make changes. It took around 48 hours for the text message/email to arrive, quickly followed by updated ones for new appointments. I suspect there may be some CSV files and batch jobs in the background… especially as a friend who had a recent birthday was “not 45 enough” to book her vaccination.
  • Emailing and asking for someone to do something by Close of Business that day, then emailing at 15:45 and asking them to do it by 16:30 is probably using the wrong channels and setting the wrong expectations…
  • Don’t underestimate the value of your network for presenting new opportunities.
  • Three pints of IPA may be a good way to avoid side effects of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine (based on my not at all scientific sample size of one)!

This (last) week in photos

Weeknote 14/2021: A week off work

This week has been spent at home. Mostly. It also involved some time wrapped in blankets in friends’ and family’s gardens, as England and Wales return to some degree of limited socialisation but northerly winds mean it’s still pretty chilly. Actually, it was snowing as I started to write this blog post.

As I mentioned last week, there were a few things planned for my time away from work. I celebrated a birthday on Monday. I had the final assessment for my First Aid Essentials in Sport certification on Tuesday. Then, Saturday was my first experience of coaching a group of young people to help them develop their cycling skills. It was… interesting. Oh well, they do say that practise makes perfect…

This week in tech

I haven’t really got much to report this week from the world of tech except:

  • After helping my youngest son out with renewing his Xbox Live Gold subscription (hint: CDkeys is your friend), he found that some updates in Minecraft were conflicting with the Windows Family Safety settings. That can be a minefield, but the error message directed me to the “Minecraft Realms and Multiplayer Troubleshooting” page on the Microsoft website, which helped me adjust the settings. The “I’m Getting an Error When Trying to Play Multiplayer with a Child Account” page makes it even easier to work out what to change, although I was able to leave the Privacy settings as they were (so only his friends can contact him by voice or text). Kudos to Microsoft for making it easy to work out what we needed to do.
  • I also got pretty frustrated with the limitations on my Apple Watch pairing with various old iPhones (or not). The end result is, I’m still selling my iPhone 8 Plus (which still has some residual value) and I’ve bought an iPhone SE for my wife. Expect to see a blog post here soon on the fun and games of moving cross-platform (I switched to Android when I bought a Samsung Galaxy S20 last year). Spoiler: don’t do it unless you really like messing around with tech and various platform lock-ins.
  • Apps asking for feedback really should be more considerate about when they interrupt your workflow:
  • Vodafone let us know that our monthly broadband is going up by £3 a month and by 3.9% above inflation. Apparently, that’s to cover the extra costs of running their network, but it seems to something that many providers are doing now…

Elsewhere in my life

Without going into specific details about my family’s medical history, Mark Booth at Body Limits is bloody brilliant. After just one session with Mark, my son could feel a tremendous difference in the knee pain he had been suffering whilst cycling.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure if carpentry and power tools are “tech” or not, but:

  • I found that drilling holes through plywood can easily split the face of the wood. The trick is to stop, just as the centre of the drill starts to emerge, and then use that centre hole to drill back in the opposite direction.
  • This video was handy as I fought with a jigsaw I’d borrowed from a friend. I had seriously started to doubt my blade-fitting abilities as I got through four of them to slice a sizable hole between two sets of shelves:

More thoughts on hybrid and remote working

I’ve been pretty open about my thoughts on remote and hybrid working and it’s only a few months since I wrote this post musing about the future of the office. This week, I saw The Economist had an interesting video on some of the challenges of working from home:

I was particularly pleased to see they called out having good home working facilities as a privilege many do not have and the consequential need for hybrid working (not just remote). Meanwhile, for those who can go fully remote, The Republic of Croatia is offering a Digital Nomad visa for a year

Back in Blighty, my friend Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) was finally pushed over the edge with one online meeting too many:

“By removing the last filter of meeting organisation, the meeting room, we probably are organising more meetings than ever before.”

Matt Ballantine: “Zoomed Out”

And, as for the impact of remote work on our mental health… maybe let’s consider it’s not just remote working that’s been introduced to our lives over the last 13 months but also a whole load of other restrictions on social contact:

This week in photos

Weeknote 13/2021: Project progress and procrastination

This has been a short week (with only 3 days at work) but I’m pretty pleased with what I achieved in that time:

  • Publishing the Architecture Toolbox I’ve been working on for a few months. That sounds a bit grand for what’s really just a library of re-usable artefacts but, hey! I finally realised that I can’t do everything (perfection is the enemy of good) so it’s time to let it fly and let others contribute…
  • Starting to get under the covers of a new engagement with a local authority client where we’re carrying out some digital service design. It’s fascinating for me to learn from my colleague Richard Quayle (@RichardSQuayle) around concepts like the locus of control, the negatives of a command and control structure (cf. Edward Deming’s approach), failure demand – and much more as we jointly deliver this Business Consulting engagement.
  • A very insightful chat with a client where we’re looking to engage around an Architecture service. It was refreshing to hear that they find TOGAF too conceptual and want to take a more pragmatic approach around EA on a Page (which I referenced in my post on developing IT architecture skills).

I’ve struggled with procrastination/distraction this week too. The challenges of back to back online meetings are obvious but it seems meetings spaced out through the day can be equally problematic. The challenge is that they leave no time to really get into flow before the next meeting is due.

Anyway, both of these cartoons resonated with me…

(in the week that a the MV Ever Given got stuck and closed the Suez Canal, for 6 days.)

Back in the world of work, Alex (@LyleD4D)’s lateral thinking let me embed an msteams:// link in a SharePoint page, by changing the protocol section of the URI to https://.

Meanwhile, my colleague Richard Kleiser (@ThatRichK) introduced me to this diagram from Dave Clarke, which attempts to visualise the concept of Enterprise Architecture:

And that reminds me of something I meant to mention in last week’s weeknote – Rich Goidel (@RichGoidel)’s Strategy vs. Tactics cartoon, which featured in my Microsoft Catalyst pre-sales training:

I also started to see the direction that motoring is heading in. As electrification reduces revenues from servicing, software will become the next subscription opportunity.

Although it was probably intended as an April Fool, What Two Figures (WTF) pretty much sums up my feelings about What Three Words.

Outside work, the UK’s easing of “lockdown” restrictions saw the return to Caveman Conditioning – training outdoors again instead of over Zoom!

I also completed some online learning around First Aid Essentials in Sport. This is a requirement for my certification as a British Cycling coach but I’ve struggled to complete an approved course during “lockdown”.

A look ahead to the weekend

This weekend will see me:

  • Meeting up with another family for a country walk (something we’ve not been able to do for a while!).
  • Returning to Youth Training at my local cycle club (the first time we’ve been able to run a session since I became a coach).
  • Resuming Cyclist’s Dad/Directeur Sportif duties as my eldest son returns to racing.

It will probably also involve consumption of Easter Eggs (I did buy rather a lot of Creme Eggs this week).

Talking of Creme Eggs, Natalie Jackson (@NatalieDellar) alerted me to this post with “groovy things to do with Crème Eggs“.

And next week…

In addition to celebrating the 49th anniversary of my arrival on this planet, next week will be mostly spent at home including some time doing geeky hobby stuff in the Man Cave. There will also be the final assessment for my First Aid Essentials in Sport certification (which will be interesting over a Zoom call, to which I’ve been asked to bring a pillow and a bandage!).

This week in photos

Weeknote 12/2021: IT architecture, design thinking and hybrid work

I’ve tried writing weeknotes a few time over the years and they have been pretty sporadic. So, let’s give it another go… this should probably be weeknote 28 (or something like that) but it seems last year I named them after the week number in the year… so let’s try that again.

Because I haven’t done this for a while, let’s add some bonus notes for last week too…

Last week:

This week:

  • I published my long-form blog post on developing IT architecture skills, spun out from conversations with Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) but also part of the work I’m doing to develop my team at risual.
  • My technical training was interrupted to complete the Microsoft Catalyst pre-sales training. It started off as what I may have described as a “buzzword-filled gamified virtual learning experience”. Then, I started to learn some consulting skills as Rudy Dillenseger brought Design-Led Thinking (aka Design Thinking) to life.
  • It was interesting to see Microsoft recommending the use of Klaxoon with Teams when facilitating remote workshops, which made me speculate about the future of Microsoft Whiteboard.
  • Was a week of virtual calls – even in the evenings. I had Zoom calls with British Cycling and for some financial advice but also a really pleasurable couple of hours on Signal chatting with an old mate I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while, who now lives overseas. It was definitely one of those moments when I appreciated a good friendship and it made me think “we should do this more often”.
  • Just when I thought I’d handed off some project management duties to a real PM, they bounced back at me like a boomerang…
  • The UK Government’s comments on returning to work (ahem, we have been working, just not in the office) reminded me of a post I wrote at the start of the year. Hybrid working is the future folks – we ain’t going back to 2019

The last couple of weeks’ photos