Monthly Retrospective: April 2024

Another look back at some of the things I’ve been up to over the last few weeks…

At work

April marks a year since I started my transition to a new role at Node4. I didn’t move over full-time until July, but that’s when I stopped running what was formerly risual’s Architecture team and joined the Office of the CTO. This is not the forum to share the full details but suffice to say I had manouevred myself into a position where I was very unhappy – neither close to the tech nor able to best use my skills to provide value to the organisation and to our clients.

The change in role has been a breath of fresh air: the focus has changed a few times and there have been some bumps on the road; but one thing is core – I get up each morning and think about how best to add value. Whether that’s building out collateral for our public cloud portfolio, developing a new offering to guard against ransomware, helping clients with their IT Strategy or getting some structure around our “thought leadership” outputs.

The month ended with Node4’s “Go To Market” conference, in Nottingham. It’s an opportunity to set the agenda for the coming year and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. This was the first time I’d attended and it was also a brilliant opportunity to meet some of my colleagues from across the business.

I managed to get myself into the video somehow, despite not officially being one of the presenters…

After two days of socialising, I was completely wiped out and needed some time to decompress. It’s left me thinking a lot about introversion. On the flip side, I also need to work on my FOMO… being one of the last to go to bed on the first night was not smart. At my age, I should know better.

Blogging

As usual, I didn’t find much time to blog this month, but I did write a thing about Enterprise Architecture, based on Dave Clark and Sophie Marshall’s good work…

Away from work

It’s not often that I go to the theatre but I saw the 1990s TV sitcom Drop the Dead Donkey was returning in theatre format with the original cast. I then failed to book tickets, missing it in Milton Keynes by a week. I asked myself if I could be bothered to go to Birmingham instead? Well, why not… I had a birthday so that was an opportunity to do something different!

I loved it, but it’s definitely written for an audience of a certain age (and I fit that demographic). For those less familiar with the original TV programme, it’s still amusing, but it does help to understand the characters and how they have developed over 30 years.

A matinee theatre show in a major city gave us an opportunity for a day out. So, afterwards we wandered down to The Custard Factory in Digbeth, for food and drink at Sobremesa and Rico Libre.

Oh yes, and I couldn’t help but be amused when I spotted that the image on the vinyl wrap in the train toilets contained an empty vodka bottle…

Playing with tech

If last month was about Meshtastic, this month has been Home Assistant. After initially installing on a Raspberry Pi to try it out, I quickly moved to a dedicated device and bought a Home Assistant Green. There was nothing wrong with the Pi installation, but I could use a Raspberry Pi 5 for other things. I’m still getting to grips with dashboards but Home Assistant has pulled all of my various smart devices together into one platform. This thread tells some of the story:

Annoyingly though, iCloud’s “was this you?” messages are not very helpful when you have automated services using your account:

I’ve also been upgrading the home Wi-Fi, moving from a consumer AmpliFi mesh to a solution based on UniFi equipment. That’s been an adventure in itself and will probably be a blog post in its own right.

And, I “went viral” (well, certainly had far more engagement than my normal tweets do), with a family service announcement for Wi-Fi updates…

Elsewhere on the Internet

  • On the need for critical thinking:
  • On outdated anti-WFH rhetoric:
  • On brilliant advertising:
  • On the decline of reporting:
  • On the value (or otherwise) of a degree:
  • On blogging:
  • On whether or not it’s useful to refer to “cyber”:
  • On the reasons that things sometimes cost more than you think they should:

    Travel

    As is usual, supporting Matt with his cycling races has meant a fair amount of travel this month and this month’s Premier Inn destinations have been… Tiverton and Stockton-on-Tees. Stockton was the overnight stay for the East Cleveland Classic, where I was in the team car all afternoon – and what an experience that was!

    There was also a race in Leicestershire where Matt was in the break for 2 hours before getting caught and then boxed in on the final sprint.

    But the big one was supposed to have been the CiCLE Classic in Rutland, until it was unfortunately cancelled on the day due to biblical rain. I do feel for the organisers in these scenarios, but even more so for the teams that had travelled from overseas.

    Away from cycling, but very exciting, is starting to plan an Interrail trip with Ben this summer. I only have two weeks’ leave available, but i’m pretty sure we’re going to have a brilliant time. It’s not the first time for me – I went solo in the early 1990s – but things have changed a lot since then.

    This month in photos

    Wrap-up

    That’s all for this month… May’s nearly over now but I have some notes ready for a review – hopefully not too long after the end of the month!

    Featured image taken from Node4’s Go To Market video, on LinkedIn

    Monthly Retrospective: March 2024

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

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

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

    So what’s up this month?

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

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

    So let’s get started…

    In tech: at work

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

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

    In tech: at home

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

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

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

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

    Some bits and pieces:

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

    In events

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

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

    In entertainment

    Cover image for The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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

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

    This month’s TV has been about:

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

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

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

    In life: a trip to Tallinn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In life: a Welshman in Twickenham

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

    In life: sporty teens

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

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

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

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

    In photos

    Wrap-up

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

    Featured image by 139904 from Pixabay.

    Weeknote 2024/04: 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.

    Timeless technology

    This content is 1 year 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.

    In recent days, I’ve been thinking about tech that has become ubiquitous. Like the IBM Personal Computer – which is now well over 40 years old and I still use a derivative of it every day. But then I started to think about tech that’s no longer in daily use but yet which still seems modern and futuristic…

    …like Concorde

    Concorde may not have become as world-dominant was originally intended but, for a while, the concept of supersonic flying was the height (pun absolutely intended) of luxury air travel. Sadly, changing market demands, soaring costs, environmental impacts, and the Paris crash of AF4590 in 2000 sealed its fate. The plane’s operators (British Airways and Air France) agreed to end commercial flights of the jet from 2003.

    The elegant lines and delta wings still look as great today as they would have in 1969. And supersonic commercial flights may even be returning to the skies by the end of the decade.

    …the British Rail Advanced Passenger Train

    British Rail’s Advanced Passenger Train (Experimental) – or APT-E – of 1972 is like a silver dart. Just as you don’t have to be a plane-spotter to appreciate Concorde, the APT-E’ is ‘s sleek lines scream “fast” and in 1975 it set a new British speed record of just over 150 miles an hour.

    BR APT-E in 1972

    The APT project was troublesome but the technology it developed lived on in other forms. The idea of a High Speed Train (HST) developed into the famous Inter-City 125. That was introduced in 1976 and is only now being withdrawn from service. Meanwhile, tilting train technology is used for high speed trains on traditional lines – most notably the Pendolinos on the UK’s West Coast Main Line.

    …and Oxygène

    Last night, I was relaxing by idly flicking through YouTube recommendations and it showed me this:

    It’s an amazing view of the early-mid 1970s electronic instruments that Jean-Michel Jarre used to create his breakthrough album: Oxygène. And, as I found earlier this evening, it’s still a great soundtrack to go for a run. Listening on my earphones made me feel like I was in a science fiction film!

    Modern electronic artists may use different synthesizers and keyboards but the technology Jean-Michel Jarre used smashed down doors. Oxygène was initially rejected by record companies and, in this Guardian Article, Jarre says:

    “Oxygène was initially rejected by record company after record company. They all said: ‘You have no singles, no drummer, no singer, the tracks last 10 minutes and it’s French!’ Even my mother said: ‘Why did you name your album after a gas and put a skull on the cover?'”

    Jean-Michel Jarre

    Nowadays, electronic music – often instrumental – is huge. After playing the whole Oxygène album on my run, Spotify followed up with yet more great tracks. Visage (Fade to Grey), Moby (Go), OMD (Joan of Arc)… let’s see where it goes next!

    What other timeless tech is out there?

    I’ve written about three technologies that are around 50 years old now. Each one has lived on in a new form whilst remaining a timeless classic. What else have I missed? And what technology from today will we look back on so favourably in the future?

    Featured images: British Airways Concorde G-BOAC by Eduard Marmet CC BY-SA 3.0 and The British Rail APT-E in the RTC sidings between tests in 1972 by Dave Coxon Public Domain.

    J’ai un mal à la gorge. En Angleterre, nous avons le “TCP”

    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’s recent bout with non-specific cold-like illnesses included a sore throat for one of my teenage sons. He must have been feeling bad, because it was enough to convince him not to race his bike for a week. (In fairness, reminding him that previous attempts to compete whilst ill didn’t work out well was also a factor.)

    “You need to take some TCP!”, said his Uncle.

    “Already on it!”, said I.

    For those who are not familiar with TCP (not the networking protocol), it is a particularly foul antiseptic substance that can be diluted and gargled to attack the bacteria that cause sore throats. It’s not nice. But it is effective.

    Trying to buy TCP whilst on holiday…

    TCP seems to be a very British thing though. I know ex-pats in the ‘States who bring it over from the UK and this incident reminded me of trying to get some in France. We were skiing, in Tignes, and I had a sore throat. Not wanting to miss any time on the slopes, I was willing to take some strong stuff to try and get better.

    So, off to “la pharmacie”, I tramped… and in my best schoolboy French (GCSE grade B, Kingsthorpe Upper School, 1988) I said to the assistant:

    “J’ai un mal à la gorge. En Angleterre, nous avons le ‘TCP’. En avez-vous?”

    I also pointed at my throat and attempted to gargle, for effect.

    The perplexed shop assistant looked at the mad Englishman on the other side of the counter, shrugged, and pulled out a bottle of cough syrup. Basically it was a sugar mix (certainly not TCP), but that was as far as I was going to get with my limited grasp of the language. Ironically, as I was writing this post I found that TCP is produced in France, for sale in the UK.

    I don’t recall whether I missed any skiing time. I certainly didn’t let a sore throat ruin my holiday, but I’m equally sure I wasn’t able to buy any antiseptic for my throat. These days, a small bottle of TCP is a permanent item in my travel bag.

    NOT A SPONSORED POST!

    Image credit: author’s own.

    Epic rides: England’s coast to coast (Way of the Roses)

    This content is 4 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.

    Over the last few years, I’ve taken part in quite a few rides that have stretched my cycling endurance. Some made it onto this blog (like my first attempt at the Ride London-Surrey 100); others didn’t – because I never got around to writing about them – including rides like:

    • Tour de Fujitsu (Wakefield-Manchester), 2014
    • London-Paris (via Newhaven, Dieppe and Avenue Vert), 2014.
    • Tour of Cambridgeshire Gran Fondo, 2015.
    • Ride London-Surrey 100 (the full distance this time!), 2016.
    • Ride Staffs 68, 2016.
    • Tour ride Northamptonshire, 2017.
    • Velo Birmingham (another 100-miler), 2017.
    • Delux London Revolution (2 days, 186 miles), 2018.

    One ride that I’ve wanted to do for a while is to traverse England, coast to coast, and 2019 was the year that I finally got to do it, with my friend and neighbour, Karl.

    Preparation

    It turns out that there are several recognised coast-to-coast routes but Karl and I elected to take the “Way of the Roses” for the 170 miles from Morecambe to Bridlington. Karl had ridden this previously but the difference this time would be that we were self-supported – carrying everything we would need for the three days on our bikes (except cooking and sleeping equipment as we stayed in B&Bs).

    In terms of carrying my gear, I’d looked at several options but, with a frame that was lacking many mounts and with through axles further limiting my mounting options, I elected for frame-hung luggage from Topeak:

    I did also purchase a FrontLoader but that’s on it’s way back now (unused) as I was able to fit all my kit in the luggage above (except my trainers – which went in Karl’s panniers…)

    Day 0: getting to Morecambe

    Lancashire is a long way from where I live, so in order to get a good start on Saturday, Karl and I travelled up on Friday evening and stayed overnight at a B&B (The Berkeley Guest House). My room there was small (but inexpensive), the landlady was friendly, there was secure bike storage for the night, and free parking right outside (where I left my car for the next few days). As for eating – I can highly recommend Atkinson’s Fish and Chips on Albert Road.

    Day 1: Morecambe to Pateley Bridge

    98.77km with 2001m ascent

    From the start point close to The Midland Hotel, the Way of the Roses has a gentle first few miles along old railway lines to Lancaster and tracking the River Lune until it takes a sharp left and climbs up above the valley over Halton Hill. After dropping down to Hornby it’s an undulating ride across the Forest of Bowland before reaching Settle. After topping up on food at the local Co-op, we started the climb out of the town, which is advertised as 20% on road signs but my Garmin gave various numbers including 13.8% and a less believable 49%. Regardless, it’s steep, and part way up I stopped. This is where the trouble began. Try as I might, I couldn’t get going again and clip in before the next pedal stroke. In the end, I walked the rest of the hill, which is not to great in road cycling cleats…

    The next 20 kilometres were mostly downhill but around Appletreewick we started to climb again and, I’m afraid to say that the climb over Whithill was another one that featured some walking. I got back on again and ground it out as we picked up the road over Greenhow Hill and down a steep (and fast – thank goodness for disc brakes) drop into Pateley Bridge.

    Talbot House was our booked accommodation for the night and it was a comfortable, friendly B&B with secure bike storage. After a little rest (and a meal in a nearby pub – The Royal Oak), I settled down for a well-earned sleep, knowing that a good distance and the majority of the climbing was behind me.

    Day 2: Pateley Bridge to Pocklington

    110.63km with 580m ascent

    After Saturday’s sunshine, Sunday started soggy. Still, I knew that I only had about 10km to ride up out of Pateley Bridge before a relatively easy downhill/flat ride into and across the Vale of York. That 10km got a bit longer when I missed a turn after Glasshouses and had to double back but that will teach me to get all excited about downhills!

    The bigger problem I had was my cleats. They were completely worn out and I was constantly slipping out of my pedals. I needed to find a bike shop but, on a Sunday, they are all closed and out riding…

    After 30km, including a scenic ride past Fountains Abbey and through Studley Royal, we reached Ripon, where the town was decorated for the upcoming UCI Cycling World Championships. We were making good progress so we took a break at Oliver’s Pantry – a lovely cafe stop before we set off again for Boroughbridge and York. Here, I finally found some cleats in a Giant/Liv store. They were expensive (I never pay RRP!) but they would have to do. After grabbing food in a Greggs on the outskirts of the city centre, Karl and I continued our quest and set out on the final leg towards the East Yorkshire town of Pocklington, passing through the old station at Stamford Bridge on the way and spotting our first roadsigns for our final destination.

    Our accommodation for the night was the Yorkway Motel, where we got a decent meal and another good night’s sleep, with cycling gear washed in the shower and hanging on the towel rail!

    Day 3: Pocklington-Bridlington

    72.17km with 532m ascent

    Our last day was not only the shortest, but the flattest. Even so, the Yorkshire Wolds proved to be quite lumpy in comparison to the previous day’s riding, climbing over 170m in the first 13.6km. Driffield gave us a chance to grab food (in another Greggs, no less). The weather had started grey but as we approached “Brid”, the sun broke through and we enjoyed an ice cream overlooking the sea!

    170 miles down, we had crossed the country in 3 days, coast to coast. Now we just needed to find our way home…

    The return trip

    The biggest problem with this route is getting back to the start – England’s railways radiate from London and it’s pretty slow getting across the country. Indeed, to take the train from Bridlington back to Morecambe would have involved several trains, from two operators: Trans-Pennine Express, who will only carry bikes if pre-booked; and Northern, who offer no guarantees about the ability to get on a train with a bike. In the end, Karl’s wife met us and dropped me in York before returning home with the bikes, whilst I took the train to Morecambe (via Leeds) to get my car; however, I’ve since learned that, if you take the wheels off your bike it’s no longer counted as a bike but as “luggage”, so maybe that’s the way to do it!

    In summary

    The Way of the Roses is a well-signed route, suitable for road bikes, and mostly using quiet roads and cycle paths. There is one short gravel section (to avoid a main road) and another section near Stamford Bridge that was more suited to an off-road bike but my Specialized Roubaix made it without issue. The one change I would make to my bike would have been to use mountain bike pedals (SPDs) instead of road cleats (SPD-SLs), which would a) have been better for walking in and b) avoided Karl transporting my trainers in his panniers for evening wear!