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

Weeknote 22/2020: holidaying on the Costa del Great Ouse (plus password resets, cycling performance, video-conferencing equipment and status lights)

In the last few hours of 2019, my family planned our holiday. We thought we had it all sorted – fly to Barcelona, spend the weekend sight-seeing (including taking my football-mad son to Camp Nou) and then head up the coast for a few more days in the Costa Brava. Flights were booked, accomodation was sorted, trips were starting to get booked up.

We hadn’t counted on a global pandemic.

To be clear, I’m thankful that myself, my family and friends, and those around us are (so far) safe and well. By April, I didn’t much like the prospect of getting into a metal tube with 160+ strangers and flying for 3 hours in each direction. We’re also incredibly lucky to be able to access open countryside within a couple of hundred metres of our house, so daily exercise is still possible and enjoyable, with very few people around, most of the time.

I still took the week off work though. After cancelling my Easter break, it’s been a while since I took annual leave and even my Furlough period was not exactly relaxing, so I could do with a rest.

The weather has been glorious in the UK this week too, making me extra-glad we re-landscaped the garden last year and I’ve spent more than a few hours just chilling on our deck.

Unfortunately, we also got a taste of what it must be like to live in a tourist hotspot, as hundreds of visitors descended on our local river each day this weekend. It seems the Great Ouse at Olney has featured in a list of top places to swim in Britain, which was recently featured in The Times. It may sound NIMBYish, but please can they stay away until this crisis is over?

As for the holiday, hopefully, we’ll get the money refunded for the cancelled flights (if the airlines don’t fold first – I’m sure that if they refunded everyone they would be insolvent, which is my theory for why they are not increasing staff levels to process refunds more quickly); FC Barcelona contacted me weeks ago to extend my ticket and offer a refund if we can’t use it; and AirBnB had the money back in our account within days of us being forced to pull out due to cancelled flights.

(I did spend a few weeks effectively “playing chicken” with easyJet to see if they would cancel first, or if it would be us. An airline-cancelled flight can be refunded, but a consumer-cancelled flight would be lost, unless we managed to claim on travel insurance).

Even though I’ve had a week off, I’ve still been playing with tech. Some of my “projects” should soon have their own blog post (an Intel NUC for a new Zwift PC; migrating my wife’s personal email out of my Office 365 subscription to save me a licence; and taking a look at Veeam Backup for Office 365), whilst others get a brief mention below…

Please stop resetting user passwords every x days!

Regularly resetting passwords (unless a compromise is suspected) is an old way of thinking. Unfortunately, many organisations still make users change their password every few weeks. Mine came up for renewal this week and I struggled to come up with an acceptable, yet memorable passphrase. So, guess what? I wrote it down!

I use a password manager for most of my credentials but that doesn’t help with my Windows logon (before I’ve got to my browser). Biometric security like Windows Hello helps too (meaning I rarely use the password, but am even less likely to remember it when needed).

Here’s the National Cyber Security Centre (@NCSC)’s password guidance infographic (used with permission) and the associated password guidance:

This list of 100,000 commonly used passwords that will get blocked by some systems may also be useful – from Troy Hunt (@TroyHunt) but provided to me by my colleague Gavin Ashton (@gvnshtn).

Performance analysis for cyclists, by cyclists

I’ve been watching with interest as my occasional cycling buddy (and now Azure MVP) James Randall (@AzureTrenches) has been teasing development on his new cycling performance platform side project. This week he opened it up for early access and I’ve started to road test it… it looks really promising and I’m super impressed that James created this. Check it out at For Cyclists By Cyclists.

Podcasting/video conferencing upgrades in my home office

With video conferencing switching from something-I-use-for-internal-calls to something-I-use-to-deliver-consulting-engagements, I decided to upgrade the microphone and lighting in my home office. After seeking some advice from those who know about such things (thanks Matt Ballantine/@ballantine70 and the WB-40 Podcast WhatsApp group), I purchased a Marantz MPM-1000U microphone, boom arm, shock mount, and a cheap rechargeable LED photography light with tripod.

It’s early days yet but initial testing suggests that the microphone is excellent (although the supplied USB A-B cable is too short for practical use). I had also considered the Blue Yeti/Raspberry but it seems to have been discontinued.

As for the photo lighting, it should be just enough to illuminate my face as the north-facing window to my left often leaves me silhouetted on calls.

Smart lighting to match my Microsoft Teams presence

I haven’t watched the Microsoft Build conference presentations yet, but I heard that Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) featured Isaac Levin (@isaacrlevin)’s PresenceLight app to change the lighting according to his Windows Theme. The app can also be used to change Hue or LIFX lighting along with Teams presence status, so that’s in place now outside my home office.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried something like this:

One particularly useful feature is that I can be logged in to one tenant with the PresenceLight app and another in Microsoft Teams on the same PC – that means that I can control my status with my personal persona so I may be available to family but not to colleagues (or vice versa).

One more thing…

It may not be tech-related, but I also learned the differences between wheat and barley this week. After posting this image on Instagram, Twitter was quick to correct me:

As we’re at the end of May, that’s almost certainly not wheat…

Weeknote 21/2020: work, study (repeat)

Another week in the socially-distanced economy. Not so much to write about this week as I spent most of it working or studying… and avoiding idiots who ignore the one-way system in the local supermarket…

Some more observations on remote working

It’s not often my tweets get as much engagement as this one did. So I’m putting it on the blog too (along with my wife’s response):

My “Build Box”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch the Microsoft Build virtual event this week. I’m sure I’ll catch up later but it was great to receive this gift from Microsoft – it seems I was one of the first few thousand to register for the event:

Annual review

This week was my fifth anniversary of joining risual. Over that time I’ve watched the company grow and adapt, whilst trying to retain the culture that made it so strong in the early days. I don’t know if it’s possible to retain a particular culture as a business grows beyond a certain size but I admire the attempts that are made and one of those core tenets is an annual review with at least one if not both of the founding Directors.

For some, that’s a nerve-wracking experience but I generally enjoy my chat with Rich (Proud) and Al (Rogers), looking back on some of the key achievements of the last year and plans for the future. Three years ago, we discussed “career peak”. Two years ago it was my request to move to part-time working. Last year, it was my promotion to Principal Architect. This year… well, that should probably remain confidential.

One thing I found particularly useful in my preparation was charting the highs and lows of my year. It was a good way to take stock – which left me feeling a lot better about what I’d achieved over the last 12 months. For obvious reasons, the image below has had the details removed, but it should give some idea of what I mean:

Another exam ticked off the expanding list

I wrapped up the work week with another exam pass (after last week’s disappointment) – AZ-301 is finally ticked off the list… taking me halfway to being formally recognised as an Azure Solutions Architect Expert.

I’ll be re-taking AZ-300 soon. And then it looks like two more “Microsoft fundamentals” exams have been released (currently in Beta):

  • Azure AI Fundamentals (AI-900).
  • Azure Data Fundamentals (DP-900).

Both of these fit nicely alongside some of the topics I’ve been covering in my current client engagement so I should be in a position to attempt them soon.

Weeknote 20/2020: back to work

Looking back on another week of tech exploits during the COVID-19 coronavirus chaos…

The end of my furlough

The week started off with exam study, working towards Microsoft exam AZ-300 (as mentioned last week). That was somewhat derailed when I was asked to return to work from Wednesday, ending my Furlough Leave at very short notice. With 2.5 days lost from my study plan, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I ended my working week with a late-night exam failure (though it was still a disappointment).

Returning to work is positive though – whilst being paid to stay at home may seem ideal to some, it didn’t work so well for me. I wanted to make sure I made good use of my time, catching up on personal development activities that I’d normally struggle to fit in. But I was also acutely aware that there were things I could be doing to support colleagues but which I wasn’t allowed to. And, ultimately, I’m really glad to be employed during this period of economic uncertainty.

Smart cities

It looks like one of my main activities for the next few weeks will be working on a Data Strategy for a combined authority, so I spent Tuesday afternoon trying to think about some of the challenges that an organisation with responsibility for transportation and economic growth across a region might face. That led me to some great resources on smart cities including these:

  • There are some inspirational initiatives featured in this video from The Economist:
  • Finally (and if you only have a few minutes to spare), this short video from Vinci Energies provides an overview of what smart cities are really about:

Remote workshop delivery

I also had my first experience of taking part in a series of workshops delivered using Microsoft Teams. Teams is a tool that I use extensively, but normally for internal meetings and ad-hoc calls with clients, not for delivering consulting engagements.

Whilst they would undoubtedly have been easier performed face-to-face, that’s just not possible in the current climate, so the adaptation was necessary.

The rules are the same, whatever the format – preparation is key. Understand what you’re looking to get out of the session and be ready with content to drive the conversation if it’s not quite headed where you need it to.

Editing/deleting posts in Microsoft Teams private channels

On the subject of Microsoft Teams, I was confused earlier this week when I couldn’t edit one of my own posts in a private channel. Thanks to some advice from Steve Goodman (@SteveGoodman), I found that the ability to delete and/or edit messages is set separately on a private channel (normal channels inherit from the team).

The Microsoft Office app

Thanks to Alun Rogers (@AlunRogers), I discovered the Microsoft office app this week. It’s a great companion to Office 365 (or , searching across all apps, similar to Delve but in an app rather than in-browser. The Microsoft Office app is available for download from the Microsoft Store.

Azure Network Watcher

And, whilst on the subject of nuggets of usefulness in the Microsoft stable…

A little piece of history

I found an old map book on my shelf this week: a Halford’s Pocket Touring Atlas of Great Britain and Ireland, priced at sixpence. I love poring over maps – they provide a fascinating insight into the development of the landscape and the built environment.

That’s all for now

Those are just a few highlights (and a lowlight) from the week – there’s much more on my Twitter feed

Weeknote 19/2020: Azure exam study, remote working, and novelty video conference backgrounds

Another week in the furloughed fun house…

Studying

I still have a couple of exams I’d like to complete this month. I’ve been procrastinating about whether to take the Microsoft Azure Architect exams in their current form (AZ-300/301) or to wait for the replacements (AZ-303/304). As those replacements have been postponed from late April until the end of June (at least), I’ve booked AZ-300/301 and am cramming in lots of learning, based on free training from the Microsoft Learn website.

I’m sure it’s deeper (technically) than I need for an Architect exam, but it’s good knowledge… I just hope I can get through it all before the first exam appointment next Thursday evening…

Thoughts on remote working during the current crisis

I’ve seen this doing the rounds a couple of times on Twitter and I don’t know the original source, but it’s spot on. Words to live by in these times:

  1. You’re not “working from home”. You’re “At your home, during a crisis, trying to work” [whilst parenting, schooling, helping vulnerable people, etc.].
  2. Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
  3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
  4. You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
  5. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
  6. Your success will not [should not] be measured in the same way it was when things were normal.

This animation may also help…

Also, forget the 9-5:

As for returning to the office?

Video conference backgrounds

Novelty backgrounds for video conferences are a big thing right now. Here are a couple of collections that came to my attention this week:

Upgrades to the Zwift bike

My old road bike has been “retired” for a year now, living out its life connected to an indoor trainer and used for Zwifting. It’s needed some upgrades recently though…

I also realised why I struggled to do 90km on the road today… that was my fifth ride this week, on top of another 100km which was mostly off-road!