Weeknote 13: Change control (Week 10, 2018)

This week has been dominated by two things:

  1. Windows 10 device builds. Lots of them.Several piles of Microsoft SurfaceBooks
  2. Change Control.

The first part is the easy bit. I have an eager team of build engineers, led by a committed and diligent Consultant to help with that. The second part has resulted in more than its fair share of pain.

As the client-side Programme Manager remarked to me, there are two types of change to manage: change that needs budget and resources and agreement; and “things we need to tell you about”.

The changes I’ve been fighting with are certainly in the “things we need to tell you about” category: minor edits to user account information in Active Directory made on an individual user (or small group of users) basis. Such changes are easily reversed but need to be communicated (to users, and to those who support them – so they are ready for any consequences).

Unfortunately, in order to make this minor change (admittedly a few thousand times), I have to complete a form that’s really designed for much heavier changes, submit it at least a week ahead of when I want to make the change (which is not very agile), attend various meetings to provide information, have multiple conversations outside the process to smooth the path of the change, stand on one leg, do a little dance and make incantations (OK, I made the last part up).

And, as one former customer replied:

Change control has its place but sometimes it feels like a lightweight process should be there for the “things we need to tell you about”-type changes. When I completed my ITIL® Foundation training, people said “you’ll breeze it Mark, it’s just common sense” – and it is. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many people use ITIL as a reason to wrap themselves in unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. There’s also a natural tension between those who are tasked with designing new and improved services and those who need to operate services. One wants change. One wants to avoid change. And, where outsourced services are in place, there are commercial reasons not to make any changes too.

Next week, I’ll find out how successful I’ve been. If I’m lucky, we’ll get approval two days after we need it. I’m not adding to my pain by making an urgent or emergency change (I’m not a masochist) but I have recorded an issue in the PM’s RAID log…


Other encounters this week have included:

  • Night-time mountain-biking in the woods (helping out with my eldest son’s cycling club) – that was fun!
  • FUD from my younger son’s school around GDPR.

Needless to say, I’ll be ignoring the (poorly-written) communication from the school. Why expect me (as the user of the service) to take action to help the organisation tidy up their data when they have clearly misunderstood their obligations?

Now, it’s the weekend. It’s been another very long week. My train is nearly at Northampton and I feel the need to collapse on the sofa before I fall asleep. The weekend will be a mixture of “Dad’s taxi” and Mothering Sunday (helping my boys be nice to their Mum, and hosting my Mum and my Mother-in-law for lunch). Then back to work for round 2 of “change control”.

Weeknote 12: 50/50 (Week 9, 2018)

So, after getting weeknote 11 out early and supplementing it with a “weeknote 11a”, I’m writing weeknote 12 the following Monday morning, on the train, which kind of defeats the object of a weeknote to wrap up the week.

To be honest, last week was a bit… well, I don’t know how to describe it. Busy, stressful, cold, fun (in parts) – and the weekend that followed had all the same elements.

Highlights included a long-overdue catch-up with @DavidHughes, watching my 13yo’s first cycling session on rollers and towing my 11yo around on a sledge hooked up to the back of a mountain bike.

Unfortunately, I also fell down the stairs at home and broke the screen on my Surface Pro 3 (the two incidents were unrelated).

My work was also split between two projects – with a “critical design review” for the supplementary information system built around Microsoft SharePoint and Power BI. The technology is the easy part – getting individual subject matter experts to work together (it’s not four designs – it’s one solution) has been more challenging.

In the second part of the week, I got properly stuck into my Modern Workplace project (part-time has not been cutting it – it really demands my full attention). We have some demanding timescales for the first phase and it’s all hands to the pump. That means I’ve rolled up my sleeves and got stuck into establishing the build processes and workflow. Just like these delivery robots, I wasn’t letting the snow put me off…

I “battled” to the station (more accurately, drove along some gritted roads with a slight snow covering and some drifts at the side), caught a delayed train (so still got to my destination at the intended time) and got to my customer site (which was like the Mary Celeste…), only for the customer to close the site at lunchtime and send us home – but I still needed to image another pile of SurfaceBooks! It was frustrating but it was also a self-imposed deadline – we just need to catch up over the next few days instead.

On the tech front, I have some thoughts bouncing around my head that haven’t quite formed into blog posts yet… again, two halves – one work-related and one personal:

  • One is about the use of collaboration tools at work (like Microsoft Teams) in place of email. Putting the tech in place is easy. Getting people to use it is not. I’m still getting documents sent to me attached to an email message.
  • The second relates to a remortgage. After getting the mortgage approved in principle, we’re into conveyance with a management company in front of a “panel” of solicitors. They phoned and texted and gave me 24 hours to complete an online form (that didn’t save progress and didn’t gracefully handle input errors) after which I had to print it, sign it (with witnesses) and send it off to a solicitor. It’s a complete mis-match of digital (done badly) and analogue. An anti-pattern for digital transformation if I ever saw one…

Right. Nearly at my destination now, so time to sign off. I’ve got some PCs to build before I switch back into architect mode!

Weeknote 11a: A more relaxed pace of life (Week 8, 2018)

Last week, for the first time in ages, I got my weeknote out on time. Indeed, I wrote it on Thursday night, published on Friday afternoon, and then ran away to The Cotswolds.
Restored Massey Ferguson Red Tractor at Vegetable MattersMy wife and I spent the weekend in and around Chipping Campden with great weather, wonderful views, fantastic food and a lovely hotel. And on more than one occasion I felt like I was living in an episode of The Archers (not just because of the restored tractor at the local farm shop).
It was just a more relaxed pace of life in a rural idyll. A place where people are friendly and they talk to one another. And a trip into Moreton-on-the-Marsh showed that many businesses remain closed on Sundays – which is no bad thing either.
On Sunday afternoon, we drove back over the beautiful Cotswolds and the Northamptonshire uplands – then we got to Northampton and boom! Into the chaos of Sunday afternoon the M1, massive distribution centres, traffic, modern life…
It made me think that not all progress is good!

Weeknote 11: The link between consultant utilisation and beer! (Week 8, 2018)

Two weeks ago I commented that I was hoping to see Wales beat England in the Six Nations. We put up a good fight but, in the end, Eddie Jones’ team continued their unbeaten record at Twickenham. Then, this week, Manchester City got knocked out of the FA Cup by Wigan, who play in League 1 (the third tier of English football), so it’s not been a good month on the sporting front for me. Still, I have been enjoying the Winter Olympics!

Thankfully, work has been a little more successful – and my return from half-term “holidays” has seen me get properly stuck into my Modern Workplace project (though I do need to step out of it again for a few days next week). I also had the opportunity to spend some time with Microsoft in an “AI envisioning session” today.

On Monday though, I made the journey to Long Eaton, to hear a former colleague and Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer, Ste Nadin (@SteNadinFJ), give his views on “Demystifying DevOps” at the Nottingham and Derby branch of the BCS. I was pleased to hear Ste start his talk by saying that he wouldn’t talk about tools very much (which is good – because culture is far more important in a DevOps strategy) and even more pleased when he used the medium of Lego to bring his presentation to life! Ste also made some interesting observations on measuring utilisation – something that’s close to my heart as a practicing consultant.

Taking a beer glass as an analogy, the glass may be seen as better when it’s fully utilised. Empty is 0% full, a short measure is 80%, and we really want it to be 100% full.

Some people see consultant diaries in that way – aiming to be 100% busy all the time.

But let’s take another analogy – if a road is 100% utilised, that’s not so good – it’s not efficient. With infrastructure (like roads) we don’t really want to fill them to capacity but instead to focus on flow!

So, are people (not resources!) empty vessels to be utilised (like a beer glass) or more like a road where work flows?

I’d argue that I’m not very efficient when I’m filled with beer – and it’s the same when utilisation is driven to 100% for an extended period too!

It all comes down to wait time, which is a fraction of %busy time over %idle time. After about 80% busy-ness (or even business?), wait time really spikes and, as utilisation increases, the ability to respond to change and priority decreases. At 100% there is no flexibility and it’s difficult to prioritise (or respond to business change/demands).

This is shown in the diagram below, described in Nabil Hashmi’s post about The DevOps Handbook (and it reminds me I really must finish reading The Phoenix Project):

Wait time vs percent busy

When I was a business manager (in my role as a Head of Practice when I worked at Fujitsu), my operations manager would ask me why I was forecasting that I would run a “bench”. I didn’t know about wait time then – but I knew I needed some flexibility to cope with unplanned work – not just a team that was maxxed out on planned work.

A consulting business is never constant – we live in a world of peaks and troughs and, whilst someone suggested to me that, during quiet times, Consultants will drink from the proverbial pint pot and that, conversely, they need to fill it up in busy times, that’s not the whole picture. I’m fortunate that my manager understands my limits, my constraints and that I can’t be productive when constantly running at 100% but unfortunately there are many in this industry who don’t see things the same way…

Right. I’m signing off now for what I hope is going to be a relaxing weekend… back soon!

Weeknote 10: “A week off” (Week 7, 2018)

I only worked one day this week. Or, more accurately, I only went to work at risual one day this week. There was plenty of work in the week though – and a similar amount of travel to a normal working week too!

Monday was a good day. We had our biannual summit at risual and, like the last one, we ran it as a mini-conference (risual:NXT) with a keynote followed by 22 sessions over 4 tracks – and I was responsible for the technology track again.

I also brought my 13 year-old son to work with me. He had a great day and it was fantastic to see my colleagues make him so welcome as he helped our ops team to run the day. And the highlight for him? Holding up the cards to tell me when I had 10, 5, 2 minutes left in my presentation and then time’s up. I went 1 minute over (into my Q&A time) and he was sure to tell his Mum and his little brother when he got home! (Believe me, there are people who are far worse at sticking to their allotted presentation time than me!)

As it was half term where I live, I took the rest of the week off but it was still pretty busy. With a loft conversion planned in the coming months, there’s a lot of “sorting out” to be done in my house and the pile of recycling sacks that I’ll be leaving for the bin-men next week is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to sorting out my own place, I took a trip to South Wales to help empty my Gran’s flat as she moves into care. That’s when I ended up at a recycling centre where I saw this sign and I really did wonder if the Welsh language is just a joke played on the English (it’s not really!)…

Welsh scrap metal sign

One of the most enjoyable parts of the week was on Tuesday, when I took my eldest son to Derby Arena for a track cycling experience with Team MK. My only previous visit to a velodrome was at Lee Valley, where I was in the spectator seating above the track. At Derby the track is on a mezzanine level above a sports hall so you can stand underneath and really get a feel for how steep the banking is (42 degrees, I believe). Nevertheless, my son went from “never-ridden-a-track-bike” to “fearlessly-hammering-it-around-the-top-of-the-track” in less than 2 hours and I think this could be the first of many trips to a velodrome…

I want to have a go now!

Next week, I’m back to work and should finally be getting into the swing of things with my Modern Workplace project, plus an evening BCS meeting and an “AI envisioning session” with Microsoft. Watch this space!

Weeknote 9: SharePoint as a CMS, with a little Power BI to help visualise dynamic data (Week 6, 2018)

2018 is flying by but the last couple of weeks have been exciting. After a period of working on short-term engagements (which can be a challenge at times), I’ve landed myself a gig on a decent sized Modern Workplace project that’s going to keep me (and a lot of other people) busy for the next few months. Unfortunately, I can only devote 50% of my time to it for a couple of weeks as I need to clear a few other things out of the way but that will all change soon.

One of those “things” is a project I’ve been working on to provide supplementary information to operators in a part of the critical national infrastructure (I wish I could be less cryptic but I can’t just yet – I hope that maybe one day we can create a case study…). It’s replacing a bespoke system with one built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, with a little customisation – and it’s been my first “software” project (cf. infrastructure-led engagements).

Basically, we’re using SharePoint as a content management system, receiving both static and dynamic data (the latter via a service bus) that needs to be displayed to operators.

All of the data is stored in SharePoint lists and libraries and then presented to a browser running in kiosk mode. The page layouts then use web parts to either display data natively, or we use Power BI Report Server (this solution runs on-premises) to create visualisations that we embed inside SharePoint.

And, because the service bus isn’t available yet, we had to demo the dynamic data arriving using another tool… in this case, SoapUI populating SharePoint using its REST/OData API.

It’s been an interesting project, not just because I’ve had to step back and focus on just the architecture (leaving others to work on the detail) but because it’s been software-led. I must admit I was nervous hearing status reports from the team about the page layouts they had created, or the webparts they were scripting, and I was thinking “but didn’t you do that last week?” but, once I saw it come together into something tangible, I was really impressed.

Yesterday was our first opportunity to demonstrate the system to our stakeholders and the initial feedback is positive, so that’s a really big tick in the box. Now we need to document the solution and get it production-ready, before progressing from what’s currently just a framework to something of real value.

Next week will be very different: I’m taking most of half term off work but Monday is the bi-annual risual summit, and I’m responsible for the Technology Track again.

Before then, it’s a weekend of kids football and cycling, plus Six Nations and Winter Olympics on TV. So I’m signing off now to (hopefully) watch Wales beat England at Twickenham!

Weeknote 8: Auld Lang Syne (Weeks 50-52, 2017)

The weekly weeknotes are no more… whilst it’s great to catalogue my life, each post was taking 3-4 hours to write (and much of it is on Twitter anyway!). Even in chunks through the week, that’s a lot of time, though I seem to have found another time hoover to fill the void (edging out Twitter): Sim City.

I may still publish some weeknotes in 2018… they might just be in a slightly different format…

So, what’s been happening over the last 3 weeks?

Locked on a train

(After the train arrived at its destination, I sent an email and used the lavatory before getting off but it seems the Train Manager was more keen to get away than I was…)

Azure subscription woes (caused by credit card changes)

A withdrawn credit card led to some worrying emails about my (PAYG) Azure subscription potentially being disabled.

Although this article says:

“When you update the payment method, Azure immediately processes the payment for all outstanding charges”

it needed a support call to get Microsoft to charge the card and put my account back where it should have been…

Some tweets I liked

On ideas/new technology…

On software maintenance…

And a couple I didn’t

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:


I got the chance to give a presentation about architecture (in IT form) to some colleagues, which let me draw parallels with architecture (in construction form). That gave me a reason to pull together some images from a visit to Kings Cross and St Pancras International last summer:

I like this image of my son’s (frozen) bike loaded on my car ready for a morning or cyclocross racing:

And then I got creative on Christmas Eve:

Could there be a correlation between the alcoholic theme and my being relaxed enough to see photographic opportunity?

A trip to York

My family had a little mini-break in York between Christmas and New Year (narrowly avoiding the chaos that ensues when the UK gets a few centimetres of snow…). Of course, being on holiday inevitably led to more photos:

This was disappointing though (especially on a bright sunny day with no sign of ice):

This wasn’t – it was a great recommendation from Brian Cain (@BrianCainUC)!

More alcohol…

I didn’t try this place but I will if I’m back in York again…

I really liked this cafe:

And I finished the trip by going full-circle…

Incidentally, the collages are created using Diptic on iOS.

A bit of DIY

Happy New Year

So, that wraps up another year – and 2018 will be this blog’s 15th! Thanks to everyone who keeps reading and who follows me on other social media channels. I wish you all the very best and a happy new year!

Weeknote 7: Traffic, snow and an awesome party (Week 49, 2017)

Another week means another weeknote and this one finished on a high because last night was the risual Christmas Party!

risual does Christmas parties rather well and I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, a good time was had. I knew the weather forecast though and needed to be sober today (Mrs W wasn’t too happy about the idea of driving home in the snow) so I can bask in the delight of not-having-a-hangover.

Anyway, it was a joy to wake up in a Country House hotel this morning and see how the landscape was transformed. I took quite a lot of photos on my iPhone but Dropbox is currently refusing to upload them for me, complaining that one is corrupt (but not telling me which one!). I’ll edit them next week and post them then…

Then I drove home in the snow and ice. England can’t cope when it snows (or indeed with any other extremes of weather: too wet; too sunny; too windy). We do mild-grey really well though.

The week

My week was the usual mix of consulting (paid work), training and pre-sales. I was fortunate to spend a day at Microsoft in Reading on Tuesday, topping up my Microsoft 365 (Office 365, plus Windows 10, plus Enterprise Mobility + Security) knowledge. I’m hoping that, time permitting, some blog posts will come out of that.

I’ve been driving around the UK almost 30 years, and driving for work for most of them. This week drove home to me (excuse the pun) just how overloaded the UK’s road infrastructure is, when it took me more than 5 hours to drive to Reading and back (about 75 miles each way), then around 4.5 hours the next day to drive 190 miles on nothing but motorways and trunk A roads (180 miles of which were dual carriageway). It seems likely that the first place autonomous vehicles can take a hold is on major routes like this and I for one can’t wait. Maybe one day we’ll have segregated autonomous driving lanes on the motorways, where the cars can drive closer together (in constant communication and not constrained by human reaction speeds) and maybe even faster (if the law is changed).

This week also saw the quarterly Milton Keynes Geek Night, which I’m proud to have attended every one of! I’ve made a lot of contacts over the 5½ years it’s been running – some of whom I can now count as friends and this event had one of the best set of talks in a long while including:

  • Simon Collison (@colly) on “The Internet of Natural Things”
  • Laura Sutton (@L_Coull)’s “Non-geek’s guide to the Galaxy”
  • Dr Neil Smith (@neilnjae) showing us “Beatles vs. Rolling Stones: using data science to prove which band is best”!
  • Joe Leech (@MrJoe) wrapping up with “UX, Psychology and the Power of 100”

The next one clashes with my wedding anniversary, and Mrs W has even agreed to come along with me as an honourary geek!

At home

We’re hoping to convert our loft next year and the initial notice has been submitted for planning purposes. It seems that, now that councils are better at sharing information, marketers are scraping it to bombard us with offers of storage, home improvements, etc. Apparently, our neighbours will be getting mailshots from lawyers too… all very irksome…

Around town

I missed this event which was part of Milton Keynes’ 50th birthday celebrations – a floating carnival of decorated boats looks like quite a spectacle on the canal!

It’s really noticeable how many people are now sleeping rough on the streets of Milton Keynes. The Bus Shelter are trying to do something about that – but they need to raise funds to convert a double-decker coach to provide emergency shelter. To quote from their website:

“Homelessness can hit anyone – most of us are just three pay packets away from losing our home. With your help we can provide over 5800 safe, warm nights for people forced to sleep on the streets and help them find a positive future.”

Look out for the bus in the Intu part of the Shopping Centre (Midsummer Place) and please donate, if you can:

At the other end of the scale… I passed a man on the mean streets of MK proudly proclaiming that the best place to get a car parking space is the electric charging bays… it may not be illegal to park a petrol/diesel car in an electric space but it is selfish (especially as there are normal spaces free)…

Other stuff

Barclaycard sent me a new credit card “for security reasons”. It was nice to find that my Apple Wallet updated automatically on my phone and my watch. Sadly the many websites where I had the details stored for recurring payments (Apple iTunes, Microsoft, Amazon, M6 Toll, Transport for London, etc.) didn’t.

That reminds me… I wonder when my Curve card will show up… It seems I’ve been stuck with about 1500 people ahead of me in the queue for weeks now… in fact, the number seems to be going up (but if you use my referral link above, I can move back up the queue…)!

On the topic of referrals, my energy switch to Bulb completed this week. It was painless (though I will have to wait to get my credit from First Utility, my previous provider – who seem more interested in selling broadband to me now than reducing my energy bills…). Unfortunately, neither I nor my friend have received our promised referral credits from Bulb. Enquiries are ongoing…

My son and I needed to force-quit an app on my Amazon Fire TV Stick but weren’t sure how. This blog post helped by pointing us to Menu, Settings, Manage All Installed Applications where Force Stop is one of the options.

Sadly, Amazon and Google’s inability to play together nicely means my Fire TV Stick won’t play YouTube videos from 1 Jan 2018. One is not amused:

I’ve been watching Channel 4’s series about Donald Trump’s rise (An American Dream). I’ll leave the politics aside but it’s fascinating to see how the wealthy can grow to take such a position of power…

I noticed that my Nextbase Dashcam was showing the wrong time (1 hour ahead) and every time I changed it, it reverted after the next power cycle… then I realised there was a timezone setting and it was still on GMT+1 (BST). After changing to GMT, all was good. It seems that it picks up the time from the GPS, so the timezone is the important setting…

I’m torn about the use of the new HEIC image format on my iPhone. On the one hand, I want to store the best quality images I can, on the other, I need them to be readable on all my devices

Whilst I was at MK Geek Night this week, I spotted that War Horse is coming to Milton Keynes Theatre next autumn. I enjoyed the film and I’ve heard good things about the National Theatre production too, so tickets are booked for a family cultural treat:

My phone has decided that, when I get in the car, I’m headed for the local Tesco Express… that’s a little worrying (I wonder how does Siri determine my travel patterns?):


I’ve mentioned before that I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of these is the Microsoft Cloud Show. Sometimes, it can be a bit too developer-focused for my tastes but I enjoyed Episode 223, which pretty much encapsulates the conversations I have with customers as an Architect working with the Microsoft cloud!

I also got the chance to catch up with Matt Ballantine this week (one half of the WB-40 Podcast). It’s been a while since Matt and I had a chat but I really enjoyed bouncing around our thoughts on modern collaboration and team working. and team-working. Like Matt, I’m finding myself drawing/writing on screen more (at least when working, using a Surface Pro – my MacBook lacks any sort of touch capability) though it’s also showing how unpracticed I’ve become at writing!


Anyway, before I get too far into Sunday evening I need to sign-off and check my children haven’t continued building their snow-wall across the neighbours’ drives…

Next week looks like it should feature a lot less travel (at least by road) and a return to cyclocross with my son. I might even be home a few evenings and maybe, just maybe, I’ll write a blog post that’s not one of these weeknotes! I live in hope…

Weeknote 6: User group and MVP events; a new smartwatch; ghost trains; and the start of Christmas (Week 48, 2017)

Milton Keynes – Rochdale – London – Leicester. Not quite New York – London – Paris but those are the towns and cities on my itinerary this week.

Every now and again, I find myself counting down the days to the weekend. This week has been different. It was manic, squeezing work in around lots of other activities but it was mostly enjoyable too.

The week at work

My work week started off with an opportunity to input to a report that I find quite exciting. I can’t say too much at the moment (though it should be released within the next couple of weeks and I’ll be shouting about it then) but it’s one of those activities that makes me think “I’d like to do more of this” (I already get referred to as the extra member of the risual marketing team, which I think they mean as a good thing!).

Bills have to be paid though (i.e. I need to keep my utilisation up!), so I’ve also had some consulting in the mix, writing a strategy for a customer who needs to modernise their datacentre.

On Wednesday evening, I managed to fit in a UK Azure User Group (@UKAzure) meeting in London, with Paul Andrew (@MrPaulAndrew) talking about Azure Data Factory – another opportunity to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

Then, back to work on Thursday, squeezing in a full day’s work before heading to the National Space Centre in Leicester in the afternoon for the UK MVP Community Connection. I’m not an MVP anymore (I haven’t been since 2011) but I am a member of the MVP Reconnect Programme, which means I still get invited to some of the events – and the two I’ve been to so far have been really worthwhile. One of my favourite sessions at the last event was Tony Wells from Resource IT (the guys who create the Microsoft Abbreviation Dictionary) talking about storytelling. This time we had a 3-hour workshop with an opportunity to put some of the techniques into practice.

The evening started with drinks in the space tower, then an IMAX film before dinner (and a quiz) in the Space Centre, surrounded by the exhibits. We returned the next day for a Microsoft business update, talks on ethics and diversity, on extending our audience reach and on mixed reality.

Unfortunately, my Friday afternoon was hijacked by other work… and the work week also spilt over into the weekend – something I generally try to avoid and which took the shine off things somewhat…


I’ve had a full-on week with family too: my eldest son is one of six from Milton Keynes who have been selected to attend the Kandersteg International Scout Centre (KISC) in 2019 and, together with ten more who are off to the World Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, we have a lot of fund-raising to do (about £45,000 in total). That meant selling raffle tickets in the shopping centre for the opportunity to win a car on Monday evening, and a meeting on Tuesday evening to talk about fundraising ideas…

So, that’s out every evening, and a long day every day this week… by Friday I was ready to collapse in a heap.

The weekend

No cyclocross this weekend (well, there was, but it clashed with football), so I was on a different sort of Dad duty, running the line and trying not to anger parents from the other team with my ropey knowledge of the offside rule

It’s also December now, so my family have declared that Christmas celebrations can begin. Right from the moment I returned home on Friday evening I was accused of not being Christmassy enough and I was forced to listen to “Christmas Music” on the drive to my son’s football match (the compromise was that it could be my Christmas playlist).

Even I was amused to be followed in my car by a certain jolly chap:

My part in decorating the house consists of getting everything down from the loft, putting up the tree and lights, and then finding myself somewhere to hide for a couple of hours until it all looks lovely and sparkly. Unfortunately, the hiding time was actually spent polishing a presentation for Monday and fighting with Concur to complete my expenses… not exactly what I had in mind…

New tech

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we now have a teenager in the house and my eldest son has managed to save enough birthday money to buy a smartwatch. He was thinking of a Garmin device until I reminded him how bad their software is when we sync our bike computers so he went for a Samsung Gear Sport. It looks pretty good if you have an Android phone. I have an iPhone and an Apple Watch (as you may recall from my recent tales of woe) but if I was an Android guy, I think the Gear Sport would be my choice…

Ghost trains

I forgot to add this tale to last week’s week note but I was travelling back home from Stafford recently when I noticed a re-branded Virgin Pendolino at the platform. My train wasn’t due for another 10 minutes so I didn’t check out where this one was going, so I was a little surprised to pass it again as I arrived in Milton Keynes two hours later, after I’d gone the long way (via Birmingham) and changed trains…

Checking on Realtime Trains showed me that I could have caught a direct train from Stafford, but it wasn’t on the public timetable. Indeed, although it stops at several stations, it’s listed as an empty coaching stock working (which is presumably why it is pathed on the slow lines including the Northampton loop). So, in addition to trains that stop at Milton Keynes only to set down (southbound) or pick up (northbound), it seems that Virgin run “ghost trains” too!


I listen to a lot of podcasts when I’m in the car. This week I spent a lot of time in the car. I recommend these two episodes:

Twitter highlights

I’m no GDPR expert but this looked useful:

Company branding is great until it makes the information you give out next-to-useless:

Credit is due to the social media team handling the @PremierInn account for Whitbread, they quickly confirmed that it is a J not an I (though I had worked it out).

@HolidayInn were equally on the ball when I complained about a lack of power sockets (and traffic noise insulation) at their Leicester City Centre hotel. Thankfully they replies were limited to Twitter and email – not midnight calls as my colleague Gavin Morrisson found when he tweeted about another Holiday Inn!

This made me smirk (I haven’t “elevated” my Mac yet…):

If you don’t get the joke, this should provide context.

I like this definition of “digital [transformation]”:

This short video looks at how we need to “debug the gender gap”:

The full film is available to stream/download from various sources… I intend to watch.

And, to wrap up with some humour, I enjoyed Chaz Hutton’s latest Post-it sketch:

(for more like this, check out InstaChaz on Instagram)


That’s it for now… more next week…

Weeknote 5: Playing with Azure; Black Friday; substandard online deliveries; and the usual tech/cycling/family mix (Week 47, 2017)

This weeknote is a bit of a rush-job – mostly because it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m writing this at the side of a public swimming pool whilst supervising a pool party… it will be late tonight when I get to finish it!

The week

There not a huge amount to say about this week though. It’s been as manic as usual, with a mixture of paid consulting days, pre-sales and time at Microsoft.

The time at Microsoft was excellent though – I spent Tuesday in their London offices, when Daniel Baker (@AzureDan) gave an excellent run through of some of the capabilities in Azure. I like to think I have a reasonable amount of Azure experience and I was really looking to top up my knowledge with recent developments as well as to learn a bit more about using some of the advanced workloads but I learned a lot that day. I think Dan is planning some more videos so watch his Twitter feed but his “Build a Company in a Day” slides are available for download.

On the topic of Azure, I managed to get the sentiment analysis demo I’ve been working on based on a conversation with my colleague Matt Bradley (@MattOnMicrosoft) and Daniel Baker also touched on it in his Build a Company in a Day workshop. It uses an Azure Logic App to:

  1. Monitor Twitter on a given topic;
  2. Detect sentiment with Azure Cognitive Services Text Analytics;
  3. Push data into Power BI dataset for visualisation;
  4. Send an email if the sentiment is below a certain value.

It’s a bit rough-and-ready (my Power BI skills are best described as “nascent”) but it’s not a bad demo – and it costs me pennies to run. You can also do something similar with Microsoft Flow instead of an Azure Logic App.

Black Friday

I hate Black Friday. Just an excuse to shift some excess stock onto greedy consumers ahead of Christmas…

…but it didn’t stop me buying things:

  • An Amazon Fire TV Stick to make our TV smart again (it has fewer and fewer apps available because it’s more than 3 years old…). Primarily I was after YouTube but my youngest is very excited about the Manchester City app!
  • Another set of Bluetooth speakers (because the kids keep “borrowing” my Bose Soundlink Mini 2).
  • Some Amazon buttons at a knock-down £1.99 (instead of £4.99) for IoT hacking.
  • A limited edition GCN cycle jersey that can come back to me from my family as a Christmas present!

The weekend

My weekend involved: cycling (my son was racing cyclocross again in the Central CX League); an evening out with my wife (disappointing restaurant in the next town followed by great gin in our local pub); a small hangover; some Zwift (to blow away the cobwebs – and although it was sunny outside, the chances of hitting black ice made the idea of a real road bike ride a bit risky); the pool party I mentioned earlier (belated 13th birthday celebrations for my eldest); 7 adolescent kids eating an enormous quantity of food back at ours; and… relax.

Other stuff

My eldest son discovered that the pressure washer can make bicycle bar tape white again! (I wrote a few years back about using baby wipes to clean bar tape but cyclocross mud goes way beyond even their magical properties.)

After posting my 7 days 7 photos efforts last week, I saw this:

I’ll get my coat.

I also learned a new term: “bikeshedding” (nothing to do with cycling… or smoking… or other teenage activities…):

It’s scary to see how much we’re cluttering space – not just our planet:

There’s a new DNS service in town:

I’ve switched the home connection from OpenDNS (now owned by Cisco) to and will report back in a while…

This ad tells a great story:

Curve is now available to ordinary employees and not just business-people!

We recently switched back to Tesco for our online grocery shopping (we left years ago because it seemed someone was taking one or two items from every order, hoping we wouldn’t notice). Well, it seems things have improved in some ways, but not in others…

On the subject of less-than-wonderful online shopping experiences, after I criticised John Lewis for limiting website functionality instead of bursting to the cloud:

It seems they got their own back by shipping my wife’s Christmas present with Hermes, who dumped it on the front doorstep (outside the notified delivery timeframe) and left a card to say it had been delivered to a secure location:

It may be silly but this made me laugh:

Finally, for this week, I borrowed my son’s wireless charger to top up my iPhone. Charging devices without cables – it’s witchcraft, I tell you! Witchcraft!

Next week, I’ll be back with my customer in Rochdale, consulting on what risual calls the “Optimised Service Vision” so it was interesting to see Matt Ballantine’s slides on Bringing Service Design to IT Service. I haven’t seen Matt present these but it looks like our thinking is quite closely aligned…

That’s all folks!

That’s all for this week. I’m off to watch some more Halt and Catch Fire before I get some sleep in preparation for what looks like a busy week…