5 years of blogging

I am starting to feel like a broken record in terms of writing about my surprise as to how time has flown but the fact that I have now been blogging for 5 years marks a milestone which I think is well worth the expression of surprise. 

It was 5 years ago the last week (I had planned on posting this to the day however ended up with the flu bug so this is slightly later than planned) that I sat in my villa out in the UAE and decided to create a blog and write my first, short introductory post.    Since then I have posted with varying degrees of regularity, from every couple of months to a period during which I posted daily for a month.   Apparently from the statistics on this site I have posted 199 times.  I have also posted 18 times over on my other site, www.beingdigitallyliterate.wordpress.com plus have a couple of other minor sites I have posted on in relation to specific projects or events. 

I will admit that my posts have never garnered a massive or even minor following as the analytics often tell me however I keep blogging.   The reason here is simply that I have come to realise that the biggest impact blogging can have is not about gaining popularity or having one’s ego massaged.  The greatest gain is in keeping a record as to your thoughts, feelings, successes, trials and tribulations to use in reflecting back.    I have come to realise both personally and through reading various books such as Predictably Irrational (D.Ariely), How We Learn (B. Carey) and Black Box Thinking (M. Syed) that our memory often does not provide us an accurate picture as to times gone past.   It is often shaped by bias towards negative issues and memories, bias towards the more recent events as opposed to those from further back in time and bias towards events where we have become emotionally involved, especially those events where we have become angry or annoyed.      As such, blog entries allow me to get a more accurate view on my thoughts, feelings and viewpoints as they were in a given moment. 

And so it is that I realise the person I really write this for, is for my future self.     So with that in mind I would like to finish this post by addressing my future self from 5 years hence: 

  • Take plenty of pictures (am not sure about posting these on social media though!) 

Pictures are great to look back on, capturing a moment in time in vivid colour and adding to our own memory of the captured event.    I look back on pictures of me on a geography field trip or out in the yard of an Abu Dhabi school and the memories flood back.  The issue is I don’t really have that many photos as I seldom make time to stop and take them.   As I move forward I hope to make more opportunities to stop and grab photos of events and moments in my life. 

  • Write plenty of blog posts 

The more I write down the more I have to reflect on.    Although I may find it difficult to find things to write on in the moment, this is due to not seeing worth in my musings in the current moment.   I cannot however see the future and the potential worth of these reflections as may exist in time yet to come.    As such I need to work to record my thoughts in the hope that they may serve me well at some point in the future. 

  • But enjoy and spend time doing things you enjoy, build memories. 

All work and no play makes Gary a dull boy….or something like that.    I need to make sure I take time out regularly to do that which I enjoy.    It is easy to get swept up in your “to do” list, and in work, without putting time aside for yourself.   It is important to be conscious of this, and of how time can easily pass us by.   

  • Don’t sweat the little things 

I think this is very important.   On many occasions I have got very stressed about projects or tasks which I have had to undertake.    In each case, and despite all the planning, meetings, discussions and strategizing, things have arisen which I had not predicted and therefore corrections and adjustments to the plan were required.   In the end the projects have arrived at their end point and been successful.    The main point here is that we cannot predict the future so changes, issues and problems will arise.   This is inevitable and therefore not worth stressing about.    With work and effort however such issues and problems will be overcome and success achieved.    The final route will most likely not match the original plan however the destination will be reached.      

  • Don’t spend too much effort long term planning.   We can’t predict the future. 

By now you may have started to spot a theme, so I will end by stating a central part to that theme.    We plan so much in what we do however in the real world there are many a curve ball waiting.   As such spending too long planning rather than acting will get us nowhere.   Now to be clear I am not advocating taking on complex projects without any planning, only that planning should be limited and measured as no amount of planning will account for the infinitive variability in the world.    Only by getting out and doing, by hitting snags and by plotting alternative courses around such obstructions will we truly get anywhere. 

And so it is that I have now been blogging for five years.   Here’s to the next five!!! 


Reflections on month 1

JanuaryI must admit that January has been a difficult month.   A number of issues at school around key IT systems have put a high degree of focus on part of my team requiring them to seriously step up and take on new challenges.   The last two weeks of January have been particularly difficult as we have struggled to fix the issues which have arose plus where we have found it difficult to identify alternative solutions.   Now, as February begins, however, after many days of struggle, solutions have been found and these solutions not only represent a solution to the problems but also an improvement on the setup as it had been previously.   I must admit to having become stressed during January and also to being annoyed at times as to my inability to resolve the issues in hand.   I also acknowledge having seen things as a “Failure” to find a solution as opposed to a “not yet” moment.   I need to be more conscious of this in future as my behaviours are what people see as opposed to my intentions so if I talk the talk I need to be seen to walk the walk.        I have also noticed myself using an old favourite phrase of mine:  “The problem is…..”.    This is definitely something I need to knock on the head, as stating the problems will most likely sound either negative or obstructive in search for solutions.   Am not sure if “the challenge is…” sounds any better but the main thing will be to take care to avoid labeling inconveniences, difficulties, momentary challenges, minor deviations from the plan, etc. as “problems”.

Professional Development

The above problems have led to me getting more directly involved with some of the schools IT systems.   This has meant dusting off my old SQL skills and learning some new software solutions, etc.   It has been fun to get directly involved although at times frustrating such as when I spend around half a day updating a tables data just to find out that an automated routine deleted the tables data every evening.   This goes to indicate the importance of documenting systems, something that is generally left to last and therefore often missed out altogether.

I must note that the above wasn’t an area I had foreseen as professional development  I would be doing this year however it has certainly challenged me and forced me to learn new things.     Challenge was one of things I had identified in my pledges so I am happy in this area at least for now.   I would also say that this highlights some concepts in the book “Open” which I have been reading recently in that my learning was in a time which suited me plus via online resources and forums as opposed to more traditional training or PD models.


On a personal note my efforts to maintain a minimum of 30mins exercise a day in the form of walking , have been successful.    I doubt I will ever manage to do kilometres worth of jogging in the morning before work, as some do, however at least I am making an effort and making some, albeit modest, progress.


My reading in January has seen me complete two books in Open by David Price and The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely.    I have also done a little additional reading around data science and python programming.   The one thing I am looking forward to is having the garden at my new house done and to being able to sit out when the spring finally arises, to read a book or two.   Am sure I will be sharing a few photos of me sunning myself, with a beer and a good book in the months to come.


My journaling started off particularly well this month with me putting aside time to take notes on my experiences of each week.   Sadly as other issues arose as indicated in my opening paragraph, this has dropped by the wayside.    As I reflect on this the urgent/important quadrant diagram jumps to mind.     The things I have focussed on during some of this month have been the urgent items and have also been important however journaling, although not urgent, may be very important in the long run in providing me something to reflect on.    Without a record to reflect on I am at the mercy of my incomplete and often inaccurate recollections of things. Any attempt to derive improvement is negatively impacted upon by the resulting inaccuracies or omissions.  I will need to try and ensure I make a greater effort to secure my journaling time against other needs and tasks which may encroach.

In Conclusion

I cannot believe that the first month of 2018 has already been and gone, that one twelfth of the year is gone.   As I often say, “onwards and upwards”!

My initial 2018 reading list

As 2018 is now in full flow I thought it was about time that I filled my bookshelf at least with an initial set of books to read in the year ahead.   As Naseem Taleb discusses in his book, The Black Swan, the intelligence of a person is not indicated by the books they have read in their library but by the books they are yet to read.   He suggests the books yet to be read are an acceptance of what we are yet to learn as well as an intention to continue learning through reading.   In this vain I aim to keep my bookshelf filled with the books I am yet to read.

So to my book list for 2018; the initial books are:

  • The Upside to Irrationality by Dan Ariely
  • Open by David Price
  • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
  • Shut Up, Move On by Paul McGee
  • Make it Stick by Peter Brown
  • The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
  • Twitter Power 3.0 by Jim Taylor and Joel Comm
  • Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
  • Change by Richard Gerver
  • The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

In addition to the above books I have also picked a couple focused on data science for the year ahead.   The reason for this is an interest in how schools might make better use of data which fits with my current experimentation with Microsoft PowerBI.  The books in relation to data science are:

  • Data Science from Scratch by Joel Grus
  • Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

The above twelve books represent my initial book list for 2018.   Twelve books to match my plan to read at least one book per month however I have every intention to add to this list as the year goes on or as my focus or interest areas change.    I have already had a list of books suggested to me by Matthew Larson (@mlarson_nj) of which I suspect a number will be added to my reading go list.

Let my 2018 reading begin…..


New Year Resolutions for 2018

I look forward to the new year, 2018, and what it might bring.   For me it is a bit of a new beginning in that I moved into my new home in November/December and therefore 2018 marks my first year in my new surroundings, a home of my own as opposed to rented or company provided accommodation.

So with a new year approaching it is time to set out some pledges for the year ahead.

Family Memories

This year I am going to start with wellbeing as opposed to work targets.    I want to make more memories with family during 2018 including possibly taking a holiday or at least short breaks together.   I haven’t had what I would consider a proper holiday now in over 10 years so it would be nice to sort something during 2018 however I am aware that this is dependent on finances and the fact I have recently purchased a new home may mean this isn’t possible.  At the very least we need to make the most of our surroundings for family weekend getaways.    I want to be able to look back and be able to easily identify family memories from each of the months of 2018.


Fitness continues to be an area I don’t make any real progress on.   I am worried that I may once again plan to undertake fitness measures however fail to make progress.   I do not want to be sat here in a year writing the same old thing in relation to fitness.   The challenge is finding something which I am happy to do and which I can sustain.   Looking online various sites suggest a minimum requirement of 150 mins of exercise per week which based on 5 days on and 2 days off seems to suggest 30 minutes per day.    My thinking therefore for this year is to achieve 30 mins of brisk walking per day.   I will of course review this in January to see if I can increase this target as compared to various others who run kilometres per day my target doesn’t feel that challenging or inspirational.   That said, the target is for me and you need to start somewhere!


Reading is an area which I made significant progress on during 2017.    My hope is that I will be able to continue this into 2018.    I think a continued plan of 1 book per month, or 12 per year seems as reasonable expectation.    At this point I have already purchased 12 books for 2017.   I will be sharing the titles and my intentions shortly.

Professional Development

In terms of my own personal development, I have taken the CISA and CISSP IT exams in December in 2016 and 2017 respectively.   I want to continue challenging myself to undertake professional qualifications however at this time I am unsure as to which qualification would be best to pursue next.   I am also conscious of the additional workload such qualifications result in.   As such this is something I would like to consider in 2018 assuming I can both identify a suitable qualification and also identify sufficient time, including potentially ceasing or reducing other activities to allow myself to take this on.   If I was going for something I think the CRISC exam may be the one I would choose.


From a work perspective the thing which is likely to take up my time as Director of IT during 2018 is going to be the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) being introduced in May 2018 along with a number of related IT security changes we will be making.    As such a target for the year will be to have successfully introduced the planned changes as well as having established compliance with the required GDPR regulations.     Another target area for me in 2018 will be to streamline the available school data such that it is easier to interpret and make use of.

As a manager I would like to continue to work with and develop the excellent team of staff I have at school.    There are already a few challenge ahead in 2018, however these are not something I can share here.     My hope is that in 2018 we can address and weather these challenges before going on to grow and develop as a team.    My hope is that our whole school satisfaction survey for 2018 will be as positive as the 2016 and 2017 surveys have been.    The positive outcomes achieved to date are the result of the excellent team which the school has working in IT Services.

From a teaching point of view I will be continuing to work with Lower 6 pupils on a digital citizenship programme.   I would like to make this programme as useful and interesting for students as possible, and achieve a programme of study which I am happy with.


In 2018 I hope to continue the process of keeping a journal however with a greater level of regularity.   I also plan to conduct a monthly review so that I can better capture the achievements of each month while they are still fresh in my memory as opposed to trying to remember at the end of the year.

2018, new challenges and opportunities

2018 marks a new year filled with new opportunities and new challenges.    We cannot predict the future however I hope that my resolutions at least set me up with a path or direction through the year ahead.   I suspect the path will change and develop as the year progresses, and as I need to respond to challenges and even failures.   In failures, I accept that these will occur however I hope to take them as either “First attempt in learning” or as “not yet” moments.  I hope that at the end of 2018 I can look back with fond memories of the year, and with positive outcomes achieved in the face of challenges.

And so a new year begins!!    Happy new year to all!!

2017, a month by month review

Before 2017 ends I thought it might be useful to reflect on the year on a month by month basis.   On reflection it may have been better to review each month at the end of the month as opposed to trying to remember back at the end of the year.    I am well aware of how our memory often betrays us when looking back over any period of time.    Thankfully I did have a journal to review however my entries were far from regular or consistent.    So, below is 2017 in monthly:


The BETT conference was an important part of January.   This year I had gone with a very specific plan as to the vendors I wanted to see along with the various seminars and presentations I wanted to see in the single day I intended to attend the BETT event.    As it was I found it to be a very busy and successful day in which I picked up a number of thoughts and ideas.   Sadly, although the event itself was very successful my trip back to Somerset turned out to be a little fraught following car issues in the form of a faulty battery.  My drive back to Somerset was therefore plagued with worries of my car giving out on the motorway or worse of losing my cars lights driving on country roads as daylight was disappearing during my journey home.


I cannot remember back to February and what I undertook during this period.   From my journal logs it was quite a productive period in terms of meetings attended and progress made however nothing jumps out at me as something achieved during this period.   Maybe this is inevitable that some period will be filled with the work required to underpin future achievement, without there being any discernible achievement during that period.   One thing of note for February however is the fact I surprised my wife for Valentine’s day.   I have never been one for Valentines gifts or making a big thing of this overly commercialized event, however in a bid to show my wife how much she means to me I decided that I would make a special effort.    It is important that I consider making such gestures a more regular event, not requiring of a specific national day such as valentine’s day.


March saw me present at ICT Conference 2017 at King Edward VI School in Southampton.   My topic was that of ICT policy and practice and in particular the 10 main challenges as I saw them at that time.    I wouldn’t say my presentation was anything near my best given the scope of the topic however I found it a worthwhile activity and it was particularly useful to get feedback from attendees on the challenges as they saw them at that time.


In April I actually took a little of quality time for myself, taking time to sit in the garden when the weather was nice, sipping a beer and reading a good book.    This needs to be something I do more often however I do note that my reflections at the time were that I didn’t achieve much during this period.   A bit of chill time isn’t something which normally comes to mind when we reflect on achievements and it is only through reviewing some of my journal logs from this period that I am now even able to identify that I found this time to chill in April.


I turned another year older in May and as with April managed to spend some time chilling but also spend some time outside with my son playing football.    Good weather doesn’t occur as often in the UK as it did while I was living in the UAE.    As such it is important to prioritize and use good weather as an opportunity to spend time outside with my son and also my wife.   This needs to be something I remember for future.   There will be plenty opportunities in winter to write or do other indoor activities however in April and May are the best opportunities for getting outdoor with the kids and family.


During June I attended the MovingOnEd event.   For the first time this allowed me to meet Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) and Kate Jones (@87History) who previously I had only conversed with online via twitter.   As it turned out Kate lives in Al Ain in the UAE where I had lived for a number of years.   We apparently even lived there during the same period time before I moved back to the UK.    At the event I also had the opportunity to meet with Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) and get a signed copy of his book Learning with E’s.


July saw me board a plane to return to Glasgow for the first time in almost 2 years, and only for the 2nd time in almost 10 years.    The reason for return was that of the funeral of my Gran.    I can’t help but think of the phrase “matches, hatches and dispatches” in reference to the only occasions when the family come together as a whole.    It is important to consider the finite nature of our lives and therefore the need to make the best of what we have.   A part of this for me will be ensuring I make time to visit my own parents more regularly which has been something I find to be a challenge given they still live in Glasgow while I now live in Somerset.  This is something I need to consider and action in future.


The final preparations for the new academic year were undertaken during August.    As such it was a busy period and as a result I didn’t record much of what happened during that period.    The only thing I am aware of was starting to making use of Buffer as a service to help me manage my social media interactions.


September saw the start of a new academic year and a particularly difficult project in the form of changing the schools Mobile Device Management Solution.    As a 1:1 school from year 7 upwards, a change in the MDM would impact on a large number of students and staff and therefore the change was not without risk.  Having considered the risk associated with the change, along with the risk associated with remaining with the then current solution it was decided to make the change with the preparation work done during the summer.   Although the prep work had been done the true test was always going to be when the staff and students returned.   As it was the change went well and we managed to start the process of getting students onto the MDM albeit with one or two issues with individual students.   This process then continued throughout the term with the percentage of students on the MDM being steadily increased towards the targeted enrollment figure of 90% or more students.


I attended the ISMG Fraud and Breach Prevention summit in London during October.   I found this two day conference to be excellent with lots to take away in relation to IT cyber security.   The event included a number of high level presentations including contributions from the UK Metropolitan Police and the FBI to name but two.    The main take away I remember from the event was one presenter commenting on how he had predicted correctly that this year had been worse than the previous one in relation to cyber security, breaches, challenges around cyber security and cyber threats.   He went on to rather bleakly predict the year ahead is likely to see a continuation of the trend with things getting worse still.   I tend to agree.


November saw me finally complete on the purchase on a house followed by the traumatic task of actually moving from our rented accommodation into our new home.   A number of issues which I wont go into during which various service providers did not cover themselves in glory made the experience all the more traumatic.    After 10 years in rented or provided accommodation I am just glad to once again be able to consider the place I sleep at night and wake in the morning as “Home”.


December saw me finally sit the CISSP exam for which I had been studying for a significant part of the year.   I went into the exam feeling as if I had done everything I possibly could however also feeling that I would still fall short of the 70% pass mark.     As I finished the exam and left the booth in which I took the computer based test, I felt I would not pass given the number of questions where I had to arrive at my chosen answer via a process of elimination as opposed to knowing the answer to the question.    Much to my surprise the letter handed to me following the test indicated I had passed.    I must admit to being surprised however also happy that the work that went into studying must have paid off.   I tended towards allocating the pass to luck whereas the woman on the front desk at the test centre, the woman who handed me the results letter, suggested I should attribute my success to hard work and study.

2017 has been a busy year and sitting here at the end of it, it feels as if it has flown by.   I am sure there were many challenging points in the year when the flight of time did not feel so swift.  That said, I think it has been a good year with a fair number of achievements or memorable events to list.   Here’s to 2018 and sitting down in a years time with an even bigger list of memorable moments from the year.


My books from 2017

During 2017 I set myself the target of reading a minimum of a book per month.   In the end I achieved this despite also studying for my CISSP exam which I then sat in December 2017.  I note that my reading rate was pretty high during the start of 2017 however dropped to almost nothing in the last month or two of the year as I focused more on studying for the CISSP exam.

Given below are the books which I read in 2017:

  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • Herd by Mark Earls
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  • Grit by Angela Duckworth
  • Focus by Daniel Goleman
  • The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
  • Being Brilliant by Andrew Cope
  • Learning with e’s by Steve Wheeler
  • Culture Map by Erin Meyer
  • The subtle art of not giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
  • Bounce by Matthew Syed
  • Moving Toward Global Compassion by Dr. Paul Ekman
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

From the above I think the Culture Map was one of my favourites due to having worked in the UAE and therefore having to experience the differences in relation to working practices across cultures first hand.   I just wish I had read the book ahead of going out to the UAE as it would most likely have allowed me to avoid some initial issues I experienced.   The Power of Habit and Predictably Irrational are two other favourites from my 2017 reading as they both focus on how we humans believe we are rational and considering of our decisions however in reality our decision making and actions are often the result of habit or the instincts of the human anaimal.

I have already started to put together a basic reading list for 2018 which includes:

  • SUMO (Shut Up, Move on) by Paul McGee
  • The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
  • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel

I am also considering adding a couple of leadership related books along with some books on data science, which is something which currently interests me.

Reading continues to be something I believe to be an important part of life, in its ability to allow us to explore new viewpoints, thoughts and ideas.    I look forward to another year of reading.

Review of 2017

And another year draws to a close and once again I find myself sat down reflecting on the year which has passed.   This time as I sit down, I do so in my own new house having only recently relocated.   This alone is a nice feeling as for the last 10 years I have been either in company provided accommodation while in the UAE, or in rented accommodation.   To actually be able to talk about “my home” is a nice feeling and a nice way to finish the year, albeit I do admit to a highly stressful period of moving plus also a number of trials and tribulations throughout the year in relation to getting to where I am now.

Looking back to the broad targets I set myself back a year ago then, one of the first targets I set myself was to #BeHappy.    Am not sure I can look back and confirm that I have been happy this year.   I can recount some moments, but can recount more moments of stress, anger, etc.   This may relate to the ease with which we seem (or maybe just I seem) to be able to draw to mind negative events over positive events.   Taking a narrow perspective on my review of the year helps here if I change the question to one of, am I happy with what I have achieved this year.    This revised question is more positive focussed and leads to me considering the fact I have bought a house, recently passed my CISSP exam, oversaw very successful project work and also received largely very positive feedback from colleagues and students.    I suppose there is always room to be “more” happy however it is key to admit that this is seeking the perfect lives which TV and Movies might contain, situations which are impossible to achieve in this chaotic ever changing world.

#BeConnected was my 2nd target and this year I am reasonably happy with my connectedness.   It hasn’t been consistent during the year, with the first half of the year seeing me significantly more involved than the later half however this was due largely to prioritisation and other workload related issues.   During the year I managed to finally meet a number of people I have followed, and conversed with on twitter, in person.   This included Mark Anderson (@ictEvangilist), Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner), Kate Jones (@87History), Andy Cope (@beingbrilliant) and Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) to name but a few.  It is always nice to be able to meet in person and I snagged a signed copy of Steve Wheelers book in the process.

#Toexperiment was my third target and I am not sure I experimented either to the extent or in the way I had hoped.   I think this may be something I need to take forward into the year ahead.

#ReadReadandReadSomeMore was my third target and like #beconnected I was most successful in the first half of the year.   The later part of the year this seemed to drop away particularly as I started to focus on studying ahead of my CISSP exam.   I believe I met my planned rate of reading of 1 book per month and I plan to share my book list shortly in a separate blog.    The need to continue learning and the potential for reading to contribute to this continues to be clear in my mind so this will be definitely be something I will plan to carry into 2018.

#BeHealthy is always a target which I never fully get to drips with.   Health and exercise consistently fall low on my priority list and this year has been no exception.    This will require some detailed thought for next year in terms of if I really and committed to making progress in this area.   If not then I shouldn’t list or worry about it, however if it is something I want to achieve then I need to be firm in my commitment and on the planned strategies I intend to use in moving forward in this area.   Maybe its time to order a fitbit or similar over Christmas?

#BeFamily…….Another one which I don’t feel I made much progress on.   This is one for me to reflect on further however not one I feel able to share here at this point.   I also need to accept that I am inherently more negative focused than positive, and therefore my perception continues to err on a more negative view of what may not be negative to others.    That said, it is still an area I believe I need to work on.

2017 has been a good year in terms of what I believe I have achieved.   It has also on reflection gone very quickly which is usually a good sign in that when things go quickly I must have been engaged and focused such that I didn’t appreciate the passage of time, what Csíkszentmihályi refers to as Flow.    Having met Stephen Tierney I wonder whether the key for 2018 is to narrow my focus and focus on what is really important in 2018, discounting the items which are 7 out of 10 or 8 out of 10 in terms of importance and only listing the 9 and 10 out of 10’s?    Maybe I should establish a list of core and secondary priorities?   This is something for my next blog and for my pledges for 2018.    2017 is all but gone and I can be happy with the year.  Let’s hope that I can build on this in 2018 to have an even more successful year and maybe finally deal with the #behealthy and #befamily aspects to a level I consider acceptable.

Merry Christmas to all.