Email is a huge part of our lives. How can you set yourself up so you find it easily, when you need it most?

Ever had to provide email for legal evidence? If not, good… but one day, you might have to do that. How will you find it?

Email is serious stuff and you need to look after it. In this blog, I’ll explain how I set myself up with email for a balance of keeping my primary email mailbox small and archiving my email for fast retrieval when I need it. I use Microsoft Office365 archiving, Microsoft Flow and Google Drive to help put together a system I’m happy with.

logo-brightwareSo here is the back story. I used to be an Artificial Intelligence consultant for a small company called Brightware, who were eventually bought by Oracle. My focus was mainly on natural language processing in emails. The idea was that we used algorithms and a knowledge base which worked out the meaning, or the intent of the email message. The Program, known as Answer Agent, would conduct the calculations using the model I’d built.

As part of my work, I learned a lot about Microsoft Exchange and other email systems which were in vogue at the time, such as Lotus Notes, Pegasus and Mercury Transport Systems. In order to split data into training and test sets, I was usually given a huge PST file which I could split out for testing and training my models.

Even after I left the organization in 2002 after a five year stint as an AI consultant, I’ve continued to practice many of the things that I learned in that time. It was great to get fantastic consulting experience with big name companies, and the people that I was working with then, are now in senior positions now as we’ve all ‘grown up’ together. It’s very true that ‘people may not remember what you did or what you said, but they remember how you made them feel’. One contact, who hadn’t been in touch for almost 20 years, got in touch to say that he is a Director of a small AI firm and they needed some extra help with a strategic direction and Microsoft technology roadmap, so he got in touch with me to help them with their growth trajectory. It’s funny how you work closely together, don’t see each other for 20 years and when you meet, the years just roll away.

So, throughout my career, I continued to back everything up to Outlook PST archives; not just for myself, but for people who sent emails as part of my company as well. Email really is a huge part of our lives, and what we email says so much about us: the good and the bad. Having read so many emails over my life, I’m amazed what people will type and commit to email in a professional setting. Email does not belong to you; it belongs to the company, particularly if the company paid for your network, laptop, email account and your time spent reasonably during the working day sending the email. You are what you write!

You never know when it’s going to come back on you, which is where this email is going. Recently, I learned that a former employee of the client was being accused of something illegal. I was summoned to a client that I hadn’t seen for a very long time, as a witness to an internal investigation. Reading the details, I was stunned but I was happy to help, of course. The client needed to get a fair and external understanding of what had happened. I won’t go into details, but the accusation focused on illegal behaviour. Note that I was entirely innocent but I could comment and show evidence on people’s behaviour, and that was my relationship with the issue. I had not been at the client for at least a year, so I really needed to dig back in my memory.

The thing is, we tend to assume that an accusation is the same as evidence, and it is not. It’s the same with gossip; the assumption goes along the lines of ‘well so and so said it, so it must be true’ even though there is no data to support it. With gossip, people don’t tend to go back and validate its veracity over time, and it gets forgotten about but the vestiges still remain. It gets tucked into our mindset as some sort of evidence, which is likely used to support another piece of gossip as it comes our way. We don’t always see the silliness of the gossip, but we do sometimes remember that the gossiper made us feel ‘bad’ so we don’t always remember what they said or what they did, but we remember how they made us feel. So gossip, and accusations with no data, are foundless. They are not evidence.

Fortunately, accusations require proof in the legal system, and I was asked to provide evidence on the behaviour of other individuals. To my relief, I had backed up all of my emails and it was easy to go through them. I could submit them as I had been the cc recipient of some relevant conversations, and this helped to bring the issue to a close.

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Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/193584-193584/

As a consultant, I run into toxic situations now and again, and these are the situations that help you to grow as a consultant and as a person. I like to believe that emotions should not dictate our decisions, but this can be easy to say but more difficult and challenging to put into practice. Having been an advisor in some internal company cases on racial and sexual harassment has meant that I really have to put my own experiences and feelings aside, and look at the facts. It is a sobering experience, but it means I have to rise to be the leader that I would want to be leading me if I was the focus of these investigations.

I’ve also found two other ways of backing up email using Office 365 and Google. I’m going to lay them out here, and I hope it helps.

Archiving your Email

Why does Microsoft have more than one Archive folder (it seems!), and how are they different? There is the Archive folder and the In Place Archiving functionality. Essentially, the Archive folder in Outlook 2016 is available from your devices, but the In Place Archiving isn’t available on your device in your mail client. It’s that simple. In Place Archiving is for real archive, but you can find email again easily. Plus it keeps your mailbox small, which has got to be good, right?

Archive items in Outlook 2016

The ‘Archive’ folder is accessible on the left hand side of Outlook or through the Archive button in the Delete group on the ribbon. You can move one or more messages to your Archive folder without deleting them. The main benefit is that you can still access these emails on your phone and tablet, so they are still easy to find. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Select one or more messages that you want archive, but still find if you’re looking for them on your phone etc.
  2. In the Delete group, choose Archive.One Click Archiving
  3. You can also use the Backspace key to immediately archive one or more selected messages.
  4. Your message(s) will be moved to the Archive folder. If you archive a message by mistake, go to the Archive folder and move the message back to your Inbox.

Note: The Archive button is only visible in Outlook 2016. Your Archive folder already exists, even if you’ve never used the feature before. If you can’t find it, go to File > Office Account > Update Options > Update Now.

I don’t use this feature, because when I want to archive, I really want to archive. So I use the In Place Archiving Feature instead.

In Place Archiving in Office 365

An In-Place Archive in Exchange Online in Office 365 helps people to file emails by providing additional email storage. It’s not in your device mail by default, but you can find it using Outlook or Outlook Web App.

You can view emails in your archive mailbox and move or copy messages between their primary and archive mailboxes.

Here’s a screenshot from Technet. I’ve used this screenshot since I don’t want to display my own email.

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Credit: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn922147(v=exchg.150).aspx

You can find out more by visiting the Technet Site.

What about email attachments? Using Microsoft Flow to archive inbound documents to Google Drive

I use MIcrosoft Flow to automatically store inbound attachments to Google Drive, as a ‘cold storage’ mechanism. I use OneDrive and Google to store data. If, for some reason, I can’t access OneDrive, then I know I can find things in my cold storage.

Google Drive is a file storage and synchronization service created by Google. It allows users to store files in the cloud, share files, and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with collaborators.

To find out more about the Microsoft Flow connector, click here.

You can set up a Flow quite easily, and here’s the page that will take you through the wizard for Microsoft Flow:

Here is the final flow:

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I hope that helps you to see how to store email easily. You never know when you, or someone else, might need it badly.

Advice from a tech Mom on getting teens to learn to code

Advice from a tech Mom on getting teens to learn to code

Like many teens, my son is interested in gaming and YouTube. As a tech mom, I was keen to encourage him to learn to code. He didn’t really understand why I am so passionate about tech, data and working hard at it. In the past month, we’ve made a real transition from his initial stance to having to drag him away from coding tutorials so he can get to bed at a reasonable time on a school night. I thought I’d share how I managed to turn it around, and I hope it helps.

I recognize that, as a parent, I can influence my teenager but the reality is that his peers are just as influential — if not more. So I decided to use that reality in order to help me.

Try a Hackathon. No, really. Try it.

You don’t need to code to attend a hackathon. People are friendly and happy to pitch in and show you what they are doing. It’s a great community way to learn.

As a first step, I decided that I’d take my teen to a hackathon so he could see other kids coding. He has been seeing me code since he was born and it wasn’t enough to switch him over to learning the skill by himself. Therefore, I worked out that he needed to see his peers coding. I took him to a Teens in AI event in London and it was amazing. There will be other hackathons and they are easy to find on the Microsoft events website or even Eventbrite. My son was inspired to learn more about coding simply from seeing other teens code, and how these programming teens were at the nexus of each and every project. In other words, the rest of the hackathon centred around these teens, and it was inspiring for him and also for me. At the end of the day, he was determined to learn to code and we agreed that I’d buy him a book on Python.

Books or online material?

I chose a book so my teen could learn to program. The reality is that online courses are great, but being online is a great distraction. I noted that he researched Python and saw this counting as ‘working’ but I wasn’t sure he was making the switch to actually doing coding. So I bought a Python book which really helped him to concentrate and feel a sense of achievement as he progressed through the pages. There will be many coding books which you can purchase on Amazon or EBay, or you can look in your local library.

Which language should you choose?

We chose Python because it has a focus on data and maths, plus it has good visualization so he can see the end result. The maths angle has the potential to improve his maths skills, and I believe that’s crucial for kids throughout the school years.

There are other languages and another good place to start is HTML, CSS and Javascript since new programmers can get results quickly.

Office Skills

I’d also recommend that teens learn Office really well. Everyone thinks that they are an Excel expert but there is so much scope in Excel to do different things. Microsoft offer good tutorials for beginners and that’s a good place to start.

My teen is learning to touch type and that’s helping, too.

I hope that helps.

Microsoft acquires Github – does it make sense?

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Chris Wanstrath (left), Github CEO and co-founder; Nat Friedman, Microsoft corporate vice president, Developer Services; Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO; and Amy Hood, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer. Credit: https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2018/06/04/microsoft-github-empowering-developers/ 

Microsoft have to reach the future generations of coders and GitHub is a common denominator for coders. This shows that Microsoft believes in developers, and AI, for the long-term. This is visionary and I love the forward-looking aspect of development.

What will Microsoft get?

– VS Code
– TypeScript
– Electron
– GitHub

This is crucial, since it puts Microsoft running through the veins of modern development, for now and the future. Microsoft are meeting developers where they are.

This is also very forward thinking. I was mentoring at an AI Hackathon this weekend, and I noted that the teens weren’t using Visual Studio for AI. They were using JavaScript and tensorflow JS. All of the teens all had a GitHub account and they were happily checking code in and out. They were very proud of having repositories full of code since they felt that it was proof of their coding abilities.

Microsoft is the largest user of Github so it is largely invested in it already. It’s not just self-protection, however, it goes well with the best IDE ever: Visual Studio. I am excited about the opportunities that it brings for Microsoft and developers.

What will happen next?

Who knows, but here is my take. It’s a more subtle New, One Microsoft because they do seem to be leaving GitHub to run independently, rather than Microsofting it. LinkedIn accounts were not merged into Live IDs or Office365 accounts. I think that Github will take the same road. Nat Friedman will be CEO, so it looks like GitHub will run independently as normal. Why change something that works? That isn’t solving a problem.

To summarise, yes, it absolutely makes sense. Microsoft are looking at future generations as well as existing requirements. That’s true leadership, and it is a new Microsoft.

More reading:

 

Why I wish I’d never backed the Gemini PDA campaign

In December, I had my first experience with Indiegogo, and I backed a campaign to purchase a Gemini PDA. To date, the campaign has generated $2,294,143 which is 284% of target. So there’s plenty of money sloshing around.

As of now, it is May 2018 and despite promises, and a product tracker that seems to be only consistent in its incorrectness, I still do not have my device. This is despite the fact that the Gemini PDA is now available to buy now with delivery mid-June. Initially I was happy to wait until I understood that the device worked but now I’m concerned that I’ve been bypassed. So here’s a lesson in customer service:

In this world where we live in a culture of ‘now’ and constant updates, the silence is disconcerting.

There seems to a precedent where they answer emails reactively when asked about the device. There’s nothing proactive. There is a facility on Indiegogo whereby companies can send updates, but these are coming less and less; only one in May. I’d rather see companies hire a temp or an admin person to look after this and send out proactive emails to update customers. Marketing isn’t difficult and there are plenty of good SaaS offerings for cheap.

I have had no email communication since January when I will get my order; in Indiegogo, it still shows as ‘Order Placed’ which means that it isn’t ready to be shipped yet. I was relying on a Facebook page on when I’d get my device. I’m writing this on 29th May, and this means it is not likely to get here by end of May, which is officially two days away. I feel fobbed off with a Facebook post that said devices would be released, but nothing individual. As a backer, I expect to be treated like an individual; what about people who aren’t on the Facebook page? I expect more communication than this, particularly in this tech-savvy, ‘share everything’ world we live in.

I was an Admin on the Facebook page, but I have taken the decision to remove myself from it. I’ve been as constructive as I can in sending feedback, but my goodwill hasn’t been reciprocated. Now it’s on general release with mid-June date and I still do not have mine. The website says ‘Available now’.
I am disappointed by the lack of communication and I can’t continue to be associated with this situation. Being admin of the Facebook group for Gemini PDA makes me part of it. It feels like I’m endorsing it by continuing to be admin, and I’m absolutely not. People shouldn’t be joining an FB group to get information about their orders, particularly when it involves hundreds of pounds. It’s not a small amount of money. I think I’m being treated in this way because I’m letting them, and I hope that this sends a message back to them regarding customer care and treating backers.
As for my device, if it ever arrives, I’ll probably stick it on eBay, unopened.
It’s not just the poor service that’s made me write this post. I saw a post entitled The Gemini PDA, the Perfect PC for People on Low Incomes? No, no, and no again. Planet haven’t proved themselves worthy yet. Their solution is just out on general release. I was poor – achingly poor – growing up in a rough part of Scotland. Being poor is a hundred thousand humiliations and I have suffered many of those, and I remember what it’s like to be hungry and cold. I still buy second-hand clothes to this day, and I think about every penny. The PDA isn’t cheap. For the poor, being recommended a device which costs hundreds of pounds isn’t going to lift people out of poverty. I lifted myself out of poverty by educating myself, and that meant better access to good libraries, with great facilities and long opening hours. It also helped the loneliness of poverty; you can’t just go and sit in a posh cafe and mingle, for example, so a free reading group where you weren’t expected to part with cash was a great way to spend an evening and certainly better than living in a cold flat. I had this experience and it pains me that the New York Times reported yesterday that libraries have had their funding cut by a third, which is a short-term decision which does not harness the opportunities offered by bringing educational facilities to the poorest.

I don’t believe that Gemini PDAs are a good option for the impoverished, at that price range, and certainly not given the ‘start up’ phase that they are in – if you want to call it that. There can be other, more robust, long-term solutions that are proven and earned trust to help Britain’s vulnerable.

As for me, I’m not sure if I will keep the device or put it, unopened, on eBay. I regret having taken the decision to buy it on Indiegogo and I should probably have got myself an expensive Bluetooth keyboard for my Google Pixel instead. That would really allow me to ‘Type and create on the move.’

 

 

 

Artificial Intelligence Mentoring with Teens in AI

After listening to Satya Nadella’s BUILD keynote this year, I was inspired to do even more with my background in Artificial Intelligence. As a Microsoft Regional Director, I relish in sharing in the positive and forward-looking vision that Microsoft gives because I do think that they are changing the future in many ways.  If you want to see the highlights of Nadella’s keynote, head over to YouTube here for the official Microsoft YouTube channel.

What is Teens In AI? It’s close to my heart because it combines my two loves: technology and diversity. The objective is to increase diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence.
Teens in AI aims to democratise AI and create pipelines for underrepresented talent through a combination of expert mentoring, talks, workshops, hackathons, accelerators, company tours and networking opportunities that give young people aged 12-18 early exposure to AI for social good. The vision is for AI to be developed by a diverse group of thinkers and doers advancing AI for humanity’s benefit. So…..

I’m excited to be an Artificial Intelligence mentor at @TeensInAI’s Artificial Intelligence Bootcamp & Hackathon.  For more information, visit the Teens in AI website.

There are still places left at the #Hackathon with code ACORNFSM free for kids on free school meals and ACORN80@ gives 80% off – come learn about AI with top industry mentors @MSFTReactor 2-3 June.

I hope to see you there!

PASS Marathon: Deep Learning and Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace with Microsoft CNTK, Tensorflow and CaffeOnSpark

REGISTER NOW
PASS Marathon: Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace registration is now open! Jioin myself and other experts by registering today for FREE access to back-to-back webinar sessions: http://www.pass.org/marathon/2018/ai/Registration.aspx

My topic is on Deep Learning, which is a specific subset of Artificial Intelligence. Here is the abstract:

Deep Learning in Microsoft Azure: CNTK, CaffeOnSpark and Tensorflow

What is Microsoft’s approach to Deep Learning, and how does it differ from Open Source alternatives? In this session, we will look at Deep Learning, and how it can be implemented in Microsoft and Azure technologies with the Cognitive Toolkit, Tensorflow in Azure and CaffeOnSpark on AzureHDInsight. Join this session in order to understand deep learning better, and how we can use it to provide business and technical benefits in our organizations.

Join me on May 31st!

IM SPEAKING

Managing activities and productivity as a consultant

I have a hard time keeping track of my activities. It can be hard to track my availability, and my days tend to disappear in a flash. I have tried many different digital ways of doing this, and now I’m going with a mix of digital and analog.

You don’t get what you want, you get what you work for

To lead anyone, you have to have a healthy degree of self-awareness. I find that this is one quality which I don’t see very often, and it’s very hard to try and cultivate it. As a first step, it’s good to measure how you spend your time, because that shows your priorities more clearly, and in a way that you can measure.

I use Trello and Plus for Trello to log my activities over a period of time. The results showed that I spend a lot of time in email, so I worked towards getting it down to Inbox Zero. It took 30 hours of solid email writing to do it, and I did it on planes across the Atlantic to the US, and on planes across to the East. Inbox Zero doesn’t stay for very long though, so I used my last flight to Singapore to try and clear down as many as possible, and I’m down to the last 300 emails. I’m sitting in a cafe in Watford on a Sunday morning, while my dog is being groomed, to clear these down.

My Trello reports showed that I regularly do 15-16 hours of work a day. I work at every available pocket of time, with downtime only for food and for spending time with my son. Sleep gets squeezed. All of this work means that I am leaving a trail of things behind me, and that means it is difficult to unpick when it comes to invoicing and expense time.

Too busy to pick up the $50 notes that you drop as you go

I have hired a Virtual Assistant and she has been helping me a lot; it’s been worth the time investing in training her in my various home-grown systems and I’m hoping to get some time back. I was getting to the point where I was dropping things like expense claims, so, basically, I was dropping $50 dollar notes behind me as I sped along my way. Having the VA onboard means I have someone to help me to pick up the $50 dollars as I go, and it’s worth investing the time.

We are designed to have ideas, not hold them in our heads

I bought the Get Things Done book and something really spoke to me; humans are designed to have ideas, not hold them. That’s true.

I wrote down every single idea that I had. Truthfully, we forget our ideas. I didn’t bother evaluating if it is a good idea or a bad idea; I just wrote it down. I then saw that I could group these ideas, so I start to split them out. One of my headings was ‘Ideas for blog posts’. Very shortly, I had 36 blog post ideas down on the page, which I had collated over the period of a week or so. This is blog post #36. I haven’t lost the other 35; I can pencil them in my planning journal. So let’s dive in and take a look at the system.

Bullet Journalling in a Traveler’s Notebook

I started to use the bullet journal system and I’ve heavily adapted it. It was worth investiging a couple of hours to understand it, and get it set up. Here is the website here. After having tried various electronic and digital systems for the past twenty or so years, this is the only one I’ve found that works for me.

I have a Traveler’s Notebook, which is like a refillable notebook that you can customize yourself. Here’s my Traveler’s Notebook, which I took whilst I was out in the Philippines:

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The Traveler’s Notebook itself is customizable. I have the following sections:

  • Task List
  • Monthly Tracker with Weekly next to it
  • Daily Tracker
  • Mindsweeper (a brain dump, basically) for blog ideas, things to remember, quotes I like, tentative activities, adresses I need temporarily etc.
  • Slot for holding cards
  • card envelopes for holding things such as train tickets, boarding passes
  • Zippable wallet for holding passport

Here are some ideas to get you going.

Tracking over a Month

I use a monthly spread, which uses a vertical format. On the left hand side, I record anything that is personal. On the right hand side, I record work activities. I don’t split the page evenly, since I have less personal activities than work activities.

Here is my example below. The blue stickers are simply to cover up customer names. I took this shot half-way through my planning session, so you could see the structure before it got confusing with a lot of dates in it.

IMG_20180507_205411

Using my background in data visualization, I try to stick to the data/ink ratio. I am trying to simplify my life and declutter what my brain can take in quickly, so I find that it isn’t necessary to repeat the customer name for every day. Instead, I can just draw a vertical line that has two purposes; to point to a label, and to denote the length of the activity. In other words, it forms a pointer to the label, which shows the customer name. The length of the line covers the number of days that the activity lasts for. So, if the line has the length of four boxes, then this means that the activity lasts for four days.

Occasionally, I’ve got excited because I think I have some free days to book myself out for an unexpected request. Then, I realize it’s because I haven’t marked out the weekends. I work weekends too, and the main reason I mark weekends separately is because my customers don’t work weekends, usually. Therefore, I colour weekends in so that I can easily categorize the days as being part of a weekend or a normal working day. I have also done this for Bank Holidays because I tend to work then, too.

My personal things go on the left, and my work things go on the right.

Tracking over a Week

I put the weeks on the right hand side of the page, and this is where I combine time, tasks and scheduling. I use the grid in order to mark out the days, and, on the same line, I mark out the Task. Then, I can put a tick in the day when I have pencilled in the task itself. You’ll note that I have marked a seven day week. You can see it at the right hand side of the photo.

If I don’t manage to complete an activity that day, I just add another tick mark so the next day so that it gets tracked then.

I don’t eliminate tasks that I haven’t managed to complete that week. Instead, I just put them in the next week instead.

In my weekly list, I don’t cross things off when I’ve done them. I find that it created an unnecessary clutter, and I didn’t want to bring into focus the activities that I’ve done. I’m more interested in what I have to do next. I leave that to my daily list, and I will come onto that next.

Tracking over a Day

For the Day, I use an A6 size notebook, and I use a two-page format. On the left hand side, I go back to the vertical representation of time. This time, the day is chunked in to hours. As before, anything personal or non-work-related goes on the left hand side. On the right hand side, my work activities for the day go here. That may include stand-up meetings, retrospectives or whatever I am doing that day.

I have added in a slot for lunch. I don’t normally take lunch but I need to make sure that I eat something. It is easy for the day to slip by, and I only notice it’s lunchtime because people are not around and the office has gone a bit quieter.

On the right hand side, this forms a mini-brain-dump of activities or thoughts that occur as I proceed throughout the day. It can also form a memo pad of things that I need, such as a phone number, which I jot down before I add to contacts. This usually gets filled during the day. It is a messy space, a place to unload,

Some of these thoughts are important but they are not urgent. I can then clear these items into a less transient mindsweeper but I just need a place to hold them temporarily while I assess their urgency.

The idea of having ideas, rather than holding them in my head, was a revelation to me. I’d been worrying about my memory, and forgetting things. If you forget something, then you lose a part of yourself and you don’t get it back. I set myself memory tests, such as remembering the name of a painting, or a quote of some sorts. When I start to forget things, then I know I am starting to have problems. The reason I started to do this is because I could see the start of someone else’s memory start to go a little, as he forgot things such as who he ate dinner with; simple things like that. It made me very sad, and I realized that our memories make up so much of who are we.

It can be tremendously liberating to divest ourselves of our responsibility of trying to remember everything and to focus on the things that matter. It frees your mind to have more ideas, rather than focus effort on holding ideas, which is harder for your mind to do.