We all met talented people throughout our lives. This can evoke a wide range of feeling. From the wide-eyed awe to the upset of the green-eyed monster of jealousy. Those blessed with a facility to achieve more, and the dedication to make the most of that talent, can have an immensely positive impact on their communities. It’s doesn’t always turn out that way but when it does our focus is attracted. We look on with admiration, joy, and hopefulness. Hopefulness that the joy will rub off onto others and inspire.

The passing of the Brazilian footballer Pelé is the passing of an era. If it’s an image of a screen or picture in a newspaper he had the capability to shine. It’s a heavy weight to be classed as the “greatest players of all time.” Such accolades can be the ruination of a normal mortal. Afterall we are not built to be super-human.

To anyone under 30 years old, it’s not easy to convey the transition of television from a Black and White screen to a Colour screen. It seems so primitive. The kick-off of Pelé’s fame took place in the monochrome world. That didn’t dim our amazement at his talent. The dynamics of his movement. His ability to outwit those around him on the football field. The delight of elegant goals striking the back of the net. This summed up to be special.

Who would have thought that a Brazilian professional footballer would make the world a better place. For generations of young people kicking footballs around hard-hit neighbourhoods there’s a star. It doesn’t matter that few will have such great skill to show-off. What matters is the inspiration.

World Cup glory came his way three times. That’s unmatched. The bar has been set for those to come. Good luck to those who try.

R.I.P. Pelé.

Digital Hazards

I agree[1]. The INTERNET information super highway isn’t so different from the highways we use to get around. Both have traffic. One presents hazards that are not always obvious and the other is riddled with hazards, many of which we can see. They are similar hazards, in that someone raiding your personal data can have just as devastating an impact as your car running off the road.

Giving people mandatory training before they venture out into the world of INTERNET banking, and the mad whirl of social media has merit. This will not reduce serious problems to zero, but it can mean fewer people suffer financial misfortunes and reputational nightmares.

I know this thinking is hard for anyone with an inbuilt downer on the notion that Governments should intervene to protect citizens from every threat. This is fine. There should be a reasonable threshold set before rules and regulations are grasped as a weapon against potential harms. Everyone has a responsibility to look after their own health and safety to the greatest extent that they can. That’s where there’s marked limitations in the case of the digital landscape.

Even for those aware of live digital threats the means to address them are not well known or easily accessible. The human factor plays a part too. Many people are reluctant to admit that they may have been dupped or take for a ride in the wild west of the INTERNET.

On another subject, but not unrelated, is that we live in a world of gurus and commentators. This predates social media but that has heightened the trend. It’s as if well-informed person A says, “don’t stick your finger in the fire” and nobody listens. However, when well-known person B says the same everybody listens. All the time the facts remain the same.

Sadly, this works with disinformation as well as the truth. There’s a propensity to wish to agree with people that we imagine others agree with at the same time. It’s a cosy security blanked. There was once a saying that; nobody ever got the sack for hiring IBM. This phrase captures the belief that those others can’t all be wrong and even if a choice is wrong for me, I’m not alone.

Such blame avoidance is pessimistic thinking. It elevates the fear of failure and places it at the heart of decision making. A balance is better. Awareness of hazards is the first step in managing risk.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qj9z

Time & Tech

It was a Financial Times newspaper poster that warned of UK job losses on a mass scale. It captured the pervasive idea that, as in the industrial revolution, huge changes in working conditions and types of jobs were come down the line. Technology would radically reshape employment. Those in comfortable jobs would not be imune from change.

One whole broadsheet page carried a message. Center of a picture was a large, polished metal dustbin. Contrasting and overspilling it were white shirt collars. The background was blank. The stark message was – the silicon revolution will mean an end to white collar jobs. I think the advertisement was placed by the trade union: Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS)[1].

This was the 1970s. A time when speculation about the impact of computers in the workplace was rife. It was before the Personal Computer burst onto the scene. Names like IBM and the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) were dominant. I wonder what it would be like if I could step into a time machine and return to that era. To let them know what really happened as technology advanced unrelenting for the next four decades.

In many ways white collar jobs, or office jobs, have not disappeared. If anything, the numbers employed, where a computer is an essential part of the everyday work has increased dramatically. Yes, there’s not so many white collars as digital communications allow people to work at any location. The workplace dress code, if there is one, has left the standard suite and tie behind.

Taking a broad view, the “silicon revolution” has improved life for many. Gone are huge typing pools, mechanical calculators, and Orwellian workplaces. Card file indexes, drawing boards, and toxic chemical copying machines look prehistoric in black and white pictures from the 1970s.

In that conversation with an office worker of that time, what they may be shocked to hear is that the diversity of companies shaping their workplace will narrow down to a small number of vast American names. The expected liberalising impact of technology, that makes information available to everyone, anywhere and at speed will have the perverse effect of narrowing minds.

What do I take from this journey to the past? It’s that the impact of technology is shaped by the choices we make. However, we choose with little idea of the longer-term influence technology has on our lives.

POST: Timeline | The Silicon Engine | Computer History Museum

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_of_Scientific,_Technical_and_Managerial_Staffs


It took me a while. Looking though a box of horded records. They’re the sort of thing that seemed important at the time and some how got preserved. Really daft stuff like timesheets, the names of people and places that have long since gone. The Plessey Company no longer exists. The former Plessey Marine site at Uppark Drive, Ilford, now that’s the site of a B&Q store. GEC/Siemens launched a hostile takeover of The Plessey Company[1]. By 1990, the company name had all but disappeared and over time its parts had been sold off. It’s sad to read the fate of some great British companies.

Rifling through stashed personal papers is a Christmas break sort of thing to do. It has a reassuring feeling to it. Memories are fragments and some bits and pieces of paper help tie together roughly connected moments.

From January to May in 1981, I undertook an undergraduate training programme in Ilford, Essex. This was quite an excursion, or at least an opportunity to explore somewhere quite different from my student life in Coventry and nothing like my home life in Somerset.

My digging up a record of the past was for a reason. The BBC have done a review of 2022[2]. As you might expect part of that was a review of some of the people, we have lost in 2022. Quite a number of these personalities had their heyday in the 1980s. Ten minutes into this annual review is a clip of Wilko Johnson. He’s playing as part of the British R&B band Dr Feelgood. If there’s one album, I’d advise anyone to play, anyone who loves raw live music, then it’s “Stupidity[3]”.

Now, my recall may be fuzzy, but I remember seeing Wilko play live on stage in early 1981. Initially, I thought that was as part of Dr Feelgood, but a small amount of research shows that he’d left the band by that time. His stage act is seared on my memory. That electric stare he had and the robotic side to side run across the stage was just mad. Genius all the same.

I’m sure that I saw him at London’s Marquee club. However, it may be an oversight, but he’s not listed in the records of early 1981. I strongly agree with this site that the Marquee Club[4] is a real reminder of the days when club / pub music was alive in its richest shape.

When I write this, I’m thinking how dam lucky I was just to be there on one night. More than 40 years ago. It doesn’t matter it’s still live to me.

POST: BBC Radio 4 – Mastertapes, Series 2, Wilko Johnson (the A-side)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plessey

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m001gfn6/review-2022-3-we-remember

[3] https://www.discogs.com/master/105937-Dr-Feelgood-Stupidity

[4] http://themarqueeclub.net/


Tis the season of goodwill. Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas. May there be peace in the world. It’s time to capture the spirit of Christmas and spread it far and wide. We do it every year but it’s no less important every time we do it. It’s a great big manifestation of hope. A way to end the year in a mood of good humour, joy, and optimism. 

In this case talking about double entendre is way short of the mark. The word “sprit” has a whole host of contemporary meanings. It’s an extensive list. Here, I’m trying to capture some essence of what has been passed down for generations. It’s how we cheer ourselves up knowing that the hardships of winter are a passing phase. Christmas may have its origins in seasonal habits that run through the whole of human history.

Like it or not, the Christmas we know has come down from Roman times. Although, it might be better to say that a recognisable celebration is traceable back to the ninth century in England. That reason for festivities unites all Europeans. It’s part of our common heritage and social fabric.

However, as I drive west, down the A303 and pass Stonehenge it’s not Christian Christmas I might think of as much as the Winter Solstice[1]. That is as we move from seeing less of the Sun day-by-day to a gradual lengthening of the days. Ironically, this is known as the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere.

The coming 31 days of January maybe the least loved of the months of the year, but the prospect is that winter will be finite. We can honour its passing before it has passed. Lengthening hours of sunlight will change our mood and slowly raise our spirits.

Isn’t hope wonderful? What shame human affairs don’t have such a seasonal clockwork mechanism at their core. Or maybe they do, in the way that Christmas and the calendar synchronises us with the rhythm and routine of the heavens.

For me the next celestial marker is the Vernal Equinox as it ushers in Spring. I don’t know if having a birthday just before the onset of Spring symbolises any mystical significance, but I like it. So, celebrate and enjoy the seasonal spirit. Christmas comes but once a year. Let’s hope this one brings some good cheer.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/winter-solstice-2022-celebration-shortest-day-facts-b2249667.html


It hadn’t occurred to me at all. We’ll not as far as this person’s abilities to communicate a topic that clearly fascinates her. Yes, I know that part of that work is to promote a book just before Christmas.

I enjoyed Dr Lucy Worsley exploration of the life of the author Agatha Christie[1][2]. She looked, not just at the chronological facts but tried to piece together Christie’s motivations and the forces that were acting on her at different stages of her life. A well-crafted story was presented that was far more interesting than may have been commonly understood.

Now, I’m told that the reaction of some people is as “marmite”, that is you either love it or hate it, with little room in-between. It seems Worsley’s dramatisation of the incidents of Christie’s life are considered frivolous and superficial by some pedantry types.

As a presenter, Worsley loves to dress up and is not shy of debunking long-standing historical myths. It’s a style that leads viewers and listeners into the feeling that things were not as simple as our school textbooks had us think. That there’s a twist and tail in every story of the past.

The snobbery that can be directed towards those who step outside the box and challenge, even with great care, embedded assumptions, and folklore is not nice to see. It’s not limited to academic historians who have a fondness for telling stories. There is a little too much of this trend in the aviation world too. Ten minutes on Twitter and you’ll be convinced.

I remember one of Quino’s cartoons[3] showing a university professor sitting in the middle of a room. In true cartoon abstract his head was a big arrow that pointed towards the roof. Sitting around him was a group of smiling acolytes. Their heads were extended too. They each wrapped around the professor’s head like a vine. The message being that it’s all too easy to give up independent thinking and follow a classical or standard line. An illustration of “group-think”. That tendency for people to cling to an ideology regardless of its sensibility.

Here’s a Christmas message. If tempted to be a pedant or a snob, even with the best intentions in mind, count to ten before launching reactions to the creative and more demanding thoughts of others. Especially, when thoughts and ideas step on your own cherished field of expertise.

It’s worth a try.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001g91r

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0d9cd6n

[3] https://www.quino.com.ar/homequino


Impossible to listen to the burbling of UK Minister Stephen Barclay. After a while the listener sinks into an overwhelming feeling of despondency. His words are strung together as if he was on a brain teasing quiz show run by Victoria Coren Mitchell. Barclay exudes a fear of making sense.

For one, please, please, please will he not keep saying the same thing about rigidly adhering to the results of a pay review body. Results which are widely known to be out-of-date. Afterall, if Ministers have any purpose at all, it goes way beyond rubber stamping the work of others.

Given his previous party-political roles it’s astonishing to see him in a serious government job like Health Secretary. A job where playing party-politics can cost lives. I think we all know that the crisis of the moment is not just about pay. However, to pretend that staffing levels and pay are not so important is beyond the understanding of most normal people.

This suited grey-haired man in his early 50s would be better employed on the London stage. I can see him as Marley’s ghost in a Westminster adaptation of A Christmas Carol[1]. Recounting the day when he had the opportunity to fix the problems of Health and Social Care but looked the other way and played for time.

The many strikes that are hitting Britain are avoidable. British politicians are failing to engage with the problem. What’s disheartening about this situation is that everyone knows there will be a settlement at some time. Recognising that fact, it’s about time the groups involved got together and talked long and hard. That is talking with no subject taken off the table.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has a leadership role. It’s time for him, not to excuse the government at every media opportunity, but to engage, roll up his sleeves and meet the unions. Playing party-politics and courting right-wing public opinion was fine as he did in his Brexit job but now Barclay has a real job with real responsibility. It’s winter. This is tragic.

He needs to step up or ship out.

POST: Making a bad situation worse International nurses considering leaving UK if pay does not improve | Nursing Times

[1] https://youtu.be/ReprQS03ZM4

R.I.P. Terry Hall

Term started in September 1978. My first resting place in Coventry was in Priory Hall[1], overlooking the tarmac and the infamous ring road. We were up on an elevated 4th floor. That was the part of the building that spanned the road that led to the Cathedral. It was slabs of grey concrete arranged as Lego blocks in the 1960s. As student accommodation it was bashed and battered but cheap and warm. Sitting at the heart of the city compensated for the fumes that wafted up from the bus station. It was a good way to start my undergraduate life in an industrial Midlands city.

Little remained of medieval Coventry, except paintings. The bombing of WWII reshaped everything in the city centre. Post-war rebuilding embraced the modern with architecture we now find brutal. Strangely for me, 26 years later I moved to a German city that suffered the same fate; Cologne.

I’m writing this to remember sitting on the floor in Lanchester Polytechnic Students Union, beer in hand, listening to the bands that stamped their identity on the city and far beyond. Despite the economic depression, or because of it, there was an unending stream of bands trying get noticed. The Union was a venue where there was always an audience to be found.

Amongst them was The Specials. Although, for me the band that sticks in my mind at that venue was the early version of UB40[2]. “One in Ten” captured so much of what was happening outside the doors the Union building. The mood of the song resonates now as much as it ever did.

My engineering sandwich course meant that I came and went from Coventry between 1978 and 1982. I couldn’t have chosen a better time for live music. Yes, the city was suffering a devastating economic downturn. The Government of the time appeared happy to let great British industrial names to go to the wall. Pubs and clubs were buzzing and Two Tone[3] was invented.

So, thank you Terry Hall. His performances captured what The Specials were about. At the time, I had no idea that what was happening in the Student Union Hall would be enduring but that’s the way it turned out. The brilliant music and lyrics sum up so much that they will last for ever.

We lived in a concrete jungle. The song “Ghost Town[4]” by The Specials is beyond iconic. It’s a lament about the passing of good times. It’s about the wreckage left by an uncaring Government. It’s about a lost sense of direction. It’s a song for today too. We see this pent-up frustration coming back. “The people getting angry”. It’s not the scourge of unemployment this time. It’s the trap of low paid employment without hope.

[1] https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1960/prioryhall.html

[2] https://youtu.be/usYgf8cVfvU

[3] https://www.thespecials.com/gallery

[4] https://youtu.be/RZ2oXzrnti4


Now, there’s an activity with two humans in the loop. Given the physics involved the goalkeeper should be beaten every time. Well, I’m saying that assuming a high level of expected performance on the part of the footballer taking the penalty. I guess that’s why we are often critical when they miss. In the last few weeks there have been more than a few examples to watch.

What we know is that football penalties are much more than mechanical actions and reactions. However, there’s a degree of mythology about the inevitability of human factors taking control of the outcome: goal or no goal. I’d like to think that there’s an ever-shifting blend of what physics does to the ball and what the human does. Is it always possible to predict the slipperiness of a spinning ball traveling at speed that is then touched by the fingertip of a goalkeeper?

What if the footballer taking the penalty, was an “intelligent” machine. That is a machine with a sensor array and computational capability that far exceeded normal human performance. Such advance automation could calculate the most probable reaction of a goalkeeper based on history and the immediate movements they make right up to the last millisecond before the ball is struck.

Assuming the machine was limited in term of the force it can apply to the ball, it could still adjust its actions as soon as any new information was available. I’m not saying the outcome will always be better for the machine football striker. However, it could reduce the scope for error and randomness to dictate what finally happens.

So, with that argument, in aviation, I’m saying it’s not right to say that Single Pilot Operation will always be worse than two crew operations. Don’t get me wrong, those people aggressively advancing the idea that the intelligent machine will always be better than a human are missing something too.

One thing that highly capable automation could have to bring to the party is not only early detection and diagnosis of problems but a massive library of stored experience. How we embed and constantly update that flight experience is an almighty challenge.

Afterall, the dread in aviation is knowledge with hindsight. It takes the form: “You should have known. Why did you let this incident happen?”

I’m now tempted to think of a Star Trek analogy. Every second an aircraft of a type is flying, experience of its operation is being accumulated. If there are hundreds of a type flying at any moment across the globe, that’s a lot of data to collect and absorb and think about before acting. 

The fictional and scarry Borg are cybernetic creatures linked by a hive mind and they know a thing or two about assimilation. Granted that’s farfetched as analogies go but my point is that I believe we are generations away from that kind of capability. Not only that, just as humans fail so any such “intelligence” designed by humans will fail to.

Windy Days

At a young age, I had learnt how to harness the power of the wind. One of my childhood constructions was based on a chunky 4-wheelled trolley that was used to move milk churns around our farm. It may have been redundant at the time when my boys own “land yacht” was created. What made it fun was that the front wheals were steerable. With a slight slope on the concrete farmyard and a windy day, it’s amazing how much fun could be had despite a crash now and then. My poor parents must have spent a lot of time patching up me and my brothers’ grazes, bumps, bruises and hurt pride.

In the 1960s, dad and mum were still milking cows, but milk churns had been replaced by a polished stainless steel bulk milk tank installed in the dairy at the back of the farmhouse. It wasn’t so much a dedicated dairy farm, as we had pigs and chickens and cattle, but the cheque from the Milk Marketing Board[1] probably kept the family finances in the black.

To create working sails there was plenty of discarded black plastic sheeting. This was used a lot to cover hay ricks so they would survive the winter without rotting. Nicely, this tough sheeting could easily be cut to any size and shape even if the discarded bits had rips and holes.

My first experiments with flight were unique. In so far as I know. More accurately the term “controlled falling” describes what we got up to when parents were not looking. Built on the fun had with my milk trolley yard yacht it seemed natural to experiment. Being in the Southwest windy days filled a sizeable number of days of the year.

Out the back, in a field behind the cow stalls was a standard Dutch barn. Quite a big one with a lean-to that faced roughly north. That painted red lead[2] barn was filled to the brim with hay. It was a sturdy construction that wasn’t going anywhere. A steel roof strong enough to hold an 11-year-old without any problem. I’m sure we were told off many times for getting up on that barn roof.

The black plastic rick covering material didn’t make good kites. It was too thick and heavy. What it did make was crude parachute constructions. I tried these as a substitute for a kite. Seeing a strange boy running with a string attached to an inflated plastic parachute must have been quite perplexing.

Having gained some feel for the power of the wind by playing, it was time to see if these experiments could be taken to the next level. Jumping off a hay barn roof may sound reckless and downright dangerous. However, I never was one disregard my own safety, even as a mischievous young boy. Having springy hay bales to land on or a soggy field where wellington boots sank deeply into the mud, lowered any physical risk considerably.

Parachuting off the hay barn roof proved to be a short-lived project. It almost worked. The wind did slow the inevitable plunge but not enough to make it enough fun to do it too many times. The baler twine parachute attachments got twisted and broke loose far too often. In so far as I remember no injuries were sustained in this boyhood madness. Well, a couple of bumps.

[1] https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C179

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead-based_paint_in_the_United_Kingdom