Never have so many people understood so little about so much…

What inspired you as a child ?

A child today hopefully seeing the exploits of Elon Musk and Space-X launching and recovering rockets with showmanship seldom demonstrated by serious rocket scientists may have their interest  sparked in science and technology?

Personally my love of technology came yes from rocket science, but also crucially from growing up during a golden age of science broadcasting in the 1970’s when well informed specialist correspondents were on our TV screens it seemed every day.
Reginald Turnill, Patrick Moore and Raymond Baxter had both huge experience and knowledge in the fields of aviation and astronautics but were also great story tellers explaining often complex issues without the dumbing down so common today.

Reg Turnhill
Raymond Baxter in the backseat of the Harrier piloted by the great John Farley.

For me however the greatest of this generations was James Burke. Watch here his truly breathtaking live commentary of the Apollo 13  re-entry – a masterclass in explaining what is happening to the viewer during an incredibility tense few minutes.

I was too young to really remember Apollo 13 however in 1978 James Burke wrote and presented his seminal series Connections to try and explain how technology had come to play such an important part in society, in the first episode of the series he paraphrased Churchill to make the point as relevant today as it was then…

Never have so many people understood so little about so much…

I loved this series, Burke does a masterful job linking technological developments over 10,000 years to explain the modern world – imagine my joy on finding that the series had be re-released last year and is available on Amazon.

Let me show you why I am so gushing in my praise of James Burke…

Watch below perhaps the greatest “piece to camera” every filmed from Episode 8 of the series, here James Burke explains the connection between the invention of the thermos flask and landing on the moon.

Make sure you watch to the very end !

Eat your heart out Brian Cox !

The next Steve Jobs – and then some!

Once the recognised industry visionary was without doubt Steve Jobs, the ultimate showman – the man who claimed to want put a dent in the universe by creating technology so well designed and well of course marketed that it’s introduction would change society.

Take for example..

  • Apple II
  • Apple Macintosh
  • Apple iPhone

Now without Jobs, Apple seems to be turning away from technology and becoming a fashion brand, producing so-so technology with added “bling” to appeal to celebrities, the evidence m’laud.. The new Macbook in Gold and the Apple Edition Watch.

Now as an Apple Fanboy that’s was a difficult point to make.

The new tech visionary I and others identify is Elon Musk CEO of Tesla and Space-X, who rather than just building consumer electronics is working on the slightly bigger challenges of carbon free transport/power generation and rocket science !

And he comes across as a straightforward humble guy, as demonstrated in yesterday’s launch of his domestic battery system – the Powerwall.

If you have kids and you want to show them someone to admire as an alternative to Sports stars, celebrities or (unlikely) politicians show them this video, and read his Wikipedia entry.

Posted from the Dali Lounge, Barajas Airport, Madrid .


10 years ago today at 50,000 feet !

At just after 9:00 am on the 29th May 2003, I achieved a lifetime ambition and flew  Concorde ! Concorde had six months of service remaining with British Airways so the rush was on for fellow Aviation geeks to organise the trip of a lifetime.

The journey was perhaps the last occasion that I could describe as an example of glamorous air travel. The dedicated Concorde lounge at JFK’s Terminal 7 had a real buzz about it, although the usual compliment of banker and celebrity passengers was supplemented my people such as myself who were here for the ride..



Clearly visible through the wall to celling windows was the flagship of British Airways fleet, G-BOAC. After the obligatory glass of champagne it was time to board and I took my seat 6D inside as everyone says the rather cramped cabin, similar to a modern Embraer E jet .

I had specifically chosen to fly back from New York to London on flight BA002 as my Concorde experience for what happened next.. Anyone who flew on Concorde will tell you the take off was like no other experience  after all it was the only commercial airliner to take off using afterburners ! But the take off from New York was even more special, because of the need to carry out noise abatement procedures very quickly after take off, Concorde made a hard left turn, enough to make you feel both pushed down and back into your seat from the acceleration – very roller-coaster like !

This video give you some sense of this unique departure..


Very quickly after take off the afterburners are switched off and there is a noticeable deceleration and reduction in noise. After a few minutes and another glass of Champagne and canapés, it was time to really get going.. the Captain made a short announcement switched on the afterburners again which felt like a kick in the back  and we rapidly accelerated to Mach 2.0 1330 MPH and an altitude of 56,000 feet.



At such a speed and altitude there was no real impression of speed, other than perhaps from the heat felt when touching the small windows, the heat a product of air friction.


Looking out of the window produced a view quite different to the 747 flying only half as high as Concorde. The sky was much darker and it is possible to just about see the curvature of the earth, and the thin blue line which represents the vital but very fragile part of the atmosphere in which we all live.


I will never in all likelihood be as high or travel as fast again in my life as I did for those couple of hours ten years ago,  indeed the captain made the point at that moment there were only five people higher than the 100 passengers in Concorde, and they were on the International Space Station !

I completely understand the economics of why Concorde no longer flies, but is still seems wrong that the technological masterpiece on which  I flew now sits in a Museum at Manchester Airport !

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)



Inspire a moonshot not a blueprint ?

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to take part in the ImaGIne conference organised by the European Umbrella Organisation for Geographic Information in Dublin. The conference although not very well attended did contain both excellent presentations and perhaps unusually great discussions which really seemed to address some of the key challenges of using geospatial technology in Europe.

A talk on the use of Geo in the context of Europe brings us inevitably to the Inspire Directive and it’s progress and impact. Inspire which came into force almost exactly six years ago is the programme to build an European Spatial Data Infrastructure by October 2020.  Inspire was the topic of much discussion at the conference as this year a number of important articles of the directive must be implemented.

An obvious concern expressed by many, included myself, is the difficulty of legislating to build an information system over such a long time.  Developing quite prescriptive  rules as to how to share information is almost impossible with the speed of technological development online.

The issue is perhaps more problematic when you think that many of the ideas and principles enshrined in the Directive were developed during the five years leading up to 2007, a time before social networking, big data and the mobile internet.

In hindsight of course perhaps a less rigid approach which articulated the principles of sharing environmental data and their benefits might have been a better outcome, concentrating on policy issues around reuse of information rather than the actual mechanics. And yes of course I accept the point that without harmonisation of data and the creation of (limited) metadata data sharing is difficult, nether-less often inspirational ideas are best when they plant the seed of an idea and accept that how the idea is accomplished may differ.

Before the conference in Dublin, I was asked to speak at a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels and was asked to bring along a object which to me represented the Inspire programme. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments, but I brought along my rather battered copy of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon“.

Along with HG Wells, Verne is credited with pioneering science fiction, and with this book although published in 1865  demonstrates the power of a inspiration idea. Both Wernher von Braun and Robert H. Goddard cite the book as a catalyst for their interest is rocketry and space exploration. Published 100 years before the actual moon landings Verne was able to make some uncanny predictions, correctly suggesting that three men would leave the earth in a capsule launched from Florida after much political horse trading!  Of course technology moved on and 1969’s great achievement was made with liquid fuel rockets and computers not the large cannon suggested by Verne – still the idea was the inspiration !

So perhaps we should look at the Inspire programme in the same way, a moon shot idea that today may be achieved is different ways to at first considered..

Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)


So does Open GovData allow SME’s to flourish?

Within the first few weeks of joining the Ordnance Survey 10 years or so ago I was shown a prototype map of the New Forest printed on silk, for reasons anyone who has read the “Innovators dilemma” will understand it was never turning into a product, and I still have  the prototype in a drawer at home.

So when my old friend from the OS David Overton  launched SplashMaps via Kickstarter last month I immediately supported the project.

I supported the project not just because I think the product is a great idea, but that is is a real example of Open Government Data supporting small business innovation.  As David points out, he was willing to license commercial data from the OS, but the usual licensing maze in Southampton actually made using the newly available OS Open Data and OpenStreetMap data a better alternative.

If you believe in the principle of open government data, support it with your bank account and help SplashMaps meet it’s target.

Written and submitted from the Hilton Hotel, Vienna  (48.206N, 16.383E)