A Very Fine Line

I like to think that I was an early fan of TED talks. Many are genuinely thought provoking if not inspirational. When though, TED invited comedian/musician Reggie Watts to give a talk on what ever he chose to talk about the result left me somewhat stumped. It is either the most brilliant talk ever or the most stupid. I just can't decide. If you watch and are left open mouthed in quizzical confusion then you will mostly know how I felt when I looked at my last physics exam paper at school. In that instance, the examiners didn't take long to come down on the side of stupid rather than brilliance. It is, a very fine line you know. 

Spread the Joy

Careful; dancing with your daughter can lead to unexplained events

So, I was chatting recently with an old friend who has had a few downs rather than ups of late and I had a thought. 'I remember,' I said, 'standing next to you waiting for a train on the West bound platform at Piccadilly tube station years and years ago. You turned and said to me, ‘Do you ever imagine what it would be like if everyone on the platform suddenly burst into song and dance from a musical?’'

Up until then I must admit I hadn’t. I have since. He was ahead of his time. We now know them as Flash Mobs. He might have perhaps had something like the kids in the clip above in their epic FM in Antwerp in mind. I certainly wouldn’t object if this lot joined me on public transport either. As it happens, Mrs Flashbang is a leading exponent of the Flash Mob genre. She made quite a mark with the rest of the village choir at the South Harting Summer Fete I can tell you. The things this family put me through…..

Still, what is there not to love about a world where people spontaneously burst into song around you and spread a little joy and happiness. Next time then you think a bad thing, imagine fifty people around you breaking into a song and dance number from 42nd Street. You’ll feel better; works for me.

This whole 'be nice and spread a little bit of joy,' thing has been taken up as the cross on a crusade that can only be described as, 'well, why not?' by an outfit called Liberators International, created by social artist and world peace maker,' Peter Hendrick Sharp. Odds and ends of the narrative on the web site are a bit New Age but actually, its just about sharing and being a good neighbour to those around. In England, he'd either be thought of as slightly eccentric or someone destined for a career in the rural church, as a Blue Peter presenter or in fat counselling. 

Spread the Joy

But I'm not here to be miserable and cynical so lets share the joy ourselves by checking out LI's now viral clip taken on the 07:51 to Perth in Australia. Incidentally, being the big softie I am I went to iTunes to buy the track by the now sadly departed Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and of course, you have to buy the whole album to get the track. Apple sell themselves as some kind of friend to the world. They're not. They make machines that I like but they don't play nice. They're not inside my circle of trust that's for sure.

Some souls however, think on a deeper level and search for more meaning. They needn't look far as  David Steindl-Rast reminds us in this TED talk. He describes himself as a monk and interfaith scholar but obviously he's not. We Jedi's can spot another pretty easily. Anyway, worth a listen if so minded; if only to remind yourself  what your grandparents always told you, 'be grateful.'

Go Kids!


Last night, imbued with a heightened sense of fun and fulfilment, I finished another rip roaring day in the stock market and left to go to a school parents evening. Wandering around the teachers with my offspring, I was pleased to hear the right things and that he was ticking all the required boxes. I was a little surprised though when told that he’d just won a “poetry recital in a foreign language competition.” All well and good but the surprise was that he’d won the competition by doing the recital in ancient Greek. My ears really pricked up when I heard there was a cash prize…………. Unfortunately the £25 book token isn’t really going to touch the sides. 

The evening was uplifting and not because junior was scoring a few points. More, because the sports hall was full of enthusiastic and smart 17-18 year olds brimming with youthful optimism, each with their own sense of clarity and purpose.  I am ceaselessly amazed and inspired with what the young achieve and have great faith and confidence in the future and their ability to improve the world around them and to build.

It’s a while since I’ve mentioned a TED talk; here’s one with a 12 year old, one Thomas Suarez, who is a pretty good example of what I'm talking about. A kid who gets up and get things done.

3 D Printing - Game Changer


Barnes Wallis

Now and again, a technology comes along that can be described as a "game changer." That is, a technology that is so revolutionary that it can change not just the dynamics of our economy but also act as a catalyst for social change at some level, whether it be by wealth creation, emancipation of some description or in some way to contribute to the greater good. Television, the personal computer, the web and mobile telephony would be but a handful of examples. 

3 D printing may be the next big thing that changes the world we live in. 3 D printing, for those who have not yet heard about it, isn't just some clever machine for printing brightly coloured origami flowers............... take a look at this...

Now, making a spanner is all well and good but imagine a world where you can design something at home and then drive to your local Kwik Fit type garage and have it produced on an industrialised 3 D printer within minutes, just as you might take a disk to Jessops to have some prints done. The acceleration of innovation will be incredible across all fields. None of that age old stuff of boffins trudging the streets for years trying to find a backer for their new vacum cleaner or whatever; it'll be as easy as popping into Sainsburys. 

(Obviously, the career for kids to head into will be intellectual property law which will boom).

Medicine is already leading the field in development............. look here

Think too what it will mean for cheap manufacturers across the world; China will be nothing without a massive uplift in intellectual creativity for example and it will impact supply chains, energy costs and of course retailers across the world. 

Wouldn't it be nice if it improved the quality of life at the same time? Actually, I'm looking forward to the reemergance of the British Boffin who has been in hibernation for far too long and am left only to ask, "Will it be able to print one of these for me?



Richard Todd & TED


Well, what a week to forget and as we go into the weekend I note The Mail are running an indignant story about the remake of every big boys iconic movie, The Dambusters.

Somewhat predictably though, their guns are pointing in the wrong direction. The journalists focus on the gall of script writer Stephen Fry in renaming Guy Gibson's dog from "Nigger," to "Digger." Now, as young lads watching it for the first time we all sniffled back a tear when Nigger was run over outside the guardroom, but the fact is that it's a grossly offensive word in the US. Try using it over there sometime. If you're lucky, a cop will get to you before some enraged local. It's the social semtex equivalent of calling the Queen a hooker would be here. You just don't do it, in jest or otherwise. Moaning about historical revisionism then is largely irrelevant; Nigger, was a dog for goodness sake.

The story of the Dambusters is the story of the courage and fortitude of the aircrews, (53 of whom died on the raid; an attrition rate of 40%), and of the persistent obsession of Barnes Wallis, a brilliant man who never psychologically recovered from those losses for which he felt personally responsible.


Richard Todd

The real question here though is why make a new movie at all. How on earth can the original be bettered? It was made by people who lived throigh the war and in some cases, like Richard Todd, (who was an utter gentleman and a privilege to meet), actually fought through it. Apart from the inevitable blizzard of special effects I just don't get it. Leave well alone, they'll only cock it up - the name of the dog is the least of it.

So, enough of ranting for the week, lets attempt to end on a higher note. It's been a wee while since we've visited TED and whenever I do I'm reminded that there really are some jolly clever and special people out there with a vision and imagination that I love to share. 

I found this, unusually original and uplifting,


Libya; Who's the Nutty One?

Libyan Rebel

As the engagement in Libya rolls on, it may yet dawn on some of the self obsessed minds in Whitehall that this thing may be a wee bit more complex than the initial wheeze it might have seemed to their PR orientated minds. Obviously, our coalition government has a plan so cunning that only a fox could spot it which would explain why I, not being a fox, am completely confounded. We've discussed before, here and here, what madness it is for the UK to be involved in Libya and events have moved on.

Having dispersed with the usual niceties of having diplomats shuttling all over the place trying to find a diplomatic solution before committing our forces, we went straight to weapons free as a result of a backroom deal cobbled together at the UN by a disparate collection of diplomats. The British people now find themselves, without any national debate, embroiled in a complex problem that I'm convinced our apparent leaders only have scant, if any, appreciation of. 

David Cameron & Nick Clegg discuss Libyan Intervention


The whole thing is an ill advised and poorly thought through shambles, which has all the ingredients to morph into a complete catastrophe.

I've been loitering over at Think Defence and I repeat here some comments I made there about where we now find ourselves. 

Consider the following:

1. What is the national interest of the UK here?

2. Germany, a key NATO member, is on the sidelines.

3. …. so is Russia, who are happy to see the West embroiled in yet another middle eastern op.

4. The Italians, who have the greatest national interest in Libya are on the sidelines and hedging their bets; ie, their airfields can be used, (for the moment), but their forces are not engaging.

5. What exactly has all this to do with NATO, has it become the armed wing of the UN now or just a convenient cover for some countries to legalise their offensive ops without declaring war?

6. Where did the Arab League disappear to? Bet none of us saw that coming did we…..

7. Who is actually making the calls on the operation now, what is the aim and what is the exit plan? No, I didn’t think so….

8. Has anyone bothered to explain the risks involved here to civillian population in the coalition countries of a terror strike by Gadaffi agents?

9. Can we run a concurrent and potentially much larger op in the Gulf if trouble kicks off there, and where our real national interest lies?

10 Odd that the French, who took what they suggested was the moral high ground in Iraq, should be so aggressive in leading the Libyan campaign…….. why though, are we trotting after them?

11. The loose, and temporary, affiliation of rag tag rebels are only advancing because they are backed by billions of pounds of the best military technology on the planet. At some point, boots will be required on the ground, if just to maintain order when Gadaffi is swinging from a lamppost. From where will they come?

12. It’s not news that the rebels include AQ fighters. Gadaffi was happy to send some of the more fundamentalist elements in the East to Afghan over the past ten years. Now they’re back, how do we feel about supporting them?

13. Isn’t this one operation where the Chiefs could have turned round and said, “On this occasion Prime Minister, it might be an air bridge too far?”

14. Interesting too that the Sherman’s are stepping back by refusing to countenance arming the rebels or committing ground troops. They’ve also sent the USS Enterprise back to the Red Sea. They are definitely on a direct path to let Europe deal with this. We’re going to be left holding this orphan baby and it’s not ours.

15. At the moment, we’ve succeeded in helping to disperse lots of arms all around the area which have been looted by the rebels from government arms dumps. These include, just to keep us on our toes for the next twenty five years, hundreds if not thousands of shoulder launched air defence missiles.

16.Potentially supplying arms to a disorganised rabble with no command and control, no logistics and no training will not help to eject Gadaffi. We’ve seen in the last 24 hrs that the rebels turned tail and legged it down the road at 80mph, not because they needed more arms but because they’re crap and didn’t know what to do when someone had the temerity to shoot back at them.

17. Meanwhile, a king sized problem is brewing in Yemen where things are very close to kicking off but nobody is taking any interest. Thing is, AQ do have power and influence there and could easily slip into any power vacum created by instability.

18. Our key national interest in the region though, remains firmly focused on Bahrain and Saudi. Instability there, under Iranian influence, would create massive problems for the UK and actually, the whole global economy. 

Anyone normal citizen, who doesn't spend most of his time talking to the media or policy advisors will be well aware there is no groundswell of public support for involvement in Libya. Whilst no one has any sympathy for Gadaffi there is no resonance from the public who, at the least, question the unnecessary cost involved. EUReferendum has some interesting numbers, and a few other pithy facts in posts which HMG may find somewhat unsettling in the event they listened to anyone other than the BBC or Sky. 


The whole sorry situation brings to mind a speech that Cameron made on the deck of Ark Royal, shortly before he promptly scraped it. After grandstanding about the Covenant, Drake and Nelson he said,

" It is time for us to think again about how to make our country safe, how to project power in the world, how to look after our national interest, and how to make sure we are secure for the future.  That is what we should do."

 Getting into his stride of fairy tale make belief he then went on to say,

".....it is time for us to rewrite that Military Covenant, to make sure that we are doing everything we can for you and your families at home, whether it is the schools you send you children to, whether it is the healthcare that you can expect, whether it is the fact that there should be a dedicated military ward for anyone who gets injured or wounded in Afghanistan or elsewhere."

 Well, I'm here to help so here's an idea Prime Minister. Instead of loosing off Storm Shadow missiles at £1m a copy in a country where we have no business being, why don't you throw some cash at whichever genius came up with this, so we can get our lads out of wheelchair's....




I'm a bit of a fan of TED. What is it?

It's is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader and their conferences have become famous for stimulating and innovative thought. The talks are brief, no longer than 18 minutes and part of the fascination for me is many of these quite brilliant minds are able to put over some quite complex ideas in an entertaining and easy to understand way; even for people like me. 

Take a wander through some of the videos and prepare to have your eyes opened and thinking challenged, it really is worth the effort. Here's a taster from a chap called Johnny Lee who obviously has a brain the size of Scotland and has done some very cool things with a cheap Wii remote: