We changed the world


Not something that any of us say every day but if we are lucky then once or twice in a lifetime.

Twenty years ago this week I started my work on a project called Orbitor for Nortel Networks. I was the product guy. The project became the world’s first smartphone, and although never launched it changed the way we look at and use mobile devices forever. First use of Java in a mobile phone (Scott McNealy said “I didn’t believe it was possible” to me in Frankfurt in 1997), first over-the-air download of an application to a phone, and many more firsts. The guy who worked on the background tech went on to architect the iPhone. And we all had a ball doing it.

The tech and the product means nothing now, except the legacy. This week I emailed 5 of the key players in the team, two of which I hadn’t spoken to for years. All replied within two hours. Here are some of the comments:

Phil, What a wonderful note.  While other faculties may be failing, your memory is spot on.  It is indeed 20 years since Brian and I and the Orbitor team crossed paths with two crazy Brits and commenced a wild journey.”

I agree.  Thanks for the memory.

 Nortel’s strength at its height came from the innovation and resourcefulness of its people, and the Orbitor team represented the pinnacle of that value.

 Projects like Orbitor didn’t just change the world, but changed those of us who came in contact with them.  We (you) are the legacy of that – keep the flame alive!”

20 years, eh?  I didn’t have a specific date etched in my archives, but that timeframe sounds about right.  I recall at least one software developer who came into my office asking if he could join my team because he wanted to work on Orbitor.  I told him that there wasn’t any such development project at that time.  He said, “Not yet, but there will be, and you’re going to be the one to do the development, and I want to be there when you do.”  Yes, we did hire him.  We had a lot of people on staff who could predict the future.  We got pretty used to living 10-15 years in everyone’s future.”

It is a measure of what we built that a lot of the team, although busy with their own lives, have gone on to have serious careers, but still stay in touch, albeit not as often as they would like. What was it that Russel Crowe said in Gladiator? Oh yes, “What we do in life echoes in eternity”

I wonder how we are going to change the world next?


The Magpie Conundrum


You can probably tell that it is another offline Sunday because I want to talk about magpies. In my few idle moments I struggle with magpies, more specifically what to say to them and when. To explain, in my household we were brought up to say “Good morning my Lord” to a single magpie to negate the one-for-sorrow in the 1789 nursery rhyme. Superstitious but curiously addictive. But there are questions that just can’t be easily answered:

  1. If one sees the same magpie every day (there is one who practically lives in our garden), should this be said once or every time we see it. Does the sorrow go away or is it renewed each time the sun rises and has to be negated daily?
  2. When driving, what is the distance between two magpies that is permitted? If we get this wrong one way there may be double sorrow. If we get this wrong the other way and say “Good morning my Lord” twice, will we miss out on the joy?
  3. Exactly how much trouble are we in if we say “Good morning my Lord” to a bird that is not a magpie? This could be due to sun in the eyes or a part-albino black chicken that is needy…
  4. In these politically correct days, three for a girl and four for a boy just sounds wrong.
  5. Five for silver and six for gold sounds good but once again there is a problem with driving and distance. I would imagine that looking for silver and gold whilst driving would result in a crash. This would probably be down to it being four magpies and one or two singles who had not been addressed properly. As you swerve to avoid the boy from number four the crash would cause sorrow (or double sorrow), possibly involving a silver or gold “other” car.
  6. Seven for a secret never to be told is a whole other ball game. Who’s secret is it? Do the magpies hold the secret or the girls and boys? Does it involve silver and gold? Tricky.

In some parts of Europe single magpies are said to forewarn of wolves and armed men approaching. This worries me given the one in our garden.

I do like my unplugged Sundays!


p.s. written in the sunshine last Sunday.

Man unplugged


I have recently had a two week holiday from work for the first time in many years. Largely my family was working and there was enough time to think and chew over the world, cunning plans were hatched, but there were also a few more fundamental thoughts.

We are connected people in a connected world and there is always the temptation to go online and have a look around, or look at the iPhone. This happens often, and perhaps far too often. Those two weeks, whilst acknowledging that work in online based, I began to wonder what would happen if it all stopped. More than that, what would happen if we wanted it to stop? Don’t misunderstand, this is not the stirrings of a potential luddite or the desire to become a prepper. This is about simplicity.

We live increasingly complex but trivial lives (debate).

Simplicity and meaning rather than complexity and trivia – there’s a thought. So there is no desire to live in a yurt and knit my own yoghurts. Yes there is a desire to have a break from it all, to do things we used to do, or better things, with hands and minds and time.

An experiment is upon me. Internet free Sundays. I am going to try and keep one day per week (Sunday is just the most convenient day) internet free. That means phone switched off and no computer. On Sundays I will be a man unplugged.

The phone will be with me in case of an emergency. But wait…if the phone is switched off, how will I know the time? Must find my watch. But wait…why do I need to know the time? Get the picture? Time slows down.

Last Sunday I went blackberrying, and froze them. I went to a car boot sale (poor as you ask). Then I cooked, then I read a book. Can’t decide if TV is allowed.

This might become a movement, or a cult, or an internet phenomenon…

Man Unplugged


p.s. This blog will of course appear online, but was written on a Sunday, on paper, outside, under a tree. So there.

Upcycling Revisited


Hundreds of years ago, when I had my first flat in Liverpool and the mortgage rate was so high that I could barely afford to eat, a bed was needed.While my heart was set on everythng Habitat (remember them?), my wallet said FREE is GOOD, so I decided to make one. As I had a mattress, what was needed was the base. After much thought and a little chat to my then employers, two industrial pallets arrived at my door. With a can of red gloss paint I created a low level bed that was much admired. Why didn’t I come up with the name UPCYCLING and start a business?

Today upcycling is massively on-trend, eco-friendly and loved by lovies everywhere. With the exception of the extremes (“Oh look Camilla I have turned a double-decker bus into a book shelf”, “How to turn a mahogony table into shirt buttons”) I love it. It is so impressive how inventive people are and what they can achieve.

Back to reality I am in the middle of turning a number of pallets into a two-level dog kennel. There are three things to consider:

1) Can it be completed before I run out of dogs to put in it?

2) Can it be done without buying any new wood whatsoever?

3) Can it be done without spending more on accessories and tools than the cost of a new two-level dog kennel?

Hmmmm, time to do stuff rather than writing about it!


p.s. More on this later if you can bear the excitement…

Fathers Day

A reflective fathers day this year. Later this week it is twenty five years since my father died. Twenty five years, a quarter of a century! I got the call and drove my battered Ford Escort flat out from London to Southport and he died in our arms. It was shortly after David Platt scored the winner for England against Belgium (he loved football), and with Pavarotti singing Nessum Dorma. He was only 71, but of a different generation to most of my friends’ fathers.

My father never met my children, or saw the internet, or computers or mobile phones. He would have loved Sky Sports News and have been utterly bewildered by most of what we think is normal today. I was pondering Periscope today and have no idea how that could have been explained to him. He fought in the war and would never talk about it, saying simply that he had seen things that no-one should see. He didn’t like ‘foreign’ food – “Tried it in the war, didn’t like it”, so my mother used to slip garlic in when he wasn’t looking.

He hit his tennis serve by holding the racquet like a frying pan, drawing it down on the ball to give it acute backspin. When he his a forehand his right leg went up in the air. He was truly awful at DIY. My father loved small children, but didn’t understand anyone over 5 years old; and teenagers, oh the battles!

William Thomas (Terry) Terrett was a cool man with a dry sense of humour. He worked hard for his family and kept little for himself. He offered little encouragement when we were growing up but was rarely critical.He retired at 63 and within a few years began to fade, badly. I have always thought, that like many of his generation, the war broke something in him that could never be unbroken. When military service ended, work began. When work ended there was little left.

My father was a maths genius. We used to race to add up vast lists of numbers from his Sales Conferences, him by hand and, me on a calculator. He was never wrong, and always faster. In another life he would have taken the University place denied him as a youth  and then who knows?

There have been many times when I needed his guidance in the last twenty five years and have just had to work things out myself, today I feel it more than usual.

As Leonard Cohen sang “It’s Fathers Day and everybody’s wounded”

A year has passed

It’s been a year, dear blog and I have been neglecting you. A year ago today I arrived home from a meeting in London and took our beloved Gizmo-Cairn to be pts. I guess I have needed some time to process what happened, the unfairness of it, the shock and the effect on the family. I decided to make that a year sabbatical from this blog and a few other things that had been troubling me.

This gap year, things in general have been better. After a few years of trials and tribulations, when at times I wondered if I was becoming a man diminished, I now know that I am not. It is the same me, with the same energy as ever – perhaps I just needed a little time to think, to mull things over, to make cunning plans and to settle back into a rhythm.

We now have two strange and interesting new Cairns, Hattie and Bella. Rescue sisters who are 9 years old and can honestly be described as characters. They have helped mend broken hearts and restore a sense of lunacy that was crushed a year ago today.

Take a deep breath, gaze across the shore to the sea, feel the salt spray and let’s begin.

Little Black Spot


There’s a little black spot on the sun today.

We lost our handsome, beautiful, opinionated Cairn Terrier Gizmo this week, to cancer. He was only 7 years old. My wife cries, my daughter is withdrawn and my chatty, noisy son is silent. I have a Cairn sized hole in me. When his predecessors left us (Woody at 14 and his brother Homer at 16) there was time to prepare. Time had caught up with them. For Gizmo it was less than 7 days from diagnosis to gone. He was an absolute delight, and lest I ever forget:

  • He had a strong belief that (when he woke us up by standing on our chests, madly wagging his tail to go out for a pee at 2.30 a.m.) we would be as happy about that as he was,
  • The way he ran downstairs to greet us at the front door, earning the nickname Thunderhooves,
  • That he learned (with my daughter) to do the cowboy trick – she drew imaginary pistols and made shooting noises – he rolled over and raised his paws,
  • When let  off the lead he didn’t run, he galloped,
  • How he slept on the big bed on his back with his head to one side and all four legs pointed to the ceiling, AND made puppy noises when he was dreaming,
  • That chasing a small tennis ball was great, but chasing three at once was the BEST THING EVER,
  • He loved licking faces, and my son’s face was his favourite,
  • How he was my bacon sandwich, sausage, cheese, tuna and afternoon sleep buddy.

He could also subdue a rubber chicken, stand for hours in plant pots, drink pond water and generally be magnificent.

As a family we already know that we have unfinished Cairn business, but this one, this little furry one was special.

Oh and if you look carefully you will see that the little black spot on the sun is Cairn Terrier shaped.