Thoughts from a hill

Our family stood atop a hill in Northern Sweden. When we looked down one side we could see the towns and roads lit into the distance. When we looked down the other side, however, we could see nothing at all but trees;  no roads, no telegraph poles, and no lights whatsoever.

I briefly thought that that may be the only time in their young lives that my children would get to look out at a world without mankind and its influences.




I don’t do a lot of unattainable wishing these days, I prefer to concentrate my energy on things that can be achieved. Things that will benefit my family, or others that I know, or even total strangers. Yet there still has to be a part of each of us that has a quick yearn now and then for things that are unlikely in the short term or just will not happen today when we want them.

I just woke up wishing I was in some dusty town in America, caught in a warm rainstorm whilst playing Venice Queen by RHCP over and over again. Not going to happen this morning when it is cold and grey in Wales, but hey we are allowed a little wish…


A year has passed since

I had a heart attack. I thank Ruth for spotting what was happening and the staff at the Royal Gwent and Cardiff Heath hospitals for sorting me out. My heart was not damaged and they unbunged my arteries and stented me. I watched them do it on a screen above my head. Fascinating stuff. I was going to write a blog called stents and sensibility but that was just too self-indulgent when there are others far worse off.

The year has been very stressful but my re-plumbed heart is (I think) doing fine. I have removed the stress and the people causing it and am now charting my own course, with vim and vigour as they used to say.

We move forward. Always.With purpose, and gratitude.

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.