The Writer Automaton

Truly amazing programmable technology from 240 years ago.


What is this?

Does anyone recognise what this is?


It’s a stylised setup for the first transistor, created by Bell Labs on the afternoon of 23 December 1947.

I admit to not recognising it myself, even though I’ve worked in the industry for 18 years and take it’s invention for granted.   Here is the current record I could find for a single chip – 7.1Bn transistors in a 678mm² form.

IBM z13 Storage Controller Transistor count 7,100,000,000 2015 IBM 22 nm Area 678 mm²

And for FPGAs, Virtex-Ultrascale XCVU440 20Bn+ transistors!

When it comes to RAM, this 128GB DRAM DIMM seems to take the overall record though.   128 Bn Transistors?

Making Innovation Real

Much is written about innovation and I guess this post just adds to the pile.   It seems people and organisations are always looking for the next big ‘thing’, the ‘thing’ to save them, to get ahead of the pack.  It’s a fair ambition however what are the keys factors to consider to put in place to increase the odds of success.

Fortunately many people have reviewed this, for instance in IBM’s recent innovation study, ‘More than magic’ downloadable here

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 16.36.45 the authors create a list of considerations.


1/ Align innovation with business goals

2/ Structure ‘open’ forms of innovation

3/ Create specialized teams


4/ Lead with an innovation focus

5/ Encourage innovative behaviors

6/ Sustain innovation momentum


7/ Source new ideas

8/ Fund innovation

9/ Measure innovation

Outperforming teams and corporations thrive where all nine domains come together with the appropriate balance.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 16.38.26

Whilst all of these are vital considerations, I’d encourage the reader to focus on Culture, Intrapreneurship and the Funding Model first.

Culture comprises many things and all have to be considered at the same time : Teamwork, Individual Motivation, Collaboration, Focus on Performance, Openness, Knowledge Sharing, Agility and Flexibility, Mistake Tolerance/Fast Fail Approaches, Personal and Corporate Empowerment, Personal and Corporate Risk Taking and Leadership for example.

I’d also assert from my experience that it takes enormous energy, passion, a personal sense of purpose to push through change, as change is at the heart of innovation.   Someone needs a vision, that vision needs to be communicated (repeatedly) to encourage confidence.   Also it seems that a few key individuals make innovation happen and I firmly believe in the concept of an intrapreneur – because innovation is very different in a big corporate to a FinTech firm or startup for example.

From a funding viewpoint, there is no easy solution here – innovation costs time, money and resources.   Whether it is funded through ‘saves’, e.g. turning things off or through central pools, or from large transactions that can tolerate a few percent being re-invested in the business of innovation, the funding has to be considered up front.   Going forward this should be business as usual as the world will move faster and faster.  Large  firms already set aside large R&D budgets to tackle this but I’d assert that all the money and the approach is not always well spent.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 16.07.22

Another key driver is a ‘pain’, a ‘problem’ – a form of burning need to do something.   Someone once told me “Businesses buy because either a problem or opportunity” and it holds true.   Problems come in all shapes and sizes, from regulatory, compliance, cost, competition etc.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 16.25.02

Innovators tend to come up with wild ideas, occasionally huge ideas – ‘moonshots’.  They have their place, but realistically things need to be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.   The picture of the grounded dreamer above sums it up to me.   The innovator must balance the ambitious vision with pragmatism, which is where experience comes to play.

My final thought, told by Lord Coe recently at an IBM event in London was ‘Consider every day for 30 seconds why you are doing what you doing’.  It resonated with me, as the personal energy, drive and passion you have has to placed on the right bets every day as without these things in place someone else will do a better job of it elsewhere.


Using iControl to turn my lights on/off via my Apple Watch

I’ve used Wise Controls hardware and software ( for many years now to control my lights around my house.  I’m very sure the world has moved on from a technology view point and there are better solutions out there but it works for me.   This is a picture of a 5M long multi-colour LED strip in my kitchen all controlled wirelessly.  LED Lighting

I’ve been able to control my lights from my iPhone for a while using this interface.  It is ok, but can’t do many things and the tooling is not updated by the firm.

Wise Controls

So I could automatically schedule my lights and remotely trigger them I managed to reverse engineer the interface and it is very simple to trigger an already configured signal.

For example:
Turn on :
Turn off :

I started writing an Apple Watch interface to do the same but stumbled upon this great project instead that has a great iOS and WatchOS interface, and is easy configurable.

For a configuration standpoint it is very flexible and easy to insert the URLs as above. For example:

“pageLabel”: “General”,
“timeout”: 2,
“compactHeight”: false,
“controls”: [{
“button1”: “on”,
“button2”: “off”,
“cmd1Id”: “uniqueCmdId1M”,
“cmd2Id”: “uniqueCmdId2M”,
“headline1”: “Stair Lights”,
“sizeType”: “medium”

This is what it looks like in its simplest form on my watch.

Watch Interface

Mechanical Watch or Smart Watch, Hybrid or Both?

I love mechanical watches, whether manual or automatic, chronographs, chronometer certified or not.   Recently I’ve had my eye on an IWC Portuguiser 7 Day Automatic and an Oris Calibre 111 10 day non-linear manual, both amazing watches at very different price points.  During my pondering and over-analysis of the market and my daily near addiction to new news on the Watchville app, Apple announced and released their first generation Apple Watch.

I’ve been in this position before in the early 2000’s, where I bought an amazing portable Sony Minidisk player just as Apple were introducing the iPod – I bet on the wrong horse that time and don’t want to be in the same position again.

So, should I be wearing a mechanical watch or a smart watch, and when is a good situation to wear each?

Given the price of the decent mechanical watches, the Apple Watch is considerably cheaper so I bought an Apple Sport watch as a bit of an experiment event though I usually avoid first generation products.

Here are pros/cons for the Apple Watch from my own experience.


  • Apple Pay – The killer app so far in my mind, hands free purchasing – even on the London underground
  • Accuracy – The watch is highly accurate – a £10k watch will probably gain/loose 2 seconds a day
  • Notifications – Weather, Messages, Emails, Calendar reminders, London Tube status
  • Passbook – Flight QR code boarding passes
  • Health – Water notifications, stand ups, distance walked, heart rate (to my Polar Bluetooth HR strap too)
  • Fitness – Logging exercise and daily activity challenges – I sync to Fitbit as well
  • Notes – My conference PIN for a quick lookup whilst I’m one the phone
  • Apps – Citymapper, Samsung TV remote
  • Voice activated timer – especially whilst cooking with messy hands
  • Battery life for a city lifestyle is good enough, usually end the day with 40-50% remaining
  • Hands free talking to allow you to do other things and not scramble for a headset


  • Limited individualism except by having a variety of straps
  • Meeting etiquette – when is it ok to look at your watch during a meeting without looking bored?
  • You need to move your wrist/arm or click to show the Clock face – major issue for me, maybe custom subtle gestures?
  • Apps I’d really like – Spotify & Sonos controllers.
  • Remove the need to have the iPhone nearby
  • Faster native Apps are required
  • Battery life for multi-day traveling is a concern
  • Not waterproof enough to swim or shower with
  • I am also used to continuous heart rate monitoring and sleep pattern logging with my Fitbit HR

So far, five weeks in I’m loving my smart watch.  First small scratch yesterday, but then again the watch is £300 not £10,000.  Maybe watches should be more throw away in nature.   Progress is certainly difficult to come to terms with but the Apple Watch is massive progress over a mechanical watch.  Right now if they can fix the clock face issue to always be on, I very much doubt I will go back.  I’ve tried wearing two watches on different arms with a long shirt – but it is odd and slightly embarassing and makes no logical sense.

I have been to the theatre recently and was concerned about the brightness in a darkened environment, but after a few configuration changes made it work, however, could have been trouble with it lighting up like a Christmas tree unexpectedly.

I am spending money on straps though since they are so easy to swap out and add a hint of individualisms although no way as much a traditional watch, especially uber-cool HYT hydromechanical watches.  I’ve bought black leather, brown leather, pilot style black leather with white stitching, sports bands and traditional 22mm pin bands too with an innovative crowd-funded adapter.

Don’t get me wrong it is not perfect, but for a First Gen. product and operating system it is amazing.  Let’s see what WatchOS 2 brings our way – free upgrades, don’t see that with mechanical watches.   I’m planning a week in Vietnam soon and the Apple Watch will stay a home and instead I will probably trust a mechanical waterproof dive Omega instead.

My coveted IWC or Oris watches are moving down my purchase list for now but for sure they still have their place for special occasions.

Maybe there will be a place for a Hybrid watch with the best of both smart and mechanical worlds – I hope so.

HYT H2 Hydromechanical
 Oris Big Crown ProPilot Calibre 111 10 Day non-linear
IWC 7 Day Automatic Portuguiser
Image from