Engineering Innovations: The Compass

A compass is defined as a device used to determine direction on the surface of the earth. The most familiar type of compass is the magnetic compass, which relies on the fact that a magnetic object tends to align itself with Earth’s magnetic field. Other types of compasses determine direction by using the position of the Sun or a star, or by relying on the fact that a rapidly spinning object (a gyroscope) tends to resist being turned away from the direction in which its axis is pointing.

The basic parts of a magnetic compass are the needle (a thin piece of magnetic metal), the dial (a circular card printed with directions), and the housing (which holds the other parts in place).

An important feature found on many compasses is automatic declination adjustment. Declination, also known as variance, is the difference between magnetic North (the direction to which the needle points) and true North. This difference exists because Earth’s magnetic field does not align exactly with its North and South poles.

Magnetic compasses may have now been made almost obsolete by GPS (global positioning systems), but their influence on early navigation and exploration was immeasurable.

Written records indicate that the Chinese were using magnetic compasses by 1100 A.D. , western Europeans and Arabs by 1200 A.D. , and Scandinavians by 1300 A.D. By the 14th century compasses had widely replaced astronomical means as the primary navigational instrument for seafarers. The compass provided explorers with a reliable method for traversing the world’s oceans, a breakthrough that ignited the ‘age of discovery’ and won Europe the wealth and power that later fueled the Industrial Revolution. More importantly, the compass brought interaction, both peaceful and otherwise, between previously isolated world cultures. The world became a little smaller !

Hope you have a good month

All the best



“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

Woody Allen

“I want to know God’s thoughts… the rest are details.”

Albert Einstein

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Engineering Innovations: The Printing Press

Knowledge is power, and the invention of the mechanical movable type printing press helped spread knowledge wider and faster than ever before.

German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing the modern printing press around 1436, although he was not the first to automate the book-printing process. Woodblock printing in China goes back to the 9th century and Korean bookmakers were printing with moveable metal type a century before Gutenberg.

Historians believe Gutenberg’s adaptation, which employed a screw-type wine press to squeeze down evenly on the inked metal type, was the key to unlocking the modern age. With the newfound ability to inexpensively mass-produce books on every imaginable topic, revolutionary ideas and priceless ancient knowledge were placed in the hands of every literate European, whose numbers were doubling every century.

Gutenberg didn’t live to see the immense impact of his invention. His greatest accomplishment was the first print run of the Bible in Latin, which took three years to print around 200 copies, an incredible speedy achievement in the day of hand-copied manuscripts.

Gutenberg’s invention wasn’t commercial at first because of the absence of a distribution network for books. He died penniless, his presses impounded by his creditors. Other German printers fled for greener pastures, eventually arriving in Venice, which was the central shipping hub of the Mediterranean in the late 15th century. A distribution network was discovered by selling books to sea captains who sold them on around the world. Suddenly the printing press became commercially viable as market demand was now married up with the new technology.

Technology in information dissemination has grown since then in leaps and bounds leading to worldwide coverage in seconds, not just in the written word but in many other formats.

I think this technology led to increased worldwide wealth, increased pace of life, and an ever quicker evolving society.

Hope you have a good month

All the best



“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” 

Steve Jobs

“Some men look at things the way they are and ask why?

I dream of things that are not and ask why not?”

Robert Kennedy

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Engineering Innovations: Wind Turbines

Wind Turbines and Windmills are ingenious devices that are able to convert wind power into useful mechanical work. This is achieved by using turbine blades or ‘sails’, to impart a rotational force to a main shaft. This, in turn, is used to do work, via a gear system, such as generating electricity through a generator or simply grinding flour !

The Persians were some of the first people to harness the power of the wind to do work when they began building early forms of windmills in Iran and Afghanistan in around the 7th Century AD. These early windmills consisted of sails radiating from a vertical axis within a building, with two large openings for the inlet and outlet of wind, diametrically opposite each other. The mills were used to directly drive single pairs of millstones without the use of gears. They were one of the first civilizations that were able to directly replace human beings with machines as a main source of power.

Windmills would become increasingly widespread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and remained in common use well into the 19th Century. The development of steam power during the industrial revolution would lead to the eventual decline of windmills.

The first ‘proper’ wind turbine as in a windmill designed to generate electricity, was built in Scotland in 1887 by Professor James Blyth to power the lighting in his holiday cottage !

The first commercial wind farm was established in 1980 and supplied 0.6 MW, produced by 20 wind turbines rated at 30 Kw each, installed Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire.

In the 20th and 21st centuries the Wind Turbine has become an important power source to supplement the national grid. An average onshore wind turbine with a capacity of 2.5–3 MW can produce more than 6 million kWh in a year – enough to supply 1,500 average homes with electricity. An average offshore wind turbine of 3.6 MW can power more than 3,312 average homes.

Perhaps with today’s energy crisis we should also start installing more home turbines?

Hope you have a good month

All the best



“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Albert Einstein

“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”

Henry Ford

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Engineering Innovations: Steam Power

The Aeolipile was the world’s first rotating steam engine, or more technically correct, a steam reaction turbine. It was devised by the great Heron of Alexandria in the1st Century AD. A sphere mounted on a spindle with two opposing outlet pipes for steam that propelled the sphere round on an axle.

In more recent times:

Thomas Newcomen (1664– 1729) was an English inventor who created the atmospheric engine, the first practical fuel-burning engine in 1712 for the purpose of lifting water out of a tin mine. He was an ironmonger by trade and a Baptist lay preacher by calling !

Steam power then really took off with improvements made by James Watt in 1778. The Watt steam engine improved the efficiency of steam engines considerably. His engines could be smaller and use less coal. Watt’s steam engine design incorporated two of his own inventions: the separate condenser (1765) and the parallel motion (1784). By the early 1800s, Watt steam engines were used in factories throughout England.

Then an Englishman Richard Trevithick launched the first practical steam locomotive in 1804, it averaged less than 10 mph.

George Stephenson (1781-1848) was the son of a mechanic who operated a Newcomen atmospheric-steam engine that was used to pump out a coal mine at Newcastle upon Tyne.

George himself learnt to manage the primitive steam engines employed in mines, and worked in a number of different coalmines in the northeast of England and in Scotland.

In 1814, Stephenson constructed his first locomotive, ‘Blucher’, for hauling coal at Killingworth Colliery near Newcastle.

In 1821, Stephenson was appointed engineer for the construction of the Stockton and Darlington railway. It opened in 1825 and was the first public railway. The following year Stephenson was made engineer for the Liverpool to Manchester Railway. In October 1829, the railway’s owners staged a competition at Rainhill to find the best kind of locomotive to pull heavy loads over long distances. Thousands came to watch. Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Rocket’ which he built with his son, Robert, was the winner, achieving a record speed of 36 miles per hour.

The opening of the Stockton to Darlington railway and the success of ‘Rocket’ stimulated the laying of railway lines and the construction of locomotives all over the UK. Stephenson became engineer on a number of these projects and was also consulted on the development of railways in Belgium and Spain.

It is inspiring these pioneering innovations happened here on this small island by ordinary people !

Hope you have a good month

All the best



“The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams.”

W. Arthur Porter

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.”

Groucho Marx

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Leadership: Succession Leadership

Succession leadership is the ability to pass on your leadership responsibility to another capable of the task. To be able to spot potential leaders to take your place, as you step down, in a smooth hand over of responsibilities confident that they will do a good job.

Personally I think good character is a paramount attribute to look out for in a potential leader. To have a degree of humility and be teachable – which are things difficult to instill in people. They naturally need to possess these qualities, where other areas of leadership can be mostly taught or coached (please see previous blogs on this leadership series).

I have had failures and successes in this area. The failures I sometimes saw coming and yet ploughed on ahead regardless hoping for the best. One thing I see are successful handovers go ‘unnoticed’ and they remain under the radar. They go ahead smoothly, organisational activities continue on in a positive and progressive manner.

Examples of good succession leadership that come to mind are:

Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company was succeeded by his son Edsel Ford and has stayed in the family ever since. They still have majority voting rights and therefore leadership.

Moses handing over leadership to Joshua in the Bible. Joshua ‘shadowed’ Moses for many years, and later successfully conquered Canaan to establish Israel.

George Stevenson known as the ‘father of railways’ a civil & mechanical engineer invented railways. His son George Stevenson took on the mantle of invention and created the ‘Rocket’ locomotive taking rail travel another step forward with great success.

Examples of failed succession leadership are:

General Field Marshall Hindenburg president of Germany, through political manourvering against him handed over power to Adolf Hilter, allowing him to become Chancellor in the 1934.

Collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in 2008 led by CEO Dick Fuld since 1994. A new company spin off from American Express. He is attributed by the press and others to the collapse of the company and sending the world’s financial system close to collapse. The CFO Erin Callan was also seen by some to be under qualified for her position within a major investment bank.

Lessons to be learned. It just goes to show how important it is to place the right people in leadership positions.

Hope you have a good month

All the best



“It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.”

Mark Twain

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”

Albert Einstein

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Women leaders who have changed the course of history

Women have certainly influenced and changed society and nations throughout history. Below is a small sample of some of these great women. I have mainly chosen those who have been leaders of people but there are also those who have been leaders in science, sports, exploration, drama and many other areas.

Boudicea – was queen of the British Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the conquering forces of the Roman empire in AD 60. Attacking Roman strongholds in Anglesey, Colchester, and London with great success.

Deborah – a judge and prophetess in the Bible led a successful military campaign against Jabin king of Canaan, the ruling oppressors of Israel at that time.

Joan of Arc – a teenager who helped recover France from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. She helped lift the siege of Orleans after only 9 days and consequently lifted the morale of the French army.

Elizabeth 1 queen of England (1588-1603) – her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom and helped forge a sense of national identity. Managed to ward off Spanish invasion, her wisdom brought a measure of peace between the catholics and protestants, the country began to prosper under her rule in many areas of society.

Florence Nightingale (1900s) – was an English social reformer, statistician and the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean war organising care for wounded soldiers. A pioneer in her field.

Margaret Thatcher – She was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century (1979 to 1990) and the first woman to hold that office. A Soviet journalist dubbed her the “Iron Lady”, a nickname that became associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style. She took Britain forward into greater success, economically and politically, and raised Britain’s profile on the world stage with victory in the Falklands war.

Hope you feel inspired, and hope you have a great month



“This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Queen Elizabeth I

“It is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but the love of money for its own sake.”

Margaret Thatcher

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Leadership: valleys and wilderness years

Surprisingly when we delve into history and into the lives of influential leaders you start to discover that often, but not always, they have been through ‘hard times’ or ‘wilderness years’.

I perceive that these can be formative times where vision and call to a certain career or vocation is deepened and strengthened. It can also be a time where character is honed and refined.

Below are some examples of leaders who appear to have gone through valleys and wilderness experiences:

Winston Churchill – had political wilderness years between 1929 and 1939, where he found himself without a position in government – out of power and out of favour – career was over. He spent these years writing books , traveling, and painting. In this time he became a voice in opposition to Hilter and a call for rearmament. This in the end brought him back to leadership at a level greater than before and it seems with greater competency.

Steve Jobs – founder of Apple computers was ousted from the company for 10 years. In this wilderness time he founded NeXT and headed up Pixar and learnt new skills in the process. These were later utilised when he returned to Apple, taking it forward to greater success.

Abraham Lincoln – had a brief position in politics then resumed his profession as a lawyer between 1849 and 1856, which was a time of wilderness for him away from his political ambitions and career. A quote from a biographer reads, ‘he entered his wilderness years a man in pieces and emerged on the other end a coherent steady figure’.

Joseph – from the bible was a man who was changed in his wilderness years, which lasted over 10 years as a slave and later a prisoner. He emerged a humble man who led and saved Egypt and the surrounding nations from famine and destitution with his wisdom and insight.

William Wilberforce – was elected an MP in 1780 and became a voice against slavery in 1789 but was unsuccessful in passing bills in government against the slave trade until 1807. These intervening years were difficult living continuously in defeat, which must have felt like a dark valley – a wilderness at times. He learnt perseverance and the need to strategise, and gained the reward of success in the end.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this topic.

Hope you have a good month



“The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.”

Sir Winston Churchill

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln

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Leadership: types and styles

Why are we looking at leadership types and styles?

Well a leader’s style of approach can have a positive or detrimental effect on a team’s or an organisation’s dynamics and therefore it’s success or performance. It seems that different leadership styles are needed for different situations or scenarios – horses for courses. For instance within the armed forces a certain leadership style is needed and practised, which would not be very effective within a volunteer organisation !

Here below we have the 3 main types:

  1. Authoritarian (Autocratic) – leader who adopts the authoritarian style dictates policy and procedure, and directs the work done by the people without looking for any meaningful input from them.
  2. Participative (Democratic) – leader offers guidance to the people, asks for their input in decision making but retains final say.
  3. Delegative (Laissez-Faire) – leader is hands-off and offers little guidance to the people and leaves decision making to them, will provide the necessary tools and resources to complete a project and will take responsibility for the group’s decisions and actions, but power is basically handed over to the people.

Here we have leadership broken down into 13 types:

  1. Visionary – one who has a clear picture of potential innovation and can develop a strategy to attain it, influencing others to adopt your vision.
  2. Transformational – one who is a role model for motivating innovation in others.
  3. Autocratic – one who retains authority and prefers to be the one who makes all decisions.
  4. Transactional – one who gives instructions offering rewards or penalties based on the results
  5. Coach-style – one who encourages collaboration.
  6. Strategic – one who challenges rigid assumptions encourage people to express alternative points of view.
  7. Democratic – also known as shared leadership – one who allows people to take a more participative role in decision making.
  8. Bureaucratic – one who allocates specific duties and requires adherence to a set of rules.
  9. Laissez-faire – also known as delegative leadership – one who limits the amount of guidance to people and allows them to fulfill their duties in their own way. (see above in main types)
  10. Charismatic – one who values individuals and listens to their concerns but leads by motivating.
  11. Supportive – one who delegates but supports people in their work.
  12. Servant – one who grows and develops people while also accountable to those above them.
  13. Situational – one who understands all leadership styles and is flexible enough to draw on whichever style best fits a situation.

Do you recognise yourself in one or more of these styles? Sometimes it is good to understand your style or one you can take on and adopt for certain situations to ensure the best outcome of your leadership responsibilty.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this topic.

Hope you have a good month



“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Proverbs 29:18 – Bible

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Leadership: Business leaders at the top of their game

I don’t know about you but I need people to emulate, inspire and learn from to push me forward and to grow in the area of leadership. There are many and varied forms of leadership but this month I wish to focus on commercial or business leadership, and those who inspire us.

I believe good leadership is imperative to our world, and lends itself to more peaceful, enjoyable and productive environments. It is sometimes hard though, to define Good or Bad leadership, but when you are introduced to it you soon realise which one you are under !

Here below are some great business leaders with ‘words of wisdom’. People who have grown businesses exponentially, who have that talent and personality mix to lead others very successfully:

Sir Martin Sorrell, ‘the creative leader’ Founder and CEO of WPP and now S44 Capital,

3 takeaways from an interview: (1) Edit the noise down to what really matters. (2) Act with intention. Be in a hurry. (3) Develop an interest in what other people have to say.

Sir Richard Branson CEO and Founder of Virgin, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

Steve Jobs CEO and Co-founder of Apple, “My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” And “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future“.

Mary Barra CEO of General Motors, “If we win the hearts and minds of employees, we’re going to have better business success.”

Warren Buffett – Berkshire Hathaway Chairperson and CEO,

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.”

Satya Nadella – Microsoft CEO, “The one thing that I would say defines me is I love to learn. I get excited about new things. I buy more books than I read or finish.”

Jeff Bezos Founder, Chairman & CEO of Amazon, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”

Mark Zuckerburg Co-Founder & CEO of Facebook, “A simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.”

Sir John Timpson, CEO and Chairman of Timpson, “The best way to run a business is to trust your colleagues with the freedom to do their job in the way they know best.”

Hope this has been inspiring, and that you have a good month

All the best


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Leadership: nature or nurture?

Can good leadership be taught directly or caught by osmosis?

Or are we born with leadership genes?

Or is it a combination of both?

In today’s society we need good leaders. Studies show ‘80% of people do not trust their boss’. A terrible indictment. Eventually employees leave their jobs, where they don’t respect their boss. Good leadership is imperative to employee retention and creating long term organisational success.

Management training companies will endeavour of course to push the belief that everyone can lead, and that deficiencies found can be rectified. Only attribute needed is the desire to lead.

Scientific studies reveal good leaders have the following traits: ambitious, curious, sociable and people of integrity. A high IQ is often accepted as necessary but studies show the correlation is very small < 5% compared to the other traits.

Personality traits effective for leadership are impacted by genetics, which means some are born with a stronger disposition to leadership. Evidently if parents are leaders there is a 24 – 33% chance their offspring will be in leadership positions too. Some say though that openness to education, critical thinking, and developing intellectually can produce leadership qualities as well.

Cambridge University carried out research on this topic calling on a sample of identical & non identical twins to take psychometric tests. Results showed slight variation between the two types but in essence 48 – 59% of leadership traits are passed down through genetics – surprising result !

University College London concluded from their studies, ‘What determines whether an individual occupies a leadership position is the complex product of genetic and environmental influences’ – well put I thought.

In conclusion to this research, I am leaning towards the belief, that good leaders usually have certain personality traits, that are inherited genetically (nature) and observed in others growing up (nurture), and these are further fostered and developed in adulthood through formal education, training, coaching and experience (further nurture).

What have you discovered on this subject ? Please comment below

Hope you have enjoyed the blog

All the best



“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

General Montgomery

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