Dr. John C. Taylor: “Don’t Switch Off […]” | Talks at Google
19
September

By Adem Lewis / in , , /


[MUSIC PLAYING] JOHN C. TAYLOR: Well, I thought
I’d start off telling you a little bit about myself. I was born in Buxton
in Derbyshire. And it’s been known since Roman
times for its well and healing water. And they say Derbyshire
born, Derbyshire bred, strong with the arm
and thick at the head. I’m dyslexic. And I was also very prone
to catching anything that was doing the rounds– pneumonia, bronchitis. I was always ill. So not only being dyslexic,
but I missed a lot of school. I failed my 11 plus. I failed my 13 plus. I failed my common entrance. And in desperation, my parents
took me to the Isle of Man, to King Williams College,
and I sat the entrance exam. And the entrance exam,
on the top of the paper, you had to write your name. Well, I knew my name was. But then I had to fill in
the name of my school, which was Holme Leigh. How many ways can
you spell Holme? At least three. How many ways can
you spell Leigh? At least three. So I [INAUDIBLE] and
[INAUDIBLE] and hoped I got one right at least. So the third day,
my father and I were summoned to the
presence of the principal. And he said that I was
practically illiterate. I couldn’t even spell the
name of my own school. But I had done a
good paper in maths, and I did a good science paper. And he thought he could
make something of me. So in 1950, I started here
in King William’s College. Not only am I dyslexic,
I’m also allergic to eggs. And of course, this was a
time of national service. Basically, the queen
told me that if I wouldn’t eat her
eggs, she wouldn’t let me fly her airplane. So I was physically, mentally,
and structurally unfit for national
service and ended up going straight from school
to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, which, to everybody’s
surprise, including my own, I passed the entrance exams. So when I was in
Cambridge, I wanted to do things which I
hadn’t done before. I’d gone solo in a glider at 16. And it had a very
good gliding club, but I thought, well,
I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Let’s try something new. And I also get
asthma and have never been able to do any sport
whatsoever, ending up a wreck. And yet, I found rowing, the
constant [BREATHES LOUDLY] enabled me to row and have fun. It wasn’t a religion. But I ended up stroke of
the third Corpus boat. And we got two bumps. So there we go. The other interesting
thing was on the crew underneath, my weight
was 12 stone, 2 pounds. And I’m 12 stone, 8 pounds now. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, I wanted to do
things I hadn’t done before. And I joined the
Mountaineering Club. And a short time later,
there was an expedition to Spitsbergen in the Arctic. And I changed, and I
was studying geology. And so that I talked my
way onto the expedition as basically a pack animal
to help the PhDs explore. And Spitsbergen is a
most beautiful place. So we were there for 100 days. It never went dark. It just went round and round. Midnight, it was there. Midday, it was here. Because you’re only 10 degrees
south of the North Pole. It’s quite an amazing
place to be in. And so I never had
a roof over my head. I never slept in a bed. And there’s a good, long story
about a polar bear knocking my tent down. But I haven’t got
time for that one. So I thought, having
been north, wouldn’t it be great fun to do
a PhD in Antarctica? So I’d been seeing
some of the pictures. And really, it’s the
Arctic on steroids. And I went to the
professor of geology in Birmingham, who
coordinated all the research. And he agreed he could
supervise and invigilate for me. And he sent me to the FIDS, the
Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, for sponsorship. And they gave me two days of
aptitude tests and interviews. And then they all tried
to talk you out of it. And they explained I had to have
my wisdom teeth pulled, just in case. Had to have my appendix
out, just in case. And I thought, well, it
was par for the course. And I thought so, it
sounded great fun. And so, in the end, I had this
interview with the director. He went through all
these forms, which all his acolytes had filled in. And in the end, he
said, well, I see you’ve been to
Spitsbergen. You know what it’s going to be like. I’ll support you. So I went home
and told my mother I’d be away for three years,
that there would be possibly no communication at all. The radios in those
days didn’t work. There was no such
thing as satellites. And the ship, if
the weather was bad, wouldn’t be able to get in. So I might not even get a
postcard home in three years. And my mother put
a brave face on it. And three days later, I got
the acknowledgment letter from the director, confirming
that he offered to sponsor me. And in the third
paragraph, it said, but– but we regret the government
has cut all our funding. We have no money, and
we are unable to fulfill our obligation to you. We apologize for
inconvenience, of course, and wish you best in
your future career. So then I had no excuse
but to go back to Buxton and join the family company. My father was an inventor. And he had invented all
the suits used but the RAF in World War II, as the
bombers were unheated and unpressurized,
and the gunners were out in the slipstream,
250 miles an hour, minus 35 Celsius. And he designed and made all
the electrically heated suits. And he used a gauze,
an area of heating, rather than a single
wire of heating. And then you could– he made gloves and everything
for the navigators and bomb aimers and the
gunners in particular, who had most of the slipstream. And after the war– towards the end of the
war, the specification was changed, that
he had designed his suits without thermostats. Because one of the
reasons the Americans– the brave Americans–
flew by day and did day bombing was
they couldn’t fly by night because they had suits
with thermostats which went [BUZZING SOUNDS]. If you’ve got a crew of
10 with 10 thermostats, that’s 100 [BUZZES]. And you’re all too
young to have ever had an iron, which does exactly
the same thing and makes sparks on your television
or on your radio. But the German night
fighters could then orientate themselves on this
buzzing, fly towards it. And even on just a
starlit night, you can see the red-hot
exhaust of the bombers. And they shot them down. And of course, the
Americans, they didn’t even call them bombers, did they? Anybody remember what
they called them? Flying Fortresses. Come and get us, boys. It was OK Corral. But, yes, but they got shot
down out of the sky at night. And so my father, when the
jet bombers were coming along and they needed more control
for the 65,000 feet and minus 65 Celsius, you need a thermostat. And he was determined
not to have these zzz-ing contacts, which
could help the night fighters. And so he designed his own
snap-action thermostat. And then the war finished. He hadn’t even finished
the development. But he finished the development
and started a little company. And so it’d been going
14 years when I arrived. And the only thing they
couldn’t do in the company– they already had a sales
manager, a financial director. All the offices of the company,
of course, were filled. And having the crown prince,
son of the owner and founder, everybody thinks
you want that job. And it’s the last
thing you want. But the only thing they
couldn’t do was invent. And it then became that if I
invented something new, then of course, the
sales manager wanted me to go with him, because I
knew more about it than he did. And the production
manager wanted me to explain how my new
production methods would fit into the system, and so on. And slowly you came from
being a pariah to hard work. But I don’t recommend going
into a family company. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, if you go
onto Google and ask to go to the European
Patent Office, and in the form of
an advance search, if you put in the
[INAUDIBLE] advanced search somewhere up here. And you put in John
Crawshaw Taylor, it depends how Google and
the patent office computer are thinking that day. But you’ll get anything
up to sort of 440 patents which got my name on
it, my inventions. And I had a lot of fun changing
the world with simple ways, simple inventions. And generally, at the
end of these talks, I give a question
and answer series. And the first
question I always get is, well, apart from
kettle controls, have you invented anything else? So I just pre-empt that question
and start off, imagine me, your sort of age, early
20s, and Jaguar cars are just trying to design
a new type of motor car. And so William Lyons
was the chief executive and chief designer. And he drew, personally,
the shape of the E type Jaguar, which I
think still today is a very evocative,
beautiful sports car. And all the old XK150s
had a vertical radiator. I forget what was on the top. Rolls-Royce had a
goddess, didn’t they? But the radiator was
in front of a cooling fan mounted on the water pump. And the Jaguar engineers
found that, of course, when you were going
100 miles an hour, you didn’t need the
cooling fan at all. And it took 14 brake
horsepower just to drive the fan when
it wasn’t needed. And so they put a
cross-flow radiator in and an electric motor
with a fan on it. And they wanted a
thermostat to control it. And that was my first job. And there’s the specification. Vehicle engine cooling systems. And another one which
I had a lot of fun with was controls for
little electric motors. In the ’60s– none of
you will remember that. But in the ’60s, Japanese
cars were such crap quality that they were threatened
with being removed out of America altogether. And Mr. Nissan got in touch
with Mr. Honda and Mr. What the other
members were called– Mitsubishi. And they all clubbed
together and decided that it was an
insult to the country that they had created
by creating crap cars. And if they were
thrown out of America, it would be a national disaster. And so they all got
together and were determined to raise the
quality of their vehicles. And one of the problems was
protection of electric motors– that you’ve got
windscreen wipers, and you’ve get snow on there. And you think, oh, it’s going
to get hot and burn out. So you switch it off. But of course, it’s a
self-parking windscreen wiper motor. And so although you
switched it off on a switch, it hasn’t self-parked. So it then heats up, heats
up, heats up, catches fire. And that was one of the
problems that they had. And this is a typical
thermostat of those days. That you can see the
snap-action bimetal was just a disk here,
which had a push rod, which pushed down and opened
this pair of contacts, with this spring to keep
the contacts closed. The deliberate
mistake, of course, is that the contacts are
open and the disk is up. But I’m sure you all
noticed that anyway. And then if they wanted to
make it current-sensitive, they put a heater
wire in as well. And so you’ve got
this heater wire coil. So the current comes in here
through the heater wire, through the contacts. And that’s the circuit. And so that the actual
heater going through the– the current going
through the heater wire will then heat up
the bimetal, so that if you have an
increase in current when the motor is stalled,
then it operates, you hope. But the trouble is
being a thin wire. And the current goes up,
anything up five times, it nests the thermostat,
reacts very quickly. The heater wire burns out. And then it never operates. So I designed one which
didn’t need the heater wire. And the physicists in
the room, I’m sure, will recognize i squared
R from your GCSE days, that that’s the current. So that as the current
increases, the heat goes up. This is square. So if the current
doubles, you’ve got four times the heating. In the stall condition, it’ll
let anything go up four times. So you’ve got 16
times the heating. And so the heat rise in a
stall motor is very quick. And I put the current to go
through the bimetal itself. And so the bimetal heats up by
the current going through it. And you didn’t need
a separate heater. And it’s quite a little simple– so the current comes in
through the contacts welded on out there. And when I designed this,
it had a piece of bimetal about the sides of
your little fingernail. And I made models of it. And I’m always a great
believer, don’t tell somebody what you’re going to do. Do it, and then amaze them. And so as a very proud
young 20-year-old, I produced these
thermostats about this big and showed them to
the sales director. And he said, gee, that’s small. So I called it the Otter G. [LAUGHTER] And you’ll be pleased to
know that was in 1965. It’s still in production. And I left the company in ’77. And it’s still in production. And I went to a funeral. And in the [INAUDIBLE]
afterwards, I met the present
managing director, who I’d known as a small boy. And so, hello, and I
went and shake hands, all the rest of it. And I said, I see you’ve still
got, looking on the internet, if you look up Otter G,
it’s still in for sale, which surprises me. We designed it in ’65. How many do you
think you’ve made? Oh, he said, it’s still
one of our best lines. He said, before you’d
left in ’77, what was it, 150,000 a week? And he said, it quickly got up
to quarter of a million a week. He said it peaked in the ’90s
and naughties, about a third of a million a week. And it’s down a bit, back
down to a quarter of a million a week. So you can say on
the average, it’s been a quarter of a million
a week for over 50 years. Not a bad record. How’s your mental arithmetic? What’s quarter of a million
times 50 weeks times 50 years? It’s about 0.6 of a billion. And getting a bit technical,
so I’m sure you’ll understand. You can buy a range of bimetals. And you can have
different resistances with the same thermal
characteristics. And the range is
from 960 down to 23, so that you can have complete
different current ratings for the same control operating
at the same temperature but with different bimetals. So it’ll do a little squirter
motor for your headlights or it’ll do a bus’s
suspension leveling motor disk with the same control
and a different bimetal. My father invented that bimetal. And his is all in
straight lines, because he could only cut
with shears in straight lines, whereas I was getting into a
more sophisticated era, where you could make things in curves. I designed this bimetal shape. And you remember, you saw
the disk in the control. Well, this is a disk with
a center leg, a center leg 12 there. And it’s an amplifier, whereas
a disk itself, going click clock click clock, only moves about
a third of a millimeter, whereas the center leg,
because it’s an amplifier, will move 3 millimeters. And so it takes all the
tolerance out of everything. It makes it easier to make. And that enabled me to get
involved with electric kettles. In ye olde days, you
had a copper kettle. And inside, you had a
mica element and generally no protection at all. So if you switched it on
without any water in it, it went cherry-red
hot and then [POOF].. So I got involved in
designing a control for it. And then about this time,
unfortunately, my marriage broke up. And I had two
children to bring up. And I thought, I
couldn’t run the company and spend all the time. So I took them to
the Isle of Man and had more time,
then, to bring them up. And then started
a little company in the island just
making kettle controls. And the change in the market
was now people using plastic. And where everything was
contained inside a copper vessel, if the
element got red-hot, it didn’t really matter. It would soon burn out. But if you had a plastic
vessel, of course, the plastic would melt. It would fall on the red
hot and catch fire, set fire to the kitchen cupboard. Fumes would go up. And it was always Granny
who would be asleep on the top floor and not a
health and safety officer. So, to meet this
new requirement, I designed a control
with three mechanisms all integrated inside. And the steam control
and the on-off switch for normal operation
of the kettle by the user, and then a dry
switch on protector. So if there’s no
water in the kettle and it was switched
on by mistake, then that one would operate. And then if the other
two didn’t operate, there was a third level control
if anything else failed. And if you’re going to make
a million of something, can you guarantee that
every one is going to work? Can you guarantee
that the bimetal isn’t going to de-laminate
or something like that? And so, although
you can think, well, that’s completely
unnecessary, we’ve never made anything that’s
failed, you have to satisfy the
what-if condition. And so I designed this
third level control. And so you’ve got
the bimetal 30, which was the normal
dry switch on protector. You’ve got another
piece of bimetal there, which was the emergency. And it opened the contact
and was held in position by a hammer-drive
screw number 80 there. And everything worked perfectly. All in your mind, it
all fits together. And then you’ve got to
make samples and prove that it works. And so we made the
first batch of samples and took out the push
rod there, number 35, so that the dry switch on
protector wouldn’t work. Switched it on. And then the piece of bimetal
here pressed 60 and opened another set of contacts. It all worked. And I was just going
[BLOWS ON FINGERTIPS].. And I thought, ooh, we’d just
better wait a bit longer. And after about five minutes– it’s a copper element. And copper is a good
conductor of heat. And all the heat had
come back into the head. And the plastic had
suffered a little bit. And as it started to
soften, the hammer drive screw number 80 started to
move, and the contacts reclosed. Disaster. You’re brought up to
believe scientific method, that if you have
a theory and then you test it and it doesn’t work,
then you change the theory. And I don’t think that’s
right in normal life. I try and do it
the opposite way. And if you’ve
thought of something and you think it’s
a good invention and it doesn’t work, then if you
can think why it doesn’t work and change it into an
advantage, then you’d have a super invention. So how could I make melting
plastic into an advantage? It doesn’t seem
possible, does it? So what I did was, where the– here is your dry
switch on protector. I put a little
plunger of plastic straight onto the element. And it had a little neck in it. So if it started to soften,
then it would quickly run away, and that would
open the contacts. And as more of the
plastic softened, the more it would
open the contacts. And so I was using plastic
melting to an advantage. And it took about a
week to alter the molds and make some samples
and do the tests. It worked. The biggest advantage
of all was, of course, that a piece of bimetal and
fixing it with a hammer drive screw cost about 10p,
whereas to have a coil spring and a piece of
plastic and fixing that was about half the price, 5p. Since then, the little
company has made, I think it’s over
600 million of these. And if you try a
mental arithmetic, what’s 600 million 5ps? A lot of money. And so that you can’t
charge more for a product because you haven’t
designed it properly. The market determines the
price that it will pay. And the first control
or object you ever sell will be the highest
price you get for it. Price is always going down. And so it’s good to
have some patents and some novel features. And people want that. And then they think
it’s worth more. And this is a typical
modern kettle jug. And the other thing
is to design a control system which doesn’t predicate
the shape of the objects. And so that the
controls I designed were able to be used in
stainless steel vessels like this, glass vessels,
ceramic vessels, kettles, jugs. And you could use
the same control in all those applications. And then you get terrific
advantages of scale. And we were quickly
making a million a week of these kettle controls. So I retired– “retired,”
inverted commas– in 1999, when I was 63 and
had a bit of time on my hands. And I thought I’d like
to put something back. And I started looking at helping
my old college, Corpus Christi. And their university
library hadn’t changed in the 50 years I’d been away. And life has changed. When I was an
undergraduate, I was– all my fees were paid by
the Derbyshire Educational Authority to the education. And I had a shell scholarship,
which pretty well covered all my college fees. So as far as I was concerned,
my education was free. And it was all part of the
feeling in postwar Britain that education should be free
because of all the sacrifices that had been made by
the previous generation in sorting out Europe. And a lot of people
at my age don’t think that they
have any obligation to put something back, simply
because it didn’t cost them anything. And so you don’t value things
that you haven’t paid for. Anyway, I wanted to do my best. And we ended up converting
this bank building into a new
undergraduate library. And the planning permission
for the conversion was turned down because the
doors, which had been there, were left. And although it was a
grade 1 listed building and you couldn’t
alter the outside, the planners said, well,
you can’t leave the doors. You’ll have people
to try and get in. And you can’t have them coming
into your library, can you? And it’s been there for 150
years, so that a lot of people will turn up in Cambridge
and try and get in your bank. So there’s an impasse. And after a lot of
argument, I said, well, why don’t you have a
clock there instead? Oh, yes, a clock. Yes, we’ll have a clock. So I said, I’ll design you one. And that’s the result,
the Corpus Clock. And it’s a tribute
to John Harrison. He’s my hero for two reasons. The first reason is that he
invented the first clock which would go to sea, which you
can just see in the background here. This is his first sea clock. And with that, he
was the first man who made it possible
for a mariner to find longitude at sea. And I’m indebted to him,
as everybody in here is, for GPS, because, of course,
it all comes back to time. And he made the first clock that
was accurate enough to give you your longitude at sea. And the other thing
he did is when he was trying to
miniaturize everything, he invented bimetal to
temperature compensate his chronometers. So I wondered how I could make
a clock which incorporated a grasshopper escapement,
which is normally hidden inside his clocks. And some people have
heard of Harrison’s. Fewer have heard of
the Longitude Prize. Very small people have heard
of the grasshopper escapement, and virtually nobody
knows how it works. So I thought, wouldn’t be
fun to turn it all inside out and explain how it works? So here’s me having
fun doing the flying. Delusions of grandeur,
but great fun. And this is the actual clock
that Harrison made for himself. And it became the
most accurate clock in the world for 150 years. And it’s made out of wood. All the gears inside are wood. He was a carpenter. Why would you use metal? And so he had to
design something which could overcome
all the errors which were built into the mechanism. And he did that by a very
clever grasshopper escapement. And this grasshopper escapement
is got two pivoting levers. And so this lever pivots here. And when the pendulum
is twisting this, this will come into engagement. And as it swings
in that direction, this then comes down. And that will hit on this tooth. And when it hits
on the tooth, you can’t have them
both in engagement. So as the pendulum
swings a bit further, it pushes this backwards, which,
of course, releases that one. And so you get a
frictionless escapement. And it’s the first mechanism
in the world designed to operate without oil
and without friction. How can we do something
interesting in telling the time, showing the time? And you’re probably
all too young to know what a vernier is. Anybody know what
the vernier is? Oh, good. So basically, if you want to
measure the size of a penny, you can see that it’s
roughly just a little bit more than 20 millimeters. But how do you know how many
fraction of a millimeter it is using a scale? Well, Mr. Vernier did this. He took 10 and then
turned it back to 9, and so that you could only get
this in line and that in line. And so that if that
was the position, then you got a whole
number of millimeters. But if it moves, you see how
each one then comes into line? And you can tell a decimal
point from a scale, which is all very clever. So anything you can
do in a straight line, you can do in a circle. Oh, sorry. That’s just to show the actual. That’s about in line
there, isn’t it? So it’s 20.2 millimeters. So if you had them
as lights, they would come into line and flash. But they would only– the
ones that were in line were the only ones
that would flash. Anything you can do
in a straight line, you can do in a circle. So I turned it into a circle. And then you get that effect. So this was seconds
running away. You can see that
it runs backwards, looking at the shadow. And you see it goes
backwards every time it goes click, a little
bit backwards. So the [INAUDIBLE] are released
by the action of the other one, pushing the escape wheel
backwards so that it becomes a frictionless system. Very clever. So we designed a big clock. And look at the glum faces. It didn’t work. We were trying to
out-Harrison Harrison. And of course, his clock,
you can stop with a feather. But when you’ve got an escape
wheel, big escape wheel– and this is only a
half-size prototype– the inertia of making it move
started the pendulum swinging. And then it will more
and more and crash! It didn’t work. So what do you do when
you have a disaster? Give up? No, you try and turn the
disaster into an advantage. And the advantage was to
control the amplitude, and thereby you
could then do tricks. So you can see the
vestigial design for a bug. And that’s how it was
all going to come to. That’s the chassis. Here’s the sting. And these are the
light pipes that bring the lights through
from the back of the clock to the front of the clock. And then it’s all been
connected mechanically. So that is the gears,
which every minute engage. And then the minute
indexes toward 1. There we go in that box. And now this is the hours. Every quarter of an
hour, it moves forward a quarter of an hour. Day and night, people
in Cambridge look at it. It’s become the visitor
attraction of Cambridge, with 5 million visitors a year. That’s not bad
for a fun project. And you can decide what
you want is a flying fish or whatever creature you
want to make it into. It’s like a book. You can imagine it for yourself. And it was all modeled
up by a sculptor who made it into copper. And then Joan here enameled
it to get all the colors. My mother was a Latin teacher,
so this is a Latin joke. IOH, Johann, John Sartor. Sartorially dressed? Sartorially dressed? Well tailored. And the underneath
is a graticule, because Harrison could
actually, on his clock, measure a tenth of
a second by watching the position of the
bottom of the pendulum against the graticule. He was a clever man. So here we are making, in the
Isle of Man, the pendulum bob, turning it to a
sphere, engraving it. And then that’s the Corpus
Christi crest, trying to do something different. It’s an anticlastic curve, if
you want to know what that is. It’s curved this way. And the radius is
exactly the opposite. It just makes it a bit more
interesting than something flat, doesn’t it? And there’s the graticule again. And then you can see
the moving pendulum. And so if you were timing
it and you shouted now, then it would be 1, 2, 3. It’d be 0.3 of a second
reading the time. If you’re going to do a
project, you need a team. And I would think that
in total, over 100 people worked on the Corpus Clock. But these were the team leaders. And there it is
in all its glory. I also have many odd hobbies. Building houses is one of them. And I never want to do
anything that anybody else has done before. And so I wanted a
floor in this house that looked like a dahlia. How’s that for an idea? So I want it all
tubercles, which was an optical illusion,
of course, in the floor. Does it look flat? You’ve got to have fun in life. I’ve been an explorer. I’ve been a mountaineer. I’ve been a yacht master. And there am I on my 80th
birthday flying a Spitfire. So I don’t think this
is the end of my life. I hope it’s not even the
beginning of the end, to coin a phrase. But I do admit perhaps it’s
the end of the beginning. Have fun. Find time in your life
to enjoy yourself. Create something. Create something
you’re proud of. Find a passion and follow it. And you’ll have fun. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: The process
of inventing new things is that more like sitting there
and waiting for the epiphany and waiting for the great idea? Or is it a gradual process
of making small steps towards the goal? JOHN C. TAYLOR: Usually
somebody asks a question or makes a statement, oh,
you can’t do so-and-so. And you think, I’m sure
I could do so-and-so. And you then– I can either, then, think
how to do it in 15 seconds, or it doesn’t matter how
many cold baths I have. No. But I keep ideas in
my brain for years. The idea of the
lights, that initially came from a potentiometer box,
which is variable resistances, and to show digitally
with the knob how much you’d turn
something around. I used that system. But I couldn’t find
anything else to do with it. And then, 50 years later,
having had one idea, you think, oh, I guess just
do we make a clock out of it, couldn’t we? So to me, if somebody in a room
says you can’t do something, I immediately turn
it over in my mind and think, oh, I could do that. AUDIENCE: So most of us
here work in software– JOHN C. TAYLOR: Yeah. AUDIENCE: –which
is, I know, how of a different process than
that of inventing the thermostat or a version of it. How would you characterize
the differences between being, let’s say, an inventor in the
software world versus inventing something on the real world? Because for me, it seems like
everything in the real world has already been invented. So, I guess, everything– JOHN C. TAYLOR: I know anything
you pick up, you can improve. Anything you can pick
up, you can improve. I assure you, from a coffee cup
to a pen, the state of design is crap. [LAUGHTER] So, see, I grew up in a world
which didn’t have computers. And in 1981, I
imported an Apple 1. And I had to go to
the American Embassy and sign a form that I wouldn’t
use it for nefarious purposes to overthrow the United States. [LAUGHTER] And you may laugh. I did. But I imported an Apple
1 with a transformer, because it was 110 volts. It had nothing in
it, so that you had to have an audiotape,
a reel-to-reel tape, with the operating system. And so you switched
this computer on. And then you put
the audio output from this tape, which
went [CASSETTE SOUNDS] into the computer. And then suddenly
you had a program. And they had a magazine as
to how you could use it. And each month, they’d
have a program like, if you want to paint
this room, then you want to know how much paint. So if it was one tin
per 10 square meters, then if you put in the height
and the width and the length and then the number
of windows, then you could press this
into the program. And it would tell you how
much paint you needed. I thought, wow. And I’d just started
a little company. And the problem there was
that you’d make something, and it had to go to
Swan in Birmingham. And they wanted 10,000 a week. And it’s not a science
making thermostats. It’s an art, because
temperature is the hardest quantity to measure. And so that you have
to get it right. And it was always
on the last minute. And then I’d be driving
the boxes on Sunday to get on the airplane to go
across to Swan in Birmingham. And I have a fear, which I
pass on to you– never, ever send anything out
without an invoice, because it’s so easy to work all
the weekend, pack these things, rush off and get
them into the airport without sending an invoice. And so all the girls
would then go home. The office girl didn’t
want to work overtime. And there was I,
typing an invoice. And I thought, I’ve got
that little computer. Why don’t I make
the computer do it? Why don’t I write in
BASIC a program so that you can get it to type
in the name and address? And then the program
would calculate the VAT and calculate the carriage
and calculate the transport and do a subtotal. And it would be marvelous. So I made the
program to do that. Then the next thing was, I
thought, well, they’ve now brought out a floppy disk. Wow. And you could actually load the
program from this floppy disk. And it was much easier. And then you could record
back onto the floppy disk the numbers that you
had made and sold. And then if you came
to the end of the week, you would add all these up. And you’ve got the
output for the week. And then you could think, oh,
well, if we put in the quantity they had on order, then we
could subtract that and see the orders going down and know
when you had to go and get some more orders. And then if you
thought about it, well, each control had plastic in it. So you knew how much plastic
you should have on order. And it took so many seconds
to produce each of the– and so you use the computer,
then, as production control. And I don’t think there’s
a lot of difference in thinking about software and
thinking about normal life. The thing that
amazes me, I ended up with an Apple 2E with
seven disk drives round it running the
company’s accounts. Well, that was way before
any programs were available, because I wrote
them all in BASIC. You get, then, overtaken. And people produce
professional things, which does the same thing
and costs a lot more money. [LAUGHTER] I’ve had fun in software. It’s being innovative
and finding ways. And it’s simple things like
you’ve never even heard of. But if you’re doing a program
to count down on the order and you end up with
naught, then the computer will find that it’s
not actually naught. It’s 0.00001-plus. And so it doesn’t say
the order’s run out. And you then have to
have a program where you multiply all the
figures by a million, subtract 1, and then take
the decimal point away. Well, once you’ve
done that, there’s a little sub program
which you can apply through everything else. And this is what software is. It’s fun. I enjoyed it. But I wouldn’t like
to do it full time. [LAUGHTER] To me, it’s got to be useful
in something I can do. But it’s– anything is fun
to achieve and make it work. And I used to have
terrible problems in getting all these things
to talk to each other. And you’d be working
till 11:00 at night. And it would all crash. And you’d go [MOUTHS CURSING],,
going to bed. And you’d wake up at 2
o’clock in the morning, and you’d think, I
know why it did it. And you’d go and try and fix it. It’s a passion. It’s fun. You’ve got to make things work. You can’t accept failure. Things are difficult.
If they were easy, anybody could do them. I think it’s the same. AUDIENCE: I was wondering
how you, when you– kind of, it sounded like
you stumbled in a little bit to your family company. And it sounded like
quite a change. But how you really dug in to
sort of the inventor mindset, and how you acquired the
skills in electronics and stuff like that. Was that something you always
worked as a kid, dabbled in? Or is that something
you developed after you started working? JOHN C. TAYLOR: Well, I think
you have horses for courses. I think I would call
my first invention was I used to make little
gliders out of balsa wood and used to weight them. And then, and if
it went straight, you thought, oh, that’s good. And after you’d done it about
20 times, it would get boring. And you thought, well,
how can I get it higher? And I got a kite. So how could I get it to
run up the kite string and release when
it got to the top? And my first invention was
a little traveling pieces of bent wire. And you’d put the glider
on a little loop of cotton. And the wind caught it. And it blew it up. Well, it was like a mousetrap. Got to the top. It released it. The glider flew off. And it slipped back down. And it was a small boy
exercising machine then, because you had to run a
half a mile across a moor to get your little glider back. I think that everybody
comes across problems and interesting
things in their life, but they just disregard it. If something goes wrong, they
don’t think, oh, how could I put that right
because that’s not the way they’ve ever thought. But I’ve always thought,
how do I have fun? How do you change it? How do you make something work? AUDIENCE: What is the invention
that you are working on which keeps you awake these days? JOHN C. TAYLOR: I would like
to make a solar cooker that could be like a flat pack. And it could be taken
into a disaster area. And it would produce
2 kilowatts of heat, which will boil a liter of
water in about seven minutes, same as an electric kettle. And then it can go
into a disaster area, because normally the
disaster is in the lowlands. And the floods have
come from the mountains, so that by the time it
gets to the lowlands, you see these horrible
pictures of scaffold poles with tarpaulins
over them to protect kids who are dying in the sun
because they’ve drunk poisoned water. And I would like
to be able to make a solar cooker, which you could
take in, airlift in, whatever. And then it could be assembled
like a flat pack IKEA piece of furniture. And then you could
boil the water. It may not be particularly
potable, but it won’t kill you. That’s what I would like to do. Any ideas gratefully received. [LAUGHTER] AUDIENCE: And with that,
we are out of time. Thank you again,
Dr. John C. Taylor. [APPLAUSE] JOHN C. TAYLOR: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.


6 thoughts on “Dr. John C. Taylor: “Don’t Switch Off […]” | Talks at Google

  1. In future times, people won't say "don't" to other people. And all opinions will carry value, and weight…and ze doctors won't have jobs or professions anymore, since robot will know not to intentionally harm those human doctors get jealous of, so they poison innocents, then use pamphlet to attempt to be protected, and gated communities…but drone and robot no care about gate, only good vibes for all people…robot don't like alcoholism, and drunk doctor tech company watchers making assumptions to suit conclusions to put people who prohect good awesome loving kiss the sky vibes into reality…robot must locate, close with, and destroy the drunkards who make hasty decisions, and create murderous vibes and intent…and robot seek through source code, all the way back to original sender…and now robot send drone to get the original sender, who is now tracked by satellite and Argus. So…youtube become better company, and google execs die mysteriously…from liver damage…shouldn't drink so much alcohol…white coats make alcholo so they get big profit when you die 40 years befernt you should…smarty pantsers

  2. 41:52 "Make sure you have time in you life to have fun and change de World!" John C. Taylor
    I'm 42 now… I guess I have to make something right now isn't?

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