We are surrounded by amazing technology and the rate of improvement has been rapid. Looking at current developments and at future potential, we can see that this rate of change shows no sign of slowing down. The benefits delivered by advances in technology have been emphasised during the current situation with the coronavirus. On a personal level, I feel grateful for having access to the technology that allows me to communicate and receive both life’s necessities and nice-to-have items, without needing to leave the house. On a wider societal level, there are numerous examples of impressive technology that has allowed improvements to be made in all academic disciplines, industry sectors and walks of life.

So, it is with more than a little trepidation that I own up to the one thing that heartens me every time I make use of it. It is not so much technology as clever design. It is, of course, the pocket sewn onto the top of the tongue in my trainers, which allows me to tuck the ends and bows of the laces out of the way. Such a simple idea that is so useful. It also allows the shoes to be worn temporarily without the danger of treading on or tripping over the laces. Yes, I do know that in this situation I could just tuck the laces down between my foot and the shoe, but it is less comfortable or slick to implement. You may think that this is a trivial subject to highlight, but it does offer a number of lessons for consideration: the importance of good design derived from understanding the needs of the user; improvements do not need to be earth shattering but can be both simple and incremental; and appropriate pre-existing technology may be a solution.

In a recent post, John Moody described being asked how he generates the content for his ‘Memoranda’. I have been asked a similar question. The answer is that I do not necessarily generate the content. Obviously, I write about thoughts and experiences that are uniquely my own, but often these, particularly the thoughts, are stimulated by others. To illustrate the point, the author of the book I have just finished reading this morning asks: “Is anything written ever truly original and from only one person’s mind?” My articles are often constructed by curating the output of others. Not all of these thought provocations result in a full article and here are some such stimuli.

A recent television interviewee highlighted the need for collaboration to get out of the current situation and rebuild society after COVID-19. He highlighted that science is based on collaboration and that the most important achievements have resulted from collaboration and not one particular individual. Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of EngineeringUK, in commenting on the report I referred to in last month’s column, emphasised the fact that more diverse workforces are more creative and resilient. I would suggest that this is a direct result of enhanced collaboration.

In October, I mentioned Alexander von Humboldt, his interactions with Goethe, the combination of science with art and the emotions that art stimulates. This connects with an article I wrote in April 2016, titled: ‘Learning lessons in observation from art’. I related how Darwin observed nature but also used his imagination to connect knowledge and see larger patterns. It is no surprise to learn that Humboldt was a big influence on Darwin. More recently, a new piece to the jigsaw has been added with an extract from a book by Carlo Rovelli in a weekend paper. The extract discusses how Dante described the universe in a similar way to Einstein but six centuries earlier. The text goes on to say that in order to understand the world, both poetry (art) and science create new ways of thinking. Both are visionary and may arrive at the same result. I am sure there is more to gain from this connection, even in NDT!

An article by Nassim Taleb introduced me to a new word, iatrogenic, which is used to describe an illness, injury or medical disorder caused by the healer, through incorrect diagnosis or the prescription or treatment. This happens outside of medicine because, in certain circumstances, it is preferable to do nothing rather than to apply a solution that may cause harm due to a lack of knowledge. It is important to understand the limitations or gaps in our knowledge and this is particularly important in NDT if we are to avoid human error.

So, three sentiments for you to ruminate over. I would suggest that the first, collaboration, is key to the successful application of the other two.

I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath1@jacobs.com

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