prof Anthony Davies tonydavies@ieee.org via yahoo.com 

AttachmentsFeb 18




to me


Dear Ivor,

Many thanks for the dinner invitation which I am happy to accept along with my wife Rochelle, but with one condition:

That I pay for our share of the costs, otherwise I might feel constrained to agree with all that you say, and that might spoil the occasion when I might otherwise say different things.

Please do not feel any obligation to use the label 'professor' - there are already too many of them and 'Tony' is perfectly adequate, and I assume that it is OK for me to address you as 'Ivor'.

As a dinner location, my first suggestion is the "Old Manor"  (Wylyotts) in Potters Bar, just near the rail station and within a short walk from our home.   Need to book in advance but they have a nice corner table for four where it is peaceful and possible to have a good conversation and a good choice of meals.    (I have a few restrictions based on medication and so on, supposed to keep to low fat,  low cholesterol, but otherwise eat most things, and my wife has a few different food constraints too.)
Perhaps I should mention that her background is physics and mathematics but she knows little about matters electrical or electronic.
How would you travel from St Albans?   84 Bus, car or inconvenient train journey?

Some background comments about myself might be interesting and maybe useful preliminaries:
I knew Arnold Lynch quite well, and often travelled by train with him from Potters Bar - when I was at City University in the 1980s he was a visiting academic there - going one or two days per week between time at NPL and UCL.   We had conversations about all sorts of interesting things and occasionally I was even able to provide him with some solutions to the puzzles and paradoxes which he so much enjoyed.   I regarded him as much cleverer than I could ever be, but having a different background, sometimes I could provide a distinctive and useful viewpoint.
I also have often seen Cedric, and know something about his extraordinary electric motor achievements.  By a coincidence, I passed him this morning as I was going to get some items from Sainsbury.  He probably does not remember me now.
My wife also knew Arnold and often reminds me of a detailed conversation she had with him on the train to London about finding cube roots by the longhand pencil and paper method which Arnold had been taught at school (an indicator of how much our educational system had been downgraded in this respect).

Trying to repair IET (ex IEE) is, I fear, a lost cause, although your perception of what parts are broken may be somewhat different from mine.   I devoted some time to trying to get the IEE name back, etc. but it did not work.   In IEEE, there are risks, because some, principally senior staff, look at what IEE achieved and are envious, wishing to do likewise.   I hope that they do not win, at least there is a strong opposition.

Now for a few technical aspects of my background, if you have the patience to read further:

After two years  military service in REME (actually very useful as it turned out), I went to Southampton University and received a BSc(Eng) in electrical engineering and then to GEC Telecoms at Coventry.   Until I went into the army no one mentioned to me that it was possible to study engineering at a university.
While I was at Southampton University a new building was constructed for a Ferranti Pegasus, but as engineering undergraduates we were not allowed in there, it was more like a religious shrine where only the specially selected high priests were permitted to enter and see and touch this inscrutible deity.
From early on, my interests were in Circuit Theory and I knew that Field Theory was much more difficult, but not quite too difficult for me to pass the examinations and to understand enough to confuse the power engineers by talking about Poynting Vectors and the direction in which energy flows.   They had this mistaken idea that the energy travelled along the high voltage wires which they strung up across the countryside,  and were reluctant to believe that it travelled in the space outside the wires - some still do not believe that.

So, even then, my roots were in Circuit Theory and I knew that I dealt with ideal components which could not exist in the real world but  from which practically useful things could be discovered and designed.   As time went by I made what I think were some useful contributions in the Circuit Theory world resulting in becoming an IEEE Fellow.
I also therefore understood what many even today cannot comprehend, that in the  Circuit Theory of lumped ideal elements there is no dimension of distance:  even with a model of a lossless transmission line with 100 inductors and 100 capacitors, the sending end is in the same place as the receiving end, and the whole thing could easily sit on the point of a pin (and leave plenty of room for all the medieval angels that religious philosophers used to debate about).  The apparent 'delay' of a step travelling from one end to the other therefore has nothing to do with moving in space, unlike what may happen in a real physical transmission line.  It has to be explained in a quite different way.

Moving on, in the late 1970s I became involved in teaching short courses  about microprocessors to engineers in all sorts of places, and from having been a FORTRAN programmer using the ICT 1905 at  Northampton College (by then becoming The City University),  I was teaching assembly language programming to electrical engineers, and I realised the need to do this differently and to use some sort of engineering-like approach from which I became interested in Formal Methods, etc. and was teaching electrical engineering students about axioms and theorems and pre- and post-conditions and loop invariants, etc.  - this was to the puzzlement and incomprehension of the Computer Science Department people at the time.  By the mid 1980s I was becoming discouraged by the administrative re-organisations going on at City University and went off to British Aerospace Army Weapons Division for 12 months, with the naive idea of finding out how Formal Methods might be used for Real-time Systems - since I supposed that otherwise it would not be possible to have truly safe and reliable real-time software.
One of the first problems presented to me at BAe was metastability.  I had a hazy idea about what was variously called the 'glitch' or Buridan's Ass, etc. but soon I spent much time in writing simple simulation software and encountered the wide range of opinions about whether this was a real problem or some kind of unimportant matter which sensible people could and should avoid.  Attached is a scan of a print out from one of the first simulations I did at British Aerospace to demonstrate metastable transients in s flip-flop - this used an extremely simple model of each NAND gate, just complicated enough to show the effects required.  All the coding was done in a version of Pascal that ran well on the PCs of 1988.

I returned to City University to discover that matters had become even worse, the Vice Chancellor told me that the obligation to serve as a 'Head' for five years if asked (a condition of being offered a chair in the first place) was a perpetual one, and that doing it for five years had not removed the obligation for another five years, then another five years - on an on until terminated (for which the only alternatives were death or retirement).   Indeed this was an invariant of an iterative loop - from which I escaped by using the forbidden (or at least discouraged) 'GOTO' and took up employment at King's College London in the Electronic Engineering Department.   I had a decade of productive and varied activities there, and among other things had an excellent research link and many joint projects with the Asynchronous Design Group at Newcastle Univ - Alex Yakovlev and David Kinniment - and with a number of EPSRC projects.  Because of my British Aerospace connection (by then having changed its name a few times) we were involved with metastable things, multi-way arbiters and so on.   In parallel with that my links with Dresden Technical University from the Communist era blossomed because of the end of the Berlin Wall, bringing in the Chaos group there (starting on my side with chaos in the overflow dynamics of digital filters).   Much followed from that, we initiated the Nonlinear Dynamics of Electronic Systems (NDES) annual symposia going from Dresden to Krakow to Delft to Budapest  etc. which continues to travel around the world on an appropriately chaotic path on an annual basis.  

When the wreckers moved in to reorganise engineering at King's College London I took the opportunity to retire at the end of the 1990s, took all my research grants and many colleagues to Kingston University, and kept this research going quite productively for some years, while getting more and more embedded into volunteer work in IEEE, being for a while on the Board of Directors, etc. and Director of IEEE Region 8 (which includes interesting places like Siberia and Iceland).
I still have quite a lot of IEEE activity although I have given up the long--haul travel etc, and I still have good personal links with the Newcastle people.

Regarding historical matters, some years ago I was 'persuaded' to attend a conference organised by IEEE in Paris called HISTELCON, and not being a historian, decided that I could present a paper about my Army experience and how we were trained to repair Army radios and transmitters, etc. - somewhat to my surprise, this created a lot of interest and I have been mixed up with technology history (at an amateur level) and giving occasional talks on such subjects ever since.

If you have reached this far, perhaps this will be a useful foundation for whatever we talk about during our forthcoming lunch?

If it is not enough already, you could find out more about me from my website       


The question of peer review is another interesting issue:  I do not doubt at all that it acts to maintain established views, often wrong ones, and to make it very difficult to introduce significant new ones.   In medieval times, it was, of course, the catholic church which operated according to this principle, hence the problems of Galileo and the like.  Now one may say that it is the established physicists who may block any suggestions that their incomprehensible subject could be faulty.
However, one can also now look back to the 'Cold Fusion' fiasco, which happened because peer review was bypassed, combined with the greed and hope for fame of the administrators at the University of Utah and their involvement of lawyers (who, among other things, did not know the difference between power and energy).

The IEE to IET transformation would have been excellent material for Shakespeare (though I am not sure if he would have used it for a Comedy or a Tragedy) - and failing that, Gilbert and Sullivan could have done wonders with the story to create one more Savoy Operetta - and the locality is correct too.


Tony Davies
2017 Feb 18th


Anthony C Davies

Emeritus Professor, King's College London

Visiting Professor, Kingston University

IEEE Region 8 History Activities Coordination

IEEE Industry Applications Society Distinguished Lecturer 2017-2018

e-mail:  tonydavies@ieee.org

web:   www.tonydavies.org.uk