Thomas the Tank Engine, The Fat Controller & Wilbert


If you have ever visited the Island of Sodor you will know exactly how the locals define success.

Success has nothing to do with being a puffed-up bragger with airs. On Sodor, being important is not that important.

Pull an engine out of the swamp, stop some run-away, rescue a friend stuck in the snow and later that night the Fat Controller will stand on a lump of wood and pronounce to all and sundry that: “you are a very useful engine.” On Sodor, this is the ultimate accolade, a sure sign of success.

Wilbert Awdry, the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, lived this philosophy himself. He became a publishing phenomena with over 50 million books sold. It was never his original purpose, though, to write a book or to have it published. Just being useful was his rationale.

When his young son, Christopher, was recovering from chicken pox and was confined to bed in a darkened room for a week Wilbert entertained him with stories he made up about trains.

Wilbert himself grew up in the age of steam engines. He lived near the railway junction and he would lie awake at night imagining trains were talking to each other.  As they tooted through the station and yards Wilbert imagined they were exchanging news about what had happened to them during the day.

These imaginary conversations became the basis of Wilbert’s stories for his sick son. Christopher recovered but he still wanted to hear the stories. Christopher insisted his father retell his stories, word perfect, every night.

Wilbert started to write the stories down to avoid complaints that he had changed a detail here or there. Then he added illustrations. He couldn’t draw so he drew the people in the stories as stick figures. To illustrate the personality of each of the engines in his stories, Wilbert drew them head on and gave them each a big moon face. Some were always happy and cheerful, others were worriers. Some were just plain glum.

Wilbert had no intentions of publishing his stories. His wife, however, insisted his characters and stories were better than most other books written for children at the time. Wilbert wasn’t so sure, but in the interests of domestic bliss he mailed some stories to publishers.

The publishers unanimously rejected his submissions. And Wilbert never helped his own cause. He sent his stories to publishers on bits of scrap paper found lying around the house. He also insisted that his weird little drawings of moon-faced engines were a critical part of his stories. Eventually, though, the books were published and quickly became a sensation.

This never changed Wilbert’s motivation. He wrote for his son’s pleasure, and when Christopher grew up, Wilbert started to write for the enjoyment of other people’s children. For Wilbert and the inhabitants of Sodor, the hub of success and motivation is simple. Find something useful to do and power and enthusiasm quickly follow. It’s a strategy that works for Thomas. It’s a strategy that worked for Wilbert. It’s a strategy that will work for me.

It’s not that I want to pay tax. Paying tax is a measure. It’s a way I will measure that I’ve returned to be a useful contributor to our business.

The Premier drops in . . . And I drop the ball


It’s not every day the Premier of Victoria drops in for a chat so it’s nice to be ready for the visit. The Premier’s event organiser met with me a few days before the Premier’s visit and explained that the Premier was keen to see some of the technology I was using, particularly Dragon, the voice activated software 1 and the EyeTech 2 technology. I happily agreed even though the EyeTech unit had only recently arrived and was still not properly calibrated for my use.

I contacted the company that supplied EyeTech and they promised they would have a technician complete the setup for me the day before the Premier came, which they did. That only gave me about an hour’s practice before the visit but I felt confident it was enough for me to give a reasonable demonstration.

Of course, Murphy’s Law reigned supreme when the Premier, Hon. Daniel Andrews arrived. I was using new headphones for Dragon and had forgotten to charge them overnight. It’s hard to demonstrate voice-activated software when the microphone is flat, out of charge!

And when the Premier arrived EyeTech worked but in a very limited fashion. However, Sue and I indulged in the little subterfuge. I spoke into a lifeless microphone and Sue, standing behind the large EyeTech screen, typed what I said so it looked like Dragon was working. Great plan except for one small detail. I spoke so fast that Sue couldn’t type everything I said. She paraphrased. Suddenly Dragon took on even more remarkable features. Not only could it convert spoken words into written text it could now it could apparently, amazingly, condense long paragraphs down to pithy sentences! I’m sure the inventors of Dragon would be delighted to hear about this, until now, unknown feature of their software.

The Premier and I started chatting and he asked if I had any plans. There were about 15 people in the ward with the Premier. These included media people and senior people from Austin Health. They all laughed when they heard my answer. The answer was humorous enough to get a run on the Channel 7 and Channel 9 news bulletins that night.

All I said was that “I want to become a taxpayer again”. Well, yes it was quirky and sounded silly because everyone tries to avoid tax but it is the truth.

And the reason I want to become a taxpayer again? Well, if you understand Thomas the Tank Engine you understand where I’m coming from. All will be revealed in the next post

Note 1: Dragon voice activated software allows me to use my voice to interact with the computer. I can create or open documents, compose emails, reply to emails and send them simply through voice commands.

Note 2: EyeTech allows me to use my eyes to control my computer. I can open documents or emails, scroll through them, access the Internet. EyeTech gives me flexibility where Dragon doesn’t share that flexibility.


Support our Supporters.

In need of Building inspection, approval or consulting, call Geoff at Construction Concepts on 98441739 or visit his website at



Eric Schmidt, heads up Alphabet, parent company of Google. He predicts that Virtual Reality will become a major force for change in the near future. However, University of Washington HITLab and Harborview Burn Center are already using Virtual Reality in an amazing and awe-inspiring way. Just read this!


SnowWorld developed at the University of Washington HITLab in collaboration with Harborview Burn Center, was the first immersive virtual world designed for reducing pain.  SnowWorld was specifically designed to help burn patients. Patients often report re-living their original burn experience during wound care, SnowWorld was designed to help put out the fire. Our logic for why VR will reduce pain is as follows. Pain perception has a strong psychological component.

The same incoming pain signal can be interpreted as painful or not, depending on what the patient is thinking. Pain requires conscious attention. The essence of VR is the illusion users have of going inside the computer-generated environment.

Being drawn into another world drains a lot of attentional resources, leaving less attention available to process pain signals. Conscious attention is like a spotlight. Usually it is focused on the pain and wound care.

We are luring that spotlight into the virtual world. Rather than having pain as the focus of their attention, for many patients in VR, the wound care becomes more of an annoyance, distracting them from their primary goal of exploring the virtual world.

For more information about SnowWorld:

On a budget but need a great website? Need help with your social media campaign? Then contact Belinda at:

They served up chalk . . . and I ate it.


Hopefully it was going prove to be a red letter day. It was only a matter of weeks since my injury. I had a voice courtesy of Leak Speech but I was still “nil by oral”. I got all my “food” in sludge form. This sludge food ran, in a tube, from a bag on the pole next to my hospital bed. The tube travelled from the bag down to my nose. It then went up through my nose and down into my stomach. A calibrated amount of food was delivered day and night. It was always the same amount, the same colour and I guess the same flavour, although I never tasted it because it bypassed my mouth and tastebuds.

It was a strange feeling never being hungry. I never had an appetite. I never had the pleasure of satisfying my appetite. And, of course, I never had the pleasure of tasting food.

That day I was apprehensive. It was time for me to have a swallow test. I desperately wanted to pass this test. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on sludge. I wanted to be able to eat and enjoy food again.

I knew what to expect if I did pass the test. According to one nurse, if I passed and could swallow, I would start on thin liquids, like broths. Gradually I would move on to thicker and thicker liquids and eventually be introduced to solids. Although the process didn’t sound very exciting I would gratefully accept it if it meant I got back to eating and swallowing normally.

The swallowing test took place in the x-ray department of the hospital. I sat in my wheelchair between two large panels, one of which was obviously the x-ray machine. The Speech Pathologist who administered the test, gave me the different foods to eat. Other technicians and nurses were present, all wearing heavy lead suits to protect themselves from radiation, looking like something from the X-Files.

The first test was to drink orange juice laced with barium. I never have actually eaten chalk but barium tastes exactly how I imagined chalk would taste. Anyway, I managed to swallow the orange juice and barium mixture. So far so good. The next test was yoghurt laced with barium. Another pass. This was followed by stewed peaches with barium. Then came a dry cracker spread with barium. Just when I was starting to get a taste for barium the speech pathologist announced that the test was successful and that I could go on to FULL diet immediately.

No thin liquids, no thicker liquids, not even much thicker liquids for me. I could eat anything I liked straight away. My sister who came to visit, upon hearing the news, asked if there was anything I would like to eat while waiting for lunch to arrive? I said “a Cherry Ripe, please”. In a few minutes she arrived back from the downstairs kiosk with a selection of the sweetest chocolates known to man.

In the space of an hour I went from chalk (barium) to the ecstasy of chocolate. Not a bad day’s work!

Support our supporters
For a quote on stair lifts and low platform lifts from a true professional contact Steve Killey on 0409931 446 or at:

Just look how far Holograms have come!


This short video is about medical education but will give you a glimpse of how quickly hologram technology is advancing. Be prepared to be astonished.

Support our supporters
For a quote on stair lifts and low platform lifts from a true professional contact Steve Killey on 0409931 446 or at:

Why this blog is called “stand on the shoulders of giants”


“Stand in the shoulders of giants” is a quote from Sir Isaac Newton.

Sir Isaac was an outstanding scientist and mathematician. He literally changed the way we think about the world. He revolutionized our ideas about light. He invented the world’s first reflecting telescope.

He had an amazing insight into gravity as the sticky stuff that holds the universe together.

He invented calculus, making it possible for people to measure curved areas and determine the rate at which things change.

And, by the way, he also served as the Warden and Master of the Royal British Mint.

With his insights world knowledge took a giant step forward. When he was pressed to explain how he could make so many important discoveries and inventions, Isaac revealed how he. In the reply to the question he explained:

“If I have been able to see further than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

If it was good enough Sir Isaac Newton then it’s good enough for me. This blog is all about finding the right giants. Not to stand on their shoulders in my case because in my present condition that presents a problem. Rather to find giants with the very best ideas in research and those giants that are not held back by problems or difficulties. And, of course, this blog contains a few of my own experiences and reflections since my injury.

Support our supporters

Barb and Frank Ryan have been strong supporters from day one, with Barb visiting me daily in the first months. Even now they visit once, more often than not twice a week. Frank (Ryans Law Offices) provided invaluable advice in the early days of fundraising as well as sourcing items for the fundraiser. You can contact Frank for legal advice on (0408 810 854)

Hydrogel Research


Once a spinal cord is damaged scarring occurs as nature’s way of preventing further damage. Unfortunately this scarring prevents the nerves from regenerating. There are various research projects underway to overcome this problem.

One approach is the use of hydrogels. Jellies, like aeroplane jelly, are edible hydrogels we all know. Medical hydrogels are water-based materials that can be injected as liquids into the injured part of the spinal cord. This is what makes hydrogels so useful. They are easily injected, and once in place, they set like edible jellies and hold their position.

More than this, hydrogels can form a bridge across the damaged area of the spinal cord reconnecting the brain and spinal cord.
Dr.-Ing. Laura De Laporte, junior group leader at DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials in Aachen, heads up a research team investigating innovative and exciting ways of using hydrogels for spinal cord repair.

The group has a firm and clear goal. They are tailoring the physical, chemical, and biological properties of these gels “for spinal cord regeneration and to regain functionality”. Fingers crossed!

Click here to read more about this exciting development

“recognize me” head up one of Australia’s most experienced and highly qualified trophy businesses. Whether you need a single trophy or hundreds of trophies please give them the opportunity to quote. You can contact Peter on (07) 3715 5812 or visit the recognizeme website

Is this the greatest Australian ever?


Q: What can you do with 6 bed pans, a biscuit tin, a dog bowl, some china plates and a bronze letterbox?

A: Well, if you’re Howard Florey you could make the world’s 1st antibiotic, save over 50,000,000 lives, win the Nobel Prize, and, as a bonus, get your face on the Australian $50 note.

In 1938 Howard Florey and Ernst Chain were get-ahead medical researchers at Oxford University. They had set themselves the task of producing penicillin as the world’s 1st practical and effective antibiotic.

Discovered 11 years earlier, penicillin was proving impossible to make in useable quantities. It was an unstable mold. Added to this, enormous amounts of a moldy “soup” had to be made and this soup only produced minute amounts of the active ingredient.

There were other problems. When injected into the body, penicillin took about 4 hours to take start working but within 2 hours it had either been dissolved in the stomach or had been flushed out in the urine. Penicillin left the body before it had a chance to do its work.

And, of course, money was a problem. Florey and Chain’s application to the British Medical Society for research money resulted in a grant of $50 (even in 1938, $50 didn’t even buy a whole lot of test tubes!)

World War II broke out. Food, petrol and clothes were rationed. Medical equipment was virtually impossible to get. Resolute, Florey and Chain stuck to their task. Chain discovered that refrigeration would stabilize the mold. Since they had no fridges, they made their own. Experimenting, they found that bed pans were the best way to grow the mold (the soup could easily be poured out from underneath the mold.) So they cornered the bed pan market.

Against all odds they scrounged and improvised all the equipment they needed. Florey’s determination to get what he needed earnt him the nickname among the Oxford Scholars as “the bushranger of research”.

Florey and Chain’s first human experiment with penicillin was on a man dying from a rose thorn infection. The pair exhausted every ounce of penicillin made from months of soup making. Their meagre supplies of penicillin were so precious that they recycled the patient’s urine to capture even a speck of the antibiotic flushed out of his body.

Florey and Chain persevered. They worked and worked and worked until they discovered practical ways to make penicillin a viable, effective antibiotic. They proved you don’t need ideal conditions to succeed. Everything seemed against them yet they prevailed.

Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia in 1949, remarked that Howard Florey “had the essential attributes of greatness: courage, integrity, tremendous drive and unswerving sense of direction.”

Dr. John Best said that “Florey is probably the greatest Australian who has ever lived.”

Mohammed Ali was one of the greats of the square ring. He was a three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer and winner of an Olympic Light-heavyweight gold medal. Sports Illustrated crowned him “Sportsman of the Century”. Ali was master of the lightening quick jab. He was also the master of the cutting remark. He once insulted an opponent with “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.”

Howard never had much to work with. All he had were everyday items, found in kitchens and hospital wards. Yet he developed a product that has saved millions of lives.

extract from “Stand on the Shoulders of Giants” Gerard Stevenson

© 2007 well imagine that Pty Ltd

Next Time: what are hydrogels and can they be used to repair spinal cord injuries?

Extraction at the dentist’s!


Just because you’re injured doesn’t mean you escape the important events in life. . . like going to the dentist!

While I was in hospital I did require some dental work and had a mobile dentist come and attend to that work. However, I have been keen to get back to our family dentist for a regular checkup, now sadly overdue.

Sue had been for her checkup a month earlier and did a reconnoitre to see if I would be able to get into the dentist’s rooms. She reported back that I could use the back entrance. It would be a tight squeeze but I would be able to get the chair through the doorway, down the corridors and into the surgery itself.

I would have to remain in my chair during the examination since there would be no way to hoist me into the dentist’s chair. Given the amount of forward and back tilt I have in this chair no one anticipated that this would be a problem.

I arrived at the surgery with plenty of time to navigate my way through the building. It was a tight fit. I have “puff and sip” controls on my chair. This means that I can move the chair forward, backwards, left and right by using my breath.

The controls on the chair are sensitive enough to allow me to turn around tight corners so I managed to get into the surgery. The plan was that I would park parallel to the dentist’s chair. Which I did. I was parallel but facing the wrong direction! A little bit more puffing and sipping and I was in place.

Dr Harley Moffat has been our family dentist for nearly 35 years. Needless to say we think he is a great dentist and I thought all this effort was well worth it to see him again.

After his examination on my teeth he said that I needed a small filling which could be done immediately or on the next visit.

I opted to have it done straightaway. He gave me an injection in the gum, the filling was completed easily and I was set to go home.

Then the unforeseen happened. When I tried to puff my way out of the surgery I couldn’t get the chair to move as I wanted. The left side of my gum was numb from the injection and, hard as I tried, I couldn’t move the chair forward. The right side of my gum was fine and when I blew into the straw I was like a man in a row boat with one oar, just going around in circles.

There are attendant’s controls on the back of the chair and Sue took over driving. Unfortunately she doesn’t get much practice at driving because I insist on controlling the chair all the time. Anyway, the inevitable happened and I became wedged in the doorway. Couldn’t go forward. Couldn’t go back. Stuck! Four of us were stuck were stuck. I was stuck in the doorway and Harley, Deb the dental nurse and Sue were stuck in the surgery.

We put the chair in neutral and eventually the 3 others, with a lot of pushing back and forward, got me free. Sue snaked the chair and me down the corridors and out into the waiting van.

There was an extraction that day at the dentist. I never anticipated it would be me being extracted-distracted from a doorway!

Support our supporters: Sallyanne-Reflect Photography

Reflect Photography is an award winning, boutique photography studio based in the Yarra Valley, east of Melbourne specialising in photography for businesses.

Next Time: Some consider him the greatest Australian ever. We stand on his shoulders!

Make a comment! Ask a question! Start a conversation! Start by pressing the Write a comment button below

What is a tracheostomy? What is “leak” speech?

What is a tracheostomy? What is “leak” speech?

As a result of my injury the nerves controlling my diaphragm don’t work. Because my diaphragm doesn’t work neither do my lungs. As a result I now need a machine to pump air in and out of my lungs. This machine or ventilator, could be used to force air through my mouth or nose into my lungs. This would require me to wear a mask all the time, making conversation and eating impossible. Not a happy outcome!

The solution is a tracheostomy (which is what I have). A tracheostomy is a surgical incision in the windpipe (trachea) that allows a plastic tube with an inflatable cuff to be inserted into the windpipe.

The ventilator can then be attached to the plastic tube and air can be pushed in and out of my lungs, bypassing the mouth and nose. At the end of this post is part of a video that Gary Hegadus (professional film maker and good friend), my wife and I made in conjunction with the Austin Hospital. In the video Prue Gregson, Senior Speech Pathologist, with the assistance of Trache Tom (a 3-D model) explains how a tracheostomy works.

What is “leak speech”?

The cuff in my tracheostomy tube can be inflated or deflated. When the cuff is inflated air is forced directly from the ventilator in and out of my lungs. However, when the cuff is deflated air is able to leak out across my vocal chords. This leakage across my vocal cords allows me to speak. Hence the expression “leak” speech.

The video gives a visual demonstration of the plastic tube, the inflatable cuff and how air leaks across the vocal cords.

Click here to view the video.

Support our supporters

Steven Killey (Lift Me-stairlifts and low platform lifts) has been a keen and practical supporter in lots of ways. His latest venture is to raise funds for an exercise bike for me. He recently competed in the“Wings for Life” run and raised over $2000 towards the bike. For a quote on stairlifts and low platform lifts from a true professional contact Steve on 0409 931 446 or at:

Next Time: An extraction at the dentist’s

Make a comment! Ask a question! Start a conversation! Start by pressing the Write a comment button below