Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Viva Las Beswick

So in a surprising decision (with odds of 16-1), Manchester's the lucky winner of the super-casino sweep. I still think the regeneration case for the whole scheme is deeply flawed, but still. Lucky old Manchester.

The police have raised serious concerns about these new casinos leading to increases in crime, antisocial behaviour and organised criminal activity. So they're putting the biggest of the new breed into East Manchester, hardly an area short of these problems already? (Note to any chippy Mancs who might be reading this - I'm allowed to say that, I used to live in Miles Platting.)

Sheffield was also making a pitch, but the verdict of the Casino Advisory Panel (as reported in the Guardian) is interesting:
"while there remains a strong regeneration need in places like the Lower Don Valley, such has been the success of the city generally ... it remains in lesser regeneration need than others."
which seems a worthier win in itself.

And I suspect this doesn't exactly improve the odds of the much-debated move of chunks of the BBC to Salford ever actually happening...


Tailoring microfinance

Interesting research on microfinancing schemes in Uganda from doctoral researcher Alfred Lakwo, with support of the Dutch NWO, who argues that such schemes must be more closely tailored to local circumstances. According to the NWO release:
Lakwo discovered that microfinancing gave the women concerned more money and knowledge, but no real independence. However, the benefit gained is nothing compared to the material progress made by other women because, for example, they gained access to more ground, cattle or (agricultural) machinery.
Lakwo states that microfinancing makes a clear contribution to the emancipation of women when it comes to acquiring comparable positions and rights to men, within a marriage relationship or emancipation at an individual level. According to him, policy makers should realise that this is not the same as creating independent 'macho' women, a western outlook on the emancipation of women. They also need to match microcredit programmes to the local situation and needs. This would enable a good infrastructure for microfinancing to be built up and the target group would become involved in the policy. At present that scarcely happens.


Non-fab prefab

Not a great advert for affordable sustainable urban development - the troubled Caspar housing development in Leeds is to be demolished before it falls apart in the high winds not unknown in West Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Evening Post this week reports:
Developer LifeHomes has bought the distinctive crescent-shaped, five-storey block of pre-fabricated flats in North Street, Leeds, and intends to completely redevelop the site.
The £3m CASPAR (City Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) scheme was built seven years ago by Japanese construction firm Kajima.
It was hailed as revolutionary, both in terms of the high-speed advanced pre-fabrication building techniques used and in providing a blueprint for encouraging middle-income singles and couples to live in city centre.
But problems emerged in 2005 when consultants advised that the flats were potentially unsafe in high winds. The residents were moved out early in 2006 and the 46 flats have stood empty ever since.

An earlier story in the Guardian, following the evacuation, noted:
[Lord Richard Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust] said that the decision had serious implications for the sort of innovative building hailed by Mr Prescott, the deputy prime minister, at an exhibition of new construction techniques earlier this year.
Mr Prescott said that there had been too much prejudice against modern construction methods because of the failure of system-built tower blocks. "You just have to look round this exhibition to see how much off-site construction has improved in terms of quality and reliability," he said.
Lord Best said: "Caspar's form of construction was very much at the cutting edge of new techniques and the results have been very disappointing indeed."
The Kajima system was "wonderful" but required precision in assembly and care of the pre-built units - an area which Arup will now survey in more detail.

As I noted in this 2001 YBI feature on architecture and regional regeneration, the scheme won a RIBA award for its design. And while the prefab construction technique is still a promising one, and the social aims of the scheme were laudable, it's deeply sad that it's all been let down by fundamentally crappy construction. Even on a low-cost project, that's unforgiveable.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Currying favour

Today's Yorkshire Post features a new business that should gladden any gourmand with the misfortune to live too far from Bradford - will take orders from anywhere in mainland Britain and deliver the freshly cooked food within 48 hours.
The venture has been launched by Bradford businesswoman Jan Smithies and Richard Richardson, who helped to develop the Harry Ramsden brand.
The pair have worked with a team of chefs, restaurants and home cooks from the city to develop a menu of curries.
Ms Smithies said: "Bradford has a well-deserved national reputation for being the home of fantastic South Asian food.
"I became increasingly aware that a Bradford curry was unique to Yorkshire and something that had a wide appeal outside the county. Two of our first orders have been from the far reaches of Cornwall and Scotland."

Obviously it won't be much use when you've got the late munchies, seems a good idea for special occasions, particularly for Yorkshire ex-pats. And it's great to see the Bradford branding being used in such a positive way. Get your orders in here.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Airport terminated

The Sheffield Star today reports the hardly unexpected news that Sheffield City Airport is indeed to be closed and turned into a business park:
Sheffield Council's City Centre, South and East Planning and Highways Area Board banged the final nail into the ill-fated airport's coffin when it approved a plan for offices and light industry to be built on the site.
Sheffield is now the biggest major city in Europe without its own airport.
The redevelopment plan effectively brings to an end any lingering chance that the facility could be revived. Under the plan most of the runway will be dug up and the airport's hangars will have to be taken down in the next few months.

A nice deal for majority shareholders Peel Holdings then, whose airport at Finningley should pick up what little business Sheffield City had, while making a tidy return on the new park which should be the largest of its kind in the region (with development supported by European Objective One money, of course). Who would have expected such a result when Peel took over Sheffield City back in 2001? OK, pretty much everyone...

Wonder if they'll bother to retract their previously-noted objections to the proposed wind turbine at the nearby Advanced Manufacturing Park?

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Einstein no-no

I've felt obliged to add a special note to one of the most popular pages on the main 2ubh site, a feature I wrote two years ago entitled 'The other side of Albert Einstein'. The note reads as follows:

This article is consistently the most visited on this site. It was commissioned by Physics World as part of a special issue celebrating the start of the International Year of Physics in 2005. The year was also known as Einstein Year, marking as it did the centenary of of his groundbreaking work in Brownian motion, the photoelectric effect and special relativity.
The brief was to examine the various myths and accusations which have been levelled at Einstein. Of these, perhaps the most pernicious is that Einstein was a fraud. As noted below, this accusation is particularly prevalent among racists who can't accept a liberal Jewish genius.
It's slightly annoying, then, to find that this article has been selectively referenced and linked to by a number of right-wing and neo-nazi sites, so as to suggest that it supports their idiotic ideas. It doesn't in any way.
I'll simplify the basic message of the article for anyone with such an agenda: Einstein was certainly a genius, but he was in other ways a typically flawed human being. You, on the other hand, are an idiot. Now grow the fuck up.
To everyone else, I hope you enjoy the article.
- TC

It's sad that it had to be said, really.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Economic genre fiction

Interesting radio piece by Rick Kleffel for NPR in the US on a perceived trend for 'genre fiction' (SF, horror, etc) to draw on economics and finance. From the NPR blurb:
During the Cold War, science-fiction tales of alien invasion mirrored society's fear of Communism, and monsters from Frankenstein to Godzilla have tapped into our unease about the boundaries of science.
But a new type of genre fiction has plots centering around business and economics. A book by T. C. Boyle takes the subject of identity theft and treats it like a horror story.
Several other writers are also turning their attention to our preoccupation with finances and business, and finding fertile ground.

More here.

I'm not convinced by the claim that this is anything new (economics in SF goes back to Wells at least) and the focus here is very much on micro or personal finance issues rather than anything broader, but it's an interesting listen.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

All tagged up

I've recently moved over to the new version of Blogger, which promises various new features and improvements. The main one is the addition of category labels, which I'd been considering moving over to Wordpress for - so a wise addition by the Google chaps. I've completed the laborious process of adding categories to all the posts so far, so you can easily find my witterings on your particular area of interest. So far, the categories (and number of posts to date) are:
economics (43) - interesting research, and thoughts on theory and practice
regional (18) - regional development and regeneration
VC (11) - venture capital, plus other aspects of corporate finance and investment
technology (12) - the innovation making a difference, with an emphasis on environmental and clean tech
science (6) - theoretical innovation and research
Yorkshire (28) - news and oddments from god's own country
journalism (17) - notes on my own trade, and criticism of other people's
photos (15) - eyecatching architecture, art and oddness from hither and yon
site (11) - noting updates and changes to this blog and the main 2ubh site
odds (26) - everything that doesn't fit into the above, and a few things that do but which have a particular fortean or Ballardian bent

The one feature I'd still like to see from Blogger is some more options on comments control - I don't want anonymous comments, but the only way to bar them seems to be to allow Blogger-registered users only. A setting, as I've seen on other sites, to just require an email address or some other ID would be preferable.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ten years before the masthead

This week marks my 10th anniversary as a working journalist. In the first week of January 1997, I began work as a lowly production assistant (soon after, reporter) at the Belgravia offices of Chemistry & Industry magazine. I'd completed my journalism training in early summer '96, but after spending the summer travelling Europe, it took a few months to find a job.

Wisest move since then was getting out of London, for a better-paying job back up north. Given the gross regional imbalance of the British media industry, that was no mean feat - and definitely the best move in terms of quality of life, especially once I made a second hop from Manchester back to Yorkshire.

Not the wisest move, from a career progression point of view, was joining an internet start-up aimed at the hi-tech VC market in March 2000. Still, it was fun while it lasted - and having an inside view on the bubble and burst meant becoming a dotcom casualty later that year wasn't exactly unexpected. That also laid the ground for a lot of the freelance work I've been doing since.

As a freelance, I've got myself a good niche in venture capital, particularly with regards to technology and state intervention. It's pretty rewarding intellectually and, when the work's coming steadily, financially (getting near a grand a day for quick editing work on behalf of a big investment house has definitely been a highlight). The odd commission from Nature and Financial Times have added some impressive heft to the CV, and allowed me to answer the usual party question 'So who do you write for, then?' with something that won't send them off in a daze. And being flexible enough to spend time on some non-commercial work for Fortean Times, Strange Attractor Journal, et al has been personally satisfying - and I'll always be proud of my occasional billing as Gentleman Cosmologist in Bizarre.

2007 might see some changes. For the past couple of years, I've been studying part-time for a Master's degree in Economics and Finance at the University of Sheffield. That finishes this summer, with a dissertation on a topic which will not be too far from some of the issues raised in this blog or in my work elsewhere. That, perhaps, may lead to other things. Watch this space.