Thursday, October 29, 2009

No nonsense?

I recently read The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Finance, courtesy of the publishers at New Internationalist. As you'd expect from the title, it's a very digestible overview of the international finance system, starting from what 'money' actually is, through the increasingly weird and wonderful activities of banks, to the root causes and effects of the recent mess. As such, it's a great introduction, very clearly written, and spiced with some fascinating historical nuggets - it's a rare treat to have such lucid accounts of both the origins of money itself, and the origins of the credit crunch.

And as you'd expect from the publishers of New Internationalist (a venerable magazine on international development issues, originally sponsored by Oxfam and Christian Aid), it takes a deeply sceptical line on the pre-crash orthodoxy. Simultaneously explaining and critiquing something as complex as the global financial system is a tricky task, but author Peter Stalker generally pulls it off.

Some parts do grate a little - the chapter on the role of the World Bank and IMF is titled 'The ugly sisters', a judgmental epithet that does rather beg the question -and there is a vague sense of preaching to the converted. Anyone committed to the old economic models will find some of the conclusions easy to dismiss - but then, anyone still wedded to the old certainties has enough problems of their own.

It's certainly not an entirely objective book, but so ingrained are the ideologies in global finance, and so emotive the effects, that it's questionable whether objectivity would be possible or desirable. It is a lucid and engaging book, and there's few readers - especially among its target audience - who won't come away with something new.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A new position

As of this month, I'm working part-time at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, with the grand title of European Communications Manager. I'll be working across the centre's European research projects, helping write funding proposals and manage the various international academic and industrial partners, through to disseminating and publicising the research once it's done.

I've been involved with the centre since its founding in 2001 - first writing about what they do for Yorkshire Business Insider and other publications, and more recently working on a few projects with them on a freelance basis. The centre's grown hugely over that time, and is now recognised as a world leader in its field of very clever metal-bashing (and, increasingly, composite-bashing). Of course, that's carrying on a long and noble tradition for Sheffield (even though the centre itself is located just over the border in Rotherham). I'm very happy to be helping, in some small way, to secure a high-tech future for my native city.

It's probably a good sign, then, that the AMRC appeared very briefly on BBC4's excellent Synth Britannia programme last week - to the unmistakable soundtrack of '4JG' (yes, a tribute to JG Ballard) by The Future (a short-lived early incarnation of The Human League).

Given that the main building here is called 'The Factory of the Future', it's a great visual/musical pun - I wonder if the production team actually realised that?

Anyway, it's a part-time position, and I'll still be writing and working freelance for the rest of the time - and, from a financial point of view, a monthly income will be a welcome stabiliser to the rock'n'roll revenues of a freelance life, particularly in the current media market. I'm currently deep in a lengthy feature for Corporate Financier on that perennial topic of finance for innovative start-up businesses and university spin-outs. My Clean Ventures site will also continue and, of course, I'll still be adding pics and ponderings here as and when. Stay tuned.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Ghost streets in the sky

Tha knows (by tim2ubh)
I'd been meaning to get up to Sheffield's Park Hill estate for a year or more, since first seeing the vast wall of hollowed-out flats while driving by Ponds Forge beneath. There wasn't any great rush - according to recent reports in the Sheffield Star, the project (estimated cost £160m) won't be complete till around 2017. It's three and a half years since I wrote about the plans here.

I had a free morning in Sheff last Friday, so popped over. I think it's the first time I'd actually been up close to the place - looming over the city like some demon fortress, it had a fearsome (and mostly undeserved) reputation when I was growing up in the city.

On the slide (by tim2ubh)

If it's still an unnerving place, it's an environment of eerie solitude rather than one of social threat, like stepping into the partially autopsied carcass of some sprawling municipal beast. Part has been stripped back to the concrete skeleton, secured behind high steel fencing; but the bulk has just been emptied and shuttered, and you're free to walk at will. All seemed deserted, although parts of the upper estate are still inhabited.

Stages (by tim2ubh)

It's an interesting place to visit at the moment. I've doubts whether Urban Splash's grand plans will ever come to fruition, or whether this unique building will disappear from Sheffield's skyline. But the stripped frames of this first phase seem to hold a strange promise, of brutalism turned gothic, the bones of some monster waiting to be reborn.

Dead heads (by tim2ubh)

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