We need a policy for that?

Twice last week I came across the world of Policies.

A few years ago, when it was fashionable, I toyed with the concept of my firm becoming registered for BS5750, now ISO9001. It was becoming a ‘badge’ which many people had latched onto – those procuring work had an easy question – “are you registered for BS5750?”. So because we were being asked we thought we needed to do it. I had, in fact, come across it many years before – my fathers business was engineering and they had been registered for many years.

Whilst it fit the engineering world it certainly didn’t sit comfortably with the world of a multi-disciplined surveying practice. We eventually came to the conclusion that it was forms for forms sake. It was a system which got in the way of what we did, rather than help it. We have discipline in lots of ways (mostly driven by our professional Institution) – but these are measured and relevant.

Then last week I heard mention of writing a Policy for some work that my son was doing. He works in a school and they divide the work out on an amicable basis, depending on who has time and who has the skill set. It’s a low tech solution, but works in a small team. But someone had suggested to him that he should write a Policy so that they made sure that the division of work was fair, that work was capable of being prioritised an that the right people were employed. The suggestion came from someone in the NHS.

Whilst it is not for me to criticise the NHS (I might need them one day!) I do wonder if we have created such a complex animal that it need rules and processes for everything. I figure that it probably does.

But we don’t always need a process, a policy or a set of forms. Sometimes we just need to speak to each other and agree on who is doing what?

Nottingham Contemporary – the new show

I was at Nottingham Contemporary last Friday night for too short a time. I had received my usual invite to have a launch tour of this latest exhibition – Thomas Demand and Decolonising Architecture. Sadly I was trying to get a number of reports out so had to do whistle-stop tour…

From what I have seen and heard this is going to be of my favourite exhibitions so far. There some great photographs in the galleries – taken by Demand of architectural models they are really quite clever. He shows the models in a fairly raw and basic state, which is rather at odds with the finished article (the buildings). The images are large scale – which I liked! Demand has worked with the architects who designed the Contemporary (Caruso St John) before – so this is an interesting connection. A mix of architecture and photography was always going to get my vote!

The second exhibition is some further, real, architectural models and some interpretations of the lawless line on the border of Israel and Palestine. I have often looks at maps and smiled at the thickness of drawn elements – Roads, for example, would be a mile wide if drawn to scale! But the alternative is that they would be so thin that you wouldn’t actually see them. The lawless line takes this scale issue rather literally – at less than 1mm thick drawn on a 1:20,000 plan, it scales up to nearly 5m wide in real life! And this line permeates buildings and people’s lives – drawn rather arbitrarily on a map, I’m not sure the cartographer realised the implications.

There is an amazing sculpture which includes a floating staircase through the Palestine Parliament – which you have to see to appreciate.

I need to go back to the gallery soon to have a better look. But I would encourage everyone to go to see this exhibition…this one is rather good!

Punk Rock – for room 101 – I think not!

I have seen the new edition of Room 101 a couple of times in the last few weeks; the format is nowhere near as good as the original (what was I saying about originals last week?). But a few weeks ago Danny Baker was guest and suggested that Punk Rock went into room 101.

I have a lot of time for Mr Baker – I thought we were kindred spirits – he was, after all, there when Punk smashed onto the scene. He’s a bit older than me (not much!) so I had high hopes for him defending Punk, but alas no. He promoted it to be sent away to the great dustbin in the sky.

This is wrong on so many counts. OK, so some of Punks musical legacy is questionable, but some is still brilliant. Punk wasn’t just about ‘music’ (wonder what Alesha Dixon would think to the ‘musicality‘) it was about rebellion. It was trying to push against the blandness of the music scene, but also of the blandness soy life at the time. We were trudging through treacle.

I still listen to the music from that era – the period from 1977-1979 is still my favourite time. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, The Boomtown Rats, The Stranglers all feature highly on my iTunes ‘top played’ list. Who can ever forget Geldof tearing up a picture of the cuddly bunnies of Bright Eyes on Top of The Pops? This was what we needed…

So, in my view there’s no chance of putting Punk (and everything that followed it) into Room 101 – I think rather that we should resurrect is. And to prove a point I bought The Rezillo’s vinyl in New York just before Christmas – it is brilliant!

Punk Rock lives on…. and I wonder if it should make a comeback to rid us of the Cowell-ridden drudgery in the charts at the moment?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Grumpy Old Man! Tagged Boomtown Rtas, Danny Baker, , New Wave, punk, punk-rock, room 101, Stranglers, The Sex Pistols

A new economy on the up – The Web Economy

Most of us rely on the internet to a great extent; this blog only exists because you are a connected person. And the chances are that you buy books from Amazon, pick your news up at bbc.co.uk and send emails as a principal method of communication. 20 years ago none of this existed in our homes!

you may be able to order it on-line but would the Post Office deliver it?

Now we have access to the internet on our telephones. And that is about to grow, It is reckoned that by 2016 about 80% of all internet users will access the web using a mobile phone. Google have concluded a study which also suggests that by 2016 over 3bn people (around half of the population of the planet) will have access to the internet. It is also suggested that around the same time there will be one trillion devices connected to the internet at any one time.

And with that connectivity will come a shift in the way we buy things. In four years the Google study is suggesting that commercial activity on the internet will grow from the present £1.5tn to £2.7tn.

These are amazing figures, except that this still represents a tiny proportion of what we spend. It is around 4% of the total economy – so some way to go. And perhaps some cheer for our High Streets – which still have some place in our super-fast-always-on world. We still like to go and touch and feel stuff…

As I was reminded last week, there are some things that don’t work on-line. My morning dose of Costa Coffee for instance – I might be able to order it, but the delivery might be a little more challenging?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged Amazon, Costa Coffee, ecommerce, Internet, on-line, web economy

2011 – a miserable year for property…

I guess we knew what the headlines were going to be – and they haven’t disappointed…even if they are disappointing!

One trillion pounds - piled up next to an arctic....

In the commercial market in 2011 the value of UK commercial property investment transactions in Q4 2011 was £8.69 billion, down 25% on the same period for 2010. We were hit hard by the lack of liquidity in the market and by the Euro-Crisis.

UK house sales fell last year to 869,000, one of the lowest totals on record, HM Revenue & Customs has said. House price growth was just 1% – which in the circumstances was probably fairly good!

This seems to have been a long depression – the back end of 2008 was when we saw the writing on the wall – that is nearly 3.5 years ago. I don’t think we ever anticipated the market to flat-line for so long.

This week the UK reached £1tn (£1,000,000,000,000) in debt. To understand what one trillion looks like – go and have a look at your doormat – 1 Trillion of them would cover the whole of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Alternatively if you had spent £1m every day since Jesus was born, you would still have some change!

The really worrying thing is that there is little sign of a change in the short term. However, in the medium term I am involved in a number of major projects which could come to fruition in 2013-15. They have a long lead in, but I take some comfort in the fact that people are considering them. Of course this Parliament must be dissolved by May 2015, it is unlikely that the current incumbents will want to go to the Country with the current state of play.

Further I suspect that there will be some monies available starting next year. We will have the Olympics out of the way – I doubt we will ever know how much that has cost us. The budget of £9.3bn is apparently robust, money we can ill afford in the current economic climate!

Perhaps it is better in the middle distance than we think? I hope so!

The internet – faster and faster … essential?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Autumn Statement the creation of a new £100 million Urban Broadband Fund (UBF) that will create up to ten super-connected cities across the UK with 80-100Mbps (megabits per second) broadband connectivity. That’s fast!

Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and up to six further cities are going to receive support from the fund over the next three years to deliver these speeds.

I think that the ability of super-fast broadband is going to become a critical feature of our cities of the future. It is incredible to think that the internet is just a few years old and that, back then, we survived on dial up lines. But today most businesses are 100% reliant on the internet; either to communicate with itself or its clients. Our ability to gain information is critical.

If Nottingham wants to remain competitive then it needs to be on this new backbone. We need to lobby Government that this is essential. We have a fantastic creative quarter, centred on Antenna. For that to continue to grow it needs, as we all do, to have the very fastest connections we can get. I do know that my friends at Invest in Nottingham are coordinating Nottingham’s efforts to secure this for us.

It is not difficult to see that this is the future. As the capacity increases, the use of file sharing / collaborative working and video conferencing will become more useful. There is not doubt that our world is getting faster, travel times and costs are getting worse, so that points to a newer method of communication.

We are starting to get enquiries from occupiers that now include broadband connectivity as part of their wish list. This super-fast connectivity would give us a competitive advantage…

Local Radio – a dying art?

I know quite a few people who work in local radio. Mainly because for about 10 years I worked with a lot of them at Nottingham Hospitals Radio. We had a great time – and I have fond memories of broadcasting to a limited audience in Nottingham’s three hospitals – The QMC (where the studios were based), the City Hospital and the (now closed) General Hospital.

I don’t listen to local radio if I am honest – in the car I mostly have my iPod on random play – I have around 53,000 tracks to get through! Occasionally I tune into Radio 4′s Today Programme and if I am in the mood, I can cope with Radio 6 – along with the 3 other people who are tuned into DAB!

But Radio Nottingham does play an important role locally. The audience may well be ‘older’, but it is about community. I know that for some people (my mum included) it provides company. It also carries local stories which aren’t big enough for the nationals.

I can’t listen to our local commercial stations – the adverts drive me to distraction. So, good old Auntie Beeb does have some benefits! But the problem here may be that with the ongoing cuts some of these local services could be under threat. This is not a good thing!

I have mentioned before that there is a prospect of Nottingham TV taking off – and I am excited by the prospect of this. But it isn’t a replacement for radio – which has a particular place in the chatter. It isn’t it a replacement for the “kids” world of Twitter, Facebook and social media generally. Some of the people tuned into to local radio don’t have access to the latter.

Sometimes it doesn’t have to be about the money – or the listening figures. When I worked at NHR we knew that it was a small audience, but someone (wiser than me) once said that if we cheered just one person up – we were doing something useful.

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged local radio, Nottingham Hospitals Radio, Nottingham TV, Radio 4, Radio Nottingham, Today Programme

The Millennium Trilogy – brilliant

I have just managed to finish the 9 hours of sub-titled trilogy from Stieg Larsson – the story of Lisbeth Salander. Also known as The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest.

Trust me - you don't want to mess with her...

I have never read the books but watched the first film whilst sat on the tarmac at Shanghai Airport (all three hours of it) earlier this year. We hadn’t taken off – but I had finished the film and had a meal! I loved the film but found the small screen quite tough to read the sub-titles on! So the Blue Ray disc set arrived at Christmas.

I did try it with the English dubbing, but it was awful, so I reverted to the sub-titles again after about 10 minutes. You have to concentrate!

It is a brilliant story, if not a little dark in places. The rape scenes are a bit disturbing, but Lisbeth (brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace) does get her own back with a tattoo machine! There are some surprises along the way. All in all it’s a good yarn.

I understand that the late Steig was working on a fourth book in the cries when he died suddenly, aged 50. That book is expected to be finished in absentia. I can’t wait.

But in the meantime, I’m in no hurry to see the English version of the film. I have no idea if it is any good (although it seems to be doing well at the Box Office), I just know that sometimes the original versions of things should be left untouched – The Italian Job, The Olympus OM1 and Blue Stilton Cheese

I bet you didn’t think you could get from a Swedish rape scene to Blue Stilton Cheese back to Michael Cane all in one blog post?

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace, Steig Larsson, the gil who kicked the hornets nest, the girl who played with fire, The Girl with the dragon tattoo

Nottinghamshire Police – a pat on the back

The Nottinghamshire Police seem to get some bad press. I deliberately didn’t watch the Channel 4 documentary ‘Coppers‘ as I had been warned it was a somewhat biased and unflattering picture of the Nottingham – and it’s underworld.

One of the stolen bikes....

Unfortunately I became a Crime statistic at the weekend. Some charmers broke into my garage in the dead of night, found some ‘hidden’ keys and took 2 bikes – both Trek hybrids. They were 6 months old. They were bound together with a combination lock and wire. The thieves must have cut the wire, although they didn’t leave the remains here!

My son came home at around 4am to discover the garage open and the bikes gone. We called the Police – who were very helpful. They seemed more awake than me!

I had expected to just get a crime number and then be consigned to the statistics file. But I haven’t been. Two officers have been to see us – twice. They want pictures of the bikes, frame numbers, values. Yesterday a Community Officer called to say he had been to see all of our neighbours (who hadn’t heard anything). I had a call from the Scenes of Crime people – asking if I thought it worth them checking the place for fingerprints.

I haven’t got my bikes back (yet?) but I am impressed with the efforts of the Police to date. Well done to the Nottinghamshire Police.

Oh, and if you know someone who has nicked my bikes – tell them to be careful on one of them, the suspension is broken and could be dangerous to ride. It was waiting to be fixed. On second thoughts – don’t tell them…

By Tim Garratt Posted in Grumpy Old Man!, Nottingham Tagged bike, crime statistics, Nottinghamshire Police, stolen, Theft, Trek 6300, Trek 7.5

My broken Amazon Kindle… and great customer service

For some reason my Kindle has parted company with this life. The screen has frozen – the only visible image is half of the face of Enid Blyton with vertical and horizontal lines across the rest of the screen. It’s not easy to read my Steve Job’s biography!

What my Kindle used to look like...

I have no idea what has happened, I don’t think it has been dropped or otherwise abused – it lives permanently in the case it came with.

So, I thought I would see what Amazon thought. They have a web-page with some self-help remedies. None worked for me. Then you can email them, which I did. I got a fairly quick response (less than 12 hours) asking me to call them via a link on their website. You basically enter your phone number and asks them to call – your two options are ‘now’ or ‘in 5 minutes’. i opted for ‘now’. The phone instantly rang!

I went through a few details with the lady – she obvious knew who I was. She decided that it was definitely broken and said they would post me a new one. I need to send the other one back. She emailed me a confirmation and a return label to print. I have to use the ‘new’ box – and someone is going to collect it from my work…

When my new Kindle arrives, I simply have to register it and all of my books will automatically download!

To put it mildly, I am impressed. There was no fuss, no drama and the whole thing couldn’t have been easier. After my last dealing with Sky, this was a refreshing change. And, I’m looking forward to getting back to the life and times of the late Steve Jobs.

Well done Amazon – this is exceptional customer service…