Yearly Archives

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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Government ‘Superfast’ Broadband Plans: A Small Step Vaguely in the Right Direction

Sat at the BBC late at night, waiting to go on air, so just time to craft my two-penneth on the Government’s broadband plans.

Firstly, though I was never fan of the distinctly unambitious 2Mbps target, it was at least a defined target. I don’t understand why the coalition has felt the need to ditch this target rather than maintain it alongside the new objective for 2015. Unless of course it is a target they knew they would fail to meet in any case, which I suspect is probably accurate. The new target seems to be utterly nebulous.

Secondly, and more positively, I welcome the seed funding for rural broadband hubs. This was a need that was never going to be met to anyone’s satisfaction by the private sector without some serious arm-twisting, so better that the Government have come clean now and stumped up the cash.

I would like to see the hub approach provided in all communities, with the large providers obliged to open up access in each area for small companies and local groups to organise their own provision. This doesn’t need to be restricted to rural areas. Unfortunately there is one issue that the government has failed to address that will currently prevent this from happening: business rates.

Rates are charged on every metre of fibre laid by a provider, and they are charged at higher rates for small companies than the large providers who negotiate a national deal. This can place an absurd tax burden on service provision, with one example showing that the fibre required to deliver a typical inner-city fibre-to-the-home service would carry a tax burden greater than the total charge (£30) on an equivalent service in Paris.

Until this problem is resolved there will be little innovation or competition on the market, and surely those are the watchwords of any Conservative (or as good as) government?

PS: You can now Listen Again to my comments on air here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/bigscreen/radio/episode/b00wcqrt. I’m on about 85 minutes in just before midnight.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Top toys for Christmas 2010  – Retail Therapy

Discussed two topics with Becky Want this morning on Retail Therapy, live from the Arndale on BBC Radio Manchester. Listen again if you fancy it here. The second topic was the top toys for Christmas 2010.

According to the Toy Retailer’s Association, the Lego Airport, VTech KidiZoom video camera, and Moon Dough Barn are amongst the ‘dream dozen’ toys this Christmas. There’s certainy a lot of high tech in the list — including semi-lifelike robot animals — but it’s these three ‘creative play’ toys that have really caught my attention.

Watching my own toddling daughter play I find it thrilling when she takes the most basic elements and starts to create her own game from them. Pouring water from jugs to cups and back again, stacking up simple wooden blocks, emptying coins from a jar and gradually replacing them. The enjoyment all comes from her imagination, and these toys offer interesting ways to extend that imagination.

As a kid I loved Lego, and if I’m honest I can’t wait for an excuse to play with it again. PlayDough type materials were also always good fun because you could make the toys you had in your head but that didn’t exist (Fimo, that you can bake hard is particularly good for this). I also have great memories of playing with an early video camera with my parents, filming silly movies on holiday. So the fact that someone has made one just for kids — even if it is £60 — is very cool.

Roll on Christmas I say.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

2011  – The Year of the Robot? Retail Therapy on BBC Radio Manchester

Discussed two topics with Becky Want this morning on Retail Therapy, live from the Arndale on BBC Radio Manchester. Listen again if you fancy it here.

The first topic we covered was robots. I think that we might finally see domestic robots coming into the mainstream in 2011. There’s a huge variety available today and they have been around in various forms for some years, but they don’t really seem to have caught on in the UK.

When I talk about domestic robots, don’t expect to see R2D2 and C3po roaming around your living room any time soon. Today’s robots are rather more function-specific: mowers, hoovers, mops and even soup makers (depending on your definition of a robot). But they are increasing in practicality all the time, and importantly, falling in price.

A really practical automatic vacuum cleaner is now just £200 from iRobot. I should be testing one in the next couple of months for what I hope becomes a new regular review slot on BBC Radio Manchester. If it works well, I will certainly be taking one: with a toddler it seems the cleaning cycle in our house is never ending!

I could also fancy a robot mower, with the grass on our lawn rapidly rising towards the ten inch mark. Maybe I’ll review one of those in the new year…

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The recruitment challenge: does degree score forecast performance?

This is one of those times I wish I had a statistician’s skills. Maybe I ought to write to More or Less…

The BBC reported this morning that 78% of graduate recruiters are filtering out any candidates with less than a 2:1. As someone with a 2:2, and having been involved in recruitment for some years now, I take issue with this.

In my limited experience, degree score has practically no bearing on the value that an employee brings to a business. I have seen graduates with firsts last a matter of weeks, unable to make the transition from academic life to the working world. And I’ve employed people with no degree but clear aptitude who have quickly become key team members.

My indirect experience from networking events and the startup world bears this out. Sure there’s a sprinkling of academic stars but there is a much clearer common trait between the sharpest talents. It is the criterion used by Jon Bradford of The Difference Engine to select startups for his startup programme. He looks for ‘people who have done stuff’.

The example I might give of ‘stuff’ is getting involved in the students union (only because I did), but frankly it could be any kind of experience outside of academia. I want people with aptitude in my business, but the drive to actually do something is equally important. An academic qualification shows that people can perform well within given boundaries but for me the sheer score tells nothing about the person’s ability to operate independently and on initiative — qualities that are key to success in a small business/startup environment.

I couldn’t find any stats online to back up my limited experience, but I’d be very keen to see them if anyone else knows of any. Until someone can show me that degree score is a reasonable forecast of an employee’s value, I will continue to pay it little regard.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Eco – mechanics: a return to products built to last

Built-in obsolescence is the design of objects for a specific lifespan. The idea is that when one object fails, you’ll buy another one. It is a very wasteful business model, especially when the things being designed could last so much longer.

Take cars for example. Modern cars are made from many materials with a limited lifespan, and designed with fixings that aren’t meant to be repaired or replaced. Just look at the faded and cracked bumpers hanging off many cars just a few years old. Beyond a certain point, maintaining them becomes uneconomical for all but the keenest enthusiast or expert mechanic.

This seems mad to me, especially in the current climate — both environmental and economic. We are a world in need of solutions to the mounting carbon problem, and looking for ways to spend less. With these factors in mind the retail model of the car industry looks increasingly flawed.

Why not make cars that are designed to last us twice or three times as long and change the business model from one of regular retail sales to one of lifetime maintenance?

Of course this would require cultural changes too. But if cars were designed to be upgraded with new safety and comfort features over time, the opportunities for customisation and personalisation could be enormously attractive to consumers.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tom Cheesewright