Sunday, February 28

Who says history never repeats?

Here in the UK the Falkland Islands have been making headlines. This month, Ocean Guardian, a small British energy company began exploratory oil drilling in waters north of the islands. Its actions have provoked a storm of protest from Argentina, which claims sovereignty over this remote, wind-swept archipelago in the South Atlantic. Currently, Britain administers the Falklands, having reestablished its sovereignty in 1833 when newly independant Argentine nationals attempted to establish a settlement.

Sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is hotly contested issued. Since their discovery in the 1600s they've been claimed by France, Britain, Spain and Argentina at various times. Of course, the most recent and possibly most dramatic, of these disputes is The Falklands War. This conflict began on Friday, 2 April 1982 with an invasion and occupation of the islands and neighbouring South Georgia by Argentine forces.

Britain subsequently battled for 74 days battled to reclaim the islands, before Argentine forces finally surrendered on 14 June 1982. The death toll on both sides was surprisingly high; 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and three civilian Falklanders lost their lives. At the time, less than 2,500 people lived on the islands, alongside 600,000 sheep.

In the decades since, the British have built an airbase, upgraded much of the island's infrastructure and spend £70 million defending them. However, at last count 125 uncleared minefields remain intact. Clearing them has only recently begun. The islanders have also been integrated into the modern world courtesy of a weekly Chilean flight from Santiago and twice weekly, 20-hour flights from the UK by the Ministry of Defense. Ironically, the weekly Chilean flight is popular with Argentines visiting the graves of soliders killed in 1982. More than 4,000 make the trip each year. A supply ship arrives from Chile every two weeks loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, while the UK sends its own supply ship every six weeks.

As oil exploration commences, the stakes have been raised. By some estimates, more than 60 million barrels of oil lie beneath the seabed. If true, these deposits equal those of the declining North Sea oilfields. Given such dramatic sums, Argentina's current outcry suddenly makes sense. Who says history never repeats?

Thursday, February 18

56 hours in The Big Apple

I'm blogging from the back of a taxi enroute to the airport in New York. It's been an intense 2.5 days on the ground here with back to back meetings since I arrived. However there have been a few lighter moments.

Yesterday was a special day in my long list of lifetime ambitions. I've always wanted to be in New York when it's snowing. It snowed pn and off most of yesterday, often with large and perfectly fluffy flakes. Right now, as we slowly drive through the eastern suburbs of Queens I'm surrounded by the sight of several inches of snow on the ground. New York is definitely prettier in the snow.

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Location:Grand Central Pkwy,Forest Hills,United States

Monday, February 15


We've enjoyed a relaxing weekend in the town of Frome. It's an old town able to date its history back to at least the 7th Century. Much of the town consists of grey stone buildings which seem to be scattered rather randomly across the hills of a shallow river valley. I've read that it has more listed buildings than any other town in Somerset.

Many of these buildings date from the prosperous cloth industry that began in the 14th Century and peaked in the 17th Century. Perhaps the most notable building in the area is the dramatic parish church of St John the Baptist, set in brown stone on a hill overlooking the town. It was founded by monks that settled in the area in 685AD.

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Location:Frome,United Kingdom

Sunday, February 14

1607 was a good year

In 1607 a glorious stone manor house was built in the small Somerset village of Frome (pronounced like room spelt with an 'f'). Today the same location, called Stonewall Manor, is available to rent as self-catering accommodation. Which is exactly what Garry and have done this weekend, booking the entire house with a group of friends.

Since arriving on Friday evening we've discovered many things about 17th Century architecture. The door lintels are quite low, the floor is perpetually creaky and not a single surface is ever level. It also takes 24 hours to really warm the interior of a large stone manor. This afternoon we decided the cool indoor temperature had created the perfect excuse to visit a nearby, well-heated micro-brewery pub for a leisurely ale.

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Location:Frome,United Kingdom

Wednesday, February 10

The big freeze - Part 2

The coldest winter in three decades has returned with vengeance. Since Monday we've had snow flurries falling on and off throughout the day. While the falls have never been heavy enough to settle, we've still come home to a light dusting over cars parked along the street. The overnight temperatures have also plunged. The mercury fell below zero more than an hour ago and will continue dropping to at least -3°C.

Once again, as the cold weather returns, so do our household plumbing issues. This time the dual flow valve heating our water failed. We've endured three morning of bitterly cold showers before the plumber was able to finally complete his permanent repair. I've been going to work early to use the office shower. You could say we're over it.

Nationwide it was the coldest January since 1987, while December was the coldest since 1995. January was definitely a cold month across England. Mean temperatures were 2.5 to 3.0 °C below normal. December was between 1.5 and 2.0 °C below normal. Ironically, January has been the warmest on record in Vancouver, the host city host for this month's Winter Olympics. This week organisers resorted to shifing 780 tons of snow daily by helicopter and tractor in a desperate attempt to cover the slopes for snowboarders and freestyle skiers.

Sunday, February 7

Joining the herd

My university marketing courses regularly referenced the product lifecycle curve. This is a model that categorizes consumers according to the risk they associate with buying a product. According to marketing theory, each group or life stage is defined by shifts in market awareness, profitability, and competition. Those with the lowest risk perception buy the product immediately after its release; they’re called Innovators. Four more distinct groups follow, with the most risk adverse, called Laggards, at the rear. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m an Early-majority consumer, which lumps me in with a third of the general population.

This week, remaining true to my consumer profile, I became the proud owner of an iPhone, Apple’s revolutionary smartphone. Apple unveiled its first iPhone just over two years ago - on January 9, 2007 – and set itself the goal of selling ten million in its first year. It finally hit stores on June 29 of the same year. Since then more than 42 million units have been sold. I’m clearly not an early adopter.

The iPhone is an incredible product. It’s effectively a handheld computer, no heavier than my previous Motorola Razer phone, and only slightly larger. How times have change. I can hardly believe it’s been barely 15 years since I got my first mobile phone and less than a decade for my first laptop. Industry watchers say it cost an estimated US$150 million to develop, spread over a thirty month period.

It’s clearly money well spent. I can take photos, read email, monitor the weather globally, track time zones and surf the web on my iPhone as if I were using a regular computer. I’ve already fallen in love with its location finding application. A couple of taps on the iPhone’s touchscreen brings up a map with your exact location clearly marked. Tap again and you can view a satellite image of the same area, or even a street level image. Amazing. No doubt you’ll see me posting from my iPhone soon.

Thursday, February 4

Too good to last...

Up until today I had no travel booked, for business or leisure, in the first three months of the year. Sadly, my days on the ground are numbered. I now have two separate trips scheduled to New York; one for 2.5 days in mid-February and one for 1.5 weeks in mid-May. The first Atlantic crossing will be rather punishing. I'll have to take a long-distance taxi from a country manor we've rented for the weekend at 4.45am to Heathrow airport, catch the first flight of the day to New York, then go straight into meetings and dinner until almost midnight local time. That's 24 hours on my feet. I think I'll be napping on my morning flight!

Monday, February 1

The Green Belt

Every so often I come across an inspired British innovation. The Green Belt is one such example. It’s an urban development policy from the 1930s, developed to counter relentless suburban sprawl. At the time town planners urged local and national politicians to wrap the nation’s major cities in a “green girdle” of farm land. These green zones restricted development, maintaining a relatively clean boundary between urban and rural land use. This in turn encouraged compact residential development in British cities, significantly reducing the flight to the suburbs that blighted the inner city in other countries.

Over time this policy has resulted in 16,766 square kilomtres of green belt zoning in England alone. The impact on the landscape is significant. As you drive out of London, the scene shifts swiftly from urban jungle to tranquil countryside. Strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments are almost non-existent. Instead, the view is punctuated by discrete, quaint villages and broad rolling fields. The contrast couldn’t be starker compared with uncontrolled development corridors elsewhere in Europe.

The Mediterranean coastline of Spain and Greece are particularly good example of this ugly, unplanned sprawl. One coastal town seems to blend into another. None have a distinctive character. The overall impression is one of concrete, clutter and commercial greed gone mad. Every time I see these coastal zones I’m left wondering why local authorities permit them as they simply discourage me from ever returning. The same can be said of many urban areas in the USA.

London's Green Belt

Currently, about 11 per cent of English land is zoned into 14 distinct green belts. The largest, and oldest, surrounds London. More than 5,133 square kilometers of protected land encircle the city. The first such zone was proposed by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee in 1934 under the leadership of Herbert Morrison, and introduced the following year. It took another 14 years to define and codify the rest of the belt that remains in place today.

The future of the nation’s green belt policy remains a political hot potato. Its preservation is actively championed by a vocal and well organized lobby group called the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE). The organisation boasts 60,000 members and the Queen as its Patron. It’s efforts have done much to prevent the densely populated UK from suffering soul-destroying urban sprawl.