Saturday, April 01, 2006

Meet Hector, the new super pc

Defra has decided to spend £52 million on a new HECToR (High-End Computing Terascale Resource). High end computing is already needed for 16 fields of scientific research: atomic, molecular and optical physics; computational chemistry; materials simulations; nanoscience; computational engineering; biomolecular sciences; health sciences and bioimaging; radiation biology; particle physics; environmental modelling; earth sciences; cosmology; astrophysics; solar system science; plasma physics; disaster simulation and emergency response.

The new HECToR will start work in 2007.

Friday, March 31, 2006

...And Even Smaller - What's the Nano Risk?

DEFRA (the Dept. for Food and Rural Affairs) has today published a consultation on ways of gathering information on the potential risks associated with the use of nano technologies.

Nanotechnology is the process of applying materials at the nano level - the atomic, molecular and macromolecular levels. A nanometre is one thousand millionth of a metre. For comparison, a human hair is 80,000nm wide, a red blood cell 7,000nm wide and a water molecule 0.3nm wide! Nanoparticles are currently used in some sunscreens, paints, diesel fuel additives and clothing

Applied in this way the behaviour of materials is different than when applied at the gross or normal level. But how different?

That's what we need to know - for safety's sake, as well as for all those positive innovations that might become possibe.

Defra Minister Lord Bach says: "There is currently very little information on the potential risks posed by nanoscale materials and we want to work with firms who are involved with nanotechnologies in order to better understand the uncertainties in this developing area."

I should hope so too. But then there's the little (and not-so-nano) matter of commercial confidentiality. How nano a stumbling block might that be?

The Dept. is proposing that a voluntary reporting scheme should be created. Do you see any potential flaws or pitfalls here? If you do, then have your say. The consultation will run until 23rd June.

DEFRA consultation here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Things can only get smaller

Western Digital, maker of computer hard drives, has just announced the imminent launch of a tiny (in physical size) 6 gigabyte USB hard drive. The USB connector swivels to give extra flexibility, and the box is a mere 45.7mm x 61.1mm x 9.5mm - smaller and thinner than a matchbox. It will ship next month in the US at $129.9. (£84).

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Chancellor Seeks Advice

Chancellor Gordon Brown recently announced the creation of an International Business Advisory Council to advise him on "the challenges
and opportunities of globalisation". Its members are to be Bernard Arnault, Chairman and CEO, LVMH; Lord Browne, Group Chief Executive, BP; Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Microsoft Corporation; Dr Jean-Pierre Garnier, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline; Sir Ka-shing Li, Chairman of the Board, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd; Sir Terry Leahy, CEO, Tesco; Sir John Rose, CEO, Rolls Royce; Robert Rubin, Director and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Citigroup Inc; Lee Scott, President and CEO, Wal-Mart; Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group; Meg Whitman, President and CEO, eBay; and James Wolfensohn, Special Envoy for Disengagement and Former President of the World Bank.

So who are these people who will have the ear of the chancellor? Best known to the general public is probably Bill Gates of Microsoft, the world's richest man; probably also its biggest philanthropist. But also, according to the Inquirer, his company has paid out more than $9 billion in lawsuit damages.

So there is a darker side to Mr Gates. He must certainly be an expert on commercial law. Read all about it here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The new Brighton: Illustrated website ( is published today. But this is just a pre-launch. There's is still much to do. Nonetheless, do have a look around. New material is being added daily.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rubbish or Raw Material

It used to be called the 'consumer society'. It started in the US in the late 30s and 40s, and spread throughout the developed world in the post-war period. It was in stark contrast with how things had been in the Hungary Thirties, the early 30s, when many millions were unemployed and fascism rampant. It took a colossal world war to defeat fascism, and then the era of consumption really took off. At the start of the 21st century the developed world is more than ever the consumer society. China, India and Brazil - vast countries of the developing world - and many others, are fast joining in.

The downside? Will we consume the living earth that supports our very existence?

Consumption produces waste. Waste causes pollution. Pollution causes environmental damage. The pleasure of our consumption is also the cause of our pain - or someone else's. The cheap goods that flood the developed world and have consumers rushing to the Primarks of the age to spend to their heart's satiation (if not content) are bought at the expense of low labour rates and massive environmental damage in the producing countries.

Meanwhile back in Planet Brighton a small waste war is being waged around the old industrial estate of Hollingdean Lane on the killing ground of the former borough abattoir. Onyx, the council's waste contractor, wants to build an MRF (materials recovery facility) and waste transfer station. Local residents are not having it, and are campaigning hard to stop it, claiming all sorts of virtuous reasons why it shouldn't be allowed to happen in their backyard.

From the council's perspective this site has been correctly chosen. It is a brownfield site, a partly derelict industrial estate, already the long-time home of the council's waste depot, and a central point for dustcarts serving the city. Try getting planning permission for a waste facility on a greenfield site and see how those residents rage - and their rage would have planning law on their side.

This cuts no ice with Hollingdean residents who fear more heavy traffic, noise and air pollution, and more generally that they're being dumped on. It's true, it's happening to them. The residents reject the charge of NIMBYism and assert their strong support for recycling - but not here, not next to their homes and schools. The site of the proposed MRF is adjacent to Down's Infants School, though all waste sorting and bulking will be carried out within new sound-proofed buildings.

What alternative do the residents offer, if any? Basically, they want to spread the pain in a series of smaller scale sites across the city, serviced by electric vehicles. Do we see other residents in other parts of the city putting up their hands and shouting: "Yes, please!" No.

It's not a stupid idea but it is fanciful, given the sort of society we live in. The idea was fleshed out in great detail some years ago in a report on London's waste, Re-Inventing Waste: Towards a London Waste Strategy (1998). London didn't take the advice, but how could it have done. It was a small-is-beautiful waste strategy for a small-is-beautiful society, not London, not contemporary society.

So, the war will rage on. - the David of the residents slinging their shots at the Oynx Goliath. The rest of the city will keep mum. Indeed, most will barely have noticed. (The Argus writes that Onyx wants to handle 200,000 tonnes A DAY! So much for exacting investigative journalism.) Their will be planning applications, inspector's inquiries and reports, eventually it will almost certainly be built, though already it is well behind schedule. Onyx had planned to have the buildings up and working this year. No chance.

Meanwhile, back in the global village, when is rubbish a resource? Answer: when labour rates are low enough and the environmental damage that a society is prepared to endure high enough. Britain's waste is now one of Britain's exports. Half of our green box waste finds its way abroad.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Global Warming, West Antartic, and ...

A couple of weeks ago a front page story in The Argus reported the intervention of the Environment Agency (EA), advising against approval of a planning application to build a house in Ormonde Way on Shoreham Beach. In fact, Ormonde Way is just beside the Adur bridge at the landward end of Shoreham Beach.

Shoreham Beach is just that: a beach, a shingle spit, but it is also a large housing estate. The area is now designated a high-flood-risk zone. The EA says the existing flood defences provide protection to a height of 4.2 metres. It fears that rising sea levels, caused by climate change, and the statistical likelihood of a major storm surge at some undefined point in the future, would have / will have devastating effects on coastal communities. More than 35,000 homes across Sussex would be flooded.

But then comes the news of the climate change conference this week in London, Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, and in the book of the same name the well-grounded fear that the West Antartic icesheet is now melting. Should it happen, scientists believe sea levels would rise by 5m (16ft) - three times greater than Shoreham's flood defences, and that's without the storm surge caused by what we call in Britain, A Great Storm.

Think how the coastline of Sussex, including that of Brighton & Hove, would be redrawn!

Setting the Scene

"The Brighton & Hove economy is increasingly influenced by the international economic climate. Continued improvements in communications have given local companies greater opportunity to penetrate global markets and key sectors in the city are now heavily dependent upon the international market.
"from Setting The Scene: A Review of the Brighton & Hove Economy by the Economic Development Team of Brighton & Hove City Council

The City in the Global Village

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." So wrote the 17th century poet, John Donne. Neither is Brighton an island; it is a city in the global village. Sounds contradictory but it's true.
In The Bigger Picture we look at wider issues - but try to maintain a sense of the Brighton perspective.