Tuesday 17 August 2010

Huntingdonshire - Irrelevant for business?

Huntingdonshire business
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Some might be forgiven for believing that Cambridge and Peterborough are the only regions in our county, especially with the branding of Greater Cambridge which now reaches from Royston to Wisbech.

So is Huntingdonshire irrelevant in the greater scheme of things?

We begin humbly when establishing that Cambrideshire & Peterborough together account for just 1.6% of all the businesses in England (about 30,000 out of 1,844,030). Cambridgeshire is surrounded by counties that each contain more businesses than it does, bar Bedfordshire.

However, Cambridgshire and Peterborough together do have a total GVA (gross value added)  of about £17 billion (2008), which is above average for population of 760,000.The major contributor is Peterborough (25% of GVA, followed by Cambridge City (23%) followed by - Huntingdonshire at (19%)!

In terms of business numbers, Huntingdonshire (6985 businesses) and South Cambridgeshire(7025) dominate, followed by Peterborough (5070) and Cambridge city (4115).

The top four business categories as defined by the Office of National Statistics for Cambridgeshire in general and Huntingdonshire in particular are

  1. Professional, Technical and Research
  2. Construction (in 2008)
  3. Information and Communication 
  4. Business Administration and Support Services

In fact, nearly a quarter (24%) of Huntingdonshire's businesses are knowledge based, with Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire each having 30% of their business in the knowledge based sector. These figures are well above the 21% for the UK as a whole.

So we can see that far from being an insignificant part of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Huntingdonshire is a key location throwing its weight behind the success of  region.

Indeed, in terms of numbers of businesses, Huntingdonshire leads the county in Production (515 businesses), Wholesale (415), Retail (470) Transport (260) and Arts, Entertainment, Recreation & other services (480).

Even delving a bit further into the detail brings up some interesting surprises. Richard Wishart of Delivery Management alerted me to the fact that defense and defense related industries form a hidden force within the area of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough; the core regions are Huntingdonshire and South Cambridgeshire who have 60 of the 85  businesses in their areas.

My answer to the question, "is Huntingdonshire irrelevant in the greater scheme of things?" is therefore a resounding no!

What sectors do you think are Huntingdonshire strengths or weaknesses?

Monday 16 August 2010

Businesses in Wales, A North-South divide?

North Wales was a successful destination for my holiday this year, with fantastic scenery, great beaches and lots to visit! It was also a region that from a business perspective looked very dependent on tourism, as hinted at by some people I talked to.

Was this true? Curiosity overcame me on my return home and some of the results are here in the slideshow above.

Looking at Wales overall, there is an indication of the impact of tourism in the high retail and accommodation business categories. However, this is balanced by business support and professional, scientific and technical businesses.Agriculture is also important.

The interesting results come when you break down the different business categories by county and region. The combined numbers of businesses for all the counties from Anglesey to Ceredigion and Powys (2/3rds of Wales) were outnumbered by the activity of the Southern Wales counties.

If Camarthernshire and Pembrokeshire are added to the 2/3rds or Wales, then the graph of business categories shows a clear distinction between those 4/5ths of Wales where Agriculture was a significant activity and the 1/5 in the south where it was not.

We stayed in Gwynedd where the dominant businesses are agriculture, construction, retail and accommodation, reflecting the impressions that I had gained.

There is an existing base of professional, scientific & technical as well as business support businesses. Surprisingly, the labour statistics suggest that whilst less positive than for England, the Gwynedd figures are not too dissimilar to the rest of Wales and the numbers of people qualified at all levels are high than in the rest of the country.

With self employment jobs in Wales increasing overall, this might be a route forward for new enterprise births in sectors outside of tourism. The geographic isolation would be irrelevant, especially if the communications network for mobile and network based broadband was good enough. BT already claims that it has 99% coverage and rival Virgin is testing out alternative routes via electricity cables.

The question is, in these economic hard times, will there be a real committment to fast track the 4/5ths of Wales that are lagging behind the 1/5th in the South, to give them a securer economic future.

Report UK Business: Activity,. Size and Location – 2009.
NOMIS Labour Market Profile for Gwynedd
Statistics for Wales: Statistical Bulletin; Key Economic Statistics for August 2010
BT Broadband statement on coverage
Virgin's Broadband via electricity cables

Saturday 14 August 2010

North Wales as a Holiday destination

I can recommend renting a holiday cottage in Wales; we fell on our feet when booking through the Snowdonia Toursit Services and found a small cottage tucked away in the small hamlet of Soar, near Talsarnau, just north of Harlech.

1 Ysgodly, Soar was fitted out comfortably for our group of three and boasted several advantages - a roof over your head for the rainy day in, a fireplace, and lots of electric sockets for all those phone and camera charges and laptops you may be unable not to bring along.

The location gives unparalleled access to the historic towns from Barmouth to Pwllheli. There are lovely beaches, such as at Porthmadog and for the steam fanatic, TWO narrow gauge railways, the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway and the Welsh Highland Railway are there for the ride.

The main coastal railway line is also a beautiful way to view the scenery in comfort and has the added delight of being boardable from request stops and is much cheaper if you get a day's roving ticket.

The wonderfully surreal village of Portmeirion is visible just across the Estuary from Talsarnau and readily accessed via the Toll bridge, which saves a considerable round tour and is worth the 40p crossing (ticket valid both directions)

Inland, there is breathtaking scenery from gentle rolling mountains to the loftier heights of the Snowdonian peaks. Snowdon and Cader Idris being visible on clear days. Beddgelert is also a good place for a walk, either along the river on a circular easy path (seemed suitable for disabled access) or further down into the gorge for the sound of rushing water as you take a more adventurous route.

On the rainy day, we visited the Llechwedd Slate Caverns for the deep mine trip (there is another trip as well), and the romantically inclined might like the underground lake boat trip at another slate mine.

You could eat out at any budget but looking around was worth it to find excellent eateries at your price level; I recommend the Yr Fen Hecws Restaurant just off from the main road in Porthmadoc who gave attentive service and excellent food at a reasonable price for our lunch.

For self catering, there was a Spar in Harlech or the Tesco's in Porthmadog, both about a quarter of an hours drive away.

Driving is an interesting experience on some of the narrower roads, with unforgiving walls or rock on one side, so take care and enjoy the scenery rather than rushing around.

Other articles from the break in Wales are:
Creative Steps to filming Welsh water (see what heavy rain is really like!)
Bones over Mallwydd Church most likely to be from a whale (on the homeward journey)
Some Wildlife in Wales (YouTube video)

What holiday destinations do you recommend?

From UAVs to novel lighter-than-air craft

My friend and business colleague Richard Wishart came back from the Farnborough Airshow 2010 enthused by the future of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

We moved on to discussing the advances in solar powered flight that would allow these UAV's to stay airborne for weeks at a time, demonstration vehicles such as the Helios shown above and the manned Solar Impulse are already in existence.

Back home my mind was churning over other developments that would assist in this area.

Ultralight materials would be a definite benefit, and there are currently solids such as silica aerogels of ultra light density. Amazingly an evacuated version, the silica nanofoam, apparently has a density equal to or even lighter than that of air. I suspect there are structural problems with it at the moment!

We could of course also look to lighter-than-air aircraft, something I would love to see commercially done again. Currently either Helium airships or hot air balloons are available options.

The ideal would be a vacuum buoyed airship, as conceived by Francesco Lana de Terzi in 1670 - but we do not have materials light yet strong enough to hold large volumes of vacuum without collapsing under air pressure.

There is another option, replacing hot air with steam - this can give twice as much lift as hot air at the same temperature; the  Flying Kettle project and the German Heidas have done feasibility testing, with the latter achieving a 30 minute flight with a 5kg payload!
What thought experiments or ideas have you played with recently?

Friday 13 August 2010

Perseid meteors and a Jupiter rising in Milton

Thank heavens for the clear skies between the showers of the day and the promised torrential downpours tomorrow. We wandered down beyond the last streetlight in Milton to the open fields by Fen road to look out for the promised Perseid meteor shower.
We were not disappointed, with five or six bright meteors and a number of fainter ones, often just registering as a hint on the eye.
Naturally, my camera never seemed to be pointing in the right direction, and always hit the quiet period whilst undergoing the minute long exposures! Added to that was the strong light from cars and trains at inopportune moments as I also tried to record the rise of Jupiter- it was as if fate was aligned against me!
Fortunately light banter by partner and daughter, and then later by the Coston's kept me sane through these interruptions.
Imagine therefore my delight when screening the photos to find two with clear, if faint, meteors racing through the sky against a backdrop of star streaks due to the long exposures.
What unexpected delights have you found on your photos when you looked at them on a larger screen?

Monday 9 August 2010

How I improved my blog after Ann Hawkins' seminar

From Wordle-images

Ann Hawkins of the Inspired Group gave an excellent seminar on Blogging, with items for everyone; from the novice to the active blogger, at the Huntingdonshire Business Network monthly seminar last Friday. I left with my mind buzzing with ideas on how to change my blog.

Here's how I improved my blog in six steps

1. Updated my Blogger Template

Blogger has included some additional user friendly design features  to the blogger dashboard since I first set up my blog in 2007. I therefore had to update my blog to a newer template to be able to use these. Fairly straightforward, though I did have to reintroduce my Google Analytics tracking code.

The real benefit is that the Blogger dashboard then has a tab called "Design", which makes changing the layout and adding elements very simple by adding "Gadgets" that you desire!

2. Adding Labels/Categories to organise my articles.

My overall interests are wide and varied, under the umbrella of helping businesses communicate in Print, Pictures and Person. I can equally be active facilitating transnational company meetings, doing a local photoshoot or publishing a book for a local author. By adding the "Labels" gadget to my blog design, I was able to categorise my blogs into subject areas and present them in a Tag Cloud form in the right column.

3. Adding a search bar

Another useful addition was a search bar so people could search by keyword. Oh Bliss, it was so simple to set up compared to what I would have had to do a couple of years ago!

4. Social Media Links

Since many people are now on a variety of social media, it only seemed appropriate to add links to my locations in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to the blog template. This was a little more complicated as I had to obtain HTML code snippets and logo images from each social network. Fortunately, I was able to copy this from my Newsletter template. Blogger provided a gadget that permitted the introduction of  your own HTML or Java code blocks.

5. Newsletter subscription invitation

Another key element was to introduce some code that would allow people to subscribe to my Newsletter for updates. I use Aweber for managing my newsletters and mailings and provided a short javascript code that  I could just copy and paste into a new Blogger gadget field. (I spent more time ensuring that the opt-in responses did contain links to the free gifts offered).

6. Including Key text elements in the blog

Ann's talk was a timely reminder to be

  • interesting and useful
  • use attractive headlines
  • think about recurring themes for the search engine optimisation of the blog
  • Finish with a Question to invIte responses
Well, I certainly think my blog has been dramatically improved after following some of Ann's tips in her excellent Seminar! 

But what do YOU think? What would you have done differently?

Creative Steps to Filming Welsh Water

Developing a story using clips from existing videos in your collection is a great creative way to generate new material. Here is the process I used to create the video above.

1. Collecting Material
During my holiday in Wales, I recorded a whole series of shorter video scenes (over 30) with a wide variety of subjects, including some of the most dismal rainy day we encountered!

2. Looking for connecting threads
Reviewing the clips, I was struck by overlapping groups of clips that contained
  • Walking/feet
  • Water (rain, sea, rivers, faucets)
  • Weather

3. First Story Board
Initially, I used a video editing program (Corel Video Studio 12) to simply arrange all the selected clips in these themes in chronological order, e.g.
  • Standing in stream on Porthmadoc beach
  • Walking out of stream into sea
  • walking along in sea
  • walking on dry sand
  • Walking up to Watertank
  • River Mawddach at Ty'n-yGroes
  • Glaslyn River in Beddgelert gorge
  • Walk in torrential rain back to cottage watertank
Total run time nearly 20 minutes

4. Edited Story Board
I then looked to see if I could rearrange the video clips to get a consistent story. The watercycle emerged as the main theme, walking as a connecting thread and the dripping water tank as the beginning and end. Superfluous clips were removed, resulting in:
  • Walk in torrential rain back to cottage watertank
  • Glaslyn River in Beddgelert gorge
  • Walking out of stream into sea
  • Walking up to dripping watertank
Total run time 9 minutes

5. Completion
Trimming of final clips, insertion of transitions and addition of title and end.

Final run time 3 minutes and 29 seconds

Other combinations and different stories are possible from the original collection of 30+ video clips.

What's your story?

Sunday 8 August 2010

Bones over Mallwyd Church most likely to be from a whale!

The porch of Mallwyd Church in Gwynedd, Wales, just off the A470, displays two large bones which were apparently dug up nearby. They have been variously described as Dinosaur bones, Mammoth tusks and Whale bones! As a former biologist, I could see that one bone is clearly a rib.

This was a real conundrum as my search suggested that the local geology does not favour the dinosaur bone theory. Mammoths did survive until about 14000 years ago in Shropshire (see Daily Mail article), so were a possibility, and Welsh sailors did work in whale rich regions (did you know that the word Penguin probably comes from the Welsh for pen= head and gwyn=white?).

The question was niggling at the back of my mind so I sent an enquiry with the photos above to the experts at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.

I received an almost instant response from Tom Sharpe, Curator (Paleaontology and Archives)
"Thanks for sending the picture. The bones are not dinosaur and they are not tusks, and from their fresh appearance they don't look like mammoth. One of the bones is most likely a modern whale rib while the rounded element looks like the end of a limb bone, but it's hard to say without seeing a view of the rest of it. But again, it's probably modern whale. If we are talking about Mallwyd near Dinas Mawddwy in Gwynedd, then the bones are not local. I would guess they were brought back by some seafarer from the village. They may well have ended up in a garden or field and were subsequently dug up. I hope this helps"

Brilliant and very helpful! Demonstrating the value and expertise that is available in Museums, not just in Wales but near where you live too.

Have you seen any strange objects and been curious enough to try and find out what they were? let me know in the comments box below!