Local Industry 2

Writing for Biofuels International I spend a lot of time phoning and emailing the US, Asia and various European countries. The latest topic though (processing biomass) gave me scope to check out local industry make some new business acquaintances. First, James Rigby of Tree Contractors. James lives at Cornerstones B&B (his wife runs it) but runs his own business. I had him and his gang cut down some trees on our land a couple of years ago but they generally do much bigger jobs and run the biggest portable woodchipper in the UK, the Bandit Beast. I had a chat with James and he agreed to send some photos.

Next, Clifford Jones Timber of Rhuthun (or Ruthin). They make fencing, gates, decking, log cabins. Pretty much any kind of outdoor woodwork. They have made briquettes from waste for some years and sold them as ‘Blazers Fuel Logs‘ (and under several own-brand labels in DIY stores / Garden Centres, but this year they opened a new plant to make pellets for central heating boilers so I went to see that in operation.

Pellet Mill at Clifford Jones
Pellet Mill at Clifford Jones

Most impressive feature of the whole operation is that there is no waste. All their waste wood, even the sawdust is used in pelleting. Some of the woodchip is used to fuel the dryer to dry the chip for pelleting. Bark is shredded and sold to parks and garden centres.

I took some photos, (this is one of mine) but got better ones from Eye Imagery who had taken the PR shots for the plant opening that I could use in the magazine piece. Eye Imagery is local too, based in Wrexham.

Next day I went to Richard Smalley International based in (of all places) Glynceiriog. ‘Glyn’ as people in ‘Llan’ know it is a modest village in the next valley. In fact ‘Glyn’ means valley and the Ceiriog is the river that runs through it so Glyn Ceiriog is both the valley and the village at its centre. The same happens here, Llangollen is in the Dee valley, Glyn Dyfrdwy in Welsh, and Glyndyfrdwy is the name of a village upstream from here.

Anyway, back to the plot, it’s not the place where you’d expect to find an international engineering company. Richard Smalley and wife Anne, run the company from a small office in their garden. They have several staff, some work in the same office, others at an assembly plant on the outskirts of Chirk.

Biochip 50 Wood Harvester I went to talk about their new product a combine harverster for forestry that can crop small trees chip them and pack the chips in bags for easy delivery. They are still building the prototype, but it’s based on several existing products so it shouldn’t present too many problems. No photos as yet but click the header above to get a nice big drawing of it.

Finally, back to James. He sent the photos in an email forwarded from the photographer, Andrew Gale. Andrew runs Dogsdinner Productions and his family owns Gale’s Wine Bar, my favourite restaurant in Llan, just across the road from Cornerstones. Oh, and Andrew is a member of the the Llangollen Enterprise (See previous post).

Local Industry

For some reason we have a group called Llangollen Enterprise where just about any other town would have a Chamber of Trade, and most people have no idea what it does. So when it announced an extraordinary meeting and billed it as a kind of re-launch I went along. Seems I’m a member now, odd because I’m not really a joiner of things. I recognised a few faces, it’s mostly shop keepers, hoteliers and B&B owners, but you never know who needs some words putting into a coherent sequence for their PR, website, whatever so might be useful.

Mini 9 -intosh!

I just got a new toy, a refurbed Dell Mini 9 for £164 from NDC. It was supposed to come with Linux, but due to a cock up arrived with WinXP installed. NDC offered to take it back but I was too anxious to play with it, so I installed the latest Ubuntu (9.04) and Mac4Lin. I’ve blogged about Mac4Lin before here, but I’m amazed how well it runs on a lttle netbook and how usable it is.

Mini 9-intosh (& an espresso)
Mini 9-intosh (& an espresso)

The Mini 9 seems robust, the keyboard is surprisingly usable with decent sized alpha-numeric keys, though some of the others such as Tab, Enter, Back etc are fiddly. The middle row of letters are used with a Fn key for F1, F2 etc. WiFi works with no hassle at all and the graphics system runs Compiz so you can have wobbly windows and essentially for Mac4Lin, the AWN dock. Built-in webcam works too, though strangely there is no built-in mic and I’m struggling at the moment to use an external one with Skype…

Flash Scroll Blockers

The wheel mouse is a wonderful device for quickly scanning down webpages, but my is it annoying when progress is halted because you’ve scrolled into a Flash frame. I’m getting used to manoeuvring around them but now I’m, seeing more pages with a video presentation on one side and a Flash advert on the other leaving just a narrow gap of scrollable page in the middle. Speed reading these pages is like tackling an obstacle course. Maybe the designers think it will make me read the advert, or maybe their CMS system just does it automatically and no-one really cares.

Another book finished

My DIY Wiring book has been published. It’s not actually available anywhere yet since the books are in a container somewhere between Thailand and the UK, but advance copies have made it by air, it looks good and more importantly I’ve been paid!

I’ve just finished writing a DIY Plumbing book for the same publisher GMC I did the photos and drawings for that too so it has taken over my life for the last few weeks. Now I’m back to Biofuels International, computers and negotiating some corporate work.

Digital Britain? Bah Humbug!

One in an occasional series of pieces rejected by various publishers…

Digital Britain
(…or get your finger out minister)

If there is one thing politicians like even more than talking about doing something, it’s having their civil servants put out a press release about them planning on talking about doing something1. So much easier than actually doing something.

One of these meandered slowly into my inbox recently, released at 10.41 on October the 17th, the email ‘heads-up’ to journalists arrived at 16.18. Why am I making an issue of a five and a half hour delay? Because the announcement is entitled ‘Digital Britain – The Future of Communications’.

It’s a joint release from DCMS and BERR, the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Department for Business and Regulatory Reform. It’s a model of it’s type starting:

An action plan to secure the UK’s place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries will be developed by Stephen Carter, the first Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting.

Stephen who? Well a “Note for editors” explains:

The new position of Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting was created by the Prime Minister in recognition of the important role these sectors play in our economy and our society. There is no change to the respective responsibilities of BERR and DCMS in this area. The Minister for Communications, Technology and Broadcasting is a joint appointment to both BERR and DCMS and will report to both Secretaries of State.

Clear now? A bloke you’ve never heard of is going to develop a plan. And that’s news?

Most press releases come with ready made quotes for journalists in a hurry, you didn’t think when you read “Mr X said” or “Ms Y commented” in a paper that some journalist actually heard them and carefully wrote it down do you? In most cases the words were never said at all, they were written by civil servant and may have been approved by the minister. Possibly.

This one has:

Stephen Carter said:
Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said:

and if that’s not enough
Secretary of State for Business Peter Mandelson said:

I won’t bore you with what they are alleged to have said, if you want the full text it’s here: there are platitudes about Convergence, the Digital Economy, Universal Access, Digital Radio, Innovation and Investment. What they didn’t say was:

UK Internet access is almost as bad the US and well behind many so-called developing nations. The digital divide between rich and poor, and between cities and the rest is widening. DAB Radio is dead on it’s feet and broadcast digital TV is irrelevant.

But the real issue is ignored, probably because it’s Environment or Transport or Planning or Employment not DCMS/BERR. The day before this release Environment David Miliband pledged to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, far enough in the future for even a youngish minister to be safely retired or dozing in the Lords before anyone can hold him to account. If he, or anyone else was serious about reducing energy consumption they would do something about the millions of people who commute huge distances every day in order to work on a computer or telephone. In a real Digital Britain we would only travel when it was absolutely necessary for our body to be present. For a haircut maybe, or a medical, to try on clothes or select fresh meat and veg. But to answer the phone and send emails? Surely even a politician can see that’s a nonsense.

Give us the fastest, fattest cabled Internet technology and whack up fuel prices and tax on transport companies to pay for it. Give grants to companies that close call centres and offices and set up virtual private networks for their staff to work at home, or in small local offices. Price sales people off the road and tell them to email a catalogue instead. Make retail chains centralised distribution depots a thing of the past and insist they use IT to organise the shortest possible route between suppliers and local shops, we don’t need Cheshire potatoes in Lincolnshire and vice versa. Decrease school attendance, but increase on-line learning, evening out the discrepancies between “good” and “bad” schools.

In a nutshell, everything will be done on-line if it can be, and nothing moves unless it has to.

It would apply to politicians too, once the infrastructure is right they could cancel the summits and conferences and fact finding trips. Think of the energy that would save.