Wednesday, 31 December 2008
(Photo courtesy of Ideonexus)
Monday, 29 December 2008
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Monday, 15 December 2008
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Friday, 12 December 2008
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
The next thing is to get a table and chairs to suit the new kitchen, and fit out the pantry with shelves and a stout new door. The table we already had is too small, and the chairs in the picture are from the dining room, and we want them back in there. There's always a "next thing", though. Hard to believe, but the company who did this said that there was plenty of time to get it done for Christmas, and it turned out that there was. Why don't all kitchen companies manage to do this kind of job in a few weeks? This lot have been so impressive, right from the design through to the co-ordination of the installation and building work. I recall that before the job started, the builder and the structural engineer cam to the house to look over the job and decide the best way to do the work, so that the engineer would understand what the builder had in mind, and vice versa. At the time, I thought this was very impressive because they did this quite spontaneously, figuring out that it was the best way to get a co-ordinated approach. Its impressive to me because I read so much research and policy guidance designed to get people in the building industry to do just this kind of thing. Clearly, the lack of co-ordination and communication is not a problem in all parts of the building industry.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Monday, 17 November 2008
Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning were a blur of presentations and discussions, interspersed with excellent food. The business of the conference was very successful and it was worthwhile finding out about all the research being reported and discussing what it all might mean. On Monday, the company responsible for the massive property development here gave us a presentation about the construction of the world's tallest building, the Burj Tower; 750m and 160 stories high. Naturally, he was gushing with statistics about the number and speed of lifts, the planned use of the building, the technicalities of the design and construction and so on. The building is truly impressive and a major feat of engineering. But although it has taken six years to build, they have already started a taller one, which will exceed 1 km. Also, a 1.5 km tower is planned for Saudi Arabia. The drive to create such high towers when there is so much land is not immediately obvious. However, when asked about this, the presenter, Mick Dalton, explained that the vision of the Sheikh was to attract millions of tourists. The Burj tower has a huge 7-star hotel in the first 34 stories, then apartments, with some offices at the top. There will be an observation deck around floor 154. The building has already been paid for, from selling the apartments off plans. One technical innovation was automatic X-raying of everyone that comes into the building. They even have a machine to X-ray whole vehicles as they drive in. It will take 7 weeks to clean all of the windows of the building, and it will be a permanent rolling operation. Just cleaning the windows will cost $3m per year. There is biometric security in some kind of chip that occupants have. When they arrive, the security system gives the receptionists certain details of the person so that they can be welcomed by name with the kind of sycophantic insincerity that the very rich seem to favour. They don't even wait for lifts, or press buttons, because the security system detects the resident first arriving, so by the time one of them arrives in the lobby, the elevator is open and waiting, and it knows which floor to go to. The rich in these parts behave like disabled people! Only the parts that spend money on self-indulgence seem to function.
The technical details gave way to a superlative-laden sales patter as we were told about some fountains in the grounds costing $160m dollars. Some number of times bigger than the previously biggest one, this apparently involves a sound and light spectacle every Friday (supposedly a religious day, but in these parts, the day that all the rich people accumulate in expensive shopping malls or at spectacular displays). It was about this time in the presentation that I noticed how many of the people in the audience had become uncomfortable with the profligacy and pointless self-indulgence of the self-centred occupants of this kind of facility. As we were introduced to a lake in the grounds of the Burj that would lose 25mm of water per day through evaporation, requiring 30,000 litres of fresh water to be added each day just to top it up, the staggering waste of resources hit home. They even use words like sustainability in their vocabulary. They can't be stupid. They are simply disingenuous, I think. They seem to have persuaded themselves (or their customers, more like) that being profligate with a total lack of regard for the planet or one's fellow humans is sustainable.
The extent of the construction works around the city is difficult to comprehend. For example, a large two-track metro rail system is being built all over the city, and is close to completion. Every station is being built simultaneously. Yet there are no footbridges, few footpaths, and you cannot cross the road, such is the weight of traffic.
After the conference, we had the opportunity of another technical visit, to look at extensive luxury developments, including the islands being built to be covered with more buildings. The aim of all these islands is to increase the amount of coastline from something like 75 km to 1700 km, because rich people want to live on the coast, even if it looks like a golf course. We had a short boat trip while someone droned on in a monotonously enthusiastic voice, responding positively and sycophantically to every question put to him. Here, communication is only a marketing activity. After the boat ride a few of us decided to pass up the offer of being shut into a dark, air-conditioned room to be sold the dream. I don't think my colleagues appreciated the offer, but many were impressed by the engineering feats.
The rest of the afternoon was free. The Croatian contingent got the bus driver to drop us near Emirates Mall. We wanted to see the ski slope. He had said we could get a taxi from where he dropped us, but we simply crossed another carriageway of the road to get to the footpath. This was really difficult because it was, by now, close to rush hour. The traffic was fast-moving, nose to tail, on two lanes. Although we tried to cross, there were no gaps in the traffic. Eventually we had to flag cars and step into the road to try to force them to stop. They didn't like to let us cross, but once one had touched the brakes, and the cars had to drive around us, they had to slow down. We crossed the first lane, and caused the second lane to slow down. One wealthy woman with lots of makeup and jewellery felt that it was wrong for her to stop, even though she was already down to 1st gear, and nearly hit me as she drove to close up the gap in the traffic that we were stepping into, but because she'd accelerated at us, there was a bigger gap behind her, and we finally made the footpath on the other side of the road.
We asked people where the taxis were, but it turned out it was normal to have to wait an hour if phoning. We'd seen the ski slope from the bus, and it seemed only a kilometre, so we decided to walk. It turned out to be a lot further. After about half an hour, we encountered a highway crossing our path, next to a transport testing station, and after asking several people in the station, we found one who knew where we might cross, and he kindly came out from behind his desk to show us a gap in the fence next to a generator where we could slip through to a side road and then get to a place with filter lanes where the traffic occasionally thinned due to traffic lights some way down the road. It was not as difficult as the first experience, but still took a ridiculous amount of time. I think that this must be the route used by the Indian and Bangladeshi manual workers who don't have cars. The Emirates Mall was huge, but not as big as the new Dubai Mall. After having walked nearly an hour, we got to the ski slope and paid the fee for going in to have a look. It was remarkable stepping into such a large space with almost no humidity and an air temperature of -4°C. It was enjoyable to see the skiers and snowboarders in front of the alpine murals and adverts on the walls. We couldn't see around the bend in the track to the main slopes, but we were permitted to have a go on the tires and slide down a short run of the slope. So we had a bit of fun and tried to ignore the sheer profligacy and waste represented by this ski slope. We bought some CDs of Arabic music in the mall, and got a taxi back to the hotel. The city seems enormous. The taxi drove dangerously fast and too close the vehicle in front, as everyone seems to do here. Even so, it took well over half an hour. We were pretty tired when we got back to the hotel, but it was good to have seen a bit of Dubai. Some people left for their flights that evening, but I was glad to have a good night's sleep before my daytime flight the next day.
I think that most of us felt that this city was awful. The poverty of the workers and the empty lives of the stupidly wealthy were depressing. There is nothing here that is real. A triumph of marketing over content.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Friday, 14 November 2008
The registration and reception was that evening and it was great to catch up with all my old friends before the conference started in earnest the next day.
Dubai is bigger than I imagined, and a lot dirtier that I'd imagined, due to the gigantic scale of the construction work under way. The world's tallest building is under construction near my hotel, and it is jaw-droppingly tall. It is broad at the base, and gets increasingly slender, in steps, as it gets higher. The upper floors are very slender indeed.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
Sunday, 9 November 2008
Saturday, 8 November 2008
In refusing to consider a newly-submitted paper for publication in CM&E, I have clearly ruffled the feathers of a colleague and his co-author. I refuse even to send it for refereeing. The author, who is extremely prolific, is angry with me. Interestingly, a couple of years ago, I rejected one of his papers after receiving negative referee comments and he swore to have nothing more to do with us, such was his indignation. So when he submitted a new paper to CM&E, I felt justified in refusing to consider it for publication, on the basis that he had already dissociated himself completely from the journal (including a refusal to referee papers for us). His reaction was, understandably, irate, but I think we never quite got to the real point in our exchanges of e-mails about what had happened, dealing only with his anger, rather than the substantive points.
On reflecting about the underlying issues, I think that the reason for my discomfort with this author's papers is more profound than the ostensible points that I had latched on to in our heated exchanges. There are several academics who appear to be operating in a different world from the one that academics seem to have occupied in the past. Traditionally, the role of universities has been strongly connected with enquiry, discovery and learning. These days, for political and economic reasons, the success of universities needs to be measured through proxies, such as publication rates, citations and research income. As he is quick to point out in his riposte to my rejection, this author is a very important academic with literally hundreds of journal papers to his name and lots of research council grants. Two previous experiences, one with him and another with his co-author, resulted in me rejecting their papers from CM&E, followed by copious argumentative e-mails in which they made various accusations of inadequate refereeing, feeling that the referees and editors did not understand what they are doing. The feeling of the authors was that their brilliant research was being denied publication because of the impoverished imagination of dull referees and editors who were not bright enough to see the inherent value of the work. The reality was that the work was typically a cursory review of literature followed by an unimaginative survey, poorly designed and executed, with unsurprising findings. Usually, the process involves trying to see if something already known as generally true turns out to be specifically true in the construction sector, with no rationale for the hypothesis that the construction sector might be inherently different from the rest of society. This is a worrying phenomenon. Rather than a science that is styled to develop generalizations from specific observations, this is a science designed to enumerate specificities from accepted generalizations. Such papers proliferate now that universities and the academics within them need to justify themselves in terms of metrics.
The result of the increasing predilection for measuring academic output is that a lot of very mediocre and uninteresting research is published, not as a result of enquiry, learning or discovery, but solely for the purpose of promotion of authors and their institutions who wish to climb up various league tables. And they are doing so well that they feel fully justified in their feeling that they are more important than the journal, more important than the referees and editors, and personally more important than the processes of enquiry which ought to underpin academic work. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the particular case, when authors think they are more important than journals, something is very wrong. No wonder they get so annoyed!
Friday, 7 November 2008
- ARCOM Annual Conferences
- Building Research and Information
- Construction Innovation
- Construction Papers
- Construction Management and Economics
- Construction Innovation: Information, Process, Management
- Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management
- International Journal of Construction Education and Research
- International Journal for Construction Marketing
- Journal of Construction Procurement
- Journal of Construction Research
- Journal of Corporate Real Estate
- Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology
- Journal of Financial Management in Property and Construction
- RICS COBRA Conferences
- RICS Research Papers
- Unpublished PhD Theses
The idea for building this database grew out of my wish to catalogue everything that had ever appeared in Construction Management and Economics, which I became editor of in 1993. It has gradually evolved over the years and I hope it will continue to grow, and offer a powerful resource to construction management researchers everywhere. With any luck, it will continue to be available to everyone free of charge.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Hughes, W.P., Hillebrandt, P and Murdoch, J.R. (1998) Financial protection in the UK building industry: bonds, retentions and guarantees. London: Spon. 190pp. ISBN 0-419-24290-2.
Hughes, W.P., Hillebrandt, P. and Murdoch, J. (2000) The impact of contract duration on the cost of cash retention. Construction Management and Economics. 18(1), 11-14.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
The perennial issue of ISI listing is growing more urgent in many parts of the world. The editorial board of CM&E are as interested as any of our authors in getting the journal included in ISI. It will be good for our field in general if more of our journals are included in the list. But inclusion is not easy, because it involves a process of application and the auditing by ISI of various kinds of evidence in a process that usually takes 18-24 months, resulting in a decision that produces no qualitative feedback by way of explanation. We have applied before, but in the process of thinking through this and examining the information in the public domain about ISI, there are some key points about what needs to change if journals like CM&E are to become included in the ISI database.
There is always a tension between fundamental and applied research, especially in our area, because our work is almost always applied research, and therefore, usually multi-disciplinary. The problems that we experience are common in multi-disciplinary fields. We often refer to the more mono-disciplinary areas in which theories are developed as mainstream. Multi-disciplinary, applied research tends to be more theory-testing than theory-building.
If anything is to change in terms of where our work fits in relation to the mainstream journals, as an academic community we need to do two things. First, ensure that the papers we write are citing the theory-building literature in mainstream journals and second, aim to publish papers in mainstream journals that cite the literature in our applied field. Any examination of citations in Google Scholar reveals that most construction management work refers only to the journals in our field, and is cited only from the journals in our field. Clearly, there is a lot that can be done by authors in this field to raise the profile of our work and make the kind of connections with mainstream journals that would make ISI inclusion more likely, not just for CM&E, but for a wider range of our journals.
The dining room is now doubling as a kitchen, apart from the fact that it has no water and no cooker. The microwave looks set to becoming indispensable. Maybe we should be planning to spend Christmas elsewhere.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
It was clear from our implementation plans that the work of the School of Construction Management and Engineering forms a fundamental plank of the University's enterprise strategy. There is a lot of interest among businesses in executive development related to many of the issues we deal with in this School. Of course, this does raise the question of whether the researchers developing these ideas are the people who can be incentivized to turn them into CPD programmes and KTPs. This is something I shall need to investigate in the School.
I also learned that the University now has a Director of Events, who can help support the Schools with the organization of business-facing events. Clearly, the support for enterprise is growing more tangible.
One of the observations that I had was that although enterprise was clearly an attitude that should be reflected in everything that we do, whether research, teaching or anything else, this is not the only agenda that has to inform everything that we do. I recollect the introduction of quality assurance and quality management many years ago, that was rolled out across all sorts of organizations as being of fundamental importance. It was briefly highlighted as something that was very important, sufficient for people to be given the portfolio of quality management to look after, but then it became clear that this was an abrogation of responsibility, because it produced the idea that quality was something for them to look after, rather than something that should imbue everything that everyone does. In advanced organizations, it now appears to be integrated as part of everyone's activities. Health and safety is another agenda that has to be taken account of in everything we do, and now sustainability seems to be the most crucial issue that should be taken account of in every decision and plan. Inclusivity also rises up agendas from time to time. I was struck by how many things had to be taken account of at every step, and wondered if there was a life cycle for this kind of thing. Clearly, all this was too abstract for this meeting, but it would be interesting to debate further at some point.
One other issue that came up was the employability and entrepreneurship agenda. I was not sure about the idea of "enriching the students' experience" by providing them with skills and knowledge that would make them more employable. I wondered aloud if this were impoverishing the students' experience, and where the debate was about the role of Higher Education, and why students went to universities. I was reassured by the robustness of responses around the table. Many people shared exactly these concerns and were keen to underline the importance of graduates being able to challenge conventional wisdom and think creatively and analytically. The aim of this push was clearly not simply to turn the University into a preparation for particular vocations, but to provide graduates with the flexibility and imagination to respond in any way they saw fit to the situations in which they found themselves.
First, the topic. We shared our ideas about what to study and how to go about it. Given that his interest was in construction contracting with particular reference to resourcing at senior site management level, my advice was that his desire to focus on the site management processes in Croatian construction projects was going to prove interesting as it would enable him to make observations of what happens in practice, comparing them to practical guides such as the CIOB's Code of Practice for Project Management (and similar documents about site management) and to look at both observations of practice and the practical guides in the context of organizational and management theory, as it has developed from the early seminal writers such as Galbraith, J (1973) Designing complex organizations. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley and Cleland, D I and King, W R (1975) Systems Analysis and Project Management. New York: McGraw-Hill. Later writers, such as Dawson, S (1996) Analysing Organizations. 3 ed. Basingstoke: Macmillan provided really strong, theoretically robust guidance for how we should think about organizational structures and management processes. This also connected well with research published in two of my own books: Procurement in the construction industry and Roles in construction projects. Thus, we had a project that I could supervise and that should generate some useful and interesting insights.
Second, the question of how we would work together while in different countries was soon settled because I was interested in trying out a blog which only the two of us could access. We can both read it and post to it, and there is the potential for use to invite others, such as a local professor from University of Zagreb, or colleagues in Reading, or even other students on the programme. One great advantage is the ability to go back and edit and refine a post, adding links and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes. Another is that the blog whould grow as the supervision progresses, and it is always there to backtrack and pick up things that might have got forgotten. It is an interesting substitute for notebooks and a good way of augmenting our supervision meetings that will inevitably be too infrequent. I'm going to try this with some other students now, to see how suitable it is at BSc, MSc and PhD levels of research.
Monday, 3 November 2008
We are having a discussion among the editorial board members of this journal. It has long been our aim to be included in the ISI citations index. The idea of this is that a journal article, an author, a university or a journal can be rated by the number of times that it is cited by others. The ISI Web of Knowledge, as it is now known, tracks citations to all of the journal articles published in the papers that it lists. This is seen as a very powerful method of evaluating the quality of scientific output (see, for example, Judge, T.A., Cable, D.M., Colbert, A.E. and Rynes, S.L. (2007) What causes a management article to be cited – article, author or journal? Academy of Management Journal, 50(3), 491-506.) The trouble is, Construction Management and Economics is not included! Obviously most of those who write for this journal know that it would be better for our academic community if we were included, so we often get requests asking us why we are not. The fact is that it is no trivial matter to apply for listing and we have done so three times (at least). Each time, we spend months putting together the case, and then wait a year or so for a response from ISI. Sufficient time has elapsed since our last attempt for us to now try again, and there are interesting discussions taking place among our editorial board members about what this all means.
One thing that I often raise in this debate is the idea that a journal does not actually have to be listed for papers in it to be cited. I have often thought that if writers in listed journals referred to papers in CM&E, then our authors and our journal would have an impact factor. I'm not 100% sure about this, because I cannot find any evidence in the ISI pages that there are any citations to non-listed journals. But if it were true, then the people clamouring to get our journal included in the list should really be seeking to write the kind of papers that get cited! Whatever the case, if authors' papers were cited from listed journals, then our listing would be more or less inevitable. And we shall be applying again soon, and doing everything we can to get CM&E included in ISI lists. It is simply too important to ignore.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Having moved one large wall cupboard from the utility room to the garage, we can start storing stuff in there that isn't needed until the building work is finished. The builders are coming on Monday morning to start removing the wall between the kitchen and the utility room, giving us a larger kitchen and ripping everything out that is currently there. Today we chose the tiles that will be delivered a couple of weeks from now, and that was the last thing to choose. The layout is designed, the finishes have been chosen, everything is ready. The coming month is going to be awkward with next to no cooking facilities. But all of this will be finished before Christmas (where have I heard that before?) So far, this is a really effective way of burning up money, but with any luck, it will all be worthwhile. The final tour of tile shops being over, I've settled down for the evening with a beer and some Norwegian jazz (Nils Petter Molvaer - Khmer), with the log burning stove driving out all thoughts of the cold, wet, dark outside.
My Yamaha FJR 1300. This bike goes some. I got it to over 140 mph in Germany on the autobahn. That was very exciting, especially when it started to weave a bit at high speed. It was so fast there was no time to look at the speedo properly, things changed so quickly. I didn't stay at that speed for long. If there was a more than one car in front, it was usually the case that the second one would lurch into the overtaking lane with no warning, just before it would have collided with the car in front. I liked the way they lurched into your path, then looked in the mirror, then when they saw there was a bike with a pair of big headlights, they would signal! Briliant. Seeing this, I made sure I never passed a car at high speed, just a little bit above their speed, in case they lurched. Usually, it was OK if it was a solitary vehicle. But as soon as there was any traffic at all, high speed driving was out of the question.
Friday, 31 October 2008
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