Saturday, 18 April 2009


Having accepted an impromptu invitation to make up a foursome for a trumpet quartet, standing in for an absent member, I had a pleasant couple of hours blowing on Friday evening. After running through several well-known tunes arranged for 3-4 trumpets, the conductor of their band, who happens to be the conductor of my orchestra, arrived and we spent an enjoyable half an hour or so working on a difficult and complex piece that they are rehearsing in their band. Saturday morning saw the first rehearsal of the new term for the Saturday Morning Orchestra. The usual conductor was not well, and the deputy conductor was not available, so we had a deputy deputy conductor who coped rather well under the circumstances, being the first play through of the pieces we had. We creaked and struggled our way through Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Mendelsohn's Violin Concerto. It'll get better, I'm sure...

Friday, 17 April 2009

Three papers

Friday morning was interesting. My first appointment was with Sam Laryea and we spent the best part of an hour discussing a draft of our paper for the Dubrovnik conference in the autumn. The paper, which is about standardization of procurement in construction, has to be submitted at the end of this month. We went through the draft together, and agreed some changes to the literature review and context, then looked at the table comparing various tendering methods, finally agreeing the basis of the conclusions. We will bounce the next draft off the British Standard committee with whom we are working. We meet next week, so we have to move quickly.

The second meeting was with Professor Said Boukendour, who is spending his sabbatical with us, from University of Quebec. We are working on a paper about a new way of arriving at a price for a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) contract. We spent our time talking about the similarity that Said had noticed between these contracts and call options. In traditional GMP contract, the bidder is incentivized to push the GMP up. This will increase the contractor's profit because of the way that the difference between the outturn and the GMP is shared with the contractor. Competition between contractors would overcome this, except that the evidence is that GMP is usually a negotiation with a sole contractor. So, it the GMP is artifically high, then this sets up a low-risk, high-compensation deal which goes against the rational, economic approach. Perhaps this is an unintended consequence. Without competition, this situation can be overcome through open-book accounting, by enabling transparency. But this seems to be saying that even though GMP incentivizes the behaviours we wuold like to see, we still need to check the detail, being unable to trust the contractor to behave. Does this mean that GMP inherently fails to incentivise the contractor adequately? This was the issue that Said had dealt with in an earlier paper. I was thinking that if a contractor offered open-book, then this is a gesture of goodwill, whereas if a client insisted upon it, then it implies that GMP is not a sufficient incentive and is being reinforced with intrusive monitoring. Said's point is that if there was an effective financial incentive, then there would be no need for all the detailed analysis of open books. This was the thrust of his 2001 paper. Simplifying the construction situation, a GMP contract based on one lump-sum payment at the end of the contract is exactly the same as a call option in other types of market. This means that the GMP can be seen as a cost-plus contract with an option to switch to a lump-sum. This is interesting because there has already been a lot of work on call options. Using this understanding as basis, we are developing an approach to incentivizing construction contracts in a very effective way.

The third meeting was with Jan Hillig who had finished a very detailed edit of our chapter in a forthcoming book about procuring complex performance. Wisdom Kwawu had developed the initial draft from my outlinem and I'd thought the chapter was just about complete until Jan worked his magic and added some detailed sections on legal aspects as well as editing the rest of the chapter in considerable detail.

By the time I was walking over to a seminar with 20-odd industry people to launch our new Technology for Sustainable Built Environments, I was feeling that we'd had a very productive and enjoyable morning. What a team!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Abd alah Helmey

I bought three music CDs when I was in Dubai not long ago, and they are all excellent. I found a disc by Nazem Al-Ghazali, an accomplished and celebrated Iraqi singer, who died in 1963. This is an evocative, vibrant recording of a concert that seems to have featured some of his greatest songs, judging by the enthusiastic reception of the audience to each new piece. The next disc was also Iraqi music, Munir Bashir and Omar Bashir, playing duets on the 'Ud, a traditional Arabic stringed instrument that is the predecessor of the western lute. This is beautiful music played by real masters of the art. The final disc was Egyptian. Taksim Kawala 3, by Abd alah Helmey. This is incredibly beautiful traditional music played on a wooden flute, but it is very difficult to find out anything about the music or the performer. The real problem with this CD is that the disc pressing is not very good, and the CD skips in the final two tracks, which makes it unplayable past that point. And the worst of it is that although I can find the recording on the internet from the people who made the disc, they only sell it in Egypt! I'll have to wait until I get another visit that way, unless anyone can bring me one back from their next visit...

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Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

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