Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will an open plan office kill you?

Given all of the concern about swine flu and what not, I was interested to find one of my colleagues at QUT - Vinesh Oommen - contributed to the second most read article on the Fairfax Brisbane Times site today, about the perils of the open plan office.

Pity the poor battery hen, but what about battery people? When Dr Vinesh Oommen, a researcher from the Queensland University of Technology, published a study confirming long-held fears that open-plan offices were a health hazard, he did not expect a worldwide reaction.

Oommen's review of all literature on the subject found that open-plan offices, which put multiple workers together in the same space, caused high levels of stress and staff turnover, increased workplace conflicts and feelings of insecurity from lack of privacy, caused loss of concentration due to excessive noise, and increased the risk of high blood pressure and infectious diseases.

For the news article, read here (but there is something odd about the page layout on this site).

The original article can be found here.

For what can go wrong in an open plan office, see here:

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Espresso Book Machine

Launched in London today at Blackwell's Charing Cross Road shop (where I was in February), this is going to have a big impact on book selling and book publishing:

It's not elegant and it's not sexy – it looks like a large photocopier – but the Espresso Book Machine is being billed as the biggest change for the literary world since Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 500 years ago and made the mass production of books possible. Launching today at Blackwell's Charing Cross Road branch in London, the machine prints and binds books on demand in five minutes, while customers wait.

Signalling the end, says Blackwell, to the frustration of being told by a bookseller that a title is out of print, or not in stock, the Espresso offers access to almost half a million books, from a facsimile of Lewis Carroll's original manuscript for Alice in Wonderland to Mrs Beeton's Book of Needlework. Blackwell hopes to increase this to over a million titles by the end of the summer – the equivalent of 23.6 miles of shelf space, or over 50 bookshops rolled into one. The majority of these books are currently out-of-copyright works, but Blackwell is working with publishers throughout the UK to increase access to in-copyright writings, and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
For more read here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pressure on the Presses

An interactive guide from the Wall Street Journal on the sustained crisis that has been facing U.S. newspapers from 2006 to the present.

This is from the Asian edition. Not sure of there is the same enthusiasm for reporing on these development in the U.S. edition.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Drugs and Rage

With my days of staying up till all hours watching Rage on ABC TV now well behind me - and what a good 25 year relationship it has been - I can fondly note one of my all time favourite Rage video clips. It is Iggy Pop's "Some Weird Sin", which was on the Lust For Life album (1976). While "The Passenger" and the title track are far better known, I have always felt that "Some Weird Sin" captures the Popster ethos perfectly. This song also profiles the fantastic Bowie/Iggy collaboration of this period.

But as with any Rage classic, it is not just the song, but the out-there music video that accompanies it. This video has always felt like four minutes on drugs without the accompanying hassles of acquiring and taking. What also fascinates me is that the video was almost certainly not made by Iggy Pop at the time the song came out. Videos of the mid 1970s always featured the artist performing, and this was especially true of Iggy Pop videos ("Lust For Life" being emblematic). Also, this feels like an Australian production - I think the driving is on the left hand side of the road. If anyone knows anything about the origins of this remarkable video please let me know. I'm sure it has its origins in a video art program in a probably now amalgamated college somewhere.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nothing is real? The IP/piracy problem in China

Spending the morning at a "copy" market in Shanghai today illustrated the problem of developing industries in China, which is that copyright infringement is rampant and expected, and no price for any product is given. While this exists because branded products are unreasonably overpriced relative to their production costs (as they are virtually all manufactured in China), it has a consequence for travelers for China, which is that you become reluctant to pay reasonable prices for genuine products, as occurred with me later at Shanghai Museum. I am also not sure that you actually save money by doing this, rather than buying Chinese brands at shops such as the No. 1 Department Store on Nanjing Road.

It was notable at the Huangpu Acrobatic Theatre performance attended that evening that the reason given for prohibiting the taking of pictures during the performance was not that it would affect the performers, but that it would infringe their intellectual property rights (actual words of the announcer). As they sell DVDs for 120RMB after the show, this is reasonable, but the extent of piracy must have been significant for such an announcement to be worth making.

On another matter, note these regulations governing use of the Renmin Park in Shanghai. The requirement not to shit in the park (point 2) is notable, but even more so is point 5's instruction not to engage in "activities of a feudalistic or superstitious nature." Before I read Vanessa Shue's essay on Falun Gong's challenge to the "Mandate of Heaven" for the CCP, I may not have understood this.