Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Bigger than Big

Watching Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking on SBS is a painful experience. Surely hyperbole is not required to make physics interesting. Fortunately, this broadcast was followed by the short but excellent Bigger than Big (only a teaser here):

Kudos to Swinburne University! I will now spend time looking though their other productions.

Why I am not a Guild Associate Member

In March, responding to an all-staff email from the University of Western Australia Guild President, Tom Antoniazzi, I wrote:

Dear Tom:

Thank you for the invitation to become a Guild Associate Member. I would very much like to support the UWA Student Guild to make UWA the best. However, I must decline your kind invitation as, unfortunately, over the last 33 years (!) I have never had a positive experience with Guild Catering; the quality of the coffee is poor, and the food is below average. And I am unlikely to make that much use of the other discounted services offered.

By way of comparison, I am a regular visitor to other campuses—in 2009-2010 I visited Curtin, Woolongong, Newcastle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney Universities—and on all these campuses I could find good food and excellent coffee. The reason is simple: these Universities have permitted franchises to run the food and drink outlets on campus. And each of these franchises survives or not depending on their quality and price.

I realise that the Guild wants to provide on-campus discounts to students, and I support this endeavour. However, a single monolithic organisation, such as Guild Catering, cannot provide the same quality or range as a collection of franchises. The cost of franchises is, I suspect, much less than that of running Guild Catering, and the Guild would benefit from the franchise fees. And the price to students is likely to be no more than it is presently. But the quality would go up, enticing students to stay on campus. The Guild could try to control pricing, but this is unlikely to be required as students would vote with their feet anyway.

Like a large number of students, I get my coffee from Neds, Barretts, or Rocket Fuel, and I buy lunch from the food stalls at Broadway Fair, or one of the many excellent cafes along Broadway or Hampden Road. I was at Broadway Fair today and I estimate that more than 500 students would have purchased their lunch from one of stalls there. Wouldn't it be preferable to have these students eat on campus?

I received no response from Tom. Then, in the May 24-30 issue of the Western Suburbs Weekly, there was the an article by Nick Brant titled Lack of food options leaves a bad taste. It is worth quoting this article in full:

University of WA students will not see a change in the type of catering on campus despite recent criticism of food prices. The Student ‍Guild regulates food outlets on campus. Law Arts student Anthony Spagnolo said the ‍Guild‍’‍s policy allowed them to increase the price of food whenever they wanted. “The ‍Guild‍’‍s food policy hurts students because the ‍Guild can set the prices at whatever they want and what they’ve done with that power is raise prices whenever they need extra cash,” Mr Spagnolo said. “I think the Student ‍Guild should start to allow other types of food besides ‍Guild food to be sold on campus to compete with the ‍Guild outlets.”

Student ‍Guild president Tom Antoniazzi said students had supported Guild-owned cafes for years. “Deregulation would mean the students would lose choices and student money would be going into large, multinational fast food chains and not back to students,” Mr Antoniazzi said. “It allows us to invest the money that we spend back into important student representation, like welfare support, advocacy and representation.”

But Mr Spagnolo said in the past, the ‍Guild had been able to invest in the student body through other sources of income. “Services are important for students but they can fund those services with their traditional sources of revenue,” he said.

Students have not supported Guild-owned cafes for years. They just didn't have other choices. Now they do. And, clearly, deregulation would mean increased choice. The Guild should re-visit this issue before more students vote with their feet and move off campus.

Disclosure: the author is an employee of the University, and the views expressed are those of the author and not those of the University.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Most liveable cities

In Liveable v Lovable the Financial Times dismisses the popular ranking of the best and worst world cities to live in, in which Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate.

It was good to see Melbourne mentioned in the online debate. I spent a couple of weeks in Vancouver and I've visited Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, and Munich. I have love/hate relationships with London and New York—and I have not visited Rio de Janeiro or Istanbul. I love returning to Paris, Berlin, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, all cities in which I would like to live. And the 3 months I spent in Amsterdam were fantastic—a city where all you need is a bike. But I would argue that Melbourne is the world's "best city".

Monday, 23 May 2011

Elegant houses on small blocks

Not all big houses on small blocks are ugly. Two nice examples were showcased in The Weekend Australian article Fine eye to detail by Guy Allenby:

  • Dare Jennings' home, designed by Robert Weir, of Sydney's Weir Phillips Architects;
  • Architect Nic Owen's home in Carlton which fills the entire 90sq m block.

Friday, 20 May 2011


The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine puts the history of the World Wide Web at your fingertips. Really useful when sites gets updated and historical information gets hidden, deleted, or revised.