A Tale of Several Cities

Medellin city

Suddenly, the mayor of Medellin got excited. He sped across his office where we had been talking and we clambered up a spiral staircase that took us right on top of the mayoral building: floor 12 or 13, where the helicopters land. He wanted to show off the city he is so proud of. The city that was, 25 years ago, the murder capital of the world.

The long hills form a steep river valley by which this booming place is constrained. Lit up by the sunset, Anibal Gaviria spoke at a rapid pace about the sense of open hilltop he wanted to preserve, even as the city expands by crawling ever higher up the hillside.

The remark that spurred this outburst of enthusiasm had been mine. We'd been standing in front of one of those huge aerial views that are the traditional feature of a mayor's office.

Visitors can learn a lot from them very quickly. For example, how rivers both unite and separate a city.

Medellin mayor Anibal Gaviria
Medellin's mayor, Anibal Gaviria, is excited about the change in his city

If you take a planner's view of the map, they create clear boundaries along which to run divisions of counties or countries. But (depending on water, flow and climate) they are also great uniters of people: natural thoroughfares between places along the river banks.

Read full article A Tale of Several Cities

A question of computers and artificial intelligence

Gary Kasparov playing chess with IBM computer Deep Blue in 1997
IBM computer Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997 by 3.5 games to 2.5 games

There are moments that live on in business history.

One of them is the cry: "Mr Watson come here, I want to see you," spoken by Alexander Graham Bell back in 1876, in the world's first telephone conversation.

Read full article A question of computers and artificial intelligence

The curious case of low unemployment

  • 29 April 2015
  • From the section Business
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
Why unemployment didn't rise notably in the last recession is a conundrum for investigation

One of the most puzzling things about the recent economic recession in the UK was to quote Sherlock Holmes: "The curious incident of the dog in the night time."

Normally in recession, unemployment rises notably. But last time it didn't - the dog didn't bark.

Read full article The curious case of low unemployment

Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

  • 12 April 2015
  • From the section Magazine
Pouring the coffee

It is a bewitching thing, coffee. For years I used to follow the daily twists and turns of the London coffee market, reporting on the tremendous Brazilian frost in July 1975 which devastated the crop and caused world coffee prices to triple in the two subsequent years.

I remember the dark auction room in the Brazilian port of Santos where the traders met to spar over the latest market offerings before retreating to their dusty offices to taste and sniff the export crop.

Read full article Colombia: Home of the perfect cup of coffee?

What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

  • 30 March 2015
  • From the section Business
The Palace of Westminster
The Palace of Westminster is said to require significant restoration work

I had to meet an MP the other day, a minister, at the Houses of Parliament.

As an ordinary member of the public, it is no longer easy to get in if you don't have a badge.

Read full article What should we do with the Palace of Westminster?

Turning Midland Bank's former headquarters into a hotel

  • 23 February 2015
  • From the section Business
former Midland Bank head office
27 Poultry, once a bank, soon to be a hotel

Something is happening deep inside one of the City of London's most distinguished 20th Century buildings. After being disquietingly empty for some eight year, the builders have just moved in to turn No 27 Poultry into a very expensive hotel, brandishing (it is said) six stars.

Close to the Guildhall and the Bank of England, this building is better known as the former head office of Midland Bank, for some decades from 1918 the largest bank in the world.

Read full article Turning Midland Bank's former headquarters into a hotel

Why Ellen MacArthur is still going round in circles

  • 23 January 2015
  • From the section Business
Ellen MacArthur
Ellen MacArthur has successfully switched from the world of sailing to that of business

For 200 years of the industrial revolution, much of human kind has prospered as a result of one particular business model.

We dig up finite raw materials, turn them into products, and after they have brought utility to the consumers who buy them, the things are thrown away as waste.

Read full article Why Ellen MacArthur is still going round in circles

Why stock market crashes happen in the autumn

  • 18 January 2015
  • From the section Business
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on 16 September 2008
History shows that stock market crashes invariably start in the autumn

Why do financial markets so often get conniptions in September? Why do so many market collapses happen in October?

Lily Fang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has turned her attention to this nagging subject.

Read full article Why stock market crashes happen in the autumn

The business of cathedrals: Mixing finance with worship

  • 24 December 2014
  • From the section Business
Lincoln Cathedral
Building work on Lincoln Cathedral started in 1088

Just sometimes there are moments when a reporter escapes the confusion of the here and now, when the present merges with the past in a numinous concurrence. Even when you are reporting on business.

It happened the other day, in Lincoln. I grew up in Lincolnshire; I can remember first visiting Lincoln Cathedral when I was eight: 60 years ago.

Read full article The business of cathedrals: Mixing finance with worship

The firm hoping to make economy flights more comfortable

  • 10 December 2014
  • From the section Business
Acro seats
These seats, designed by Acro, use a thin, sculpted shape to maximise possible legroom

Chris Brady is 6ft 2in (1.9m) tall. So he really dislikes the experience of flying economy class in a plane.

So he decided to do something about it.

Read full article The firm hoping to make economy flights more comfortable