Edinburgh academics explain why you should listen to your building materials before using them, plus Ed Balls’ guide to parenting and the JFK approach to dealing with specialist contractors

Not tonight, Josephine

I had a very emotional family reunion this week. One Josephine Hansom poked me on Facebook and, intrigued, I asked if she was a relative. Although she was unaware of The Builder or Building, she did admit to being the great-great-great something-or-other of the founder of the Hansom cab. Unfortunately, it transpires that she runs focus groups for the government. If I were dead, I’d be turning in my grave.

The nappy couple

I was given an insight into the domestic life of New Labour first couple, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, last week. Balls, as well as being our new minister for children, is the father of three of them and half of the first married couple to sit in the Cabinet. He said the experience of childbirth could be very “excluding”. “You feel as if you should be in another room,” he said. Which is a bit odd … I suspect most fathers would rather to be in another county.

Embarrassment of Riches

Evening debates at the Society of Construction Law are usually pretty civilised affairs, punctuated by the odd bout of uproarious laughter over impenetrable lawyerly in-jokes. Not so last Thursday’s discussion on amendments to the Construction Act. It all kicked off when acid-tongued adjudicator John Riches laid into Rudi Klein over revised payment terms. Riches began his lengthy assault by saying: “During the Bay of Pigs crisis, JFK said ‘God preserve me from the experts’. In this case, it’s God preserve us from the specialists and Rudi Klein.”

“Are you going to ask your question?” snarled a glowering Klein. Riches tried to make it up afterwards, but Rudi wasn’t having any of it …

Noted for its bark

Wood is a building material that engages all the senses of the designer or carpenter. You look at sawn sections to evaluate how uniform or blemished it is. Once planed, you feel it to test how smooth it is. And pungent smells can warn you of dry rot. Now I can reveal that you should also listen to wood. I gather from the Centre for Timber Engineering at Edinburgh’s Napier University that measuring sound waves passing through it can tell you its structural quality. You can even apply the listening test to see how suitable the wood is before you chop the living tree down. Now if that’s not a sustainable approach to timber supply, I don’t know what is.

Master of all who survey

As we’ve seen recently, new leaders tend to seize power with a flurry of fresh policies and announcements. Not so at the RICS, where incoming president David Tuffin claims his manifesto is “more of the same”. So what will his priorities be, a colleague of mine ventured? “My job is to deliver the strategy that the governing council sets,” answered Tuffin, inspiringly. Evidently challenging the perceptions of chartered surveyors isn’t among them.

Wet fish sale

No expense has been spared at the £750m Atlantis hotel and water park, to be opened in Dubai later next year. Among the park’s many attractions will be 40 dolphins, priced at $4m a piece and a number of whale sharks, which apparently retail at $12m. Which only leaves one question: is a whale shark, at three times the cost of a dolphin, a bit of a rip-off?