Car Design and Pricing


I was sitting on my soap box yesterday and thinking about car pricing and design and wondering about some of the rationale of car companies.

This train of thought started on my way home from the Hamilton 400 where I was the guest of Navman and Ford New Zealand who hosted me royally, thank you very much. I had lots of time to think about this because my trip of 120 or so km took me 4 hours as it seemed that most of the 60,000 people attending were taking the same trip north after a great day of V8 motor racing.

The first thing that I wondered about was why a Holden Commodore cost so much more than a Ford Falcon. What do they put in those cars that make them worth a huge premium? When it comes to German precision and safety and having had brief opportunities to drive BMW 6 and 7 Series cars, I can see where they get to charge a premium. They offer both highly sophisticated features including at the safety level and with new requirements such as ADAS,(which will include things like warning if you move out of your lane, monitoring distance and speed of the car in front of you, checking your eyes to see if you are alert and awake etc) they will continue to be in the forefront.

But when I was looking for my next car and comparing cars like the Commodore and the Falcon, I could not understand the price difference and even less when comparing to the features offered in Japanese cars today. You will appreciate that being a toy boy, I like to have gadgets and features as well as sleek lines and lots of power, so when I looked at entry level Commodores, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

Sure Commodore won the V8 series, but that was in a $500,000 racing car, not a street car. Anyway after pondering this for some time, I decided that the premium was about status and brand value, not necessarily about the end experience and practical value, which I am sure the manufacturers will argue, but not to my satisfaction as a consumer.

Then my thought process went on to the design of cars and the accessories and features included and decided that we are being ripped off. What a difference there is between concept cars and the cars that we get to buy. My theory is that they come up with a huge number of innovations and drip feed them to us so that they have something to offer into the next model to make us update our car.

The shape of cars doesn’t change significantly. Cars have slowly become more aerodynamic, which means improved performance through less drag. With the cost and future scarcity of petrol, performance is going to become far more important. Why do they move from the bulky square edged gas guzzlers to sleek aerodynamic shapes over 15 years of model enhancements instead of immediately? Are they afraid that they will not be able to come up with new design enhancements? Isn’t it likely that if they dramatically improve car design, features and accessories in one go that their cars will sell more competitively and be more popular. Given how creative people are in the industry (look at the annual Honda car design awards or the annual solar energy races they have in Australia), isn’t it likely that car design would radically improve at an ever increasing pace? It seems as though the industry is deliberately holding back.

I hope that one or two brands of car get the message and start sharing their creativity with us. We should have small (but impact safe) town cars that can slide sideways into tiny car parks in the city and have larger comfortable but economic sleek cruisers that are fun to drive and own for out of town driving, with all the features one would expect like ADAS, navigation with real time traffic, events, reservations for food and accomodation, electric seat memory controls, iPod dock, heated and cooled cup holders, personalised audio and climate control memory, tyre tread sensors and loads more, like TV, games and DVD players for rear seat passengers, interenet browsing……………………………

Imagine, if that was the starting point, how car design would develop for the future, the pace of change and growth would be unbelievable and people would happily upgrade their cars to new models more frequently.

The Zimbabwe Election Result


Is it just me? Why is it that when there is a perversion of democracy in some countries, the US and other nations march in and take over to protect the people, for example Iraq, and in other cases such as Zimbabwe, nothing is going to happen until it is a total disaster. In my blog last month, I was largely focussing on the technology angle, where people were using technology such as SMS to get information out of the country. The exercise raised my awareness of the problems over there and this morning a story in the NZ Herald told of a South African Jounalist who was arrested and spent 3 days in jail for being in Zimbabwe without accreditation.

I was pleased to see that Condoleezza Rice came out on Friday criticising South Africa for not taking a more positive stand and it is fair that they should start looking there. Could it be that ZA is taking a soft position because the black people have thrown the white people out? I did see on TV recently that there were many black refugees who had crossed the border and were biding their time in South Africa hoping that eventually the tide would turn and it would once again be safe to return to their homes, or what is left of them.

Of course my bent is on technology and oe of the things I love about the modern Internet environment is that it makes it very difficult to totally censor information. There are countless ways to get information out of a country despite political interference. In the old days journalists had to smuggle film and other documents over the border at great personal risk. Today there are mobile phones, satellite phones and many other ways of getting information out.

There are also great ways to use technology to show information and one of these is the Google Mash Up. The Zimbabwe Civic Action Support Group have devised a web site which shows information spatially information about ‘election conditions’ where you can see the sites of incidents and through pop up windows read information about them. Even for someone who has never been there, this gives a much more real perspective of what is happening over there.

There are also countless blogs coming out of the country, giving details from organisations as well as heart wrenching diaries from individuals.

SMS continues to play a major part and a recent article in CIO Magazine shows an innovative way that an SMS Hib has been used to not only help share information with the people through subscription phone lists, but also to help promote democracy and political participation by encouraging people to say what they would like the country to be like after the election.

Something that also stands out in the human psyche of oppressed people is their ability to laugh and joke about their position. I think this performs a number of functions, one it is a passive form of protest, but it is also a coping mechanism. It appears that SMS is frequently used in Zimbabwe to share these jokes. An example is a text message passed from one person to the next like:

“We would like to apologise to the nation for the late release of the presidential results. This is due to the rigging process, which is proving to be more difficult that we had anticipated.”

This interesting concept is explored by Mobile Active a global network focussed on the use of mobile technology for positive purposes.

The mobile phone continues to have an amazing impact on society that was never envisaged when it was first developed as a business tool. They are enabling knowledge sharing in ways that are providing freedom of expression and information sharing and making the world a much smaller place. There was a time that people could enforce their wishes on minorities in less developed countries with impunity and noone would be any the wiser. Today it is all but impossible to censor people and something uttered from a hidden room in Harare can be heard all over the world microseconds later. If only we could get the powers who profess to support democracy and freedom for all people, regardless of race, creed or gender, to act before any more innocent people are injured and killed and people’s lives and livelihoods are destroyed forever.

And When I Die……………


Lately there have been a number of ads and programs on TV showing video’s that people made for their children and families to watch after they die of cancer. It’s an opportunity to leave messages for the future and to tell people those last important things like how proud they are and how much they love their family.

It got me to thinking about funeral music. No I’m not being morbid, but I have been to funerals where people play music, perhaps recommended by the funeral director, or what other people think would be nice.

When I die, I would like to have the last say and play the music that reflects who I am and what I like. I’m thinking a little Carlos Santana, like Samba Pa Ti which is one of my ultimate favourites, I love the what I call romantic melodies that he plays with the long full bended notes. There’s another one off the Album Caravanserai which is similar, so that’ll be on the list. I can’t remember the tune so I’ll have to dig it out.

Then there is another one that I love from Phil Guy called Professor’s Boogie. I don’t know whether it was written by Professor Eddie Lusk or a collaboration, but it has given me many happy listens. I had the privilege of meeting Phil, who is Buddy Guy’s brother at Koko Taylor’s Club in Chicago several years ago and I love his music. It was an honour to meet him and I treasure my autographed CD.

Another song that will be on my list is I Can’t Quit You Babe, but actually not Willie Dixon’s version but Since I’ve Been Loving You from Led Zeppelin lll, which was one of my favourite albums.

Finally I’m going to write my own song which I will leave behind as a message to those that I will leave behind, telling them how much I love them and how proud I am of them. It will be my final parting gift that I can perform for them, so I will be at that final farewell. I haven’t started writing it so I better not get hit by a bus or anything. Maybe I’ll be able to include a few full long bendy notes of my own along with my last words. Now don’t get me wrong, I intend to be around for a long, long time and write many more songs, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to leave something special for people to remember? It won’t be something sad, it will be a thank-you for all the opportunities I’ve had and the love I’ve shared.

So I had better start writing it soon so I can put aside the tracks that I will play for the very last time. Have you thought about what you would like to have played at your final celebration, your funeral?

Free Trade with China


So here we are, it’s 2008 and New Zealand has a Free Trade Agreement with China. Lots of people are complaining that it will be one sided and that there are still tarriffs which will keep the balance fairly one sided. But the thing is we need export partners and we need tourism and our ‘friends’ in the USA won’t sign an agreement with us.

A couple of years ago I wrote a song called Mr Bush Why Can’t We Be Friends which was about this issue. New Zealand has always felt a kinship with the USA and yet they won’t give us a Free Trade Agreement. Last year I performed this song in the US and I also sent copies to various people including President Bush and Hilary Clinton.  Of course they didn’t reply, but other people have commented both from my live performances and from sites like Music Forte and the general comment was ‘Don’t judge the country by the politicians’.

But the end result is that we now have friendlier relations with China than we do with America and in my book that is wrong, very wrong. You can hear the song on my Music Forte page. The lyrics are:

Mr. Bush, Why Can’t We Be Friends

©Luigi Cappel 2006

1

We’re the social conscience of the world

We live Downunder and

We just can’t understand the way you think.

In 1984 we closed our ports to nuclear powered ships

We were clean and green

With water safe to drink

Chorus

Oh Mr. Bush I’m asking why we can’t be friends

It’s our environment we were trying to defend

Our men fought along with yours on a dozen foreign shores

Your logic I just fail to comprehend.

2

You suspended us from ANZUS

From joint training you then banned us

And a free trade agreement is out of sight.

Now we free trade with China

But not with Carolina

This is something that we think you should put right.

3

We have a peace-keeping force

That we use to reinforce

The rights of people and democracy.

We sent people to Angola, Yugoslavia and Cambodia

To East Timor, Iraq and Fiji.

4

We were in Afghanistan, Sent a frigate to Oman

We train with Aussie, UK and Singapore

We reserve the right to fight

For our democratic right

But when we want to train with you

You shut the door.

Kiwi’s are proud to play their part in the world and in my opinion fight way above their weight. It’s about time that good things happen to good people and the US stops treating us like naughty little children. We always felt an affinity with the US and still do, but instead of enjoying free trade, we are going to be getting closer to China. I suppose next thing they will call us disloyal!

Seth Godin et al


When I was at Song Summit Sydney organised by APRA a few days ago many speakers made suggestions of books to read as well as blogs and other sources of data. One speaker suggested that all song writers who want to market themselves should read Seth Godins Blog.

Now I’ve been a subscriber of his for quite a long time, but don’t read every one of his blogs, I suspect that he doesn’t read any of mine, but anyway, today I decided that I should check out his recent postings to see what was new and found a sage bit of advice, which is “Write like a bloger”. This is great advice and I can attest to it’s value.

Many people love to pontificate and show off their literary prowess by using the longest and most obtuse language and jargon they can think of and it makes their writing boring. Over the years I have written as a freelance journalist and magazine columnist, mostly about technology and of course there was also my book Unleashing the Road Warrior. I always wrote in a conversational manner and I frequently got positive feedback including pone calls, emails and letters to editors in the publications I wrote for. The result of my writing style was:

  1. People felt like I was talking to them and many people feel like they know me even if we haven’t met, with the consequence that when I spoke at conferences and seminars people would come up and talk to me because I was acessible.
  2. People understood what I was talking about and were able to find the information they needed.
  3. I got a lot of business out of it as well as opportunities to speak and present at events all over the world.

I am still in the technology world, although the majority of my writing these days is about my other passion, which is songwriting and I hope eventually to do this full time. All I need is my first number one hit:) In songwriting the same thing is true. Your writing needs to be accessible to your target market. If you are writing for a teenage audience, your language needs to fit the way they think and talk, but it does of course also have to be authetic.

When I wrote my song ‘Another Stretch in Iraq‘ I wrote it for Americans who had served or were serving and I spent 6 months researching the topic. Yes, I used some phrases that weren’t exactly as you speak them and I used some metaphor, but we do that in speech anyway don’t we, I don’t think I’ve opened a can of worms here. I picked up some jargon like MRE, which is short for Made Ready To Eat or is otherwise known as rations. A lot of people won’t get that, but the they aren’t my target audience for the song. The proof was in the pudding.

When I played this song to a live audience in the USA last year the reaction was amazing. One guy co-incidentally known a Mack came to the stage after I played the song with tears in his eyes. He said he had served in Desert Storm and his son was on furlough in Hawai and about to head back to Iraq for another stretch. He said that listening to the lyrics took him right back to the front, so to speak. Even though I had never been there, I had done my homework and made it real, I wrote’ in Seth Godin’s terms, “like a blogger”, and when people listened to the song, it was almost as if they were talking to themselves.

The important thing which I think Jimmy Webb said in his presentation at S3 was to know your market and to write to it. A great song is one that people listen to and totally relate to. They should feel like they own the song, as if it was written for them, or in fact almost as if they wrote it themselves. Then they are in fact relating to themselves.

The thing is that you are the most important person in the world, although my wife says that she has to be the most important person in my world, but if I don’t exist in the first place then she can’t be important to me. Let me put that another way. If we had a party on the weekend and I came to see you with a pile of photos that were taken at the party. Now unless you were incredibly attracted to someone there, which photos will you spend the most time looking at ? (now I don’t want to get involved with genderalisations here (yes I know that word doesn’t exist, but this is my blog right?) but which photos are you going to spend the most time looking at? your own of course).

So my goal as a songwriter, which was ultimately the purpose of this blog is to write commercial songs, i.e. hit songs and part of my method in doing that, in writing like a blogger, is that the person who sings along with the radio or performance feels like the song is theirs, that it is about them, that they own the experience that the song is about.

By the way, if you happen to know an artist or A&R person looking for a new song, please point them in my direction:)

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Sydney Song Summit S3 2008


When you spend a lot of your own money to go overseas to a songwriting conference it is a major leap of faith and this week my faith was rewarded with an amazing conference in Sydney, sponsored by APRA and PRS. I have a new notebook full of ideas which I am hoping will have a huge impact on the future of my career as a songwriter. I am now motivated more than ever, not just to write songs but to write Number One Country Music hits.

I had tears in my eyes through personal presentations by Paul Williams and Jimmy Webb. The latter amazed me when I realised how much his music influenced me. I didn’t realise how much of an impact the chord progressions on songs like By the Time I Get to Phoenix and McArthur Park had on me. I must check out his new album.

The highlight by far was a one hour speed presentation by Ralph Murphy of ASCAP. I learned more about Hit Song songwriting from him in an hour than I have in the last year and I have totally made a personal commitment to use it. It does mean more research and work than I anticipated but I have to admit that much of it was work that I had been procrastinating about anyway. One of my weaknesses is MySpace and communicating with my network. Not that I’m going to stop doing that, but I have to remind myself that this is not just a hobby, it is my future business.

So here I am in the Business Class Lounge at Sydney Airport, an hour early because I didn”t realise that Daylight Savings started this morning. Anyway, here’s to an awesome music year for me in 2008.

Zimbabwe Elections


I started off, over the weekend, writing about the use of SMS as a tool and the many uses and of course I barely scratched the surface, but the whole Zimbabwe election issue is a concern, even from a technological perspective. ITC (information technology and communication) has provided new media including the mobile phone and Internet as a means of sharing information despite the efforts of political rulers. I.e. it is getting harder and harder for people in power to censor information anywhere in the world. Many countries have tried and failed to stop information travelling out of their geography.

Despite the intentions of the Mugabe regime, there is a continuous flow of information leaving Zimbabwe that is telling the rest of the world what is going on. I suspect that it will be impossible for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF to hoodwink the world again, telling everyone that he has won the election when it is clearly not true. Reuters has reported that bloggers are sharing the news with the world as it happens.

Whilst technology can be used to blur the truth, I think we are living in the most transparent environment in mankind’s short history. It is certainly possible to edit photos and video to distort the truth, but given that IT and communications technologies are available to the masses and not just to a wealthy minority and of course we are now much more IT literate, the opportunities to even stretch the truth such as Hilary Clinton’s recent ‘mistake’ about coming under sniper fire in Bosnia recently are becoming few and far between.

Back to Zimbabwe, I believe that largely due to communications and IT, Mugabe will no longer be able to get away with his version of democracy and the transparency of news and event information in real time has finally forced leaders from around the world to denounce what is going on there, even if they have turned a relatively blind eye to it until now.

It’s nice and comfortable to sit at home and watch this happening on TV and on the net, thinking it won’t happen to me. But I’ll bet the expat’s from Zimbabwe that I have met, who now live here and in other parts of the world and have lost pretty much everything they have worked for over generations, thought that once upon a time. Coups happen somewhere in the world pretty much every year and are at least in part covered up with attempts at disinformation and if it doesn’t directly hurt the major powers, it is often conveniently ignored. It’s my opinion that it’s going to be harder and harder for the powers of the world to do this. And that’s a good thing.

People used to say, “As an individual, there’s nothing I can do”. Today in Zimbabwe there are plenty of individuals doing something with their mobile phones and laptops and hopefully they will be able to bring about change, because if they don’t, there could be a civil war of proportions that make the disaster that is Zimbabwe today look like a picnic.