Your indicator is not an extension of your steering wheel!


I had two near misses on the way home from work last night. The first one was on the freeway. A guy two lanes across from me turned into the lane I was turning into after I started my man-oeuvre  into an empty space. He didn’t indicate until he was halfway into my lane. He jumped back when he saw me coming as did I. The difference was I was well ahead of him and indicated a couple of seconds before I started turning my wheel.

Where You GoDon’t people think about their turns any more, or that there might be other people on the road. Sometimes you might have a car or a motorcycle in your blind spot, but not when they are in front of you.

Or beside you which was the case in the second incident last night. It was a 2 lane 60km per hour road and the car in the lane exactly next to me, not in front or behind, just shifts straight into my lane, indicating as his hand reached the arc that allowed it to connect with the indicator in mid term.

I slammed on the brakes, and fortunately the car directly behind me must have seen it coming because he also managed to avoid crashing into my rear end.

So I got home safe and sound, but continue to wonder at the number of people who either don’t indicate at all, or are half way through their turn or lane change when they finally get around to it. It’s a wonder there aren’t a hell of a lot more accidents.

We focus a lot on learner drivers, but I think we should also retest experienced drivers, perhaps once every 10 years. Would you pass a randomly required driving test tomorrow?

Returning Veterans in noncombat car crashes (Read Time 1:33)


Motor vehicle crashes are part of every day life and I have an interest in what causes them and how to reduce them. I’ve been listening to a podcast by Dave Wallace, the Traffic Safety Guy, called Highway to Safety.

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

Something I have heard of previously but isn’t front of mind in New Zealand because we are a small country with a small defense force, is what happens when you take someone who has spent 18 months in a combat zone, where they literally have to make split second decisions, and when they come home they pop into the family car to go out for a drive.

When we learn to drive, we learn to look out for animals, for kids running our from behind a bus or an SUV or for drivers of other vehicles driving their cars in an unusual manner, all of which are common day occurrences.

Now take hardened, combat ready veterans who have seen innocent looking situations turn into death traps, where sub second muscle memory instinctive and instant actions can save lives. That family pet lying on the side of the road at home could be a sleeping pet, but in the combat zone, could be a booby trap.

According to a 2009 Army study, quoted in the podcast, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car crashes than the general population. In fact from 1999 through 2012, 4,423 active military personnel died in non combative crashes.

I can’t imagine what it must be like re-integrating between or after terms of duty, but it makes total sense that there is a problem and it is being addressed. A Home Safe, Drive Safe campaign is being adopted by the various sectors of defense in training offered to service people when they return home.

As you will hear in the brief PSA video by Nascar driver Richard Petty, more returned veterans die in their first year back home in motor vehicle crashes than for any other reason.

This is something I have never considered. We hear about all sorts of adjustments people have to make, but next time I hear of a returned soldier who has had a serious accident as a consequence of responding to a situation that would for most of us be a non event, I’ll be wondering if the have had that part of the debrief and are conscious that they are not in a war zone.

So from someone who has never been in that situation, but enjoys living in a free democratic country, I say “Thank you for your service, we want you to stay alive, safe and well.

If you have a story about this topic, I would welcome it if you would like to share an experience or comment.

How to Get an Honest Fare From a Cab Driver


There is an international conspiracy. I’ve said it before. They get all the people who want to be taxi drivers, to a secret location, indoctrinate them in how to milk a fare and then send them to countries they haven’t been to before and where hey don’t speak the local language. 

This morning I read a blog on Freakonomics, entitled Why Don’t More Professional Drivers Use Traffic-Enabled GPS?. It’s obvious isn’t it? They want to get the biggest fare out of you that they can.

One way to get an honest fare out of a cab driver is to agree on it in advance. That’s easy if you know what it is worth.

Airports

Airports

Airports are a prime opportunity and I’ve been ripped off in more countries than I can remember at airports. In New Zealand there is a great service called Air New Zealand Taxis. You can select from 14 airports, enter details like your start or end address, what flights you are taking and then select from a variety of taxi types. I note they even offer helicopter now, but I don’t think that’s an option for the budget conscious.

So you choose which mode of taxi you want and they guarantee to get you to the airport on time. You pay in advance and they even monitor the flight arrivals and departures so if your flight arrives a couple of hours late, your taxi driver will still be waiting for you holding up one of those cool board with your name on it.

If they make a mistake, as one did with me last year and overshoot your freeway exit and have to take a 15 km detour, it’s their problem, and doesn’t decrease the thickness of the lump in your back pocket (if you still carry folding).

Back to traffic. I have been a TomTom Go Live product user since they launched in New Zealand and Australia and it is awesome! It is good because they have good data derived from a combination of fleet managed vehicles (large numbers of them) and data from TomTom users. The GPS Car Nav PND’s have a SIM Card in them and get their data in real time (within seconds despite coming via Berlin). What makes it really powerful is the algorithms in the background that know how to interpret data.

I have been involved in car nav and the development of real time traffic in NZ and Australia and have worked with several brands of car nav. I have seen good systems and not so good systems. Now I must admit that my current TomTom is a little dated, but it has the latest map data. It’s probably time for me to do some testing of the latest devices and apps from various brands, but if you are wanting to know what the best device is for you, this blog is still worth a read.

Like a lot of guys, I believe I have a great sense of direction. However, I have learned that the GPS car nav is better at it than I am. It looks at all the possible ways I can go and pretty much every time I thought it was wrong, it was me that was wrong. It also keeps evaluating, when it has real time traffic. Often while I am driving, my TomTom tells me that I am still on the fastest route, or that there has been an incident and there is now an alternative route which will save me (x) minutes. I now trust it.

That doesn’t mean I trust all real time traffic apps. I have tested other apps in the past which interpreted normal rush hour traffic as an incident and led me to take a longer route which was unnecessary. There have also been times when I knew where I was going and didn’t bother using my TomTom with real time traffic to disastrous results,

So back to keeping the cabbie honest. The easiest answer is to take your trusted car nav application with you and tell the driver where you want him to go. Remember, you are the customer. If he isn’t happy with that, grab his taxi number, get out and find another one who is more trustworthy.

So, how about it? Tell me your taxi stories. I’m keen on the good, the bad and the ugly. Please share a comment. What real time traffic navigation  products have you used? How did you find them?

Proposed Parking Changes on Apollo Drive in Auckland


I’ve just received a letter which has gone to all owners and occupiers of businesses on Apollo Drive, Rosedale, in response to complaints from local businesses regarding driving safety issues partly due to the large number of cars parked on the side of the road. I have a office on this road and I agree, it is dangerous. It is hard to get in and out of your driveways, both from the perspective of visibility around the parked cars and the heavy traffic on the road pretty much all day.

Cut down, the options they propose are “No stopping at all times” restrictions which means no parking on the road at all; or

A combination of “No stopping at all times” and “Time restricted parking” such as 2 hour parking, which means people have to constantly move their cars or get parking tickets and possibly towed away.

Auckland Transport is seeking views from people who are concerned about this. I have responded to the letter and invite you if it is relevant to also respond. If you have children who go to L’Academie de Danse in Apollo Drive, or to Bear Park Child Care Centre this affects you too. You can respond to Alok Vashista at Auckland Transport on 09-355-3553 and ask for a copy of the letter to understand their suggestions and it includes a form for you to reply with your input and suggestions.

Councils are very keen to encourage business development, construction of new buildings which is a good thing for the city. New buildings mean new jobs and growth of the community. The problem is that councils do not force the building owners to provide sufficient off street parking for the staff of the companies that occupy them. I believe it is the responsibility of Council to ensure that there are enough of street car parks on Apollo Drive. Their town planning people designed the road, specified that it would be an arterial road, which is part of the problem, but they clearly did not ensure there would be sufficient parking spaces both for the businesses and the types of businesses that use the road. The dance academy is a classic example of the problem. How can you have a dance school with hundreds of students share a carpark holding around 20 spaces with Pita Pit which is a very popular fast food business?

Auckland Transport could lay blame on the old council, but the fact is we need a solution now. I believe the solution is:

Vacant Space on Apollo Drive

1. Build some public car parks. There is plenty of space available and the problem was effectively caused by council.

2. Put a large roundabout on the intersection of Apollo Drive and Constellation Drive because part of the problem is people wanting to cross the road to drive in the opposite direction. This means having people give way in both directions.

3. Don’t allow future development of schools or other destination businesses unless they also provide sufficient carparking appropriate to the type of business. Apollo Drive and the side roads are continuing to develop and traffic will continue to grow.

The 2 options offered by Auckland Transport will not work. If people can’t park on the road they work on, where can they park? The problem gets moved and becomes a problem elsewhere, or companies will lose their staff. If people work 8 – 9 hours a day and they can park for 2 hours, they will simply have to hope in their cars every 2 hours, swap car parks, cause more chaos and disruption to the road and to their work day.

Again I say Council are responsible for this situation, not the building owners who had concent for their construction, or the tenants and their staff. They need to fix this in a way that works for everyone, at their cost and ensure that with the ongoing growth they do not allow new buildings to be constructed that do not have sufficient parking space for their neeeds.

If this affects you, here is a ApolloDriveAkTransport that you can download and the response form.

What Do You Hate About Car Parks?


I recently asked you what you liked about car parks. I guess based on 25 votes and 3 comments, most of you don’t really think about this subject, which is fine. I appreciate your feedback.

So lets look at the negative side of car parking. What do you dislike about car parks? I can think of lots of things and maybe I can start you off with a few things to think about and I will also add another poll.

I went down to the new Wynyard Quarter a couple of weeks ago on a sunny Saturday for lunch. We thought we’d have a look at this new development, have lunch and enjoy the new showcase area in Auckland. We drove the 30km from our home, drove through all the car parks, couldn’t find a single park (this was around noon) and after 20 minutes of crawling in circles went to Takapuna for lunch. I hate going somewhere and not being able to get a park.

I hate not being able to find a suitable car park close to my destination when its raining. We’ve had more than our fair share of that this winter in New Zealand.

I hate car parks with small parking spaces and large pillars, which going by the black and other colour scrapings on them, do more than their fair share of damage.

Car parks with small spaces means that often motorists overlap into the park next to them, so that that the vacant park is rendered useless to anything other than a Beetle or a motorcycle.

I hate car parks where the machines only take cash and I very rarely carry cash any more.

I hated having my car broken into in a public car park and finding that the only video security available was there to stop people leaving the car park without paying! I haven’t used that particular car park since. I either walk further or go to a more expensive one in that area.

I hate car parks where the machine doesn’t work and all the staff seem to have gone on a break.

I hate parks that cost more than the activity I want to consume.

So how about leaving a comment and participating in the poll, you can even create a new question in it yourself. I am going to be presenting to the Parking Association later this year at their annual conference and want to give them an idea, positive and negative about their business. This includes curb side parking by the way. Any car parking dislikes at all.

I haven’t forgotten special needs car parks, but I want you to tell me about your experiences:)

As a footnote, this is not a bitch session. We are a motoring people and we need car parks. I am looking for feedback with a view to coming up with ideas as to how to make car parking more user friendly and attractive. I believe that there are many improvements possible and many opportunities for car parks to engage with their users and their community.

Car Parking – What Do You Like About Them


Later this year I will be presenting at the NZ Parking Association annual conference. They are looking for ideas out of left field and I have plenty of ideas. I was going to visit a pile of car parks and talk to the owners, usually when I speak to an industry group, I go and talk to their members. I do some by appointment and explain why I am there and I do some more discretely to get a feel for their business as a customer.

Of course like most of you, I visit car parks of all sorts all the time anyway. I have a strategy as to how I plan to come up with novel ideas for them, as well as research what is happening around the world. But for now, I would like to have a bit of feedback from you. Just to be a bit radical, how about sharing with me on this blog what you like about the places you park your cars. I’ll come back later and ask about what you don’t like, but I’d like to start with a bit of positivity.

So what do you like about the places you park your car or other motor vehicle? Please share those with me as a comment here.

If you don’t wish to leave a comment, how about helping with a poll?

How far away is Peak Oil and what is it?


Lately there has been renewed interest in Peak Oil and while we are talking about Emissions Trading and allowing larger trucks on New Zealand Roads, the fact is that oil is running out.

What is peak oil? Wikipedia has an extended description, but in simple terms it is when the amount of oil being extracted is at the highest rate and from then on, the amount of oil becomes terminal. In other words, the amount of oil being extracted from the earth will be less than is being consumed, while demand, along with population, increases.

The Space Collaborative paints a scary picture of what the near future could look like without oil. Of course oil doesn’t just drive our cars, our ships, our planes, but it also helps to generate electricity.

Now of course for New Zealand it’s not a big deal because we have geothermal power and arrangements with countries like Japan to access oil, when it starts running out. Major gas guzzlers like the USA will gladly give us a share of their emergency stocks because we’re nice people.  We shouldn’t forget that we have more vehicles in New Zealand than we have licensed drivers.  Of course the price will sky rocket and you will need to be very wealthy to be able to run your car. Just as well we have natural gas.

It was interesting to read that Australia voted in November, not to put together a plan for peak oil, so we probably won’t find any help there.  New Zealand has been working on plans for a number of years, because in 2003 we were dependant on oil for 48% of our energy production. This means that brown outs as predicted in the diagram above, within the next 20 years could become a reality. Yet besides emissions trading, the Kyoto Protocol, which as I have blogged about before will require that instead of spending money to protect our own infrastructure will have us sending money to other countries who have lots of trees.

I don’t think we’re talking about science fiction here, where it will be a problem for future generations, long after we have turned to dust. I think this will be a problem that anyone reading this blog will face. So what are you going to do when you can’t get petrol or diesel for your car and there isn’t enough oil to generate electricity or even make candles?

It bears thinking about doesn’t it?

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management: