We Will Remember Them – Our ANZAC Soldiers


We are not a militaristic nation, we Kiwis. However we have a proud fighting tradition, standing up for democracy and human rights all over the world. We lost many men and women in the World Wars and on many other fronts such as Viet Nam and Korea. Once a year on ANZAC Day, we remember them and those who have fallen since, in Afghanistan, East Timor and other fronts. In RSA Clubs around the country the dwindling numbers of vets and their families have a beer, share a yarn, have a dance and a sausage roll and club sandwich and share the ANZAC Prayer.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

Then they play the last post, we stand proud and we remember.

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

Laying the Kings Wreath 2011

My late father in law was a few months from his final rest after a terrible fight with cancer. He served in the Air Force in Guadal Canal and other locations during World War II and my mother in law was a Wren. You should have seen her march in the parade, as erect as she would have been in her youth. Now we are left with photos and memories, not only of our people, but of their reunions with their fellow service people, remembering the fun times and remembering the fallen and the horror as the nights went on. The things that they could only discuss with those who had shared the experiences. The things we civilians can’t appreciate because we weren’t there. The trenches, the mud, the desert, the beaches, the waiting, the camaraderie, the fear, the relief, the moments of respite, the people in the countries where they served, who looked at them with gratitude and relief, coming home with their cobbers, coming home without their mates.

Today is ANZAC Day and we remember our lost and respect those who remain. I’m proud to be a Kiwi, even though I am an import. In some ways more so because, while I haven’t experienced war first hand, I was born in Holland and the Allies rescued our country from the ravages of 5 years of occupation.

When I was in the USA again last year, I was humbled by the respect shown to all veterans in all places. Everywhere I went, I met and shook hands with people who had served. Everywhere I went, people thanked them for their service. Every concert I went to, we stood and people were thanked for their service. Of course the numbers of people who have served in the USA are so many more on a ratio than in New Zealand. They are more visible as well. While there is a lot of negativity towards US involvement around the world, I have to wonder with a shudder what our world would be like if they weren’t there. I also think about the fact that we are talking about individual people, with partners, children, parents, who are stepping outside of their lives to do the right thing for their country. They all have their own stories.

That’s what motivated me, after 6 months of research, to write the song Another Stretch in Iraq, my Christmas song for 2007. I remember performing it in a ‘biker friendly’ bar in Florida, seeing a couple of 6 foot something men coming to the stage and thinking “I’m going to get beaten to a pulp” as the came towards me with tears in their eyes. But no, they came to thank me and welcome me into the arms of their Desert Storm ‘family’, saying that I had taken them straight back to their Bradleys and MRE‘s.

Yet, as I sit here in my lounge and watch the ANZAC commemorations in New Zealand, I am reminded that we, at the bottom of the planet, far removed from all the fronts and global politics, do serve. We tend to be in peacekeeping forces these days rather than at the front lines, but you will find Kiwis in most countries where there is freedom to be preserved. We fight for human rights. We take global responsibility as we can and we care fiercely about freedom and democracy. To a large degree we do that because of those who lead by example, who took arms and piled onto planes and ships and those who didn’t come back.

We will remember them. We do remember them. Even if our eyes aren’t wet every day as they are this morning. We remember them and we honor them by trying to do the right thing for the future of our children.

They drive on the wrong side of the road


This is a follow on from my blogs on preparing for a USA Road Trip, but it is equally relevant to anyone going to another country and especially where they drive on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to.

It is very easy when you relax into your trip and get up in the morning, to accidentally start driving on the wrong side of the road and many people even in New Zealand have had accidents and even died by losing concentration and automatically driving on the wrong side of the road because they have been doing it for years at home.

The thing that struck me on my first driving experience in the USA was that the traffic lights are often in the middle of the intersection. In New Zealand they are before the intersection, so I almost stopped in the middle of the road.

One of the things on the top of my preparation list was learn the key elements of the US Road Rules. I had my navigation but it wasn’t going to tell me who had right of way. The rules work really well for you once you understand them.

One that was really interesting is 4-way intersections and we found loads of those. The rule is whoever gets there first has right of way, so you really have to pay attention when you get to them.

Another rule that works really well is that you can turn right at a red light if the way is clear, unless there is a sign saying you can’t at that particular intersection. Make sure you come to a complete stop first, I’m told police are often hiding waiting for people to drive straight through.

A rule that I thought was really good on the Interstates was that if a car was broken down on the side of the road, you have to change lanes to give them space.

Whichever country you go to, its worth spending half an hour to make sure you know the basic road rules. Relax and enjoy but don’t relax too much. I was driving onto a major intersection a couple of weeks ago and the nav said turn sharp left, so I did and found myself facing a one way highway full of traffic coming straight at me. I managed to back out safely, but it reminded me of the importance of staying alert at all times. Having said that, I really enjoyed the road trip and the little bit of preparation beforehand made a big difference.

My 3 Essentials for the US Road Trip


My Thrifty Rental

I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.

So back to my list:

  1. Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
  2. My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
  3. A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.

I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.

Planning a Road Trip


Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.

At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.

I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)

So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.

So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.

The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.

I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.

TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.

mPass iPhone App

I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.

I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.

In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.

Want to know what happens next? Subscribe to this blog and wait for the next one which won’t be far behind.

More on In Vitro Meat


A couple of years ago I wrote about the potential to grow your own food including  in vitro meat. The first experiments produced something rubbery and inedible, but things have moved on since then.

For a country like New Zealand the idea of creating artificial meat is anathema. We made history in 1882 when the SS Dunedin successfully arrived in London carrying 4931 refrigerated carcasses  of  mutton, lamb and pork.

Whilst in the past meat represented better than 50% of NZ’s export revenue, in 2009 it was a modest 13.2%. On the other hand biotech is becoming so important in New Zealand that it has even made the Secondary School curriculum. Significant consideration is being given to Animal Biofarming in NZ as evidenced by this comprehensive document from the NZ Foundation for Research Science and Technology FRST.

Why would you consider doing something like this. Simple really. A large chunk of the population of the world is hungry and unable to feed itself. Over 1 Billion people fit the definition of living in hunger. That’s more than 3 times the population of the USA! Then there’s water. There is debate in some places that there is no water crisis, but fresh water represents only 3% of the total water on the planet. I won’t go into the countries where drinking water is an issue, its common knowledge and drought as a news search on Google draw almost 13,000 results.

According to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder.

Now while a cow also produces leather and pet food, and other product a massive amount of each beast is expensive waste product, even if some of it goes back in the ground as fertilizer. Wouldn’t it make sense to be able to just make the meat if you could?

I’ve focused on some of the why’s. I haven’t even touched on the widely held ethical views on growing animals purely so we can eat them. I definitely like my meat, don’t get me wrong. Anyway I will leave with a link to the In Vitro Meat Foundation and a quote from Winstone Churchill in 1932:

“Fifty years hence (…) we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”

The last word goes to Jason Metheny of New Harvest

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?

Another Reason Why Newspapers Will Fade Away


This morning for the 2nd time in 2 weeks my NZ Herald wasn’t delivered. This happened a couple of times previously with the Sunday Herald which was actually the one I used to enjoy the most. After the 2nd time I cancelled it. Two weeks ago when my Saturday Herald didn’t turn up, I tried to call them and got a voice message saying that I had called outside of working hours. I thought to myself that perhaps reading hours might disappear as well and this morning I told them that 3 strikes and they could say goodbye to my subscription.

This is one of the reasons why newspapers are on the way out. Not only are they reliant on people who really don’t want to go out on wet cold dark winter mornings, but a printed newspaper is becoming so inefficient.

I get headline tweets from the NZ Herald along with 1,648 other people, with links to the stories I want to read. Online I can see the headlines and major stories on their homepage and then I can see the headlines for each section and go straight to the stories that interest me. The Herald is only one publication I subscribe to on Twitter, there are several news services that flick past me on the side of my browser using Twitbin which is a Firefox plugin.

I also use iGoogle for my RSS feed. This gives me the latest news on all the topics I want to keep up to date on. That includes lots of streams around topics such as GPS, LBS, Psychology, Music and much more. It updates itself automatically all day and I can see which stories I have read in case my memory fails me.

Twitter of course is also a great vehicle for getting the latest news about anything. It told me that there was an earthquake in LA just as I boarded a plane there, although it turned out to be inconsequential. It told me what was going on in Iran and even if you can’t spell swine flu you’ll find out what’s happening to real people like Izzy who just found out her brother has it.  If you could spell it correctly you’ll find out what is happening, which famous people have just caught it and more than you’ll ever want to know.

I started off saying that newspapers are closing and you probably thought I was exaggerating didn’t you. Well think again. Here are a few examples.

Of course there are also stories around the world talking about job cuts in the newspaper industry like this one in the Guardian.

This doesn’t mean, of course that we don’t want news. Of course we do, but we have new vehicles that are far more efficient, we now have a choice, in fact we’re spoiled for it. Did you wait for news about Michael Jackson’s death to appear in the newspaper? Of course not, it was on every TV news channel and you got it up to date. By the time the newspapers came out, the stories that were in it, such as him not being dead, but only in a coma, had long since been refuted.

The big problem for the print media companies, is that they don’t know how, or if they can monetise the online media. There are of course ways that they can do this, but they have to switch their thinking, which is so enrenched in ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ that many of them won’t be doing it at all in the future. Sounds a lot like the recording industry doesn’t it?