On Homelessness, Being Trustworthy and the SuperBowl

CorvetteYesterday I had a day off between two holidays. I was going to go for a Fly Your Own Scenic Flight in a Cessna 162 at Ardmore, but the weather looked a bit dodgy and my car got trailered to an auto electrician in Pt Chevalier at lunchtime on Friday who said he was going to check the diagnostics and let me know why the engine lights kept coming up. Ardmore is an hour from here so a long drive with a high risk of rain.

I rang them 3 times after that and they said he was really busy and would call me back. I’ve been ringing ever since and I think he’s taken the long weekend off. It’s now Tuesday. We’ll come back to trustworthiness again later. This guy has been trustworthy before and was recommended by the man I bought my car off as an expert in Corvette’s. He didn’t let me down the other time I went to him. I suspect he is the sort of person that takes on more than he can handle and that frustrates his manager who in the end wouldn’t let me speak to him. So I’m not sure how I’m getting to work tomorrow or when I will see my car next. I think the thing about trustworthiness is it must be pervasive and consistent. It wasn’t.

Anyway, the weather improved a bit and I borrowed a car off my daughter and went into town to visit my friend and your Giapo for a chat.

I parked at Sky City, because it was free courtesy of a couple of poker matches and walked down Queen Street, where in almost every doorway sat someone with a hat out, not making eye contact, mostly no note and a vacant drug stare in their eyes, not the “I can feel it coming in the night” rush I saw on Louis Theroux’s Dark State – Heroin Town on TV recently, this was more like everyone was isolated in the same bad trip.

I had about $18 in coins in my pocket, planning to give some to buskers if they were making an effort, given that I had done some busking in my teens and I respect people who are prepared to make some sort of a trade for value.

Then I walked past this white guy, (his term) in a tidy shirt, clear drugless blue eyes and a hat in front of him with a lonely silver coin looking up at me from it. I turned around and walked back. I asked him if we could chat and if I could ask him a few questions. He looked me straight in the eye, blue eyes to blue eyes and said “Sure, I’m not going anywhere. What do you want to ask me?”

I said “I don’t want to offend you, but how did it come to this?”

He told me that a couple of years earlier he had been working as a labourer, had an accident which left him unconscious in hospital with severe injuries, to the point that he could no longer work when he got out after a couple of months. He couldn’t earn money (still can’t because of tremors and the scars looked pretty real where his hand appeared to have been pulverised). He and his wife lost their State House and then he lost his wife and kids.

With nowhere to go he now lives in a street doorway in downtown Auckland, except when he can find the $10 to get into an Internet Cafe where they don’t mind if you sleep in the night.

I asked what he could do and he said he didn’t know. His body didn’t give him much of a chance to get work and therefore a room and the only work he had been offered was with the gangs and he said “You know where that would end up. Back in jail and I aint ever going back there.” I didn’t ask what he had been inside for but he said it was about 24 years ago. He told me how he had survived by studying on behalf of inmates who were trying to get qualifications and explained how they would arrange it so that at exam time, the guards would let him go in and sit the tests on behalf of inmates that would have failed. He was very bright. He helped them and got to use his mind and they left him alone and safe.

It was clear that he couldn’t do physical labour, but he is 51 by his reckoning and the only way off the street is to work. Without a street address, he couldn’t get a benefit or his first hand on the rung to get out. He told me a lot of stories and he did have a good head on him so I asked if he had done any public speaking. He said he had been a member of Toastmasters while he was in jail. He found public speaking pretty easy and I thought of people I know who tread the circuit and thought he could probably hold an audience with his experiences. I said to him that the chances I could help him were pretty close to zero and not to get his hopes up, but I would ask some questions and I shall.

I dropped the change I was planning on giving to buskers into his hat and with a big grin he said “I’ll be staying in the Internet Cafe tonight.” He went on to say that he had to stash the money because if street kids saw any money in the hat they would run past and snatch it. He said he had been through 7 hats already that they had stolen.

I shook his hand and went on to visit my friend Giapo in his awesome new gelato shop.

Giapo2018This was my first visit to the new store (I know it has been there a while) and there was one thing that never changes. There is always a queue of people waiting for their Giapo gelato experience.

If you haven’t been to his new store in Gore Street, Auckland City, you owe yourself a treat.

This is no ordinary store where they wet an aluminium  scoop in a container of water and drag some ice cream into a cone from the cardboard tub of your preference.

You are purchasing a culinary experience the equal of what you would get from the kitchen of a master chef. You will be taken on a journey of testing and trying flavours, even while you are standing in the queue Eventually a unique visual and sensual experience will be delighting you and your friends, while you are looking at and consuming it, followed by the sensation that you are sated and satisfied and looking forward to recommending it, the experience, to your friends. This is no drive to Pokeno for an ice cream, this is theatre for the eyes and taste buds.

Giapo and I have wonderful conversations and it was also great to finally meet his amazing and beautiful wife in person. I loved that she gave me a firm handshake and looked me in the eye, I don’t like limp handshakes from anyone. I know these last years have been a big journey for her also. Behind every consummate dreamer is their best friend and partner and without her the stumbling blocks are that much higher. We deep thinkers need a leveler and someone to sometimes ask how and why and finally, “how can I help?”

Giapo is an economist, a mad scientist, a gastronome, a master chef, a 3D printer, a social media maven from way back, a purveyor of experience, an artist and a man who speaks with absolute passion and Italian gestures, from a big heart, who wants to leave a legacy of experiences bound by trustworthiness for himself and his business; and a secure income for staff who want to use his business as a stepping stone for his own career.

We have many experiences in common, including both being deep thinkers and the visit left me with lots of thoughts and questions about what a trustworthy business looks like. The simple answer is that he was going to take many years to build it and would find out as it developed. But I can say that trustworthiness for Giapo includes:

  • Consistently delivering a quality experience that is like going to theatre for the eyes and taste buds. I have never seen anyone leave disappointed;
  • Passion for delivering something of quality including his relationships with staff and the products.
  • Passion for his staff and helping them make what they will from the work experience and wishing he could do more with and for them.
  • Helping his staff develop ideas, for example he runs Chef’s Table gelato degustation evenings and VIP evenings (they were set up for one when I was there) which includes matching music to the course, something one of his students is studying.
  • Having a genuine passion and compassion for his customers (and friends) that never wavers, Giapo is who and what he is, not someone living a persona.
  • Making sure that he looks after himself, his health and fitness so that he can be well in order to run his business to deliver the trustworthiness he aspires to.
  • Recognising the importance of family, that includes those of his customers (friends like me and my family) and of course his own, those here and those back home in Italy.

There is something I deeply admire in people like Giapo. There is a sincerity and depth of purpose that he strives for every day, rain or shine, winter (not the best time for gelato) or summer, year on year.

It is a desire to be the best and continue to push the boundaries of what that means, each and every day and he has now done that for years past the use by date at which 80% of businesses go broke. He has proven that it is sustainable.

I’m not saying it has been easy. It’s tough when you are creating a unique business with a unique set of values and direction. Where ultimately you want your business to conform to a set of ideals. Where, if you consistently over-deliver on your promise of a wonderful experience and people trust you that if they tell their friends how great it was, they will confidently wish that same experience for their friends.

Like fractals, (something Giapo used to tell me about years ago, that branch out like pretty ice crystal flowers) customers all over the world would say “If you go to Auckland, New Zealand, you really have to go to Giapo in Gore Street. It will be a highlight of your trip.”

Anyway, enough of that, it’s a beautiful day, go and visit Giapo and let him know I sent you.

Superbowl2018On the way back to Sky City to pick up the car I borrowed, I walked past a noisy bar with an American flag outside. It sounded like there was a show on, so I walked a bit closer to see what was happening. Yep, you got it, Super Bowl 2018. I’m not sure whether the audience was that worried about whether the Eagles one. Heck, I’ve only ever changed planes at the airport there on my way to or from Ithaca NY, but we love our sport in Auckland and despite the showers, it was a great day for sitting in a bar watching sport on TV.

Off I went home to do my thing, working on recording my second track for The Cancer Diaries, my charity music EP and Music Videos for cancer patients and their supporters, a bit of writing on the two books I am working on and pondering with my wife on the nature of trustworthiness as a pillar foundation for a business.

I have 2 questions for you:

What does trustworthiness mean to you in business? ; and

Have you been to Giapo yet. Looks like a great day for it today.



Getting Your Household Ready for an Emergency

Christchurch City Council has a really good list of things to prepare in an emergency and if any area knows what to do, it’s them. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and its a good idea to learn from someone else’s hindsight.

It seems obvious, but there is a lot more to it than you might think off hand.

Food. What happens if you can’t visit a grocer for a couple of weeks? What if there is no power? What if you have no water coming from the tap or it isn’t drinkable? If there is no power you can’t boil water. Do you have babies who need special foods? What about pets?

Cash. This was another major in Christchurch, no power, no comms, no EFTPOS. What happens when you need to rush to the store for last minute supplies? How much cash does anyone carry these days? Really obvious when its too late!

Gas for the BBQ is well worth it. Is your cylinder full? Lots of people will leave them over winter unless they also use the cylinder for other things, like a heater.

Medicine. If you can’t get to the doctor or the pharmacy and you use regular drugs, how long can you go without repeats or a new script? What state is your first aid kit in, what about regulars like paracetamol, bandages, antiseptics, slings? Do you have a St Johns or other first aid book? In many emergencies face masks would also be worth having around.

How many things do you have that need batteries? Torches, radio’s, emergency lights, many people only have battery powered can openers. How about your mobile phone, can you charge it if you have no electricity? A product like Cellshot might be worth investing in. Its great to see products like that available in NZ now. Of course candles and matches or lighters are also a must, something that non smokers may not have.

What about your camera? It struck me that it would have been a great idea in Australia with the floods if you could prove what you lost to the insurance companies before things got thrown out. A digital camera would make life much easier when it comes to rebuilding.

While I’m on mobile phones, I never thought about the fact that I couldn’t use my landline when there is no power. It’s well worth having an analogue phone in the house as they are powered by the exchange. Telecom did a great job in helping people donate their old phones to people in Christchurch. There’s a good business opportunity for someone to bring in new analogue phones for emergency back up.

Water is essential for so many things, cooking, drinking, washing, hygiene. Many disasters could mean that very quickly none of the water in your taps or house is usable. Some bottled water will keep for a year or more, but it also needs recycling or rotating.

Meetup plan. A number of friends in Christchurch had family members all over the city. It would be a great idea to have a plan on where to meet if people get separated, a public place, with common friends etc.

Getaway Kit. What if you had 5 or 10 minutes and had to leave in a hurry? What would you take with you? Lots of people have ended up with nothing in an emergency.

Do you have precious heirlooms? Special family items like photos, videos, jewellery etc that can’t be replaced? Do you keep them somewhere safe. Many of us have multilevel homes? If that’s you are those special things at ground level or up high? I have plastic bins that I bought from the Warehouse that stack and seal. They were only around $20 each and all my precious things like letters from grandparents etc are safely protected from the elements. Do you have your computer backed up? All those digital photos? where do you keep your backup?

The point is that these are all logical and simple things to do, but very easy to wish you had done once its too late.

Preparation Lessons from Japan and Christchurch

It’ll never happen to me is probably the first thing. Even in Japan, which I have visited at least 20 times, I doubt many people expected anything like this latest earthquake. I experienced earthquakes on many of my trips to Japan. I have been in office buildings and hotel rooms and felt the vertigo as buildings sway. The thing is it happens so often that people take it in their stride and the evidence was seen with images of people standing on bridges watching rather than racing for cover.

A similar situation occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand. We all expected that if a big one did come, it would be in Wellington, not Christchurch. I used to be a Civil Defence rescue team leader and our earthquake training was all based around Wellington because it has a compact CBD, lots of buildings clad in glass and sits right on the fault line. Like Japan, they experience lots of earthquakes there.

What I really wanted to mention in this blog though, is the survival kits, the essentials required besides shelter and ablutions. That is water and power. Water has proven to be probably the biggest issue in many fronts. Basically water is the most crucial element. We can live longer without food, but not without water. We need water for drinking, bathing, cooking etc and when the water supply either fails or becomes contaminated, this becomes a major problem.

I will certainly be taking this more seriously in future because it was obvious that if you didn’t have any, your chances of getting your hands on water were pretty slim. In Christchurch for example, only one supermarket remained open. Not a lot for New Zealand’s 2nd largest city.

If you don’t have electricity, you can’t boil contaminated water, can’t wash yourself, your clothes and risk hygiene problems. A generator isn’t much of an option but gas is. We saw lots of images of people filling up their gas cylinders and having communal BBq’s because their refrigerators couldn’t run and food would soon perish.

Getting gas after the quake

Of course gas also means you can boil water. We were very lucky in Christchurch to not have outbreaks of cholera or other diseases due to water contamination, not to mention the inability to flush the toilets etc.

In this situation I’m not sure how much it would help, but these are easy things that I will be doing to ensure even though I don’t think it will ever happen to me:

  • Stocking enough water and non perishable food to support my family for a number of days.
  • Ensuring that I have a couple of full gas cylinders (remember that without power, petrol stations close)

Longer term I will look at replacing my hot water cylinder with gas. Doesn’t help if there is no water, but does if there is no electricity.

Then I get back to my hobby horse of solar power. A hobby horse of mine is that the government should not only be encouraging us, but facilitating solar power for both business and consumers. I’ve blogged before about feed-in tariffs and interest free finance for people to install solar panels as happens in other parts of the world. If we all had solar power, we would be much more sustainable. Obviously New Zealand will not be running nuclear power, even more so given the latest catastrophe in Japan. As I write this a 3rd nuclear reactor has lost its emergency cooling system after the 8.9 quake!

For a country that asserts itself as clean and green, I think this is a big fail. Maybe this would be an opportunity for the Green Party to assert itself. With the election due in November this year, if I was them I would be pushing hard for interest free subsidies for solar energy, especially for water heating. I would also be pushing for the right to sell surplus energy back into the grid .

When I was in the Netherlands a couple of years ago I saw many warehouses and farm buildings covered in solar panels. I also of course saw many wind farms. I thought they looked really cool, although I probably wouldn’t want one in my backyard. Fortunately for the size of our country we have plenty of space.

So have we learned anything and will we act on it?

The following video illustrates how people are so used to earthquakes that they don’t do what they have been trained to do.

The World Dairy Summit and Water

Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that 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 that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

Barter, the New Old Economy

I’ve just got back from a break in Rarotonga, which was a wonderful place to visit for peace and rest. It was thought provoking even though thought was not high on my agenda.

I finished a piece of music I had been working on and called it Rarotonga, which you can find on Youtube and my About Songwriting blog. While there I attended a wonderful gospel church service where I had some great singing. This was followed by a bountiful morning tea put on by the open generosity of the locals.

Most of the church service was in Rarotongan Maori, however 2 words that I did understand were Climate Change. In a country where most of the land is very close to sea level this is a real challenge. You need to spend a little time on a South Pacific Island to understand what is at risk.

The one thing you must do when visiting a new country is visit with the people. 3 things stood out:

1. Everyone expressed their gratitude that we visited and explained that their country was entirely dependent on tourism.

2. Every person had at least 2 or 3 jobs and good pay was considered to be about US5 an hour. Other than Sunday’s, most people would be working 12+ hour days.

3. There was a sub economy operating below the cash economy. People trade goods or services. It might be people swapping fish for Taro or playing music in return for food and the ability to promote and sell merchandise such as CD’s.

As you do, when you deliberately disconnect from the grid, you catch up with reading and I got to reading up on Life Inc by Douglas Rushkoff. One of his arguments is that the world’s economies are driven by corporations, banks and other large entities who perhaps care more about themselves and keeping communities reliant on them than helping the people they serve gain any level of independence.

I was blown away by some of the examples of alternative trading systems he came up with, although I don’t know why. Barter as a concept is probably as old as mankind, but a new economy seems to   be reemerging in innovative ways. I’ve known doctors who accepted fish or other produce from patients who couldn’t afford to pay fees in New Zealand. I’ve known plenty of people who share their specialties, a plumber who does work on an electricians home and the electrician is owed a favor by a motor mechanic who then does a job for the plumber for free. The traditional economy still gets revenue from the parts that are used, which includes all the traders and of course tax in all its forms.

From a business point of view, I use Bartercard and they are a great organisation who I recommend. They have Bartercard Maps which uses GeoSmart Maps technology to help you find what you need based on location. However, fundamentally it is still a form of currency and our accounts department and Inland Revenue treat it no different than cash. In some cases, such as accommodation I also sometimes feel that the product you get is a little less quality than you would get if you were paying cash.

One good thing about Bartercard I like is that it is local, at least it encourages companies to use local suppliers. Despite our position, I feel many organisations in NZ from Government Departments through to consumers do not consider supporting their local economy as a major factor in making purchasing decisions.

I don’t want to go into any real detail about the examples in Rushkoff’s book, because that’s what the book is for and you might want to read it. There are some great deals on Amazon. I don’t think you’ll find it in your local bookstore.

Here’s a couple of cool examples.

  • CSA or Community Shared Agriculture. The concept is that people not only commit to buying their produce from a particular local farm, but they even commit to doing a small amount of work on it to help support it. This gives some security to the local farmer, but also helps build local community spirit and has people involved and doing something they would not normally do in their daily lives.
  • In Japan, the Sawayaka Welfare Foundation came up with a ‘complementary currency’ where young people could earn credits for taking care of elderly people. Those credits, called Fureai Kippu can then be applied to the care of their own elderly relatives who may live in a different part of the country. Because it is by the people and for the people, many say that the standard of support they get is far better than if it was provided by commercial caregivers.

The book also has lots of ideas about local loyalty programs that serve to build greater loyalty to local traders and creates stronger community feeling, which can and should apply to any town or village. The people who work, have restaurants or businesses near your home, are your neighbors. We are  often too quick to go and give profit to multinationals, when we could be supporting our local businesses and then complain when our potential customers don’t use our services.

To a degree this blog was motivated by my trip to Rarotonga and the music I wrote which you can listen to below. But it is also out of concern for our future. New Zealand, like Rarotonga runs the risk of becoming isolated. If a war were to strike overseas and our imports (including oil products, food, clothing and technology) how well prepared are we to continue living to the standard we are accustomed to? People in Rarotonga told us about the island running out of fuel for a few days and the chaos that ensued. How long would we continue our lifestyle without petrol and diesel?

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