There’s something about the weather


Have you noticed anything about the weather lately? Do the topics of global warming or climate change ever pop up in conversation near you? Do you believe things are changing? Do you believe you can do anything about it? Do you care?

Inclement weather

Inclement weather

So here we are in 2014. If you watch the news there have been extremes happening every year and 2013 was no exception. Want some details? Check out this collection of stories from The Guardian.

There have been lots of international meetings such as the recent one in Warsaw, but what is happening?

Does it matter? Maybe you figure it won’t be a problem in your lifetime, but do you have children? Grandchildren? What will become of them if the sea level rises?

My home is in a once in a 100 years flood zone, low risk hopefully, but still a risk. Many of our roads have sea water spraying over them during king tides now, what will happen if sea levels rise?

A lot of people scoff at global warming, especially when we are experiencing extremes at both ends of the scale, hot and cold. There is no denying that storms are becoming more aggressive and it seems like every day there is a flood or storm somewhere. Let’s just look at right now, today:

Recent research suggests global temperatures could increase by 4 degrees by 2100. I won’t be around, but my grand children will be. If that happens and the sea levels rise, New Zealand will be interesting. We have already agreed that the people of Tuvalu can live here, but they are just one of the islands at risk.

But lets think about coastal mega-cities. We watch TV films depicting what life will be like, but we see them as Hollywood thrillers, not reality, yet we see news stories every day about erosion claiming coastal properties. What happens to cities that are on reclaimed land, or low lying cities. I’m not talking about my fatherland of the Netherlands, but how about Auckland, Sydney, Los Angeles, Manila or Mumbai?

Changes are happening, but some countries are still burning coal like there is no tomorrow (pun intended). We didn’t introduce emission testing in New Zealand, I was told because it was too expensive. We have a small population so can’t afford to do much, we are raising the height of some motorways which is good.

When I was in New Orleans last year, they were flat out raising the levees on the Mississippi, ironically at a time when the levels were so low that some of the river boats couldn’t make their usual trips. It’s mostly cleaned up now, but there is still plenty of evidence of the devastation caused by Sandy.

Of course it’s not just about super storms, or flood plans it’s about climate change. Weather patterns means changes to agriculture, movement of work forces, major disruptions to supply chains, problems with fresh water availability, I’m enjoying the longer summers, but I have cracks in fences and in the ground from last year that didn’t move back over winter.

This was just a bit of a ramble really, but climate change is something we need to think about now and we need to think about it starting in our own back yards. How are you going to be prepared, what will it mean for you? Are you ready for the next big storm? Are you ready for a tsunami? Do you know your evacuation route? Do you have an emergency plan? Do you think it will always happen to someone else or that it isn’t your responsibility?

Here’s a last thought from close to my home. In Australia this week, they are predicting potential temperatures of up to 50 degrees C. Last year Australia had the hottest weath, jobs, er in over 100 years. The thing is we are hearing these sorts of stories every year now. That means fires, that means lost lives, it means lost homes, jobs, businesses.

This is what happened in Australia at 30 degrees, imagine what 50 degrees could mean?

 

 

Advertisements

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?

Blame the Technology and Australia


Continuing my search into what happened at Whitcoulls and Borders and  generally what’s going on with New Zealand retailers I am finding no surprises, which is a real worry. Two words come up a lot. Technology and Australia. I know a little of both. I live for technology and have trained many retailers over the years (including some who were already millionaires) and while the technology has changed, the principles haven’t. More on this to come.

Australia and New Zealand

As to Australia. In the 90’s many Australasian retailers who had New Zealand operated subsidiary chains based in New Zealand, decided to do away with local country management, local buyers etc.  and to save lots of money by treating their NZ shops as Australian branches. I guess they considered New Zealand as a slightly bigger Tasmania. Not huge, but worth having, especially if they didn’t put much effort into senior staffing  resources.

When performance decreased they blamed the economy, they said that NZ was just an over inflated state and it was always going to be that way, which was how they justified reducing local resources in the first place. The fact is while we may have a lot in common, we are not the same. We are made up of different cultures and history and have subtle differences in our lifestyles. Subtle enough that you can’t treat NZ stores the same as Australian stores and expect the same result.

Similar scenarios happened in many cases with the decades of American Globalisation. It’s funny really that America wanted to change Japan and the rest of Asia Pacific while Japan wanted to change the west. I well remember having discussions with senior management of Casio in Tokyo and Hamura about improving the software on their cash registers. One of the issues was that they hadn’t allowed for people pressing buttons in the wrong sequence. Have you ever been in a retail store when the ECR (Cash Register) is bleeping loud noises no matter what buttons are pushed and the stress it caused the cashier? Their initial response was “They must use the ECR in the right way or you should find better customers”. We ended up beta testing their software in NZ and Australia first and then getting Japan to tweak their software. That was one of the initiatives that helped us get 70% market share in the ECR market in NZ and helped Casio increase theirs around the world. But then of course the company I worked for was sold and I along with my boss and several other great people were made redundant despite the fact that we were doing really well, but because they thought we were earning too much. I’d love to know what their market share is in NZ now. I know it isn’t 70%. Anyway I’m going off on a tangent.

The big thing I noticed in the NZ stores was inventory management. They were carrying a lot of books that I wouldn’t think anyone would buy other than as a joke. I went back to Borders a week ago to jot some of the names down, but it looks like they went in the $1, $2, $5 sale and were gone. They had many dated books especially computing which must have been in store for several years, technical books on how to use software that almost no one has used in the last 5 years.

From what I’ve been told, someone automated the purchasing software to replace books that had sold, so for example if a particular book sold really well, say 5,000 copies, the system would replace with another 5,000 copies. Well there goes the profit from the first lot.

One of the things that makes New Zealand different is our ethnic communities. All over New Zealand, but particularly in Auckland we have clusters of ethnic communities; Chinese, Korean, South African, Indian, Pacific Islanders and more. Brands who fail to take that into consideration waste massive levels of stock by having the wrong product in the wrong locations, which then becomes shop soiled and potentially unsaleable.

Inventory needs to be managed locally by category managers who understand and are at the leading edge of their category and who understand their local market. They need to know weekly what is going on and understand who their customers are and what they are buying. Some books date more quickly than others and need to be moved on quickly, others will hold their value longer, but will still have a rapid half life.

In my previous blog about Whitcoulls and Borders I wrote about how they could follow the example of Amazon and know what their individual repeat customers were buying and therefore their interests and could recommend books to them. Amazon continue to prove that people in NZ will buy based on recommendations along the lines of “You bought these 3 books, other people who bought the same books also enjoyed the following titles”. Not only do we often buy them, but we also pay massive freight costs to get them here, at the same time as local book retailers are discounting stock that people aren’t buying. How smart is that?

One good way of dealing with this is using Business Analytics or Business Intelligence tools such as BIonaMAP, soon to be launched by New Zealand geospatial solution provider, GeoSmart. Fortunately for retail chains, this product will support both Australia and New Zealand, so users can have visibility over both countries.

BIonaMAP

On Human Singularity, IQ and EQ


Barton Kunstler wrote an enlightening article in The Futurist entitled The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario, where amongst other insightful information, he pondered the question of how technologically enhanced people in a workplace environment would interact with ‘normal individuals’. It gave me a number of EUREKA moments that I may or may not get into in this blog.

In the latest copy of IT Brief a publication of Action Media, the editorial by Clare Coulson talked about IQ and EQ and how they often don’t come together. This is very true, but there is a tension that Barton Kunstler picked up on wasn’t so much the problem for people with high IQ, but with their ‘peers’ acceptance or intimidation, intolerance by people who might feel threatened by their enhanced capabilities.

He postulated that management in a traditional environment, which evolved as an “efficient survival and social-enhancement mechanism. He suggested that human beings who  had enhanced mental, perceptual and physiological capability would totally disrupt the status quo.

My take from this was that the lack of EQ in the average manager would consider these people known as ESI’s or enhanced singular individuals as a threat, which from an instinctive perspective, in the evolved human brain could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and the ‘superior’ position of today’s ‘Manager’, which could be in fact any person in an authority position.

This could be a fatal flaw and will be a major problem faced in all areas where people are bred or enhanced to have a higher intellect. This could be simply a greater ability to use their natural intelligence, or a connection to external intelligence such as a computer. I don’t want to go into the feasibility of this in this blog, because I have already covered this to some degree in my previous blog, Singularity and ESI’s, which talked about people who have lost limbs and can control prosthesis’ with their brains, which is already relatively common place.

So if we assume this is possible and perhaps already taking place in the labs at DARPA and other well financed institutions, then how can we deal with this problem? The first aspect of this is defining the problem. Is the problem that people with high IQ’s, don’t have high EQ, or is it that the people who don’t have a high IQ don’t have high EQ either?

A progressive manager in today’s world, will employ best of breed staff on the basis that the better the people in his employ, the more successful the business will be and the more that will reflect on him or her. The traditional manager will not want people smarter than they are and will feel threatened by them. I believe the latter is more prevalent, certainly from my personal experience.

An argument that many people put forward is that people with high IQ’s don’t have high EQ (required for rational human type problem solving). In some cases that is true. There are many case studies of people who were encouraged at an early age to study hard, be it music, maths, linguistics, what they studied doesn’t really matter, it was their inherent ability to study and I suspect that those people would have been good at what ever discipline they chose. So we see students going to university at the age of 13 or 14.

Many of these kids have degrees before their age group peers finish high school. In many cases they are poorly tolerated by their fellow university students, who can’t relate to them and drift into a lonely life. The relating makes sense, the social life of an average aged university student is very different to a pubescent teenager. They are barely emotionally compatible and some parents do their best to ensure that young gifted children in this situation still get to play sport and enjoy their childhood, which in some cases is very successful, but those children often find that they are intellectually so far ahead of the others, that they find the chatter childish and can no longer relate, so they are left in limbo.

Most public education systems lack support for gifted children and a common thread is that gifted children suffer from asynchronous development and that they need to stay within their own age group in order to develop social behaviors, physical coordination and dexterity and emotional maturity. They may lift them a level above their age group, but little more is done for them. Many gifted children are home schooled where they come from parents who were also intellectually gifted and learned from the lack of support they grew up with.

A serious problem I see for the future is intolerance of gifted people, or holding them back, limiting their independence and controlling what they can and can’t do.

For example, in the military, they are looking at developing combat personnel with extreme strength, fast reactions and reasoning. But what traditional military leader who has worked their way up the ranks is going to accept a junior ESI telling them what to do? This is highly unlikely and will cause all sorts of stress.

I can see more success in the fields of science, but if and when ESI’s are developed, however that takes place, there is going to be a serious ‘Us and Them’ situation taking place and this will lead to workforce and community problems between the enhanced humans and as Kunstler calls them, the ‘Norms’.

Living in New Zealand, we have an endemic Tall Poppy Syndrome attitude towards people who appear to be brighter than others, or more likely to over achieve. It is interesting that Wikipedia singles out the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being countries that particularly single out overachievers, unless it is in the area of sport.

Kiwis will celebrate intelligence after the event, but often it takes a little help along the way. Ernest Rutherford was credited with having a gifted teacher, who helped him on his way to splitting the atom.

Other Kiwi children with high intelligence have had different experiences. For example a child who was exhaustively tested for 2 weeks by the Psychology Department of Auckland University and told he had an IQ of in excess of 165, was frequently bullied by a teacher who was incensed with being corrected by a child of 11. According to one web site, Einstein’s IQ was 160 as was Bill Gates. Charles Darwin apparently ranked 165. This student, as a result of school zoning was sent to a school with a brilliant history of rugby success, but a very poor academic record and certainly no support for a child who was reading and understanding Kafka and cosmic string theory.

Another common experience in New Zealand colleges is where children have been  threatened by their lesser performing peers that they will be beaten up if their exam results are significantly higher. In many Kiwi schools, getting on the 1st 15 in rugby is a far more highly praised achievement, yet those with intellectual prowess could well be the ones to combine Kiwi ingenuity with intelligence to build the country up as a knowledge society.

I want to ponder this some more, because ESI’s are being ‘created’ as I write this and the problem is, as Kunstler identified: How can ESI’s and Norms coexist? It doesn’t take a super brain to known that human’s are damaging our planet. Humans are a wonder of nature and their ascendancy to governing and damaging the planet is perhaps a result of their poor EQ. Logic might suggest that humans are bad for the longevity of life on earth. An ESI might decide that the best way to deal with this situation is to control the norms or eliminate them.

Note to self, read Vernor Vinge and see what he has to say, because the common thread that comes to me so often is Science Fiction becoming reality.

Perhaps what we need is another disruption to deal with the disruption. In effect take away the threat of human singularity, while embracing it’s ability to do good, rather than making better combat warriors.

The last word today goes to the many New Zealand Members of Parliament who abused their privileges and ministerial credit cards in droves. It appears that they have been rorting the system for years, but over the last year, have been getting caught out on everything from $1,000 lunches to buying themselves things like a new set of golf clubs. Add that to listening to them on radio or watching them on Parliament TV, you would have to wonder if EQ is on their qualification set.

New Zealand gets TomTom Car Navigation on iPhone first!


OK, we were only ahead of Australia by a couple of hours, but we need everything we can get. Maybe we should give some iPhones to the All Blacks to help them find the try line in the TriNations and Bledisloe on Saturday, but that’s another story. As another aside, when I wrote TriNations, my spell checker suggested ‘urinations’. We’ll let that one be too.

So this morning I got a phone call letting me know that TomTom Car Navigation is now available with GeoSmart maps, for New Zealand in the iTunes Apps Store. This is awesome news. We’ve had some routing applications available in New Zealand, but nothing with any real accuracy. Also the other apps required that you download data frequently, which means additional cost to your Telco, whereas the iPhone application has all of the maps and Points of Interest you need on the device.

The application requires OS3.0 but as I understand it, as long as you have the OS version, you can run the application on any iPhone as well as iPod Touch if you purchase the TomTom Car Kit. Neither helps me as I only have an iPod Classic and a Blackberry, but I hope to remedy that situation soon.

The car kit itself seems very cool and I hope to get the chance to try one. The car kit includes the new TomTom mount, which I really like. It also incorporates a speaker and a microphone as well as an external GPS antenna which means that you don’t have to buy the very latest iPhone with GPS and Compass (although that would be my pick right now) if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch. The car kit also charges the iPhone when it is in the cradle.

Now the debate has begun in earnest. Why buy the iPhone App and Car Kit, when for the same price you can buy a dedicated PND (Portable Navigation Device) for the same price or maybe even less? This is a similar question to the one I get frequently, which is, what navigation unit or brand is the best? My answer is that ‘best’ is subjective. Different brands and different models currently have different features and the feature set is part of the argument that defines what is best for you.

TomTom and Navman both have new product ranges and different features relating to the user interface, functionality etc. Both brands in New Zealand have GeoSmart Maps (and if you don’t know by now, I work for GeoSmart) which are the most accurate for New Zealand. Why is not relevant for today’s blog. For example Navman now has AA Traffic and TomTom has IQ Routes (which are not the same concept, just an example).

Perhaps part of the answer is how often you travel. As I’ve said in previous blogs. your mobile is your ubiquitous device. You always have it with you. I always have car navigation in my car, but if I’m out of town (without my car) I don’t always take it with me.

The TomTom iPhone Car Kit solves another problem because you can use it as a hands free kit for your mobile. From 1 November, driving and talking on a handheld mobile will become illegal. You will either have to use a hands free kit of some sort or not use your phone at all in the car. I have stopped accepting or making any calls in the car, although I might accept important calls if I had a hands free kit. There is always a tension and anxiety around not answering calls on your mobile. People expect to be able to reach you, which causes an unpleasant feeling for both parties. So here’s a nice solution for your car.

So back to the application, this is essentially the same application as the one residing on the normal PND devices carried by your favourite consumer electronics stores. One cute thing is that on iPhone you can orient your phone to landscape or portrait and it will automatically adapt itself.

The nature of car navigation is changing and like most new technologies it is becoming increasingly difficult to predict what will happen in the near future. LBS on mobile is a given and if you search through my blogs, you will find several about mobile applications, car navigation on mobile will become common place and of course there are many situations where you would like guidance while walking, exercising, travelling in a taxi or on public transport. These are often scenarios where you want to travel light, but wouldn’t go without your mobile.

If you had asked me last year, where car navigation is going, I would have told you about ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), for which R&D has been funded by the European Governments. This was to develop systems that would reduce accidents in a number of ways, including monitoring vehicles positions in relation to the lane markings on roads, legal driving speeds, speed and distance of vehicles in front and behind you and much more. Many of the innovations for this are being developed and in some cases launched by brands as far apart as BMW and Nissan.

This system was originally going to be made mandatory in all new cars sold in Europe from 2012 and if this was still the case, it could have meant significantly reduced demand for PND’s. When I was in The Netherlands earlier this year, I was advised that the date had been dropped and the European Union were having a rethink on the subject, and particularly their ongoing commitment to funding it. They determined that it would take more than 10 years before the majority of vehicles in Europe would have this system in place and therefore the deadline wouldn’t have any immediate impact. A cynic would say that this would mean that current politicians would not get any credit within their career to justify spending time on it.

So now we have (I reiterate I haven’t tried it yet) a new system which will provide an all but identical experience to a PND on your iPhone. Of course TomTom isn’t the only mobile product available, but it is the first one being commercially sold in New Zealand. The new Android phones also have GPS and Compass and of course there are some very good Windows Mobile applications as well such as iGO8. Will there be a move away from PND’s? I doubt it, at least in the near future. Navman will certainly be hoping not.

There will be a camp that says a PND is the best device at being a PND. They said the same about PDA’s, but SmartPhones are now viable devices, even though I still have to reboot my new Blackberry Bold at least a couple of times a week. The future is going to be interesting. There are phone companies such as Nokia who showed their intention by purchasing Navteq and are planning converged devices that combine a mobile with car navigation. There are PND manufacturers who are going to be putting SIM Card slots into their car navigation devices.

The market will decide what the best is and the answer to all questions will be yes:)

I’ll leave the last word for today to TomTom.

The ANZAC Currency is approved


Yesterday evening agreement was reached between the NZ Prime Minster, John Key and the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to create a common currency. In a joint statement they said that this had been on the table for many years and successive governments had decided to see how the Euro fared as a shared currency. Given this success they have announced that within one year of today, there will be a new shared currency between Australia and New Zealand called the ANZAC Dollar, or ZAC for short.

There will be a commemorative ZAC Dollar silver coin minted next month as a collectors item. Given the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, whose soldiers fought side by side in 2 World Wars, the commemorative coin will be minted on two sides. One side will feature Sir Charles Upham, possibly the most decorated Kiwi, with a Victoria Cross & Bar, Greek Medal of Honor and African Star. The other side features Australian War Hero, Alfred Shout, who earned many citations including the Victoria Cross, Memorial Scroll and Kings Message.

The existing currencies of each country will be phased out over a 2 year period and from 25 April 2010, the date of the ANZAC Day commemmoration, either currency will be accepted in both countries until the new currency is released.

“This will herald a new era of a close relationship that has existed for over 200 years”, said John Key  from his Beehive Office in Wellington, where he quipped that he had of course not been around at that time. He went on to sayb that in these difficult economic times, a joint currency would have a stabilising effect on the local economy.