Monday, November 30, 2009

Electric trains for Auckland now seem assured

Last Wednesday, Auckland's long-awaited $1 billion rail electrification project was given Government funding approval for a fleet of of up to 114 electric multiple unit (EMU) railcars. Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced the Cabinet had approved $500 million for electric rolling stock to start running in 2013. That is on top of a commitment of $500 million the Government inherited from the previous Labour Government to electrify Auckland's railway tracks south to Papakura and west to Swanson.

Being able to accelerate and brake faster than the diesel units they will replace, the EMUs should allow 10-minute service frequencies and, naturally, cost less to run.
But the Auckland Regional Transport Authority may still have to lease up to 13 electric locomotives to pull existing refurbished British SA carriages along the southern line.

Although the Auckland Regional Council originally sought 140 railcars, Mr Joyce said the proposed units would be longer and the overall fleet capable of carrying an equivalent number of passengers. They are expected to be more cost-effective and efficient, although numbers and dimensions remain to be finalised. $45 million of "essential" spending will include lengthening station platforms.

Electrification of the Auckland rail network was first planned in the 1940s and came closest to being realised with the Rapid Rail plans from the mid-1970s, before the Muldoon government axed them in 1976.

According to Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee in an interview last year, “Electrification will build on the remarkable momentum achieved in Auckland rail over the past five years in which patronage has grown from just over 2 million to over 7 million passenger trips per year. We are set to overtake Wellington’s rail patronage of about 11.5 million passenger trips in the next two to three years.”

You can only wonder why railway projects in Auckland seem to take ages to be actioned. The Britomart station project is probably the best known example of a highly successful project which unfathomably took several years to happen. And these works will still leave a lot of the Auckland Region unserviced by rail. In our book the Railways of New Zealand: a journey through history we included a map of the proposed rapid rail system from the 1970s - that would have covered a much greater area including the North Shore and an airport link. Oh well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

20 years since our book "The Golden Era of Fiat Railcars in New Zealand"

To mark this occasion we have produced a computer mousepad using a scene (above) which was left out of that book, as it was received past the printing deadline. This is available for $15 in our shop. These railcars at different times served all provincial centres in New Zealand (except Westport and Alexandra) from the mid-1950s until they were withdrawn in 1978 - a true halcyon era in NZ rail passenger transport history. 

 And on the subject, why is it that a small number of railfans in NZ refuse to call them Fiats and instead insist they be called Drewrys? True, the order was placed with the Drewry Car Co. of England, but this was a sales organisation for most of its life and used sub-contractors to do the actual constructions. The bodies were built at Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Co. with the engines from the Fiat company of Italy, and hence the origin of the most popular unofficial name. NZR only ever referred to them as the articulated railcars, and therefore Drewry has no more legitimacy as a name than Fiat. 

Another railway example of a popular unofficial name resulting from only a part of the equipment used was the 'Oerlikons' of the London and North Western Railway. These electric multiple units were built by Metropolitan-Cammell in Birmingham, but the name came from their electrical equipment which, after the outbreak of WWI, had to come from Oerlikon in Switzerland rather than from Siemens in Germany. One of these sets is now in the British National Railway Museum in York.

Friday, November 27, 2009

30 years since the Mt Erebus disaster

On 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand Flight TE901, a DC-10, took off for a scenic flight from Auckland, proceeding over the South Island, the Auckland Islands, Baleny Islands and Cape Hallett to McMurdo in Antarctica. The flight would then return via Cape Hallett and Campbell Island to Christchurch and then Auckland. It got as far as the slopes of Mt Erebus (slightly higher than NZ's highest mountain of Mt Cook/Aoraki) on Ross Island in Antarctica.

What happened was not the subject of any controversy: Approaching Ross Island it appeared that the area which was approved by the operator for VMC [Visual Meteorological Condition] descents below 16,000 feet was obscured by cloud. The crew decided to descend in a clear area to the (true) North of Ross Island in two descending orbits. The aircraft's descent was continued to 1,500 feet on the flight planned track back toward Ross Island for its next turning point, Williams Field, McMurdo. The aircraft, however, was actually flying 1.5 miles East of its flight-planned track. Shortly after reaching 1,500 feet the Ground Proximity Warning System sounded. Go around power was applied but the aircraft struck the slope of Mt Erebus at 1,465 feet. The aircraft broke up and caught fire. All 257 on board were killed, making it New Zealand's worst recorded disaster, even though 57 of the victims were foreign nationals.

Why it happened was the subject of considerable controversy, however. It was quickly established that the crash had nothing to do with the aircraft. An accident investigation report by the Chief Inspector of aircraft accidents came out in May 1980. The probable cause according to this investigation was: "The decision of the captain to continue the flight at low level toward an area of poor surface and horizon definition when the crew was not certain of their position and the subsequent inability to detect the rising terrain which intercepted the aircraft's flight path."

Needless to say the pilots' families were not happy and following much public demand, the NZ Government announced a further one-man Royal Commission of Inquiry into the accident, to be performed by judge Justice Peter Mahon. In April 1981 he released his report. He concluded that: "The dominant cause of the disaster was the act of the airline in changing the computer track of the aircraft without telling the air crew." He continued: "In my opinion, therefore, the single dominant and effective cause of the disaster was the mistake made by those airline officials who programmed the aircraft to fly directly at Mt Erebus and omitted to tell the aircrew. That mistake is directly attributable, not so much to the persons who made it, but to the incompetent administrative airline procedures which made the mistake possible. In my opinion, neither Captain Collins nor First Officer Cassin nor the flight engineers made any error which contributed to the disaster, and were not responsible for its occurrence."

In his report, Mahon claimed airline executives and management engaged in a conspiracy to whitewash the enquiry, famously accusing them of "an orchestrated litany of lies" by covering up evidence and lying to investigators. Air New Zealand and the Civil Aviation Division were ordered to pay the costs of the inquiry, and the airline had to pay an extra fee of $150,000.

Air New Zealand appealed against Mahon's findings to the Court of Appeal, which set aside the costs order against the airline. Mahon in turn appealed to the Privy Council in London. His findings as to the cause of the accident, namely reprogramming of the aircraft's flight plan by the ground crew who then failed to inform the flight crew, had not been challenged before the Court of Appeal, and so were not challenged before the Privy Council. His conclusion that the crash was the result of the aircrew being misdirected as to their flight path, and was not due to pilot error, therefore remained. But the Board held that Mahon had acted in excess of his jurisdiction and in breach of natural justice by going on to make findings of a conspiracy by Air New Zealand to cover up the errors of the ground staff. In their judgment, delivered on 20 October 1983, the Law Lords dismissed Mahon's appeal and upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal.

Air New Zealand has long been known as an airline which has excellent front-line staff (flight and cabin crew etc) and atrocious management. On the cover of our book on the airline and its affilates' aircraft, we indirectly paid tribute to the victims of the disaster by putting one of Air NZ's DC-10's on the cover (but not the one which crashed). This book is available from our shop.

Post Office First Day Cover for the first flight to Antarctica on 15 February 1977.  The last was on 28 November 1979.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

another forgotten word

In response to our post on words that have come and gone, a customer has sent us this advert from 1956. Who now would have any idea what "flashmatic" meant? The remote control technology for TVs etc is of course standard nowadays.

As an aside, how does that beginning price of $US 150 compare now? About $US 1,192 according to the US inflation calculator (about the price of a full HD 42" flat screen model now) while the de-luxe model pictured at $US 400 is today the equivalent of $US 3,179.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A message for the corporate greedy

"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls" - Paul Simon

Sunday, November 22, 2009

100 Years of the Little Yellow Train

A notable survivor of the numerous narrow gauge trains that used to criss-cross France is the Petit Train Jaune or little yellow train which climbs into the Pyrénnées mountains in French Catalonia.

More than just a rail link from village to village, the line of Cerdanya is undoubtedly an integral part of the regional identity. The metre-gauge line connects Villefranche-de-Conflent and the international station of La Tour-de-Carol on the Spanish border, 62 km away, with 22 station halts. The track rises to almost 1,600 metres altitude and serves the highest station in France: Bolquère-Eyne. There are also impressive examples of railway engineering traversed, and just as impressive is that the 100 year old electric trains are still in use. Needless to say it is a popular tourist attraction, and the popularity has necessitated additional new trains, although the charme of the century old rolling stock can't be replaced.

Books on this topic are naturally available in the transpress on-line shop.

anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe grows

As the inevitable backlash to terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists within Europe, popular sentiment is hardening there against Muslims in general. The fiercest debate has been over the 'voile intégrale' or all-over female veil, which many find intimidating as well as an obvious disguise for criminals. The Dutch have already banned it in public and many French want to do the same.

The latest manifestation of anti-Islamic sentiment is the Volksabstimmung or referendum in Switzerland to stop the building of any more minaretts on mosques, due to be held on Sunday 29th November. Switzerland has about 400,000 Muslims, co-incidentally the same number as in the state of Texas, USA.
The feeling, however, is that the referendum will be defeated, not just because existing town planning laws regarding visual nuisance should be enough, but because the Swiss don't want to be seen intolerant of religious freedom.

The poster used by those in favour of the ban is shown as well as a photo of Muslim response.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The real Burt Munro

Most people have seen or at least know about the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" starring Anthony Hopkins as the amateur motorbike racer Burt Munro of Invercargill, who with his home-modified Indian motorbike broke speed records at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah in the early 1960s.

Roger Donaldson here presents an impressive collection of colour and monochrome photos of the real Burt Munro in the events that the movie recreated. As a bonus you get a DVD of extra footage from the movie and Donaldson's original documentary on Burt Munro.

The 288 page landscape A4 format book is available for $55 from the transpress on-line shop.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Will there be an Eric Watson Mask?

The most popular Halloween mask in the US this year was Bernie Madoff, the big time confidence trickster who cost US investors hundreds of millions of dollars and was sentenced to 150 years jail.

New Zealand's equivalent, Eric Watson, is still indulging his lavish lifestyle in the UK, San Tropez, etc, with his ill-gotten gains, as no one here has prosecuted him thanks to the toothless NZ Securities Commission.
In 1997 the American Securities and Exchange Commission came close when they found him guilty of insider trading, but let him off with a "cease and desist" warning. It is a real shame they didn't go further.

Meanwhile auditors KPMG reported on Tuesday that his Hanover Finance money-raising vehicle lost $283 million in the year to June.

And yesterday Allied Farmers threw their hat into the ring by offering to swap Watson and co-conspirator Mark Hotchin's Hanover debt for shares in themselves. Although seemingly farcical, it's unlikely Watson and Hotchin's victims will be any worse off from it, after they severely compromised their ability to chase Watson and Hotchin for it last December. Watch this space.

The Rangatira's bell comes back to Wellington

The Rangitira was one of New Zealand's most famous inter-island ferries and the last to carry passengers overnight between Wellington and Lyttelton in the 1970s. Needless to say, it has extensive coverage in the new transpress book Strait Crossing: the ferries of Cook Strait through time by Victor Young. One souvenir of the ship, the bell, is now home and will be on display in the Museum of Wellington City & Sea on Queens Wharf.

The following report is from the website as is the photo:


Twenty-four years [actually 23 years] after being spirited off the Rangatira while it was docked in Britain, the bell of the former Wellington ferry is to return home.

Its voyage has seen it secreted in a port, hung in British pubs and rung in a Scottish home. Now its "liberator" and "caretaker", former Wellington wharf policeman Ross Auld, has flown it back to New Zealand to donate it to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea.

Mr Auld, 54, who lives in the Bay of Islands between international diving contracts, acquired the bell from the Rangatira one night in 1985 at Falmouth, in southwest England.

He had remembered the ship, which sailed between Wellington and Lyttelton under the flag of the Union Steamship Company in the 1970s, from his days as a member of Wellington's wharf police in 1976.

Mr Auld was working on a salvage ship out of Falmouth in 1985 when he was made aware of the Rangatira's presence.

"I was with two Kiwi mates. When we came back in to port [Willie Bullock] said to me, 'There's the old Rangatira over there'.

"In the bars that night the locals told us the ship had been there for nine months and was up for sale.

"It had been down to the Falklands. My mates went on the boat the next day and had a look around. Willie came back and just happened to mention the Rangatira's bell was still on the boat."

Mr Auld boarded under cover of fog one night and hacksawed the 23-kilogram bell's fastenings from the ship's bow.

He wrapped it up and spirited it under the gangplank, where it lay for six months.

"One night my mates and I shifted the bell into the boot of our car. We souvenired it to ensure the bell returned to its true home in Wellington."

While in Mr Auld's care the bell had several homes. It spent 12 years in a pub in Essex before moving on to become the official pub bell in the Ship Inn in Johnshaven, Scotland.

"It hung there until about 2004. After that a mate looked after it for me in Aberdeen."

Mr Auld returned from London this week with the bell.

"It was the right time to bring it home. It's going to go to the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. It belongs to the people of Wellington. I'm coming down to Wellington to give it to the museum in the next couple of weeks."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

60 years of Wellington Trolley Buses

Strictly speaking, Wellington's first trolley bus was a single 20 kW one from 1924 which ran along the Hutt Road for a while. However, the main fleet of trolley buses began in 1949 with the arrival of 10 Crossley/Metropolitan Vickers 78 kW examples (another 4 of this model also went to New Plymouth). The first route they were used on was was Oriental Bay where they shared the road with trams for 15 months. After this they slowly took over from trams on all routes. Wellington is now the only New Zealand city which uses them, enhancing its clean-green image.

Those who want more information with nice pictures of Wellington trolley buses (along with trams and trains) will find them in the transpress book Wellington Transport Memories available in our shop, which features a cover painting by Wallace Trickett who also painted this montage.

One word from 60 years ago that came and went

Advertising is a big source of new words, but not all last the distance.

If you're interested in classic car books, check out our shop.

New words in circulation

Language is not and never has been static - new words come into use while other words drop out of use. Oxford University Press has produced a list of words that it is adding to its US dictionary, given below. But first is a list of some of the new words and terms from the earlier part of this decade. Those interested in more will find some on our webpage for The New Gobbledygook (our main website, not the shop site where it can be purchased) and of course a lot more are in the book itself.


BLAMESTORMING: Sitting in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.

SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, criticizes on everything, and then leaves.

CHAINSAW CONSULTANT: An outside expert brought in to reduce the employee headcount, leaving the top brass with clean hands.

CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.

IDEA HAMSTERS: People who always have their idea generators running.

MOUSE POTATO: The on-line, wired generation's answer to the couch potato.

PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm, and people's heads pop up over the walls to see what's going on.

SITCOMs: (Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage) What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.

SQUIRT THE BIRD: To transmit a signal to a satellite.

STARTER MARRIAGE: A short-lived first marriage that ends in divorce with no kids, no property and no regrets.

STRESS PUPPY: A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out.

SWIPED OUT: An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.

TOURISTS: People who take training classes just to get a vacation from their jobs. "We had three serious students in the class; the rest were just tourists."

TREEWARE: Hacker slang for documentation or other printed material.

XEROX SUBSIDY: Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one's workplace.

GOING POSTAL: Euphemism for being totally wacked out, and losing it. Makes reference to the unfortunate track record of postal employees who have snapped and gone on wild rampages.

ALPHA GEEK: The most knowledgeable, technically proficient person in an office or work group.

BROWNMOSIS: The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.

CHIPS & SALSA: Chips ? hardware, Salsa ? software. "Well, first we gotta figure out if the problem's in your chips or your salsa.

YUPPIE FOOD STAMPS: The ubiquitous $20 bills spewed out of ATMs everywhere. Often used when trying to split the bill after a meal, "We each owe $8, but all anybody's got are yuppie food stamps."

CLM - Career Limiting Move: Used among microserfs to describe ill-advised activity. Complaining about your boss while he or she is within earshot is a serious CLM.

ADMINISPHERE: The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

DILBERTED: To be exploited and oppressed by your boss. Derived from the experiences of Dilbert, the comic strip character. "I've been dilberted again --our boss revised the specs for the fourth time this week."

GENERICA: Features of the American landscape that are exactly the same no matter where one is, such as fast food joints, strip malls, subdivisions. Used as in "We were so lost in generica that I forgot what city we were in."

OHNOSECOND: That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you've just made a BIG mistake.

FLIGHT RISK: Used to describe employees who are suspected of planning to leave a company or department soon.

PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking an electronic device to get it to work again.

UNINSTALLED: Euphemism for being fired. Heard on the voice-mail of a vice president at a downsizing computer firm: "You have reached the number of an Uninstalled Vice President. Please dial our main number and ask the operator for assistance. *(Syn: decruitment.)


The 2009 Word of the Year is: unfriend.

UNFRIEND – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.
As in, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.”


HASHTAG – a # [hash] sign added to a word or phrase that enables Twitter users to search for tweets (postings on the Twitter site) that contain similarly tagged items and view thematic sets

INTEXTICATED – distracted because texting on a cellphone while driving a vehicle

NETBOOK – a small, very portable laptop computer with limited memory

PAYWALL – a way of blocking access to a part of a website which is only available to paying subscribers

SEXTING – the sending of sexually explicit texts and pictures by cellphone


FREEMIUM – a business model in which some basic services are provided for free, with the aim of enticing users to pay for additional, premium features or content

FUNEMPLOYED – taking advantage of one’s newly unemployed status to have fun or pursue other interests

ZOMBIE BANK – a financial institution whose liabilities are greater than its assets, but which continues to operate because of government support

Politics and Current Affairs

ARDI – (Ardipithecus ramidus) oldest known hominid, discovered in Ethiopia during the 1990s and announced to the public in 2009

BIRTHER – a conspiracy theorist who challenges President Obama’s birth certificate

CHOICE MOM – a person who chooses to be a single mother

DEATH PANEL – a theoretical body that determines which patients deserve to live, when care is rationed

TEABAGGER - a person, who protests President Obama’s tax policies and stimulus package, often through local demonstrations known as “Tea Party” protests (in allusion to the Boston Tea Party of 1773)


BROWN STATE – a US state that does not have strict environmental regulations

GREEN STATE – a US state that has strict environmental regulations

ECOTOWN - a town built and run on eco-friendly principles

Novelty Words

DELEB – a dead celebrity

TRAMP STAMP – a tattoo on the lower back, usually on a woman

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whitcoulls, Borders go from bad to worse

Reports are that Whitcoulls, Borders and Angus & Robertson, which now go under the collective title of REDgroup and run out of a glass tower in Exhibition Street in Melbourne, Awstrylia, have a new CEO coming from a supermarket background, while the Category Manager for New Zealand book stocks has been let go and replaced with a General catagory manager.

You can imagine the following conversation between the new appointees:

CEO: "I was looking at the feegures, mate. Strewth, we don't sell many books nowadays do we?

Category Manager: Books, nah, Who reads them? Sheesh, mate, I haven't read a book since I left schooul.

Me neether, I just play with me Play Station.

Do you play with it as well as or instead of?

Hah, funny, mate. What about New Zilund?

Nah, they're not interested in books, eether. They just root sheep over there don't they?

Exactly, mate. I don't know why these publishers over there think Kiwis are interested in reading, wasting time with their submissions.

Yeah, beats me. I theenk we should take the books out and put in sweets and beer.

Good theenking, mate. Hey, why not grab a V6 slab and we'll have a chat about the footy?

Kingston Flyer auction details announced

The text of the auctioneer's press release follows. While it is unlikely that the train will be running this summer/autumn season, hopefully it will be back in action next year as it is certainly New Zealand's most iconic vintage steam train operation. Those interested in the transpress book The Kingston Flyer Line: a history by Tony Hurst will find it in our on-line shop.

Full Steam Ahead For Kingston Flyer Tender Process

Monday, 16 November 2009, 3:29 pm
Press Release: Bayleys

The assets of Kingston Acquisitions Limited which owned the historic Kingston Flyer are now on the market in a receivership sale.
Kingston Acquisitions Limited was formerly headed up by property developer Dan McEwan. The company’s assets include two highly collectable steam trains towing up to seven fully refurbished carriages, as well as extensive tracts of development land around the township of Kingston, 35 kilometres south of Queenstown.

The Kingston Flyer train is an iconic part of New Zealand’s pioneering and rail history - embracing all the romance and mystique of the steam engine era.
Dating back to the early settler days of the South Island gold rush, the Flyer – rumoured to be so-named because of the sensation passengers got as it ‘flew’ along the tracks – initially ran between Invercargill and Kingston.
Since the early 1980s, the train has operated as a summer tourist service on 14 kilometres of track between Fairlight and Kingston in Southland
The train, track, station, associated buildings and nearly 80 hectares of surrounding land are being taken to tender by leading real estate company Bayleys Queenstown on behalf Prudential Mortgage Nominees Limited. The announcement of the mortgagee sale brings to a head speculation and uncertainty that has surrounded the Kingston Flyer since it ceased operating three months ago.
Bayleys Queenstown sales consultant Barry Robertson said the offering encompasses a sizeable tract of land that was destined for a comprehensive commercial and residential development.
“There are 13 parcels of land up for tender with some of the titles linked to the steam train - including a station and tavern, storage shed, and the railway corridor to Fairlight and Fairlight Station. Other titles include residential sections and development blocks, one of which has consent for a 15-lot subdivision,” Mr Robertson said.
“The mortgagee is willing to look at offers for the entire package, – including the rolling stock and plant. To say that opportunities like this come up once in a lifetime is an understatement… how often do you get the opportunity to purchase a fully operational vintage railway operation with all the services and infrastructure?”
Interest for the Flyer assets is expected to include both train enthusiasts and local /national tourism companies. Other property assets will appeal to a wide range of potential home owners, investors and developers.
The two locomotives in the Kingston Flyer sale – the Ab 778 which entered service in 1925 and the Ab 795 which started service in 1927 – are Pacific class locomotives, made in New Zealand. The 778 was built at the New Zealand Railways’ Addington, Christchurch yards while the 795 was built at the Railways’ yards in Hillside, Dunedin. The Ab 795 once pulled the New Zealand Royal Train and both are among the last Ab class coal-fired locomotives still functional today.
Chugging behind are seven 1898-vintage steam-heated wooden carriages - including passenger cars and kitchen van - featuring wood panelling, leather seats and brass trims. The Kingston Flyer rolling stock and railway are included in the Queenstown Lakes District Plan inventory of protected features.
“There is a lot of sentimentality around the Kingston Flyer and the place that it has cemented in the hearts and minds of people down here. We are very mindful of that, and hope that by offering it for tender, the ultimate outcome may be that it will be running again in due course,” says Mr Robertson.
Queenstown Lakes District mayor Clive Geddes has previously said that while the council “can’t write cheques, we will ensure that it (the train) stays in the district, and will provide every little bit of help we can to any prospective purchaser.”

Stopping those telemarketers

Nearly everybody is familiar with the scenario: you have sat down to your evening meal and the phone rings. On the other end is someone with an Indian or Philipino accent: "Good evening sir, we have got great deal for you on the Gold Coast. For only one hundred and fifty dollars you can stay a week in any apartment you choose..." Sometimes what is being sold is legitimate and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is reconnaissance before the approach: "We are Acme Research and we are doing a survey on energy companies ... what don't you like about your present energy company?" You may say something like "they don't offer Fly Buys points". A week later: "Good evening, we are XY Energy and we have got great deal with Fly Buys points for our customers..." People hustling on commission for charities was common, but after word spread that only about 10c in the dollar went to the charities and the rest to the hustlers, those calls diminished.

Business to business salesmen play an important part in the economy but mass consumer telemarketing using cheap third world labour has to stop. One way to avoid it may be to have an unlisted number although these operators probably have computers dialing every number and see who answers. The Ministry of Consumer Affairs needs to maintain a mandatory "do not call" list which every telemarketing operation needs to consult and when they don't they or their hirers are committing an offence. That won't stop those based in other countries but people will automatically know (if they don't realise it already) that these are scams.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unfortunately we don't have this manual in stock

We have other manuals but not this one.

Would a "London Review of Books" work here?

This is a question that one of our customers raised in response to our post on a NZ equivalent to the Danish publishers on-line magazine.

The London Review of Books is a prestigious literary magazine known for fresh thinking on fresh subjects, and has very high editorial standards.

The idea for a NZ equivalent is appealing but there are problems with it. The obvious one is that not many books published here measure up to the standard of what is in the LRB and, more importantly, there are even fewer book reviewers who do. The main factor is undoubtedly that the market in NZ is only one fifteenth that of the UK and if you factor in the market in Ireland and North America which is also reached (to a lesser extent) by the LRB, then the economics here are not favourable. One of the best attempts but which still failed was the Quote Unquote magazine. One which still exists but is primarily orientated towards art is Landfall and its literary content is directly allied to Otago University Press.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New encyclopedia on New Zealand and the Sea

Instigated by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and published by David Bateman, this book contains articles written by Ministry scholars covering the full gamut of topics involving the sea that totally surrounds New Zealand - the challenges of maritime transport in both pre- and post-European times, harvesting seafood both commercially and recreationally, the coast, including navigation and map making, ports, shipbuilding (and yes, beach culture) - and seawater sport.

The cover is fairly insipid as are the wallpaper type photos used in introductory pages (one can't help but contemplate what a renowned photographer like Philip Plisson of France could have done) but once you're past them, there are many interesting and enjoyable illustrations from both history and the present, all expertly arranged by Bateman's art team.

It is unlikely that people who pick the book up will be interested in everything in it, but there is plenty to appeal to those who follow the history of sea vessels and shipping. The endmatter contains a comprehensive list of further reading on each topic, although some important volumes are notably omitted.
The book is available for $69 from the transpress shop.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Watson and Hotchin's victims realise they've been had

Last night on TVNZ's Close Up program shareholder's association chief Bruce Shepherd explained what was behind the latest announcement by Hanover Finance's directors that the 100% payout of principal over 5 years they promised last December, when their creditors agreed to not put the company into liquidation, has suddenly been reduced to 70% : the company's two shyster owners Eric Watson and Mark Hotchin haven't put in the $96 million they promised they would. $96 mil as a percentage of the $527 mil Watson and Hotchin owe people? - oops, that's 18 cents in the dollar gone. The other 12 cents? Well, they will want their directors fees and dividends of course (Watson and Hotchin siphoned $91 million out of depositors' funds in the 2 previous years) - hey, they need to keep throwing their million dollar parties.

A pithy but no doubt accurate comment on the National Business Review website is reproduced below. A recent picture of Watson who now lives in London is above.


From the outset, the DRP [debt restructuring plan] sounded like nothing more than a feel-good plan to mollify investors. 100's of poor trusting buggers gathered at various spiffy locations around NZ to listen to Hotchin waffle on about how much he cared about them. Uh-huh! Watson (who never fronts up for anything) & Hotchin never intended to part with more than a couple of dribbles anyway, before throwing up their hands and saying "sorry, guys, the coffers are empty". Now they've been delivered a bonus in the form of a market that's refusing to stabilize (or so Hanover would have everyone believe!), so it almost sounds reasonable that they can't deliver on their original promise. The adjustment of that original 100c down to 70 (and how come United get an extra 20c?) is just cushioning the blow when they finally spit the dummy and "admit" that they're unable to pay out any more at all. Hanover should have been wound up, and whatever money at that time made available to investors. Even if it was 50c, which Hotchin said would not be a great outcome for investors. No? A darn site better than 6!! By allowing Hanover to operate for another 9 months or so, that's given them time to squirrel more cash away, and cooking the books even further before winding up in their own good time. If they miss 2 payments to investors, the company gets wound up, so does anyone want to guess how many more payments will be made? The government should have stepped in yonks ago and sorted this whole mess out, but they didn't and probably never will. And that's a disgrace! The investors were hoodwinked by Hotchins' smooth patter, and now they're suffering as a result of that and many lives have been ruined. That's another disgrace! All in all, it's a pretty disgraceful episode in NZ's history.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

that old thorny topic - Copyright

The episode of Fair Go screened on 11 November dealt with the issue of who owns copyright in photos. The clip is viewable here but to summarize: one side of it involved a woman who said she had taken a photo of a rainbow over a rural road, took it into a photo retailer for developing and later found it all over the internet. The other involved parents who didn't realise that the contract they signed with a photographic studio to take pictures of their kids gave the studio the copyright, allowing them to enter the photo in competitions, put them in galleries, sell them to advertising agencies etc.

One important fact that Facebook users are unaware of is that usage rights to all photos uploaded there becomes those of Facebook.

Up until 1994 NZ had a law which while not exactly all-encompassing, was at least easy to understand. The 1994 Act which replaced it, based obviously on the UK Act of 1988, is inconsistent, confusing and frankly stupid. Why for example, should the term of copyright for moving pictures be 50 years but for still pictures 75 years (where a person as opposed to a legal entity can be identified as the author under section 94). What then about stills from a movie? There are lots more examples. It also requires the author etc "must assert his moral right" - like how, shout it out from the top of the Beehive? In books some publishers have since been saying things like "[the author] asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work in terms of the Copyright Act..." In fact the word "copyright" and "all rights reserved" is all you need to say.

Section 3 of the NZ Act contains a raft of "acts permitted in relation to copyright works", for example including other people's photos in a blog like this "for the purpose of reporting current events" is permitted.

Needless to say it is a goldmine for lawyers (as if they need another one to get rich from) and given the impunity with which the web exploits anything, a lawyer is last thing you want to waste money on. When it came to photos, in the old days you could reasonably prove you owned the copyright by being able to produce the original slide or negative. Nowadays with digital photography you can't do that.

Have other people lifted our text without asking?  Oh yes, a number of times.  For example the text on this webpage is a straight unacknowledged lift from our book On the Trans-Alpine Trail - and they didn't bother to ask us first.  But we haven't bothered to pursue it.

Ultimately the issue becomes one of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." People primarily like to be acknowledged for their work, those who take a mercenary attitude to things are in a small minority, so take the trouble to give credit where it is due.

After 6 years of this blog with about 25,000 pictures on here we have had in that time 7 complaints from people who complained that we hadn't acknowledged authorship of their photo, which we then added (in one case the authorship credit wanted was a login code of letters and numerals), and 4 who very rudely demanded that their photos be deleted, which we did. Quite why they put them on public photo sharing sites in the first place is beyond us, and they seemed unaware that huge volumes of pictures are disseminated every day on newsgroups, probably including most if not all of theirs.  Newsgroups over the last 19 years have been a source for quite a few of the photos on here, but if we don't know who took them, then we can't state that. Obvious?

Time for an on-line NZ book magazine

In recent years the amount of column space devoted by the print media in NZ to book reviews has fallen dramatically and as a result the chances of getting your book reviewed have fallen. And even when they are reviewed it is often not by someone interested in being insightful and objective; too often it is instead a chance for the 'reviewer' to show how conceited and egoistical they are. There are some particularly bad examples, but for now we are not going to name names!
One answer to this problem is to do what Danish publishers have done and create an on-line book magazine, the first issue of which is here.
As well as articles about each book, authors can put audio and video clips on the page for that book, and there are plenty of nice pictures.
Individual publishers and authors here have their own blogs (like this one), but it wouldn't replace them and being a showcase for the industry as a whole would attract a much greater following from the book buying public.

Remembrance Day

In New Zealand and Australia ANZAC Day (25 April) is the day reserved for commemoration of the countries' military sacrifices, but in Britain, France and Belgium it is 11 November, as WWI ended that day in 1918. In North America 11 November is Veterans Day.
New Zealand's losses in WWI were much higher than in WWII, despite having to also fight the Japanese in WWII, as were those of Australia, Britain and France - mainly due to the stupidity of the generals in charge. The ANZAC involvement at Gallipoli in Turkey in 1915 was a totally futile exercise which squandered many lives. The symbol of remembrance - the poppy - is very apt as its prolific growth where the fighting took place in France and Belgium can't help but remind of the copious bloodshed which took place there. Until WWI, the cult of heroic courage in battle was something that was generally cherished. That feeling was muted after WWI, in Britain and France at least, and after WWII, pretty much everywhere in Europe.
It is of course unlikely that wars will ever cease as lunatics take charge in less developed countries, and we need armed forces for that reason, but war is never nice, only horrible.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Railways will be good business

As a rebuff to the stupidity of New Zealand Treasury officials, as expressed in the letter by Alan Waller reproduced in our 28 October post, American billionaire investor Warren Buffett will pay $26 billion to buy out Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp in a bet that the America's largest rail company is poised to benefit from a recovering U.S. economy.

The deal announced Tuesday, Buffett's biggest-ever acquisition, also represents a bet on coal and new interest in a storied but highly cyclical American industry that has tried to reinvent itself by emphasizing its ability to move goods cheaply and efficiently.

The deal was priced at a premium of 31.5 percent over BNSF's closing stock price on Monday and values the railroad at $34 billion, or 18 times estimated 2010 earnings. BNSF shares jumped 28 percent in afternoon trading; other U.S. and Canadian rail shares also rose.

"It's an all-in wager on the economic future of the United States," Buffett, who has been building up his rail holdings for several years, said in a statement. "I love these bets."

So much then for the idiotic thinking of people like Mr Waller (or should it be Wally?).

Books on the history of Burlington Northern Santa Fe (separate companies until 1997) are available from our on-line shop.

Monday, November 2, 2009

20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall

In 1986 this writer saw among the graffiti on the west side of the Berlin Wall around the Brandenburg Gate one which said "Un jour le mur tombera", French for "One day the wall will fall". At the time this didn't seem likely for a long time, but it happened 3 years later on the night of 9 November.

The Berlin Wall and the inter-German border represented all that was ugly about the Communist world that lay on the other side of it: barbed wire, mines, automatic firing devices, watchtowers with armed guards with orders to shoot on sight - the sort of fortifications you expect around a prison and that is exactly what it was, designed to prevent "free socialist workers" escaping to the slavery of the capitalist west. With the fall of the wall also fell the repressive Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. The prison fortifications also extended along the Czechoslovak and Hungarian borders, but it was the inter-German one where the tragic nature of it was so poignant.

It also made for some daring escape attempts, some of which have been turned into films and a selection of books on the subject is available from our shop.

Time for more driver education

Yesterday it became illegal for people in New Zealand to use a cellphone while driving, for reasons that are obvious. Ironically, but not too surprisingly, the next item on the evening news was about a 16 year old drunk girl driving boozed mates in a van the previous night, who lost control on a bridge and crashed into an oncoming car.

New Zealand must have one of the slackest driver's licence test standards in the developed world, and you can't help wonder how many would have failed if they had to pass the same exacting tests as do applicants in Switzerland, for example.

One of our customers was hit in her car by an unskilled trunk driver, out of control after his footbrake didn't work and he didn't know that it needed to be pumped. How did this person manage to pass a truck licence?

It is very clear that many drivers need educating and the best way to do that is to make it compulsory to attend a Defensive Driving Course in their licence category at least once every 10 years. With ever increasing traffic on the roads - thanks to a run down railway system and poor public transport - the roads are becoming increasingly dangerous.