Monday, August 30, 2010

Micheal Jones's book on the Leningrad siege now in softback

Although there are lots of interesting books available on the Eastern Front of Europe during WW2, Michael Jones's account of the blockade of Leningrad (St Petersburg) is one of the most riveting. It was released in hardback two years ago and now a half price paperback is available.

Because of the high casualties suffered by German troops following their capture of Kiev when buildings were mined or timebombed by the retreating Soviets, Hitler resolved that the experience would not be repeated with Leningrad - instead it would be starved into submission. As a result in September 1941 the Wehrmacht and their Finnish allies blockaded the city, bombed and cut off its food supplies while maintaining daily bombardments of the city. The ineptitude of the Red Army whose leading talent had been victims of Stalin's blood purges of the 1930s considerably helped the Germans.

Jones's view, backed with quotes, is that Hitler planned to starve the entire city of 2.5 million to death, no doubt influenced by Stalin's deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians over 1932-33.

For 872 days the blockade lasted, during which over 1 million inhabitants died (as is typical of communist regimes, the official death toll the Soviet government gave of 632,000 is now considered to be less than half the real figure). As well as the course of events, the experiences and anecdotes of inhabitants is presented in stark quotations from diaries and post-war interviews.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The first of the new monster trucks is here

This last week saw the first of the new breed of monster trucks appear - the new 22-metre truck-and-trailer unit with all of 10 axles was launched in Auckland before being driven with its maiden load to the Palmerston North home base of Booths Transport, which has spent about $500,000 on it.

But although it will be capable of carrying up to 53 tonnes under a controversial new permit system introduced by the Government in May, it will be restricted to a standard maximum weight of 44 tonnes on roads where bridges and other structures have yet to be strengthened to take the extra loads. These include Auckland's Southern Motorway, on which the Transport Agency needs to conduct assessments of 11 structures such as bridges over the Tamaki River and Puhinui Stream to see if they need upgrading.

Wait a minute - aren't Auckland and Palmerston North also connected by the North Island Main Trunk railway line? Yes they are. Isn't rail transport 18 times more fuel efficent than road? Right again. So why do we need these road smashing machines then - could it be that there is something wrong with the amount that the trucking industry pays for road use?

The same question arises over the government's plans to close a sizeable proportion of the North Island railway network. Secondary lines such as Napier to Gisborne, Masterton to Woodville, Stratford to Okahukura, and anything north of Helensville will soon be history.

No doubt this will please the trucking industry - no more competition - but motorists won't be so thrilled when they realise how much more congestion, both from the number of trucks and the frequency of roadworks to fix the smashed up roads, they are going to face.

Campaign for Better Transport spokesman Jon Reeves is unimpressed, saying: "Although you can always paint things to look nice ... they are not as efficient as rail and they will be slower going up hills, making it a problem for other motorists."

Mr Booth, however, said the new truck would meet the most modern emission standards and, even before getting permits to carry extra weight, would give greater efficiency by moving 13 per cent more freight by volume than standard length 20 metre truck-and-trailer units.

Apart from the truck drivers' wages, it is quite hard to see how most other costs per truck will diminish as everything else is surely proportional.

Should writers pay for reviews?

This is the intriguing title of this GalleyCat item.

Well, after 25 years in the business we have seen all sorts of press reviews and all sorts of reviewers. They come in three categories:

A. The Good
Objective, impartial, informative, point out positive aspects as well as some shortcomings. Leave the reader with a good sense of the contents.

B. The Bad
Focus on certain things of interest to the reviewer and disregard the rest, leaves the reader knowing the title, the author, the publisher and a little bit about the subject of the book - and that's all.

C. The Ugly
These fall into into two sub-categories:
1. The glowing praise throughout, usually written by someone who is a mate of the author
2. The condemnation, put-down, pan throughout - written by someone who thinks he/she is the expert on the subject and how dare this unworthy author have the temerity to write a book, etc. Sometimes such a reviewer has tried and failed to write a book themselves, usually it is a 'would be if I could be, but never will be'.

Debate has existed in publishing circles about whether there is a such a thing as a bad review. After all the motives of the C category reviewers are fairly transparent, and both will help generate interest in the book. Sometimes in their haste to condemn, category C2 reviewers make mistakes of their own, which you can then write a letter to the editor about - and letters to editor are the most read part of a magazine or newspaper.

If book reviews were paid for, there would probably be more of them - the number that appear in the press has been steadily falling in recent years, but would the editors ensure that their reviewers produced category A work? Somehow one is inclined to doubt it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

that's cold

On this day in 1960 at the Soviet Vostok-Station in the East of Antarctica a temperature of −88,3 °C was recorded, the up to then lowest air temperature recorded on Earth.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New book on vintage tramway art

It will seem quaint to most that the tramways felt the need to advertise for patronage in the 1920 and 1930s - was this not their golden age when few people had cars, buses were elementary, and people needed to use the trams as a routine matter?

This new 128 page hardcover book deals with the advertising by the London County Council over the years from 1922 to 1933, a subject that has hitherto been largely ignored and presents over 200 artwork examples reproduced in full colour, with information about each one. Most of posters concerned places you could go to on the trams, rather than the experience of travelling on them as such, but the cover illustration provides a nice period feel. It is more a book for historic commercial art fans than tramway fans, but both should enjoy it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Durable - a contemporary buzzword in France

Durable is French for sustainable, and used in France as it is in New Zealand.

For more "nowisms", see Peter Isaacs' entertaining dictionary The New Gobbledygook, available at good bookshops, and in our online shop.

Comfort for booklovers in Luleå

No, this is not a public library, but the lounge of the Comfort Hotel in Luleå, Sweden, where one of our directors stayed recently. The books covered a complete range of vintages with many from the early part of the 20th century. Most were in Swedish as is to be expected, with some in other languages.

It is good to see hotels like this allocating lounge space for people to read books.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eric Watson's victims now unlikely to get any further payout

With the news that Allied Nationwide Finance has gone into receivership the likelihood now seems remote that those who were seduced into putting money into Eric Watson's investor scamming vehicle Hanover Finance (co-owned with Mark Hotchin) will receive any further payouts.

Last November Allied Farmers put up a deal to exchange shares in itself for Watson/Hotchin's toxic assets - at the time these were valued at $396 million. The latest valuation puts their worth at only about a quarter this. Allied Farmers shares at the time were selling around 20c on the sharemarket, the last sales have been at 2.5c.

At the time we said it was a case of swapping the crooks for the hopeless and this has sadly proved to be. Most depositors in ANF should get their money back under the Crown deposit guarantee which (fortunately) had yet to reach its expiry on 12 October. However, victims of Watson and Hotchin's Hanover scam won't be so lucky. If the Allied Farmers shares have any residual value at the conclusion of the receivership, it is highly unlikely to be any more than the 2.5 cents mentioned above, and the victims are thus looking at a 90% write-off.

Meantime Watson and Hotchin naturally continue their lavish lifestyles in multi-million dollar mansions around the world, including million dollar parties complete with the usual trappings of glitz and glamorous sex partners.

If you see the person on the left of the above photo, stay clear of him, but inform the business media and the criminal police.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Choices in the Australian election

Australia has long been called the lucky country and to most outside observers that is the case. The Australian outback is full of minerals and elements the world wants, and as few people live in the harsh, sparcely vegetated environment no-one cares if they are strip-mined on the surface. The country represents about 75% of the world's gold production and has abundant iron ore, zinc, lead, bauxite, and coal, not to mention opals.

Politics there is mainly about how the proceeds from the booty is shared among the relatively small population and as usual there is the choice between left and right wing views on that. However, both sides seem to make policy on the hoof, generally in an attempt to outdo each other's promises and bribes. Politicians tend to be more colourful than in NZ and often are good entertainment value.

Australia's first female Prime Minister, red-haired Julia Gillard, who ousted Kevin Rudd in the June coup, wants endorsement from the country and no doubt saw the pugnacious Tony Abbott as an election opponent she could beat. She is probably correct; the fact that Australia has stayed out of recession - despite rather than because of the governments policies - gives her a good chance. The country's third party, the Greens, polled 7.8% in the last election of November 2007 and although this did not translate into any seats under the single member preferential electoral system, their sympathies and thus preferences are with the Labor party and not the Liberal/National coalition.


With 78.1% of votes counted, the Greens had lifted their share of the primary vote to 11.5% at the expense of Labor. Out of 150 seats in the parliament the right wing Coalition is predicted to finish with 70 seats compared to Labor's 72, the Greens 1, and 3 Independents. Labor can count on the support of the Greens but not the Independents.

Freelance writing and photography payrates no longer worthwhile

This is the situation facing people in these two professions nowadays, according to American journo and editor Jules Older, and now psychology academic at the University of Otago, interviewed on Radio NZ on 17 August. Archived audio file.

In the past if you knew your subject you could make an adequate living from both, but not nowadays: pay rates offered - from small publishers to the likes of Fairfax and ACP - are pathetic. (This though is probably self-defeating for the likes of Fairfax - the old saying is "if you pay peanuts you'll get monkeys". Who wants to read pieces written by monkeys?)

A website for journalists in this situation.

For book authors and illustrators the same financial straits apply, but here few have any illusion that they are going to make real money from their book, the motivation for most is different.

Some wisdom from military manuals

'If the enemy is in range, so are you.' - Infantry Journal -


'It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed.' - US Air Force Manual -


'Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword, obviously never encountered automatic weapons.' - General MacArthur -


'You, you, and you ... panic. The rest of you, come with me.' - US Marine Corp Gunnery Sgt. -


'Tracers work both ways.' - US Army Ordnance Manual -


'Five second fuses only last three seconds.' - Infantry Journal -


The three most useless things in aviation are: Fuel in the bowser; Runway behind you; and Air above you. - Basic Flight Training Manual -


'Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once.' - Maritime Ops Manual -


'Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do.' - Anonymous Marine Recruit -


'If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him.' - USAF Ammo Troop -


'Yea, Though I Fly Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I Shall Fear No Evil. For I am at 50,000 Feet and Climbing.' - Sign over SR71 Wing Ops -


'You've never been lost until you've been lost at Mach 3.' - Paul F. Crickmore (SR71 test pilot) -


'The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire.' - Anonymous Author -


'If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage it has to be a helicopter -- and therefore, unsafe.' - Fixed Wing Pilot -


'When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash.' - Multi-Engine Training Manual -


'Without ammunition, the USAF is just an expensive flying club.' - Anonymous Author -


'If you hear me yell, "Eject, Eject, Eject!", the last two will be echos.' If you stop to ask "Why?", you'll be talking to yourself, because you're the pilot.' - Pre-flight Briefing from a 104 Pilot-


'What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but If ATC screws up ..... the pilot dies.' - Sign over Control Tower Door-


'Never trade luck for skill.' - Anonymous -


The three most common expressions (or famous last words) in military aviation are: 'Did you feel that?', 'What's that noise?' and 'Oh S...!' or (appended from the Arkansas Air National Guard): "Hold my beer and watch this!" - Anonymous Authors -


'Airspeed, altitude and brains. Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.' - Basic Flight Training Manual -


'Mankind has a perfect record in aviation - we have never left one up there!' - Anonymous Author -


'Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it.' - Emergency Checklist -


'The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you.' - Attributed to Max Stanley (Northrop test pilot) -


'There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime.' - Sign over Squadron Ops Desk at Davis-Montham AFB, Arizona -


'If something hasn't broken on your helicopter, it's about to.' - Sign over Carrier Group Operations Desk -


'You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal.' - Lead-in Fighter Training Manual -

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whatever happened to Ian Lewis?

Those who have our books The Golden Era of Fiat Railcars in NZ and The Railways of NZ: A journey through history (first edition) may have wondered what happened to Ian Lewis, the artist who painted the cover illustrations.

After living in New Zealand for 27 years, he returned to his homeland of Australia in 1994 and went to the outback mining town of Broken Hill, where he continued painting. He now exhibits with partner artist Wendy Martin at the Bush 'n' Beyond Gallery at 4 Argent Street, Broken Hill.

The latest issue of the Broken Hill tourist magazine features one of Ian's paintings.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Liberec library

Those who visit the Czech Republic will be impressed with the rapid progress it has made in rejeuvenating its shabby and decrepit infrastructure from communist days, particularly when compared to neighbouring Poland.

One of the impressive new buildings in the town of Liberec (also known as Reichenberg) is the large new library; it is good to see this amount of space allocated for people to find books.

The annex on the left has Hebrew writing on it; this was the site of the former synagogue of the town, destroyed by the Nazis in their Kristalnacht pogrom in November 1938.

NZ Post hikes postage rates

If the increase in the Government's GST (grab, snatch and take) on 1 October wasn't bad enough, NZ Post has announced big increases in postage rates to take effect on the same day.

Postage for a Standard Post medium letter for delivery in New Zealand jumps 20% by 10 cents to 60 cents (although if you think this is bad, spare a thought for those in Denmark who now have to pay 7.75 Kroner [about $1.90] for the same thing).

The postage for larger letter sizes for delivery in New Zealand and by FastPost will also increase.

Postal Services boss Peter Fenton said the increase in domestic postage was one of the measures needed to maintain the postal network in the face of rising costs, increasing delivery points and declining mail volumes.

"In the past five years, mail volumes have declined by over 100 million to 887 million items – that's a drop of over 10%. In the same period, the number of places we deliver to has risen by more than 160,000 to almost 1.9 million addresses. So we are delivering 20% less mail per mailbox than we did just three years ago," Mr Fenton said.

Well, how much more will the volumes decline with these increases?

Details of all postage and other changes at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Germany in early colour photos

It may come as a surprise to some that colour photography goes back over a hundred years. The history of it is too long to do justice to it here, but is summarised in this recent book which presents a selection of postcard style pictures of Germany taken by various people from the early 1900s to the end of WW2.

The 380 photos on 224 A4 size pages cover a range of themes, some of which can still be experienced by today's tourists, and others which are now dated by various factors, particularly because the particular building was destroyed in the bombing raids of WW2. Other buildings in the eastern zone which were partly damaged and could have been restored, such as palaces and churches, were subsequently demolished by the communists for ideological reasons.

The book confines its coverage to Germany in its present borders and omits Silesia (Schlesien), Pommerania (Pommern) and East Prussia (Ost-Preussen) although the first is the theme of a separate small book.

Don't expect today's pin sharp images, but the softer romantic feel of a past world when life was simpler and less hurried.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Oskar Schindler Museum opens in Krakow

This view shows the building before conversion.
The building after conversion seen in August 2010 (Geoff Churchman)
Fans of the movie Schindler's List can now visit the actual enamel factory - Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik - he set up in 1939 in Krakow, Poland, which opened as a museum few weeks ago.

It features not only exhibits of Schindler and his factory, as well as the nearby Plaszow work camp overseen by the odious Kommandant Amon Gört, but also of Krakow before and during the Nazi occupation as it was for all residents, not just jews.

Those who visit this great old city, which unlike Warsaw survived WW2 largely intact, should take the time to visit this fascinating museum.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

First Matangi EMU for Wellington rolled out

The first of new electric trains for the Wellington region, named "Matangi" type, was presented for the cameras in Wellington during this past week.

They (hopefully) will provide more reliable and efficient commuter services for the Wellington region than the 28 year old Hungarian trains which currently dominate the scene, although the new units are intended to replace the even older English Electric units from the early 1950s.

At the same time the double tracking from McKays Crossing (north of Paekakariki) to Waikanae is well underway, as is the electrification work from Paraparaumu to Waikanae (8 km) which will bring electric commuter services to Waikanae for the first time. (photo from Wikipedia)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Richard Branson takes on the Australian banks

British tycoon Richard Branson announced this past week that his Virgin group is setting up Virgin Money in Australia to offer cheaper banking services than the present quadropoly there. ANZ and Westpac operate in NZ under their own names, while nab (an appropriate name!) operates in NZ under its bnz subsidiary and The Commonwealth Bank with its ASB subsidiary.

There is certainly plenty of scope for lower bank fees, not only in Australia but also in NZ. While depositors with the Australian-owned banks may feel secure knowing that their bank is one of the world's most profitable and thus safest, people don't like feeling fleeced with excessive bank charges either, and that is certainly the case now.

It was not clear from the announcement if Virgin Money will be set up in NZ but that is probable, so good news for consumers.