TV Companies Invite Police Investigators Into Living Rooms

Back in 2016, no one realized the implications of Smart TV’s using voice control for people who didn’t want to bother with a remote control or mobile to manage their TV’s.

cloudThere was some small print in the announcement of the new technology from Samsung, that the microphones would be recording and sending everything they heard the cloud for interpretation, in order to be able to change channels, increase volume or look for programming on the Internet.

In order to use it, you accept the terms and conditions (as we blindly do with any new software or technology), which include that in some countries, for security reasons, like an Internet Service Provider, Police and security services have the right under various terrorism and serious crimes Acts to commandeer these recordings, from the manufacturers’ servers.

This has resulted in thousands of arrests for crimes ranging from drug and gang related offenses through to roundups of suspected terrorists.

Graver concerns have been expressed in some countries where freedom of speech and political or religious beliefs are ‘discouraged’. In countries in the Middle East and parts of Asia, many people known to espouse strong opinions have ‘disappeared’ and according to reports from the website (which was recently removed from the Internet) large numbers of these people were known to have recent models of smart TV’s featuring voice control.

Taxi Drivers Strike Against Driverless Cabs

cabTechnology has finally caught up with another industry and is forcing many cabbies out of their jobs. It started with services like Uber and Lyft bringing in driverless cars that were cheaper to use than normal cabs (including those driven by Uber and Lyft themselves). Then taxi companies started experimenting with driverless cars as well, some even teaming up with public transport, providing shuttles to rail and bus stations.

Customers liked it. It was the next best thing to car ownership. You didn’t have to deal with a driver, worry about being taken on the long route, the odor of their last cigarette in the cab, the lack of privacy. It was cheap and convenient.

Companies didn’t have to pay drivers, lose business if drivers were off sick, insurance premiums were reduced and there were less accidents, meaning better return on assets.

Effectively driverless car technology has made taxi drivers redundant. Many of these people are migrants and don’t have other opportunities available to them and there have been many protest marches in cities around the world.

Car sales have also dropped for the third consecutive year and are sliding at a rapid pace. Many car dealerships have closed shop and more car manufacturing plants have closed down.

Ultimately it is a win for society when it comes to traffic congestion and pollution, but at a cost to a section of society that can least afford to lose their jobs.

Driverless Cars Going Nowhere in America

TRaffic jam10 years ago they introduced incentives for people to purchase driverless cars. They also encouraged shared ownership designed to reduce the number of cars on the road. They have in fact reduced the level of car ownership, but instead of spending an average of 3% of their time on the road, just privately owned cars are doing 10 times the number of trips that the average car did and this is causing gridlock with major traffic jams throughout the country.

Take the example of the Jones family in Sherman Oaks, CA. Dad goes to work at 6 in the morning while Mum gets the kids ready for school. While they finish their breakfast the car is coming back from central Los Angeles to pick up the kids, take them to school and then back home to Mum who has a part time job in San Fernando. She doesn’t have a car park, so the car goes back home and then the reverse happens in the evening. All in all the one car does around 11 trips during peak hours. Previously they had 2 cars, but they only did 4 trips including taking the kids to school.

So we halved the number of cars but the number of car trips has increased dramatically. DOT’s around the country are investigating platooning, peak hour tolls and other technologies to try and reduce the impact of this new phenomenon which is grinding urban centers around the country to a halt.

The Climate Change Refugees Are Coming to New Zealand.

And most of them are Kiwis and Pacific Islanders! Who knew that we had more than a million expat Kiwis living in other parts of the world. Those who had family who did their big OE didn’t expect many of them to come home for years if at all, especially after it became easier for Kiwis to live and work longer in the UK.

What’s really interesting is the reason the expats are coming home. We expected many would come home because they wanted to raise families and this is one of the safest countries in the world, but not because of climate change, water wars and the worst droughts and heat in over 1,500 years. It’s not just places like the Middle East, there is fighting between States in the USA, where higher states are blocking off rivers to provide water for their citizens at the cost of people living farther down river. Some States are vying for independence in order to gain the right to keep water for themselves. It is now more valuable than oil and more like the costs of printer ink, back when we still used that.

W2APotable drinking water has become scarce in many parts of the world, places where Kiwis made their homes, found lifestyles they felt were way better than they could back home, measured by wonderful big homes, cool cars and gadgets, technology, the American Dream. But when it got to a point that the rivers, which many of the cities relied on, dried out; even places like San Diego are now recycling 40% of their waste water into drinking water. After the big California droughts, even Santa Clara which I once thought I would call my home is now doing it.

The other day I was on the train going past the poo ponds on the North Shore and saw geese swimming in it and cows grazing alongside it. The thought of towns in America, land of the brave, where in places like Wichita Falls, they now produce all their drinking water from waste water AND sewage. “You don’t say!”, and “Hell no!” people said “I’ll buy bottled water, but I’m not drinking that shit!” But water became so expensive that population starting moving out of Kansas into other places that had the same problem, but not quite as bad yet.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) half of the world now lives in areas of severe water stress. Luckily that doesn’t apply down-under in New Zealand where we still have plenty of fresh drinking water. The problem is that now everyone has discovered us and Kiwis are filling Dreamliners, and drought plagued Aussies are crossing the ditch because we let them. Pacific Islanders whose islands haven’t been totally drowned by sea water as was predicted, but their water tables have; are also racing down to join the water rush as is their entitlement. They tried desalination, but they didn’t have the resources to freshen enough sea water to meet their populations basic health and sanitation needs.

Whist we still have water aplenty (although some of it still comes from polluted rivers like the Waikato (It does still irk me) as NZ6 goes back to the USA almost empty) that the signs say it isn’t safe to swim in it, but we fill our filter stations with water from it), the same can’t be said for houses, for infrastructure, for  roads and highways, health and education services.

Of course the migrants are bringing lots of money and paying for those services, but in the meantime houses, schools and hospitals are packed to overflowing. Aucklanders are fleeing south because they can no longer afford to live here unless they already owned property, with the average house price starting at $1.5 million in the cheaper suburbs of Puhoi and Pokeno, nothing under $2.5 million  within 5km of the CBD, even 70 meter apartments go for close to a mill. Warkworth prices with the new light rail are also around the $1.5 million on average now and going up fast. I wish I had invested in Waiwera Water or a lifestyle block or two, but I’m OK. The rates hurt though. I pay council around $15k a year now just in rates. That’s $300 a week!

The population of New Zealand is approaching $6 million and the tsunami wave of expats coming down continues. The big worry is that there are also huge numbers of wealthy Americans, Europeans, people from the Middle East and Asia  buying up everything they can find as a bolt hole when the drought and heat becomes untenable. As they try to escape from the water wars, climate change continues to increase in pace and the latest predictions are that our NZ population could be as high as 10 million by 2050 more than double that of 2016.

We live in exciting times and I am glad that I lived in greener times. I just worry about my grandchildren and more to come. It may still by a paradise compared to the rest of the world, but it isn’t what it used to be. I just hope that Kurzweil’s singularity doesn’t arrive because it is patently obvious that human beings threaten the viability of our planet and we are the most nonsensical of the animal species that still exist on this planet. The Moon Base still doesn’t feel like somewhere I’d want to live either. OK, I’ve had my soap box once again.

I’ll finish in the words of the Carole King some 60 years ago: And it’s too late baby, now it’s too late. Though we really did try to make it. Something inside has died and I can’t hide it. And I just can’t fake it. Oh, no no no no

My Auckland Commute to Work

Do you ever think back to how things used to be? Auckland motorways used to be known as the car park. My commute on the North Shore is so easy these days, thanks to the awesome travel information we have at our fingertips and some awesome transport planning by Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency.

Britomart Station“You have no scheduled appointments today”, the display on my mobile says. “Are you going to work?”

I speak to it: “Yes. Audio on.”

“Travel time via the motorway is 67 minutes. Travel time via Public Transport is 23 minutes if you leave now.”

“Travel time in 30 minutes?”

“Estimated travel time in 30 minutes via motorway is 82 minutes or 27 minutes via Public Transport. Would you like me to book a car park at the Long Bay satellite Park & Ride?”

“Yes, please.”

“Your car park at Long Bay Beach Park & Ride is number 118.”

As I get into my car, it says “Mobile connected, confirm navigate to Park 118 at Long Bay Beach.”

“Yes, confirmed.”

“Turn right in 200 meters car park is on the right……You have arrived. Buses to the Albany train station are available every 5 minutes.”

“The next train is full, another train is arriving in 5 minutes, seat 15A reserved, use your Hop Card for a free coffee while you wait. Confirm flat white no sugar.”

“You have 3 VIP emails. Read?”

“Yes, audio off.”

I smile as the train races past the cars on the motorway, still a little impressed that it is flowing as well as it is given that Auckland’s population has increased by 250,000 in the last 4 years.

US Motorists Road User Charge Taxes Create Windfall for Kiwi GPS Developers

The solution to a massive nose dive in US domestic tourism has come from an unlikely source, specialists in GPS vehicle tracking, Road User Charge rebate and electronic in-vehicle tax payments by Fleet Management companies in a place that many Americans couldn’t even place on a map, close to the bottom of the globe, New Zealand.

When the USA introduced national Pay As You Drive road user tax for all other than electric vehicles a few years ago, no one appreciated the impact this would have on a variety of industry segments. The intention was to encourage commuters and urban business travelers to make more use of public transport. Having a blanket rule resulted in a significant negative impact on the cost of living for rural Americans who typically have to travel much greater distances even for basic needs such as food, health, shopping an getting to work. It also decimated the domestic tourism industry.

Whilst rental vehicles were exempted which ensured international tourist numbers weren’t impacted, the tourism industry still  went into free-fall as domestic tourists couldn’t afford the increased cost to their trips. In the last few years US residents ‘for leisure’ person trips have dropped by a staggering 350,0000,000 from the 1.6 billion person trips recorded back in 2012.

Enter new rules designed to encourage people back onto the  freeways and into small town USA, which allowed rebates for motorists who met certain conditions. These included a ratio of distance traveled on non urban roads, or on private roads and proof that the vehicle was more than 100 miles away from home for one or more nights.

In Car RUC System

In Car RUC System

New Zealand Fleet Management solution companies, having had many years developing Road User Charge tax rebate solutions with GPS tracking for commercial diesel fleets, were able to offer a ready made answer. Not only did they have low cost solutions ready to plug in to most vehicles manufactured since 2007, they also had the ability for people to pay those taxes direct from the vehicle and included an in-vehicle display which both Police and the public could use to ensure that taxes had in fact been paid. Several Kiwi companies have now partnered with US organizations including domestic Fleet Management companies and major vehicle brands.

The AAA and insurance companies also welcomed the move as the Fleet Management systems monitor car driving behavior, encouraging green driving and enabling PAYD (Pay As You Drive) insurance, where premiums are reduced for people who don’t use harsh breaking, over-acceleration and other behaviors which reduce risk. Several car and motor-home manufacturers are now considering putting this technology into their vehicles as standard features.

According to US Travel Association research in 2012, 1 out of 8 US jobs depended on travel and tourism (representing 14.6 million jobs supported by travel expenditures), which was in the top 10 income earners for 48 states.

It is hoped that domestic tourism will make a big swing back in the coming year, with the costs of the initial investment for motorists being offset by a variety of discounts, special tourism industry offers and off course road user tax rebates for those who meet the criteria.

Poor GPS Map Data on Aftermarket HUD Car Nav Devices Turns Heads

New aftermarket GPS car nav units have been blamed for a spate of car accidents due to inaccurate map data. The wave of new aftermarket HUD (Heads Up Display) aftermarket car navigation devices over the last few years were ,et with much enthusiasm. Being able to purchase devices like the Garmin HUD (How did they manage to get that as a brand name?) that launched in 2013 for under $200 bundled with a nav unit or $150 on its own, made it the next car enthusiasts must have device (toy). 

With in car options (admittedly including in-car entertainment, climate control, car computer etc) adding an easy $2,000 to the bill for people who could afford a new car, a solution that cost that can go into virtually any car was a great starter for 10%.

Touted as being much safer than in dash systems because you don’t have to take your eyes off the road, it appears to have unwittingly revealed a much more critical situation that has caused stress and confusion and has allegedly resulted in accidents and assertions of liability being placed on the manufacturers of the nav systems.

The reason is that in many cases the map data is either out of date or inaccurate. This means that the driver is seeing both the road in front of them through the windscreen as well as a laser image representation of the road from the HUD. When these do not match and the driver is in a relaxed frame of mind (partly due to confidence in the GPS car nav data) confusion may arise. For example driving late at night or on a foggy morning on a country road with poor visibility and the nav displays a sharp turn (but the road has been realigned) could result in a nasty accident. Urban roads (such as Wellington in New Zealand) where one-way streets were changed to run in the opposite direction are another classic example.

Psychologist John Doe from Lost Highway University said “When drivers used traditional in-dash car nav devices, they relied mostly on auditory instructions, glancing at the nav unit from time to time to confirm the details, but then interpreted the information and commands based on what they were seeing. This meant that if there was a discrepancy in the directions, common sense usually prevailed and they would act on what they actually saw through the windscreen. Since large numbers of people started using HUD systems, they mentally merged the heads up data with what they saw through the windscreen and when they contradicted each other, this caused confusion and stress. It only takes momentary confusion at 50 miles per hour to find themselves in an accident situation,” he explained.

The more sophisticated units such as the Pioneer system released 2013 in the video below, do have some advantages over the cheaper units because they also include character recognition of outside objects such as speed signs. This means that if the car navigation database says the speed is 50 mph but the sign on the road says 30 mph, the navigation instructions will give higher credence to the physical roadside sign.

John Doe went on say that many car nav companies have managed to get their prices very low by purchasing cheap car navigation data and not updating them as often. People accepted that for a low price, they weren’t going to get high detail map updates and because the map wasn’t in their face, they were able to deal with the discrepancies.

Portable HUD car GPS manufacturers are now adding modular components to their systems including WiFi cameras and adding software to their Smartphones and Portable Car GPS devices including character recognition, distance and speed of the car in front and connection to in car entertainment such as streaming audio. Legislators are now looking at enforcement of restrictions, ensuring that drivers can only see car control related information on the HUD, ensuring they can’t be distracted by videos. email messages etc which can also technically be displayed on the screen whilst driving.

I Found the Real Auckland Transport Plan

Everyone thought the new Auckland transport plan was going to be about a second harbour crossing, a tunnel, more busways an extra lanes. The new Labour Government together with Auckland Transport came up with a much cheaper plan and it only took a year to complete!

Yep, it was pretty obvious given input from rich list Kiwi, Allan Gibbs of Aquada fame. he started with cars, then trucks and then he said to the Government (I didn’t get where I am today by building tunnels) why not give me a small fraction of the money you were going to spend digging holes under the harbour and we’ll drive on water?

So now he is building Gibbs Amphibious Buses for Auckland Transport (yes I know Aqua Ducks have been around for years but not for commuters) and we now have a regular stream of amphibious cars going from Gulf Harbour all the way through to the city, the inner harbour, and even a special commuter lane to Onetangi on Waiheke Island. It was pretty obvious really wasn’t it? I just don’t know why they didn’t think of it back in 2013?

The toll booths on the boat ramps can be a bit annoying on sunny days, but I guess that’s the price you pay. The bonus is you can try to catch your dinner on the way home from the office.

The End Of Out Of Tune Guitars

I have perfect pitch (well I used to when I was younger) and it used to make me cringe when I heard someone play an out of tune instrument. I’m so glad those days are gone.

photo (9)When you live in a country where the temperature changes a lot, an instrument made of wood goes out of tune frequently. This resulted in three scenarios:

1. People playing that boring old Chinese song on stage called Chiu Ning. Old joke too, sorry.

2. People playing out of tune.

3. A great industry selling a variety of devices to clip onto your guitar, to plug your guitar into or in some cases a tuner built in, which worked really well when you used it.

Today those days are over and even a guitar like a humble Squier Stratocaster has built in robot tuning. You don’t have to do anything, it automatically tunes itself.

It got really cool with the 2011 Gibson Firebird X, checkout the video below, sorry its old, so not 3D, but check out history man. This was huge when it came out, not only did it tune itself, but you cold pre-set 55 different tunings! When I used to want to play a bit of slide and then some lead, drop bass or whatever, it would so often end up with the guitar gong out of tune. Not any more, watch the machine heads turn themselves!

What’s changed? Now you don’t need to own a guitar that costs nearly $6,000 to enjoy those features. Now people like me don’t have to cringe when you play and it doesn’t matter if you go from the warm house to the cold car and play in the bar by the fireplace. Of course there are people who will still go retro old school, but I’ve never enjoyed tuning. I just want to play!


Boy Racers Make Sport With Driverless Cars

Driverless Car photo by Steve Jurvetson

Driverless Car photo by Steve Jurvetson


A dangerous new sport has started with boy racers trying to run driverless cars off the road. Car manufacturers fight back by capturing video and emailing to police services.

Whilst the concept of driverless cars has been well accepted and offered mobility and new levels of freedom to many users including blind and disabled people, a new challenge has arisen. Boy racers growing bored with illegal street racing have found new antics to amuse themselves and endanger others.

Driverless cars have been designed to deal with a wide range of conditions, able to monitor the speed of vehicles around them and deal with weather and other hazardous conditions. One thing that was never anticipated was dealing with deliberate erratic driving behaviour from other motorists.

Several incidents have occurred where drivers have deliberately swerved into the path of these vehicles which in several cases have resulted in hit and run accidents.

Following meetings between car manufacturers and law enforcement agencies, an emergency feature has now been installed into the car computers. These cars already have several external facing cameras mounted on them and are connected to the cloud anywhere that cellular mobile services are available. The camera software has been enhanced and is currently being tested with a number of new software features including car make and model, color and number plate recognition.

A 911 feature is also being tested,  so that if an incident occurs, the occupant can transmit video combined with the data collected to the nearest emergency call centre, complete with their GPS coordinates and the direction they are driving in. The boy racers may very soon find themselves racing to find themselves behind bars and not the kind that serve alcohol.