Archive for March 2012


A farewell to Sir Paul Callaghan, and the next step for our innovators

24.03.2012

When I attended Sir Paul Callaghan’s talk at the Wellington Town Hall last September, I felt vindicated. Here was a man who was much better qualified than me to talk about economic development, effectively endorsing the policies I ran on in 2010. But not being political, he was a great deal more persuasive. Since then, I’ve noticed more New Zealanders become convinced by Sir Paul’s passion—and wake us up to the potential that we have in this nation.
   This great communicator, this wonderful patriot, this sharpest of minds, passed away today after a battle with colon cancer.
   I wrote on Facebook when I heard the news that the best thing we can do to honour Sir Paul was to carry on his legacy, and to carry out the dream he had for making New Zealand a better, more innovative nation.
   Sir Paul wasn’t afraid of tall poppies. He knew Kiwis punched above their weight, and wanted to see more of that happen.
   All those tributes today saying his passing is a great loss to the nation are so very accurate—and I hope we’ll continue to see his dream realized.

Sir Paul Callaghan had a vision, but at the more micro level, it’s important to get a grasp on what the market will bear. There is a fine line, of course, between testing a market and relying too much on a rear-view mirror, and Jenny Douché’s new book, Fool Proof, addresses that, with case studies featuring some very successful New Zealand businesses, including No. 8 Ventures, Phil & Ted’s, Cultureflow and Xero. She stresses dialogue and engagement as useful tools in market validation, and she’s so passionate about the importance of her work that she’s donated copies to 200 organizations, including business incubators, economic development agencies, business schools and chambers of commerce nationally. Find out more at foolproofbook.com.

A Reuter story today talks about Sweden’s growing inequality in the last 15 years—something I’ve certainly noticed first-hand in the eight-year period between 2002 and 2010.
   We often aspire to be like Sweden, but much of that aspiration was based on a nation image of equality and social stability. Certainly since the mid-2000s, that hasn’t been true, as Sweden embarked on reforms that we had done in the 1980s, with selling state assets and cutting taxes.
   Inequality, according to the think-tank quoted in the article, has risen at a rate four times greater than that of the US.
   The other sobering statistic that came out earlier this year was that Sweden has the worst-performing economy in Scandinavia.
   None of this is particularly aspirational any more, and perhaps it brings me back to the opening of this blog entry: Sir Paul Callaghan.
   Given that we had the 1980s’ economic reforms, but we have scarcely seen the level playing-field promised us by the Labour government of that era, our best hope is to innovate in order to create high-value jobs. On that Sir Paul and I were in accord. Let’s play in those niches and beat the establishment with smart, clever New Zealand-owned businesses—and steadily achieve that that level playing field that we’re meant to have.
   It’s about cities creating environments that foster innovation and understand the climate needed for it to grow, which includes formally recognizing clusters, identifying and funding them, and having mechanisms that can ensure ideas don’t get lost beyond a mere discussion stage—including incubator and educational programmes. The best ideas need to be grown and taken to a global level.
   Ah, I hear, many of these agencies already exist—and that’s great. Now for the next step.
   It’s also about cities not letting politics get in their way and understanding that the growth of a region is healthy—which means cooperation between civic leaders and an ability to move rapidly, seizing innovation opportunities. It means a reduction in bureaucracy and the realization that much of the technology exists so that time spent on admin can be kept to a minimum (and plenty of case studies exist in states more advanced than us). Right-brained people thrive when they create, not when they are filling in forms. The streamlining of the Igovt websites by the New Zealand Government is move in the right direction.
   We know what has to be done—especially given how far down we are based on the following graph from the New Zealand Institute:

   As the Institute points out, many of the right moves are being made, and have been made, at the national level. But it is also aware that an internationalization strategy is part of the mix—the very sort of policy I have lived by in my own businesses. And this begs the question of why there have not been policies that help those who desire to go global and commercialize their ideas at a greater level. That’s the one area where we need to champion those Kiwis who have made it—Massey’s Hall of Fame dinners over the last two years celebrate such New Zealanders in a small way—and to let those who are at school now know that, when they get into the workforce, that it’s OK to think globally.
   If we’re wondering where the gap is, especially in a nation of very clever thinkers, it’s right there: we need to create a means for the best to go global, and make use of our million-strong diaspora, in very high positions, that Sir Paul pointed out in his address. Engagement with those who have made it, and having internationalization experts in our agencies who can call on their own entrepreneurial experiences, would be a perfect start.

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Posted in business, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Autocade turns four, and it’s about to get its two millionth page view

10.03.2012

It’s hard to believe but Autocade is four years old this month. In fact, its actual birthday was some time last week.
   It’s been busy at work, so Autocade has received a little less attention in the last 12 months, though things were buoyed when Keith Adams (of AROnline) added a whole bunch of models. It’s also about to cross the two million-page view barrier.
   When I look back at the previous year, we’ve added a lot of Chinese models, for the simple reason that China is where most of the new-model activity is these days. There are a lot of translation issues, but Autocade may be one of the only references in English to the more obscure vehicles coming out from behind the Bamboo Curtain.
   Still, there are some oddities from other countries that have appeared over the last 12 months, including a Ford made by Chrysler, and a Hillman Hunter with a Peugeot body (kind of). Here they are, for your entertainment.

Image:Changcheng_Ling_Ao.jpgChangcheng Phenom (長城 凌傲/长城 凌傲). 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1298, 1497 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Supermini that looked to all the world like a Toyota Vitz (P90) with an ugly grille, with the same wheelbase. Essentially a clone, though interior changed over Toyota version. Even Chinese media noted the similarity to the Vitz at the rear, but did not find the grille distasteful. Engines of Changcheng’s own design, with decent performance from the 1·5.

Image:1968_Chrysler_GTX.jpgChrysler GTX. 1968–9 (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2414 cm³ (V8 OHV). Performance version of Esplanada, with go-faster stripes, apeing US imagery. Filled the gap of the earlier Rallye and Tufao in the Chambord series, which had been missing since the Regente–Esplanada took over in 1966. Offered only till the platform was finally retired in favour of the A-body cars from the US.

Image:1958_Dongfeng_CA71.jpgDongfeng (东风/東風) CA71. 1958 (prod. 30). 4-door sedan. F/R, 2000 cm³ approx. (4 cyl. OHV). First passenger car built by First Automobile Works of China, with bodyshell and interior apeing Simca Vedette (1954–7) and 70 bhp OHV engine based around a Mercedes-Benz 190 unit and chassis. Self-designed three-speed manual transmission. Laboriously built, as China lacked the facilities, and bodies were not cast but beaten to the right shape. Initially badged with Latin letters before Chinese ones replaced them on the order of the Central Committee. Used for propaganda, and Mao Tse Tung even rode in one around launch time, but faded into obscurity after 30 examples.

Image:Dongfeng_Fengsheng_A60.jpgDongfeng Fengsheng (東風風神/东风风神) A60. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1997 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Uglified version of Nissan Bluebird Sylphy (G11) on a Renault Mégane II platform, developed for Chinese market by Dongfeng. Basically the Sylphy with the Dongfeng grille grafted on it, with production commencing December 2011 for 2012 sale.

Image:Emme_Lotus_422T.jpgEmme Lotus 420/Emme Lotus 422/Emme Lotus 422T. 1997–9 (prod. approx. 12–15). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1973, 2174 cm³ (4 cyl. DOHC). Very obscure Brazilian luxury car, built on Lotus principles of lightness, with early Lotus Esprit engines. T model denoted turbocharging. Claimed 87 per cent of components locally sourced. Manufacturing techniques with advanced materials not particularly refined, leading to questionable build quality. Little known about the vehicle, but it faded without trace after currency changes in the late 1990s.

Image:2010_Hawtai_B11.jpgHawtai (華泰/华泰) B11. 2010 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door sedan. F/F, 1796 cm³ petrol, 1991 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. DOHC). Ugly first attempt by former Hyundai affiliate at its own sedan, using Roewe 550 engine. Media centre with sat-nav and entertainment perhaps one of its few stand-outs. Petrol model first off the line in late 2010; diesel followed soon after.

Image:1978_Panther_de_Ville.jpgPanther De Ville. 1974–85 (prod. 60 approx.). 4-door saloon, 2-door coupé, 2-door convertible, 6-door limousine. F/R, 4235 cm³ (6 cyl. DOHC), 5343 cm³ (V12 OHC). Panther creates a new flagship to sit about its original J72 model, based around Jaguar XJ mechanicals. A pastiche of the Bugatti Royale, creator and “car couturier” Robert Jankel targeted his De Ville at the nouveaux riches, and they found homes with the likes of Elton John. Lavish, though never as quick as the Jaguars due to the weight and poor aerodynamics. Humble bits included BMC “Landcrab” doors. Cars were custom-made and De Ville was usually the most expensive car on the UK price lists. Few redeeming features other than exclusivity; caught on to the 1930s retro craze that seemed to emerge in the 1970s.

Image:2011_Peugeot_Roa.jpgPeugeot RD 1600/Peugeot Roa. 2006 to date (prod. unknown). 4-door saloon. F/R, 1599, 1696 cm³ petrol, 1599 cm³ CNG (4 cyl. OHV). The Rootes Arrow lives on, but with a Peugeot 405 clone bodyshell. Basic model offered by IKCO of Iran, blending the platform of the obsolete rear-wheel-drive Paykan with a more modern interior and exterior. Initially offered with 1·6 petrol and CNG engines; G2 model from 2010 has 1·7 unit.

Image:2011_Renault_Pulse.jpgRenault Pulse. 2011 to date (prod. unknown). 5-door sedan. F/F, 1461 cm³ diesel (4 cyl. OHC). Nissan March (K13) with a nose job, aiming at the premium compact sector in India, expecting to form the bulk of the company’s sales there. Designed by Renault staff in Mumbai. Largely identical under the skin, with diesel at launch, petrol models following later.

Image:Siam_di_Tella_1500.jpgSiam Di Tella 1500. 1959–66 (prod. 45,785 sedan, 1,915 Traveller). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1489 cm³ (4 cyl. OHV). Licensed Argentinian version of Riley 4/68 but with Traveller wagon (from 1963) adapted from Morris Oxford V Traveller. Very popular among taxi companies, especially as twin-carb OHV was willing, although compression ratio had been reduced to 7·2:1, affecting power (55 hp instead of 68 hp). Modified suspension to cope with Argentinian roads. From 1966, Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) took over, modifying and renaming the cars. Pick-up (called Argenta) also developed, with at least 11,000 manufactured.

Image:FSM_Syrena_105.jpgSyrena 105. 1972–83 (prod. 521,311). 2-door saloon. F/F, 842 cm³ (3 cyl. 2-str.). Syrena switches factories to FSM at Bielsko-Biała, though it was briefly at FSO in 1972 before the company switched to producing only its Fiat-licensed models. Suicide doors now replaced with conventional ones hinged at the front. Lux from 1974, but with the same 29 kW engine.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, UK, USA, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Russian mass media believe it’s the Putin right that counts

06.03.2012

Vladimir Putin has won the first round in the presidential elections in Russia by such a margin that he won’t need to face rivals for a second-round run-off. But the one place where he scored less than half of the vote was in Moskva, the most educated and affluent city in the nation. Turnout was also low in the capital.
   Putin’s win was, to some degree, one that was helped by the Russian media, which are largely celebrating the victory today. Its mainstream media reach most of the country, and blogs and independent media are largely, as with most countries, centred in the cities. I’m no expert on Russian politics—my only claim to any real knowledge of Russia is that my late mother spoke Russian and I knew the Cyrillic alphabet at a young age—but put in my context, it does seem opposition to the mass media’s angle wasn’t readily accessible outside the main centres. And what I know has come, too, from mainstream media—views of the protests in Moskva, 100,000 strong, by reporters working for occidental news outlets who might not be disposed to a Putin win.
   What we witnessed in Russia is not a phenomenon that’s foreign to any of us. An educated public always seeks more information, and is exposed to a greater variety of views as a result. They are interested more in dialogue, having grown up with a BS-meter built in and a healthy cynicism toward marketing and spin. They seek engagement more than a populist angle propagated by institutions—because they believe those institutions have their own agenda.
   Larger urban populations also spur a greater variety of thought, enough to get people questioning. See an Occupy protest? You’re prompted to ask what the motives are behind it, especially in cities like Wellington where I would venture that most of us either know someone who participated, or is connected with someone by one or two degrees of separation. And if that person we know is someone of good character, then we’re less likely to believe the idea that there is a “protester class”, one that stirs up trouble constantly just because it’s antiestablishment. They may have had good motives to protest. You don’t accept that they’re a bunch of troublemakers.
   The fact that rural populations reflect mainstream media viewpoints has nothing to do with them being less intelligent, but it is to do with their being less exposed by virtue of the digital divide. It’s why I’ve always believed in the bridging of a digital divide, either across socioeconomic classes, regions or even countries. When I ran for office, I discovered that a great deal of the cost of getting the internet, for instance, to rural communities is actually not as high as some would have us believe. For the most part, it’s been a lack of will, and perhaps a lack of desire to get more people into a dialogue, and expose them to a greater variety of thinking. But I believe the demand is there, and I believe we humans are naturally inquisitive.
   Certainly, the distance from dissenters, such as those in the Moskva protests, has allowed a TV-rich, but not necessarily internet-rich, Russia to get one, largely popular, message across the nation. Internet penetration is between 40 and 50 per cent, but broadband is only 30 per cent—versus 70 per cent in cities like Moskva and St Petersburg. Is it any surprise, then, that Vladimir Putin is popular in rural Russia, while the loudest voices complaining of vote-rigging are in the cities?
   I make no judgement on whether Vladimir Putin is right or wrong for his country. On that I blame my own distance of not having too many Russian friends (despite actually having my own Vkontakte page). I have not engaged with them on this issue. However, I credit Putin’s victory in part to pro-Putin mass media, and that should signal to us, in any country, that it’s our duty to seek alternative viewpoints when it comes to casting a vote that will decide our own nation’s agenda for years to come.

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