Brass Monkey 2009 – a photolog

The reprobates meet for another Brass Monkey

Tying down the bikes in the Ferry

Glassy smooth crossing. A good sign – we could have forgone tying those bikes as well..

South of Blenheim – it was cold.

We live in a beautiful place

Posing cattle

Bliss

Kaikoura inland road

Hamner Springs – we stopped for the hot pools

En Route to Geraldine

Challenging mist nearing Fairlie.

Evidence that I was actually up at dawn. As were we all. We stayed in a house on a farm and the dawn say white mountains along with the usual rural scenes.

From an old small bulldozer?

Almost ready to set out to the Haka and Dansies

A chance encounter on the Hakataramea Pass

Top of the Hakataramea Pass

What it is all about

Lake Benmore – an excursion from the Hakataramea Pass

End of the Road at Lake Benmore

Emerging from Benmore

Off to the rest of the Hakataramea Pass

Traffic was a nightmare.

That’s Mod and Henry in the distance – on the closed road

Watch out ahead

Gravel, corners, mountains. What more is there?

Looking back over a bridge

The entire day was offroad, and with views like this

Top of the Danseys pass. No white stuff on the road though.

Top of the Danseys posing

The Danseys pub

The reward

Another Dansey’s bike. Plenty of road bikes went over the Danseys, but the Haka pass has some water hazards that keep most bikes out.

Official Class of 2009 photo

Monkey Saturday – and Nash poses in perfect weather. Again.

However he was soon riding into a sea of fog

Tour of the monkey area started at the Vulcan Hotel.

We were surrounded by fog

and suffered though some Monkey hardships

Random stretched bicycle later that day

The lake at the rally site

A wooden bike at the monkey

The wooden bike seemed to have less than total efficiency

Sunset at the rally

Ready for the fire. It was freezing cold – and could have been lit earlier.

Finally – flames and heat

An agglomeration of bikers after an epic run over the Hasst. It was the right route as everywhere else saw ice and snow.

Indeed it was a perfect day on the West Coast – while it snowed in Christchurch. And Wellington. and everywhere else.

The dam could break – with 1 to 2% probability per year. Encouraging.

Another one way bridge

Flat rocks at Punakaiki – the end of another wonderful day.

It’s off to the ferry – and yes that’s dawn over there.

An icy run through the Buller gorge. Actually the roads were perfect, though the air temperature hit minus 4.5 degrees Celsius.

Mod tries to evade the camera in perfect conditions –  as we near Blenheim.

On the Ferry home – a rough but fun crossing

What a welcome home to Wellington.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Fail of Bing. And google.

Like everyone else I have been trying out Bing.com – Microsofts “new” search engine.

It’s useless.

Here is the result page for “buy car” – with “pages from New Zealand selected”.

Bing
Firstly it is difficult to see where the advertisements stop and the results start. On my giant screen the yellow is white, while the format of the ads looks the same as the results. I feel that Bing is trying to trick me into clicking on the ads.

Secondly all of the advertisements are Australian – except for hapless Yellow.co.nz that is still buying traffic for some bizarre reason.

Thirdly they manage to miss that Trade Me is (by a considerable margin) the biggest car market in New Zealand. Zillion and Autotrader are markets, but what the heck is Manheim Fowles doing in 7th place, and why does BuyRight get such play?

Trade Me actually does pop up further down  on the list, coming in at 16th place with the car seats category, and in 21st place with ride on toys category. Meanwhile Turners home page scrapes into 31st spot – both results are far too low to be useful.

Similarly searching for “Buy iPod” gets a bunch of useless Australian ads, but it does get Trade Me and Apple NZ in the top three – a win. Those two stores are almost certainly the biggest online sellers of iPods in New Zealand. However theboysdownunder.com are certainly not, and the page shown is a deep link special offer – so what are they doing in the #2 slot?

Bing

Finally I ran the “buy car” search on Google.co.nz – and was astonished to find that they too fail to pick that Trade Me is the marketplace for cars here. They also didn’t pick up Turners auctions, though Turners managed to buy the prime advertising position.

Google, of course, gets the delineation between advertising and results right – with a darker background, slight indentation and different format for that top Turners advertisement. The rest of the results are reasonable as well.
Trade Me

So – what have we learned?
Firstly yet again the lesson is to never brag about a new search site until it actually works. Cuil is probably still out there – but nobody cares.
Next – Microsoft still doesn’t get it. But we knew that. At least I don’t have the visceral negative reaction to Bing that I do to the Windows Live brand.

Finally even Google gets it wrong sometimes. Sure Trade Me can do a better job on SEO, but they simply don’t need to any more as everyone knows that’s where you go.

Back to the nineties sites like metacrawler were the way to go – passing your search phrase to several engines at once, as they all sucked to one extent or the other. The along came Google, which actually worked, and everything else faded away.

It’s still clear that Google is still vastly better than anything else out there, so I simply don’t understand why you’d use anything else at the moment.

Posted in Business | 8 Comments

When to resign from a board

Over at the SEC is an excellent letter from Richard E Middlekauff – who just resigned from the board of Heelys, Inc – a shoe company.

Here’s why:

1: The shareholders are not maximising their return after the company was in play.

The Board, in my opinion, should seriously engage potential buyers of the Company, unlike it did with Skechers USA, Inc. last year, in order to maximize the Company’s value for its stockholders.  I do not see the Company achieving this as a stand alone company.  Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of the Board charted a different course, giving scant attention to the offers from Skechers and other third party prospective buyers, and instead pursued an untimely and expensive restructuring of the Company by installing management having no actual experience in the shoe industry.

..My feeling is that CSW is not considering offers for the acquisition of the Company in a manner consistent with Delaware law.  I understand that CSW has its own internal issues with its stockholders; however, that should not cloud its fiduciary duties to the Company.  Any intentions regarding the Company in connection with any stock buy-back or plans to take the Company private should be disclosed to the Company’s stockholders as required by federal securities laws.

2: The board was not being consulted for important decisions

As a Board member, I have often not been consulted in advance of significant management decisions.

3: The board was given insufficient information and time to make decisions

I often did not receive sufficient information to properly prepare for meaningful participation in Board meetings to properly evaluate the information in connection with addressing critical matters affecting the Company.

Similarly, the recent Board meeting held on May 12th upset me greatly, but provides a good example of the short shrift treatment of the Board members when each director was given only two (2) minutes to speak on the significant issue of the strategic direction of the Company.  This was most unfair to me personally, as well as any other director who shared a very different point of view from the majority of the Board.

I’ve written about this before – and I’ll reiterate that if you find yourself in any of these situations then get out.

Posted in Business, Investing | 1 Comment

A few fun GM Chapter 11 facts

A quick read of the General Motors Chapter 11 Bankruptcy petition gives some fun facts about the collosal disaster that is GM.

Total Assets: $82.3 Billion

Total Debts: $172.8 Billion. That’s 217% of assets, $90.52 billion in net debt and bigger than the GDP of New Zealand.

  • How did it get this far?

The biggest trade debt ($121.5m) is to advertising agency Starcom. (They are the 6th biggest unsecured creditor, after big bond holders and employees). Meanwhile Publicis Groupe went for $25.3m, Interpublic for $16m and McCann Erickson for $4.6m. That’s $167.4m in total advertising agency debt.

  • If your biggest supplier is an advertising agency, wouldn’t you begin to suspect that there is a disconnect between your advertised messages and your products?
  • How did you measure the impact of your advertising spend?

Meanwhile metal suppliers US Steel, Arcelor Mittal and AK Steel Holding Group all managed to keep their debt under $10m.

  • How come they were so smart and Starcom et. al so dumb to be left holding the bag? Starcom in particular is looking pretty stupid.

GM owed Enterprise Rent a Car $33m, Avis $12m, Hertz $8.7m – for a total of $53.7m.

  • Was GM really paying rental car companies to take their cars?
  • Why did rental car companies give their customers crappy GM cars that have higher maintenance costs and lower lives (versus say Toyota’s)? Was that doing the right thing or taking the money and damn the customer?

Bottom of the list of top 50 unsecured creditors are consultants Cap Gemini – with $4.4m in trade debt.

  • How much did they save GM for that $4.4m consideration?
  • If they are such good consultants, then how come they didn’t get their money up front?
  • What other consultants were used in the last, say, 10 years? How much did that cost, and what did they make/save for GM?

I’m glad GM is in Chapter 11 (refinance and trade out) – it’s the right thing to do, though I do feel that a full blown Chapter 7 (close it down and divide the pieces) is the better option. GM has become to bloated, is crippled with legacy staff and pension issues and makes vehicles which are amusingly ugly, woefully inefficient and mired in the past.

Posted in Business | 8 Comments

Tuesday Three: 3 ways to improve your business

Give the people what they want

  1. Go through your Microsoft receipts line by line – and systematically reduce it to zero. Give this task to the palid looking guy who looks after your servers and databases.
  2. Abandon PCs – and get Apple Macs for everybody. People will start wanting to come to work again, and a whole lot of the computing pain will be gone.
  3. Go 24 – upgrade everyone to 24 inch monitors, with a few, such as graphic designers, coders but not CEOs and IT managers, to 30 inches. Watch productivity soar
Posted in NZ Business | Tagged , | 16 Comments

Leaving for the Brass

Be prepared. The experienced motorcycle adventurer knows that it pays dividends to pack light, prepare well in advance and do a shake down run.

Me – well I am a bit different.

Not only was it a mad scramble to finish packing and get to the ferry, but I
struggled to cram my gear into the box on the back of the bike – meaning I am carrying too much. I left behind a couple of bulky icebreaker jerseys (I hope it isn’t cold down South) and forced the lid down.

Then I realized I had forgotten to pack the vital Single Malt – so I rushed upstairs and grabbed a nice little Islay.

That meant I was now running desperately late for the ferry, so off I set.

Only to turn around after 600 meters to go and pick up my sunglasses.

And then I was off again – arriving at the ferry about 20 minutes before departure. Check in was a breeze, but sadly I’d had no time to fill the tank, and I was now on reserve.

So I was late, overloaded and low on gas. Situation normal.

And then I discovered that I was actually early. An hour early. Grrr.

So rather than waiting in the rain, and then eating the traditional pie for lunch, I headed off for much tastier fare at the nearby French cafe.

A great way to start, and then I met up with some disreptuable characters and we boarded.

South Island here we come.

Posted in NZ Business | 1 Comment

Want to motorcycle the world? It’s easy

This DVD intro gives a taste for the sort of person that you need to be to ride the world. Assemble your personal excuses, and then watch. (Hint – age and even Parkinsons won’t cut it. Neither will lack of use of a limb, no money, no motorcycle license, gender (ha!), no experience and so forth)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

You can get the DVD over at HorizonsUnlimited, which is the website for people that don’t know how to turn their motorcycle around.

Posted in Motorcycling, NZ Business | Tagged