Archive for the ‘Cars and bikes’ Category

Emersons 1812 IPALast week I was lucky enough to stay at The White Swan Hotel in Greytown, home of the modern Arbour Day celebrations and claiming what is apparently one of the most complete main streets of Victorian architecture in New Zealand.

The White Swan began life as the New Zealand Railways administration building at the Woburn railyard in Lower Hutt, but in 2002 the building was cut into six pieces, relocated over the Rimutaka Range and reassembled in Greytown.

When I visited last week it offered great food, stylish rooms and warm service. The only thing missing was some great Kiwi craft beer.

Craft beers in New Zealand have moved from the fringe to the mainstream thanks to outfits such as Christchurch’s Three Boys and Harrington’s, and Wellington’s Garage Project and Yeastie Boys. No such tasty brews were available at the White Swan, which I thought a tad unusual for such a tasty pub.

Then I noticed a pattern to all the brews on offer – which included Monteith’s, Sol and Tiger – all were brewed or distributed by Heineken-owned DB.

It’s pretty well known, by drinkers anyway, that New Zealand’s brewing market is dominated by Japan-based Kirin and Netherlands-based Heineken. Together this duo controls virtually all of the big beer brands sold locally, from Steinlager and Canterbury Draft, to Heineken, Tui and Stella.

And last week Kirin grew a little larger thanks to its acquisition of Dunedin’s Emerson Brewing Company, via its 100 per cent-owned local subsidiary Lion.

The purchase was more than a little ironic, given the colourful Richard Emerson set up his craft brewery in 1993 selling unpasteurised beer after becoming disillusioned with the generic taste of the big breweries’ offerings.

I first sampled Emerson’s when a Dunedin scientist mate sent me some London Porter claiming it had aphrodisiac qualities. Soon after, I discovered Bookbinder which became a quick favourite. Thereafter, if I was within 300 kilometres of Dunedin, I would detour via Wickliffe St and fill the boot of my gently corroding MGB Roadster.

Subsequently Richard Emerson became a central figure in the craft beer vanguard, celebrating taste, tradition and idiosyncrasy. The quality of his output became recognised globally, and invariably he attracted the attention of the Dutch and Japanese giants.

Contrary to the PR spin, I’m not convinced brewing moguls like acquiring small breweries. The little guys spend too much on ingredients and their volumes are too small to deliver the cost efficiencies of the mainstream brews, so the moguls begin “value engineering” them. And the iconoclastic founders often make poor team players. However, as the popularity of their product grows, so do the value of these crafty brands until they reach the point where they become too painful to ignore.

I don’t blame the big brewers for buying brands like Emerson’s, Mac’s and Monteith’s – it’s commercially astute, as long as they don’t overpay. And I have nothing but admiration for the likes of Richard Emerson who turned a vision of quality ales into a global brand and a commercially successful company.

But there are two things that make me cough into my beer glass.

The first is, what will happen to the diverse and tasty lineup of unpasteurised beers that Emerson’s offer up? Big brewers make money out of volume, and I would be surprised if the likes of Taieri George or Whisky Porter will last for long. Mind you, as my wife constantly reminds me, I am not in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to beer.

The second and more worrying thing is the impact of the large breweries tying up distribution in New Zealand. Pubs are not always particularly profitable businesses, so the rebate structures offered by the big brewers are hard to resist.

But enticing pubs to enter into these exclusive supply agreements keeps craft breweries out of pubs, and tasty brews away from customers’ glasses.

More important from a commercial perspective is the exclusionary effect such control and incentivisation has on new entrants.

The Commerce Act has provisions which are designed to prevent a business taking advantage of its dominant position in a market for an anti-competitive purpose. I wonder if the independent brewers have ever thought of taking a class action against one of the two biggies?

If you go to Greytown, you should check out Stella Bull Park, named for the Wairarapa woman who did so much to make the town beautiful. There is a park bench there which notes: “Only God can make a tree.”

I’m of the mind that only an iconoclast can make a truly great beer. It’s just a shame that the incentivised distribution structure barricades these brews from the fridges of so many pubs in New Zealand.


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They say that midlife crisis for men typically expresses itself in one of three ways: developing a drinking problem, buying a boat or seeking a mistress. I seem to be pursuing a different path, and instead am trying to connect with the television heroes of my youth.

In the early 80s the definitive cop show on television was The Professionals, where two roguish CI5 operatives screamed around the streets of London in Ford Capris protecting the Crown from all manner of spies and dodgy foreigners. This unlikely association gave the pedestrian Ford Capri serious cutting edge cool. And now in my 40s I am in search of such cool.

So last winter I spent months seeking out a rust-free Capri. And then having sourced one, I did what all good Kiwi blokes do to Ford Capri’s, I tried to soup it up by fitting a pair of twin throat side draught carburettors. Carmakers abandoned carburettors in the 1990s, in favour of more efficient and controllable fuel injection, meaning few people now know how to set up and tune twin side draughts. Everyone I spoke to kept on referring to it as the last black magic.

This phrase came up again recently when a small manufacturing business came to me having received advertising bumf from a number of web design/hosting outfits, all of whom were offering to build basic business websites for capped prices of less than $5000. The owner, Rebecca, wanted to know if it was a good deal.

I don’t bemoan any web shop marketing its services, but in this case the more I looked into it the more it became clear is what Rebecca would receive for her money, was a generic website lightly painted in the livery of the customer. Importantly, any additional changes would be charged for and monthly hosting fees seemed exorbitant for plugging in a server and keeping the switch on.

Now $5000 may not be a lot of money if you are a Telco or dairy company, but it’s a heck of a lot if you are a small business battling tough trading conditions and trying to keep costs below expenses and hopefully pay yourself a bit as well. In the case of my manufacturing mate, it was clear that once the $5000 had been paid Rebecca would be paying more for consequent tweaks.

I suggested to Rebecca that she do it herself. She laughed at the suggestion, saying that she didn’t know how to build a website or any of the associated internet black magic. That anyone would see putting together a basic web presence as anything but straightforward and free in 2011 I find surprising. That they think of it as black magic is simply astonishing.

There are a huge number of packages and systems that can provide anyone with a free website, however the one I directed Rebecca to is http://www.wordpress.com . WordPress is a free and simple online content management system which allows almost any web surfer to sculpt up a reasonable website in an hour or so thanks to a heap of sample themes and templates.

Best known as a blogging tool, WordPress is used by over 10% of the world’s biggest 1 million websites as a hosting tool, so it’s industrial strength. Plus it’s got built-in applications for most of the big handheld devices including blackberries and iPhones. For those that find WordPress too complicated there’s the super simple Tumblr or for easy eCommerce there’s Shopify.

Services like WordPress, Tumblr and Shopify take care of basic stuff like search engine optimisation, synchronising with social media platforms and providing comment functionality. Importantly there are limits to what it can do, but you can usually pack it up and take it elsewhere when you grow up.

These services don’t not make you a design genius. But they do steer you so that you don’t make a complete hash of it. However if your budget extends to $30 you can buy a copy of Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think” for the basics. The other money that you should spend is buying a domain name, also known as a URL unique reference locator, specifically your domain name, before someone else done. (NB WordPress will also charge you to bolt this on).

The trick here is going for simple, descriptive URLs. Ideally you should buy two – your name (eg: http://www.bobsmith.co.nz) and your business name (eg: http://www.smithjewellery.co.nz). To do this go to http://www.discountdomains.co.nz or http://www.registerdomains.co.nz and buy online for around $30 a year. Good insurance lest someone else pinch it.

Free websites through the likes of WordPress are no panacea for small businesses getting online or increasing revenues. But they are a great option if you just want an online company profile, contact details and product overview. And it’s a great way to save $5000. Never having to take customer calls saying “hey cobber, your site’s down” is pretty appealing as well.

Meanwhile if you really are after someone that knows the black magic of tuning side draughts, I can recommend a bloke called Murray in Silverdale. He’s the real deal.

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For the first time in several years, the weather gods got serious for the Brass Monkey.  Snow, ice, rain, slips, closed roads and dropped bikes.

But all of our team survived and prospered.  Below are some snaps of the faithful enroute to Oturehua.  Sincere thanks to Wolf, Matt, Chuckles, Nash, Lance, the Captain, Gareth and Jo for making Tallulah’s first Monkey so memorable.

Beauty and the beasts.  The gang gather outside the Ranfurly Lion in four degrees of frost.

Breakfast with Sonja and Ian at Possum Cottage

Breakfast at Possum Cottage – with hosts Sonja and Ian.

Jo and Gareth enjoy an early morning cuddle in the Fairlie frost.

Chuckles and Lance - Possum Cottage

Chuckles and Lance outside Possum Cottage.

Early morning run to St Bathans.

Come on dad, lets fire up the KTM!

Frozen puddles on the Cattle Creek Track.

Tallulah tries a superior back seat!

End of the Hakataramea Track.

Coffee + Apple Tea Stop at Omakau

Geraldine to Fairlie Road – Heaven for bikers

The perfect ending to a day of midwinter biking – Gladstone Hotel Fairlie

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Right now all around the country people are servicing motorcycles, assembling layers of warm and waterproof clothing and going over route sheets. They are also taking more than an average amount of interest in the weather and the current deluge bucketing down over the South Island.
It’s Brass Monkey Time again. This, the hard core winter rally of choice for New Zealand’s Motorcycling elite, is being staged next week at Oturehua. Now some 30 years old this event has a remarkable history. But more remarkable is that people keep going back, to drive back country South Island roads in the middle of winter, and to camp out close to Ophir, the spot that holds the gong for experiencing the lowest still air temperature ever recorded in New Zealand, negative 27.
This is my 16th Monkey and is a special one as my 8 year old daughter is joining me on it. Tallulah has been begging to come along for the last three years but her over-protective mother was adamant that she needed to be 8 before she joined our dodgy mob of biker friends. We’ve spent the last couple of weekends modifying the KTM 990 to provide her with back support and a couple of arm rests, lest she nod off. We’ve also spent the last 3 months putting together her riding gear.
As it stands right now she will have three layers on her bottom half, 7 layers on her top half, plus a balaclava, double shell gloves and the coolest pair of Fox Boots you’ve ever seen.
Half the attraction of the Monkey is the mates you do it with, and the strange bond that develops among them. For me this is a group of madmen that I only see all at once, once a year. It revolves around a fellow called Captain Bryan, a retired aviator and petrolhead extreme who has 20 monkeys under his belt. I met the Captain in 1994 by chance at a dinner and he foolishly threw a challenge to a (then) young MOD asking whether I though I could hack the Monkey.
In the following years we were joined by an unlikely bunch. Chuckles, a PR guru with a face like plasticine. Matt, one of the countries top insurance lawyers with an addiction for the snaking twisties. Wolfram, an insane German with the worlds most dastardly sense of humour. Gareth, an investment trouble maker who we only put up because of his gorgeous wife Jo who can outride any of us. Nash, a sawmill operator from Pohangina with a voice like tarseal and a ZZ Top beard. Lance, an internet guru who never pays for his own drinks. Jono, a hairy assed refugee from corporate banking.  Fraser, a girly haired accountant who always brings along his bagpipes.  To be joined this year by Tallulah, an eight year girl with her own shotgun; and Carl, a car mechanic with a gently aging Guzzi.
It’s truly a strange bond that draws us together, something about the icy roads of cold clarity that Central Otago lays on for us. Something about taking the most indirect and less used routes possible. And something about the simple joy of escaping reality to be with good mates, going in search of the perfect corner.

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An old retired pilot mate of mine, Captain Bryan,  just sent me an extract from a 50 year olf flying manual for a radial engined plane (the AD-6).  I’m no aviator but its a fine evocative set of prose that makes you appreciate the jet aircraft of today.  Reproduced here for your pleasure.

Radial Starting

Be sure you drain both the sumps. (You can fill your Zippo lighter while you do this)

Look out the left side of the oily cockpit canopy and notice a very nervous person holding a huge fire bottle. Nod to this person.

1. Crack throttle about one-quarter of an inch.

2. Battery on

3. Mags on

4. Fuel boost on

5. Hit starter button (The four bladed 13’ 6’ prop will start a slow turn)

6. Begin to bounce your finger on top of the primer button.

a. This act requires finesse and style. It is much like a ballet performance. The engine must be seduced and caressed into starting.

7. Act one will begin: Belching, banging, rattling, backfiring, spluttering, flame and black smoke from the exhaust shooting out about three feet. (Fire bottle person is very pale and has the nozzle at the ready position)

8. When the engine begins to “catch” on the primer. Move the mixture to full rich. The flames from the exhaust will stop and white smoke will come out. (Fire bottle guy relaxes a bit) You will hear a wonderful throaty roar that is like music to the ears..

a. Enjoy the macho smell of engine oil, hydraulic fluid and pilot sweat.

9. Immediately check the oil pressure and hydraulic gages.

10. The entire aircraft is now shaking and shuttering from the torque of the engine and RPM of prop.

a. The engine is an 18 cylinder R-3350 that develops 2,700 HP.

11. Close cowl flaps to warm up the engine for taxi.

12.  Once you glance around at about 300 levers, gauges and gadgets, call the tower to taxi to the duty runway.

Take off in the AD-6

1. Check both magnetos

2. Exercise the prop pitch

3. Cowl flaps open.

4. Check oil temp and pressure.

5. Crank 1.5 degrees right rudder trim to help your right leg with the torque on takeoff.

6. Tell the tower you are ready for the duty runway.

7. Line the bird up and lock the tail wheel for sure.

8. Add power slowly because the plane (with the torque of the monster prop and engine power definitely wants to go left).

9. NEVER add full power suddenly! There is not enough rudder in the entire world to hold it straight.

10.Add more power and shove in right rudder till your leg begins to tremble.

11.Expect banging, belching and an occasional manly fart as you roar down the runway at full power.

12.Lift the tail and when it feels right pull back gently on the stick to get off the ground.

13.Gear up

14.Adjust the throttle for climb setting

15.Ease the prop back to climb RPM

16.Close cowl flaps and keep an eye on the cylinder head temp.

17.Adjust the power as needed as you climb higher or turn on the super charger.

Flying with the round engine.

1. Once your reach altitude which isn’t very high (about 8000 feet) you reduce the throttle and prop to cruise settings.

2. The next fun thing is to pull back the mixture control until the engine just about quits. Then ease it forward a bit and this is best mixture.

3. While cruising the engine sounds like it might blow or quit at any time. This keeps you occupied scanning engine gauges for the least hint of trouble.

4. Moving various levers around to coax a more consistent sound from the engine concentrates the mind wonderfully.

5. At night or over water a radial engine makes noises you have never heard before.

6. Looking out of the front of the cockpit the clouds are beautiful because they are slightly blurred from the oil on the cockpit canopy.

7. Seeing lightning in the clouds ahead increases the pucker factor by about 10.

a. You can’t fly high enough to get over them and if you try and get under the clouds—-you will die in turbulence.

b. You tie down everything in the cockpit that isn’t already secured, get a good grip on the stick, turn on the deicers, tighten and lock your shoulder straps and hang on.

c. You then have a ride to exceed any “terror” ride in any amusement park ever built. You discover the plane can actually fly sidewise while inverted.

8. Once through the weather, you call ATC and in a calm deep voice advise them that there is slight turbulence on your route.

9. You then scan you aircraft to see if all the major parts are still attached. This includes any popped rivets.

10. Do the controls still work? Are the gauges and levers still in proper  limits?

11.  These being done you fumble for the relief tube, because you desperately need it. (Be careful with your lower flight suit zipper)

The jet engine and aircraft

Start a jet

1. Fuel boost on.

2. Hit the start button

3. When the JPT starts to move ease the throttle forward.

4. The fire bottle person is standing at the back of the plane and has no idea what is going on.

5. The engine lights off—and—

6. That’s about it.

Take off in the jet

1. Lower flaps

2. Tell the tower you are ready for takeoff.

3. Roll on to the duty runway while adding 100% power.

4. Tricycle gear—no tail to drag—no torque to contend with.

5. At some exact airspeed you lift off the runway.

6. Gear up

7. Milk up the flaps and fly.

8. Leave the power at 100%

Flying the jet

1. Climb at 100%

2. Cruise at 100%

3. It is silent in the plane.

4. You can’t see clouds because you are so far above them.

5. You look down and see lightning in some clouds below and pity some poor fool that may have to fly through that mess.

6. The jet plane is air conditioned!! Round engines are definitely not. If you fly in tropical areas, this cannot be stressed enough.

7. There is not much to do in a jet, so you eat your flight lunch at your leisure.

8. Few gauges to look at and no levers to adjust. This leaves you doodling on your knee board.

9. Some call girl friends on their cell phones: “Guess where I am etc”

Some observed differences in round engines and jets

1. To be a real pilot you have to fly a tail dragger for an absolute minimum of 500 hours.

2. Large round engines smell of gasoline (115/145), rich oil, hydraulic fluid, man sweat and are not air-conditioned.

3. Engine failure to the jet pilot means something is wrong with his air conditioner.

4. When you take off in a jet there is no noise in the cockpit. (This does  not create a macho feeling of doing something manly)

5. Landing a jet just requires a certain airspeed and altitude—at which you cut the power and drop like a rock to the runway. Landing a round engine tail dragger requires finesse, prayer, body English, pumping of rudder pedals and a lot of nerve.

6. After landing, a jet just goes straight down the runway.

7. A radial tail dragger is like a wild mustang—it might decide to go anywhere. Gusting winds help this behavior a lot.

8. You cannot fill your Zippo lighter with jet fuel.

9. Starting a jet is like turning on a light switch—a little click and it is on.

10. Starting a round engine is an artistic endeavor requiring prayer (holy curse words) and sometimes meditation.

11. Jet engines don’t break, spill oil or catch on fire very often which leads to boredom and complacency.

12. The round engine may blow an oil seal ring, burst into flame, splutter for no apparent reason or just quit. This results in heightened pilot awareness at all times.

13. Jets smell like a kerosene lantern at a scout camp out.

14.  Round engines smell like God intended engines to smell and the tail dragger is  the way God intended for man to fly

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Well if you’ve been following mFirestone Leviny blog you’ll be aware of my tale of fear and loathing in the mighty Manawatu.  After snapping off one of the wheel studs on my 1275GT Mini in February, it’s been an interesting customer experience.

But it came right on Saturday.  I headed up the Coast on Saturday morning and they were expecting me.  Two hours later the Mini was all-go complete with new wheel stud.  All that and a friendly store manager (thanks Wayne) and a firm handshake and a genuine “sorry”.

All good I say.  Thanks for putting it right.

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Less than 1 daFirestone Leviny after my blog on the customer service ethos of Firestone Levin, I got a voicemail from the manager there Wayne, saying my wheelstud had arrived and that I should bring my car in. What a coincidence.

The next morning was Saturday 27 March so I set off bright and early from Wellington, picked up the Mini from the Kapiti garage where I keep it and headed into Firestone Levin.  On arriving Wayne wasn’t there but a nice fellow by the name of Stevie got in touch with him and located the long antidipated wheel stud (in fact there were four of them) but was unable to fit them as he was flat out.  We checked out the calendar and the first Saturday that worked for both of us was 17 April, so its booked in ready to go.

Stay tuned for more.

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