December 28, 2008

Horse 944 - The Road Tolls for Thee?
The number of people sentenced for high and mid-range drink driving in NSW local courts has fallen, but they cop harsher penalties, a study shows.
Since 2002, the proportion of drivers sentenced for high range prescribed concentration of alcohol (PCA) dropped 20 per cent, while mid-range PCA dropped seven per cent, the Judicial Commission of NSW study found.

This might be something to think about over this holiday period. Whilst the above article in isolation might sound like a good thing, it's also interesing to note that especially over the past 9 months in particular (though not of recent weeks) the price of petrol rose to the point where people were forced by higher prices out of their cars; onto public transport and generally doing fewer kilometers in their cars generally.

Call me a cynic if you will, but I would have thought that it logically follows that if the total number of miles driven in motor cars by the general population falls then there should be a proportionate drop in the number of offences that those drivers cause. Less Miles = Less Driving offences?

In 2007, 445 people died on the roads in NSW which was the lowest since 1945. Does it follow that with increases in car safety coupled with a reduction in passenger trafic that this can be anything other than what was recorded in the statistics?

I bet for instance that when the price of petrol hit $1.50/L during the year, that the road toll fell even further and now that we're looking at $1.10/L that it will be on the increase again. I also wonder if the credit crunch, economic crisis and general feeling of monetary woe will have had anything to do with the figures? Can people afford to buy alcohol and run their cars at the same time? Now there's an interesting thing I'd like to see a survey on.

Tony Blair's Imaginary Lunch:

Christmas Cake!

December 25, 2008

Horse 943 - I Love Toast!

Earlier this year I looked at the terrible plight facing old people, when the then leader of the opposition Brendan Nelson made the comment that old people were forced to live off of "Baked beans and Jam Sandwiches"

Well in this theme of bready comestibles and the shocking state of the world, think about the case of poor Liam (a student) who freely admits that he eats "toast, muffins or crumpets for breakfast, lunch and dinner"

Admitedly this does appear on the side of the box that a toaster from Coles comes in, and it could be very well possible that being a student who is by his very nature exceedingly lazy, that this is all that his cullinary skills extend to but it does illustrate a very pertinant point.

There are sectors in society who through poverty and/or stupidity, will not be able to enjoy a nice lunch this Christmas. Be it Baked Beans, Jam Sandwiches, Toast, Muffins or Crumpets, that's all these poor souls will be having for lunch. Whilst you tuck into your glazed ham, duck ala orange or Lobsters Thermidor and Spam, think of people like Liam, old people and even Dr Brendan Nelson.

December 23, 2008

Horse 942 - Holden, All But Confirms My Suspicions

The new small, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder vehicle to be built by GM Holden at Elizabeth will be based on General Motors' global Delta small car architecture.
Other examples of the architecture will include the next generation Chevrolet Cruze and Opel, Vauxhall and Saturn Astra.
The architecture was primarily developed by GM Europe in Russelsheim, Germany for GM markets around the world.

Further details about the vehicle including its nameplate, design specifications and pricing will be determined closer to the time of production.
Given the competitiveness of the small car segment, key decisions will be made to ensure the first Australian-made small car choice for many years will be a compelling one.

Holden is acting coy isn't it? It makes the announcement that it doesn't have all of the specifications of the car that it's going to produce. I can be a little presumptuous here because I'm not employed by the General though.

Below is a photo of the 2007 Astra Sedan.

Bear in mind that this is the Astra H sedan and we will be building the Astra I (the reasons why will come later in this piece), nevertheless this is important to the story.

The Astra H came out in 2004 and had to sit along side the Vectra C which was at that stage 2 years old. The Vectra C itself received a facelift mid-2005 to bring its design language up to speed with Astra H BUT the Astra H had not at that point actually had a sedan derivative.

Now the Vectra C itself has been replaced and been replaced with the Insignia.

It's probably fair to assume that because the Astra always followed the Vectra but brought the styling up to date, that it will do the same for the Insignia. The Astra I will I suspect follow the styling of the Insignia to a degree and the the Insignia mid-way through its model life. You can already see part of that design language thrust onto the grille of the sketch that came with Holden's official announcement.

You can probably bet that the Australian built Astra I will replace the current Astra H and the abominable Viva in one swoop; probably have a sticker price of about $22,990 and be powered by a 1.8L and 2.0L petrol, a 2.2L Turbocharged engine and a 1.7L tubrodiesel. Holden won't be reinventing the wheel at all, and because they'll need to look at export markets, it will be identical to everyone else's. More than likely because of Australia's predilection for four door sedans, we're probably likely to build the Astra I sedan here and import the hatchbacks as per existing agreements.

This I find amusing:
Further details about the vehicle including its nameplate
When the news went around yesterday, on Angela Cattern's Drive program and PM which came of after the 6 o'clock news (on ABC 702 Sydney), people were mainly concerned about what the new car was going to be called. Names such as Torana, Gemini and amusingly Bogan were thrown about. As far as I'm concerned, that's the least important part of the car - It's Astra I, by any other name... it's still an Astra.

December 22, 2008

Horse 941 - Holden, Ripping Your Pockets For Fun And Profit,21985,24833772-662,00.html
HOLDEN has announced it will use $179 million in government funding to build a new four-cylinder car at its Adelaide plant.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today announced the Federal Government will invest $149 million over three years and the State Government will provide a further $30 million to enable the production of a front-drive vehicle fuelled by diesel and petrol, AdelaideNow reports.

When I heard this on the ABC news this afternoon, I wondered what in blue blazes all of the hoohas was about. People from Holden seemed mystified as to what this new car was, and the Federal Government was taking credit where it could as part of its "infrastructure package".

Well people be mystified no more, for the answers you seek are entirely unremarkable.

Consider the following from the above article:
1. Holden's return to building a four-cylinder car at Elizabeth has been rumoured for months.
2. The vehicle will initially be produced with a direct-injection petrol and diesel engine
3. Its new "Delta" global small car platform.
4. The four-cylinder car announcement comes on the back of Ford proposing to build its Focus small car at the company's Broadmeadows plant in Melbourne from 2012.

Four cylinder? Well, Holden has been building the Ecotec Family II engine and derviatives for the past 20 years. Direct Injection or Diesel? Again, Holden already has access to these. "Delta" global small car platform? I think we have a winner... Ford proposing to build its Focus? Now I'm sure of it.

Consider this:
Ooh, Tasty!

Or this:

Although it's hard to see, this simple sketch and blurry photo are our first glimpses at the next-generation 2010 Opel Astra hatchback, which will be unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt motor show.

Considering that Ford are building the Focus from 2012, Holden have managed a coup d'foudre and will be using Government money to set up a production line for a car which will replace something already in their model line up.

Also when you look at this:
The new version of the Delta architecture, dubbed Delta II, is currently being prepared by GM-Daewoo.
... and remember that Holden of Australia owns 49% on GM-Daewoo, all the pieces magically fit together. The car which Holden has managed to get free funding for is...

So, well done Holden. You've managed to use public panic and general misery to rip $179 million from the public pocket for a project which you'd intended to run all along... Well Done!
This is also a case of "I told you so", on the 17th July 2006!
How come I could see this two and a half years ago?
The highest selling car in Australia for the first time back in March was the Toyota Corolla, No 2 was the Astra followed by the Camry at number three.
Toyota who are the world's biggest car company have shifted more Corollas by nameplate than any other car in history. Get off your big fat noisy horses Holden and out-Corolla Corolla with the Astra!

December 17, 2008

Horse 940 - The Truth About Santa

A teacher who told pupils Santa Claus did not exist has been sacked. Year Three children at Blackshaw Lane Primary School in Oldham, Greater Manchester, were left devastated by the news.

One parent said: "My son came home and said that his substitute teacher had told the class that Santa doesn't exist and it's your mum and dad that put out presents for them.

"Apparently, they were all talking about Christmas and being a bit rowdy. She just came straight out with it. "He was nearly in tears - and so close to Christmas. I thought it was wrong. He was distraught about it. He's only seven years old and it's part of the magic of Christmas to him."

A spokeswoman for Oldham Council said headteacher Angela McCormick is preparing a letter of apology to parents. She said the headteacher has complained to the agency which supplied the teacher and added that the teacher no longer works for the school.

Newsflash: Santa Claus is not real, he's a fib.

Moreover, why does the school think it so valuable to preserve a lie? I bet that these are the same parents who would complain if "religion" was being pushed if the teachers dared to actually tell children the real reason for Christmas.

Is this the reason why the teacher was sacked? "I thought it was wrong. He was distraught about it." Because if it is, then that's a pretty poor excuse in all honesty. You have to wonder what provoked the comment in the first place. I'll bet that "being a bit rowdy" was the kid's way of telling the story, I'll also bet that the teacher's way of telling the story would have ended with the words "intolerable little git". Let's keep the fib going shall we? Shall we also tell the kids that their Nintendo Wii was built by elves? That reindeer can actually fly?

Let's look at the "Spirit of Christmas" being invoked here. "He was nearly in tears - and so close to Christmas." Imagine what it's like to be FIRED so close to Christmas, now there's a present for you, how's that for "the magic of Christmas", knowing that you don't have a job because you happened to tell the truth, now there's proof that Santa doesn't exist and if he does then to be quite frank he's a miserable bum.

December 16, 2008

Horse 939 - Detroit et Deus ex Machina?

I cite General Motors particularly in this article, but equally Ford and Chrysler are as much to blame. Detroit is a big behemoth that takes years to react to anything, even when that thing is killing it.

I do feel incredibly sorry for the individual people who will might be losing their jobs. In a time of uncertainty and possible rising unemployment, the "real" people at the work place have families that need to be fed, mortgages of which the banks are not going to show kindness and the very real prospect of upcoming hardship.

General Motors who was once the biggest company in the world, is peering into the financial abyss. Notwithstanding the fact that could have and should have avoided the malaise some time ago and reacted to the fact that people weren't buying their produce some time ago. I myself even foresaw this in June of 2006.

One thing that has to be mentioned here is that in the past, when GM said "Jump!" the US Federal Government used to ask "How high?" At one point GM had become the largest corporation registered in the United States, in terms of its revenues as a percent of GDP. In 1953, Charles Erwin Wilson, then GM president, was named by Eisenhower as Secretary of Defense. When he was asked during the hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee if as secretary of defense he could make a decision adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively but added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa". Later this statement was often misquoted, suggesting that Wilson had said simply, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."

This attitude still seems to persist some 55 years later. The three big automotive companies went cap in hand to the US Congress, of whom it was expected a great wad-o-cash would be handed over; and it seems, they didn't get it.

After three days of negotiations with Republicans, Senator Reid declared the debate was over. There was no prospect of getting the 60 votes needed.

One wonders though if maybe, they didn't ask nicely enough. I find this, er, plea (?) from GM itself, through truth in point it sounds rather like General Motors was trying to hold Congress to ransom:
The effect would be devastating in ways of which you never have thought:
* Nearly 3 million jobs would be lost in the first year alone – with another 2.5 million to follow over the next two years
* Personal income in the United States would drop by more than $150.7 billion in the first year
* The cost to local, state, and federal governments could reach $156.4 billion over three years in lost taxes, and unemployment and health care assistance
* Domestic automobile production would more than likely fall to zero – even by international producers, due to supplier bankruptcies

To sum this up: You'd better give us the money we want or else all these people are gonna lose their jobs. To be fair I think it's quite reasonable that the US Congress told them to go outside and shout at the wall. Certainly the CEO Rick Wagoner doesn't seem to care about his employees, even if the company were to go bankrupt, he's still sitting on $4.6m a year:
As General Motors slashes jobs, closes plants and battles to avoid bankruptcy, the company’s CEO has set up a retirement plan that will pay him at least $4.6 million a year – nearly twice his current salary.

So yes, I feel sorry for the workers who are going to lose their jobs but it is simply beyond me to even feel the slightest bit sorry for the company as a whole when their very own CEO (who by the way is currently on $28m a year) and directors like him who should be responsible, think it worthy to scoop the benefits themselves and leave their employees floundering. I for one don't think we'll see Rick Wagoner worrying about where his next meal is coming from in a hurry. This is a far cry from the days of the depression when Henry Ford himself, kept his workers on at the factory and paid them despite not selling anything because he realised that I he kept on paying his workers then they'd keep the local shopkeepers and other people in business.

Almost as an aside though perhaps related, whilst trawling through the news articles this week I happened to find the following through Reuters:

With sport-utility vehicles at the altar and auto workers in the pews, one of Detroit's largest churches on Sunday offered up prayers for Congress to bail out the struggling auto industry.

"We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week," the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple. "This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand."


Ellis said he started to organize the service last week after hearing from auto workers, retirees and their widows who were all fearful of even harder times.

At one point, Ellis summoned up hundreds of auto workers and retirees in the congregation to come forward toward the vehicles on the altar to be anointed with oil.

"It's all about hope. You can't dictate how people will think, how they will respond, how they will vote," Ellis said after the service. "But you can look to God. We believe he can change the minds and hearts of men and women in power, and that's what we tried to do today."

Does this mean to say that after going to mummy for money, that they're now going to daddy? It is a good and worthy thing to rely on God for His provision (since He provides us with everything anyway) but do you really think that God is going to reward rampant greed, selfishness and poor stewardship?
"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" - (James 4:3 NIV)

Did we see this in action? I'm quite sure that the three CEOs of the Automotive Companies didn’t exactly help their case by flying to Washington on separate private jets. I wonder.

December 08, 2008

Horse 938 - F-22 Raptor vs Bees

As a bloke, we often ask the question of "Who would win in a fight?". Apple vs Mac, Pepsi vs Coke, Holden vs Ford, Liverpool vs Everton, Ronald McDonald vs The Colonel, David Lee Roth vs A Blade of Grass. Today we have some new challengers for whom we can ask the question "Who would win in a fight?"

The F-22 Raptor or Bees

Let's lay the cases out and see what we find.

F-22 - 2 Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 engines
Bee - 1 Bee
This of course is pretty obvious. Whereas an F-22 Raptor has two PW F119 engines just in case one fails, a bee has only itself as a propulsion system. In the event of a flameout or whatever the bee equivalent is, then it's pretty well much curtains for the bee.

Raptor 1 - Bee 0

F-22 - 2205km/h empty; 1830km/h laden
Bee - 24km/h empty; 15km/h laden
An F-22 Raptor can outfly, outrun a bee but probably not outturn one. In the current climate, the F-22 hasn't really got any natural enemies, whereas bees can become food for potentially all sorts of small birds and animals that might like a bee snack. The F-22 also has a set of quite reasonable anti-air and air-surface defences, so in this regard the F-22 is better prepared.

Raptor 2 - Bee 0

F-22 - $137,000,000
Bee - $0.02
This is something that you can do a cost effective analysis on. I found out that to buy a small self-sustaining swarm would cost about $140. For this you get about 7000 bees; this puts the average cost per bee at about 2c. In other words for the price of an F-22 Raptor you could get 6,850,000,000 bees. Personally I think owning 6,850,000,000 of anything would be brilliant.

Raptor 2 - Bee 1

F-22 - 15000kg
Bee - 40mg
The issue here isn't whether an individual bee could carry more than an F-22 Raptor, but whether an equivalent weight or value of bees could outcarry one. 6,850,000,000 bees all carrying 40mg a piece would collectively carry 274,000kg of payload. For their size bees are quite hardy and are able to carry their own weight. The maximum takeoff weight of an F-22 Raptor is a paltry 38,000kg.

Raptor 2 - Bee 2

So for the honey world production of around 1.4 million tons, around 1.4 trillion bees are needed. From the dramatic reduction in the number of wild bees over the last few decades we can conclude that most bees are now working in the honey production for us. Thus a reasonable guess could be the number of around 2,000,000,000,000 bees. Our 6,850,000,000 bees is about 0.3% of all the bees in the world.

The 2004 locust outbreak in Western and Northern Africa has estimated to have cost about $4bn with roughly an equivalent amount of locusts. Also, If you then assume that it's reasonable that there are about the same number of bees as in biblical times, then the fame of the plague of locusts which has extended for a few thousand years is quite great. Churchill estimated that if the British Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say this was their finest hour.

With the Iraq war and clashes in Afghanistan grinding on, the cost to the US budget is $500 billion and still mounting. The question is how much of that is caused by air-power. Personally I suspect that bees would be more cost effective because they could deliver a bigger payload at cheaper costs.

Raptor 2 - Bee 3

I think that I've more or less come to the conclusion that a bee is a more efficient and more cost effective device. The grand question of who would win in a fight is... BEES: 3-2.

December 05, 2008

Horse 937 - The Spirit of Iberia, The British Kangaroo,28124,24744533-36418,00.html,28124,24747519-30538,00.html

This is big, really big, mega-super-eye-bleed big. Qantas, British Airways, Iberian Airways, and American Airways, are all currently staring at the prospect of forming some super-mega conglomo airline thing.
In theory it opens up the group to 270 destinations, a combined fleet of over 450 planes, frees up $6.8bn in cash immediately and saves about $1.3bn a year in overheads, maintenance costs and other incidentals.

In other words it makes good economic sense.


Dick Smith former head of CASA went on the ABC yesterday telling Richard Glover that he didn't see what advantages the merger of Qantas with British Airways would bring Australians. I ask "so what?" In all actuality it matters not an iota what advantages it brings Australians.

Qantas is a publicly listed company. When in 1993 the company was privatised, British Airways as early as then bought 25% of the shares for $665m. When all the shares had finally been disposed of by the Australian Government, 55% of then were owned by "Australian" interests, 25% by BA and 20% by foreign interests. I note that although the provisions nominally state that at least 51% of the company must be "Australian owned" there is in fact no actual off-market check as to whom those Australians actually are. If it's institutional investors then quite literally there'll be no way of knowing who it is anyway - so the arguments about foreign control and/or profits going overseas is entirely academic.

The role of any company is to make a return to its shareholders. This is an entirely amoral statement; for example, a rock which falls on a person is amoral. It is neither right nor wrong, and one cannot reasonably praise or blame the rock, as the rock does not have any moral concepts. Likewise, a company is an amoral entity; since of itself, it is a non-corporeal person, it of itself can not have moral attachments. I don't care if you happen to be Qantas, Holden, Joe's Pizzeria Pty Ltd or even OmniCorp, all of their aims is entirely the same. Qantas is not in business to confer certain adavantages to Australians except if you happen to be an Australia and a shareholder; in which case, the fact that you are an Australian is irrelevant.

My sense of moral indignation comes about because Qantas was sold by the Keating Goverment in the first place. That's where and when Australians lost any advantage they once had through Qantas. Here's me 15 years later and something which I used to own is turning a profit, but am I even seeing so much as a red cent? No. My advantage before and after the merge if it happens will be entirely the same... nothing. The flying kangaroo can jump* for all I care.

*Yes, I knew I'd get that pun in there somewhere!

December 04, 2008

Horse 936 - The All New Mazda 1

The all-new Mazda 1 completes Mazda's small car line-up. With it's 658-cc 3 cylinder engine... Except that's not a real story.

With the Mazda 6 and the Mondeo based on the same platform, the Mazda 3 and the Focus on the same platform and the Mazda 2 and the Fiesta based on the same platform it would seem logical that the Mazda 1 should share a platform with the Ka... except that the Ka II is in cahoots with the Fiat 500.

The various platforms and models currently produced are:
Ford CD3 - Ford Mondeo, Mazda 6
Ford C1 - Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Volvo S40, Volvo V50, Volvo C70, Volvo C30
Ford B3 - Ford Fiesta 6 & 7, Mazda 2
Ford B1 - Ford Fiesta 3-5, Ford Ka I
Fiat Panda - Fiat Panda, Fiat 500, Ford Ka II

The problem for Mazda is that the car which they would have shared engineering with, no longer exists. Because Ka II is based off of a Fiat, where does Mazda go? They could in theory make their own negotiations with Fiat, however this isn't terribly likely.

What I'm wondering is would the theoretical Mazda 1 replace the existing Mazda Carol with currently is a rebadged Suzuki Alto? In which case, when the Alto changes over in 2009, would the corresponding Mazda follow suit? Also considering that the Suzuki Also would be built in India by Maruti Suzuki, would this give Mazda a foot into the Indian car market? The downside with this is that would the Japanese accept an Indian built car for the Japanese Domestic Market? So many questions.

December 03, 2008

Horse 935 - Ka II is well... disappointing.

The Ford Ka is an ageing but still superb little thing. The mad looks have grown on everyone now, and a great little chassis makes this a gem of a city car. But a replacement is imminent.

Somehow the Ka is cool. Small is very definitely cool these days, and despite its obvious age the Ka can still cut it visually and dynamically amongst the current crop of city cars.

The Ka's trump card is handling, with its wide stance, wheel in every corner and lightning quick steering, it's a blast around town. The stiffer, more focused SportKa is all this and more besides.

Not the biggest car inside, as you might expect, but superior design of late makes better use of little spaces. The Ka has no five-door option, but you can still get two in the back better than you can in a modern Mini.

- Top Gear Website

Except that that was the old Ka. The new one as reviewed by the Dec issue of Top Gear UK magazine is well... disappointing.

The old Ka (ie mine) sat atop Ford's B platform which also provided the basis for Fiestas 3, 4 and 5 (Fiesta 6 got the B3 platform) as well as the spritely coupe, the Ford Puma. All of these cars were known for their exceptional handling.

The new Ka in comparison does not share its platform with the Fiesta 7. Instead, it was developed off of the Fiat 500, which although won European Car of the Year for 2008, was reviewed by James "Captain Slow" May, as being gummy and unresponsive.

Contained within the previous paragraph lies the reason for the Ka's existance and also as to as to why the Ford Ka II should be so disappointing. The Ka I was possibly one of the least expensive cars to develop. The platform it sat on was already 7 years old, the engine at that stage was an archaic 37 years old and to top it all off, the whole point of the funly styling was an experiment in using as little metal as possible - BUT - the Ka II which came off the 500, was an exercise in cynicism. The Ka is essentially a Fiat 500, hit with the Kinetic styling styling stick, yet it also retains the gummy and unresponsive underpinnings, which is quite a contrast to the previous model.

Whereas the Ka I will probably go down as a classic, the Ka II almost certainly will not. The Ka II is to the Ka I what the Fiesta 6 was to the Fiesta 5. It makes me wonder what could have been acheived had they used the B3 platform. Would we have seen a Mazda 1? Perhaps a new Puma? Who knows?

What we do know about the New Ka is that the engines are rubbish. The biggest engine choice currently on sale only throws out 74kW. Admittedly Fiat are chasing frugality at the petrol pump, but this also equates to a wheezy car down the motorway; which the Ka I was criticised for.

Perhaps somewhat fortunately, Ka II isn't going to be as woeful as what Ford dished up to us here in Australia as the Ford Festiva. Here was a car so terrible, that Mazda didn't even sell it under their own badge, in Europe it became the Kia Pride and inadvertantly when Mazda pulled the overly cute 121 bubble car from their hat, led to the development of Ka I in the first place.

There is another twist in this tale. Ironically the Ka I which was reasonably successful, could move production to... the USA. See below.

Though we knew the European Transit Connect, Focus, and Fiesta are scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in the next few years, Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally hinted the new 2009 Ka may find a home in America as well.

Speaking this morning on a Detroit radio show, Mulally indicated the company is pondering adding the Ka to its North American lineup. He further suggested that "a lot of people" share the belief that Ford should bring the car to the U.S. market.

If it were to arrive in America, the Ka would become Ford's smallest offering, sizing up beneath the subcompact Fiesta. Introduced at the 2008 London motor show, the Ka is built in Poland along with the Fiat 500, with which it shares a platform.

Herein in lies another twist in this tale. Fiat currently do not sell cars in either the USA or Canada, so if Ford bring the Ka II to the US, they may very well beat Fiat at their own game provided they can do it by 2012 which is the expected date of return for both Fiat and Alfa Romeo.

As for us here in Australia, well we don't get a choice. Ford Australia's official line is as follows: " this point in time, there are no plans to reintroduce Ka in Australia." Personally I find that well... disappointing.