“Your injuries are important to us. Your ambulance will arrive in .. 22 .. minutes”

Ambulance.pngThere was another crash on the Pacific Motorway this morning. Traffic was backed up for a good 10 km in one direction, and 15 in the other. The longest queue was on the non-crash side. According to the media: People were slowing down to look. 

I say ‘Bollocks’.

I’ve driven past a ‘fresh’ crash. It had just happened on the other side of the barrier, a bare five metres away from me. People were still getting out, looking at the bent panels, trying to come to terms with this sudden interruption to their smooth and perfect lives, or simply going into shock. Others were stopping to help, phoning, making helpful gestures at the traffic still approaching. I saw no injuries, but there might have been.

It was on the other side of the barrier – YET I STILL SLOWED DOWN.

It’s compelling. Not sure why. Novelty factor? So unusual it catches the eye. Social code? We’re compelled to help. The Road Code? We’re required to help! And of course there’s the ‘Holy-crap-that-looks-bad/how-the-fuck-did-they-manage-to-do-that?‘ factor.

So I slowed down; 100 to maybe 80; then immediately resumed. “Nothing I can do. My duty is to not block up my side too.” Already too late. the next driver had to slow down too, or hit me, and they got an eyeful too. The same compulsion took hold; the same thoughts. Maybe they dropped 20km/h too. Whatever. But the wave had started.

Within 10 to 20 seconds, that spot would be going into .. not cardiac arrest .. more like ‘arterial congestion’. Regardless of whether people want to look or not, they’re forced to slow down by this self-perpetrating wave, and if you’ve been crawling for ages you’re going to be mad-curious to see why. The Train-Wreck Effect takes everyone over.

I caused it! Not because I’m a sicko feasting upon someone else’s misfortune; not because I’m a ‘rubber-necker’ … I caused it thanks to deep primal human impulse.

Screw you, judge-y fecking media pricks!

Anyway – this blog is about the other side, where people are dying. They need medics, stat!

I’ve seen awful crashes on that motorway, far worse. We crawl .. crawl .. and finally get our answers – “Holy crap, that’s bad. Fatality-grade, I reckon. … Poor buggers.” Mortality bites my emotional arse. Somberly, we take it in turn to edge into the only remaining free lane and get past. Up to that point it is UTTERLY congested; backed up for kilometres: well past the nearest on-ramp. Finally we hear the sirens and glance in our mirrors.

An ambulance comes creeping up behind us at 1 km/h. I do my best to edge over. It’s 3-lanes wide, no shoulders, there’s no break-down lane. We have to make room, but it takes ages because before I can edge forward & turn, so does the car in front of me, and the one in front of that, and so on.  Thus an ambulance at Point-A is requiring the cooperation of drivers that are literally kilometers away, via Points B, C, D, E, … X, Y Z!

In my most recent experience, the nearest hospital was literally 100m away from the crash, but the ambulance had to on-ramp some 2km back. At 100km/h it could have arrived in 1 minute, but that day it took more like 10. (I wasn’t timing it, btw.) But I was busy thinking – “Why are they sending it up the blocked side when, on the other side of the crash, there are three lanes that are almost completely empty?”

INDEED. WHY NOT? To me it is utterly logical.

“Ah; but the problem”, as you quickly point out, “is the likelihood of head-on collisions.”

But hello-o: it’s a three-lane motorway. It’s carrying, at that point, exactly one lane’s worth of traffic and even that is choked down to almost nothing. Tons of room.

Here’s how it could be done:

1) New regulations, well promoted. 2) Remote-controlled lane-signals. 3) TOTAL closure of the next-nearest off-ramp to civilian traffic. 4) Immediate system deployment, as soon as traffic control is notified. 5) Emergency vehicles are then routed ‘backwards’ up that temporary on-ramp. 6) strategic cameras. 7) Rapid responders. 8) Drones.

Now the cameras mostly exist. The worst-case stretches of road are already well-known. Radio contact already exists, as do flashing lights, sirens, and a citizen-base that is only too willing to comply as long as they know it is going to be helpful.

Lane controls: You install a string of emergency lights (green/amber/red) coupled with text-based messages, ‘RIGHT LANE ONLY! STRICTLY 60KM (RADAR ON!) EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING LEFT & CENTRE LANES’. ‘THIS EXIT IS CLOSED! EMERGENCY VEHICLES ENTERING. USE NEXT EXIT’. Whatever it takes.

The thing is – every single driver on that near-empty stretch of motorway has only just passed the crash scene. They know exactly what this is all about. Unless they have absolutely no soul, they’ll want to help.

Finally, there’s always someone at every crash who gets out of his or her car and directs traffic. Sometimes very effectively. Willingly. Unpaid. Well TRAIN MORE! Pay people to train. Give them the equipment to carry in their car. And if they’re unlucky enough to be on-the-spot and they do have to step up and keep things going, hell: PAY THEM AGAIN!

And finally, DRONES. A drone hanger every 2 km could enable central operators to launch a first-response helicopter to the scene, getting essentials there incredibly fast. Not sure what, to be honest. A camera certainly, so that experts still travelling in land-based vehicles can be briefed, even see the images and request details as they approach. Visuals will enable lane-restrictions could be decided before a officials even get there. Fire-fighting drones? Medic drones? Drones that can deliver com-sets and instruct citizens trying their best to help?

Your ideas?

We could cut ambulance and emergency-vehicle arrival times by huge margins. Save lives. Get the road cleared faster. Everyone wins. As long as there’s a willingness to do something a bit more obvious.







Spill the wine

I have this cup here .. just a moment; I’ll take a photo:

plastic.cup 005

It’s an ordinary disposable plastic drinking cup. This style came out some 30 years ago, and hasn’t changed. An entire generation has known them. Trillions have been made, used once and thrown away. Ubiquitous, mass-produced, and unremarkable except for one detail: The design is really fu*ked.

‘Huh?’ Yes. ‘How?’ Let me explain. Fill this with any kind of drink, raise it to you lips, and drink. Some liquid will immediately spill out and down your front. Annoying, embarrassing, and the result of entrenched bad design.

It’s all in the rim, or more precisely the cavity under the rim. It is approx 3.45mm wide and 2mm deep (measuring upwards). I doubt you could design a more effective way of collecting liquid from inside you mouth and channeling it straight out again. Every day, half a billion people spill their drinks, but I guess that detail didn’t matter to the original designer(s), or those who continue to crank out these failures.

I know my structures. That curl-over rim was about creating some rigidity, but in so doing they sacrificed a core function of any cup. All to save a a few milligrams of plastic and/or the expense of re-building the injection moulds. This design never should have gone into production, but I imagine enough people didn’t give a shit on the day its principal flaw was discovered. “Users be damned. We wanna make money!” 

BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE. My intention with the following short list is to (hopefully) draw the attention of emerging designers to what I see as a kind of disease, or myopia, that besets the design world. And it’s not a new one, either.

ITEM #2 The Automatic Gear Shift – Imagine you came across a deserted alien vehicle parked in the woods. Curious you enter, and soon find the driver’s seat. There’s a hi-tech view-screen and lots of bizarre controls, but hmmm – they sort of make sense, especially that big lever at centre. You sit, ready for some fun, and push that sucker forwards. The vehicle slams backwards. Furtively you flee, muttering, “Those aliens are fuckwits.

Seriously, how could anyone design a control stick that you pull backwards when you want to go forwards? It is completely counter-intuitive. This one astonishes me every single day.


ITEM #3  The New Christchurch Railway Station. They build a new one in the 1980s. [My review is right HERE: Sorry, it’s a bit long-winded. I was like that in 1999.]

To cut to the chase: The architects designed it with a huge glass wall facing roughly northeast. All very sculptural deconstructionist. Looked great. And every morning for at least half the year, the morning sun beamed right into the building and directly into the eyes of the counter staff. They literally could not see who they were serving! That entire fuck-up was created by the designers, yet in 1973 I was sitting in classes and being taught to consider the seasonal solar cycle, penetration angles and consequences. Go figure.

ITEM #4 The Bosch Wall Oven. I was delighted when my wife agreed with to me to buy a Bosch oven. I regard Bosch as world’s best. If Bosch made cars, I’d be all – “Shut up and take my money!” So we got it home and it was installed under the gas hob, and it was all just fine and we put in a roast, then an alarm started bleating. Dafuk?

For a little while neither of us could figure it out, then we realised that a bunched up tea towel on the oven handle had been the trigger. I soon deduced the reason: the tea towel was partly blocking the hot air outlet and well d’uh: over-heated oven iz bad! We soon learned to be less slovenly.

But next morning, the alarm went off again! The oven was stone cold. It wasn’t even on! I was merely leaning against it. The alarm – designed to alert people to overheating due to lack of a cooling airflow – was completely un-linked to the temperature of the oven!

90% of the time it achieves nothing, and is just plain annoying. Worse than that, it made this Bosch fan 50% less impressed with Bosch. That’s a lot of PR damage. And the worst thing? I can’t disable it, or rewire it. Once again end-user be screwed.


ITEM #5 Blow Heater – At the other end of the technology spectrum is our blow heater. We’ve currently got two of these little buggers, and we’re about to buy a third. It would easily be the 11th or 12th one we’ve had in the last 20 years. They run, they have a cut-out that is linked to internal temperature (in yer face, Bosch!) and they fail within a few years.

One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce where these are made: China. Much has been said about ‘Made in China’ so I won’t go over it all again. Just to note that in my experience: Well-made, reliable, long lasting products don’t get made there.

We bought two of ’em the first time out. One failed within two months. Back to The Warehouse ( – “where everyone gets a bargain!”). They replaced it without a murmur. The 2nd one failed soon after. This was getting suspicious! Taking up my trusty surgical implements I did a post-mortem … and found the nasty secret.

The circuit was simplicity itself. But lo – there was a noticeably fat resistor in the line. It was blown. I knew enough about circuits (Dux of my school in math& sciences), and this did not seem right. I’d never seen this in a heater or a toaster. After all – the heating coil is a resistor itself, with precisely known properties. I came to realise that they had obsolescence designed right into them. Manufactured to fail.

We keep buying them. They all fail. It is always the resistor. I open them up, snip out the fried resistor and solder the circuit back. After that it runs just fine for about 5 more winters until the coil gives out. I don’t mess with that. They go to landfill.

How many millions of these things have been made, sold, and gone to landfill far sooner than they need have? The sheer utterly cynical waste of our planet’s resources disgusts me. Seems as long as it looks good on the shelf at point-of-sale, that’s all that matters. I HATE that design attitude!

Speaking of design in regard to these heaters, Their ‘design’ keeps changing. Stylistically they change every few years. But on the day I do the inevitable surgery, it is quite apparent that nothing has changed inside. I could take the innards out of a 2016 heater and drop it neatly back inside a 1996 body. Same old same old; designed to fail.

[UPDATE: We acquired our new heater – the model at centre of my montage. And .. (wait for it) IT HAS A SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS DESIGN FAULT!! Having moved the controls to the very top, they had to severely compromise the handle. It’s on the back, barely deep enough to get 4 fingertips into, and if you actually try – YOU CANNOT PICK UP THE HEATER. It swings from your fingertips and flips down onto the floor. Every. Time.]

To me, design is not tinkering with the outsides. It is not about looks. Sculpting the outside of an office building is not design unless everything on the inside is considered and challenged and improved on too. Example: without changing anything inside, you can sheath an entire building in ‘glass-curtain’. Then everyone bakes every winter as the sun belts in. The air-con strains to cope and the running costs go sky-high. It was a big problem when I was an architecture student. The world was only just waking up to it.

It is like putting new clothes on a fashion model who suffers constipation. No matter how many garments she wears, the duration of the applause or the number of awards the fashion designer is given; she is still sick inside. Nothing changes.

Design needs to go far deeper. Unfortunately, most people pursuing a career in design are pawns in the bigger game called ‘Capitalism’, and capitalism, like the fashion industry, is all about selling everyone ‘the new look’, be it heaters or cars or buildings, and screw the end-user. But forget all that; have some more wine (down your front)!

Here’s another commentary about design, by design expert Lena Groeger:


Stupid is the New Black*


[ * You read that in Yoda’s accent, right? If not, go back and get it right.]

This is an open letter to all the Architects of the world and the Structural Engineers who in most part provide the surfaces upon which architects scribble their embellishments, and within which they fit their clients. (And I’ll add all the ‘Exterior Designers’ too, if there is such a category, and your Clients, just to cover all bases.)

That’s only about 50 million people, at a guess, so please excuse me if I seem a little nervous and tongue-tied. I’ve never spoken to so many people before. So let me cut to the chase: some of you are doing a very stupid thing!

Okay, sorry, maybe that’s a bit blunt. You’re all highly trained professionals with a lot on your mind like budgets, schedules, Next Year’s Prize in Architecture and Making A Building That Does Not Fall Down. So let me rephrase that: Some of you are forgetful.

Let’s roll back a decade or three. It’s summer. You’re three years old and you’re in your swimmers and you lean on someone’s black car. It’s a lesson in thermodynamics, but at the time you’re too busy screaming and clutching your burns to give it much thought. (I hope your parents didn’t shout at you, “You are very stupid!” I hope they kindly pointed out to you that ‘black cars get very VERY hot and please just don’t touch them, okay?’)

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit.

Later, as you journeyed through high school, you should have re-encountered this phenomenon in a science class or Science Education Centre. Since you’re in the building industry, you must have taken Physics. Do you remember the concept of the ‘perfect black body’? It’s on Wikipedia. Go look. Here are two quotes:

“A black body is an idealized physical body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation, regardless of frequency or angle of incidence.”

“A black body in thermal equilibrium has two notable properties: 1) It is an ideal emitter: at every frequency, it emits as much energy as – or more energy than – any other body at the same temperature. 2) It is a diffuse emitter: the energy is radiated isotropically, independent of direction.”

No no no no no! Focus; please!!

Evidently, entirely too many of you have forgotten this. I base this assertion on the following observation: THERE ARE AN AWFUL LOT OF BUILDINGS PAINTED BLACK*, and more seem to be going up every week.

And now you protest; “It’s what the client wants!” “Oh but it’s so fashionable right now, darling!” “We wanted to make a statement!” “It’s the company’s signature colour!”

Uh-huh; uh-huh; yeah. But the PHYSICS, people, the PHYSICS!  What you are doing is throwing up massive piles of concrete and steel that play into the fundamental cycle of global warming. And a black building is the PERFECT player. Daytime; sunshine; & your thermal collectors are perfectly coloured to collect heat. Come night and gigawatts of heat re-radiates at a different wavelength, and gets trapped in the atmosphere.

Every sunny day, the buildings you wrote the specs for are contributing to global warming. It would be happening even without humanity filling the air with more and more CO2, but it’s worse now that we have. WORSE than that, however: These buildings need more air conditioning. That costs your clients more and more, and if the electricity is coming from coal – BAM! DOUBLE-BONUS FAIL POINTS! 

And it gets worse. Every engineer and every architect should know that materials expand and contract constantly. Painting a building black is just asking for trouble. The concrete is stressing to the max, the steel and the joints – ditto. What is the economic life of your building? What are the additional maintenance issues?

Black is bad. It is just bad.

I live in Australia. I see this practice everywhere, and it breaks my brain that highly paid, highly educated specialists are continuing to make such a fundamental error. It should be your duty to specify light colours, and advise your client that a black colour scheme will hasten the death of their building, give them higher power bills, and ruin their Green credibility (not to mention helping to destroy humanity.)

Anything less than that is a failure of your duty as engineers or architects.

I know you’re not stupid, but I want to shout! If you’re currently contributing to the world-wide placement a literally billions of tonnes of solar thermal collectors, all maximised to contribution their utmost to global warming, I beg you to stop.

Thank you for listening.

* For the sake of convenience, I’m calling all the kettles black. I know you’ll quibble; “Oh but my building isn’t black, it is ‘charcoal’.” Well I’m sorry but it’s still a case of “the PHYSICS, people, the PHYSICS!”. ‘Off-Black’ or ‘Midnight Grey’, or ’50 Shades of Charcoal’ or whatever you want to call it: the effects are the same, the costs and the consequences are the same. By one or two percentage points difference at most.

** DISCLOSURE: I aspired to be an architect since the age of 12 & subsequently attended the Auckland School of Architecture during the early 1970s. I can safely claim to have acquired three-fifths of an architectural degree. Later on, during the 90s, I designed two buildings, neither of them was painted black. I currently regard most modern architecture as utterly repugnant, especially that tragic fad called ‘deconstructionism’. You can read my opinion here: http://www.nzine.co.nz/life/designasaur7.html