Sunday, 29 October 2017

FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA

Los Angeles to New York via Interstate 70 and the Colorado Rockies

With a big sleeper-cab and a 53-foot trailer, I was a paid tourist. Here is a sample read from my book Highway America - the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver.

CalArk, the Arkansas interstate trucking company that I was working for, allowed their drivers a fair amount of freedom when it comes to choosing routes. Most traffic between Los Angeles and New York uses Interstate 40 for most of the journey because of its lower altitude, gentler slopes and more frequent service and repair places. On the other hand taking the I-70 over the Rockies could lead to all kinds of costly misadventures and higher fuel consumption. I didn’t want to push my luck too far so I sent an OBC message to Little Rock asking, ‘I-70 or I-40?’  A few minutes later the reply came back, ‘I-15, I-70, I-76, I-78, I-287, I-80.’ It was exactly what I, a paid tourist, had hoped for.
At 4pm Tuesday I departed on my first coast to coast run. Four hours later I rested up for the night at a rest area in the Mojave Desert where the outside temperature was still over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. According to radio reports some localities reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit that day. All praise to Old Bluey for its air conditioning and fast idle facility. The heat of the desert must also take a toll on the highway sign-writers; in the Mojave Desert I found a sign for a Zzyzx Road.
The nearby settlement of Zzyzx (pronounced Zikes) was established by one Curtis Springer in 1944 when he set up the local Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa on federal land. He created Zzyzx so that it would be the last word in the English language and everything went fine for Springer until he was sprung by the Federal Government for misusing government land.
On Wednesday morning I awoke to a beautiful desert sunrise and spent a few minutes taking photos before departing for Las Vegas, a TA breakfast and a flutter on a roulette wheel. By mid-morning Old Bluey was heading up Interstate 15 again through Nevada, a corner of Arizona and into Utah in brilliant sunshine.

At Fishlake National Forest I turned east onto the I-70 and started climbing towards the Rocky Mountains as cumulonimbus clouds gathered overhead. An hour later an enormous thunderhead hung menacingly over the landscape and triggered the most spectacular lightning displays imaginable. All around fiery, lightning bolts shot down from the sky, some striking the ground a mere fifty yards from the truck as I proceeded cautiously. The noise of the thunderclaps and torrential rain was deafening.
A few miles on the sky suddenly cleared and the only evidence of the storm was the steam rising from the still hot road and a few minutes after that the desert had the appearance of not having had rain for a hundred years.
I pulled into a rest area and took some more photos before going on to the West Winds Truck Stop at Green River, Utah, having completed 551 miles for the day.
A narrow strip of cultivated land on both sides of the river to the north of the town gave the locality a welcoming oasis appearance in spite of the uninviting surrounding desert. In the fading light I walked the main street, talked to some locals, and had a beer and a dinner and walked back to the truck where I studied the Rand McNally Road Atlas and the USA Rough Guide and wrote up the diary before putting the light out.
Green River is 4,000 feet above sea level and according to the Rand McNally Road Atlas a climb to over 11,100 feet (almost the height of New Zealand’s Mount Cook) was in store for Thursday and I rose early to prepare for one of the great adventures of North American motoring.
The sun had just risen when I crossed from Utah into Colorado and headed for Grand Junction (the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers), the largest city in western Colorado with 44,000 people. From there the I-70 follows the Colorado River through rugged gorges and settlements with names like Parachute and Rifle to Glenwood Springs which boasts the world’s largest outdoor hot springs pool. I’m not sure if Rotorua qualifies as part the ‘world’ or not. A one time famous resident of Glenwood Springs was Doc Holliday, a dentist, gambler and gunfighter (lead fillings?) who retired there at the ripe old age of 35 and died a short time later in 1887. The local graveyard also holds the remains of Kid Curry, a member of the Butch Cassidy gang.
Continuing east the interstate enters Glenwood Canyon and makes numerous crossings of the Colorado River as it flows in the shadow towering mountain peaks all around. The road climbs steadily to 8,000 feet at the modern ski resort of Vail where President Gerald Ford was living in retirement. East of Vail the I-70 climbs quickly to an initial high of 10,666 feet at Vail Pass where I pulled into a rest area for another photo stop. It was July and the weather was mostly fine and hot at lower elevations but at Vail Pass there was still plenty of snow above the interstate and the air was thin and cold. Even though the hair spray load weighed in at only 19,000lbs. I was surprised at how well Old Bluey performed on the steep grades. Two years later when I hauled ice cream over the same mountains it was a different story. More about that later.
From Vail Pass the interstate descended again to below 9,000 feet at Silverthorne before climbing again to the Rockies summit at the entrance to the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel at 11,125 feet above sea level. Then it plunged again to 7,500 feet at Idaho Springs and leveled off for a few winding miles before making a long descent to the busy mile-high city of Denver.

For another sample read, or to purchase, click HIGHWAY AMERICA


NEW ZEALAND TOUR COMMENTARY

For the first time in New Zealand, a handbook for tour guides, published by a tour guide

First published in 2009, Peter Blakeborough’s New Zealand Tour Commentary is now in its fifth edition and is the standard reference for New Zealand guides, old and new.

Here is a breakdown of what you can expect to find in this informative guide book, followed by two sample reads.

PART ONE
                                                                                                
Chronology of New Zealand History                                              6                                           
PART TWO
The Tour Commentary                                                                    39
Sample Commentary – Auckland                                                 48
Sample Commentary – Wellington                                               78

PART THREE
Tourist Routes – North Island
Auckland-Waipoua Forest-Bay of Islands                                    88
Treaty of Waitangi                                                                          100
Auckland-Waitomo-Rotorua                                                        109
Pokeno-Rotorua via Coromandel                                                127
Rotorua-Wellington                                                                       148
Taupo-Wellington via Hawkes Bay                                              159
Government in New Zealand                                                        167

PART FOUR
Tourist Routes – South Island                         
Cook Strait                                                                                       174
Picton-Hokitika                                                                              178
Hokitika-Queenstown                                                                   193
Queenstown-Milford Sound                                                         207
Te Anau-Dunedin                                                                           217
Dunedin-Omarama                                                                        228
Queenstown-Christchurch                                                            235
Christchurch-Picton                                                                       254

PART FIVE
Notable New Zealanders                                                                261
Population, Mountains, Rivers & Lakes                                       271
References & Acknowledgements                                                 273       
Index                                                                                                  275                                                                                        

From Page 14
1865 The New Zealand Capital is moved from Auckland to Wellington. The Native Land Court is established. Auckland streets are lit by gas. A high-powered meeting of the Middle Island Association in Dunedin calls for separation from the rest of New Zealand.
1866 Cobb & Co, operates the first coach from Canterbury to the West Coast. The first Cook Strait telegraph cable is laid. The Kelly Gang (no connection with Australia’s Ned Kelly) are hanged at Nelson after murdering four men for their gold.
1867 Four Maori seats are created in the New Zealand Parliament. The Lyttleton rail tunnel is completed. The Coromandel goldfields open and the towns of Grahamstown and Shortland (Thames) quickly gain more people than Auckland. Brown trout, sparrows and starlings are introduced to New Zealand.
1868 New Zealand Mean Time is set at 11 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich.
1869 Thomas Burns, a nephew of Robert Burns establishes New Zealand’s first university at Dunedin. Because New Zealanders are not eligible for British military decorations, Governor Bowen creates the New Zealand Cross and is reprimanded by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh is New Zealand’s first Royal visitor.
1870 Julius Vogel, after borrowing heavily in London, starts an ambitious program of public works and immigration to boost the failing economy.
1871 New Zealand’s first university, Otago, opens in Dunedin. Ernest Rutherford is born at Brightwater near Nelson.
1872 Auckland, Wellington and southern centres are linked by telegraph. Makereta Thom (also known as Maggie Papakura) is born and will become one of New Zealand’s most famous tour guides.
1873 New Zealand Shipping Company is established.
1874 New Zealand’s first steam engine is built in Invercargill.


From Page 157
Bulls This town is the centre for a district where beef and dairy cattle are raised, along with sheep and a variety of cash crops. And the town is called Bulls.
The town took its name, not from cows and bulls, but from the first settler, James Bull, and English farmer who arrived here in 1859. Later, he opened the first store here, and a hotel. Bull was also a carver of some note, nothing to do with cows carving, but rather his hand-carved wood panels that can be found inside the British House of Commons.
The town name is responsible for the local pun about being the only place in the world where one can get milk from bulls. You may consider that pun ‘commenda-bull’ or ‘horri-bull’ or any other kind of bull, but it is never-the-less a famous local pun.

Ohakea The history of the Ohakea Air Force Base goes back to 1939, when it was constructed as a base for Wellington bomber aircraft.
Over the years it has been home to strike, transport, training aircraft and helicopters. Current aircraft based here include New Zealand-built CT-4 Airtrainer aircraft, Boeing 757, C-130 Hercules, Beech King Air 200s, Lockheed Orions and several types of helicopters. The strike force was disbanded in 2001 and buyers are wanted for the squadron of forty-year-old Skyhawks.

Foxton was named after Sir William Fox, an early premier, social reformer and explorer, who represented this district in the House of Representatives.
Foxton is one of the oldest towns north of Wellington. Its origins go back to 1848 when it became a river port. The most prominent landmark in the town today is the recently built de Molen Dutch windmill which makes stone-ground flour.

For the e-book edition, click here or
For the print edition, call Peter on 64-21-115-0543, or contact him on Facebook.






Friday, 27 October 2017

AUTONOMOUS CARS

How soon will driverless cars, trucks and buses rule the highways?

For super optimists the answer is within five years. For many, autonomous cars will outnumber human-driven cars within ten years. Some also believe that within ten years human-driven cars will be banned entirely. More cautious people predict a similar outcome within 20 to 30 years. Others predict that 50 to 100 years may be more realistic. While some pundits predict that human intervention in driving will become illegal, others predict that the ability to intervene will always be present, and legally required.

To find the answers to the above questions, studying the history of automation, remote control and cruise control and autopilots is a good place to start. Reviewing history often provides new insights to the future. For people who assume automation was discovered last year and will be everywhere next year, history proves otherwise.

When 100% automatic is not 100%. This is the autopilot panel on an early Boeing 747.
The autopilot won't work without human input.

Automation was a term coined by Ford in 1947, but automatic processes and automatic control goes back much further. One of the earliest automated devices was the water clock invented by Greek engineer Clesibius about 250 BC. More recently, a Dutch scientist Cornelius Drebbel invented the thermostat in 1620. The first automatic loom of 1745 was the brainchild of Jacques de Vaucanson. The Industrial Revolution (1750-1850) was as much about automation as it was about machinery. Richard Arkwright was the inventor of the automated spinning wheel in 1771, and Oliver Evans is credited with the automatic flour mill in 1785.

Man has long yearned for processes that save time and labour and increase quality of manufactured products. The centrifugal governor of 1784 still has widespread application in industry and transportation. The first automatic telephone switchboard was in use from 1892. The concept of ‘lights out’ factories, where products are manufactured without human intervention, goes back a long way. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that Japanese company FANUC opened a lights out factory where robots produce other robots. That sounds erotic. But they still need humans to bring in the raw materials, take away the finished products and perform machine maintenance. In reality, the lights are dimmed rather than extinguished. Automation, in any of its forms, doesn’t come easily.

A 1960 autonomous Citroen
Although light years ahead of land vehicle automation, improvements in automation in aircraft came slowly. It was never a simple matter of just inventing a guidance system. With rare exceptions, aircraft still need pilots on board and pilots regularly hand-fly their machines. The history of the autopilot in aircraft dates from 1912 and Elmer Ambrose Sperry, the founder of the giant Sperry Corporation. The first Sperry autopilot permitted hands-off flying on a pre-set compass heading using a gyroscopic compass. The pilot still had to manually carry out all other flying duties. The Sperry autopilot could not control altitude, speed, engine performance and a host of other activities. The invention was commonly known as a wing leveller designed to make the workload a little easier. By 1947, automated flight had developed to the point where the first transatlantic flight was made, including take-off and landing, using an autopilot. Sixty years later, pilotless airlines are still a distant dream. While pilots may be relieved of fulltime hands-on control, they are kept busy managing the complex systems that help make flying safer and more efficient than ever before.

For those autonomous car fans who think the concept only spans a generation from conception to universal acceptance and success, there is bad news.

The much publicized Google car 
Like flying, and shipping, the earliest attempts at building fully automated cars date back about 100 years, but have met with little success. There was a flurry of experimentation in the 1950’s and again in the 1980’s, but still no fully automated vehicles that could be driven on public roads without human input. It wasn’t until 2015 that five US states permitted the testing of driverless cars on public roads. Now, Audi have their A8 autonomous car that is capable of a breath-taking 60 km/h, using laser, cameras and ultrasonic sensors coupled with the inventions of several centuries.

It has been a long road to automobile automation. Crucial along the road was the development of the automatic transmission by the Sturtevant brothers of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1904. Equally crucial was the invention of the first automatic speed control device in 1900 followed by the modern cruise control system in 1948. Each of these devices required considerable further research and development before finding general acceptance. Each must also play a vital role, along with many other inventions, in the development and acceptance of fully autonomous vehicles. Despite progress, many drivers still refuse to use automatic transmissions, cruise control, GPS and other devices fitted to their cars.
The New Zealand Tour Commentary

For autonomous cars to be safe, reliable and accurate, a navigation system is required. Again, the development has taken time. Radio navigation dates from the late 1920’s and has undergone many changes and refinements. Satellite navigation, dating from the 1960’s, is a vast improvement, but still has many pitfalls and can be subject to atmospheric errors and signal obstructions in built-up areas or mountainous regions. GPS is a valuable aid but still not a system to bet your life on.

Based on current technology, only a fool would trust his or her life to a fully autonomous vehicle with no provision for driver intervention. Much work is still to be done on autonomous cars before they can be certified for general use and some of the problems will not be easy to fix. Unlike shipping and aircraft, cars don’t operate in their own independent space. With cars, other traffic and obstructions are always very close. The margin for error is small, whether it be a pedestrian stepping onto the roadway, another vehicle with a computer failure, or failure of sensors, cameras or laser to correctly interpret what they ‘see’, the fully autonomous car’s time has not yet arrived.

The time may well come when autonomous cars with human intervention capacity are seen on the roads more often than conventional manually driven cars. But even when the systems have become more reliable and accurate, there will still be the handicap of cost for many years to come. Ultimately, they will be cheaper to buy and operate than the cars we have now, but not yet by a long way. Initially, like most new products and developments, only the richest people will be able to afford them.

It may be 50 years before autonomous cars outnumber human-driven cars and there will always be people who will refuse to upgrade to the new technology, just as in the past there has always been resistance to accepting telephones, refrigerators, television, computers and other technologies.

The autonomous car is no magic bullet.