Audiobooks – November 2021

The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket by Benjamin Lorr

Several sections each looking at different aspect of the American Supermarket. From workers to suppliers to owners. Engaging. 4/5

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The lessons we learned from eighties movies (and why we don’t learn them from movies any more) by Hadley Freeman

A tour through mainstream 80s movies concentrating on one per chapter. Fun but covering serious topics too 4/5

The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Clint Howard and Ron Howard

Alternatively narrated by Ron and Clint about their family, growing up in Hollywood and acting. Only briefly covers events after the mid-1980s. Excellent. 4/5

Remote, Inc. : How to Thrive at Work . . . Wherever You Are by Robert C. Pozen & Alexandra Samuel

Lots of good advice for people suddenly working at home due to the pandemic. Tells you to think of yourself as a “business of one”. 3/5

The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad by Joyce E. Salisbury

24 Lectures on Spanish History from the Stone age to the early 2000s. Interesting and easy to follow. Covers culture etc, not just kings and politics 3/5

For Your Eyes Only and other stories by Ian Fleming

Five short stories involving James Bond. Three straightforward Bond adventures and two others. I found them all very enjoyable. 3/5

See also: Top Audiobooks I’ve listened to

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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RSS Feeds for Podcasts from The Spinoff

The Spinoff is a New Zealand news website. They have several podcasts but unfortunately don’t publish the RSS feeds for these. Instead they just list the Spotify and Apples Podcasts links. So if you use something other than Spotify or the official Apple Podcasts client it is difficult to listen to them.

I’ve found the feed links and listed them here, including those shows on break or no longer produced. These are the official RSS feeds on Acast (where The Spinoff host their podcasts). All Spinoff Podcasts are listed on The Spinoff Podcasts Page .

FAQ

Q1: How do you find these feeds?
A1: I follow the “Apple” link on the podcasts page to the “Apple Podcasts” page for the podcast. Then I put that link into https://getrssfeed.com/ which tells me the RSS feed.

Q2: Where are these feeds?
A2: The Spinoff publish their podcasts via the Acast, who host it and insert ads. Acast provide RSS feeds for all their podcasts. They even provide a page for each show.

Q3: Why don’t The Spinoff publish RSS feeds?
A3: I assume they think most people use Spotify or Apple Podcasts and want to clutter their website. I’ve asked but no reply. I also suspect (based on errors they make) that some of their process is manual so it would be extra work for each episode.

Q4: What is RSS?
A4: RSS is a special webpage that lists podcast episodes (or posts in a blog or Youtube videos in a channel) that can be scanned easily by software. It allows you to see/hear updates without having to visit sites regularly to check if there are new episodes.

Q5: Can you recommend a RSS viewer?
A5: I use Newblur and are very happy with it.

Q6: Can you recommend a Podcast Client?
A6: I manually download podcasts and copy them into the Android based player called Listen Audiobook Player. I wouldn’t really recommend this workflow. Have a a look at this article on the Best podcast apps of 2021 instead. They let you put in a podcast feed and whenever a new episode is published it will be downloaded automatically to your phone.

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Audiobook Reviews – October 2021

Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

The 1950s Gold Standard results in wacky smuggling operations and golf. Bond is on top of things until he’s not. But he survives anyway. 3/5

Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers by Claudia Kalb

Profiles of 13 great achievers from Yo-Yo Ma to Isaac Newton who found their calling at progressively greater ages. Some interesting profiles across varied fields. 3/5

Shoot for the Moon by James Donovan

The story of Apollo 11 and the space race that led up to it. Some stories I hadn’t heard before and well written but in a crowded field. 3/5

The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age by Steve Olson

The history of the creation of Plutonium and the Hanford Nuclear Site that was built to manufacture it. 4/5

Captain Cook’s Epic Voyage by Geoffrey Blainey

The story of James Cook’s first voyage and it’s significance. Also covers the contemporary voyage by Jean de Surville. A good read that kept me interested. 4/5

Just the Funny Parts … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell

A life as a female writer, producer and director in TV. A mix of funny stories, sexist stories and career highs and lows. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Audiobook Reviews – September 2021

The Second World War by Antony Beevor

A single volume covering the whole conflict in reasonable detail. Covered a few areas ie China that other volumes skip. Does the job. 3/5

Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention by Kathryn D. Sullivan

Mostly an astronaut memoir with some extra material on the Hubble development and launch. Some good anecdotes and insights into the work to make the Hubble serviceable. 3/5

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store by Cait Flanders

Memoir rather than self help. Okay read but not very actionable. 2/5

Space 2069: After Apollo: Back to the Moon, to Mars, and Beyond by David Whitehouse

A “future history” of Space travel for the next 50 years (to the 100th Anniversary of the moon landings). Plausible ideas and good science. 3/5

Second Best: The Amazing Untold Histories of the Greatest Runners-Up by Ben Pobjie

A series of amusing stories about people who didn’t come first. About 50% Australian examples. High jokes/minute with okay hit rate. 2/5

To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski

A very readable book on Engineering successes and failures and what can be learnt from them (and how things should be learnt). 3/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Auckland Gondolas: Practical or a rope to nowhere?

With the cancelling of the SkyPath and the short-lived $800 million Pedestrian/Cycling bridge proposal it seems that the only options for the next harbour crossing will be a full scale tunnel or bridge.

However I came across the Youtube video where the author suggests a gondola crossing of Auckland Harbour. I did a bit of investigation myself and looked at some possible routes, the majority of which appear not to work but two might benefit from further investigation.

In the last decade urban gondola systems have become increasingly popular. They work well in difficult terrain such as steep hills, valley or river crossings. They are also relatively cheap which makes them popular in middle-income countries in the Americas.

The Medellin MetroCable in Columbia currently has 6 lines, most of these act as feeders from hill suburbs to Tram or Metro lines.

The Cablebús in Mexico City opened two lines in 2021 connecting low income transport-poor suburbs with metro stations.

Cablebús in Mexico City

Technology

The technology I am assuming is a Detachable Monocable Gondola with cars similar to the Emirates Air-Line in London, Medellin MetroCable and Mexican Cablebús.

Monocable means that there is a single moving cable. Detachable means that each car unhooks from the cable inside stations and moves slowly (or even stops) for easy boarding and unboarding. The general characteristics of these systems are:

  • 8-10 person cars ( able to carry bicycles, wheelchairs etc )
  • Speed around 20 km/h
  • Capacity 2500 people/hour in each direction.
  • Approx 1 car every 15 seconds.

Note that it is possible to increase capacity, for instance the new Medellin line P has a capacity of 4,000 people per hour in each direction.

Cars in Station ready for boarding

Options for routes

I have provided details about two possible routes:

  • Route One is a simple crossing of Auckland Harbour just east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
  • Route Two connects the CBD (near Elliot Street), the University of Auckland and Parnell.

Note that apart from at stations cable systems are along able to make very slight turns at each tower. I have pretty much assumed each line will be straight apart of at stations.

Route One – East of the Bridge.

The will start from a station near the current Ponsonby Cruising Club. A 50m mast 150m north, then a 700m span across the harbour to another 50m mast and then a station in the Stokes Point Reserve.

Total length is 1100m. Travel time around 5 minutes.

This route is a direct replacement of the Skypath. It would cater to cyclists and pedestrians needing to get between Stokes Point and Westhaven. The exact placement of the stations is flexible. The main difficulties are the height required to provide room for tall ships to pass underneath. The Emirates line has similar requirements to allow Thames river traffic and higher than usual towers.

Apart from some sightseers this line would mainly serve cyclists wishing to go directly between North Shore and the city. This Greater Auckland article shows the 2020 Skypath business case was estimating 4500 daily users for the Skypath a few years after it was built.

The high towers and steep climb on the Emirates Air-line

Route Two – Elliot Street to Parnell via Wellesley Street and the University

This would start with a station near the corner of Elliot Street and Wellesley Street West (possibly in front of Bledisloe House). The line would go east above Wellesley Street and over the Art Gallery, Albert Park and parts of the University to a station at the University (perhaps at the corner of Grafton Road and Symonds Street). The line would then go across Grafton Gully to a station at Parnell Train Station and then up the hill to terminate on Parnell Road. The total length is around 1700 metres.

The Elliot Street to Parnell route

There are 4 stations on this route.

  • Parnell Village (near 236 Parnell Road) is an employment & entertainment area.
  • Parnell Train Station is near Parnell and the University but down a hill from both and across busy roads from the University. It is within walking distance of the Auckland Museum.
  • The University is well served by Symonds Street buses but not by rail and is cut off from the CBD and Parnell.
  • The Elliot Street endpoint would be just 50 metres from both the Aotea Train Station and a proposed Queen Street light rail station near the Civic.
Starting Point and direction of Line to University / Parnell

The idea of this line is to cross the difficult terrain that separates Parnell, Parnell Station, the University and the CBD. There should be a lot of possible journeys between these four. It will expand the effective radius of Aotea Station, Parnell Station and a Civic light-rail station. It would also improve Parnell’s connectivity.

Cablebús line over a busy road

Travel times ( assuming 20km/h speed and 1 minute per station ) on the most likely journeys:

JourneyWalking DistanceWalking timeCable distanceGondola time
Elliot St to University800m11 min600m4 min
Elliot St to Parnell 2100m30 min1700m9 min
Parnell Station to Parnell400m6 min250m3 min
Parnell Station to University1400m20 min800m5 min

This line has the potential to be very busy. All the stops on the route would benefit from the improved inter-connectivity.

Two extensions to the line are possible. At the Parnell end the line could be extended down to a station located in the valley around St Georges Bay Road to serve the businesses (and housing) located around there.

Another possible extension of the line would be directly along Wellesley St West from Elliot Street to Victoria Park. I am unsure if traffic to/from the Victoria Park area would justify this however.

Other Routes

I had problems finding other routes that were suitable for gondolas. I’ve included a route to Birkenhead as an example of one that does not appear to be competitive with the existing bus as an example.

The majority of possible routes had various combinations of long distances (which take too long at 20km/h), low density/population at station catchment, already being covered by existing links and lack of obvious demand.

Westhaven to Birkenhead via Northcote Point and Marine Terrace.

This starts on the western side of the Harbour Bridge near a small Park/Bungy HQ. It goes over the harbour alongside the Bridge and has a station near “The Wharf”. The Line would then go across Little Shoal Bay to Little Shoal Bay Reserve. There would be a turning point there to go north-west over the gully of the Le Roys Bush Reserve to a station on the side of Birkenhead Avenue near the viewing platform.

Length 3.9km and end to end travel time of around 15 minutes.

The problem with this line is that Westhaven is not a good destination. Route One across the harbour fills a gap for cyclists but extending the line to Birkenhead doesn’t seem significantly improve the catchment (especially for non-cyclists).

Other possible routes I looked at

  • A simple crossing West of the Bridge
  • From the south-east of St Mary’s Bay to Stokes Point
  • From Wynyard Quarter to Stokes Point.
  • From St Mary’s Bay to Stokes Point and then the Akoranga Bus station
  • From Wellesley Street West to Stokes Point.
  • Between Devonport and the city
  • Above Lake Road from Devonport to Takapuna
  • Between Stokes Point and Bayswater
  • Between Akoranga Bus station and Devonport

Conclusion

Urban Gondolas do not work as a general solution to urban public transport but are suited to certain niche routes across difficult terrain.

Starting from the simple harbour crossing I looked at several cross harbour routes but most were unpromising due to lack of under-served destinations that could be easily connected. I ended up just keeping the basic harbour crossing to fill the gap for cyclists and walkers.

The Elliot Street to Parnell line on the other hand might be a good fit for a gondola. It is less than 2km long but connects 3 popular locations and an under-utilised train station.

Costs of gondolas are fairly low compared to other PT options. The two Cablebús lines in Mexico City are each around 10km long and cost $US 146m and $US 208m. Ballpark estimates might be between $NZ 100 million to $NZ 200 million for each route, hopefully closer to $100m.

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Audiobook Reviews – August 2021

Antarctica’s Lost Aviator: The Epic Adventure to Explore the Last Frontier on Earth by Jeff Maynard

Biography of Lincoln Ellsworth “an insecure man in search of a purpose” concentrating on his various polar expeditions in the 1920s and 30s culminating in an attempt to fly across antarctic. 3/5

Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer by Steven Johnson

The story of Medical, Public health and other measures in the last 150 years that have dramatically raised life expectancy. The reality behind some well known stories. 3/5

Dr No by Ian Fleming

Bond returns to Jamaica for a soft assignment that turns out not to be soft after all. He dodges assassins and investigates a mysterious island. 3/5

Never Lost Again: The Google Mapping Revolution That Sparked New Industries and Augmented Our Reality by Bill Kilday

A insider’s account of the mapping company Keyhole that became Google Maps. Good mix of stories and analysis. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Audiobook Reviews – July 2021

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough

Another McCullough classic. Centered on designers/builders the Roebling family but covering everything about the build. 4/5

Reaching for the Moon: A Short History of the Space Race
by Roger D. Launius

Very much a short overview, but unusually covers the Soviet programme as well. Concentrates on the politics more than technical details. 3/5

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming

The Russian counter-intelligence agency sets a trap for Bond. Interesting the first third of the book is the Russian preparations. Bond is not seen. Exciting read. 4/5

Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood To the Edge by Becky Aikman

Well written book about the pre-production, production and reaction to the movie. Well researched with quotes from most people involved. Enjoyable. 4/5

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

A semi-repeat of The Martin where a lone astronaut has to science the shit out of a bad situation. This time to save humanity. I enjoyed and if you like the Martian you will too. 4/5

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen

Profiles of 8 VPs who became US President. A biography, circumstances of evaluation and assesment of Presidency. Plus some near-misses and Ford who misses the main list?! 3/5

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Set in 1930s England, a group of children aged 7-12 sail in boats, camp on islands and have adventures on a lake. Fun Children’s adventure book. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Audiobook Reviews – June 2021

Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel Lieberman

Uses lots of studies of exercise in non-industrial societies, Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Contrasts with industrial society. A bit of advice too. 4/5

I love Capitalism: An American Story by Ken Langone

Memoir of businessman and investor. Telling of his upbringing, various deals and stories. Enough good tales to keep my interest 3/5

Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX by Eric Berger

Very well written, lots of key people interviewed and lots of details. The author is a space specialist. Highly recommend for Space fans 5/5

The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon

Well written book covering the the lead-up and aftermath. Picks several people to follow so reader has a connection. Well done. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

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Audiobook Reviews – May 2021

Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death by Anthony Everitt

A fairly straight biography except for some early chapters setting the scene. Keep things interesting most of the time. 3/5

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

“The secret to outstanding achievement is not talent, but a passionate persistence. In other words, grit.” . Usual pop-psych with the usual good stories 3/5

100 Side Hustles: Unexpected Ideas for Making Extra Money Without Quitting Your Day Job by Chris Guillebeau

100 small businesses and their story. With lessons learnt from each and some themes. Told with lots of puns. 4/5

How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone by Brian McCullough

Covering the big internet events and companies between 1993 and 2008. Mosaic, AOL, Ebay, Amazon, Yahoo, Napster and ending with the Ipod. Lots of good stories some new angles. 4/5

Diamonds are Forever by Ian Fleming

James Bond infuriates a Diamond smuggling operation run by American Gangsters. Lots of period detail and violent set pieces. 4/5



Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

A nice short biography that attempts to highlight neglected areas such as Franklin’s family and friends his scientific work. Fun without missing too much detail. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

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Audiobook Reviews – April 2021

Inheriting Clutter: How to Calm the Chaos Your Parents Leave Behind by Julie Hall

Lots of specific advice for Children and Parents on preparing for and handling estates. Lots of good advice on defusing feuds before they start. 3/5

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future by Pete Buttigieg

Memoir of a small-city mayor who grew up gay in Indiana. Timed to come out for his presidential run in 2019. Nice enough read with a good mix of stories. 3/5

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

James Bond investigates the mysterious industrialist Hugo Drax and his nuclear missile project which is vital to Britain’s security. Exciting and well written. 3/5

Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA by Neil Shubin

A very accessible account of how various ways genetic information is passed down was discovered, who found it and how it works. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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