How to instantly save up to 34 cents per litre off every litre of fuel in Wellington

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 13-Jan-2020 20:32

In 2019 the Commerce Commission spent millions of dollars on a study of the fuel market which was ordered by the
Government to look at issues surrounding rising fuel prices. Released in early December 2019, the report did nothing but show show how inept the Commerce Commission really is, and rather than focussing or trying to understand why fuel prices are set like they are, they instead focused on setting regulations in place to ensure that the wholesale fuel market would work efficiently, somehow believing this would drive down retail fuel prices.

It largely ignored the impact of the Auckland Regional fuel tax and how this tax is effectively being paid by all NZers. It also largely ignored how and why regional discounting is occuring. It could have talked about how fuel is being sold below cost in some regions of New Zealand, leading to inflated prices in other regions to recover these losses, but that barely got a mention.

It barely touched on the issue of discounting schemes such as AA Smartfuel and instant discounts at BP,  Z, Caltex and Mobil and how they inflate retail prices, nor did it mention how the AA profit from Smartfuel by licencing their name to the joint venture and receiving a share of the profits from retailers who pay to be part of the scheme.

The least the Commerce Commission could have done would have been to ask Aucklanders to thank the rest of the country for paying for their roads with the introduction of a 11.5c Auckland region fuel tax by transport Minister Phil Twyford. But it didn’t.

We've ended up with an intensely competitive retail fuel market with very slim retail margins that is relying on average pricing across the country in order to deliver returns. Those areas with super cheap petrol are effectively being subsidised by areas selling petrol at a higher price, which in turn averages out returns across the whole country. It's an incredibly intense job for those actually setting pricing for any of the big fuel companies.

The industry is so competitive that in November, Z Energy reported a net profit per litre of 3.5 cents per litre after tax for the first half of the 2020 financial year. That's an incredibly slim profit on something being sold for over $2 per litre.

But the Commerce Commission weren't interested in this. They weren't interested in the fact that big fuel companies have turned buying petrol into a game where you have to shop around for discounts, drive around putting $40 in each time to stack discounts, or even stand pumping gas from two different pumps. None of that interested them. They just took their millions and ran all while delivering a report that they were convinced would drive fuel prices down by regulating wholesale. It won't.

A key focus for Z Energy last year was to look at ways to differentiate themselves in an incredibly competitive retail market. One concept that came out of Z Energy was Sharetank. I talked about fuel companies turning buying fuel into a game - Sharetank is just that.

So what is Sharetank?

Sharetank allows Z customers using the Z app on their phone to prepay for fuel at the cheapest possible price within 30km of their location. It uses your phone's GPS location (which can't be fooled by spoofing apps - they thought of that) and looks at prices at every Z station within a 30km radius and allows you to prepay for up to 1000 litres of fuel at the cheapest price.

Right now you're probably thinking that's rather boring.. But wait. You probabably aren't understanding the potential way it can be used.

You can join a Sharetank group with up to 5 friends who do not need to be in the same city as you. This has meant that Sharetank has been a great way for people to effectively avoid paying the Auckland fuel tax.

Somebody (or a company even) who is say based in Rotorua where petrol has always been priced well below prices in Auckland or Wellington could prepay for petrol at the pump price in Rotorua and then others anywhere around the country simply scan use their app at the pump and receive petrol at the cheaper price. This can mean dicsounts of up to around 40 cents per litre.

It was a way for Z to maintain or even gain market share in areas where regional discounting wasn't occuring. They knew that people would play the game and then visit Z over other chains due to the discounts that Z could offer in regions where petrol wasn’t being discounted.

Right now in Wellington playing the game means you can have an instant saving of up to 34 cents per litre on fuel.

With the opening of Gull in Petone last week the price of fuel in the Wellington regional varies greatly. At the time of writing this 91 is currently being sold for 204.9 at Z Petone and 238.9 at Z sites in Wellington City including Taranaki St, Vivian St and Miramar. 95 is being sold for 218.9 at Z in Petone and 252.9 at those same City sites.

If you use the Z app anywhere within a 30km radius of Petone you can currently purchase fuel at the cheaper Petone price and then redeem that at a local Z site anywhere in the Wellington region where pricing is higher, meaning you can instantly save up to 34 cents per litre on fuel. There is no need to drive to Petone to save on fuel.

So how do I use it? It’s simple. Download the Z app to your phone and click on Sharetank. Select your preferred fuel type and then select how much you would like to pre purchase. You can maintain a balance of up to 1000 litres of fuel.

Once you’re done click on checkout. You’ll need to enter your credit card details and your purchase will be complete. Don’t forget to add your Airpoints or Fly Buys card number to earn points – it’s important to note that you will not get an additional 6 cents per litre “Pumped” discount off this price.

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When you now go back to the Sharetank page in the app it’ll show your current balance of fuel. You can mantain a balance of multiple different fuel types – 91, 95 and diesel.

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So now you’ve purchased your discount fuel, how do you redeem it? That’s dead simple as well. Simply drive to your nearest Z site and select the Sharetank option from the self service pump. If the Z site does not have a self service option you’ll need to head into the counter and tell them you want to redeem your Sharetank fuel.

After you’ve pressed the Sharetank button click the “Redeem Balance” option in the app and scan the QR code displayed on the screen of your phone. You can now fill up.

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Once you hang up the pump the app will immediately be updated to reflect the new balance of your Sharetank account.

I disagree with the concept of Z turning buying fuel into a game, but when that game allows instant savings that are so significant even I’m willing to play.

With fuel prices being what they are in Wellington now, Sharetank means anybody in the Wellington region outside Petone will be within a 30km radius of Petone and will be able to purchase fuel at present for up to 34 cents per litre less than their local Z is selling fuel for. That’s winning in anybody’s books.

And as the Commerce Commission.. Well. Better luck next time. When you fail to understand how a market actually works you’re highly unlikely to be able to make changes to it.



GST changes hit imported goods from 1st December 2019

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 25-Nov-2019 08:00

A law change coming into effect from the 1st December 2019 will mean the end of GST free imports into New Zealand for consumers. The change may not however have the intended effect that many retailers wished for.

At present importing goods into New Zealand is governed by what can only be described as complex rules regarding GST, duty, Customs and MPI biosecurity screening processing fees. The simplification of these rules is a good thing, will mean importing goods will be a lot easier, and in what can only be described as an unintended side effect, in many cases will actually mean savings for end cunsumers

At present all goods imported into New Zealand are subject to GST and duty if it is applicable to the products, however the resources that would be spent to process every package entering the country and to collect GST and duty on it on it would be so significant that it would end up consuming a significant chunk of the actual revenue collected, so Customs will only collect GST and/or duty where the amount collected exceeds NZ$60, a figure known as a “de minimis”.

In the real world this means a threshold of $400 for most imported goods (excluding clothing and shoes) that are imported into the country. If goods are subject to duty such as shoes or clothes are imported, it means a threshold of $226.

As an example if you import $399 worth of goods (and it’s important to note that shipping costs are included in this amount) the GST amount that would be collected would be $59.85, which is below the de minimus meaning you will not be charged anything to import those goods.

If you import $400 worth of goods, the GST amount to be collected would be $60, which is above the de minimis, meaning you will need to pay GST on those goods. To cover the costs of processing and border security, processing fees of $55.71 will also be charged – made up on an an Import Entry Transaction Fee (IETF) of NZ$29.26 and an MPI biosecurity system entry levy of $26.45. This means a total of $515.71 on your $400 item.

For goods where duty can apply such as clothing and shoes, a threshold of $226 applies – $226 worth of goods would mean GST of $37.29 and duty of $22.60 for a total of $59.89 so you would pay nothing.

If you imported $227 worth of clothing or shoes you would be subject to GST of $37.46, duty of $22.70, and then IETF and MPI fees of $55.71 meaning you would need to pay a total of $342.87.

For many years retailers in New Zealand have lobbied the Government of the day claiming the current system is unfair, and that allowing people to import goods from overseas without paying GST and/or duty that was unfair and created an uneven polaying field. As online shopping has grown, particularly with goods purchased from overseas, GST revenue has been lost as products that would have been purchased locally have been purchased overseas GST free.

In 2015 the Government announced that GST would be applied to all digital services consumed in New Zealand, meaning that online services such as Netflix (which had previously paid no GST in New Zealand), now had to collect GST on behalf of the IRD. It was also announced that the existing GST thresholds for imported goods were under review with proposals to charge GST on all imports regardless of the value.

Many retailers jumped for joy when Revenue minister Stuart Nash announced in mid 2018 that GST charges would apply to all imported goods from October 1st 2019, and legislation detailing this was introduced into Parliament in December 2018. In June 2019 it was annouced the introduction of the scheme has been delayed until 1st December 2019 to allow overseas retailers time to register with IRD and impliment changes.

Looking at the Customs and IRD websites the changes look pretty simple and clear -

From 1 December 2019 overseas businesses will collect GST on goods valued $1000 or less. Customs will not collect duty or charge the Import Entry Transaction Fee on goods valued $1000 or less unless the goods are part of a large consignment. Processes for collecting GST and duty on consignments valued above $1000 do not change. This does not apply to tobacco and alcohol products - duty and GST are collected regardless of the value 


.. This sounds simple enough.. But the loopholes are glaringly obvious.


When to register for GST

You must register for GST if you carry out a taxable activity and:
•your turnover was $60,000 or more in the last 12 months or will be $60,000 or more in the next 12 months, or
•your prices include GST.

For many large retailers selling into New Zealand such as Amazon the rules are clear – they must register for GST and charge GST on all products they sell and ship to New Zealand based customers, with the exception of GST registered entitles in New Zealand.

Freight forwarding services such as YouShop are also covered by the law, meaning they are required to collect GST for all goods processed by them and forwarded on to customers in New Zealand.

For smaller businesses and retailers however the rules are also clear – if you don’t sell more than NZ$60,000 worth of goods to customers in New Zealand, you are under no obligation to register for GST nor charge GST to New Zealand based customers.

This means people who import goods from smaller retailers or individuals who sell under NZ$60,000 worth of goods into New Zealand will no longer pay any GST and/or duty on these imports providing the total shipment is under NZ$1000.

Customs assumes applicable GST has been paid for any goods with a value of under NZ$1000, and these will not be held or assessed by Customs.

Could goods be held up at the border because of this change?

No. New Zealand consumers will pay any required GST on goods that cost NZ$1,000 or less when they buy them. This means there is no need to hold these parcels at the border until GST is collected. However, all existing border security and biosecurity checks and rules still apply.

The current process for collecting GST and tariff duty at the border on parcels or consignments valued over NZ$1,000 will continue to apply. Customs will not collect GST on parcels or consignments (or low-value goods within a parcel or consignment) valued over NZ$1,000 if they receive evidence that the overseas supplier, marketplace or re-deliverer has already collected GST.


It’s pretty clear these changes are a mixed bag for consumers. Those who import goods from big name retailers or online trading sites such as Amazon or Aliexpress will find their purchases will be charged 15% GST that is collected by the retailer at the time of purchase, regardless of the value of the product(s).

For many consumers however the changes are a huge benefit – for those who import goods (including clothes and shoes) into the country from smaller retailers or wholesalers you will now no longer be charged any duty or GST on your imports providing you stay under the $1000 threshold.

For those who routinely purchased goods over $400 from a small retailer or wholesaler who is not GST registered, you will now pay nothing on your imports, whereas at present you have to pay GST, IETF and biosecurity fee, meaning a significant saving.

Exactly how much government revenue is lost due to the current $60 de minimis is open to debate – estimates put this figure between $80 million and $235 million per year.

Estimating the total foregone revenue on imported low-value goods relies on a number of assumptions, and estimates of the foregone revenue vary.  An estimate by Retail NZ, for example, places the total foregone revenue at $235 million a year.

In the 2015 discussion document, GST: Cross-border services, intangibles and goods, officials estimated the maximum potential foregone GST revenue for low-value imported goods was around $140 million a year.  This estimate was derived from survey and credit card spending information.
 
Since then, further work has been undertaken by officials using a mixed dataset that includes Customs’ sample data of goods coming across the border.  An estimate was calculated based on an assessment of the value of goods under the current de minimis.  This work conservatively estimates that the foregone GST revenue for the 2016 calendar year was around $80 million.  Assuming a foregone revenue growth rate of ten percent a year, the foregone revenue is projected to grow to $127 million by 2021.

Retail NZ pushed heavily for this law change because they saw retailers being on the back foot compared to overseas retailers who could sell products into New Zealand GST free. Hopefully they soon realise that this law change is no silver bullet, and that even with GST added the advantages and cost benefits of buying goods from overseas still exist – sometimes you have to be very careful what you wish for.

The scrapping of IETF and biosecurity fees on all imports under $1000 also means the cost of the processing of all goods now falls solely on those wholesalers and goods who purchase goods over $1000, rather than the current model of cost recovery also charging fees to individuals who imported goods under $1000.

It’s going to be very interesting to see a year from now how much additional revenue is collected by IRD, vs losses in revenue from individuals who will now no longer need to pay GST on their imported goods.



No Newshub and NIWA. Vodafone’s 5G network won’t interfere with your weather satellite images.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 2-Aug-2019 08:50

In what must rank as one of the most poorly researched mainstream news stories in recent times, Newshub last night told us on their 6pm news that Vodafone's soon to launch 5G network could cause problems for NIWA (New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) who might not be able to accurately predict weather because of potential interference with weather satellites.

The story was full of emotive sentences and paragraphs -

"Vodafone's 5G network concerns New Zealand meteorologists who say it could put lives at risk"

"New Zealand meteorologists are warning the new 5G phone network could affect their predictions - and put lives at risk."

"We do need to have very accurate forecasts if we want to give people the kind of heads up they need to make decisions to evacuate and things like that," says Nava Fedaeff from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)."

"NIWA's forecasters are among a global cohort of scientists who are worried the frequency used by 5G will disturb the frequency used by one of the most important weather satellites. Essentially when the satellite looks down it's looking for water vapour, and it might pick up 5G instead, so there's interference," Fedaeff told Newshub."

"Mere months before the 5G rollout begins - and the next big storm rolls in."


The headlines and story as a whole can be summed up with one response.

Bullshit.

It's FUD. Fake news. Scaremongering. Lies. Call it what you want - it is simply not true.

Earlier in 2019 media outlets around the world went crazy republishing a story warning of potential risk to weather forecasting with the introduction of 5G networks due to a frequency band that will be used for 5G networks in the future. Their claim was that use of this band for 5G networks could cause interference with weather satellites that detect water vapour in the atmosphere, something that's critical for accurate weather forecasting.

It's pretty clear neither Newshub nor NIWA bothered to fact check by asking anybody with even a basic understanding of radio spectrum (or technology as a whole) before running with this story.

5G networks will operate on multiple frequency bands, but the specific frequency band being used in New Zealand by Vodafone at launch has absolutely no ability to cause any of the issues that Newshub and NIWA are warning us of.

It should not be my job to educate a Crown Research Institute or media outlet about basics of technology, but since they're clearly unable to research the facts I figured somebody had to put it out there in a format hopefully the average person will understand so that they’re realise that weather forecasts are not going to be impacted by 5G in New Zealand.

Let’s start with with a very simple summary..

Vodafone's 5G network in New Zealand simply will NOT cause interference with weather forecasting. Not today, not tomorrow, not next year. Never. Ever. Period.

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So why would people think it could?

Water vapour in the atmosphere can be detected from satellites in space due to the distinct signature it creates. Satellites with microwave sounders scan the surface of the earth looking for microwave radiation that is generated by water vapour in the atmposhere at a specific frequency.

Water vapour emits radiation at precisely 23.8 GHz, which can be detected by these satellites allowing the creation of weather maps which help in the creation of weather forecasts. To cause interference with the water vapour detection, a transmitter on the ground would need to be broadcasting exactly on this 23.8 GHz frequency to cause intererence.

Broadcasting on a frequency nearby will not cause any interference. It would need to be something very powerful using that exact frequency. There is nothing that currently uses this frequency in New Zealand, and due to the known risk of interfererence, there will never be anything that will use that frequency in New Zealand.

Here in New Zealand radio spectrum is managed by RSM (Radio Spectrum Management), part of MBIE (the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) who are responsible for the licencing of radio spectrum in New Zealand, and ensuring that licence holders comply with their licence regulations.

Vodafone New Zealand's 5G network that launches in December 2019 will be deployed in the 3.5 GHz band using 2 x 22 MHz blocks of paired spectrum that Vodafone acquired from TelstraClear when they purchased the company. This will allow them to run 2 x 20 MHz carriers in non contiguous blocks of spectrum in what is known as the n78 5G band.

This block of 3.5 GHz spectrum has remained unused by Vodafone since they purchased TelstraClear in 2012. In other parts of the 3.5GHz band a number of WiMAX networks still exist in New Zealand that actively use this frequency band.

So it's pretty clear that the 5G network Vodafone are launching in December simply cannot cause interference with weather satellites. The 3.5 GHz frequency band they are using is nowhere near the 23.8 GHz frequency used to detect water vapour in the atmosphere.

But what about the future?

It's true that around the world the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands are key frequencies for 5G networks in what is known as mmWave (millimetre wave) bands. These frequencies are much higher than those used by existing 2G, 3G and 4G networks, and are what allow 5G to deliver Gigabit speeds because the amount of free spectrum in these blocks is simply not available in lower frequencies.

Here in New Zealand and around the world the 24 GHz frequency band is already used pretty extensively, and has been for a number of years. It cannot be used for 5G in New Zealand until existing management rights in that band expire.

24.0 GHz - 24.025 GHz is what is known as an ISM band (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) and is controlled globally by ITU Radio Regulations. Like 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies that also use ISM bands, this block of spectrum can legally be used by anybody without the requirement for licencing across a large number of countries in the world. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of wireless links in New Zealand that use this block of spectrum.

Between 24.55 GHz and 25.39 GHz Vodafone and Kordia have management rights that allow them to use this spectrum for microwave links, with literally hundreds of these links used across New Zealand linking cellsites together. Management rights for this band expire in a few years, and it's probable that this block of spectrum will then be auctioned off for 5G networks in New Zealand by RSM.

There is no disputing that Interference at 23.8 GHz does have a theoretical potential to cause issues with water vapour detection from space, so like many countries in the world, the block of spectrum between 23.6 GHz and 24 GHz is reserved and can never be used in New Zealand. It is not used for existing microwave links and it will never be used for 5G.

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Only frequencies above 24.55GHz will be used for 5G, and 5G networks in this frequency block will not interfere with a signal at 23.8GHz

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Quite simply there is no chance of Vodafone's 5G network, nor any other 5G network in New Zealand having the ability to create havoc with water vapour detection from satellites impact any weather forecasting in New Zealand. The critical 23.8GHz frequency will not be used for 5G networks in New Zealand at any point in the future.

The fact that NIWA were willing to front on national TV spreading misinformation concerns me. In an Crown Research Institute full of scientists was there not a single person who could have explained any of this and discredited the misinformation rather than fronting of TV and continuing to perpetuate a false claim? Why did Newshub not bother to fact check their claim by checking with a radio engineer or RSM about the frequency allocations before they ran with the story?

Long gone are the good old days when Mark Jennings ran a newsroom lead the way with quality news rather than fake news.



Using PriceSpy to check for Boxing Day rip-offs

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 23-Dec-2018 22:50

Boxing Day is one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year in New Zealand. After a day of overeating on Christmas Day, New Zealanders rush out in their droves to the malls enduring traffic chaos and crowds all in the hope of picking up a bargain.

Big retailers advertise their “huge” Boxing Day sales and often promise big discounts…but how can you tell if you’re really getting a bargain?

If you’re after big ticket electronics items such as a TV, home theatre or audio equipment, cameras, or phones, the website pricespy.co.nz can be a huge help. It is worth pointing out here I have no affiliation with PriceSpy other than being a user of their website.

PriceSpy is an online price comparison site that  collects pricing information from a number of online retailers in New Zealand. You can search for a product or model number and see current and historical pricing from a number of online retailers who stock the product.

By looking at this current and historical data you can not only see what other retailers are selling a product for, you can also see historical pricing of products to see what they’ve sold for and whether the advertised sale price is in fact a good deal.

Lets look at an example of a current high end TV. If you can’t quite afford an OLED TV, the Sony X9000F is my pick of high end LED panels. It’s a brilliant TV and recently has seen some fairly sharp pricing on the 65” model.

x9000f price comparison

The above screenshot shows pricing data from the above retailers along with pricing history of the TV. It shows the TV has dropped as low as $2,498 in late November.

By clicking on a retailer you can see their pricing history. As you can see retailer Heathcote Appliances sold the TV in late November for $2,499 but it currently retails there for $3,298

heathcotes x9000f pricing

This pricing history shows the tactics of retailers such as Noel Leeming who have a habit of inflating prices before big sales so that their discounts look better. It’s very likely Noel Leeming will come out on Boxing Day (as they always do) and offer a “big brands” sale which often sees somewhere in the vicinity of 25% off many big brands including Sony.

As you can see above, Noel Leeming currently sell the 65X9000F TV for $3,899 making them around $600 - $700 more expensive than direct competitors such as JB HiFi, Magness Benrow, Heathcote Appliances, and even the Sony Store itself.

This also shows that Noel Leeming sold the TV for as low as $2,586 in late November.

noel leeming x9000f pricing

Noel Leeming’s pricing strategy is similar on other products. The brilliant Sony KD55A8F OLED TV has quite a range of prices at present, with once again Noel Leeming being one of the most expensive. It also shows they had the cheapest historical price for this TV selling it for $2,998 in November.

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A sale cannot be genuine and can fall foul of the Fair Trading Act if a product has not sold at the “was” price for a reasonable period of time beforehand – with that reasonable period of time considered to be around a month in the eyes of the Commerce Commission.

By hiking prices a little under a month out from Boxing Day it means Noel Leeming do not fall foul of the law, but it does mean that many of their “sale” prices can in fact  be pretty ordinary. You can tell from the above screenshot that Noel Leeming did exactly the same thing in early November leading up to their Black Friday in late November.

They may claim big percentage and or dollar discounts, but the truth is you’re not really saving the amount they claim. If Noel Leeming were to offer a 25% discount off a Sony 65X9000F or KD55A8F TV it only brings the prices of both down to pricing similar to pricing already seen last month for these products.

Other retailers employ questionable processes as well. Harvey Norman will often remove products from their website so they’re not shown on Pricespy.

By doing this it also means customers can’t use their website to attempt to price match their prices at retailers such as Noel Leeming and JB HiFi who will actively match competitors prices. These retailers will normally only accept a website price or written quote as proof of competitor pricing.

If you’re on the lookout for a big ticket item this boxing day make sure you do your research. Just because something is advertised as a sale item does not necessarily mean it’s a bargain!



Lime Scooters launch in the Hutt Valley

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 14-Dec-2018 07:25

Lime scooters have launched in the Hutt Valley overnight. Reports came in of scooters on streets late last night, and the app slowly updated as the scooters came online.

Image result for lime scooter

Geofencing on the map indicates they are only available in the Hutt Valley, and not in Wellington or Porirua. Lime had demonstrated the scooters on the Wellington waterfront last month, however Wellington City Council had indicated they were keen to await the outcome of the trial of bike service Onzo before giving Lime scooters the tick of approval.


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There appear to be somewhere in the vicinity of 100 scooters scattered throughout the Hutt Valley from Petone to Upper Hutt. There is good availability around Petone.

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To use a Lime scooter simply download the Lime app, register your account and load a credit card against it. Lime scooters cost $1 per ride + 30c per minute.

Locate a scooter on the map, and scan the QR barcode on the scooter with your phone camera to unlock the scooter. To end your ride simply press the end ride button on the app.

If anybody is keen on a $3 promo code to try a Lime scooter you can use promo code RG7WCAE – we’ll both get $3 free credit.



Yet another Mikrotik RouterOS exploit is in the wild

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Apr-2018 06:56

Users of hardware running Mikrotik RouterOS are urged to ensure their devices are secured after news of yet another security vulnerability affecting the platform.

The vulnerability allows a hacker to access the device remotely using Winbox port 8291 and then download the user database file from the router, extract valid usernames and passwords, and then access the device. It affects RouterOS versions 6.29 to 6.43rc3.

This vulnerability follows closely behind two others in the past month that have affected web access to the devices, and the SMB functionality.

All users of RouterOS should immediately ensure their hardware is upgraded to v6.42.1 (current) or  v6.43rc4 (release candidate). It’s important to note the 6.40.x bug fix only release channel does not currently have a fix available. If you are running 6.40.x restricting access via firewall rules to safe IP range(s) is essential to protect your device.

Best security practice is to also to not have a device exposed to the entire Internet on port 80 or 8291 for remote access. If these services are restricted to safe IP range(s) the risks of a device being compromised are reduced.

More information is available on the Mikrotik forums https://forum.mikrotik.com/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=133533



No, AT aren’t stealing your money. How Stuff confused a nation.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 10-Sep-2017 18:25

New Zealand’s biggest news site today wrote a story basically accusing Auckland Transport (AT) of being thieves. I’d hate to be working at AT tomorrow having to be dealing with the fallout from this alt fact fake news.

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This story has resulted in mass confusion from AT HOP card holders and lead many people to believe they’re going to lose the credit on their AT HOP cards if they don’t use them every 60 days. Nothing can be further from the truth.

The woman in the story topped up her AT HOP card online. The key point here is that AT HOP card, like any other stored value public transport card has the balance stored on the card itself. There are two ways to load credit onto the AT HOP card – the first is to do this at a retailer or AT HOP kiosk, and the second is to do this online.

Until the balance is physically loaded onto the card it doesn’t actually exist.

When you top up a AT HOP card at a kiosk or retailer it’s a real time transaction and your card balance update is immediately applied.

When you top up your card online it’s a two part process. First off you “buy” the credit online using your credit card. Typically this payment data is downloaded to every AT HOP terminal across the network in every bus, train and ferry overnight. When you now tag on to a bus, train or ferry, or ask for a balance query at a AT HOP terminal that new balance will be applied to your AT HOP card.

The woman in this story purchased the credit online but ignored the very clear instructions provided during the online top up process. Her balance never “mysteriously dropped to zero” as it was always zero. As she didn’t use the new card within 60 days of the online transaction her balance was never applied to her card.

Many people who have read the story now mistakenly believe that they will lose their AT HOP card balance if they don’t use it every 60 days.

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hop6

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The actual story here is the 60 day period that exists between purchasing credit online and using your AT HOP card on a bus, train or ferry, or asking for a balance at an AT HOP terminal. If you fail to use your card within 60 days of an online top up, your top up is removed from the system.

As explained above every night every AT HOP terminal is loaded with a file that contains online payment details and card numbers. Every time a person taps on to a bus, train or ferry this database needs to be queried to check if credit needs to be applied to the card.

A typical HOP transaction takes around 350ms to occur – in this time the card is read, the database queried to see if the card is valid or blocked, the top up database is checked to see if a top up balance needs to be applied to the card, and lastly the new balance is written back to the card. Every step of this process takes time, and time is critical. If transaction times were doubled to 700ms for example it would cause considerable delays to the tag on process and would create significant delays for people boarding their bus.

Best practice for any ticketing solution anywhere in the world is to have a period of time where online top up data is stored on terminals before it’s removed. If this data is stored indefinitely it would simply slow down card processing times to the point where the customer experience would be impacted.

Many people have accused AT of theft. This can’t be further from the truth. The credit is sitting there waiting for the AT card holder to tell them what to do with it, and it seems AT are only too happy to credit this back when people do make contact.

An analogy of this would be to compare it to ordering and paying for a product online from a click and collect retailer but never actually going to the store to pick it up. When you finally do the retailer has sent the product back to the warehouse because they don’t have room to store it. They’ve simply been waiting for you to contact them to tell them what you’d like to do.

Automatically refunding the balance back to the credit card that was used is not a good solution. Credit card numbers change and the card used may also not belong to the card holder.

AT’s best approach should be to make contact with the card holder if the top up isn’t applied within 60 days. I have no idea if this is process or not, but as a card has to be registered to be topped up online AT should have contact details for the card holder.

If you’re an AT HOP card holder you can be rest assured your balance will not expire if your card is not used every 60 days. As per AT HOP terms and conditions (section 9) any credit on an AT HOP card will expire if an AT HOP card is not used for a period of 6 years.

If you’re somebody who tops up online, ensure you use your card within 60 days by either taking a journey or checking the balance at an AT HOP kiosk or retailer so the balance can be applied.



The perils of using Airbnb during big events

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 3-Sep-2017 15:56

Those of you who know me will know I’m a pretty prolific traveler. As is the case when you fly somewhere you normally need somewhere to stay, and over the past few years I’ve spent somewhere in the vicinity of 60 – 80 nights per year in hotels both for work and leisure.

Despite my need for accommodation, I’ve never been a big user of Airbnb. On a recent trip to to Europe I spent a week staying in Airbnb properties with friends, and on a trip to Europe several years ago also spent a week staying in a number of properties with friends. Apart from minor issues such as broken air conditioning that would be easily fixed in a hotel (they move you to another room) I’ve never had any major issues with Airbnb and have stayed in some fantastic properties.

So why don’t I book Airbnb more often? Much of it comes down to the fact that staying in a hotel is just so much easier. I can get to a location, head straight to the hotel, check in, and head to my room. With Airbnb the process normally involves meeting with people to arrange keys and/or access which simply isn’t as quick or simple. Like being an Apple or an Android user I appreciate both options – and in my case I simply prefer hotels for much of my travel. When traveling with friends however, a large house or apartment that can sleep 3 or 4 people is much preferable to booking multiple hotel rooms.

Those of you in the tech world will know all about CES. It’s the biggest tech show in the world and sees Las Vegas turned into a city of chaos for 5 days as 170,000+ people from around the world all converge on it. It’s somewhere I’ve been before, and somewhere I’m heading to again in January along with several other Geekzone users.

As you can imagine with so many people visiting Las Vegas, accommodation becomes very important. While hotels in Las Vegas can be dirt cheap for much of the year, CES is an opportunity to make money. Rooms that are normally US$25 a night can go for US$250. Rooms that are US$250 night can easily go for US$1000. Look at an accommodation site such as Expedia right now and you’ll struggle to find a hotel room in Las Vegas for a week for under NZ$2000 during CES. Want something more upmarket? A stay at the Venetian or Palazzo will easily set you back NZ$7000 for a week long stay! At other times of the year you’d pay roughly 1/4 of this price.

In May when I booked flights to Las Vegas I immediately started looking for accommodation. The traffic carnage that ensues during CES means that buses, taxis and Uber simply end up being the traffic congestion. Roads are clogged, and getting around takes a very long time during both the morning and evening rush hours. Despite Las Vegas being a big city, walking is the best way to go. Finding somewhere to stay within 20 mins walk of the Las Vegas Convention Centre and The Strip really is the perfect place to be.

I looked at both hotel and Airbnb options before settling on an Airbnb property that cost me NZ$1150 for the week. The apartment looked great, and the location was also great. Everything was great.. Until several days ago when I received an email from Airbnb saying my booking had been cancelled.

Immediately I asked Airbnb what they could do for me and have been in contact with their team both via email and phone. Their customer service has been great, but right now I still don’t have anywhere to stay. Several other suggested properties are literally miles away. Others that are closer are still not as good or as well located as what I had previously.

Due to the fact many hotels have sold their cheap rooms and most good Airbnb properties are now booked, finding something else to book is proving difficult. There is nothing in the price range that I paid that’s in a location I want. Airbnb are willing to offer me a US$100 credit for the inconvenience, but when properties that are suitable are up to twice the price I paid that’s hardly a great deal. Staying in a cheap hotel may be the best option, but that’s going to cost me another NZ$500ish or so for the week.

All of this shows the problem with the Airbnb model. Short of a major disaster, a hotel selling rooms isn’t going to suddenly disappear – once you pay your money your booking is confirmed and you’ll have a room.

Paying for a property with a strict refund policy on Airbnb meant I was locked in to that property and was not eligible for a refund if I cancelled. Nothing however prevents the Airbnb host from cancelling under an extenuating circumstances policy. This property has now been removed from Airbnb so there is nothing to suggest the host is doing anything dodgy such as cancelling so he can relist it for a higher price, but a recent change to the listing suggests it was being turned into a long term stay rather than short term.

Under many circumstances such a cancellation may not be a major deal – the problem is in somewhere like Las Vegas during CES it’s now me who’s dealing the the extenuating circumstances of a cancelled booking and the fact rebooking somewhere to stay will cost me significantly more money.

I don’t necessarily think expecting Airbnb to front up and offer me another NZ$1000 in credit to book a property in a similar location to where I had booked is fair – but I also don’t think me having to pay a single cent more than I had already paid for a booking is fair either. Ultimately they’re the ones who have inconvenienced me, so why should I have to settle for a property or location that means my holiday experience is ruined?

While this won’t put me off ever using Airbnb again, it’ll certainly put me off booking Airbnb ever during a peak travel period or for an event where accommodation is busy. The risks of having your host cancel and being left to find accommodation that will cost significantly more simply isn’t worth the risk.



How to remotely control your heat pump from your phone for under NZ$25

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 16-Jul-2017 12:46

A heat pump is now the most common method of heating New Zealand homes. With winter now in full force it’s safe to say most will be in use to combat the current cold weather.

One feature of relatively new heat pumps is the ability to connect them to your WiFi network and control them from a phone app. Being able to turn your heat pump on remotely as you’re on your way home, or schedule daily timer settings that can’t be easily set from the remote become incredibly handy features to have.

But what if if you’ve got an older heat pump that doesn’t have built in WiFi and an app? There are now a growing number of 3rd party hardware solutions that will allow you to control your heat pump from your phone - several New Zealand developers have even entered the market offering products.

These solutions are all very similar, consisting of a hardware Infrared (IR) transmitter that connects to your WiFi network, and an app that connects to the transmitter, typically via a cloud based server on the Internet. Simply by configuring your brand of heat pump the app can send commands to the IR transmitter which in turn sends the IR commands to the heat pump, emulating the regular remote control.

While many of these solutions work incredibly well there is one downside – the price. Many are well over NZ$200 for the hardware and app.

What if I told you that you could control your heat pump remotely from your phone for under NZ$25? You can.

Broadlink is a Chinese hardware manufacturer who builds IR transmitters and smart switches. Their miniature sized RM Mini 3 is a USB powered IR transmitter that’s perfect for controlling your heat pump, or in fact any other IR controllable device such as a TV, stereo or set top box.

Newest-Broadlink-RM-Mini3-Black-Bean-Smart-Home-Universal-Intelligent-WiFi-IR-4G-Wireless-Remote-Controller 

The Broadlink RM Mini 3 is available from a myriad of usual sources of Chinese electronics goods such as Aliexpress, Banggood and eBay, with prices typically between US$13 and US$19 including free shipping to New Zealand. A quick search of TradeMe has shown several New Zealand sellers who are probably just importing this hardware from similar sellers and reselling it with a fairly hefty margin.

I don’t want to directly link to any Aliexpress sellers to avoid anybody accusing me of favouring a single seller. A quick search of Aliexpress will show plenty of sellers across the price range.

The Broadlink RM Mini 3 is USB powered but does not come with a power supply. Any surplus USB phone charger will work fine. Obviously the device needs to be permanently powered, and located within line of sight of the heat pump (or other device you want to control) so the IR transmitter will work.

Once powered up configuration is relatively straight forward. The device will broadcast it’s own WiFi network, so once you’ve installed the Broadlink app on your phone connect to this network. From the app you’ll now be prompted to enter the WiFi SSID and password for your home WiFi network. Once this is done the Broadlink RM Mini 3 will connect to your WiFi network and is ready to go.

Adding a heat pump is also relatively simple. Simply select the menu option to add a device and then follow the prompts on screen – simply by aiming your existing remote at the RM Mini 3 and pushing a button on the remote will allow the hardware to match the IR code with it’s database and know the brand of hardware you have. Setup is now complete.

Screenshot_20170716-121501

Controlling the heat pump is now simple. Open the app, select your device and you’ll see a screen replicating your existing remote control.

Screenshot_20170716-115852

 

From the menu you can also configure multiple timer settings across the week. You can configure one off events, or daily events to switch the heat pump on or off.

Screenshot_20170716-115916

The Broadlink app is available for both Android and iOS. It’s fair to say it’s not the most beautiful app, or the best designed, but it serves it’s purpose allowing you to easily turn your heat pump on or off remotely.

For those are looking to take things further the Broadlink RM Mini 3 hardware can be integrated with openHAB or Apple Homekit via the Homebridge gateway. Fellow New Zealander Nic Wise has written up a great guide for integrating this hardware with Homekit.



Why a 24hr parking limit won’t fix the Wellington airport parking issue.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 9-Jun-2017 12:22

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll be well aware of the issues surrounding car parking at Wellington airport and the surrounding Miramar streets. Streets nearby to the airport have become a popular alternative for both travellers and staff working at the airport to avoid what many consider to be be excessive parking charges at the airport.

The issue reached breaking point earlier in the year when a local resident was charged and jailed for slashing the tyres of cars parked in streets near his home. This spurred the Wellington City Council into reviewing the situation.

Last week the Council (who are a part owner of the airport) announced that nearby streets within an approximate 700m range of the airport will have a 24hr parking limit. Local residents will receive a single parking permit per property allowing them to park a single vehicle in this area.

This was exclaimed as a “solution to the problem” by media and Council however this can’t be further from the truth – anybody who thinks such a limit will be a magic fix for the problem really are living in a dream world. Rather than actually looking at the issue and why it occurs they’ve implemented a “solution” that’s nothing but a knee jerk reaction.

image

From an economics point of view parking at the airport is a finite resource and with significant numbers of parks currently unavailable due to construction of both a new multi story parking building and hotel, many would argue that pricing needs to be set accordingly to ensure demand is matched with supply. With this in mind it’s clear the airport’s parking pricing model is fundamentally flawed – offering long term parking for $125 for up to 9 days and then $5 per day for additional days simply ties up parking space at the airport, meanwhile those who want to park at the airport for a weekend trip away can easily find themselves paying roughly between $64 and $90 for parking. With such high pricing for short term stays it’s hardly surprising people are looking for cheaper alternatives for a day trip or weekend away.

As a frequent flyer I used to be a regular customer of Air New Zealand’s airport parking. This parking space was shared with Air New Zealand staff and consisted of both outdoor and under cover parking using the former Air New Zealand hanger. I was happy to pay $18 per day to park 5 minutes walk away from the terminal and had the option of using the provided shuttle if I so desired. As a result of the demolition of the hanger in early 2017 this land is no longer available to Air New Zealand and their public parking has been discontinued. Air New Zealand Airpoints Elite customers are also disadvantaged with no ability to use their parking vouchers that are allocated each year as a customer benefit.

It’s not the first time that Air New Zealand have been involved in a dispute with the airport company over parking – their valet parking was discontinued several years ago after the airport company announced a significant price increase for the use of car parks near the terminal.

The alternative is now $32.30 per day to park in the airport’s own parking near the terminal. This significant jump in parking prices has turned me into a “street parker” and it’s something I don’t feel guilty about. An 80% increase in the cost to me is a fairly significant price hike.

Many would argue the solution is to encourage alternative forms of transport to the airport including public transport. Public transport during the day is great, but is not an option for those arriving for early morning international or domestic departures, and is also not available for late night international arrivals.

While a taxi or shuttle is an option (complete with an airport surcharge) the airport company refuses to let ride sharing service Uber operate from airport land and continually threatens to trespass drivers despite some legal advice which says they’re unable to do so. The airport company are so unhappy with Uber that they’ve even gone as far as blocking access to the Uber website using their free WiFi meaning it’s not possible to make a booking using this. This means that the hundreds of users per day of the Uber service are typically picked up from the nearby Burger King & Z petrol station which is a 5 minute walk away. Such draconian measures from the airport company towards Uber does nothing to encourage the use of alternative means of transport.

With a 24 hour parking limit set to soon be in place in nearby streets the big question will be what impact this has on those streets. Local residents will only be permitted to park a single vehicle outside their house in the zone – and one assumes if you have more than one vehicle that you will simply find somebody else’s street nearby outside the zone to park it in. Those staff at the airport who aren’t eligible for free staff parking will presumably continue to park in the streets as they’re under the 24 hour limit. Travellers parking for under 24 hours will presumably continue to park in nearby streets as they won’t be affected by the new restrictions. Those who are parking in the street for more than 24 hours will presumably just park outside the 700m zone, because after all an extra 5 minute walk is highly unlikely to change their mindset.

Vehicles breaking the new rules will be liable for a $57 fine or face being towed away. As parking for 28 hours at the airport will cost more than $57 such a fine seems pointless – every car caught breaking the rules would need to be towed for it to be affective as simply paying the fine will be cheaper than airport parking.

Rather than fixing the problem this change is simply going to move the problem further into the suburbs and potentially even increase the problems on the Kilbirnie side on the airport which is easily accessible via the underground subway under the runway.

So what am I going to do? For my regular day trips away I’ll likely still be parking in the street. For weekend trips I’ll just park beyond the 700m zone and walk. I was happy to pay $36 for parking at Air New Zealand for a 30 hr weekend away in Auckland – I’m not happy to pay the $64 the airport want for their parking. For that extra $28 I could even park in a nearby street and catch a taxi or Uber and still save money. Watching what happens over the next six months will be interesting to observe.



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems. I'll also a co-founder of the TravelTalk.nz travel site. 


I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)
  -Polycom
  -Cisco
  -Linksys
  -Patton
  -Zyxel
  -Snom
  -Sangoma
  -Audiocodes

*Telecommunications/Broadband
  -xDSL deployments
  -WiMAX
  -GSM/WCDMA
  -WiFi

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
   
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.


+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.


You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com

twitter.com/stevebiddle