All about GPS tracking

, posted: 4-Apr-2011 06:00

During a catch-up dinner some months back with Kelvin (chiefie), David (cisconz), John (johnk) and our better halves, John mentioned that the electrical company he worked for had just installed GPS tracking in all of their vans.  Our discussions ranged from how the units work, if it's possible to disable the units, to some of the more positive benefits of having GPS installed.   Some of the ideas we bounced back and forward I am going to detail here.

I'm well familiar with this topic as one of our clients specialises in GPS tracking.  In its most basic form, GPS tracking consists of two parts:

  1. A tracking unit - a unit is installed in your vehicle and this calculates your current real-time position and relays it back to a server and
  2. A server - this stores the GPS location with a date and time, and allows for this data to be plotted on a map, plus other useful reports, such as how far you've driven around today.

At face value, this all seems very big brother - a boss being able to see exactly where his workmen are at all times sounds like snooping, and to a degree, it is - this, however, is only a small part of the benefits of tracking your vehicles.  In a business, staff and vehicles tend to be big expenses, so it makes sense to report on both.

map During development of Argus, I volunteered my car and had a GPS tracking unit installed.  It is a small box hidden in the car, and it reports back periodically to my client's servers.  Unless you were told, you would have no idea that it was there.  It is still in my car to this day for the following reasons:

  • Security - my car alarm is hooked into my GPS, and should my alarm go off, my partner (she is included in-case my cell phone is flat) and I are sent a SMS message within 2 seconds with my car's location.  A couple years ago, before I had the alarm wired in, my car was stolen from the Botany Town Centre car park and dumped 200m away.  At that time, I was able to find my car within minutes (rather than waiting days for the Police to find it), and had the alarm been hooked in, I would've been alerted within seconds (a lesson learnt the hard way!).  This really is a must have if you have an expensive bike, custom car or boat.
  • Accountability - during busy days of back-to-back meetings, sometimes I will not remember who I've met with.  By using some of the reports the next day, I'm able to backtrack where I've been, and this helps trigger my memory.  From an electrician's point of view, it can prove that you were at a remote location with the arrival and leaving times, should a dispute from a client arise.  I also use this feature often when possum shooting with mates - it allows us to see where we've been shooting, what time we arrived, and what time we left - unfortunately it doesn't help with our .22s' accuracy.
  • Safety - the GPS unit has a variety of relays which can be plugged into your car, for example, a crash sensor could trigger a SMS message to a loved one with your current location, if you are unconscious and unable to respond.
  • Peace of mind - having the facility to know where you car is at all times is very reassuring (good idea for parents with teenagers who take family car). 
  • Productivity - there are gains to be made by analysing common routes, and combining them together to save on fuel and other vehicle costs.  I know of a customer who observed his workmen going back and forward multiple times a day between a supplier and a building site.  By better planning a job, they were able to make one trip to the supplier, get everything they need, and get the job done quicker.

(these are just a handful of the benefits)

For business owners thinking about getting GPS tracking, you need to get your staff onboard, and outline why it is a good idea.  I highly recommend against covertly installing tracking in your company vehicles - all it takes is one report left carelessly on a desk, or a tracking screen left up on a laptop and your staff will quickly figure out what's going on.  Nobody likes being followed without their knowing, and the best way to destroy any employer-employee trust is to track them behind their backs.

I'm glad I had GPS tracking installed and recommend it for both personal vehicles and business fleets.


Blatant plug: Contact the clever guys at Argus Tracking if you are keen to have a chat about GPS tracking or to have it installed.

Why deal websites don’t work for retailers

, posted: 15-Mar-2011 16:01

I'm a big fan of deal-a-day websites.  There are plenty of them around, and they let us as consumers purchase a voucher which give product/services worth much more than the voucher.  It's all a very tempting proposition for those of us with [insert nationality who are stingy] blood. 

Today Trade Me have announced their foray into this field with Treat Me.  As with other websites they launch (such as Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Real Estate), they have the magic of critical mass.  When you have as many users as Trade Me, it's a no brainer that these users can be tempted into using your other sites, simply by you advertising that they exist.  It was this launch today that reminded me of a discussion I had at the recent Geekzone Pizza evening in Auckland.

A user there mentioned how a family member owned a large chain of beauty and massage salons.  He despised the deal websites as they target a fickle market, eg consumers who are only interested in getting a bargain from any random retailer, and are not interested in becoming a loyal, full-price-paying customer.  He would often get customers asking for similar deals at his salons, but at such a low price, it was economically unviable.

This got me thinking about these sites from the retailer's perspective.

Are these deal websites good promotional tools for retailers, or do they only get you customers until a better deal comes along from a competitor? Are they sustainable, and if not, will these deal sites all die once retailers stop providing offers?

I'm interested to hear what you think, add your comments below.

Snapper comes to Auckland

, posted: 9-Mar-2011 21:37

This morning I was invited to the Snapper launch in Auckland, on behalf of Geekzone.  Wellingtonians are well familiar with Snapper, but it's not yet very well known in Jaffaland or elsewhere in the country. Snapper is a contactless payment system, allowing you to pay for buses, taxis, and at retailers simply by passing your Snapper card over a reader.  It speeds up paying for goods or services as there is no need for entering a pin, and the money is taken off the card immediately, so it's perfect for doing payments where network connectivity may not be available.

After a mix-and-mingle, we were given a short presentation by Miki Szikszai (@mikiszikszai), the CEO of Snapper, who spoke about some impressive numbers - 160k Snappers out in the wild, 38 million transactions, readers in 400 buses, 2,000 taxis and many retailers (complete media release here). 

Each attendee was given a Snapper Mini and lanyard, with a $50 balance - a very generous offer in my view.  The launch was at No 1 Queen St cafe who already accept Snapper, and we were able to order coffee and food.  As well as this we could use our new Snapper cards to get our shoes shined, or order pretzels.  It was a great demonstration of how the technology works - I've never used Snapper, so it was really helpful to be able to use one.

Snapper is also ramping up their marketing in Auckland, with billboards all over the city, and buses covered with as well (just about got run over taking the photos below)

A great launch and I look forward to using my new shiny Snapper at more and more retailers, as they sign up.


All my photos from the event are here.

TelstraClear: now’s good, but you’ll have to wait

, posted: 7-Mar-2011 15:57

My partner's parents are TelstraClear customers for their home line and broadband.  No complaints about service or reliability, it all works well.  The real drama is when you try and get in touch with TelstraClear and get services changed or moved.  I would buy a lazy boy, a wireless headset, and get comfortable, as it will take forever.

Drama 1.  Two months ago, partner's parents moved house.  Pretty standard procedure really.  They forgot to put the order in early enough, so were without service for a week or so, but weren't too worried.  Once notified, TelstraClear proceeded to botch up the move twice, trying to move the non-existent service at the new house, back to the old house (seriously, how do you do this?).  No service for a month, a terse phone call (which took 50 minutes) and it was finally all sorted out.  A nice credit for the month of new service and we were all happy.  I put down the long wait times as something of an inconvenience, but all was fixed.

Fast forward to this month, and the wait time is still the same.

Drama 2. Toll bar has been dropped from the phone and there's no voicemail.  After calling their 0800 again, I'm put through to a customer service rep who is [insert synonym for useless].  40 minutes to get these two rather simple issues resolved.

TelstraClear: I know you've lost your main call centre in Christchurch, however I had dramas before the earthquake.  Get rid of your overseas call centre, they are unhelpful, and the call quality is pitiful.  Employ more kiwis, train them properly and give us the decent support that your competitors do.  Talk to the IRD: get their call back system implemented so I don't have to sit and listen to the piano over and over and over again.


/end rant.

How to fix Google Apps - Server error

, posted: 17-Feb-2011 08:43

About a month ago, a mate was having issues with his webmail provider.  I suggested he swap to Google Apps (free edition).

All was going well for around three weeks, then when he or any of his other users tried to login, they would be presented with this error:

Server error, We are unable to process your request at this time, please try again later.

Unlike our 3Bit email (Google Apps paid edition), the free edition comes with no support, so I had to figure out the solution myself - a quick search of the Google forums show this is a common issue, and no-one really had a solution that worked.

While I wish I could claim some stroke of brilliance, the answer came to me by accident.

The issue is, if you don't verify your domain name within the time frame (three weeks), it seems Google disable the administrator account for the domain, which in turn, causes issues for everyone on that domain.  The ambiguous error message thrown by trying to login to the cpanel for the domain doesn't help.

To check whether your administrator account has been disabled, try logging into Google Accounts.  If your account has been disabled, you will be redirected to this help page.  I sent an email to Google using the link at the bottom of the page, explaining what had happened, and within an hour, the account was re-enabled, and I was able to login to Google Apps again.

I hope this helps save some hours and frustration for anyone else with this issue.

nate's profile

New Zealand

I'm Nate Dunn, and I work for 3Bit, and am a moderator here at Geekzone.

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The views and opinions represented on this blog are personal and belong solely to the blogger and do not represent in anyway those of 3Bit Solutions Limited or any other company.

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