Friday, July 24, 2009

Never again: Cellphone while driving

Yesterday, I read this article by Maureen Dowd, who, in turn, was quoting the hidden National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on driving while on a cellphone:
Studies show that drivers who talk on cellphones are four times more likely to be in a crash and drive just as erratically as people with an 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level.

In one study cited by the highway safety agency, “drivers found it easier to drive drunk than to drive while using a phone, even when it was hands-free.”

The agency buried its head in the sand, keeping the research to itself for years and ignoring the fact that soon nearly all Americans would own cellphones and that the phones are always getting smarter and more demanding, putting a multimedia empire at your fingertips while you’re piloting a potentially lethal piece of artillery

I agreed with everything she wrote and swore to cut down drastically on my cellphone use while driving. This was yesterday. I even took action on it.

I had a 9:00am call this morning, and a 9:30am meeting. I decided to get up really early, start driving to my 9:30am meeting well in advance, reach my destination, and take the 9:00am call from the parking lot.

I did get up on time, but then I kept slipping, and slipping further, until it was 8:40am and I would have to take the 9:00am call on the phone after all. I was dreading the idea, but "didn't have a choice." I tempted fate.

Bang. Really loud bang and no idea where it came from. Except that I felt some impact on my thumb. I was switching between two calls and I had driven straight into the truck in front of me. The truck was unscathed, but my car is hurt rather badly.

I need a more drastic solution. The cellphone will go into the backpack and the backpack will go into the trunk of the car. No exceptions. Wish I'd done this a day sooner.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

China: Fizzle or Crash?

The Chinese "growth" story in recent months, it seems, is a total mirage, built upon reckless government spending that is about to come crashing down:

I thought I’d seen insane excess in the past – 200 thousand square meter malls completely empty next to apartment complexes with 40 thousand units and 30% occupancy rates, etc. etc. But what we saw over there is rather hard to fathom. It seems the Guiyang city mayor had the same idea as the Shenzhen mayor – to move the old downtown to a piece of undeveloped land.

Of course Guiyang has a quarter the population and probably a quarter the per capita income of Shenzhen. They built sprawling new government buildings about a 20-minute drive north of town. And then the residential high rise projects started going up. From driving around the area, Tom and I figured well over 100 20+ storey buildings.

What was most distressing was that the development has been totally uncoordinated – a project with 15 buildings here, in another field two miles away a project with one building, another mile in another direction three buildings, sprawled over what was easily over 30 square kms. of farmland well north of town. Every building we got close enough to see was either incomplete/under construction, or empty. Our tone gradually went from “Haha, another one!” to “Oh my God, another one.” We conservatively guesstimated that we saw US$10bn of NPLs in one afternoon. The only buildings that were occupied were six-storey towers built to accommodate the peasants who had been displaced by the construction.

The global economy, it seems, could be in for yet another major shock in the coming months and years.

PS: More on the Chinese "bubble"...

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