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Something rotten in the state of concrete


Something rotten in the state of concrete

Posted on 08 May 2015 by JasonK

Buried away in a story on substandard concrete being supplied to 70 sites in Auckland are a few clues that the building industry sector is heading for another disaster.

New Zealand’s largest publicly listed company Fletchers via their subsidiary Firth is being forced into cleaning up the mess caused by dodgy business practices or quality control failure.

In a story today titled Costly repairs for motorway – Remedial work on Waterview ramp to fix faulty concrete will start later this year.

Lets say that again slowly. Concrete supplied to 70 building sites was sub standard.


Investigations are being carried out into weak, substandard, faulty Firth concrete supplied to the $1.4 billion Waterview Connection.

The Well-Connected Alliance building Waterview and the NZ Transport Agency, which will own it, are involved in the work.

A spokeswoman yesterday said: “The NZ Transport Agency and the other organisations in the Well-Connected Alliance are still investigating what repairs will be needed, and how they will be carried out.”

The most interesting part of the story.

“A whistle-blowing contractor working on Waterview estimated it would take a month to demolish the work. The contractor said repairs probably would not hold up the huge tunnel and motorway interchange job.

“But I’m guessing it would take a month so it’s going to cost someone a lot of money,” he said, referring to Ramp 4 retaining walls, footpaths and crash barriers.

The worker said a concrete beam also contained weak concrete.

“It’s a very, very big structural beam across Ramp 4 and almost holding the whole bridge up. That has to be demolished.”

None of the companies involved in the issue front-footed it by revealing how Firth had made then sold the faulty concrete. The worker said the concrete was less than half the strength it should have been.

Questions were put to Fletcher Building, which owns Firth, about these claims, but they were not directly answered by the company.”

The italics are mine. The implication is that unless the whistle blower had mentioned it that the companies involved on billions of dollars worth of construction projects would have just kept quiet.

As I understand it what causes faulty concrete is “Not enough cement had been added to the mix so the concrete would never harden to the required strength” and “Tests were carried out on the big sites to ensure engineering standards were met.”

I’m not an expert on concrete at all, but surely it is much better to have quality tests when the concrete is actually being made and not a month or so after it has been delivered to building sites and used to build important stuctures?

If the concrete is tested AFTER being poured on site then it can only be remedied by demolition and rebuilding. It’s not like building a motorway is cheap.

The Waterview Connection project is $1.4b. The science building project at University of Auckland is $200m and there are all those other projects affected by this giant screw up.

It is good that faulty concrete has discovered but it does seem like finding out your concrete will never harden to the required standards weeks AFTER it has been used in a building project is just plain stupid.

In many (if not most) cases concrete is being used as a structural element in the building process. Everything that is built on those concrete foundations will need to be reworked in some way.

I wonder if new buildings in Christchurch and Wellington – especially are safe – given that the implication of this story is thanks to a whistle blower who called it when the management did not.

P.S I’m told that the (concrete) ingredients are measured at the mixing stage and there was a fault in measuring the cement levels at mix time. It would be good to know about in country that suffers from earthquakes and with hundreds of leaky buildings still out there. It’s not like public confidence in the building sector is solid at all.

Update: 12 May – I spoke with a civil engineer about this issue. He says he was surprised that the company fessed up. ( They didn’t – it was a whistle blower.  A bad sign in my view.) Also that large works tend to be over-engineered to provide a safety margin. Besides tests on concrete process at the plant there is a test at 7 days and then again at 28 days on site. He said that fixing any large works like the Waterview ramp would be a major undertaking. If concrete is at 50% or less of the required density then that is not a simple process error. Lets hope this is not a systemic hidden issue in the building sector.


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Inspiration is the best rocket fuel

Posted on 19 June 2014 by JasonK

Last night Matt Mullenweg told the story of WordPress and how it had all happened. It was a kind of a one man solo theatre performance with a stream of anecdotes counterpointing each step along the journey.

I have been lucky enough to hear Matt speak a few times over the past 6 years and even though I knew most of the story there were still plenty of insights to be had.

The event was held in a school theatre and it was the right setting for a no frills telling of the motivations and the reasons why WordPress is still relevant and exciting today after 10.5 years.

Here are some tweets and posts that captured some of the magic moments. It was great to meets some tweeps in person and to see so many new faces as well as some old favourites.

In the first snap below I was talking with @billbennettnz and unknowingly photo bombed the shot.

In shot: Megan @Madicattt and Laura @lozalock with Matt.

Megan wrote a great post on the evening WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg in Auckland

Potaua & Nikolasa Biasiny-Tule run an awesome local news project in Rotorua. They came up especially to say hi. They also very kindly bought Matt a ponamu pendant seen in the photo below.

The moment when Potaua presented the gift he leaned in for a hongi which was a new concept for Matt. Anyway it was a beautiful moment, spontaneous and unscripted and delightfully funny all at the same time.

During the Q & A many of those who asked questions thanked Matt for co-creating WordPress and giving many of us fulfilling work as part of the WP community.

Grant Furley over on his blog got to the essence of the evening in Conversation with WordPress founder beats Awards night

Matt’s presentation was the antithesis of a corporate computing event – no PowerPoint slides, no fancy lighting or sound, no slick media personality as MC*. Just Matt speaking from the heart about the product he develops (WordPress) and the company he founded (Automattic) that provides complementary blog services like hosting and spam protection.

What made the evening so inspiring was his commitment to open source and to his mission of “democratizing publishing”. Matt shared his philosophy and the story of how WordPress grew to the point where today it powers a staggering 22% of all the world’s websites. Rather than speak about “how” or “what” his organisation does, or show any software, he talked about “why” WordPress exists and why it has succeeded in a very tough market. Not only did this resonate strongly with the audience, but it also left you feeling “I want to be part of this”. And it’s that community loyalty that is the backbone of WordPress’ success.

There is much more I could say but Grant has captured most of it including the 4 qualities that Matt looks for when hiring. (*) it was me as the non-slick MC ha :)

Work ethic

Matts final note was an encouragement for everyone to keep giving back to the community and how that creates even more for us all.

Inspiration really is the best rocket fuel. It is comparatively easy to manage a company but leading from the heart and inspiring others to become leaders – now that is an idea worth spreading.

Thanks to Matt for including Auckland and Wellington in the 10 city loop for this trip. The WordPress community has grown hugely in the last 5 years and all signs for the future are green for go just like the beautiful pounamu in the photo below.

Another post worth checking out is Opening up the secret sauce. Open sourcing Bucky Box

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Is Equity based Crowdfunding the New new thing?

Posted on 28 February 2014 by JasonK

A week ago, Israeli equity crowd funding platform was released in Australia. It is aimed at investors who have more than $10k to put in and the tech sector. Founder Jon Medved says:

“crowdfunding models are emerging for real estate and other ventures, but OurCrowd is focused specifically on technology start-ups. The company is seeking deals where the company or product has some traction, other investors and the potential market is huge. Australian start-ups would qualify if they are planning to sell to a global market.”

Essentially is is focussed on accelerating product to market type strategies and that will be very welcome news to many Australian startups and hopefully a few NZ ones as well.

OurCrowd is an equity based crowd funder who is diffeent from the pledge based ones that we already know about such as Kickstarter, Pozible, Pledgeme and IndieGoGo.

However with shareholding scenarios comes the need for financial regulations and other shareholding accountability such as the need to vote.

“One criticism of equity crowdfunding is that entrepreneurs then have to deal with thousands of smaller investors and chase them for signatures and votes in order to make decisions on the company. The OurCrowd model gets around that by aggregating the investment into one voting equity with board representation.”

OurCrowd joins two other equity based platforms in Australia. These are ASSOB which has been operating since 2005 and has raised $A138m and newcomer VentureCrowd @v_crowd.

ASSOB CEO Paul Niederer says

“Equity crowdfunding will lift the crowdfunding industry to a new level. Pre-sales and patronage only work for some products and services. Not everyone can market their opportunity or product on the basis of pre-orders. Many opportunities and companies need money in the operational entity and usually it is a lot more money than can generally be achieved by pledge or reward crowdfunding.

These opportunities will attract their own tribe of people looking for a meaningful use of their funds and often a strong emotional connection to the people who are going to be the custodians of their hard-earned dollars. This is not the area for a gatekeeper to make the decision for them.

However, equity crowdfunding is not just about diversified portfolios. Which means there will be a place for people managing “diversified portfolios” where the more analytical can decide the best place for, say, 2 per cent of someone’s investment portfolio in a high-risk, early stage venture. But, you can’t write human nature off.

Many people invest because they have a natural affinity to support causes they believe in. They will be friends, family, fans, followers, where they passionately love the technology, people, geographical location or the general buzz. For these people, a diversified portfolio is not their definition of equity crowdfunding.”


In New Zealand we have only recently got Kickstarter for local projects.

Pledgeme is the main home grown platform and only now are we starting to see signs of equity based crowdfunding platforms becoming available.

Pledge based systems work best for presale type products – where the reward can be a version of the funded product as a presales special. But for many businesses that is not going to scale.

Like other peer to peer funding projects before ( and these are 10+ years old now Zopa, Prosper and others) part of the hold up has been financial regulations catching up with the technology of the collaborative economy. In New Zealand The Snowball Effect @snowballnz is about to launch on April the 1st.

“We have a vision: a New Zealand economy, fuelled by emerging businesses, backed by everyday kiwi investors.

Through Snowball Effect, New Zealanders can support and share in the success of our country’s emerging businesses, while providing them with a new funding option for growth.

This process, known as equity crowdfunding, is growing in momentum worldwide. From April 2014, proposed regulatory changes will make this a reality here in New Zealand.”

Here is hoping that the change of regulations will see more projects investigate equity based crowdfunding.

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