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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Fun With Miles per kWh

Ok, so yeah, a bit of a follow-up on the electric vehicle front

In short, i got one. Well, sort of.

What i got was a Plug-in Electric Vehicle, which gets about 48* mpg city and a pure electric range of about 26** miles. Since that’s twice what the last car got, and my work (which is 10 miles away) very kindly provides free charging, i expect my fuel bill to drop a fair bit. The car is also pretty fun to drive and ticks pretty much all my required checkboxes (aside from a trailer hitch for a bike rack, but that’s something i can solve pretty easily).

What’s really interesting is doing the math on the charging bit, and why i’m now super happy with a PHEV rather than a full on electric. Particularly since i’m a right cheap bastard at times.

Consider, as stated, my car now gets about 26 miles on 8.6 kWh, or about 3.02 miles per kWh. That’s the max range on the full battery in pure electric mode, probably with a strong wind at your back and ample down hills, but good enough for now. It takes 2 hours and 42 minutes to charge up from pretty much zero on a Level 2 charger.

The hybrid engine gets me around 48 mpg in the city, which is what i generally drive. Again, presume strong winds, ample down hills, and whatever other bits gets you to that high of a number.

Currently, gas goes for around $3.30 per gallon. 26 is about 54% of 48, so it’s safe to assume that running pure electric is equivalent to running about half a gallon of fuel. That means it costs me $1.15 to drive the equivalent distance if my battery is flat and i use the gas engine.

So, when i charge, i want to look for any charging station that costs less than $1.81 total to use. That means anything that’s $.01 a minute (well, $.68 per hour because rounding) or less, or charges less than $0.21 a kWh. According to PG&E, my power company, i pay $0.28 per kWh peak (between 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM) and $0.27 off-peak, so it doesn’t really make sense to charge at home. i’d be paying an equivalent $4.64 for a gallon of gas.

What floors me is that looking at various commercial charging sites charge even more. EVgo, charges $1.50 an hour, which is like spending $6.70 a gallon on gas. i mean, i totally understand companies needing to make a profit and all, but Holy Ampère that’s a lot. Granted, it gets worse. There’s at least one “public” charge station nearby that charges $4 an hour. That’s about $11 a gallon.

i’m going to guess that my car is probably less efficient a pure EV than, well, a pure EV, but even so, if you’ve got an 80kWh battery and your range is 300 miles, that gets you about 3.75 miles per kWh. Still, a full “tank” of electricity still costs far less than it used to in my last car, so not really complaining. i’m also willing to bet that prices per kWh are probably less outside of the Bay Area, but yeah, i’m fine plugging into the free stations when i can and may just skip the pay ones.

* for the pedantic, after about a week, i’m seeing around 42mpg and the full battery charge gets me around **24 miles, but it’s also winter, which sets my target price per kWh to $.24 or $.77 an hour.

:: Travel Advise

At work, someone said they were visiting California this upcoming summer for a couple of weeks and wanted to know if there were any recommendations for places to visit.

i offered the following:

There’s lots to do and see in California, but you have to remember that it’s a big state. (it takes around 13 hours to drive from the top to bottom, on freeways, so it’s not really the best way to see it.) i note this because it’s actually worth considering California as several different states loosely bound by asphalt.

True “Northern California” (generally everything north of Santa Rosa) is mostly deep wood areas. That’s where you get some really stunning drives through massive redwood forests and along coastlines. i’ve done route 1 from Mendocino to Eureka. It’s really pretty, but probably not the best with a car full of kids. It can also be more than a bit redneck.

East across the 5 is Shasta, Lassen and Plumas. These are also pretty, but less wooded. They are the remains of part of the volcano chain that stretches up the rest of the coast. Again, great if you love hiking, not so great if you’re into family fun activities.

Heading south a bit you get to what most would consider “Northern California” (which is about mid-way down the state). Basically it’s the Wine valleys (Russian River, Napa & Sonoma) east to about Sacramento, and south to Monterey. Lots and lots of stuff to do around here. Depending on what you want, you can spend days in SF and San Jose, visit Old Town and the train museum in Sacramento. Take advantage of your kids driving skills in the Wine Valleys, or spend the day at the Santa Cruz board walk, or just hit up Atlas Obscura for places like the Musée Mécanique)

Headed further south on 1 (you’ll recognize it for being in every car commercial, ever) gets you to the Central Coast, so named because even Californian’s have no idea how big their state really is. That gets you Pismo Beach and San Luis Obispo (SLO). One noted for being Bugs Bunny’s vacation destination of choice, the other for being a college town with a fairly nice downtown. Again, wineries abound around there, and if you’re feeling like ignoring your car rentals strict rules, there’s beach driving at the Dunes. Or there’s also Dinosaur Caves Park, named after a tourist attraction that featured most of a dinosaur that eventually fell into the sea. Darn pretty park, though.

If you’re particularly lucky, and or the weather holds out, you might even be able to see a rocket launch from Vandenburg in Lompoc. (Bonus points if you insist on saying that town’s name like the narrator in Roger Ramjet, but only because it annoys my wife.) Continuing south gets you to Santa Barbara which is notable for it’s beach, ritzy shopping area, and the birthplace of a number of burger joints.

It’s also about where Southern California starts. Personally, i love taking 101 along this stretch since it hugs the coast. Right now, however, there’s also the problem of burn areas and mud slides, but that’s because we insist on putting roads next to mountains that catch fire.

Then comes LA. You could spend years going over all the stuff in LA and still not see it all. Instead feel free to drive through Anaheim past all the theme parks and watch your kids understand the glory of disappointment. Or just go by Knotts Berry Farm and let them wonder why the company that makes half of their peanut butter sandwiches has some deal promoting a 70 year old cartoon character using roller-coasters.

Finally, roll down 5 past the largest military base in the country, and you’ll arrive in San Diego. An old Spanish town which translates roughly into “Base Entrance next 5 exits”. Downtown San Diego does have some really good restaurants, a surprisingly good Little Italy and lots of folks from LA getting away for the weekend.

i didn’t even note some of the eastern stuff like the Salton Sea (which is a weird monument to a devastating irrigation error, the remains of Josuha Tree National Park & Death Valley.

Likewise, there’s Yosemite, with it’s grand vistas and magnificent traffic, and Lake Tahoe, which will probably make you realize you really can’t take too many pictures.

i think that should probably do it. Granted, by this point you’ll probably be enjoying retirement. Your kids retirement, but retirement none the less. Hope that helps!

:: Ununifi’d

i have a server in my garage. It’s not a super beefy machine, but i use it as a NAS, postgres/http server and a few other things. i’ve had it for a while and while i wouldn’t say it’s a key element of my home network, it’s damn handy to keep around. Still, it’s not quite worth fishing a 30m of cat6 line through a 60 year old house, so i use wifi to connect to it.

the unifi access pointBecause i tend to be a fairly cheap bastard, i’ll get a sub $100 access point in whatever the fastest flavor of 802.11 happens to be at the time. The problem with doing that is sometimes, say, when you’re on vacation in LA for a week, the crappy access point dies on you and your wife can’t peek at the out the front window while she’s away. So after coming home and turning the access point on and off again, i decided i’d fix the problem for realz and get an Unifi AP AC Lite. Several colleagues have Unifi setups for their homes and swear that they’re the bees knees. (i’ll get into that a bit more later.)

Yeah, i’m not so sure about that anymore.

Now, let me make a brief aside to discuss my home network.

i consider the modem provided to me to be hostile. It’s from AT&T, so that’s probably all you need to know. Since it runs a network on 192.168.1.0/24, i keep my protected network on 192.168.2.0/24 behind a second router. Further more, i keep two “private” wifi nets and one “guest” net that gets no access to the private network. i also run a Pi-Hole as my local network DNS. ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THAT SHOULD MATTER TO ANY GOOD ACCESS POINT

Normally, when i get a new access point, i simply plug it into the protected net’s hub, open up the admin access HTTP page, do a bit of local configuration for the device, and we’re good to go, super easy-peasy.

This is not the case with Unifi.

Unifi first wants… no, let me clarify… demands you download their java based controller app. This sets up a local connection running on port “8443” (Oh, hey, that’s the HTTPS port! Better hope you don’t run a secure server on whatever machine you’re running this app on because otherwise you’re going to be very sad.). Of course, the Controller app doesn’t provide any config options to change the port or really do anything other than open a browser to connect, which i guess is fine.

Ok, so let me connect up the access point. i grab a few extra cat5 cables (because none were in the box), and pass the connection through the PoE connector running on a 12″ power cord. i was told that as a device comes online it would appear in the Controller listing. This, appears not to be true.

i unplug, and replug, checking connections. Nope.
i open my protected router’s config panel and see the new Unifi device’s IP4 address. Still nothing in the controller.
i ping the access point, Nothing in the controller.
i port scan the access point, oh, port 22 is open. Google says the user and password is “ubnt” (yay! Security!) and yep, that works just fine. Still nothing in the controller app, though.
i use the “device discovery” tool, which eventually finds the device and lets me locate it. Absolutely zilch in the controller app.

Out of pure curiosity and a bit of needling from a colleague, i connect my computer directly to the AP. Hey! There it is! Only i can’t adopt it because who the hell knows why?

Ok, this is just stupid. Screw you, “controller” app that’s probably doing some UDP polling crap to be clever, let me just ssh back onto the device and… oh, swell. It’s running some weird deviant of Unix. No /etc/network, no /etc/wpa_supplicant,…

There is a /var/log/message that i can cat, and see that it’s constantly trying to connect to “http://unifi:8080/inform”. Well, that’s less than helpful, since i don’t have a “unifi” on my net. Let me force it to connect to my host box that’s running the Connector app… Yay! It connected! and failed to adopt and is back looking for “http://unifi:8080/inform”…

Yeah, ok, i’m done.

i have no doubt that these are amazing in enterprise configurations. i’m sure that if you buy enough Unifi gear, that things “just work” kind of like how you need to buy all of Apple’s stuff for all of Apple’s stuff to work together magically. (i consider this “tech tautology”.) i’m also reminded of one colleague noting that he was able to “adopt” unifi gear that was being installed into neighbor’s houses, so guessing that things work REALLY WELL if you’re doing your initial setup in a Faraday cage, or with no questionable parties sitting within 230 feet of you.

But for me? yeah, no. This thing’s going back.

As for my crappy current access point that drops on occasion? i can solve that for about $25.

:: Best of Twitter

Recently, i grabbed my twitter data, mostly because i could. Reading through it, i kinda remembered how ephemeral it all is. So, again because i can, allow me to indulge myself with what i think are the best tweets i came up with (there aren’t many).

:: ev-iDunno….

tl;dr: Electric cars are nice toys that are not quite practical enough for me.

i drive a 12 year old Outback that has about 96,000 miles on it. This makes it “low mileage” and i like to think i keep it in pretty good shape. Even though it’s a Subaru and the life span on those things is amazing, it’s still a pretty good idea to look around at car options every decade or so.

While considering a more modern vehicle, there are three key items i consider kinda required at this point:

  1. Back up camera. It’s kind of a stupid thing, and i know how to set my mirrors and all, but i’ve driven cars with the camera and damn if it’s not useful.
  2. Crash avoidance. This can either be lane assist or city crash avoidance, but in any case, i’d like the car to be able to spot things i don’t. i’ve not had that as a problem, yet, but if there are going to be cameras on the car already, seems like a good follow up.
  3. Integrated Smart Phone environment Car UIs suck, the built in navigation systems are terrible, and they’ll never update as often as the pocket computer i haul around everywhere. It’s just bad design for auto makers not to include Android Auto or whatever iPhones do.

Recently, i got a hair about getting an electric. While i’m ok with reducing my carbon footprint, it also seems like a reasonable thing to do since there’s less parts to go horribly wrong. Since i don’t make enough to impulse buy a car, i wanted to do a fair bit of research on whatever the hell i’m dropping potentially half a years salary on. (i know, silly me. Not really into the California Mansion1 idea.) Still, doing the research kinda shows that things are not quite ready.

The first thing that kinda surprised me was the power problem. i’m not talking about range, since cars like Tesla and Chevy make cars that can do 200+ miles on a full battery, i’m talking more about what to do after you’ve driven 200+ miles. Turns out, that can be a tricky question.

Let’s say that you decide to drive your brand new electric from San Jose to Pismo Beach. It’s a trip of about 200 miles down 101, so you’re probably going to need to power up. Ok, so where do you do that?

There’s no real standardization for the sort of power socket a car maker picks, so there’s about five different types. From what i’ve read, there’s the Tesla plug, “J Plug” J1772 and the J1772-Combo (for fast chargers) and the CHAdeMO. Tesla plugs pretty much are only for Teslas, CHAdeMO plugs are pretty much only for Nissan Leafs, and the J1772 type plugs are for most of the rest. i’m also going to bet that the charging protocols are wildly different between each of those. You can buy an adapters for most of these plugs, apparently.

Those paying attention may note that i said five plugs. The fifth type of plug is the only plug that’s US standard for all vehicles. It’s a 220v 20Amp Nema 5-20, like what you’d plug an electric dryer into.

i’ve been told that some charging station outlets also sport a Nema 6-50, which is a 240Volt/50Amp instead of a 120V/20A circuit. That would speed things along a good deal.

It’s also the slowest option and requires you to haul around whatever charging dongle you got with your car. If you left your power dongle at home, you can get another one send to you for around $350.

You can also get conversion dongles for most of these outlets, so in theory you’d have something for any situation. Not super ideal, but workable at least.

Of course, each of those plugs carries different charging times. If you have all day (literally, and then add a few hours) you can fully recharge using a Nema 5-20 in something like 30+ hours. A Nema 6-50 in about 10 hours. Whatever Level2 option you’re using will recharge you in about 8 hours, and the “fast charge” will get you back on the road in 4. That is, provided someone else isn’t already plugged into the one fast charger already. i’ll note that it’s $.10 a minute, so figure spending $18 for a full charge. Not terrible. It cost about that much to fill up my Mom’s Prius after driving it from Leesburg, Va to Fenwick Island, DE and back.

So, probably not a good Road Trip car. Granted, driving from San Jose to see my brother is about 120 miles, so charging would still be A Good Idea, and i can hope a pleasant 2 mile walk from the charging depot to where he lives.

That’s fine, it’s more for driving short trips in city traffic.

For that, i’ll admit that things would be a bit better. It’d be my commuter in the winter when i can’t really ride my bike to work or once every other week or so to charge it up at work. My company pays for the power for that (they’ve very nice) but it does also raise an interesting question. San Jose has a lot of charging stations. Not all work, or are available all the time, and as i noted, they’re best if you’re somewhere you don’t mind being for an hour or so. i can charge at home, if i’m willing to either install a charging station for $1000 (provided it has the right plug). Of course, i normally park my car out in my driveway. My garage is also my laundry room so the other car sits on the opposite side of the garage.

Still, not terrible, but what iced things was actually driving one. i test drove a Chevy Bolt for a few reasons. i’ve no real interest in trying a Tesla. i expect there to be some differences, but from what i experienced, i don’t think they really matter.

Pros:

  • One pedal driving was kind of nice and surprisingly intuitive. Mind you, i tend to drive like that already. i’m reasonably good at putting space between myself and the car ahead of me so i don’t really use my brake all that often. This just kinda felt like the next step.
  • The car was nice and zippy. i’d have no problem merging into traffic on busier streets, even if my battery life would have other opinions about that.
  • It had all three of the things i was looking for.

Cons:

  • Not really super comfy. This was a weird one. i get that the seats aren’t automatic for weight reasons, but they also didn’t really seem particularly well padded. They kinda felt like office chairs. This was particularly notable in the back seat. i will say that there was plenty of headroom and the interior felt “spacious” enough, but i’d expect that with a vehicle that’s front wheel drive.
  • The “hand brake” gimmick is as counter intuitive as the one pedal is intuitive. The pedal feels like it has higher braking “resolution” than the paddle button. When i tried pressing the button it felt like it would start slowing, then aggressively brake the longer i held it, regardless of what pressure i used. i’d feel sorry for any passengers that either were, or were about to be carsick.
  • Slow final braking. This was also odd to me. i get regen braking, but the final bit of brake felt like i really had to press down to get it to engage. Considering how much the vehicle wanted to capture momentum, that last bit struck me as odd. Using one pedal, i didn’t have that problem, but i could also see where i really don’t want to get used to the way that car handles. i’d pretty much ruin the other car.
  • The power reasons above.

So, where does that leave me?

Electric cars are nice, but i can’t shake the feeling that they’re still very much toys. Damn pricey toys, but toys. i kid around that i’ve already got an electric vehicle, and that’s proving to be more true than i’d prefer. If i had to get a vehicle right now and was only going to be using it around town, i’d consider an electric. For a while at least. It’ll be interesting to me to see how poorly this post ages.

i still really wish that Subaru made a hybrid, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while. Looks like they feature the auto engine start/stop at least.

1 A California Mansion is a really expensive car you drive around because there’s no hope at all at affording even a burned down house.

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