Category Archive: technology

Feb 14 2013

Tesla, the Times, and everything in between

Well, there’s certainly has been an uproar this week concerning an article about Tesla in the New York Times by John Broder. In response, Elon Musk, Tesla’s charismatic founder and CEO, wrote a critical blog about the article on the company’s website. Musk was a little hasty to call the article a “fake” in TV interviews last week; it seems unlikely that the NY Times would ever fake an article intentionally. But he does have an important point despite his hyperbole.

First point: I’m a former science reporter. I also own a Tesla Model S.

The Tesla Model S is a great car that requires the driver to think differently about travel, for the simple reason that charging stations are not as ubiquitous as gas stations, and won’t be for many years. IOW, you need to give a little thought to planning a long-distance trip, including charging at each opportunity and understanding how the car’s batteries take a charge.

It was immediately clear from Broder’s article that he did not do either of these things. He undercharged the car (pleading ignorance after the fact) and failed to recharge when he could. Tesla understood his purpose was to test Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 07 2013

Questions people should ask about the Model S, but don’t

Everyone asks questions about the Model S. No one asks these. They should.

  1. How much does it cost to wire a high power wall charger?
    Depends on how far your car is from the main electrical feed. If both are near each other, a few hundred dollars. If your car is >200ft from the electrical feed, well…try $2,000–$5,000. Copper is expensive.
  2. Can you lock the frunk?
    Yes. But only when the entire car is locked. You can’t “valet lock” the frunk. IOW, all storage areas in the car are accessible if you have the key. You can’t even lock the glove compartment.
  3. Is it safe to valet park?
    Maybe, if you have a smart valet. Otherwise, they might leave the key in the car, and when the door handles retract, you have to hope the car doesn’t lock itself. You probably want to turn OFF “walkaway locking” if you use a valet.
  4. Do the displays ever crash?
    Yes. Once in a while the touchscreen hangs, or doesn’t correctly work. After the last software update the car wouldn’t stop beeping for me to put on my seatbelt, even though it was on. Fix: reboot the appropriate screen, by holding down both scroll wheels on the steering wheel for about 10 secs for the touchscreen, or holding down the two top buttons on the steering wheel to reboot the dashboard display.
  5. With the regenerative brakes, how does braking work?
    You almost never touch the brake pedal; the regen brakes do all the work of slowing down the car. You learn to change your driving style to use that feature optimally. The brake lights will automatically light when the regen brakes engage, to warn drivers behind.
  6. Is there an alarm system?
    Not really. The new software update 4.2 enables the car horn to sound if someone tries to open the car without a key.
  7. Is there a voice command system?
    With software update 4.2, yes. It’s limited to dialing, playing music, and navigation. But that’s enough.
  8. Can you play music from an iPhone or iPod?
    Yes, but it’s still dumb: IOW, for reasons best explained by Apple I suppose, you must control the music selection from the iPhone or iPod, not from the touchscreen. Also, the iPhone volume needs to be full up.
  9. Can you close the hatch from inside the car?
    Yes. Thank goodness. But not from the key.
  10. Can you raise/lower the windows from the key?
    Lower, but not raise. This seems backward to me. IOW, you can open the windows as you approach the car, perhaps to ventilate it. But you can’t close the windows from the key as you are walking away.
  11. Do the windows work when the car is off?
    Trick question. If you are sitting inside, the car is never off unless you specifically turn it off. So normally, yes, the windows work while sitting in park.
  12. Do the mirrors dim at night?
    Yes, but you have no control over it. It’s fully automatic.
  13. Can I use my old keychain? Can I use the Tesla keychain I got from the showroom?
    No. No! The key is shaped such that no chain, keyring, or other normal attachment will fit it. Duh! You need to use something with a flexible string. Good luck with that one.
  14. Who pays for the cellular 3G link?
    Tesla, at least for the first year. Or at least for Signature owners for the first year. After that, who knows?
  15. How do you change the windshield wipers?
    Good question. I have no idea.

Feb 06 2013

Just the FAQs

Tesla Motors has a FAQ page. It’s for potential buyers. Real people on the street have their own FAQs. Here are some of them.

  1. How much gas does it use?
    Uh, zippo.
  2. How far can you go?
    EPA claimed maximum is 268m. At 80% “standard” charge, 240m. You use about 20m for air conditioning and driving faster than 55mph, so call it 225m.
  3. How long does it take to recharge?
    On a 110V outlet, days. On a 240V outlet, overnight. With a high speed wall charger, a few hours. With the highway superchargers (when available), less than an hour.
  4. What happens if you’re on the highway and you run out of electricity?
    What happens when you run out of gas? You don’t because you plan ahead. Same thing.
  5. How often do you recharge?
    Trickle-charge every night. More prolonged charge after a road trip greater than, say, 50m, but still overnight. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 06 2013

Rollin’ with the Model S

A little more than 2 months with the Tesla Model S, and I am loving this car more and more every day.

It’s not as plush as a Mercedes. Hasn’t got quite the raw sex appeal of a 911 or the stunning looks of an Aston Martin. Not as, well, garish as the Fisker Karma. Instead, it is the best balanced, smoothest, most responsive car I have ever driven. It is whip-ass fast, and in ways you don’t realize from the numbers: it moves so quickly when asked that passing and cutting through traffic is effortless and instinctive; the power curve is so linear, with no fade as engine revs peak, that you simply move like a rocket while others are hesitating at their shift points. It has a flat, predictable, straight-line acceleration unlike any other vehicle I know.

The battery floorbed keeps the car dead flat on curves, with no sway when swerving to avoid road debris or other inattentive drivers. No oversteer or sense that the car might roll or skid away from you. The specs say it is heavy, but there is absolutely no perception of it, since none of the weight of the car is up where it would affect handling.

The seats are spare yet comfortable, more so than the Panamera, whose seats my wife detested. Visibility is generally quite good, with the sole exception being the rear window, and even then only in reverse gear. The panoramic sunroof is dark enough that here in Florida I don’t even notice it (though summer is coming….) Lack of a transmission tunnel through the interior means far more legroom and storage capacity in the back.

Of course there are some minor flaws. The phone history’s call times are three hours off, while the clock is in local time (I’ve made calls in the future, apparently); occasionally the display switches to night mode late in the afternoon (related to the time zone issue, perhaps?). The brakes squeak. But these are such trivial issues that I am almost embarrassed to mention them, and in most cases, they can be rectified with a software update.

So, all in all, I love this car. The pre-purchase apprehension and uncertainty has melted away, and the press hype has been revealed to be no hype at all. As the ever-increasing number of high-speed chargers approaches a certain critical mass, recharging concerns will also vanish. The Model S stands as the most impressive new sedan available, and there isn’t another car I would rather own.

Feb 01 2013

Tesla and the long-distance drive

I have just completed a 400m round trip from Palm Beach to Orlando and back in my two-month-old Tesla Model S sedan. Let me say right off that, with each passing day of driving, I enjoy this car more and more. It is a balanced, smooth, powerful joy to drive, and the new software update (which arrived as I was en route; more about this later) has only improved the car’s functionality and pleasant temperament even more.

I called the hotel (Disney’s Grand Floridian) in advance to learn about charging the car while I sat for several days in a financial conference. The staff were thoroughly ignorant of any EV chargers on-site, and only after several calls (and disconnections) did I find one bright reservation clerk who in turn reached the engineering staff to find out. In effect, nothing: but I could park in the cast parking lot and plug into an outlet used to recharge one of the hotel’s ubiquitous golf shuttles. No doubt it would be 110V, and given the low current available it would take most of my two-day visit to refill the car’s batteries.

Naturally, before I left I set the charge mode to maximum and filled the batteries to full. The car read 268m available when I set off, and during the next 3 hours of 75mph cruising with the a/c on, I burned through 210m of range for the ~190m trip. Lesson 1: you burn about 10% more when driving at speeds over 55mph and using accessories like a/c.

Of course, when I arrived with 40m remaining no one knew anything about where I should go to recharge, beyond Read the rest of this entry »

Oct 13 2012

The ultimate digital camera. Buy more disks.



The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will survey the entire visible sky every week, creating an unprecedented public archive of data – about 6 million gigabytes per year, the equivalent of shooting roughly 800,000 images with a regular eight-megapixel digital camera every night, but of much higher quality and scientific value.




3.2 billion pixel sky-watcher a step closer

Oct 13 2012

Fun with webfonts.

At last, real typography for the web…

kern.js | fun with webfonts

Oct 13 2012

When you can’t find your way home…

Try a pair of GPS shoes.

Dominic Wilcox GPS Shoes

Oct 02 2012

The patent mess: why and how

Everyone who even occasionally reads about the endless rounds of high-dollar patent litigation (think Apple vs. Samsung) or the abuse of purchased patents by shell companies with no business other than to carpet-bomb an industry with patent claims (“trolling”) knows that the patent system has seriously broken over the last 30 years. Processes and methods that were never considered patentable before suddenly were, and have spawned an enormous legal industry generating billions of dollars in claims and counterclaims. Small entrepreneurs face the impossible task of determining, before they even begin shipping a product, whether they might violate some obscure patent somewhere, even one that may not yet have been granted, but which could put the company out of business overnight.

Last year a little-known software company, which had licensed to Apple a patented software component for use in Apple’s developer tools, then sued a number of small independent developers for using those tools from Apple, claiming that each and every one of them needed its own license. But the tools came from Apple which of course already had a license. This would be like licensing a car company to use a new kind of windshield wiper — and then requiring every buyer of those cars to get a license, too.

How did we get to this absurd state, where lawyers effectively beat down innovation and claim patents for shapes and clicks? Because one court with enormous power decided to turn a hundred years of patent precedent on its head. Here’s the story.

How a rogue appeals court wrecked the patent system

Oct 01 2012

The farthest ever view of the universe

Just in case you still have it in your head that we are alone in the universe…

Hubble Goes to the eXtreme to Assemble Farthest Ever View of the Universe

Oct 01 2012

The tipping point for orbital debris

One question this poses: are future launches of manned and unmanned missions at greater risk just because they must transit through the accumulating debris field? Could we be trapping ourselves on the planet by surrounding ourselves with broken glass?

We’ve Already Passed the Tipping Point for Orbital Debris

Sep 24 2012


Do you need to get a call when someone tweets? Or have your house email you when it detects someone inside? Then you need duct tape for the Internet: About IFTTT.

Aug 30 2012

Curiousity leaves Morse code in its tracks

Curiosity talks to itself as it drives around the surface of Mars by leaving Morse code for “JPL” imprinted in its tracks to help refine its navigation.

 NASA – Rover Leaves Tracks in Morse Code

May 18 2012

Strong passwords that aren’t passwords

Creating usable passwords that resist cracking and yet are memorable is becoming an increasing burden, given how many sites, devices, and messaging systems we all now use. The trick is not to use a password, but a passphrase, and to encode it with symbols, not merely numbers and letters. It’s longer to type but by that very nature far harder to break. Consumer Reports has a short article on this very point, with some interesting tips.

How to create a strong password (and remember it).

Apr 17 2012

Arduino: control your world

I’ve been waiting for device control as the next big wave of home computing: tie the brains of the ubiquitous computer to the electrical and electronic tools that surround us, such as HVAC systems, telephone systems, lighting, etc. But to my surprise there’s been little of this to emerge, other than limited systems like X10.

But now there’s an open source effort to provide cheap generic microcontrollers that can be easily programmed in a kind of homebrew fashion, coming out of Italy of all places.

Arduino is a tool for making computers that can sense and control more of the physical world than your desktop computer. It’s an open-source physical computing platform based on a simple microcontroller board, and a development environment for writing software for the board.


via Arduino – Introduction.

Apr 09 2012

Kitchen tricks

Love it. Squeeze pancake batter from a ketchup bottle, decant wine in a blender, and peel garlic by just smashing it. Elegant? No. Right to the point? You bet.

Top 10 Crazy Kitchen Tricks That Speed Up Your Cookingvia Top 10 Crazy Kitchen Tricks That Speed Up Your Cooking

Apr 06 2012

Scientists create quantum computer in a diamond

Scientists create quantum computer in a diamond

“The team at USC was able to prove that they had indeed built a solid-state quantum computer by supplying it with a simple data set, and applying Grover’s algorithm, which is a mathematical proof demonstrating the potential power of quantum computers….

…This diamond-encrusted computer was able to find the correct choice on the first try 95% of the time, thus proving that the researchers successfully built a functional quantum computer.”

via Scientists create quantum computer in a diamond

Mar 30 2012

The $30 billion Social Security hack

SScard 300x177 The $30 billion Social Security hackSometime last year computers at the U.S. Social Security Administration were hacked and the identities of millions of Americans were compromised. What, you didn’t hear about that?  Nobody did.

The extent of damage is only just now coming to light in the form of millions of false 2011 income tax returns filed in the names of people currently receiving Social Security benefits. That includes a very large number of elderly and disabled people who are ill-equipped to recognize or fight the problem. It’s an impact pervasive enough that the IRS now has a form just to deal with it: Form 14039: Identity Theft Affidavit, December 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Mar 22 2012

27 of history’s strangest inventions

…here come some of history’s most weird and wonderful inventions, from wooden swimwear to spectacles for reading in bed…

via 27 of History’s Strangest Inventions | Brain Pickings

Mar 22 2012

The Titanic in high def

Great article from the Mail on new high definition photos of the Titanic wreckage taken by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


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