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.

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. Continue reading

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.

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 Continue reading

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

Veterans and brain disease

We are creating a slow-motion disaster for military families and their communities. This appears to be an incurable, untreatable pathology that gets worse over long periods of time.

His brain had been physically changed by a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. That’s a degenerative condition best-known for affecting boxers, football players and other athletes who endure repeated blows to the head.

In people with C.T.E., an abnormal form of a protein accumulates and eventually destroys cells throughout the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes. Those are areas that regulate impulse control, judgment, multitasking, memory and emotions.

Veterans and Brain Disease (Nicholas Kristof)

Education on a massive scale: free online Ivy League courses

MITx + HARVARDx = edX…Harvard has partnered with its Cambridge neighbor on edX, an open source online learning platform featuring courses designed specifically for the Internet. According to the edX website, features of the platform will include “self-paced learning, online discussion groups, wiki-based collaborative learning, online assessments and laboratories.”

The New Equation For Free Education

Fun with webfonts.

At last, real typography for the web…

kern.js | fun with webfonts

When you can’t find your way home…

Try a pair of GPS shoes.

Dominic Wilcox GPS Shoes

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

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

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

Swastika-bearing Buddhist statue was chiseled from a meteorite

In 1938 a team of Nazis traveling in Tibet came across the statue and—possibly intrigued by the familiar bent-armed cross—brought it back to Germany. There, the “Iron Man” remained in a private collection in Munich until 2007, when the statue became available for study.

Since then, Elmar Buchner of the Planetology Institute at Stuttgart University has been analyzing the Buddhist statue, which is thought to hail from 11th-century Tibet. Buchner says the statue was carved from a meteorite that landed somewhere between Mongolia and Siberia roughly 15,000 years ago.

Swastika-Bearing Buddhist Statue Was Chiseled From a Meteorite.

Voter registration fraud in Florida?

Remember ACORN? Yes, well, the Republicans are now doing the same thing that so outraged them…

A consulting firm engaged by the RNC has been filing voter registrations with county supervisors of elections that have forged signatures. The firm claimed that a “bad apple” was responsible — but this was exactly what happened with ACORN 4 years ago, and the Republican establishment united in a move to defund and effectively kill ACORN as an institution.

Ironically, at the same time that these forged registrations have been submitted by Republican operatives, another Tea Party-related firm was filing petitions with the state against so-called “dead” voters it had “identified” that were still on the rolls. It turned out, of course, that supervisors of elections were already culling their records of dead registrants as part of their ordinary voter roll duties (remember, dead people don’t notify the state that they can’t vote anymore); more importantly, some supervisors pointed out that there was no evidence of any dead voters having cast votes. That didn’t stop the right-wing blogosphere from leaping to the conclusion that a) all these voters who were dead had cast votes after their deaths, and b) that they were all liberals who had voted for Obama.

You will note that Democrats, as a whole, are not beating the drums for a war on voter fraud. That’s because voter fraud is a virtually non-existent problem; historically vote tampering has occurred when fake ballots are inserted into the record, or valid ballots are discarded or destroyed. Neither involves voters impersonating other voters.

Republicans will tell you that voting is a sacred right to be protected, yet they discredit their own case every time they engage in manipulations of voter rolls. Their claims that voter fraud is a liberal-inspired problem collapses with each new revelation.

State looking suspicious forms in 9 counties.


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.

Desolation Sound Cruise: Bellingham (southbound)


Mount Baker over Bellingham

Something seemed to be a awry with the water heater circuit breaker on the Escape, and we awoke to cold showers. But since it was slightly warmer now that we were down the San Juans, it wasn’t too much of a hardship. We untied early from Roche Harbor and made our way slowly on a zigzag path through the intricate channels of the San Juan Islands, looking for whales and the homes of friends, headed to Bellingham and the end of our journey. I think we all felt happy to be going home but not too eager to get there; and so we made it a 4- to 5-hour journey out of what should have taken half as long.

We never saw any whales despite several promising detours, but finally Bellingham hove into view. Once the boat was refueled, we pulled into our slip, tied up, shut down the engines, and looked at each other with a certain measure of satisfaction that the entire two week journey of more than 400 miles to Desolation Sound had proceeded without any incident. Even better, we still seemed to like each other – or at least, I still liked them.

And that was that. We packed, cleaned up the boat, looked for lost items, and had a final onboard dinner before crashing in our staterooms to rise at daybreak the next day for the drive to Seattle and our flights home.

Desolation Sound Cruise: Roche Harbor

Progress out of Vancouver was slow because we had to zigzag our course to avoid wet rolling seas on the starboard beam. I plotted a route across the Strait of Georgia to cut through the Gulf Islands at TK passage, which would both be more direct and offer us a chance of seeing whales. The only problem: the passage had a stiff current around the time we expected to arrive, and I knew from reading many of the passage guides for British Columbia that strong currents through mountain channels lead to riptides and whirlpools.



Indeed, we arrived just at maximum current, flowing 4 knots while our boat made 10. Fortunately the current was on our bow, meaning that we would just make way more slowly, rather than on our stern pushing us at high speed through the rocky passage. Still, I was alert for riptides where two different flows of water met in a crosschop, as well as for whirlpools that might cause the boat to veer suddenly off course. But the passage proceeded uneventfully (if slowly), only requiring me to avoid two ferries coming the other way. Just near the exit we did indeed run across a whirlpool, visible by a round smooth area of water several dozen feet across with chop at the edges, and the boat changed course about 10° to 15° – nothing serious enough to cause concern.

Continue reading

Desolation Sound Cruise: Vancouver (southbound)

The three amigos arose with no planned destination, beyond eventually reaching Roche Harbor to check through US Customs in the next three days. Surfbirdhad mentioned than they were going to remain in nearby waters, but we realized that if we did so as well we would have to rush to finally make it back to Bellingham by Thursday night.



Instead, we decided to go back to Vancouver. We had all had a good time there but really had not seen much of the city. So we set our course and got underway, and after five hours of pleasant cruising, arrived at the port.

Our dockage was at Coal Harbor Marina, right up against the downtown waterfront. After our traditional arrival beer, I checked us in the marina office, and then the three of us went for a circumambulation of the nearby city blocks. Our excuse for a place to go was a nearby Starbuck’s. Once again, we were all very impressed with the modern architecture, cleanliness, and youthful vitality of the city.


Vancouver houseboats

As we returned closer to the waterfront, we were all very struck by the vast amount of water activity in the harbor: not only boats, kayakers, and single and multiman crew hulls, but a seaplane port right in the middle of things, with pontooned planes arriving and taking off every five minutes. It has to be the most vibrant, remarkable city harbor in North America.

It occurred to us that none of us had a clue about where to go for dinner, and almost simultaneously, all three of us thought about calling Sarah Howard of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club to ask for recommendations. Instead we emailed her, Continue reading

Desolation Sound Cruise: Princess Louisa Inlet (evening)


Guests on Surfbird

After a late afternoon rest (which included re-watering the tanks, cleaning the galley, showering, etc.), and after a short visit to the guests aboard Surfbirdto reflect on the cruise, the last remaining members of the NYYC fleet boarded a cramped and charming commercial fishing boat for a short trip across to the dock of the Restaurant at Painted Boat. During the ride, Glenn attempted to entertain the ladies with his famous pole-dancing video of Saturday night; they seemed dubious.


Jim Barker, Margaret Zoehrer, and Sheryl Kelly viewing the famous pole dancing video

We had reserved the entire restaurant, and filled 4 or 5 tables on the second floor. Being three amigos, one of was bound to be an odd man out, and I chose to join a foursome made up of Jim and Kay Barker and Bill and Alice Burnham, who had been sailing on a 52-foot Kadey Krogen.


Painted Boat Restaurant

We spent the evening talking racing and cruising and the travails of having a three man all-male crew. After oysters and salmon, John McColloch stood and spoke wonderfully about the joy of the cruise, his invaluable wife Brookie, and his happiness that everyone seemed to have truly enjoyed the unusual three-club cruising structure.

And with that, and some dessert and coffee, the Desolation Sound Cruise officially came to an end. We returned on our wonderful little fishing boat to our dock, comparing travel itineraries for the trip home; and scattered to our boats, ready to return.

Desolation Sound Cruise: Princess Louisa Inlet (day)

After a slightly uncomfortable night on a bed a bit wetter than I had thought (thanks to the good seamanship exhibited by all three of our crew in forgetting to shut the portholes on the drenching southbound cruise yesterday), I rose early this morning and dressed quickly for our 9am boat trip up to Princess Louisa Inlet. We almost missed it: an earlier one had tied up next to us, so we expected ours to do the same. But it was at the other end of the dock. Brookie McColloch rousted us from our salon just in time.

The ride up to the Inlet was increasingly dramatic, with the boat operator slowing the boat to point to rock petroglyphs and waterfalls, and with glacially rounded mountains reflecting huge areas of sunlit rain-wetted summits, like bald men caught without umbrellas. Each turn up the route, past abandoned Indian villages or logging ports, became narrower and the crags and wooded slopes on either side more steep. On the last turn the clouds had lowered right to the water, and mist of rain enveloped the boat. John McColloch worried that the mist might clip the views of the range around Princess Louisa, but as we approached the narrow Inlet entrance, guarded by a wood structure with Indian totems, it began to clear.

Continue reading