Author Archives: joel

About joel

Retired Higher Ed administrator, flyfisherman and geek

EV chargers

Saw an interesting article on Level 2 and DC fast chargers, with a summary of chargers by state, here. I was interested to see both a good number of chargers in NC, as well as the ratio of DC chargers. The page says the total includes public and private chargers, as well as the Tesla network. What it doesn’t say and probably doesn’t include, are privately owned chargers but made available thru networks like PlugShare. We installed a JuiceBox Pro 40 (a Level 2 charger), which at 40 amps, is faster than many commercial Level 2 chargers. Like many other EV drivers, I’ve listed this on PlugShare in case anyone is in a bind and needs a charge. EV chargers are not as ubiquitous as gas stations, and are nowhere as quick, particularly the Level 2 chargers, but there are more out there than you might think.

Early reflections on the Bolt EV

We’ve had our Bolt 4 days now (we got Nightfall Gray, just as in this stock image) and so far, we are loving this car! Jan drove it home from Virginia Beach, where we brought it. That was a bit over 210 miles, and we were nervous about the range, so we stopped for a couple hours at a Chevy dealership along the way to load some more electrons. We realized, though, that we could have made it if we’d gone direct, the 238 mile advertised range seems to be realistic! We drove it around town some, maybe 25 miles, and then a round trip of about 160 miles to visit my dad for his birthday. Jan let me drive it on the return trip 😎 so I have some good behind -the-wheel time, too. I’ve put together some thoughts on our experiences so far below.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE BOLT

The Bolt is a pleasure to drive. It’s quiet, solid and handles well. With the low center of gravity, coming from 1,000 pounds of battery in a nearly 4,000 pound car, it sticks to the road in curves. The biggest knocks are that GM skimped on what we often expect in the interior of a car, finishing the car with plastic rather than wood, basic carpet instead of plush, manual rather than electric seat adjustments, and so forth. Well, yeah, it doesn’t compare to the interior of my spiffy LTZ Silverado. But it’s comfortable, functional, and they put the money in the EV parts. I’ve read that GM pays LG $8,000 for the battery in each car. The infotainment center is great, with a big 10+ inch screen with CarPlay or Android Play. This works well. We have the basic audio system in our Bolt LT, rather than the Bose in the Premier edition, but it sounds fine. There is a plethora of information about the car’s operation, personalization, and configuration. Bluetooth calling works well, with good audio. It’s not luxury, but it’s functional, comfortable (I’m 6’5″ and can easily drive, and can sit in the back seat as long as the driver seat is not all the way back) and roomy. It’s a hatchback with 60/40 split back seats, and feels spacious on the inside, a good job with design.

RANGE

There a few caveats about range. Your driving and use of the car’s other systems all tap the same 60Kw battery pack. If you have a heavy foot, the Bolt will respond. It is rated at 200HP with 0-60 of 6.5 seconds. It will go if you need to pass or merge into traffic. It will also tell you, on a big display, how much energy your decisions cost you from your “tank” of latent power. EV’s (and hybrids) go further on the same power in stop and go driving than on the open road. The Bolt’s EPA rating of equivalent “MPG” is 128 city and 110 highway. We saw this effect. Also, something you might not think of, though, is that the heat (and A/C) will trim the range, by 5-10% depending on how you use it (observation and reading the documentation). The seat heaters and heated steering wheel don’t seem to have much impact. The infotainment center also draws some power, but that’s minimal. It’s the climate system that strongly impacts range. Clearly, this is only an issue if you were trying to maximize range. Range is directly proportional to the size of the battery pack.

CHARGING, STANDARDS, AND CONNECTORS

How, when and where to charge are tied closely to range. To understand this takes some background, which I will attempt to give. This is based off casual research before purchasing, and intensive, highly motivated research in the 4 days after signing the papers 😉. There are three levels of charging, called (so originally!) Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Level 1 is with 120V standard outlets, and cars usually have built in charge control circuitry for this. The Bolt can charge at 8 or 12 amps on such outlets, using the included charging cable. This charges at about 3 miles per hour for 8 amps, and 4+ for 12 amps. This means 48-72 hours to fully charge the Bolt’s 60Kw battery. The amperage draw is managed through the UI of the infotainment system. Level 2 is with 240V circuits, at 16-40 amps. This can charge at 12-30 miles per hour, depending on current. I’m planning to install one of these Level 2 chargers at the house. It requires a dedicated 40-50 amp circuit and the charger unit itself. Level 3 is 480V, and can charge a battery the size of the bolt’s in about 2 hours. However, it’s not quite so simple in all cases. There are multiple standards and connectors. The J1772 connector is widely used for Level 2 chargers from many manufacturers, except Tesla. Level 2 connectors are what you find on many public, free chargers. These are typically 16 amp chargers, which would charge a small capacity EV quickly, but an extended range EV like the Bolt takes 18-20 hours on one of these to fully charge. Level 3 chargers are also different, with different plugs and no clear standard. Tesla, of course, has its own. Our Bolt has the DC fast charging option, which is a $750 add-on from the base vehicle. These chargers are not free, and typically require membership in a charger network.

CHARGER NETWORKS AND LOCATIONS

These networks provide access to and billing for chargers that are not free, including Level 3 and some Level 2. I’ve joined ChargePoint and EVgo with pay as you go plans. Their apps show charger locations and even availability of chargers. I’ll explore this more as we try some. There are a lot of chargers in parking decks, municipal parking lots, commercial parking lots, like malls, and so forth. Most Level 2 and most free. Also, car dealers selling EV’s often have a public freely available charger. Most Chevy dealers have them now, it seems. But remember that at Level 2 the J1772 standard rules, and you can charge a Chevy at a Nissan dealership and vice versa, for example. Tesla has a deal with Sheetz gas stations and is putting chargers at some of them, including their Level 3 supercharger. At Level 2, there is now a 3rd party adapter to let a J1772 vehicle use a Tesla charger, and Tesla has an adapter to go to J1772.

DRIVING PATTERNS

A lot of this comes down to the way you use the car. Where are going? How far? Are there chargers at your destination? Even if you don’t have a fast charger where you are going, you can plug into 120V if an outlet is available and get some miles, as the Level 1 charger is portable and rides with your car. If your car is at your house for 12 hours, even a Level 1 charger will put 50 miles on it. Traveling long distances is the bugaboo. You can’t do a 500 mile day with a Bolt unless you find a Level 3 charger for a quick charge. But lots of folks have cars that are not practical trip vehicles, and have another (my Silverado for example) or rent for a trip.

BOTTOM LINE

The Bolt is a practical EV. The price is right. Performance is great. It’s roomy enough for a big driver, and is a flexible hatchback design. Range is sufficient to drive 100 miles to a destination and come back on one charge. Don’t forget that scheduled maintenance on an EV is much lower, no oil changes, and very little periodic maintenance. There are a lot of driving use cases covered here. It won’t work for everyone, but it works for us. At $0.10 per Kw/hour for electricity, it takes $6 for a full charge to go 238 miles. And when we put solar on the house, as we plan to do in 2018, then driving at no fuel cost and no indirect emissions, either.

ChromeOS is still going strong

I’ve not written anything about ChromeOS since I retired. I was talking with my wife about Chromebooks recently, and that got me thinking about the state of ChromeOS. I did a quick bit of Googling and tried to brush off a few years of Chrome cobwebs. Interesting that Chromebook sales were well over 2 million in 2016 (more than Macs), and have taken a big chunk of the education marketplace, tho that’s unsurprising given the price, managability, longevity, and robustness.

Honestly, even though I’m still working part time in technology management, I’ve found I play with tech less and less in my spare time. I try to play more, fish more, travel more…but I think that fishing is still getting too small a slice of time 😉 . I’ve still got the same two Chromebooks, the Samsung and Acer mentioned here in this blog. We’ve used them on and off, but I’m amazed in some respects that these devices, from 2012 and 2013 respectively are still very viable and useable, and that the Chromebook specs (other than CPU speed) have not increased. The things that make a Chromebook useful (full browser, quick boot, malware resistance, etc.) are still viable in 2017. If someone just needs to browse and do email, it’s hard to beat a Chromebook and a basic internet connection.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Android apps on ChromeOS, but for that I will need to buy a new Chromebook 🙂

Fall kingfish

In the fall, before the water temperature drops below the upper 60’s, the king mackerel show up in numbers in the near-shore waters off the southern banks of NC. I’d not been able to fish as much as I wanted this fall, due to conflicting cycles of travel and weather. When the weather was good, I was working or traveling, and when I had time the weather was less salubrious. I did manage to boat a few kings this season, notably managing to squeeze in a <4 hour trip between conference calls today (11/6). It was a dead calm day, with fog all day, which is highly unusual. Slick seas, but 1/2 mile visibility. Landed two, an 8 pounder (26″ FL) and a 17 pounder (37″ FL). The bigger fish gave me several great runs as I brought him in. Now, as we’re looking at a cold snap, rain and wind for the next week, I can be happy I caught some!

Clearwater reduex 

I’ve written here several times about trout fishing at Clearwater Lake, and today was the second trip this season for Sam and I to head out. It’s always great fun and camaraderie, even when the fish don’t cooperate. We each landed a few, missed a few more, and dodged our own flys on the back cast as the wind was howling most of the day. It was warm, tho, actually unseasonably hot, near 80F. I started casting a Chili Pepper, finally found a willing trout. Though these are all annually stocked trout, it’s anything but “shooting fish in a barrel” as these guys can be hard to hook…

Joel’s first fish of the day


I tried for the “Clearwater trifecta” of a trout, largemouth bass, and a bream. I caught the largemouth but never landed the bream. Sam worked hard and finally connected using size 20 midges under a a CDC.

Sam connects!


Thanks to TU and the YMCA for making it possible for me to catch trout 15 minutes from my driveway.

First reflections on the Echo Dot

My last visit to see Jason, Jenny and Sierra was more expensive than usual. We came back and bought a yogurt maker and an Echo Dot after seeing both in service there. Well, they are both pretty cool and cheap, really 😉
I want to talk about the Echo Dot here; we’ll do a review of the Dash yogurt maker later, after we eat the first batch of yogurt. We’ve had the Dot for about 36 hours, so we’ve not done extensive integration yet, and I don’t have a lot of smart devices to control. However, I can say that I’m pretty impressed with the Alexa service and the Dot hardware.


The Echo Dot is a tiny device with few external controls. Setup was very easy through the iOS app. Just, plug it in, connect to the Dot’s ad hoc network, set up the Wifi credentials, log in to Amazon, and that’s pretty much it. Alexa recognized both my voice commands and Jan’s out of the box, with no training. Hooked up Pandora, connected to a Bluetooth speaker, tried TuneIn Radio, weather reports (had to set zip code as by IP address it thinks we are in Winston-Salem), sports, alarm, kitchen timer, etc. The Echo Dot works well from across the room when addressed in a natural voice. Kitchen commands will be very handy when you need some information and your hands are greasy. 

Alexa doesn’t have the sense of humor that Siri has, tho! 

Tonight I set up the “Todoist” app, which manages todo’s, shopping lists, etc. I think this will be very useful. Todoist syncs very quickly, with a shopping list item or a todo appearing on the app on my iPhone or Jan’s iPhone within seconds of the voice command to Alexa. I have enabled a purchase PIN so we don’t accidentally buy anything from Amazon 😉

We’ll take it to the beach next weekend and try integration with the Nest thermostats there. 

For $49.99 this is really cool, and I can see why Ford is putting Alexa in cars in 2017/18. I’m getting used to saying “Alexa, play smooth jazz on Pandora, please” and “Alexa, stop” when ready to turn it off. This is the best “tech toy” I’ve seen in a long time!

Macroeconomics 101

Disclaimer: I am not an economist. But I did take a few Econ courses as an undergraduate and I’ve read Keynes’ General Theory 😉 The opinions herein are mine…

The scenario: We, the consumers, like cheap stuff.

Take cars, for example. We want more goodies on our cars, and they are getting expensive. Car manufacturers say, hmmm. If I put a plant in a country where there’s less expensive labor, I can hold down costs. Plant moves, some jobs lost, but there is more spending since cars are now less expensive, and other jobs created.

Fast forward: For whatever reason, we want to impose 20% import tariff. Now cars cost more, because we, the consumer pay this tax. Spending drops on other goods and services, jobs are lost.

But wait, car manufacturers could bring jobs back. Yes, but higher wages mean a more expensive car. Spending still drops on other goods and services, jobs are lost.

Car manufacturers say hmmm, with tax break on investments, I can build new plant with robots replacing even more jobs, and cars will cost somewhat less, but likely more than before. Especially with that big tariff removed, a 10% increase looks good. But, now, we still don’t have jobs, the car manufacturers have bigger profits, paid to shareholders who buy luxury imported goods…

Clearwater, winter 16-17, first trip

One of the great things the local TU chapter does is to work with the local YMCA to run a winter trout fishery. They put 2000 trout in the ~5 acre lake in October, and again later in the season. This gives us piedmont residents the chance to catch trout 15 minutes from home, rather than 2 hours! Today was gray, overcast with temperatures in the low 40’s and spitting rain, but it was one of the two dates Sam and I had booked this season so off we went. I started quickly, catching a nice rainbow less than 10 minutes after getting to the lake. I’d have to wait awhile for others, but we caught fish throughout the day…not fast action, but each of the 7 anglers caught several. Sam and I each netted 8 or so nice fish, with other break offs and missed strikes. A great day! We used nymphs, dries and streamers. It varied throughout the day. No discernible hatches, so catches were a matter of getting the fly in front of a cruising fish. You might think this is like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel, but not so! These can be very tough fish to catch, especially when they zero in on hatching midges, for example.

Looking forward to next time!

Sam with a rainbow

Sam with a rainbow

Joel with a nice fish, too

Joel with a nice fish, too

Closeup of a typical stocked rainbow

Closeup of a typical stocked rainbow

Technology rollup report…

Today’s the first hard freeze we’ve had this year.  It’s maybe a little late…our first frost average is late October (the 23rd for Chapel Hill, with a standard deviation of 10 days), and we’ve had some light frost 3 or 4 days already), but this morning was down in the mid-20’s. So it’s a good day to sit around until the sun gets warm and “farm” some of my technology…updates, catchup, etc.

I host (but don’t curate) a website for the Boy Scout troop I used to run (Troop 449) and they Committee is starting a cub pack, and they wanted to reserve the domain, which I ordered up. I realized that the troop’s website hadn’t had a software update in a while (someone else *should* have been doing that) and I needed to update several things, including configuring the automatic backups (always backup before an update!). Had to re-remember how to set up Google Drive APIs for the upload – I’ve done this for several websites that send file backups to Google Drive, but seems like the Google API UI/UX is different each time I go there. Have plugins to update on several other websites, so I’m doing that. Needed to review my other domain names to make sure I still needed/wanted everything there. Needed to double-check the PHP version settings. Checked on another domain name I’d ordered; it’s one of the new ones, a “.blog” that won’t be ready until 11/21.

Last night I set up a new printer. I had an old Xerox phaser 8560 that was about 10 years old, and it wouldn’t print cleanly any more, the nozzles that deposit the melted wax (it uses the crayon-style media) were clogged in places, meaning colors were funky. Still printed black, but took forever to warm up, used a lot of power, etc. Replaced it with a little Brother 3140CW color laser for $170. Supports AirPrint, Google CloudPrint, plays nice with Macs w/o external drivers. Was a very easy install, runs fast and quiet, rated for ~19 pages per minute.  I looked at fancier devices but we print very little these days…however sometimes we do need to print and this will take care of things nicely. The old printer could handle AirPrint thru a shim on the iMac (Printopia) but this is simpler and much quicker.

Lots of other things going on, have a Raspberry Pi 3 that’s fun…a gig of memory and a 32 gig microSD, and builtin WiFi and Bluetooth. A lot faster and more capable than my old 1 gen Pi B (both CPU speed and memory). What a heckuva Linux box in a pack (with case) the size of a deck of cards. The IoT is going to be fun but will be lots more things like the DDoS on Dyn back in October.

Speaking of hacks and protecting devices, I am now running Webroot on my Macs for antimalware. Seems to be a good fit, lightweight and fast, tho I think that the PC version is more efficient. Does reputational check on web links, which is good, as phishing, spear phishing, etc. can catch the best of us. Also just licensed Webroot for the small software firm I work part-time for; it has a nice management console in the business version.

So that’s  enough for now.  I needed a blog post and this is the best I could do this morning 😉

Mobile HAM radio in the truck

I’d noticed that as the summer had come on and the trees had leafed out, my ability to reach some local 2M repeaters was impacted, using my 5W HT and a roof mounted magnetic antenna. For example I was having significant issues accessing the Durham “TV Hill” repeater (fine in the winter), though the newly reinstalled OCRA 70cm was fine, albeit configured much higher and sitting much closer to Chapel Hill. So I decided to install a standard mobile rig. I’d wanted a Kenwood 710G but they are just too pricey, so I opted for a Yaesu FT-7900R. Basically, no fancy APRS stuff, but I’m less enamored of that as time goes on.

The 7900R is the basic “workhorse” dual band, 50W on 2M and 40W on 70cm. One thing I liked about it though was the fact that it came with the transceiver/head separation kit, which was good as I didn’t really know how I wanted to mount it, as my truck has a full complement of electronics and no room for other devices. I didn’t want to drill any holes, but I wanted a nice looking install. A tall order!

So where to put things and how to run the wires?

The transceiver is tucked up under the crew cab back seat, behind the driver’s seat. It’s about the size of a small paperback book, and just sits on the carpet out of the way. I had to pick up some extra 12 guage DC power wire (12′) since the battery in the Silverado is on the passenger side. I ran the power wire via a technique I found googling, going thru the fender, not the firewall, and then thru a small rubber grommet near the emergency brake to get into the cab. I reinforced the fender passage with copious electrical tape. Then pop up the plastic trim along the cab edge to run the cables. I soldered and taped my extension to the supplied power cable, running to the transceiver, and in the opposite direction, the head separation cable toward the dash. For the head (like a small cell phone), I got a clamp mount that sits nicely on the corner of the dash on the left of the driver. Left enough cable there to easily move it around, and unplug and put out of the way when needed.

So what about an antenna? I decided on a Larsen thru-the-glass mount on the cab window behind the driver, after reading about successes there. I was concerned about its efficacy but it seems to work great! Dropped the RG58 down behind the seat.

I ran the speaker extension cable from the transceiver to coil it under the driver’s seat, where I could, if desired, plug into the infotainment system. However, the built in speaker is actually pretty effective.

Have programmed repeaters into the radio and done some tests, reports indicate good audio, and I’m happy with the way it all looks. So far so good, and no holes in the truck 😉

The only issue? Somewhere under the hood of the truck is an small socket wrench adapter that “got dropped” during the process…