Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Google Photos Replacement

We really enjoy Google Photos. All of our photos from our phone, our dSLR, screenshots, text messages, etc. all get sent to Google Photos. Proper backup of all those things is done with our 3-2-1 backup strategy, but Google Photos is our way to easily find photos. Their search engine makes it every easy to search for something like “Tyla Ben motorcycle 2018.” Their facial recognition is creepily good, even identifying baby photos of people who are much older now.

This was a free service for many years, but over the past year or two, they’ve started charging for it. That hasn’t impacted us becase we both use the Google Pixel 4a. Those phones have unlimited photo and video storage forever. That deal is for compressed versions of the photos and videos, but since we’re only using this to find photos, not for permanent backup, that’s not a problem.

But what happens when we eventually upgrade to a new phone? Hang on tight. We’re going to nerd out about all the options and the pros/cons of each one

1) Some people go the route of keeping their old Pixel 4a’s around and just using them to sync their pictures to Google Photos. A picture gets taken on the new phone, gets synced to the old phone, and then gets uploaded to Google Photos. That might work, but it gets a little more complex since we’ll probably end up giving Elijah one of our old phones. (Whether he gets a SIM card with it is a separate discussion.) Android does support multiple users on one phone, but I’ve never messed with that before and I imagine that I’d have to periodically switch back and forth between the two users to force them to sync so it gets pretty complicated and it’s not automatic.

2) We could pay for Google Photos. To estimate how much this would cost, I used Google Takeout to create an archive of all of my photos. Our compressed photos average 1.7MB per photo and we take about 15,000 photos per year. We took about 2000 videos last year at an average 100MB/video. That adds up to a little over 200GB/year. Looking at the plans, if we did photos only, we could get by with the $20/year plan but otherwise we’d very quickly need the $100/year plan. That’s not cheap but maybe it’s worth it once I consider the hassle of the other options.

3) We have an Amazon Prime account, and we probably always will. That comes with free unlimited, full resolution photo storage in Amazon Photos. I didn’t even realize that Amazon offered this service, but in many ways, it’s comparable to Google Photos. It differs from our current setup in that it doesn’t include video storage, and their sharing isn’t quite as nice either. Google Photos lets Tyla and I set up photo sharing and then anytime either of us take photos of anyone in the family, it automatically gets added to the other person’s account. If we want to see ALL the photos, we have to go into a separate folder. It works really well at automatically sharing the photos we generally care about the most. Switching to Amazon Photos would be a pain as I’d have to reupload everything which would hit my “unlimited” bandwidth limits at home. Then I’d also have to recreate albums and favorites. But even with all that work, it’s not impossible, and “free” is a nice price as long as we’re ok with not having videos uploaded there.

4) If I already have all the photos collected on a server at home, why do I need to reupload them anywhere? What I’m really looking for is a way to automatically tag and search our photos. It turns out that there are a ton of projects aiming to let you self-host this technology. I won’t try to compare them all, but this post does a good job of explaining many of them. Note that many of the projects have been improved since that was written, so you have to actually go look at each one to see its current feature list. Some of them look nice, but the drawback here is the extra time/pain of self-hosting. It all generally works fine, but when it doesn’t, then I’m tech support and I need to make it work. I also have to spend a lot more time trying to figure out how to safely expose this for us to access from outside the house. Additionally, most/all of these solutions end up making their own copies of all the photos, so I end up storing everything twice. Our entire photo collection is over three terabytes, and it’s duplicated across two physical drives so doubling that again means I’m going to have to add space.

When I look at all the work involved in switching, the cost of paying for Google Photos doesn’t seem so bad, but I’m a nerdy cheapskate at heart so this is still up for debate. Do you have any other solutions that I should consider? And yes, I realize we could give up on the idea of having all our photos be easily searchable, but once you’ve experienced that, it’s hard to give it up. We use it a lot!

Cold Weather Tesla Experience

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Our Model Y is parked in a garage and the temps outside rarely get much below freezing. Those two factors means that when I read the user manual, I skipped over all the cold weather information. That came back to bite me a bit when we spent a weekend in Leavenworth.

On our second night there, it got below 20 degrees and snowed an inch or two. We were leaving that morning so when I woke up around 6am (like I always do), I snuck out to go charge so we’d be ready to go when everyone else was awake. I turned on the climate control before going out to the car, brushed it off, and I was able to open the car door just fine. If that didn’t work, I knew I could use the app to release the door as well.

During the 4-minute drive to the supercharger, I told the car where I was going so that it would start preconditioning the battery. But when I arrived and tried to open the charge port, it wouldn’t open. Uh oh. I sat in the car for a while reading through the owner’s manual and found out that there is a small heater inside the charge port that is engaged with the rear window defroster. I turned that on and when I checked the charge port 5 minutes later, it opened easily.

So that was annoying but it’s not a big deal now that I know about it. I think the big takeaway was experiencing firsthand how the car would behave in cold weather. A few days ago, Tesla released a video talking about the innovation in their heat pumps, and my experience shows that it’s working. When we drove there last summer in 100 degree weather, we averaged right around 300 Wh/mi. On this trip in the cold, we averaged about 310 Wh/mi. In 60-70 degree weather with little HVAC usage, I’d expect around 265-270 Wh/mi. So temps in the teens or above 100 mean maybe a 10-15% increase in battery usage.

Where I did see a lot of loss was in warming up the car after it had been sitting. I didn’t know how long it would take to warm up and defrost so I probably let it run longer than it should, but between the normal loss from the car sitting around and the additional loss from having to do more work to warm up, I could see a 2-3% drop before I drove it the next morning. Thankfully it only costs $0.24 to fill 3% of the battery, but if I had planned a trip that was cutting it close on battery, I would want to factor that in.

We’re planning a multiday, 1000+ mile road trip next summer and I really want to do it in the Tesla so this was another good learning experience. That trip won’t be cold, but it’s all good data and it also helps me feel comfortable getting more of the usable range out of the car. When we do that trip, I want to do a full blog and possibly an accompanying video showing what it’s like to road trip in an EV. Maybe someone will find it interesting now, but I think it will be very interesting to watch it in 20-30 years when there are EV chargers everywhere and battery technology has progressed even more.

Random bonus story: As we were driving around Leavenworth looking for parking, a blue Model 3 was doing the same thing. I happened to notice their license plate and it was sequentially less than 50 numbers away from ours.

Hardy Boys

As a child, I enjoyed visiting my cousins for many reasons, but one of them was that they had a bunch of Hardy Boys books. I don’t remember many of the stories, but I remember enjoying them. As I searched for things to read with Elijah, these came to mind. They’ve been out of print long enough that they’re all available for free download on archive.org: https://archive.org/details/hardyboys

The books have all been updated and revised to removal racial stereotypes, and the stories hold up. He loves them! We just finished book 3. I wonder how far we’ll get before I cut him loose on the rest by himself? For now I’m enjoying this as time that we spend together. Hopefully he is too.

Indiana Christmas 2022

We made it back to Indiana for Christmas this year, but it was quite a trip! It seems like every time we get together for Christmas, we try to remember which events went with which Christmas so I’ll list some of them out here.

  • As we were getting ready to fly out of Seattle, a snow storm was coming in. I spent a lot of time the night before watching weather maps and trying to figure out when it was going to hit various areas. Tyla’s dad was driving us to the airport and we wanted to make sure he was home before the roads got bad, so we ended up deciding to get to the airport about 1.5 hours earlier than we normally would. The whole time I wondered if it was a good idea or if I was worrying about nothing, but the snow did hit Don just around the time he got back home. The snow hit the airport later. We got out a little late and had to wait for deicing, but otherwise we were unaffected. Phew!
  • Our time in Indiana started off a little weird as one family member got COVID so their crew couldn’t come when they had planned.
  • A couple days after we arrived, a big winter storm hit the midwest (and much of the country.) We had temps down to -7 and an entire day where it never got above 0. Wind chills were below -30. We got about 10″ of snow in total but up north at the home of my sister’s family, they got more than two feet. That delayed them quite a bit from coming down.
  • It was cold back home in Seattle too. While Tyla’s sister was taking care of our cats, we found out that our pipes were frozen! Thankfully I was able to guess where it happened and Don was able to come over to heat them up slowly. It looks like Megan caught it just in time and there were no leaks. Phew! Thank you, Megan and Don!

Thankfully all the snow and sickness cleared up on the last day and we had a late family Christmas together, but the complications weren’t over yet.

  • Grandpa got sick so on the day that we left, Mom left a few house before us to go help him.
  • Our flight out was on a Tuesday afternoon, but after the storm cleared on Saturday, Southwest had been canceling 2/3 of their flight every day (and continued to do so through Thursday.) Midway airport was full of stranded baggage. It was very weird walking through the airport and seeing all the empty terminals. Some of the restaurants were even closed because there weren’t enough people around to justify opening it up. Thankfully our flight wasn’t canceled! Our flight was only about 70% full and we got out 2.5 hours late, but we were very thankful to make it home on our scheduled date with our bags.

So it was hard to ignore the drama of the whole trip, but despite all that, we still had a great visit! It was especially fun to see Elijah finally get to experience a real midwestern snowstorm after all the time he’s spent playing in the 4″ of slush that we get around here. The snow was perfect for sledding and we spent a lot of time perfecting a run down the driveway. In fact, the adults usually ended up staying out there longer than Elijah did. In case we forget in the future, the farthest run was 338 feet which was just to the fourth pole in the meadow.

Here’s a short montage of the trip. Hopefully the next one is just as fun but less eventful.

Navigating the Divide

As I change some of my volunteer activities, I’m setting myself up to spend more time talking to people who disagree with me. This can be healthy, but it’s also a challenge. I’ve been thinking about specific behaviors I want to keep in mind while I have those conversations. What’s missing? What’s wrong? How different would our world be if everyone approached discussions with this mindset?

  1. Ask lots of questions. If someone’s argument seems absurd, I probably don’t understand what they’re trying to say or what led them to this viewpoint. Asking questions helps us walk back to common ground to find where we diverge so we can have a productive discussion.
  2. Assume that everyone is logical, rational, and fact-driven even when they have a completely opposite viewpoint. It might not always be true, but it’s a healthy place to start.
  3. Rhetoric is a red flag. If someone is using name calling or inflammatory language in their argument, resist the urge to join in or fight back. Call out the rhetoric and ask questions about the root issues.
  4. Don’t use metaphors and similes to make a point. If someone disagrees with me, they’re going to pick apart my comparison instead of focusing on the point I’m trying to make. Facts and data are a much stronger argument.
  5. Always be willing to change my mind when presented with enough evidence. Don’t engage with people who are unwilling to do the same.
  6. When presented with evidence, don’t trust secondary sources that don’t link to the original material. (I’m very happy to see that Elijah is already learning this in school.) Related to this, use a neutral news source, but also pull content on a topic from multiple sources on both sides of the issue to understand where there is disagreement.

I fall flat on these very often, especially when the person I’m talking to is emotional and not following a similar approach, but maybe writing these things down will help me keep them in mind more often.

Why Tesla?

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

If you’re interested in an electric vehicle, you might be wondering why Teslas are so popular despite their higher price. The price has gone up quite a bit from when we ordered ours, but we were asking the same question back then too. My one-word response is: experience. Other companies are making lots of announcements about EV models, but it’s not as easy as writing an idea on paper. The supply chain, manufacturing process, and support models are all quite different for EVs. Tesla has a ~10-year head start on other companies.

For example, battery efficiency is a mix of not just the physical design of the car but also the software that manages the battery. Take a look at this report which shows the energy used per mile. Our Model Y Long Range with 19″ wheels is one of the most efficient vehicles you can buy despite the largish size. Even the Model S Plaid (one of the fastest vehicles on the planet) has better efficiency than a Nissan LEAF.

As I was thinking about this post, a good video was posted to YouTube about this exact topic.

I don’t really understand the title image and the title itself is click-baity, but the video gives 10 good reasons why you might want to choose a Tesla over another EV.

  1. Direct sales – no surprise markups, no dealer haggling
  2. Safety – Model Y is both the safest car and the best at preventing accidents as tested by multiple agencies
  3. Charging – Road tripping in anything besides a Tesla is painful
  4. Depreciation – EVs hold value better than ICE because they run much longer and Tesla’s hold value much better than any other car
  5. Built in the USA. Teslas are the most American made vehicles.
  6. Technology – Over the air software updates every month
  7. Dash Cam and Sentry Mode – Alerts to your phone and recorded footage from all exterior cameras
  8. Autopilot – Keep centered in the lane on almost any road, enormous investment in AI so it gets better with every update
  9. Experience – There’s a lot to learn when a company starts doing EVs and Tesla is very far ahead of anyone else.
  10. Tesla App – Precondition, scheduling, valet mode, charging stats, avoiding peak rates, sentry mode live stream, scheduling service

I tried to pick my top 3 from that list but it’s too hard. We loved the direct sales model. It’s awesome to know that my family is driving around in the safest car on the planet. Charging doesn’t worry us on road trips. Our car gets better every month with new software updates. Autopilot is fantastic and makes driving so much more enjoyable. And as I already said, it’s comforting to buy with the company that is effectively operating 5-10 years ahead of other companies. Ford and Volkswagen are doing better than most, but then you have behemoths like GM that are struggling mightily.

That being said, I’m happy whenever someone buys a non-Tesla EV. Competition is healthy for the market and there’s so much demand for EVs that even Tesla can’t provide enough vehicles to satisfy it.

2022 Year In Review

After two years that were defined by COVID and its aftermath, it was nice to have a year where we could setting into a more sustainable routine. Don’t get me wrong, COVID still played a major part of 2022. It’s one of the top five killers, but we’re learning how to fine tune our behaviors so we can live life while protecting it at the same time.

The first part of the year started off with a bang as we un-paused our Hawaii trip which had been planned for the week everything shut down in March 2020. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the warm sunshine by playing on the beach, hiking Diamondhead Crater, visiting the zoo, and sampling lots of delicious food. It did feel a little odd to take our big family vacation so early in the year, but the rest of the year didn’t disappoint.

We kept up our monthly family adventures with day trips like the ferry to Kingston, Deception Pass State Park, Leavenworth with Luke and David, hiking to old train tunnels, Birch Bay State Park, Tiny Hearts Homestead, Barclay Lake (with Dad and Mom before the forest fire!), Dege Peak at Mt. Rainier, and Kayak Point.

We had two nice camping trips. One was to Seaquest State Park near Mt. St. Helens with Tyla’s family. It’s interesting to go back there every few years and see how much has changed at the eruption site. The second trip was to San Juan Campground. These were first come-first served rustic camp sites right on the North Fork of the Skykomish River with the Scherschels and Neumanns. Elijah has always asked to go camping where we can’t see anyone else, and this came pretty close to meeting that criterion.

Even though we went to Hawaii, if you ask us about our favorite trip this year, we’d probably all say it was our visit to Leaping Lamb Farm. This was a bonus trip that Tyla picked for Tyla’s 40th birthday celebration. Farm managers Denny and Kate were magnificently friendly, and it was a fulfilling to see Elijah helping with the farm chores and roaming the farm on his own.

This was also the year our family got into disc golf. I’ve always been curious about the sport, but I’ve also been too intimidated to try it out myself. Tyla and Elijah gave me a starter set of discs for Father’s Day and that eventually encouraged me to do some YouTube learning and get out to a course. I was hooked! I love that it’s friendly, approachable, free, and something the whole family can enjoy together outside. According to my UDisc app, I played 428 holes the majority of those were with Elijah. Part of the fun of learning new things is experiencing the rapid improvement as you progress from total newbie to bumbling beginner. By the end of summer, I had even played in my first tournament!

Work continues to go well. The vast majority of my organization still works from home and while there are people who go in for a few days a week, only a small percentage of employees show up every day. I pretty much only go in when there is free food for a social gathering. Otherwise, I very much prefer working from home. While it’s relatively unimportant compared to other work I do, the highlight of my work year was probably the US Government officially awarding me a patent. It’s fun to know that, at least according to the patent office, I’ve invented something brand new and it will be recorded forever.

It’s beyond cliche, but I’m really noticing how quickly life goes by. A week at work seems like nothing when I look back on it, and even the months fly by if I have something fun to look forward to next month. I suppose it’s a good way to breeze through the mundane parts of life, but it’s also an encouragement to live in the moment. If I don’t appreciate each day, the fast forwarding can keep accelerating until all I’m doing is looking forward to huge life events. (Queue the reference to Adam Sandler in the movie “Click.”)

Along with the increased pace of live comes more thoughts about how quickly my life will be over. Maybe this is also cliche for someone in their early 40s. I’ve always thought that eventually we’d move out into the country for a place with more land, but if we wait until Elijah is done with high school so we don’t have to care as much about school districts, then how long will we live in that house before we need to move back closer to town/doctors/help/etc? Regardless of all these earthly decisions, whenever the end of this life comes, I have heaven waiting for me through faith in Jesus’s saving death and resurrection. I think Paul’s words to the Philippians sum this all up nicely:

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

Previous Year In Review Posts: 20032004200520062007200820092010201120122013, 2014201520162017201820192020, 2021

Christmas Card 2022

I think that next year we might write up a short family blurb. I tried to do it this year, but couldn’t figure out where the line was between sharing info and bragging. If you have any input on that, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Merry Christmas

LUKE 2
THE BIRTH OF JESUS

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Homebuilt Tunnel

Usually when I do a “Best of YouTube” post, I feature about three different videos. This time I’m only going to mention one. For the past few years, Colin Furze has been building a tunnel from his house to his shed. He has been releasing videos periodically showing his progress, but he recently combined them into one magnificent 2.5 hour video. If you haven’t seen this project before, grab some popcorn and settle in for a treat!