– Ben Martens


Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

The Tesla Cybertruck was released last week. It was announced all the way back in 2019 and now customers are finally taking deliveries. Let’s start with the positives…

The truck is an incredible feat of engineering. The AWD version does 0-60mph in 4.1 seconds and the “Cyberbeast” model does it in just 2.6 seconds. It does all that while having almost as much payload and towing capacity as my maxed-out internal combustion F150. As a visual to help explain how wild it is to cover both ends of the speed/towing spectrum, Tesla released this video of a Porsche losing a drag race to a Cybertruck… while the Cybertruck is also towing the same Porsche model.

There’s a video showing it in winning handily in a pulling competition against other EV trucks and a diesel F350. There’s also a video of the truck being “bulletproof” or at least bullet resistant. During development it was claimed that the truck would also be able to cross open water though I haven’t seen that independently tested yet.

So yes, it’s a technological marvel, but (and this is a big but)… yuck. It looks like a Pontiac Aztec had a baby with a kindergartener’s drawing of a truck. Teslas have extremely low coeffecients of drag and I’m sure that factored into the design, but still, I know that design is subjective, but I have zero interest in driving this eyesore.

When it was announced four years ago, I disliked it so much that I worried it would sink the whole company. Now we’re in a world where Tesla is probably going to claim the title of best selling vehicle on the planet of 2024. They will probably be ok even if the Cybertruck is a flop.

But will it be a flop? I doubt it. It might level out to be the lowest selling of their models after the initial hype, but I think they’ll sell enough of them to cover their development costs. Tesla incite a fan reaction only seen in companies like Apple. They can make anything they want and people will line up to buy it and rave about how great it is.

If I was replacing my internal combustion F150 today, I’d probably end up buying another gas truck. Rivian is good but their trucks are small for what I want. The electric F150 is intersting but I don’t trust the traditional manufacturers to make a good EV or back it up with a good ownership experience. We’ll get to a point where big trucks make sense as EVs, but I think today the best we can do is smaller trucks like the Rivian R1T.

DIY LED Panel Revisited

In May, I built my own 36×16 LED panel. The project was a lot of fun to build and taught me a lot, but honestly, I haven’t used it much since then. The original plan had been to build two of them and use them as Christmas decorations, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned it on. The software side of things was a mess which is a bit ironic given my profession. I had improved on the tutorial by writing my own app that ran on the desktop and communicated directly with the ESP8266 board. The board had very simple firmware which just received a stream of bytes and displayed it. That worked ok and I got a pretty good refresh rate, but the main issue was that after a few minutes, the board would stop updating and I couldn’t figure out why. After a long day of coding for my day job, I could never convince myself to spend time debugging this.

Fast forward to late November when I was watching a video from “The Hook Up” on YouTube about his Christmas light setup. It was at that moment that I realized that most of these Christmas light displays and lots of maker projects run on an LED control package called WLED. It’s free and open source and it’s very customizable. Could it work with my custom matrix?

About an hour later, I had it working, and most of that was me just fumbling around learning things. There was already a version of WLED that was compatible with my ESP8266 board so I loaded it on and instantly had a webserver that I could access from my desktop or phone. The built-in software is fantastic but there is also a big ecosystem of projects built on top of WLED if you want, for example, to display an animated gif on the matrix.

In the last week I’ve had it on more than I did in the previous six months. While it’s too late to build another one to use for the front window for Christmas, it has me thinking about next year.


Let me start by saying that I know this is a duplicate post, but unless you’ve been reading since 2008, you probably haven’t seen this one before. Besides, I think it’s worth retelling the story of the programming contest that eventually got me into Microsoft.

In college, I joined a programming club sponsored by Microsoft. I don’t remember exactly what the club did, but I remember them giving out free food which is about all it takes to get a college kid to join a club. They also handed out a thick set of CDs that represented an early beta of Visual Studio .NET. This was the first time the world had seen the .NET languages, and to get us into the tool, the club sponsored a programming contest in 2002 which would have been the end of my senior year. The rules of the contest were to write something that uses as many languages and features of .NET as possible. They wanted us to show off the capabilities of the language.

I had been spending a lot of time working on building a giant library of digital Lego specifications in a tool called POV-Ray and making digital Lego movies, but the slowest part of that process was rendering out the movie frames. It would take about 15 minutes to render a single frame at a measly 320×180 resolution. So my programming contest entry was a system that would orchestrate the rendering of a movie over a bunch of different computers.

The main server had a list of all the frames that needed to be rendered. Clients would connect via a web API and request work. They would be sent the text file representing a single frame, render the file locally in POV-Ray, and then send the image back to the server. To score more points, the client, server, and web API were all written in different .NET languages and all the interaction was tracked in a SQL database that had a web front end for displaying progress and participation points.

It took me FOUR MONTHS of work to get this all going, but with help from a friend, the final presentation really wowed the judges and we captured 85% of the first-place votes. If I remember correctly, the grand prize was an original Xbox and an HP Jornada with a WiFi card.

I did use the software to get rendering help with some Lego movies. The stories are garbage but I’m still proud of the technology that went into them. This stuff is simple now, but 20 years ago, it was unique. You can view an older post about it here:

So how did this land me a job at Microsoft? Fast forward four years. I had just finished up my Masters degree and was looking to leave New Jersey. I had been trying to apply to Microsoft but it’s a challenge to make yourself stand out in the veritable flood of applications that they receive. I decided to cold call the head of the Microsoft club from Purdue. We hadn’t talked in four years, and I had to get his contact info through a mutual friend, but it worked! He happened to have a position open on his team and within a couple weeks, I had made it through the interview process and had a job offer.

One of my main recommendations for kids going into high school and college is to do more than the bare minimum. Getting good grades is important, but you need to be an interesting human too. “Passion” is hard to define, but I know it when I see it in a job candidate and that passion goes a long way to opening doors for new opportunities.

Piano Music Without A Piano

I wrote a while back about using some digital software to take the output from my piano and run it through an extremely high quality piano recording. I’ve quietly continued to make recordings of the various pieces I learn. Some of them end up on my YouTube channel. I usually post them there if it was especially hard for me to learn and/or I don’t see any other recordings of that particular arrangement. When you’re learning a new piece, it’s nice to hear someone else play it first so that’s my contribution.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve found some new (to me) technology that has opened up new possibilities: I’m now able to take a piece of sheet music, and turn it into a recording without ever touching a piano. Here’s the process:

  1. I start by scanning in the sheet music and making it a PDF file.
  2. MuseScore is a free download for creating and editing digital sheet music. I’ve used it before to create simpler versions of songs for Elijah when he was taking lessons, but it also has the ability to import a PDF. So I give I the PDF from the previous step and it spits out a Muse Score file.
  3. The digital sheet music has been very close to correct in my experience but usually needs some fixes so I make those right in MuseScore. I save the output to a MIDI file.
  4. At this point I have a MIDI file which has all the right notes, but it sounds very robotic because every note is timed exactly correctly and there’s no use of the sustain pedal. I suppose I could add the sustain pedal into the sheet music, but I’ve found it easier to add the pedal via the free MidiEditor software.
  5. I have already purchased the “Embertone Walker 1955 Concert D” piano software which renders a MIDI file out into an unbelievably good sounding audio file. It’s available for as little as $39.
  6. Now that I have a good MIDI file, I import it into the free Cakewalk software and set Cakewalk to render out through the Embertone piano software. I adjust the volume levels a bit and voila, in a few seconds I have an MP3 or WAV file.

The output sounds great! I suspect that many people would never know that it was produced without touching a piano. I’m interested in playing with the MIDI file even more to see if I could make it sound even more realistic. I’m curious how it would sound if I wrote some code to slightly alter the timing and velocity of each note to give it a bit more of the variability that you’d get from a human.

Today I’m using this to help our choir at church. I can easily scan in each piano piece and make recordings of the full accompaniment without taking the time to learn it. I also make manual recordings (because it’s faster) of the individual parts. All those files get posted to a share and now everyone can easily practice at home.

Have I ruined music by making it too nerdy? Not in my book. I still end up needing to play a lot of this live, but it’s really handy to have all these tools in my back pocket to pull out when they fit the situation.

P.S. If you’re not overwhelmed by software recommendations yet, I’ll throw in one more recommendation for Nail the Pitch which is a free app that tells you what note you are singing. As I practice the choir song, I can visually see if I’m hitting the right notes.

Halloween Boxes

We usually carve pumpkins for Halloween but it’s a messy affair and then the pumpkins end up rotting on the front step. This year, we decided to try making “pumpkin boxes.” You may have seen these on Etsy or other craft sites.

I bought a couple fence planks and quickly had them cut into the pieces for a box. I used the CNC to carve the images. Tyla picked a goat, I picked a ghost, and Elijah drew a cat face. A quick glue up later, and I was done. I left the bottom open so we could set them on top of an electric candle light and I used pieces of a branch on top of the lids to look like a stem.

If we do this again next year I think I’ll get the family more involved in the design of their pumpkins and the assembly of them. We might also consider making some variable sizes.

Washington Ski Area Opening Dates

This is the time of year when skiers start checking the weather multiple times per day wondering when their favorite ski area is going to open. Since 2006 I have been keeping track of the opening dates for Whistler Blackcomb, Mt. Baker, Stevens Pass, Summit at Snoqualmie, and Crystal Mountain. As you read this table, keep in mind that some of these dates are restricted to specific types of passes, and in almost all cases, conditions are thin. If you want full access to the mountain without fear of destroying your gear on rocks, you usually need to wait until January.

 WhistlerBaker  StevensSummitCrystal

Walnut Wall Clock

I remember reading that the traditional gift for a 10th wedding anniversary is a clock. I thought it would be a fun project and even picked out some plans that I liked from a back issue of Wood Magazine (Volume 38, Number 226.) We’ve now passed our 13th wedding anniversary and I decided it was time to get started making the clock.

A lot of the complexity in the project is just figuring out which clock movement to use, what kind of chiming sound you want, whether you want the chime to be electronic or mechanical, what type of bob to have swinging back and forth, what kind of hands to use, and which clock face to pick. Thankfully the plans I was using had specific part numbers and suppliers listed not just for the clock parts but also for the door hardware. I followed that all pretty closely but I did choose a different clock movement. We didn’t expect to use the chimes much so I didn’t need anything too fancy.

The project construction was fun. After building the main case, it was a straightforward process of building up specific molding pieces on the top and the bottom. Some of them did require a giant new router bit which was a bit scary to use but the result was worth it.

The door is designed to have a piece of glass sitting in it. The glass has a curve at the top and then gets etched with a design on the front. Finding a glass shop and/or learning how to cut curved glass all seemed like something I wasn’t excited to tackle right now, so instead I visited TAP Plastics. I bought some non-glare acrylic that didn’t end up working because the distance between the clock face and the door meant that the clock face looked blurry. So now it’s just a regular piece of cast acrylic. Some day I might take it to the laser and etch a design on the front, but we both know that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. It looks great as-is.

The clock face and the movement are held on via magnets so it’s easy to remove them to change the time. A magnet also holds the door closed.

The finish I used was Arm-R-Seal from General Finishes. I’ve used lots of different finishes in the past, but Matt Cremona has been building gorgeous furniture for many years and he uses this one finish for everything. I love the way his stuff looks and I love the simplicity of just having one finish instead of trying to find the latest and greatest thing that might or might not work well. This was very easy to apply and it looks great!

This clock now hangs in our kitchen and I love looking at it! We don’t use the chimes at all but they are there if we ever choose to flip them on.

I documented a lot of this process along the way in Instagram stories @martenswoodworks so follow me there if you want to see behind the scenes for the next projects.

Don’t Buy an EV

These Tesla Tuesday posts usually talk about experiences with our Model Y and reasons why I’m happy with our decision. Tesla has the highest brand loyalty, but that doesn’t mean I recommend them to everyone or that I’d buy one myself in every situation. So who would I NOT recommend get an electric car?

  1. If you live in an apartment, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a lot of charging options. Landlords are quickly realizing the importance of this amenity, but if I couldn’t charge where I normally park, that would remove a lot of the convenience for me. Even if the complex had a few chargers that people could share, I still probably wouldn’t go for it. I love coming home, plugging in the car, and then ignoring it until the morning when I walk out to a full charge.
  2. If you have expensive electricity, it can change the math a lot. We pay $0.11/kWh hour here in the Seattle area, but in New Hampshire it’s $0.29/kWh! That’s getting close to Supercharger rates which are around $0.45-0.55/kWh. While all of those are still a lot cheaper than gas, it’s a wide range and needs to be part of your math if you’re doing this to save money. Then again, California has the most expensive electricity in the country but they’re also gaga for electric cars so there are more factors at play than just electricity costs.
  3. If you get a new phone and spend the next six months grumbling about how everything changed, this probably isn’t for you. Electric cars usually get the fanciest new tech.
  4. If you’re thinking about getting anything other than a Tesla, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re literally never going to take it on a trip that would require you to charge away from home. The non-Tesla charging networks are unbelievably horrible and I wouldn’t take a road trip if I had to rely on them. If you think I’m exaggerating, watch this fantastic comparison video or the many videos like it. Once all the non-Tesla muggles can charge at Superchargers, this becomes a non-issue, but then we’ll have to see what kind of crowding problems we have and see which of the other companies die off in the shakeout.
  5. If you hate electric vehicles because… just because, then obviously I wouldn’t even be talking about this to you. Multiple times, even in this area, I’ve had some truck get in front of me and purposely “roll coal” to cover me in exhaust. Maybe they still wouldn’t want one if they had more info, but so many people blow off all EVs due to talking points from 24-hour cable news that simply aren’t true.
  6. If you’re an expert car mechanic and you enjoy the work, there won’t be much that you can do on your EV. Being able to do most/all of your own car work also changes the math when considering how much an EV could save you.
  7. If you drive more than 200 miles a day, you probably wouldn’t want an EV. I wrote a long post about choosing an EV with enough range, but the takeaway was to consider the high end of your common daily use case and then multiply that mileage by 1.5 or 2 to get the target EPA range to have stress free drives in all conditions.
  8. If you take a lot of road trips and you don’t want to do any extra planning, an EV is probably not for you. While the car will tell you exactly where to stop and for how long, our trips go a lot smoother when I have tweaked that plan a bit for stops with good bathrooms, restaurants, etc. A long road trip feels like hopping between islands so there’s not a ton of flexibility if you’re trying to be efficient with your time.
  9. If you’re going to do a lot of towing or hauling, a gas/diesel truck is still your best bet. Rivian makes an electric truck and Tesla has something sort of truck shaped coming out soon, but despite what the marketing materials say, you’re not going to be asking a front-end loader to dump a yard of gravel in the back. And even if you could tow your camper with it, you’re going to stop so often for charging (and you’ll have to unhook every time) that it’s silly.

One thing that’s not on this list is “if you don’t live close to a charging station…” The area within 75-100 miles of my house is the area where I care least about charging stations. In fact, I think that living far from a charger could be a good reason to get an EV because you’re probably live away from a city and getting anything (including gas) requires a significant amount of time. Instead, you could wake up every morning to a full charge. The only time I care about public stations is when I’m on a long road trip somewhere.

As I wrap this up, my text editor is complaining about all the uses of “probably” in this post, but I’m going to leave them in because there really are a lot of factors. However, I do think that the list of reasons to not get an EV is shrinking as the years go by. Millions of people are making the switch, but it will take time for to cover everyone’s unique scenario.

Tesla Price Cuts

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

As I’ve explained before, we jumped into a Model Y because my math convinced me that we’d at least break even when compared to the gas powered Ford Escape that we would have bought instead. That required us to save about $20,000 over the first 100,000 miles. All my calculations were done with gas prices at $3.50 and since they’ve been so much higher, our little experiment is working out quite well. We’re on track to save more than $16,000 in gas alone so if prices keep going up, we might make most of that $20,000 savings in fuel prices alone without even considering lower service costs and higher resale value.

Here’s the kicker: Our same Model Y now costs $8500 less! Plus some buyers will be elligible for a $7500 federal tax credit for a potential savings of $16,000 over what we bought. This means that the “will it save me money” decision is a no-brainer now. Obviously there are plenty of other factors that go into whether and EV fits your situation, but cost isn’t one of them if you’re comparing against other similar new cars.

The average price of a car sold in the US today is $48,000. A Model 3 starts at $38,990 and the Model Y starts at $43,990. The Long Range Model Y that we have starts at $48,490 which is just over the average price. All of these numbers are without the potential $7500 tax credit too. The chart below shows the delta between the Model 3 and Model Y compared to the average new car purchase price. (We got our Model Y price locked in around October of 2021.)

Priced used to be a sticking point when getting people into an EV because you had to pay up front and trust that the savings would come. Now we’re moving into a world where they compete on sticker price and THEN you get bonus savings on top of that over the life of the car.

Cars in general are still expensive and there are easy ways to spend way less than the average US car price by fixing the car you have already, buying a used car, or buying a lower priced new model. There’s still a gap in good EV options towards the lower end of the price spectrum, but the way things are going, that will get filled too. Lower priced cars will be important as countries inch closer to the mandated cutoffs for sales of gas vehicles. The chart below (via shows when various areas are planning to change. It’s notable that nobody has fully hit their dates yet and these do get pushed back so we’ll see if/when we fully get there.

While it’s fun to see more people agreeing with the choice that we made, the bulk of my enjoyment comes from watching our “total savings calculator” spitting out bigger and bigger numbers while we bop around in a car that’s fun to drive with almost zero maintenance.

Now if you’ll excuse me, after 30,000 miles, we’ve had our first part in need of replacement: wiper blades.