– Ben Martens

Tesla Road

This edition of Tesla Tuesday will be a short one, but as I perused the various Tesla news sources, this post from about the road leading to Tesla’s new Texas factory caught my eye:

Changing the name to Tesla Road makes sense, but did you see the old name for the road? Harold Green Road! I’ve been working my way slowly through the entire Red Green catalog, so I immediately wondered if the road was actually named for Red’s nephew on the show. Nope. There was a local dairy farmer with the same name. But we can dream right?

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock

Love One Another

I don’t know that I’ve ever posted about Martin Luther King Jr. Day before because I feel that I’m better off listening. Spend a little time doing that and you’ll hear endless examples of how racism is still prevalent at both micro and macro levels, and even if we magically removed it today, the effects would carry on for generations.

Dr. King’s taught that we should treat everyone equally. I know that many of you, like me, are Christians, so this shouldn’t be a new message to us:

  • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:44
  • “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39
  • Fifth commandment: You shall not murder. What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.

Loving everyone equally isn’t a new message, but looking around the world today, it’s clear that we all need to be reminded of this frequently. It extends far beyond racism. Compare two minutes of any news channel with Ephesians 4:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

It’s so easy for us to slip into using divisive phrases that group people into “us” and “them” and then it’s easy to start degrading “them”. Whether your side likes words like birther, Trumpster, and misogynist, or if your side uses commie, libtard, and “Let’s go Brandon”, none of that comes close to “building others up according to their needs.” Check out Martin Luther’s explanation of the 8th commandment:

We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.

I don’t want to detract from the reason that we remember MLK’s work today and the work that still remains, but in addition, it’s a good time to think about how I can do a better job of treating everyone the same: we’re all sinners in need of a savior. I need to reflect God’s love back into the world, and if I can focus on that, I’ll not only do a better job fulfilling MLK’s dream, but I’ll help point a lot more people to Jesus.

Autonomous Tractors

Twenty years ago, I was going through two summer internships at John Deere headquarters in Moline, IL. The first year there, I worked with what became the Precision Ag group and the second summer I worked in the IT group for the seeding equipment factory line. Both projects were fun, but it has been really interesting to watch that Precision Ag group take off.

When I was there around the turn of the century (might as well just lean into feeling old, right?), Deere was putting their first GPS equipment into farm equipment. At that time, it could show you a screen to help you follow a straight line down your field, record positional yield information during harvesting, and automatically adjust seeding and spraying rates based on your position in the field. It was a lot of fun to work on a computer program and then go test it out in a field! At that time, I heard rumors about a totally autonomous farm that was in development, but their main problem was avoiding surprise obstacles like animals running out in front of the equipment.

This week at CES, Deere announced their autonomous tractor! The farmer drives to the field, tells the tractor what to do and then he can walk away. He can use the phone to check progress or decide what to do if something unexpected happens. I’m sure there will be kinks to work out, but this can be an incredible efficiency gain for farmers who often have to do enormous amounts of work in short amounts of time, especially during planting and harvesting season when they get the right weather. At the beginning, maybe it’s not good enough to let the tractor run all night by itself, but the farmer could at least catch a nap in his truck while waiting for the next intervention point.

If you talked to me senior year of college, I would have told you that I was going to be working for Deere when I graduated. I enjoyed the work and they liked me, but then 9/11 happened and the job market got turned upside down. Deere had a hiring freeze so I ended up scrambling to find a new job and Lockheed was still hiring so I went there instead. I have no regrets about the way things turned out, but I do think I would have had fun at Deere too.

Tesla Megapacks

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

One of Tesla’s strengths is their battery technology. Companies have tried to make EVs for decades, but batteries were always the sticking point. Now that we have crossed an inflection point with the batteries, the EV revolution has begun. But it turns out that there other great uses for that same battery technology too.

A recent video from Wendover Productions does a great job of explaining the complexities of the electrical grid, but a quick summary is that today even though we have more renewable energy in use, things like wind and solar rely on natural phenomenon and make it difficult to match demand. So we rely on fossil fuel “peaker plants” that fire up quickly when demand is high. A more ideal solution would be to store energy, but that’s a challenge. This is where Tesla comes in.


Tesla provides a solution called “Megapacks“. These are effectively giant installations of their batteries that act as buffer for the electrical grid. Some of their installations provide over 1 GWh which is enough to power all the homes in San Francisco for 6 hours. So these projects aren’t generally going to power an entire city by themselves, but used in conjunction with other types of power, it can be that extra buffer under heavy load or when a natural disaster hits.

It doesn’t stop with giant installations though. Every time the power flickers at my house, I wish I had a Tesla PowerWall. These batteries sit on the wall of your house and are generally used in conjunction with a solar installation on your roof. If you have a lot of people in your area with these batteries, you effectively have a distributed Megapack. So Tesla is getting into the business of providing virtual power plants. Each homeowner can feed small amounts of electricity from their batteries back into the grid and get paid for it.

Electric vehicle batteries last a very long time. One Tesla Model S owner is closing in on 1 million miles with only one battery replacement (covered under warranty). But those batteries do wear out eventually. While they might not be up to the task of charging and discharging every day to move a car around, they’re still great for electrical grid use. There was a recent story about someone taking a battery out of a wrecked Tesla and using it in his house for 4 years.

When I read these stories, it’s hard not to think back to battery powered toys of the 80s. Fresh batteries would go into a tiny little device and wear out seemingly immediately. Dad got good at wiring power adapter jacks into all of our battery powered toys to avoid endlessly buying new batteries and we got good at figuring out how to adjust the wall wart to produce the right voltage for whatever we were playing with at the time. Battery tech has come so far that we’re now able to power hundreds or thousands of homes with it for hours at a time. it opens up so many interesting opportunities!

Disclaimer: I own Tesla stock.

Book Quotes

It has apparently been six years since I did my last post of things that I’ve highlighted while reading books on my Kindle. I thought I’d do another batch but this just goes back through books I’ve read in the last two years. For a full list of all the books that I’ve read, you can follow me on goodreads. It’s mostly science fiction and fantasy with a few nonfiction thrown in every once in a while.

Before I get to that though, note that I chose Hail Mary by Andy Weir for the thumbnail but I didn’t include any quotes. I’m not giving you any spoilers, but I think this was my favorite book of the period. If you’re even a little bit sci-fi curious, check it out.

Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?” “Uh … that’s a trick question.” “It is the key question, dear Wyoming. A radical question that strikes to the root of the whole dilemma of government. Anyone who answers honestly and abides by all consequences knows where he stands—and what he will die for.

Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

“Relaxing isn’t relaxing,” he said. “Sit around too much, and you start sitting around even more.”

Brandon Sanderson, Rhythm of War

If your joy lives in a codependent relationship with anything on earth, then your joy is dependent on something undependable. You don’t want that. The wisest man in history doesn’t want that for you either. King Solomon warns, “Hopes placed in mortals die with them” (Proverbs 11:7).

Mike Novotny, 3 Words That Will Change Your Life

I always thought when I became a man, I’d feel more confident, but towering over this boy, I feel so very small.

Pierce Brown, Iron Gold

Anger is nothing more than justification for bad behavior. And I have no time for bad behavior.

C. Robert Cargill, Sea of Rust

He defined good company not by the conversation but by the lack of it. When there was no need to talk to feel comfortable, that was the right company.

Michael Connelly, The Black Echo

This time, when she’d pointed it at me, she’d flicked the safety on. If that wasn’t true love, I don’t know what was.

Brandon Sanderson, Firefight

When you’re young, you can assume that everyone older than you has life figured out. Once you get command yourself, you realize we’re all just the same kids wearing older bodies.

Brandon Sanderson, Starsight

The huge moments in life seemed like they should have more ceremony and effects. The important words—the life-changing ones—should echo a little. But they didn’t. They sounded just like everything else.

James S. A. Corey, Tiamat’s Wrath

And I have to give an honorable mention to Grace Abounds by Daniel Deutschlander. I clicked on that to look at the highlights and I made over 700 highlights in ONE BOOK.

Fantasy Football – Week 17

Our 2021 fantasy season is over! Logan beat Tyler in the championship game to bring home first place. It might take a little while for the Tyler’s pain to wear off as he left a WR with 50 points on his bench. Ouch! And in a last minute comeback on Monday night, Andy beat me for 3rd place. Here are the final standings:

  1. Logan
  2. Tyler
  3. Andy
  4. Ben
  5. Nick
  6. Tim
  7. Chelsea
  8. Luke

I don’t care much about getting fourth instead of third, but I did come across an interesting story about the last minute score from Najee Harris (Andy’s running back.) Read here if you’re interested but that play decided a lot of fantasy championships!

Here are a few end of the season stats for you:

  • Logan’s 1933.33 regular season points comes in 3rd on the list all time behind himself in 2018 (2024.38) and me in 2015 (1955.86).
  • Luke’s opponents scored an average of 129.37 regular season points which sets a new league record.
  • Andy won when it counted and finished in 3rd place despite having the lowest season point total (only 84% of what Logan scored in first place.)
  • Logan now has 4 first place finishes in our league.
  • We all know the draft day projections are bogus, but this year’s projections correctly named the top four teams.
  • Tyler has finished 2nd in the league in both of his seasons.
  • Logan had the most points this season from drafted players (1876.65) and I had the least (1331.62)
  • I had the most points from this season post-draft acquisitions (689.65) and Andy had the least (101.37).

Here are the top players for various positions:

QB1Josh Allen446.72Chelsea
QB2Tom Brady429.7Logan
QB3Justin Herbert423.34Tim
WR1Cooper Kupp344.7Ben
WR2Deebo Samuel275.64Chelsea
WR3Davante Adams274.3Luke
RB1Jonathan Tyalor342.1Nick
RB2Austin Ekeler282.4Tyler
RB3Joe Mixon266.9Tim
TE1Mark Andrews235.1Ben
TE2Travis Kelce205.4Andy
TE3George Kittle159Tyler
K1Nick Folk159Ben
K2Justin Tucker154Nick
K3Evan McPherson152FA

Thank you everyone for playing this year! I appreciated all those full rosters and nobody pulling an Antonio Brown. I hope you’ll all come back next year, but as always, if you want out, please let me know sooner rather than later so I can find a replacement.

On to the weekly awards…

 This WeekThis SeasonAll Time
Highest Team ScoreNick had 132.98Tyler had 176.03 (Week 14)Luke had 202.63 (2019)
Lowest Team ScoreLuke had 85.49Andy had 60.86 (Week 9)Andy had 41.29 (2015)
Biggest BlowoutChelsea beat Luke by 19.07Chelsea beat Andy by 77.04 (Week 3)Luke beat Andy by 113.02 (2010)
Closest WinAndy beat Ben by 2.17Logan beat Ben by 0.92 (Week 10)Tyler beat Nick by 0.01 (2018)
Longest Active Winning StreakNick has a 5 game winning streakLogan had an 8 game winning streak (Week 14)Micah (2011), Ben (2015), and Logan (2021) had 8 game winning streaks
Longest Active Losing StreakLuke and Ben have 2 game losing streaksChelsea had a 5 game losing streak (Week 9) and Nick had a 5 game losing streak. (Week 12) and Andy had a 5 game losing streak (Week 16)Kyle had a 14 game losing streak (2011)
Highest Scoring PlayerJa’Marr Chase had 50.10 for Tyler.Jonathan Taylor had 51.90 for Nick (Week 11)Drew Brees had 60.54 on Tim’s bench (2015)
Lowest winning scoreChelsea won with 104.56Andy beat Luke with 89.80 (Week 8)Tim beat Jim with 79.34 (2015)
Highest losing scoreBen lost with 125.82Logan lost to Andy with 143.14 (Week 6)Tim lost to Luke with 169.11 (2019)

2021 Year In Review

Last year we were slogging through lockdowns waiting for a vaccine to end the pandemic. This year we got the vaccine, and the vaccine was effective, but the virus is still spreading because not enough people are willing to get the shot. It’s easy to get down and wonder when this will ever end, but Bill Gates wrote a great article about some reasons for optimism. He is hopeful that the impact from COVID-19 will finally peak in 2022, but he also addresses the problem of mistrust in governments. It’s nice to hear an expert be optimistic about the future, but ultimately, my comfort comes from God and knowing that he is working this all out for our good.

With so many trips and adventures being off limits and/or out of our comfort zone, I made a concerted effort to try to find fun things for us to do. We ventured further down a local trail, explored Spencer Island, took a cold trip to Deception Pass, went on a muddy hike at Lord Hill, drove deep into the woods on forestry roads, saw a bazillion sand dollars at Dash Point, stayed in a cabin at Bay View, saw old coal mines, camped at Deception Pass, did our first bike/hike to Ipsut Falls, made it back to Indiana, visited some goats at the Sammamish Animal Sanctuary, hiked around Snoqualmie Falls, camped at Grayland Beach, did an epic hike to High Rock Lookout, climbed to Red Top Lookout, whale watching, and Howarth Park to watch trains.. I tried to organize at least one family adventure every month, and though I didn’t quite get there, hopefully we’re getting back in the groove now. All three of us are vaccinated, and we’ll be exploring a few more options than we did in 2021. One thing I want to repeat is having Elijah pick out hikes from a book. We got all of them done except one, and I think the fact that he picked them out himself really helped him get excited about the hikes. He keeps talking about doing a backpacking camping trip so I’ll have to see if we can work that in as well.

It was another busy year for me at church. Aside from all the discussions about how to handle the pandemic in our church, both our pastor and our school director took calls to other churches. After having some of our calls for new workers were returned, we were blessed to receive a graduate from MLC and a graduate from seminary. With all the empty positions in our synod right now, we were amazed and thankful to be the only church that received two graduate assignments. Next year will be a big change for me as I’m not going to be on the church council. I’ve held a position for 14 out of the last 15 years, but it’s time for a break. Instead of an elected position, I’m going to carve out my own niche and focus on improving our technology. One of my first projects will be ripping out all the AV equipment, replacing some of it, throwing some of it away, and building a new desk to hold it all. I’m excited to dive into that project and be out of the leadership arena for a while.

Speaking of building things, after spending all last year working on the chest of drawers, the floodgates opened in 2021. I was able to knock out a bunch of projects including a murphy bed, strawberry planter enclosure, picture frame, gas fire table, “God is here” sign, desk for Elijah, router table fence, drill press table, cat perch, some custom card boxes and a cat tree. On top of that I also sold a wood American flag and a “but first pray” sign at Elijah’s school auction. I’ve contributed to a few auctions in the past but I either haven’t heard how they went, or the items were part of a bundle. This was the first time my items sold individually, and it was fun to see people get so excited about them.

As we look back at 2021 from the future, I suspect we’ll also remember this as the year we committed to an EV vehicle. It still feels futuristic and we’re still waiting for it to actually show up in our driveway, but I pray that we’ll look back on this as a good decision.

There’s a lot of content in those paragraphs, but the year didn’t feel super busy. Working from home saves so much driving time and I don’t know if I’ll ever choose to work in the office again. Since I don’t have to commute every day, it makes me want to move a bit farther away where we have a little more space. But deciding what area to move to has been so daunting that we never get very far in the thought process before shutting down the search and being thankful for what we have.

When the pandemic started, we put everything was on hold until it ended. Now it’s pretty clear that COVID is going to be with us for many years so waiting for it to end isn’t a good approach. 2021 was the year of starting to figure out how to do more within the constraints. I’ll be working to improve on that in 2022.

Previous Year In Review Posts: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020

Custom Cat Tree

When we got the cats, we bought a cat tree so they would have something to play on immediately. But every time I walked but it, I thought it would be a fun project to attempt on my own. After doing some research and getting a ton of inspiration from this video by Matt Weere, I decided to jump in.

I started by drawing it out in Sketchup. This is pretty much a direct copy of the one in the video but since there were no plans, it helped to at least do a rough drawing first.

The carpet was always the biggest blocker when I thought about the project. Buying remnants is the cheapest way to go, but where can I get just the right amount and not end up with gobs of extra (or too little.) I found out that you can buy carpet from Home Depot by the foot. It comes on 12′ wide rolls but you only need to buy one 12′ strip at a time. I went there with the intention of doing that but ended up getting a 6’x9′ piece of indoor/outdoor carpet like what you would lay outside of a camper. I thought that was a smart move because it was cheaper and easier to work with.

It wasn’t a smart move. While it was cheaper and easier to work with, it doesn’t look as good because you can’t hide staples in it, and you can’t join the fibers together at the seams.

That being said, it did work out ok. It just doesn’t look as nice as I had hoped it would. I used 12″ carboards tubes (meant for doing concreate work) for the various circles in the project and the rest was just a few 2x4s and some 3/4″ plywood.

The cats were hesitant about the new structure but quickly warmed up to it and they can regularly be found sleeping on it. The circles on top of the posts are probably a few inches too small (our cats are 10-11 pounds) but they don’t seem to mind and they love having another view out of the window.

If I was going to do it again… I wouldn’t do it again. Covering shapes with carpet is tough and it would have been even more work with shaggy carpet. I won’t mind paying for the next one as much now that I know how much work goes into making one. I do have some other cat projects in mind, but I don’t think it will be another tree.

Fantasy Football – Week 16

The semifinals are complete and Logan and Tyler will be battling it out for first place! Tyler put up the high score of the season, and Logan’s off week was still good enough to scoot past Andy. In our last fantasy season (2019), Tyler lost to Tim in the final game. Can he redeem himself this year or will Logan finish his dominant season with a win?

For the first time since Week 6, Logan isn’t in the top spot of the power rankings anymore. In fact, he’s not even in the top 4! In fact, 3 of the bottom four teams are in the top four in the power rankings. Everything is topsy turvy.

  1. Tyler ▲2
  2. Tim ▲5
  3. Chelsea ▲1
  4. Luke ▲1

On to the weekly awards…

 This WeekThis SeasonAll Time
Highest Team ScoreTyler had 146.59Tyler had 176.03 (Week 14)Luke had 202.63 (2019)
Lowest Team ScoreAndy had 73.64Andy had 60.86 (Week 9)Andy had 41.29 (2015)
Biggest BlowoutTyler beat Ben by 62.07Chelsea beat Andy by 77.04 (Week 3)Luke beat Andy by 113.02 (2010)
Closest WinNick beat Chelsea by 6.54Logan beat Ben by 0.92 (Week 10)Tyler beat Nick by 0.01 (2018)
Longest Active Winning StreakNick has a 4 game winning streakLogan has an 8 game winning streak (Week 14)Micah (2011), Ben (2015), and Logan (2021) had 8 game winning streaks
Longest Active Losing StreakAndy has a 5 game losing streakChelsea had a 5 game losing streak (Week 9) and Nick had a 5 game losing streak. (Week 12) and Andy had a 5 game losing streak (Week 16)Kyle had a 14 game losing streak (2011)
Highest Scoring PlayerJoe Burrow had 46.10 for ChelseaJonathan Taylor had 51.90 for Nick (Week 11)Drew Brees had 60.54 on Tim’s bench (2015)
Lowest winning scoreLogan won with 105.44Andy beat Luke with 89.80 (Week 8)Tim beat Jim with 79.34 (2015)
Highest losing scoreLuke lost with 120.79Logan lost to Andy with 143.14 (Week 6)Tim lost to Luke with 169.11 (2019)

Xbox Series X Review

Let’s start with a little journey through my console gaming history. Growing up, we didn’t have any consoles, but one of my good friends had a NES. There were many hours spent in Tecmo Super Bowl, Contra, Super Ivan’s Offroad (with the rented adapter from the video store to play four person), and lots of others. Later he also got a SNES but I mostly remember spending time with him on the NES.

Towards the end of my time at Purdue, I won a programming contest and got the original Xbox (along with an HP Jornada and compact flash WiFi card!) When I moved with it to New Jersey, we would have Halo LAN parties where we would wire up 4 Xbox consoles with four CRTs that people lugged to the house and frag the night away. Once I moved on from that console, I installed a new operating system on it and turned it into an NES emulator.

In November of 2005, the Xbox360 launched and I spent hours and hours hunting one down. They were very difficult to find due to their popularity but in January I finally got my hands on one. I ended up owning three or four of these over the years because they were how we watched TV. Cable TV came into a PC with an InfiniTV card and then was distributed out via the Media Center Extender app on the Xbox360. To this day, that remains the best DVR that I ever used.

The Xbox One launched in November 2013 and by then I was married, Elijah was here, and I was gaming a lot less, but I eventually picked one up in July 2014. My gaming was mostly relegated to whatever the latest Forza game happened to be at the time I picked up the controller.

The Xbox Series X launched in November 2020, and due to massive supply shortages from the pandemic, they are still nearly impossible to find a year later. It’s hard to tell how high the demand is given the incredibly low supply, but they disappear from the shelves nearly immediately. The same is true for the latest PlayStation console. Right before Christmas, I was able to snag a refurbished unit through work at a discounted price. So now we finally get to the topic of the post: an Xbox Series X Review.

First off, we’re back to the goofy console design. Remember how the Xbox 360 devices were always marketed in a vertical position? The same goes for the Series X but thankfully you can lay it down. The only annoying thing is that leaves the Xbox logo power light rotated 90 degrees. It doesn’t matter, but it’s a constant reminder of their bad design choice. Who has room for a device that big standing vertically?

Secondly, it’s very weird to boot up a brand new console and get exactly the same user interface as the Xbox One. I didn’t even buy any new games with this console. I just downloaded the same ones I had been playing on the Xbox One. Microsoft has moved more to a common OS across their devices and most games work on both the Xbox One and the Series X (and the Series S which sits somewhere in the middle.) The Series X is capable for 4k resolution at 120fps so it has a lot more horsepower than the other models. This results in better visuals for all the games.

Getting the new console has always been the way that you played the latest games. But if that’s not true anymore, then why upgrade? Well, honestly, it’s not necessary and it was still a splurge for me. But the biggest reason that I look forward to using it is how incredibly fast it is. For example, booting my Xbox One and getting to a playable point in Forza Horizon 5 takes about 4-5 minutes on my Xbox One. On the Series X it happens in seconds. Not only are the graphics better in the game, but the menus and challenges all load nearly instantaneously compared to 30-60 second waits on the Xbox One. (Note that I have the original version of the Xbox One so your mileage may vary if you bought later hardware revision.)

The end goal that I’m really shooting for is 4k gaming. I bought an AV receiver that is 4k capable last year and now I have a device that can spit out 4k video both for gaming and streaming video from the Internet. The last piece of the puzzle is a 4k projector. I bought the Epson 8350 in 2011, had it repaired in 2015, and I replaced the lamp in 2018. Over that time, 4k projectors have come down dramatically in price and there are lots of good options, but I’m going to try to hold out for a while longer and get more use out of this current projector. We’ll see how long I can hold out though…