– Ben Martens

Desk Light For Videoconferencing

I spend a lot of time in virtual meetings from home. During the day, I usually have reasonably good light coming through the window next to me, but when it’s darker outside (or when it is so bright that I have to close the window shade), my video doesn’t look great. Does it really matter? No, but I like to have good quality audio and video.

It took me a while to find a light that I wanted to buy. These were my criteria:

  • Ability to adjust the color temperature – during the day I have daylight coming in and at night I have warm white bulbs. I didn’t know it would look to have different light colors at the same time.
  • Ability to adjust light brightness
  • Ability to work well whether my desk is in sitting or standing mode.

I ended up with the Lume Cube Edge LED Desk Light (Amazon referral link: It clips onto my desk so it’s always in the same place whether I’m sitting or standing, and it has adjustable brightness and color temperature. The arm is easy to move around to work either as a desk light or to light up my face for video. The light is also diffused pretty well so I don’t get a lot of shiny spots on my face. Below is a before and after comparison. Not only am I more evenly lit with the new light, but the background blurring algorithm has a lot easier time identifying the edges of my head.

Google Pixel 6a Upgrade

After buying flagship phones, Tyla and I tried out a midrange phone last time: the Pixel 4a. It has been stellar! Other than a lack of wireless charging, I can’t think of anything I miss from the flagship phones. Our batteries still last a full day, and they don’t feel too sluggish.

We were happy enough with it that we went for another Pixel: the 6a. This phone has been out since last summer, but when I saw the 6a’s were selling for only $299, it was hard to pass up!

It’s hard to give much of a review for a phone that I just unboxed, but I can say that the transfer process was nice. When the new phone booted up, there was a point where I could connect to the old phone via USB and suck over all the content. Not only did it bring my list of apps, but for many of the apps I didn’t even have to log in again on the new phone! We also use Microsoft Launcher so everything works very much like it did before the upgrade. Connecting the phones to the Tesla and the truck was a breeze and went much quicker than with our old phones. I had been having trouble getting Android Auto to work in the truck so it was nice to see it fire up much faster than it did before.

Unfortunately switching our SIM cards to the new devices was not easy. Xfinity Mobile is typically easy to work with. Most things are done through an app or the website, but for some reason, the “replace your device” workflow was not accepting our new phones. It took a total of two hours on the phone to get both phones upgraded.

I was tempted to wait for the Pixel 8 and Pixel 7a to launch this summer, but those would be sold at full price again and getting two fantastic phones for a total of $598+tax was too hard to pass up. After experiencing our 4a’s, I’m fully onboard with this mid-range phone idea. Not only do they work great for years, but I feel less bad about upgrading since they were more affordable.

Here’s an updated list of my cell phone device history. If we’ve come this far in 22 years, imagine what the next couple of decades will look like!

Sanyo SCP-4000 (?)
May 2001
LG 4500
April 2004
Motorola Q
September 2006
HTC Touch
May 2008
HTC Touch Pro 2
January 2010
HTC Trophy
June 2011
HTC 8x
December 2012
Nokia Lumia Icon
January 2015
Samsung Galaxy S7
October 2016
Google Pixel 4a
September 2020
Google Pixel 6a
March 2023

One Year of Gas Prices

As part of my effort to closely track the cost savings of our Tesla, I wrote a program that uses Gas Buddy to track the prices of the six gas stations closest to our house with the logic being that these are the places we’d be most likely to buy gas from. In reality, we buy almost all our gas at Safeway but for some reason that one doesn’t usually have prices listed on Gas Buddy.

That program started running a year ago and below is the chart of how things have changed. The orange line (the cheapest gas) is usually the Costco near us.

When I was doing the calculations about whether I could save money with a Model Y versus buying another Ford Escape, I had planned on $3.50/gallon. So with the average gas price barely ever dipping below $4/gallon, I’m ahead of my estimated savings mark. But I’ll more on those specific savings numbers when we reach 20,000 miles in a few months.

COVID-19: Day 1095 (Three Years)

Three years ago, our family went into lockdown, not knowing what COVID would mean for the future. After three years, life does seem to be returning more to normal. Through a combination of vaccines, immunity from previous infections, and better treatment options, the death rate is falling. The media is tired of talking about it, and I’ve had multiple people tell me that COVID is over.

While things are certainly better than they were, it’s still killing ~2500 people per week in the US. That’s an improvement from where we were, and it has been holding steady in that range for a few months. But even at that rate, it is still the 7th biggest killer in the US ahead of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Higher vaccination rates, more home testing, and isolating when sick could save around 100,000 lives per year. How many lives could we save if people know that COVID is still killing this many people? Would they care?

We had a chance at getting people to care when there was a personal threat, but how do we get people to make sacrifices to help someone else? This challenge isn’t unique to COVID. With other global threats like our changing climate, we have an idea of which activities are making things worse, but how do we get people to make a financial or lifestyle change for results that won’t show up for a few decades? The real solutions seem to work around the need for individuals to make sacrifices, but will we find something like that for COVID?

Long term, I think we solve these types of problems by educating the next generation to do a better job of consuming information. I’ve been very happy to see Elijah’s school teaching how to differentiate facts from opinions, look for supporting evidence, and identify experts. A population with those kinds of habits would hopefully have a better response to situations like this in the future.

For now, we have to work with the tools at our disposal. The good news is that compared to the original lockdown, these tools are pretty easy to use:

  • If you haven’t gotten the updated vaccine shot that came out last fall, get it.
  • If you are sick, take a COVID test every couple days until you’re better. You get 8 free per month with most insurance plans.
  • If you get COVID, follow the guidelines and isolate.

For a mix of social and scientific reasons, it looks like COVID is here to stay, and while we don’t need to stay locked up in our houses, we also can’t ignore the continued impacts.

Spring Break 2000

The other day I was thinking about my attempted college spring break trip to Hawaii in 2000. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t on my blog and then I remembered that it existed many iterations of the site ago before I started blogging regularly. So this is going to be a bit long, but I thought I’d resurrect the story from my backups and post it here. Unless you’ve been following my site for 23 years, this might be new content to you.

The characters in this story are all friends from school. Originally it had been a planned trip for four guys but after I paid for a bunch of stuff ahead of the trip one guy backed out. (This is the point in my life where I vowed to collect money from the group immediately after booking something like that.) We were scrambling to find someone to fill this spot because we couldn’t afford to split it three ways. Thankfully my friend Jess was willing to come. No, she wasn’t dating any of us and her dad gave us a speech before he let her leave for Hawaii with three nerds.

Another key point to the story is that none of us could afford plane tickets for the trip. The only way that it worked was that Rohan was an intern at Delta and could get us all free standby tickets. Free. Yes, this should have been a red flag, but enjoy the carnage that came from my learning opportunity.

I’ve resisted the urge to improve the text. It is mostly what I originally wrote with some grammatical corrections and updated links where possible.

Day 1: Friday

We were all packed up and ready to roll when 7:00 rolled around on Friday night.  Rohan and I dumped our bags into Steve’s car, and we drove over to pick up Jess.  The trip up to Steve’s house in Chicago went quickly.

We planned to leave at 4:00 Saturday morning.  That meant that we needed some sleep.  That didn’t really happen though because we were all too excited.  I think we got about two hours of sleep.

Day 2: Saturday

We got up at just after 3am.  Steve’s dad whipped us up some pancakes, and we were out the door by 4.  Our flight left at 6 from O’Hare. We ended up at the end of the line to check in.  We ran onto our plane as
they were closing the doors.  I suppose it’s important to mention at this point that we are flying standby for the whole trip.  That means that we don’t get on if there are no empty seats on the plane.  But this flight was only half full, so we even got to sit together.  Oh yeah… we were surprised to find out that our “free” buddy tickets carried a $200 tax on them.

We made it into Cincinnati just fine on our MD-88.  We put ourselves on the standby list for the flight to LA.  Rohan got called before us.  He has a higher priority because he works for Delta.  He got on the plane but we didn’t.  It was too full.  So we sat in Cincinnati as Rohan flew to sunny LA.  Luckily, a few seconds before he got on the plane, I gave everyone my mom’s number.  If we got split up we would all call home to see what was going on.

It turned out to be a busy travel day in Cincinnati.  We watched flight after flight take off without us.  We finally got on a flight in the evening after spending 12 hours in the airport.

The time wasn’t really wasted however.  We met up with some friends from Purdue (Mark and Rosie) who were on their way to Boston.  We also met two girls named Kelly and Julie who were on their way to Honolulu.  (That’s Kelly and Julie on the left in this picture.)

Famous person sighting #1 : Kelly and Julie spotted Britney Spears ducking into a luxury suite amidst a throng of body guards.

Day 3: Sunday

We got into LA at 12:30am.  We had to sleep in the airport because no flights were leaving until the morning.  But in LA they make you sleep out by the check-in counters.  That means that every weirdo in LA is more than welcome to come in and sleep there too.  Jess couldn’t sleep and stayed awake all night.  Steve and I were really tired and managed to catch a couple winks.

When the morning rolled around we started talking to Delta.  The Delta people in LA were the most helpful Delta employees that we met all trip. That’s a good thing because we were there for 19 hours waiting for a flight out of LA to Maui!  We learned that we were on the bottom of the bottom of the standby list.  Not only were we on free buddy passes, but it is then sorted by date of hire.  Rohan was hired in August 99.  There were people on the list that had hire dates from before I was born!

Kelly and Julie were with us the whole time.  They got on the same flight from Cincinnati and out of LA.  We also met another guy named Glenn.  It was nice to have some new company.  And it helped that they were in the same boat as us (standby tickets.)  We had to get some fresh air, so we went to the top level of the parking garage.  I don’t know how fresh the air was, but at least we could see the sun!  I saw my first palm tree from the top of a parking garage in LAX.

Famous person sighting #2 : Somebody ran off the plane.  A bunch of girls took off running and screaming after him.  We later talked to them and found out who it was.  We just saw Billy D. Williams, a.k.a. Lando Calrissian from Star Wars!

Famous person sighting #3 : A guy got off the plane that we all thought we recognized.  Finally we asked the lady he was traveling with who he was. The guy was John Amos and she was his publicist!  He was the adult Kunte Kinte in “Roots”.  He was also in Die Hard II (co-starred with Bruce Willis), Good Times (the sitcom), Lockup (starred with Sylvester Stallone), Fresh Prince of Bel Air (sitcom), and In the House (another sitcom.) 

We finally got on the last flight to Hawaii.  But it didn’t go to Maui.  We went to Honolulu instead.  At that point we just wanted to get out of LA. When we got to Honolulu we couldn’t stand another night in an airport.  So we shelled out some more money for a hotel around the corner.  Boy did that shower and bed feel good after sleeping on the floor in LA.

Day 4: Monday

We got up around 8 and headed back to the airport.  Rohan had made it to the condo in Maui by this time.  He called us at the hotel and gave us some info about getting to Maui.  The Delta flight (which we could get on for free) didn’t leave until 7pm.  We just wanted to get to Maui.  So we shelled out another $75 each to jump islands.

That got us to Kahului, Maui around lunch.  Unfortunately, the Delta counter there doesn’t open until 2:15pm.  We needed to talk to them to get our bags. So we took a taxi to pick up our rental car.  The taxi driver laughed when I said we wanted to go to Wheels U.S.A.  I soon found out why.

This place was a junk yard.  And there was our Mustang convertible that we had been looking forward to.  The lady explained to us that the back windows didn’t roll up.  And she was also nice enough to tell us that the tank was almost dry.  She pointed us to the most expensive gas station on the island ($1.97/gallon for unleaded.)  The car was a beat up ’89 Mustang.  The odometer read about 28,000… I  think there should at least be a 2 in front of that, maybe even a 3.  At least it ran and the top went down.  That’s about all I can say for Rhonda. (That’s what we named her.)  You can see Rhonda at the bottom right of this picture.  Actually, the picture doesn’t do the place justice.  I got it’s good side, if that’s possible.  The other side looks like the back yard of a redneck.  I bet half the cars on the lot don’t run.  One of my goals in life is to make sure that no one I know ever rents from this place.

We drove to the mall and got some lunch.  Then we went to a music store and Steve bought a ukulele.  It was time to head back to the airport to pick up our bags.  Thankfully they were all there.

Next it was on to the condo.  I was really bummed about getting ripped off with the car.  I kept wondering how bad the condo would be…

But first we had to get there.  Lesson for Maui bound travelers: Just because it’s the shortest distance on the map doesn’t mean it’s the shortest.  We took a winding one lane road around the volcano.  We could only go about 15 or 20 miles and hour.  It was really beautiful, but it took us two hours to go about 40 miles.

We made it to the condo.  I almost thought I had the wrong place because it was so beautiful.  That condo was unbelievable.  I’m still really happy with it, and I will happily stay there again if I ever make it back.  (It’s the Napili Shores Outrigger Resort Condominium.)  Our condo had a good-sized living room, full kitchen (pots and pans included), bedroom, and bathroom. It also had a porch overlooking a beautiful garden.

Rohan was there waiting for us.  We weren’t feeling very adventurous at this point.  After calling our parents to let them know we made it, we screwed around on the beach for the rest of the day.  (Oh yeah, the condo was right on the beach too!

Here are some shots of the condo:

This is the garden that we could see from our room.
The kitchen
The living room
A view of the pool from our balcony

Day 5: Tuesday

Jess was still tired from the trip and just wanted to lay around.  So that’s what she did all day.  Boy did she get red!  Rohan, Steve, and I took Rhonda out for a cruise.  We just drove around stopping at beaches.

We went back to find Jess fried.  None of us felt like spending more money, so we cooked in the kitchen and ate food that we brought with us.

Day 6: Wednesday

It was time for us to do something fun.  Steve, Rohan, and I decided to go snorkeling.  Jess didn’t come along because she got a little too much sun yesterday.  We found out that we could go in the afternoon for only $40 (instead of $80).  The catch was that it was usually to windy to go to Molokini (the snorkeling mecca of Maui.)  But we were blessed enough to make it out there!  It wasn’t too windy.  I guess that only happens about 5% of the afternoons.  And wow!  That was the best $40 I spent all trip.  The boat ride was fun, they fed us well, and the fish…. amazing!  There were hundred of them… all different shapes and sizes.  They would swim right up to your face!  Here are some pictures from my underwater camera:

Jess had been in the condo/on the beach all day, so we decided to take a little trip that night to get her out of there.  We went to Lahaina and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe.  It was a great time and a nice way to relax a little.

Day 7: Thursday

This was a big day.  We drove all the way to Hana.  It was only about 120 miles away (the other side of the island) but the round trip took somewhere between 8 and 9 hours.  The sights were indescribable!  The road was really curvy and it was only one lane in some places, but it was kept up a lot better than our other experience with that first road.  We saw amazing sights, but I think these pictures will have to do the talking.

By the time we got back from that we were all really tired.  Our condo deal gave us $50 to spend at the restaurant there.  Rohan, Steve, and I ate there.  It was a Thai/Chinese place.  It’s a good thing that Rohan was there to explain things!  Ha ha! Steve and I had no idea what was going on.  But the food was sure good.

Day 8: Friday

This was our last real day in Maui.  Rohan got up at 1:30am and took a bike ride down the crater.  He said it was really quite a trip!  You just coast all the way down (40+ miles).  The rest of us just bummed around the condo, in the hot tub, and on the beach.  Rohan got back around lunch time and joined us in being lazy on the beach.

We headed back to Lahaina for supper.  We thought about eating at Bubba Gump Shrimp, but we ended up at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  That was my favorite meal of the whole trip!  It’s highly recommended!

Day 9: Saturday

We had to leave today.  I know I had an excellent time, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too.  But we were ready to get back.  We discovered that four people with luggage wouldn’t fit in our rental care so we drove with the top down and the backseat riders held onto luggage that was balanced on top of the trunk. We dropped off Rhonda and waited at the airport.  We caught the first flight over to Honolulu (at about 4:30pm).  There are six flights a day out of Honolulu to the mainland.  We tried to get on them all.   No luck.  There were people there from Friday.  It was really a big mess.  So we spent the night in the airport.  It was a lot nicer than LA though.  There were carpeted ledges that we could sleep on, and they let us stay in the terminals.

Day 10: Sunday

We got up and put ourselves on the lists of standby people for the flights today.  Six flights left, and we were still in Honolulu.  That meant another night in the airport.  Keep in mind that we are wearing the same clothes without a shower since Saturday morning.

While we were waiting, Kelly and Julie showed up!  They were trying to get back too.  But they didn’t have any luck either.

This is a good picture to explain what it’s like in an airport overnight.  Empty.  That’s me sitting up on the window ledge / my bed.  A Delta plane sat there every night mocking us.  We would sit in the terminals all day.  They would be empty.  Then a couple hundred people would come get on the plane.  And then it would be empty again.  It gets pretty depressing after a while.  Eating Burger King for three meals a day didn’t help much either. Steve spiced it up by playing guitar with an airport band complete with geriatric hula dancers.

As we talked to the Delta agents (who weren’t very helpful), we slowly found out why we were having such a hard time getting on the plane.  Other airlines were canceling flights.  Delta had deals with those airlines, so all those passengers were put on the list ahead of us.  At one point there were 160 people on the standby list.  And the flights out of Honolulu had about 5 open seats on each one.  Since we were at the bottom of the list we didn’t have much hope of getting on a plane.

Day 11: Monday

I’m sick of eating Burger King.  I’ve spent more money on airport food than you can possibly imagine.  Just our luck… Northwest cancelled two flights so all those people got put above us on the standby list for Delta.  We had been told all weekend that we would for sure get out on Monday.  That just wasn’t going to happen.

Kelly and Julie did get out because their buddy pass hire date was quite a bit earlier than us.  That was the last we saw of them.

We had to do something.  Three nights in the same airport is enough to drive anyone insane.  We decided to take a big change and fly back to Maui.  There are only two flights out of Maui a day.  One goes to Honolulu and one goes to LA.  If we didn’t get on that LA flight we would be stuck there until the next night!  There had been some heavy praying going on that weekend, and it got a lot heavier this evening.  You can’t imagine our relief when we got on the flight to LA out of Maui!  We were finally leaving Hawaii!!!

Day 12: Tuesday

We got into LA at 5am.  We listed for the Atlanta flight and prayed that we got on.  We did!  So with only an hour and a half in LA we were out the door again.  We got into Atlanta at about 3.  Then we got on the next flight to O’Hare that left at 4!  It all worked out so wonderfully.  We got into O’Hare, picked up our bags that had been there for days, and Steve’s dad picked us up.  We picked up Steve’s car and drove back to Purdue.

That’s it… we’re back.  But all is not over.  Jess failed an exam on Monday because she wasn’t there to take it.  We all missed a lot of classes. I had a huge Computer Science project due on Friday.  There were some late nights trying to get that done.

That’s my story.  The time in Maui was wonderful, but if I had known that we would spend more time in airports than in Maui I don’t think I would have gone.  Maui is an amazing place, and it’s a shame that our standby situation overshadows it.  It’s hard to remember our time in Maui right now because all we can think about is the airports.  I imagine that will go away and we will be left with memories of Maui… or at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Current Day Thoughts

I still think about this trip a lot. We were so naive going into it. It’s a nightmare travel story. But… we still had fun.

Thinking about doing this now, I marvel at how we did this with no cell phones. To keep our parents updated, we had to call from pay phones. WHAT DID WE DO ALL DAY? How did we just sit in a chair and stare at each other for 60 hours in the airport? I know we had a deck of cards and we talked to other college kids in similar predicaments, but wow, it’s so different from today when we’d just bury our heads in our phones and try to numb the day away.

I also look back on this trip now as a parent. Imagine seeing your kid (who has almost never been on an airplane) off on week-long trip with no cell phone and three college kids you’ve never met! I’m not saying my parents made a bad choice, but we’re so used to instantaneous 24/7 communication and GPS tracking these days that it feels like a foreign concept.

I feel like I have to restate my point from the beginning: yes, three guys went on a spring break trip with a member of the Purdue dance team and she wasn’t dating any of us. I imagine when Jess asked her parents about it, she probably said something like, “Don’t worry. It’s two computer science majors and an aerospace engineering major” to which they laughed and said, “Ok, have fun honey!”

Sitting in the terminal watching flight after flight leave with their fancy boarding passes was really tough. To this day, when I get my boarding ticket, I feel lucky/blessed/thankful to see that I have a “guaranteed seat” on a plane. (This Hawaii trip is also where I learned that even if you have a boarding pass you might still get bumped if they oversold the flight and too many people show up.)

Yes, this trip was miserable at times, but I wouldn’t say that I regret going. If nothing else, it makes for quite a story.

Limited Laptop Charging

Most battery chemistries don’t appreciate being charged to 100%. That’s why we only charge our Tesla to 80% on most nights. It’s a very expensive battery so we want to take care of it.

I was thinking about this recently when we got a new laptop. The laptops in our house spend a huge percentage of their life plugged in and that’s not great for long term battery health. It turns out that there are apps which will help you optimize for battery life if your laptop is plugged in most of the time. The settings aren’t in Windows though. I don’t know why Windows can’t handle it, but it seems like you need to find an app from your manufacturer. On Lenovo it’s called Lenovo Vantage and Dell calls theirs Dell Power Manager. Those cover our laptops but I’d guess that your brand has a similar app too. Both of those apps have a setting for either a specific charge limit (e.g. 80%) or just a “this laptop is usually plugged in” setting.

It’s hard to tell how it will play out over time, but if it squeezes some more long-term life out of the batteries without much downside, it seems like an easy choice to me.

18-Month Drone Timelapse

Ever since we moved here about 12 years ago, there has been a big open field behind our neighborhood. It provided a nice buffer as we looked out our back windows. As expected, the person who owned that eventually passed away and it was sold to a land developer. Over the course of about a year and a half, they tore out everything on the property, dug an enormous hole for a water retention box, and then put six house on top. The houses are selling for $1.8-2 million. Real estate around here is nuts.

I had gotten my drone earlier that year so I started capturing some photos and videos of the project. Then it occurred to me that if I could somehow fly the same pattern repeatedly, I could build a video drone timelapse! Thankfully there are plenty of apps like this already available and with very little effort, I had Dronelink up and running. I was a bit limited in the paths that I could run smoothly due to the speed of my old phone, but I got a basic one programmed in and started flying it every weekend. Over the course of the project, I added a couple more routes into the mix.

After 18 months of flying most weekends and then many hours of editing trying to align all the images and video, here’s the result:

Once you start a project like this, there really aren’t a lot of adjustments that can be made. You need to keep doing the same thing to get the timelapse and a lot of the learnings aren’t visible until you do all the editing at the end. If I had it to do over again, here are some things I’d do differently:

  1. Always fly in exactly the same lighting conditions. The cloudy days were the easiest to edit. Direct sunshine make it really difficult, but theoretically if ALL the shots were direct sunshine around the same time of day then it might be ok.
  2. Take the time to calibrate the gimbal and wait for extensive GPS lock before starting. Some of the shots were way out of the norm and it took a lot of time to try and twist the results into something that matched the shots around it.
  3. When editing, pick a clip in the middle and then work out toward both ends to align all the photos. Otherwise the error increases over the whole span of the video and by the end you have a huge area of black. I had to redo a couple sections because of this mistake and because I didn’t learn my lesson the first time.
  4. Pick paths that are far away from the action. Ideally they would have the full project in view for the whole flight. I wish I had just done a big circle around the project or something like that.
  5. As cool as the video idea is, I think the photo part of the timelapse worked the best. Doing a mix of the two is probably good because I still think the video could be done well, but it’s a higher degree of difficulty.

Hopefully I’ll never be in a situation where I’m think close to a major building project again so I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity. That being said, I’m glad it’s over because it did get a bit boring as time went on.

The Birth of AI

The OpenAI group is making a big splash with websites like Dall-E 2 and ChatGPT. The other night I asked Elijah for the basic plot of a movie and had Chat GPT write the script, write the lyrics for a theme song, and then tell me which voice actors would fit the roles. Then I had Dall-E 2 make a movie poster for it. For this blog post, I asked Dall-E 2 to draw “a van Gogh style painting of a cute penguin sitting in a datacenter typing on a computer” and you see the result on the right.

Experiences like this have led to a lot of conversations about how people feel about it and how we should manage these AIs. It seems like many of the podcasts I follow have spent episodes on this topic and I end up getting bored and frustrated. There are three main points I always wish they would realize:

  1. This isn’t new. Sure, these two specific examples (Dall-E 2 and ChatGPT) are very popular in the news right now. Lots of people are getting introduced to AI in a way they can readily understand, but AI has been around for a long time in many incarnations. AI isn’t one specific thing, but the term appears to have originated around 1956. The range of what people call “AI” is enormous. At some level, you can think of it as “math.” AI doesn’t only mean a sentient robot that’s going to exterminate human life. It’s math that makes things more efficient in your daily life. Here are some examples:
    1. A grocery store deciding how to place items in their aisles
    2. Lane keeping technology in cars
    3. Smart speakers
    4. Junk mail filtering
    5. Motion sensors differentiating between people and shadows
    6. Online advertising
    7. Bank fraud detection
    8. Video game opponents
    9. Social media feeds
    10. Filters on your camera phone
  2. It doesn’t matter whether you like AI or not. It doesn’t matter whether you think there should be rules for its use. That’s like saying there that you need to control the dangerous implications of addition. Anybody on the planet can click a few buttons and spin up “AI” to do any number of built-in tasks on a cloud service like Azure or AWS, and there are plenty of people that have the skills to code things for themselves on top of other platforms or from scratch. We can’t control it like we try to control nuclear weapons material and knowledge.
  3. The technology is progressing faster than you can imagine. I’ve written before about how hard it is for humans to grasp exponential growth, and this is another place where that comes into play. Think about your tech life today (phone, internet, etc) compared to 2000 when we thought flip phones were amazing and iMacs were the hot product from Apple. We’ve come an incredibly long way in 20 years. Not only is it hard/impossible to imagine what another leap of that size looks like, but it’s going to happen in ~10 years this time. And then the same leap will happen in 5 years, then 2 years, etc. So if you think ChatGPT is impressive today, don’t turn your back for too long before you try it again.

So yes, these new technologies are impressive, but for people who work with this stuff every day, the reaction is “Hey, good job. That’s impressive.” It’s not the “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! LOOK WHAT HAPPENED OUT OF THE BLUE!” story that you get from the media. It’s almost like you shouldn’t rely on things like TV/cable news for your news…

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.