– Ben Martens

Comparing Road Trip Experiences

For this Tesla Tuesday, I’m going to talk about taking a road trip that wasn’t in a Tesla!

Back in June we took a ~2500-mile road trip to Moab, UT in our Model Y and I did a full writeup about the experience. Recently, due to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up driving to northeast Montana, and given the complete lack of charging infrastructure in that area, we took our F150 on the ~2000-mile trip. We spent two days getting out there and two days coming back. This was a rare opportunity to take two multi-day road trips in very different vehicles. So how did the F150 fare after our experience with the Model Y?

If you’re not familiar with northeast Montana, you should know that it’s extremely difficult to get to. An Oxford University study listed Glasgow, MT (our destination) as the hardest city in the United States and they have proudly adopted the “official middle of nowhere” slogan. Glasgow has a population of 3300 people making it the 23rd largest municipality in Montana. The closest city with at least that population is Lewiston, MT 200 miles away. The interstate doesn’t go anywhere near Glasgow. About half of the trip is on two lane highways. The train is a viable way to get from Seattle to Glasgow, but given the rules about Amtrak having to cede right of way to freight trains, your 20-30 hour scheduled train ride might be doubled. When an electric vehicle did venture into Montana away from the interstate, it ended up on the front page of the local paper. Thankfully we still have one foot in the world of internal combustion engines and the truck makes a great road trip vehicle.

Pros of driving the truck on a long road trip:

  • Gas stations are everywhere. While there are long stretches of road with no gas on this route, it was easy to find one whenever we needed it.
  • We could drive over 400 miles without refueling. This meant we had the option for more bathroom-only stops at rest areas. While the Model Y has a theoretical range of ~330 miles, I rarely planned anything more than 200 between charges given the relative lack of charging infrastructure.
  • There was tons of room to carry our all our gear. We even threw a full size cooler in the back to keep snacks and lunches cool. We ate breakfast and lunch in the car on all our travel days which sped up the trip and saved us money.
  • There is more room in the cab for us to have things like pillows and snacks.
  • When we drove the Tesla to Moab, I would plan on getting to the midway stopping point hotel with a low battery and then while Tyla and Elijah swam in the pool, I’d go out to charge again. One night with the truck I did go out to fill up the tank but that was much faster than putting a big charge on the battery.
  • It’s nice stopping at travel plazas where we can wash the windows, use the bathroom, and get some snacks all in the same spot.
  • It was nice to blend in when we were in northeast Montana. A Tesla would have stuck out like I was Elton John in a sequin jacket.

Cons of driving the truck on a long road trip:

  • Gas is expensive! Montana has significantly cheaper gas than Washington, but we still spent over $400 on gas alone. We averaged 19.8mpg on the way out and 19.1mpg on the way back due to a major headwind for the first ~5 hours of our trip. If we could have used chargers on the way, we would have only paid around $150 in charging fees.
  • You’ll never believe this, but I had to manually steer the truck! What nonsense is this? Joking aside, I did miss the autopilot features of the Tesla.
  • The Model Y is AWD and the truck is RWD. It does have four wheel drive but I don’t think it would be a good idea to leave that on for hours on the highway at high speeds. The AWD system gives me a lot more confidence especially on windy, wet roads.
  • While the truck does have Android Auto, it means that I have to leave my phone plugged in to the car all the time. Sometimes when everyone else is sleeping or listening to their own thing, I like to pop in one headphone and listen to a podcast. I can’t do that without disconnecting Android Auto which means we don’t get traffic alerts and nobody else can listen to music. In the Tesla, the default maps are great and we have Spotify built into the car.
  • The truck doesn’t have automatic climate control so I kept having to futz with the temperature controls.

But how about our travel speed? Did we get there faster since we didn’t have to stop to charge? I kept a detailed log on the way out so I could analyze things. Our average overall trip speed with the Tesla was almost identical to the truck with the truck being a few mph faster on our return trip. We made a total of 5 stops (plus our overnight stop) that averaged about 9 minutes each. The distance between the stops is about the same as if we had needed to charge, but we saved time by not having to charge. Most charging stops are 10-20 minutes so some of the stops were ~10 minutes faster than they would have been in an electric car. Your results may vary depending on how much of an iron bladder your occupants have.

So which vehicle will we take on the next trip? The Tesla. It’s not much of a contest. Nothing on the “pro” list for the truck is worth the extra price of gas, and the Tesla has those other items in its favor too. The only sticking point is, like the Montana trip, if charging will be hard. Situations like that are already rare, and they will be decreasing more over the next 5-10 years as the US standardizes on the Tesla charging connector and more charging stations get built both for fast charging and for overnight charging.

I live in a bubble of the highest per-capita EV ownership in the country. This trip was a good reminder of the huge amount of land that the EV infrastructure needs to cover and the diversity of people that it needs to win over. All of that will take time, so for now I’m sticking by my general statement that an EV can save a lot of people money today, but I’d be hesitant to recommend one to a single car family in most cases.

Are EV Batteries Bad For The Environment?

EV batteries are made up of many lithium-ion cells. Lithium is light and it can store a lot of energy which is a great combination for an electric car. However, extracting lithium from the ground requires a lot of water, energy, and chemicals and a lot of the world’s lithium is found in places that are already very dry. There are additional chemicals like cobalt, nickel, manganese, and aluminum which have their own problems including human rights issues.

So these batteries are full of nasty materials. Aren’t we just trading one fossil fuel (oil) for these other limited resources? The difference is that when you burn gas, it’s gone. When you use up an EV battery, there’s still a future for it.

First, EV batteries might not be suitable for the high demands of an electric car anymore, but they might be plenty for a lower drain application such as providing backup power for your house.

Second, EV batteries are incredibly recyclable. Estimates vary but around 95% of the material in an EV battery (and in any lithium battery from your cell phone, power tools, etc.) can be reclaimed through recycling. Recycling also releases fewer greenhouse gases than mining new minerals.

The current challenge is that recycling is expensive, but today the raw materials are abundant, and mining can roughly keep up with the demand, but the economics will change in the future as materials are harder to find, the demand for new batteries increases, and more EV batteries are nearing the ends of their lives. Additionally, some of the recent economic incentives for US battery production can be applied to EV battery recycling as well.

So yes, EV batteries are bad for the environment, but we should be able to keep reusing the materials that are being mined. And just because this process is messy doesn’t mean it’s worse than what is happening with gasoline today. The process of extracting oil, refining it, and burning gas is plenty nasty but comparing the two is beyond the scope of this post.

If you want to see this in action, check out this short YouTube video walkthrough of a battery recycling plant in Arizona, or check out the links below it for more reading materials:

Message Privacy

These days, companies are using any data they can get their hands on to build profiles of us, market to us, and sell information they’ve derived about us. It’s mostly unavoidable, but it’s nice to exert some control when possible, which is one of the reasons why I use Signal for messaging. This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but I thought I’d share in case you didn’t know about this but would find it helpful.

Text messages are unencrypted. Anybody in between you and the recipient can read them. I’m not saying telephone companies are mining data out of text messages, but I assume they are regardless of what their privacy policies claim. At the very least they have the ability to do it. Text messages are where I’m the quickest to say something that could easily be taken out of context and even if nobody is reading them now, I’d rather not have them sit around for years.

The three main reasons that I now use the Signal messaging app are:

  • The app encrypts your data end to end. Even the Signal employees can’t read your messages.
  • Each message thread can be configured to delete messages after a certain amount of time. I usually set mine to 4 weeks
  • Pictures and videos are sent at much higher quality. No more being annoyed at low quality images when sharing between iPhone and Android users!

Apps are available for most platforms. I use it on my phone, but I also run the Windows app on my desktop. There’s no cost to use it. The group that runs it is a non-profit that exists on funding from investors and donations from users.

The only downside to using it is that the people you chat with need to be on it for it to be useful. Thankfully, that’s the case for most of the people I chat with, but some chats still happen in an SMS app. It’s not that big of a deal to just tap the notification for whichever app received the message and open it up.

So chat however you want, but if you get a little itchy when you think about how companies are potentially using your data, this is a really easy way to decrease your attack surface.

Indiana Vacation

This summer we made another trip back to my parents’ house in Indiana. We spent a lot of time in the pool, playing disc golf, and eating delicious food. We also visited Indiana Dunes National Park and saw my grandpa. I put together a quick video recap of the trip and while it’s not going to win any awards, it’s a fun way to look back on the trip.

Tesla Range

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

We recently put 2500 miles on our Tesla Model Y and the road trip was a great experience. However, there was one stretch where I had some range anxiety for the first time. We left Twin Falls, ID with 82% charge which should have been enough to get us into Meridian, ID with 25% remaining. However, as we set out, our range was decreasing rapidly, and I was predicting that we’d get there with around 10-15% remaining. That’s still plenty of buffer, but it was disconcerting. I say this not to scare anyone off of EV’s but to make sure I’m not all roses and butterflies when I talk about driving one. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what happened, but I suspect a combination of the following based on the minute-by-minute data that was logged from the car.

  • It was HOT. Temperatures were between 99 and 104 on that stretch of the trip. HVAC can consume quite a bit of battery when it’s that hot.
  • The speed limit was 80mph and I had the cruise set at 85mph. More on speed’s impact on efficiency later.
  • We were driving into a headwind.
  • Traffic was heavy-ish so there was a lot of slowing down and speeding up.

I expect the car’s estimation to take all these things into account, but something was definitely off. About 5 miles out from the supercharger in Boise, we spotted a Tesla with lights flashing going about 60mph trying to conserve energy and I assume they hit the same issue but didn’t notice it soon enough. My guess is that our trips were flagged by the engineers at Tesla and hopefully our experience will help improve their estimation models.

For my part, I decided early on to back off my speed and set the cruise at 78mph. This felt about as slow as I could go without being an annoying rock in the stream. That quickly helped to stabilize the estimate. Click on the link below to see all the charts from this stretch of the trip.

We made it with no trouble, but it was the first time that I had thought about what would happen if we didn’t make it. Some stretches of these roads also had signs about “no gas for X miles” but it’s easier to bring a gas can to your car than it is to bring your car to a charger.

I do think it’s interesting how much easier it is to calculate the exact impact of driving at different speeds and heats. When we cruise at 85mph, we were using 360-380 watts per mile but when we cruise at 65 it’s more like 250-270 watts per mile. That’s a ~40% increase in energy usage for an extra 20mph. This same thing happens in a gas-powered car too, but with a bigger tank and less data, you don’t always notice it as easily.

While TeslaMate does show me average efficiency by temperature, it doesn’t have a dashboard for efficiency by speed. It’s tricky to calculate because of all the various factors at play (temperature, elevation, traffic impact, driving style, etc), but if we take a naive approach and look at average efficiency in kWh based on average speed in mph for an entire trip segment, it looks like the chart below. Take this with a grain of salt because as I mentioned, this is a very rough estimate. I would expect an exponentially increasing line. Below about 35mph, there’s not a lot of data since I only used trips of at least 20 miles and I don’t often drive that far that slowly.

With a gas car, your efficiency peaks around 45mph and at slow speeds, you waste a lot of extra energy, but with an electric car, you can go almost as slow as you want and keep using less energy. However, at high speeds, they act similarly: drag increases with the square of speed. Driving a car with a very low coefficient of drag does help, you’re still bound by the laws of physics.

CNC Cherry Bowl

In 2016, we decided to take down two scraggly cherry trees along our driveway. Check out 3-year-old Elijah looking on as Logan and I took the trees down.

There was hardly much wood in them, but I saved some of the bigger pieces anyway. After drying out, one piece of the wood got turned into a cross that hangs in our front entryway. But I had another half dozen or so pieces sitting around with no plan. I had been thinking about trying to make a bowl on the CNC anyway, so I decided to use this wood for that project.

I spent a lot of time with a segmented bowl calculator trying to figure out the specific angles I’d need to cut 8 trapezoids for each layer. Eventually I felt good about the calculations and since that program spits out SVG files, I decided to just cut them on the CNC and know that the angles would be perfect instead of trying to do it on the table saw. The table saw would have been a lot faster, but one bonus of the CNC was that I could do a facing operations on each board to get them to exactly the same thickness. Using the planer for that would have been difficult since the pieces were too short for the planer.

I glued each layer individually and clamped it with hose clamps. Once each layer was done, I glued them all together. Then it was time to model the actual bowl in Fusion 360. The trick was that I had to make sure that the bowl perfectly fit inside the blank. Here again, the SVG files from the calculator came in handy because I could pull them into Fusion and draw the blank pretty much exactly as it existed in the real world. I also had to be careful not to make the bowl too steep since my router body would crash into it while carving out the bottom of the bowl.

Then it was time to program the actual cut in Fusion. I started with the bowl upside down. I programmed a dummy cut around my stock which would give me confidence that I had things calculated correctly. Then I did a roughing pass with a 1/4″ end mill to get rid of the bulk of the material. The picture below shows that roughing pass about halfway complete. The whole pass took 1.5-2 hours.

I then switched to a 1/4″ ball nose bit and took very small passes back and forth across the bowl to give a pretty smooth finish. It still needed sanding, but it was very close to the final surface.

Next I flipped the bowl over and did the same process on the inside of the bowl.

While doing the inside of the bowl, I had an accident where the bit plunged way down into the blank where it shouldn’t have. The origin of my model had been set incorrectly. Chatting about it with Luke, he suggested that I fill the hole with a dowel, and I happened to have a cherry dowel that was exactly the right size. Thankfully that whole mistake ended up getting cut away, so it didn’t impact the final product.

It was also a challenge to hold the bowl to the surface of the table. Since I was machining the whole surface, there was nothing to clamp to. So instead, I put blue painters tape on the bottom of the blank and on the table. Then I glued them together with super glue. It created a strong bond that I was able to break later without damaging the bowl or the CNC table.

I added some boiled linseed oil as the finish and now it’s done! I don’t have any big plans for the bowl, but I’m happy to have made it successfully through this project. I didn’t really have enough wood to make another one if I screwed up and I was too lazy to make a duplicate blank out of cheaper boards.

If I ever do this again, there will be a few changes:

  • I didn’t rotate the second layer correctly. The cracks line up with the base/first layer. It doesn’t look too bad from the inside of the bowl, but it looks goofier from the outside.
  • I should have taken more time sanding the layers flat before gluing them together into the blank. I thought I had them flat enough, but there are some segments that have a tiny gap to the segment above them.
  • I need to experiment more with the program and how fast I run the bit. This whole bowl was something like 6 or 7 hours of machine time plus all the setup time around it.

Surviving Election Season

I’m less and less enamored with politics as time goes on, but it seems unavoidable as we head into presidential election season. Since I know this is a common frustrating for people, I thought I’d share some of the things I do to try and stay sane:

  • Beware of people who use name calling. They’re trying to get you on their “team” and create division. Even if you happen to agree that the other person deserves it, it’s not healthy.
  • Beware of people who try to play to your emotions to get you to agree with them. Reading a news story or watching a talk show shouldn’t be like getting riled up about sports.
  • Beware of people who speak in absolutes or hyperboles. AI isn’t going to kill us all. Their opponent getting elected won’t be the end of the world.
  • Remember that even the choice of news sources can be full of bias. Not reporting on a story can be just as bad as taking a slanted view of the topic.
  • Think about how concerned you are about telling people what you think about a politician. Imagine if you felt that strongly about sharing Jesus with them. What if for every conversation you had where you shared your political opinions, you also had one where you talked about Jesus? Which conversation is more relevant and important?
  • In a world where you want to tell everyone about Jesus, why would you alienate more than half of everyone you meet by telling them about your political opinions or even hinting at them?

Estimating Road Trips

Welcome to anotherĀ Tesla Tuesday!

My big post about our long road trip covered a lot of data, but later, I wondered about our average speed including all the stops. When I planned long trips with the family, I would shoot for 60mph including stops. On my motorcycle, I planned 50mph because I would stop a lot more often. Even with some silly stops where we knew we were being very inefficient just to take things slower, our 2000+ mile road trip averaged out to 58.1mph. So for our family, driving an EV gets us there just as fast as driving a gas car. Your mileage may vary depending on the size and strength of your bladders!

EV Charging Network

Welcome to another Tesla Tuesday!

Over the last few weeks, a flood of car makers and charging networks have stated that they will adopt the NACS charging connector, otherwise known as the Tesla connector. Previously there were two main standards for fast charging: NACS and CCS. There were also a flood of slower chargers.

Having all the automakers in North America adopt the NACS connector means that Tesla will proceed with opening their supercharging network to all electric vehicles as they’ve done in other parts of the globe. That’s great for non-Tesla owners as the Tesla supercharger network is in a different league compared to other networks. It’s extremely rare to pull up to any Tesla charger and find it working. Conversely, it’s rare to pull up to something like Electrify America and find all the chargers working. We just completed a 2500-mile road trip in our Model Y, and while I was confident in the Tesla network, I don’t know that I would have even attempted it with a non-Tesla purely because of the lack of reliability in non-Tesla charging networks.

Having all the networks use the same plug is great, but it doesn’t mean that the other networks are going to be any more reliable. That needs to be a major focus for them in the coming years. The infrastructure needs to be rock solid for people to trust it. They need to not only adopt the charging standard, but the reliability standard that Tesla has set.

As a Tesla owner, I want to see the industry grow and build standards, but it’s a bit of a bummer to have “muggles” at my supercharger. Part of the reason I paid a premium for a Tesla is specifically because of the fantastic charging network. Now it’s more likely that I’ll pull up to a station with no empty chargers. That should be a temporary problem, and with a single standard, we should start to see more people getting creative with their charging stations. I look forward to the day when I can pull into a standard travel plaza on my road trip and charge my car while I use the restroom, get some food, and clean my windshield.

JBLM Airshow and Warrior Expo

As a child, I remember going to some big airshows, and I still have a poster on the wall in this room of the Thunderbirds. Dad stood in line with me to get it signed by all six pilots. So when I heard that Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) was bringing back its airshow after a seven year break, I really wanted to go.

We booked a hotel the night before even though it’s only 60 miles away with the thought of making our morning a little less hectic. Plus, Tyla and Elijah love hotel pools and hotel breakfasts. Elijah thinks Best Western is the most amazing hotel chain ever, and I’m not in any hurry to dissuade him! We did have a relaxing evening on Friday and then Saturday morning, we drove about 5 minutes across the interstate and onto the base. We were directed to park in a field and hopped on a shuttle quickly after that.

The airshow area was huge and there were so many static displays that we couldn’t see them all in the ~2.5 hours before the show started.

The show started off with a “joint force demonstration” since it’s a joint army and air force base. The list of planes that flew included B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25, C-17, Focke-Wulf 190, P-51 Hope, Tora Tora Tora Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”, Undaunted Air Act (Vans RV-7 and RV-8’s), and Yellow Thunder (twin AT-6 Texans). The army also had Apache, Blackhawk, and Chinook helicopters along with a Striker vehicle. I’m sure I’m missing some more!

It was the first time I remember seeing the Tora Tora Tora act. They reenacted the attack on Pearl Harbor with eight planes. Even with only a few planes, it felt like chaos because they had lots of big pyrotechnic explosions happening on the ground while the announcer talked about the attack. It’s impossible to imagine what it would have felt like with 20 times that many planes attack constantly for TWO HOURS.

Of course, the highlight of the whole show was the Thunderbirds! All the acts were fun to watch but the Thunderbirds are the pinnacle of air acts. It was beautiful to watch them with Mt. Rainier standing proudly in the background, and I was so happy to share the experience with Tyla and Elijah!

I was also really happy that we remembered to bring ear protection. It’s LOUD and sitting out there all day in the hot sun is a recipe for a headache even without the loud planes.

While I don’t know if I would have enjoyed lugging my dSLR around all day, I do wish I had it for taking pictures of the airshow. We had a beautiful view with Rainier in the background and while there are plenty of photos online, it’s always fun to snap “the shot” yourself.

We had gone extra fancy for this event and paid for reserved seating. It was really nice to have “saved seats” and not have to fight for position. We also had easy access to bathrooms and food. I’d make that same choice again.

I’ve been wanting to go to an airshow for years and I’m so thankful that it finally happened!

Ok so that’s the happy side of the day. Let’s talk about the downsides.

  • It was HOT. Temps were up around 90 and since you’re on an airfield, there’s no shade. We brought water bottles and refilled them multiple times at bottle filling stations that they had cleverly hooked up to fire hydrants.
  • Traffic was bonkers. The news said that the airshow hit capacity around 1:30pm (about halfway through the air acts). Thankfully we missed it going in but it bit us leaving.
  • We had to take a shuttle back since our car was ~8 miles away. I made the tough decision to leave the show about 2/3 of the way through the Thunderbirds act because I knew the shuttles were going to be a mess. While I hated leaving early, we were able to still see most of the maneuvers as we walked back. We arrived to CHAOS. It was unclear where the busses were going to stop and which line was for which shuttle. The lines were already enormous, but thankfully the line for our shuttle was shorter. This was part of my plan by picking the shuttle on the south end because I knew the north end would be swamped with all the people from Seattle. We waited baking in the hot sun in a line of angry people for an hour. That got us on the THIRD BUS. Yes, the busses were incredibly slow because they were getting caught up in all the traffic leaving the show. I’d estimate that we were about 5-10% of the way from the front of the line and it took us an hour to leave. People must have been there for hours. Thankfully, there were quite a few military personnel there to help sort out line cutters and other squabbles.
  • They did have limited parking on base so I suppose we could have tried that, but then you’re resigning yourself to sitting in traffic for hours trying to squeeze out of the one lane gate off the base.

I honestly don’t know what I’d do if I could do this again. I think the winning move was probably parking at the closest shuttle stop (SR-512 Park and Ride) and then just walking the ~3 miles back to that shuttle stop after the show. But then again, the line for that shuttle stop was enormous in the morning because the city buses went to the wrong location to start the day!

Both our bodies and nerves were fried by the end of the day, but I was so proud of Elijah for sticking with it all day! If anyone in our family had given into a bad attitude, it would have been miserable for all of us, but we all left thankful that we saw what we saw, but also very thankful to be sitting in air conditioning and driving home. I’m not eager to go again, but I’m glad we went!