On the Tesla Model 3, the first mass market EV

This week Tesla announced the Model 3, it’s affordable electric car. I’d like to share my thoughts as an EV owner.

Karen and I have owned a Chevy Volt for four years and a Tesla Model S for two and a half. Between the two we’ve driven over 60,000 electric miles. We’re still as enthusiastic as ever and will never buy another internal combustion automobile, we’re done with oil. In fact, we have an order placed for the Model 3.

At the time of writing, Tesla has over 276,000 deposits for the Model 3. This is more than twice what anyone expected. 115,000 of those orders were placed sight unseen before the car was revealed. Even though 276,000 is a fraction of a percent of all cars sold globally, this is encouraging. Consider that Tesla doesn’t advertise. They get all the word of mouth they need and they get free media attention. They’re newsworthy, controversial, and they’re disruptive.

How is Tesla disruptive? Name another car which gets better with age. Tesla has provided us about a dozen software updates which have added new features to the car. There is no need to go to the dealer for an update. Like an iPhone, the car updates itself over the air through its cellular data connection. These updates are free. Unlike other auto manufacturers Tesla doesn’t look at service as a source of revenue.

It’s not just about the car. Tesla understands the need for a rapid charging infrastructure. They’ve built out their SuperCharger network to cover 90% of the US. They have plans to double the number of SuperChargers by the time the Model 3 rolls out. Superchargers work, we’ve used them. They provide trouble free long distance travel.

The CEO of GM, Mary Barra, when asked if they had plans for a rapid charging network, replied, “We are not actively working on providing infrastructure.” As good as the Bolt and Volt are, GM just doesn’t get it, nor does any other legacy car manufacturer. They’re essentially building compliance cars and hedging their bets in case this electric car thing ever takes off.

Aside from Tesla and Chevy Bolt, all the other EV’s have around 100 miles range at best. They’re going to have to up their range to stay competitive. In a very real way Tesla is driving the industry forward. One of Elon Musk’s stated goals for Tesla is to force the rest of the industry into making EV’s. And that’s happening, albeit slower than some of us would like.

We’re all familiar with the negative effects of burning fossil fuels. Beyond the environmental damage and climate change there are the geopolitical costs of securing our supply of oil, the thousands of lives lost due to the unhealthy effects of air pollution, and the economic chaos tied to the price of oil.

The gravest threat our civilization will face is climate change. It’s already here and there will have to be immediate drastic changes to mitigate the worst effects. Scientists tell us we need to leave about 3/4 of known oil reserves in the ground. Electric cars powered by sustainable energy are one big way to help. The greening of the grid is happening now with solar, wind, and battery storage systems. We can get off oil if we want to, and you can help speed up the process.

Numerous political groups are lobbying the government at all levels to encourage green transportation and sustainable energy generation. Unfortunately, there are even more well funded organizations dedicated to the continued consumption of fossil fuels. Given the makeup of congress and many state legislatures, our side is not winning this battle any time soon.

As important as it is to keep up the political fight, time is of the essence. It’s time to put up or shut up. If you claim to be green, you’re running out of excuses. Now is the time to buy an Electric Vehicle and lead by example.

Order right away if you don’t want to wait three years or more for your Model 3. If you can’t wait, there are other choices. By the end of the year Chevy is coming out with the Bolt, a pure EV with a 200 mile range. The 2016 Chevy Volt has a 50 mile electric range before switching to gas. The Nissan Leaf recently upgraded it’s battery and has more range. There are EV’s from BMW and Mercedes now, and there’s a new Plug in Prius with a whopping 20 miles of electric range. Used Volts and Leafs are reliable and can be had for good prices. In some cases the payments may be less than you’re paying for gas right now. It’s like getting a car for free!

The huge number of orders for the Model 3 are evidence that there is growing interest in EV’s. I can see 500,000 orders before long. The Tesla Model 3 looks poised to become the first truly mass market EV.

Here’s to the new age of sustainable electric transportation!

On the Apple Watch

Since Junior High, I’ve been an astronomy,  watch, and time nerd. I’ve owned a varied selection of watches, from cheap Casio’s to high end quartz chronometers, the Yes Watch, and an old school Omega “Great White” GMT I’ve had for ten years.

Originally, I wasn’t that impressed with the Apple Watch. In this bog, I’ve expressed my doubts. I pointed out that it’s UI was not intuitive and it lacked a “killer app.”

While waiting for my son to pick up his new iPhone at the Apple Store I got to demo the Apple Watch. It changed my mind. I finally broke down and bought one.

What changed my mind

This time the Apple Watch UI seemed much more intuitive and less clunky. Perhaps it’s the new Watch OS 2, or I finally grokked how it works. Most iPhone apps now have companion apps on the Apple Watch.

The black stainless version I liked is now available with the black fluoroelastomer band for about half the price of the watch with the black stainless band.

Impressions

Now I’ve had it for a while I’m beginning to form an impression.

Fit and finish are second to none. The crystal is sapphire and I haven’t scratched it yet. The black stainless finish has also held up with no visible wear or scratches yet. The only thing showing wear is the Fluoroelastomer band, which is showing a bit of rubbing on the outer surface. I expect I’ll end up replacing it with a non-Apple stainless band.

I typically have around 60% of battery life left at the end of the day. Since I charge overnight, it’s not a problem. I can’t see running low over the course of even a busy day.

Tons of apps on my phone have Apple Watch apps. I can look at live radar, charging status of my Model S, and flight info on the United app. The primary watch face is very customizable and can show a ton of information at a glance. Besides the time and date, I usually have icons for moon phase, temperature, sunrise/sunset, and live stock quotes. There are many options between analog and digital watch faces. There’s even Micky Mouse!

Notifications come across from my phone to the Apple Watch. Email, text, Twitter, breaking news, and alarms. A quick glance at the watch lets me see if it’s an important notification or not without having to take my iPhone out. It’s much quicker and less disruptive in social settings.

Cool Features

If I’ve been sitting for more than an hour, the Apple Watch vibrates and reminds me it’s time to stand up and move around a bit. It tracks movement and exercise and helps me set goals. I’m not a fitness buff, but I can see it’s appeal.

Selecting Airplane mode on the Apple Watch also puts my iPhone into airplane mode. You have to turn airplane mode off separately on both devices as they’re not talking to each other.

I can “ping” my iPhone from the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch can tell the iPhone to emit a tone, which makes it easy to find if misplaced and within Bluetooth range.

Siri works very well on the Apple Watch. Holding down the crown brings her up and Siri works as well as on the iPhone.

You can answer calls on the Apple Watch. But the speaker isn’t very loud and I think I look silly talking to my watch.

Answering a text is quick and easy. There is quick access to canned replies. You have the option to speak your answer and have it translated into text, but here’s no way to type a response.

Not so Much

There are times when the constant reminders of Emails and events becomes a drag. Sometimes it’s good to be quiet and uninterrupted. Granted, you can turn off notifications or simply take the Apple Watch off.

A few things are missing, I’d like to see a GMT option–it’s not available for the Apple Watch.

The charging cable is 6 feet long. Too long for me, but I guess not everyone’s nightstand is next to a power outlet. It’s awkward to coil up and pack away for travel. They do sell a 3 foot version.

Like the iPhone, the Apple Watch screen shows fingerprints and smudges. I’m always buffing it off with whatever cloth is handy.

There are still times I feel like wearing my Omega GMT. It’s a classic and I admire its mechanical precision and quality. I know that I’ll still have the Omega ten years from now when this Apple Watch is long obsolete. The Apple Watch will never be an heirloom, the technology changes too fast. Eventually it  will end up in my junk drawer.

That leads to the crux of the matter of the Apple Watch.

Is it essential? 

While it’s nice to have, and genuinely useful, I feel the Apple Watch is still looking for it’s “killer app.” It does a lot of things well, but there’s no one thing that makes it absolutely essential for everyone.

If you’re in the market for a new watch, the Apple Watch is a good buy–if you have an iPhone and love all things Apple. It’s well made and durable. The Apple Watch is on the leading edge of tech. If you’re an early adopter you’ll love it.

If you’re a well heeled tech loving person, the Apple Watch is a fun toy and nice to have.

If you’re not so well heeled and already have a nice watch, skip the Apple Watch and enjoy your classic heirloom.

 

 

 

A Brave New MacBook World

After a while longer with the New MacBook, I’ve got a few more thoughts.

In my previous post The New MacBook, First Impressions I never mentioned the single USB C port. A lot of reviewers have lamented the New MacBook’s lack of ports. The lone USB C port does double duty providing both recharging power and connectivity. USB C is the future of USB, it provides power, USB connectivity and video out. The problem for “power users” is that you can only do one thing at a time. You have to choose between charging or using the port to connect to a USB hard drive.

So, is the lack of wired connectivity a deal breaker?

There are workarounds involving adapters and USB hubs and over time, there will be more cables and accessories. USB C is the new standard for all manufacturers. I have an adapter for conventional USB, but to date I’ve only connected the power cord.

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Apple designed the New MacBook to connect to the world wirelessly. This was also the reasoning behind the original MacBook Air. The first version of the Air only had a single USB port. It must have been a little ahead of it’s time, as newer versions shipped with more than one port.

So how has this brave new wireless world worked for me so far?

I set up the computer as a new Mac and wirelessly synched it up with iCloud. My Calendar, Contacts, Safari Bookmarks, Photos, and iTunes Music came over without a hitch. My apps downloaded wirelessly from the Mac App Store and the internet. All my DropBox files came over from the cloud and copied themselves to my MacBook’s drive. I was using a Thunderbolt/USB drive as a Time Machine backup for my MacBook Pro, I’ll probably hook it up when I want to turn on time Machine or need to find an old photo that isn’t in my online library. I’m not in a rush. My wireless world is looking pretty good, so far.

The New MacBook, First Impressions.

After a five week wait, my New MacBook has finally arrived!

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After seeing it at my Apple Watch try-on, I was more impressed by the New MacBook than the Apple Watch. See my post about the Apple Watch here.

Being a person who travels for a living, portability is important to me. I’ve been hauling around my 15 inch MacBook Pro for three years, and it’s getting heavier over time. In the past I’ve used the MacBook Air as my primary computer, and in many ways it’s been my all time favorite. I went with the 15 inch MacBook Pro mostly for it’s Retina Display. The MacBook Air still doesn’t have one.

Enter the New MacBook with it’s Retina Display. The New MacBook is barely larger than an iPad and weighs just 2 pounds. Could it fit my needs?

Online reviews of the New MacBook have been all over the map. Everybody loves the size, trackpad, and screen. The keyboard and single USB C port are getting more negative marks. The performance of the new Intel Core M chip is optimized for low power rather than processing speed. Performance lags when using high demand apps compared to faster more power hungry processors.

The question becomes, then, just what kind of computer user am I? Am I a true “Power User” who needs the absolute highest performance, do I really need all this performance potential? Let’s see. I don’t edit HD videos. I haven’t opened Photoshop in six months, or Light Room for that matter. These days I take most of my photos on my iPhone 6+. I use my laptop mostly for web browsing, Email, and listening to music. And I do write the occasional Blog post.

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First Impressions

Wow! This thing is small and light. With it’s case closed it could be mistaken for an iPad. It’s only 1/2 inch thick and weighs a fraction over two pounds, 2.03 lbs to be exact. Somehow, they’ve engineered it so that the bottom stays down when opening the case using the cutout below the trackpad. Yet the display stays put when adjusted. Apple must engineer the drag on the hinges  to an insane tolerance. That, and the general fit and finish give the impression of quality and attention to detail. In my opinion, this computer sets a new high mark for Apple’s industrial design and execution.

The Retina Display is gorgeous with bright saturated colors. Contrast seems better than my old Retina MacBook Pro with blacker blacks and brighter highlights. Being an Apple Retina Display, the native resolution of 2304 x 1440 is down sampled to a variety of settings. I’m using the “more space” setting which “looks like 1440 x 900.” This is the highest resolution available and text, while small, is readable. Native resolution is not available, and would probably be too small on the 12 inch screen. Regardless of choice, images open in the native resolution on a Retina Display when viewing or editing.

The keyboard has gotten a lot of attention in online reviews. Not everyone likes it. The travel of the keys is reduced by about half compared to previous Apple keyboards. It’s noticeable, but not a big deal, to me, and I can type just as fast as on my old MacBook Pro. In a day or two I can’t imagine it making any difference. Each key has it’s own separate LED backlight so there’s a lot less spill of light between the keys.

The new Haptic Trackpad feels exactly like the older Mac trackpads with a noticeable click when pressed. The trackpad doesn’t move at all, the “click” is synthetic. It’s provided by a “Haptic” transducer. A harder press gives a “Force Click” which gives additional trackpad gestures. Force Click a word in a document and the dictionary pops up defining the word. In Safari a Force Click opens a preview of a link. The Haptic Trackpad is starting to pop up on other Mac models now and will soon become the standard.

So far, the battery life seems very good. It goes down less than ten percent per hour browsing the web and writing this post. Inside the case it’s mostly battery, the circuit board is tiny. The Intel Core M processor is designed to maximize battery life.

Having had my MacBook for less than a day, these are just my initial impressions. Time will tell and I’ll update my review after a few road trips.

 

There is Life at 120 Volts

We’ve been in a rental for five months now while our new home is being remodeled. During that time both our Tesla Model S and Volt have been sharing a single 120 volt 15 amp circuit. We knew going in that it would be a challenge. But we’ve made it work and it has not been as much trouble as we anticipated.

Our two EV's sharing a single 120v circuit.

Our two EV’s sharing a single 120v circuit.

Our rental house has several 120 volt outlets on the outside. However, they’re all on a single circuit. We found out that we can’t charge both cars at the same time, the breaker trips. We have to charge one car at a time.

At 120 volts the Model S charges at a slow rate of 3 to 4 miles per hour, the Volt charges at about 5. That may seem glacial, but in 24 hours that’s over 80 miles of potential range. Our combined daily driving averages less than half of this. We usually have one car on the plug while we’re driving the other. Overnight we top up the car we’ve been driving that day. By morning both cars are usually fully charged.

Charging at the Science Center

Charging at the Science Center

We also take advantage of opportunity charging whenever possible. The Science Center of Pinellas County is about a half mile away and has a free level 2 charger. We use it about once a week to top up after a longer trip. It’s close enough that I can drop the car off and walk back to the rental. The nearby Publix and Applebee’s also have free level 2 chargers.

More of a concern to me is the fact that the rental does not have an enclosed garage. Both cars sit outside exposed to the elements. As a result we’ve got a nice collection of pine sap droppings on both cars. I probably have one of the dirtiest Tesla’s in existence. A visit to Pete in Sarasota will be in order after we move in!

The takeaway from this is that you really don’t need a level two charger at home. It’s great to have, but it’s not absolutely essential. Even with two EV’s we are getting along fine with a single 120 volt 15 amp circuit.

On the Apple Watch

Today Karen and I tried on the Apple Watch at the Apple store in Tampa. I made an appointment and we were called right on time. It was very crowded in the store with people lining up to try out the Apple Watch and see the new MacBooks.

Fit and finish on the Apple Watch was very good. We tried the stainless, leather, Milanese Loop, and sport bands. All fit well and were comfortable. The sport band, surprisingly, did not feel cheap. There is enough of a selection to make just about anyone happy.

The try on is very scripted and was more about choosing a watchband than an intro into the user interface.

After the try-on we were directed to another spot with working demo models to get some hands on. These demo watches were locked down in a stand and could not be worn.

I wish I could say that the user interface felt Apple like, but it didn’t. It felt like going back in time—way back to a time before the iPhone.

The main limitation to touch interaction is the small size of the display. To overcome this Apple added a scrolling “crown” and a pushbutton on the side. I’m sure that after a while their operation would become intuitive. But, to me, the button and scroll wheel seemed to get in the way of making things happen. It felt to me like one button (or scroll wheel) too many. They’re openings in the case which are hard to waterproof. And they’re potential points of mechanical failure.

I get that this as much about fashion as it is tech. I get that the scroll wheel is an homage to the crown on a conventional watch. What would Steve Jobs say about that? What would he say about the microscopic app icons vomited up on screen without any sense of order? Couldn’t you have made it cleaner?

Maybe it’s time for Apple to do a watch, everyone else is.

The Apple Watch comes with the following apps: Messages, Phone, Mail, Calendar, Activity, Workout, Maps, Passbook, Siri, Music, Camera Remote, Remote, Weather, Stocks, Photos, Alarm, Stopwatch, Timer, World Clock, and Settings. There are probably a thousand apps ready and waiting in the App Store. Oh, and it tells the time.

Apple, historically has been about what it’s products didn’t do. They purposely left out features and reduced the thing to the absolute core. They did one thing, and they did that one thing very very well. The Apple Watch doesn’t feel like that. It feels like it’s trying to do too many things at once, it feels unfocused—like it’s still looking for that “killer app.”

I won’t be buying the Apple Watch.

On the plus side, I got to get my hands on the new MacBook. The thing is thin, light, and has a gorgeous retina display. It’s the future of the laptop. I’m very impressed, and I will be buying one in Space Grey.

Lytro Illum

The Lytro Illum

The Illum is Lytro’s second generation Light Field camera. Their first generation camera was about the size of a stick of butter. It had a tiny one inch LCD touchscreen on one end and the lens on the other. The first generation Lytro camera was fun and proved the concept. But images were low res and ergonomics were not it’s strong point.

The new Illum is larger, about the size of an entry level DSLR. Most of the bulk is in the large lens barrel. The lens is a 30 to 250 mm equivalent zoom at a constant f2 aperture. That’s an amazing spec, there aren’t many f2 zooms on the market by any manufacturer for any price.

The overall design of the Lytro Illum is impressive. The most striking design element is the pronounced forward slant of the back. The camera has a modern minimalist style.

The body of the Illum is Aluminum and Magnesium, it feels dense and well put together. The focus and zoom rings on the lens are grippy rubber. The focus and zoom are fly by wire, not mechanical. Their action can be reversed in the settings.

There is no viewfinder. The large four inch touchscreen swings out from the body to the vertical and up to the horizontal. The screen is bright, but can be hard to see in bright daylight.

The lens barrel is big and fat. There’s a comfortable grip on the right side of the body.

Unlike the first generation camera, the Illum has a removable battery. Battery life seems pretty good, I haven’t pushed it hard though. The battery is unique to Lytro and spares go for $59.

The Lytro Illum is not cheap, it retails for $1500. And that’s the rub. The Lytro Illum is a specialized camera.

The Lytro Illum is not a DSLR or general purpose digital camera. It’s images are designed to be viewed online–they’re not for printing. Images from the Lytro Illum are limited to only 5 MegaPixels when converted to jpeg.

So what does the Lytro Illum do that justifies it’s high price?

First you need to understand the concept of the Light Field.

Light Field cameras capture more data than a conventional digital camera. Conventional cameras only capture brightness and color information for each pixel. Light Field cameras also capture the direction of the incoming light rays and are able to capture depth information, or how far away each pixel is from the lens. Light field cameras also capture multiple planes of focus. The image can be refocused in software after the image is captured.

Lytro Illum images come alive online or in the Lytro Desktop software. When viewing an image online you can select focus points and even give the image a slight 3D wiggle. Images can be converted to movies for an impressive 3 dimensional Ken Burns effect.

For best results using the Illum, images need to have a lot of depth. You should have something in the foreground to contrast against the background. Ideally, images should have multiple planes of interest. Landscapes with everything at infinity are not good.

The camera can focus as close as the surface of the lens. This means the Lytro Illum excels at macrophotography.

When shooting with the Lytro Illum you can call up a Depth Histogram. Using the focus and zoom rings you try to spread the Depth Histogram across the camera’s range of focus. This maximizes the refocus ability and 3 dimensionality.

Lytro has an excellent series of videos explaining how to best use the camera here.

Is the Lytro Illum a one trick pony?

I don’t think so.

Images from the camera are much better than the first generation. The new software makes it easy to create high quality immersive and captivating images.

I think the Lytro Illum is ahead of its time. It points to the future of photography.

A future where software trumps hardware.

A future where we share images online instead of printing them on paper. (most people do this already)

A future where still images come alive with shifting focus and 3 dimensionality.

More of my Lytro images can be found here.