Smug, Rich Bastard for a Weekend (Tesla X review)

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I decided to spend a weekend saving the planet by stealing a Tesla X and driving it around the Boston suburbs. I am absolutely certain that generations from now, people will look back on this weekend, and our family’s trip to a Panipuri party in Newton, as the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

Here are some impressions of the healing process.

The tires may be the first thing that you notice when up close to the “Tess-U-Vee”. They’re about the right size for a  mid-sized front-end loader.

The windshield is crazy huge, extending up to become a sunroof. Unfortunately this leads to the need for a pop-in sunshade that, if you’re a 6′ tall driver, results in a line across the natural view forward. The expansive windshield also leads to a thick A pillar that blocks the driver’s view of cars coming toward an intersection from the right. This is the worst forward blind spot that I have ever experienced in a vehicle. Driving south into the afternoon sun on a clear day most of the windshield is slightly obscured by a reflection of the grid in a fabric on top of the dashboard.

Highway driving is not especially quiet. Car and Driver says that they measured just 65 dBA, but the road and tire noise seem louder. It is not as quiet as a luxury car; closer to a Honda Odyssey. Ride quality on the roads of Massachusetts (whose condition would lead a German or Dutch road maintenance crew to commit suicide out of shame) was good, but not cushy/luxurious. Perhaps, as with monster gas-powered SUVs, the huge tires and offroad capability have impaired the vehicle’s bump-absorbing ability. A good reminder that we are still in the Model T suspension era rather than the era of active suspension (see also Levant Power).

The falcon-wing doors were entertaining for the kids, but domestic senior management hit her head on them a few times. Perhaps one day Tesla will invent a middle door that slides back toward the rear of the vehicle, thus providing completely unobstructed access to the middle seats.

The monster touch screen in the middle is only moderately intuitive. There is a navigation system branded Tesla/Google and also a Google Maps page. What is the difference? Why do we need both? The owner’s manual is available on the screen, but it is buried behind a lot of clicks (you have to go to “settings” first). There is way too much detail for in-car reading. A PDF version is available online. The phone integration is more impressive. Just as you’d expect when you purchase an expensive device bristling with computer systems you can use your phone to unlock the car, drive it, see where it is parked, etc.

The autosteering feature works but doesn’t inspire confidence. It seems to start turning to follow the road just a split-second later than a human driver would. This is unnerving, at least at first. You need to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times during autosteering, yet not crank the wheel hard enough to generate what the car thinks is an actual steering input (thereby disconnecting autosteer). I found this to be about the same amount of effort as simply driving. The cruise control for speed, on the other hand, works beautifully.

Acceleration would probably have been amazing if only we could have cleared roughly 1,000 other vehicles from I-95 and I-90 and tested it out. A Citroen 2CV has ample power for the driving that we are actually ever able to do within 60 miles of downtown Boston. Anecdotally, a friend with an Aston Martin says that the Tesla X, even without “ludicrous mode,” is much faster. What if you like to sip a drink while sitting in traffic? You can push back the central armrest pads to reveal two cupholders, but after that you have nowhere to rest your right arm. The Tesla X is not optimized for the drive-through to the same extent as a minivan.

The real-world summer-time range seemed as though it would be about 200 miles (against 257 claimed). If you assume that you never want to let it get below 30, this is a car that can go 170 miles between charges. While I was showing off the vehicle at a party a Nissan Leaf owner said that she gets only about 60 miles of range in a car advertised as having 100 miles: “I had to stop and charge three times going down to Providence in the winter,” she explained. (Each charge takes 30 minutes; it is roughly 50 miles one-way from Boston to Providence.)

As with other SUVs, cargo capacity is limited compared to a minivan. The Honda Odyssey can hold five people in the front and a couple of full-size bicycles, perhaps with front wheels detached, in the back. I think it would be a challenge to get even one bike into the back of the Tesla X and the central seating would be compromised.

What does it cost to save the planet? The 90D Tesla X that I drove had a six-seat interior, the autopilot software upgrade, and a few other options. This worked out to $110,000 retail (would have been over $130,000 as a “P90D” higher-performance model). Is it worth it? If you have $110,000 that you don’t need… sure, why not? It is a good conversation-starter. On the other hand, a $30,000 minivan offers roughly the same level of comfort with a lot more interior room, seating for 8, and more practical doors. With the leftover $80,000 you could buy an airworthy IFR-certified six-seat airplane, e.g., an older A36 Beechcraft Bonanza. Alternatively, you could plant a lot of trees for $80,000! What about saving money by not buying gasoline? The additional sales tax on a Tesla in Massachusetts would be 6.25 percent times $80,000 = $5,000. That’s enough to buy 2100 gallons of gas at current prices, which will power a minivan through roughly 50,000 miles. So even if you had planted an electricity tree in your backyard and recharged your Tesla for free, the extra sales tax alone economically irrational.

A Father’s Guide to Girl Scout Camping

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At least as far as parents are concerned, it turns out that the Girl Scouts are a gender-neutral organization. In theory, a parent who currently identifies as a “father” is just as welcome as a parent who currently identifies as a “mother.” In practice, the sign-up sheet for an “encampment” contains a “Mom Attending” column and no corresponding “Dad Attending” column.

Fathers are not permitted to share a group tent with Mothers and their daughters. But nor are they permitted by official Girl Scout rules to share a tent with their own daughter:

1) All Dads/male guardians should sleep in a separate tent but are welcome to attend. Just need separate sleeping quarters AND a separate/designated bathroom – or at least a sign that flips over when a man is inside.

2) This rule is gender neutral – in other words, 1×1 (whether male or female with a girl) is not allowed due to child abuse/safety concerns.

Camping is accomplished Thoreau-style, i.e., (a) next to a pond within earshot of an active railroad track and a superhighway, (b) with food catered by moms. This particular camp was about 45 minutes from downtown Boston and was set up with a small main lodge (real bathrooms!) plus a bunch of clusters of platform tents (heavy canvas, but no screens) and some covered picnic tables. There was also a boat dock and a ropes course.

The best thing about the experience is seeing how much fun the girls have together, the camaraderie, and the kindness shown by the older girls to the younger ones. Hollywood likes to show “mean girls” but I didn’t see any examples of that behavior.

Organized activities are heavy on the “organization.” Canoeing entailed a 20-minute safety lecture and life jacket inspection then 10 minutes of loading before paddling around for about 30 minutes. Games involve elaborate rules and can be won only with extensive teamwork. What I saw was one big team against a goal, not two teams playing against each other.

The parking area next to our tents looked as though someone had robbed a Range Rover/Land Rover dealership. Based on the collection of $70,000 SUVs, I surmised that we would be eating off bone china pulled from wicker baskets filled with Fortnum and Mason delicacies. I began to doubt this conjecture during the first activity: making GORP. The composition reflected the current American passions for nut-phobia and obesity: Honey-Nut Cheerios, M&Ms (not the lethal peanut-filled variety, of course), and yogurt-covered raisins. Dinner was hot dogs and kielbasa sausages, incompletely warmed up over a fire in aluminum pans. These were followed by S’mores, for which I referred to an established “Adults Eat First” rule but the girls suspected fraud and ignored me. Breakfast was served right next to a full kitchen in the “lodge” and consisted of supermarket donuts and muffins washed down with bottled water (most of the Range Rover trunk space had apparently been given over to one-gallon plastic bottles of supermarket water so that children were not poisoned by the Andover, Massachusetts public water supply). A couple of saintly mothers had made the 10-minute round-trip to a Dunkin’ Donuts for boxes of coffee. The less saintly had gone out for private Starbucks.

Suburbanites like to say that school- and kid-related activities are good ways to make friends and, indeed, many of the mothers seemed to have long-standing friendships. It was impossible not to overhear conversations among mothers. Topics included commuting, jobs, dating (at least one mom had sued her husband shortly after her last desired child was born, won the Massachusetts “primary parent” sweepstakes (obtaining house, kids, and enough child support for a lifetime of personal financial security), and was planning a long Cougarhood), and car-shopping. There was no discussion of politics, perhaps because in our suburb expressing support for anyone other than Hillary is not socially acceptable? Nobody mentioned a book or magazine article or an abstract idea.

As the light faded the girls began performing skits that they had designed. Sixth-graders presented a dating game in which a blindfolded woman was to choose a future husband based on their answers to questions from the audience. It transpired that both the woman and one suitor liked to take long walks on the beach. One suitor was “very rich” and this topic was explored in depth while another’s favorite animal was gummy worms, described as “a majestic candy.” The fourth-graders mocked safety lectures and procedures. Children stopped, dropped, and rolled but meanwhile set the entire forest on fire. Another child died from a tick bite. After the skits the girls launched “fairy boats” made from bark, moss, and whatever other decorations could be found in the forest. Each fairy boat was topped with a lit candle and set adrift on the pond as the builder made a wish. I expected this to be a quiet solemn ceremony but, like most of the rest of the experience, the girls chatted loudly amongst themselves.

Tips for next time:

  • Under the proposed new Massachusetts transgender laws, I think that the easiest way for an interested father to participate yet avoid activating the deep Girl Scout bureaucracy is simply to raise his/her hand and say “I identify as a woman.”
  • Bring a frying pan, eggs, and whole wheat bread and/or declare that you’re on one of those faddish fast-every-few-days diets.
  • Don’t share a tent with any children. My tent became the scene of a Wayne’s World-style “mopping up hurl” at around 11 pm (I got to play Garth). Two nights later the virus had attached itself to me and I was the one throwing up at 3 am. (Minor plus: I discovered that it is impossible to worry about politics, shootings, or any other alarming news report when you are vomiting.) Mothers will multiple children in their tent reported getting as little as 1.5 hours of sleep due to girls talking, girls wanting bathroom breaks, etc.

Peacemaker

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The Wikipedia page on the Pilatus PC-6 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) aircraft has an interesting nugget: the “armed gunship” version of what is otherwise a tool for delivering cargo to rough/short strips is called the “Peacemaker.”

Why does Brexit have a big economic impact?

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The latest vote by citizens of the UK to leave the European Union seems to have resulted in a lot of twisted panties, but I can’t figure out why an exit would have a big economic impact.

As I noted in a previous posting, if membership in the European Union is a sure path to economic prosperity, why don’t countries such as the U.S. seek to join? Telecommunications, shipping, and air travel costs have never been lower. Why wouldn’t Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, et al. seek to join? Or Switzerland, for that matter? If EU membership is not a surefire way to boost a country’s economic performance then why are people sure that leaving the EU will hurt the UK economically?

Can someone explain why there should be a big economic impact? The UK has two years to negotiate trade agreements with the EU. What would stop them from negotiating a tariff-free arrangement similar to what the U.S. has with Mexico and Canada?

As far as regulation is concerned, when there is a perceived need for uniformity, what stops the UK from adopting European regulations? Switzerland and Norway are not EU members, yet both participate in EASA, the over-arching European aviation regulators (each member country still has its full complement of FAA-style bureaucrats, but then EASA adds another layer of bureaucracy on top).

I can see that there would be a potentially significant impact on some individuals. The homeowner in the UK who wants to get repairs done will have a harder time finding skilled immigrant labor. The UK citizen who wants to work in Paris might encounter a wall of bureaucracy (though perhaps in the next two years the UK could negotiate streamlined reciprocal work permits). Workers who do jobs that can’t be outsourced electronically may get higher wages due to reduced competition from immigrants (e.g., women in the UK trying to earn money through legal prostitution or the unlimited child support that is available following out-of-wedlock pregnancies will enjoy reduced competition from attractive foreign women).

UK citizens should be happier, if we are to believe A Pattern Language:

. . . just as there is a best size for every animal, so the same is
true for every human institution. In the Greek type of democracy
all the citizens could listen to a series of orators and vote directly on
questions of legislation. Hence their philosophers held that a small
city was the largest possible democratic state. . . . (J. B. S Haldane,
“On Being the Right Size,” The World of Mathematics, Vol. II,
J. R. Newman, ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956, pp. 962-
67).

It is not hard to see why the government of a region becomes
less and less manageable with size. In a population of N persons,
there are of the order of N 2 person-to-person links needed to keep
channels of communication open. Naturally, when N goes beyond
a certain limit, the channels of communication needed for de-
mocracy and justice and information are simply too clogged, and
too complex; bureaucracy overwhelms human processes.

And, of course, as N grows the number of levels in the hier-
archy of government increases too. In small countries like Den-
mark there are so few levels, that any private citizen can have
access to the Minister of Education. But this kind of direct access
is quite impossible in larger countries like England or the United
States.

We believe the limits are reached when the population of a
region reaches some 2 to 10 million. Beyond this size, people be-
come remote from the large-scale processes of government. Our
estimate may seem extraordinary in the light of modern history:
the nation-states have grown mightily and their governments hold
power over tens of millions, sometimes hundreds of millions, of
people. But these huge powers cannot claim to have a natural size.

They cannot claim to have struck the balance between the needs
of towns and communities, and the needs of the world community
as a whole. Indeed, their tendency has been to override local
needs and repress local culture, and at the same time aggrandize
themselves to the point where they are out of reach, their power
barely conceivable to the average citizen.

(emphasis added)

What am I missing? I don’t feel that a British-made Mini car has a different value today compared to yesterday. Nor do I see how the experience of watching a show in London has changed. And would investment banking move from London to Spain, for example?

Related:

Microsoft Surface Book review

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Here’s a review after three weeks of light usage of the Microsoft Surface Book…

The amazing separating tablet feature turns out not to be a substitute for traveling with an iPad. An iPad is already kind of heavy to hold up and the monster tablet top half of the Surface Book is way too heavy for many of the things that you’d want to do with a tablet. I had dreams of annotating PDF files with handwritten scrawling, but it turns out not to work quite like paper. Resting one’s palm on the screen interferes with recognition of the pen sometimes.

As soon as you undock the tablet you will probably get an email that needs to be answered. At least with Gmail within the Chrome or Edge browsers, the keyboard doesn’t offer either autocorrect or voice dictation. Thus it is vastly more painful to answer an email than with an Android or iPhone or iPad. (The same software on a Lenovo Yoga 900 actually does offer suggestions for words that you’ve typed but it won’t actually autocorrect as you type along. You need to go back with your finger and highlight all of the words that you want fixed. Again, this is way more cumbersome than answering an email from a smartphone.)

Most Windows applications don’t seem to know what to do with Tablet Mode. Adobe Reader Touch, for example, doesn’t let you hand-write notes on a PDF file. That can be done only with the Drawboard PDF (included) application.

Battery life is absurdly short. Using the complete (docked) device at a conference to take notes the machine was dead by noon. All that I had been running was Chrome with Gmail in the background and Microsoft Word for building up a notes file in the foreground. Published reviews of this device indicate a pretty good battery life, but I left all of the defaults and never saw more than about 4 hours of predicted or actual life. Undock and the tablet’s life by itself is even shorter.

The keyboard has a great feel, maybe the best of all of the devices in the Microsoft Store and much better than anything from Apple (I tried out their keyboards at the store across the mall immediately after using various Windows laptops). Unfortunately it also offers a function key lock feature, which then renders the volume controls non-functional unless you happen to notice a tiny LED on the other side of the keyboard.

The device wasn’t very smart about switching between “tablet mode” and “regular mode” when you docked and undocked it. That cut down on productivity.

I took it back to the Microsoft Store in the Burlington Mall and had one of the their experts, who himself owns a Surface Book, check to see if I was doing anything obviously wrong but he couldn’t get any kind of keyboard autocorrection to work either on my Surface Book or his own. He confirmed that the battery settings were proper and said that Surface Books sometimes don’t sleep properly, which explains why the folded-closed device was sometimes warm to the touch. It was easy to have the device wipe its hard drive and easy to get a full refund from Microsoft.

I think that I will try the Lenovo X1 Yoga. One thing I learned is that a monster tablet isn’t very useful unless it can support itself, e.g., by being propped on a table with the keyboard for support. Another thing that I learned is that, at least with this current generation of Windows 10, you will want immediate access to a keyboard. It is a lot easier to adjust the fold on a Yoga than to dock/undock a Surface Book.

Transgender Bathroom Solution from the Harvard Club: “Powder Room”

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Harvard is so far out in front that they came up with a solution to the transgender bathroom conundrum more than 100 years ago. I recently attended an event at the Harvard Club of Boston, built in 1913, and noticed the sign below:

2016-06-10 13.46.51

[In case you’re curious about the event, I was enjoying lunch at the East Coast Aero Club table for the Aero Club of New England‘s annual Godfrey L. Cabot Award presentation to Clay Lacy (see this “human fly” video of a guy standing on top of a four-engine DC-8 airliner at 300 mph).]

Supreme Court orders full employment for university administrators

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The Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas contains some inspiration for those who want to be university bureaucrats:

That does not diminish, however, the University’s continuing
obligation to satisfy the burden of strict scrutiny
in light of changing circumstances. The University engages
in periodic reassessment of the constitutionality, and
efficacy, of its [race-based] admissions program. See Supp. App. 32a;
App. 448a. Going forward, that assessment must be undertaken
in light of the experience the school has accumulated
and the data it has gathered since the adoption of its
admissions plan.
As the University examines this data, it should remain
mindful that diversity takes many forms. Formalistic
racial classifications may sometimes fail to capture diversity
in all of its dimensions and, when used in a divisive
manner, could undermine the educational benefits the

University values. Through regular evaluation of data
and consideration of student experience, the University
must tailor its approach in light of changing circumstances,
ensuring that race plays no greater role than is necessary
to meet its compelling interest. The University’s
examination of the data it has acquired in the years since
petitioner’s application, for these reasons, must proceed
with full respect for the constraints imposed by the Equal
Protection Clause. The type of data collected, and the
manner in which it is considered, will have a significant
bearing on how the University must shape its admissions
policy to satisfy strict scrutiny in the years to come. 

Translation: Decades of job security for academic administrators who figure out how to sort applicants by skin color. Certainly better than being an adjunct…

Related:

Hogan’s Heroes turns out to be reasonably accurate

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I’ve been listening to Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany as an audiobook. The Germans held more than 30,000 American airmen prisoner by the end of World War II, i.e., more men than were enrolled in the U.S. Army Air Forces prior to the war.

According to the author, Donald Miller, just as depicted in Hogan’s Heroes, the Luftwaffe supposedly let the prisoners more or less run everything within the camp except for security. The inmates ran theater, taught each other classes, and manufactured stuff, including escape tools (though towards the end of the water the Germans began killing escapees rather than punishing them for 10 days with solitary confinement). Except for the food and health care, life as a Luftwaffe prisoner was probably better than the life of a U.S. prison industry customer today.

The Geneva Convention was observed to a large extent by the Germans, who hoped to ensure reasonable treatment for their own prisoners by the Allies and also, once they realized that the war was lost, to avoid post-war retribution. The main area where the Germans violated the Geneva Convention, according to the author, was in supplying nutrition. Inmates were supplied with only about 1800 calories per day of rancid vermin-infested food. Had it not been for packages sent from the U.S., delivered through the Red Cross, many prisoners would have gradually starved. Mail was also delivered, though this was not always a blessing. A man wrote to thank a Stateside woman for knitting a sweater that he received. She responded with “I didn’t realize that they would give it to a prisoner. I knitted it for a fighting man.” A man received a letter from his wife: “Dear Harry, I hope you are broad-minded. I just had a baby. He is such a jolly fellow. He is sending you some cigarettes.” There were so many similar letters that each bunkhouse had a wall of photos of former wives and girlfriends who had decided to discard their imprisoned mates via a “Dear John” letter. (Today there is a significant opportunity for financial profit in breaking up with a serving member of the military, but back in the 1940s there were no child support guidelines to determine the profitability of out-of-wedlock children and alimony was generally short-term as the woman who discarded one husband was expected to remarry quickly.)

Bailing out over France or Belgium resulted in a pretty good chance of being returned to England via Spain, with the assistance of a network of friendly civilians known as “the Comet line”. Bailing out over neutral Sweden was also a good option. Though the Swedes theoretically interred the combatants in reality they looked the other way as escapes were made. One real question is why aircrew who had jumped out of a flaming bomber would try to escape a comfortable life in Sweden to return to get back into a B-17. That is true heroism in my book. Bailing out or landing a disabled plane in Switzerland was problematic. The Swiss were theoretically neutral but at least the German-speaking portions were sympathetic to Germany. Luftwaffe planes came and went, but Allied planes were often fired upon, even when plainly disabled, e.g., with flaming engines. Imprisonment in Switzerland, especially following any escape attempt, could be shockingly harsh and filthy.

When bailing out over Germany it turned out that the luckiest break an airman could hope for was to be found by German soldiers. Oftentimes the soldiers would have to threaten civilians with their rifles to prevent Americans from being lynched or stoned to death on the spot. Absent serious wounds, once an airman was in the custody of the German military his troubles were mostly over.

[German civilians had not endured a single battle on German soil during World War I and were genuinely stunned when their cities began to be destroyed. According to the author, Germans regarded British and American bomber crews as “child murderers” who were not entitled to the protections of prisoners of war. This was not a universal sentiment, however, and Allied bombing of German cities was not a misfortune from the perspective of all city-dwellers. The remaining Jewish residents of Dresden, for example, were scheduled to be deported to a concentration camp just a few days after the firestorm that destroyed the city. Many were able to escape due to the chaos that ensued. (Most of the roughly 215,000 pre-War German Jews had already been killed by their Lutheran and Catholic neighbors by 1945, of course, but a handful were still living in various places due to being married to non-Jewish spouses.]

Aside from being shocked at the accuracy of a 1960s TV show, the most shocking part of this portion of the book is the split-personality of both Germans and Americans during World War II. On the one hand it was Total War with no qualms about civilians being targeted. On the other hand, both sides were consulting the Geneva Convention and various other rule books before acting.

Is Angelika Graswald’s purported confession a little too convenient for prosecutors?

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Angelika Graswald (previous posting) is on trial for murdering her fiance in order to pocket the life insurance proceeds. The main evidence against her is stuff that she supposedly said to a police investigator (nytimes; ABC News). Does this make sense? Here’s a woman from Latvia who figured out how to work the U.S. immigration system, marry and divorce twice at a profit, and arrange for life insurance on her fiance. Then, two weeks after the drowning, she calmly gives it all up with a justification of incipient domestic violence? This recent New Yorker story describes the criminal justice system in New York as somewhat less than straightforward (consistent with the lectures on Forensic history that I wrote about in March). On the other hand, the police have at least some of it on video.

Business idea: Luxury bike tours with electric bikes

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Backroads is a typical company that offers organized bike tours. They charge about $700 per night for their tours and a typical day might have 15-mile, 25-mile, and 40-mile options. There is a van (“sag wagon”) to follow the tourists, fix flats, etc.

I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be cheaper and better to use electric bicycles for these trips. The strongest tourists can bring their own road bikes, suit up in Lycra, and pound out the full 40 miles including any intervening mountains. The rest of the group can enjoy the full ride but at whatever level of electric assist is desired/required. The tour company has to provide more expensive bikes, but at $700 per night that should not be significant and the cost would be offset by running a sag wagon along only one route rather than three. These tours usually include a lunch stop where batteries can be recharged. If there are epic hills to conquer the sag wagon can have extra batteries for hot-swapping.

biketours.com claims that there are e-bike tours out there, but they are listed as “self-guided” (i.e., you can rent an electric bike and do whatever you want). Red E Bike will take you around for three hours.

Thoughts on whether this is the right idea for a multi-day van-supported trip?

Related:

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