Plug-in Hybrid Range

2022-11-08 12:56 - General

As mentioned, I recently got a plug-in hybrid vehicle. When new, e.g. Popular Mechanic's review tells us that the plain Hybrid has a 1.4 kWh battery while the plug-in Energi instead has a "... lithium-ion battery pack pumped up to a big 7.6 kWH ... can travel up to 21 miles ... in pure electric mode." So the plug-in portion might be as much as 6.2 kWh of capacity. Tiny by modern EV standards, but of course this car still has a gasoline engine, too.

When turning off the car, it gives a summary of the trip (i.e. since it was turned on). Online I've read about using this summary to measure your battery capacity: it gives a direct read-out of both gasoline and electricity usage. Charge up to 100% and start a single trip, then watch for the EV mode to end with the car switching to hybrid operation. I managed to do this yesterday, coasting only once the switch to hybrid happened to a place I could pull off the road and shut down.

Trip summary of pure EV operation of my C-Max Energi.

The picture was bad because it was very sunny and I was hurrying (this summary display doesn't stay around for very long). But it tells me both that I have 5.2 kWh of usable EV capacity in my battery, and I managed to go 19.7 miles with it. That sounds like a missing kWh, but a very favorable electric-only range compared to the as-new specs of 21 miles for a roughly nine-year-old car. I don't know exactly what "3.6 regen miles" means.

I also re-charged the battery after this, and spent 7.1 kWh to do so. That makes for roughly 75% charge cycle efficiency. I've heard that 240V charging can be more efficient, and this makes me want to experiment with it, somewhere that I can measure/report on how many kWh went into the charging.

My new (to me) Ford C-Max Energi

2022-10-31 14:39 - General

As mentioned previously, I moved out of New York City in July. In the time I lived there, I didn't own a car. Saving the expense of the car itself, the gas, the insurance, and so on definitely helped with the expense of living in the city. Being able to live in America with no car is one of the things I appreciated most about the city. But now I'm moving away, to normal America where life with no car ranges from difficult to impossible.

Like lots of things, I've ended up going through life changes at an inopportune moment in history. The pandemic made cars expensive, shrinking the historically huge gap between used and new cars. And there's a big federal tax credit available for the purchase of a new EV (on top of this being the last year I'm confident I'll owe that much in taxes) to further help close the gap. So I started looking heavily into EVs.

Many of them advertise just under $40k prices, so after the tax credit it feels like $30k. But for anything I looked at (the Hyundai Ioniq 5 really caught my eye) it was hard to accept the base model at that headline price, especially hard to give up the larger battery (and thus longer range) that they all offer. The larger battery is never an option though, just one of the things in the higher level trim package. Then they all come with enticing optional features which made the next-higher trim level hard to turn down. Plus at most dealers the pandemic pricing has translated into over-sticker price bumps for new cars too. Suddenly, I was looking at around $60k rather than around $30k.

So I started looking back at the used market. I had previously heard interesting things about the Honda Element, a smallish SUV with fold-up rear seats that make the cargo area very capacious. But ...

A plot of price vs. mileage for used Honda Element vehicles

That's a plot of the 53 closest (within 300 miles!) Honda Elements for sale right now. It was only made from 2003 to 2011 so there aren't very many and they're all pretty old now. Only eight of them are under 100,000 miles, and the cheapest of those is over $13,000 (up to over $21,000!). As I looked further: this vehicle also barely gets over 20 MPG. I'm no longer excited about this. I looked into the Honda Fit as well (I was interested in the small car size with flexible-for-cargo interior), which had similar results: Made more recently so more availability, but also the prices are not so exciting when a new (e.g.) HR-V MSRPs for $24k and an under-100k-mile Fit is at least $10k.

So as I continued looking, I decided to focus on the used plug-in hybrid market. This gives me a bit of practice experience with what it might be like to plug in an EV, gets me good mileage overall, and avoids the new car purchase price. Having done so I can say I found it tricky to find such used cars. Most plug-ins are available in a plain hybrid version, which is generally much more common. So it's hard to find the plug-in varieties. Either way, I ended up picking a favored model.

My "new" 2013 Ford C-Max Energi

After looking around for a couple months, I picked this car. It's a 2013 Ford C-Max Energi. It's a light blue ("Ice Storm Metallic"), which I greatly prefer to a plain white or black. This model is hybrid only, "Energi" means it is the plug-in variety. This model was only made (in America) from 2013-2017 so there's not a lot of them out there. For the first few model years, Energi also meant the highest trim level. My particular one has several extra options as well: upgraded stereo/infotainment with navigation, hands-free including keyless entry and start, power lift gate (with keyless kick-to-open), rear view camera, and panoramic sunroof. And some cosmetic issues, but it's close to ten years old.

It's a rather compact car, but in a hatchback/wagon style which makes for decent cargo room. The plug-in battery pack takes up some of that cargo room, but this is a compromise I was happy to make.

Mine came from a trade in to a dealer. I picked it because of the color/price/options combination. The dealer experience wasn't so great -- I was there for about ten hours. I bought it in New York state, and ended up titling and registering it there as my license still had my New York City address on it. Some of the delay was trying to avoid this. This past weekend I came down to Maryland with all my documents in hand and transferred title and registration and license, here. (I'm moving here and insurance is half the price as compared to New York.) Now I've got to go back to New York, to surrender the unused registration (and the plates) for a refund.

Brandy: 2005 - 2022

2022-08-17 23:23 - General

In early 2006 I adopted my second cat, Brandy. She was described to me as about six months old, so I picked October 25, 2005 to be her birthday. She was a wonderful cat: playful and friendly, very talkative, and beautiful. Though historically quite heavy, in late 2019 she was starting to visibly thin out. She weighed 13.69 pounds in mid 2011 but by then was down to 11.0. Since then she gradually continued to lose weight (down to 5.26 pounds). Over the COVID pandemic, she lost first one and then the other of her upper canine teeth, and developed a limp in one of her front legs. She showed some other minor changes, which I attributed mostly to age: she's almost seventeen years old.

This past week however, starting Friday (as far as I know), she stopped eating. One of the things she's done for a while now is have a "bad day" every once in a while, where she'll vomit a few times and not eat for 24 hours. She'd always improve and resume eating the following day (and not considering it serious at first means I don't truly know when it started), but this time she didn't resume eating. She grew weaker, and soon she could hardly even drink for herself, so she got water put into her mouth by dropper for a while. She got to the point that she could hardly walk and hadn't eaten for almost a week with no sign of changing, so today we made the hard call that at nearly seventeen years old it was time to take her to the vet, to be put down gracefully.

Like I did for her older (separately adopted) sister, what follows is a photo album, spanning from "2004" (date attribution on my pre-smartphone photos is imperfect!) up to today. They're presented without further detail or comment. Goodbye, sweetheart.

Cronus Zen + Logitech Driving Force GT + PS5 + Gran Turismo 7 = FUN

2022-07-30 17:40 - Gaming

I'm trying to use a Cronus Zen device, to enable my existing wheel controller (Logitech Driving Force GT, originally for a PS3 — stinks that it only works with the PS3) to work with my freshly acquired PS5. I've seen at least one Reddit post that says "Logitech G27 fully operational on PS5 thanks to a Cronus Zen". But not specifically how. There's documentation for using a PS5, and using a wheel (on a PS4), but not one official document for both. Here I'm recording the steps I used to get my wheel working on the PS5, to play Gran Turismo 7.

  1. Start by updating the firmware (archive) of the Zen.
  2. Plug in the rear Micro USB port to PC (minimum Windows 10).
  3. Run cmupdatetool (archive) (11.2.0), to latest firmware (2.1.0-beta35). (This appears to be an online process which will break once their servers go down?)
  4. Disconnect USB.
  5. Now I think we need to combine PS4 Wheel Mode (archive) and (for PS5:) PS4 Specialty (archive) mode.
  6. Connect side Mini USB port to PC. (My Mini port seemed flaky. Took more force to fully insert than expected, then it worked well.)
  7. Open Zen Studio (archive) (1.2.1-beta.105).

I'm using the recommended Hori Mini Pad so I'm using those instructions (archive).

  1. Set the PS5 console settings as per that documentation.
  2. Continue with connect by USB (archive).
  3. I still have Zen Studio open; Click Tools > Zen Operational Mode. In the dialog select "Wheel Mode".
  4. In the device tab check "Enable PS4 Specialty" and ensure "Emulator Output Protocol" is "AUTO".
  5. Still in device tab click the "Reset Device" (not "Factory Reset" on the left!)> button.
  6. Disconnect all USB.
  7. Connect the Hori Mini Pad to the A1 port on the left (when looking at the screen) of the Zen.
  8. Connect the wheel to the A3 port, the left of the two on the front of the Zen.
  9. Connect the PS5 to the (rear) Micro USB port on the Zen. (I used a rear USB port on the PS5, because it was convenient.)

At least one place said there should be no PS5 controllers paired, but I kept mine paired and it works great!

The Real Estate Scam

2022-07-23 09:59 - General

On Thursday I closed the sale of my Manhattan Co-Op apartment. Going in, I had been estimating losing ten percent to all the fees and taxes. I thought that was a high estimate, but I set that expectation to keep myself comfortable. What actually ended up happening?

Seller's agent fee3%
Buyer's agent fee3%
Co-Op "flip tax"2%
State and city real estate taxes1.8%
Attorney's fees0.5%
(Building's) Managing agent fee0.1%

Ouch. I'm especially upset by the huge broker/agent fees. It's a total racket. There are "one percent" seller agents, which with hindsight I wish I had selected. I only made 37.5% over twelve years on the "investment" (but your home is not an investment!). Losing over 10% of the higher number (14.4% of the lower) stinks.

Yes, there's an extra 0.1% that rounded down out of the line items, the total was calculated independently.

New York Temperature Archive

2022-07-20 16:01 - General

Years ago, in my second apartment in Brooklyn, I set up some temperature sensors with my home server in order to enable thermostat-like functionality. I logged the data and eventually expanded the window for how long the data is stored. I've moved out of New York, and it doesn't make sense to continue collecting the same data set.

Graph of environmental data

So I've saved the data and made a static archive of it. At first I had only temperature. Later I added humidity and barometric pressure. Click on the headers to remove the lines, somewhat necessary to make reading a graph over a large time window practical.

Turns out I "only" saved ten years of data. Automatically rotated out by RRDTool. The "temp_out" graph is probably the most generally interesting. Based on the time window, that's always just outside my apartment in Chelsea. The summer peaks are pretty consistent, but the winter troughs are clearly higher (~never below 20 F) than before that (usually below 15 or 10 F). Hmm.

End of an Era (In Manhattan)

2022-07-10 13:40 - General

I bought my current home in 2010. I know it was June 24th, because it's written on the certificate I got as part of the closing. That makes just over twelve years ago. In those twelve years I've been lucky enough to work "in tech" making good money. And I've maintained a rather low cost of living. So I've saved up a healthy nest egg.

Last Friday, the 8th, was my last day at Google. I've retired. Wednesday, the 13th, is my last day in this apartment: I'm moving out. The sale of my apartment is closing on the 21st.

I've lived in Manhattan for twelve years. Worked for Google a bit more than that. Both of these are over. Life is changing for me. I stuck with a day job for a long time because the certainty was comfortable, but I'm all options and certainty for a while.

Super short term, I'm moving in with Mom again. Just until the summer is over, then I'm heading to Maryland: Mom's childhood home. It needs a bit of taking care of, and just right in time for me needing somewhere to live, too. So I expect to live there for a while, take care of and improve the place for whenever it gets sold. Then who knows?

Weekend Repair: USB Power Strip

2022-02-13 12:48 - Making

I had to do laundry, and I was out of funds so I had to trek to the basement to recharge my laundry card. While there, I passed the electronics recycling bin. I spotted a nifty looking two-outlet four-USB power strip. Sometimes people toss things that are perfectly working. This one was not.

The USB power strip while still open, just after replacing the fuse.

But it looked pretty nice, so I took the time to look into it. First I tried the USB ports, nothing. A little dot on the front looked like a status light, not lit. Then I tried the AC outlets: those also didn't work. At this point, it was time to open it up. There were two visible screws on the bottom, but that wasn't enough. There were two more screws, under two of the four rubber feet. Then some plastic clips holding the base on, and I was in. I found a much larger and more complicated circuit board to run the USB ports than I'd expect, and one smaller one.

The smaller board was directly connected to the AC input, one leg via the switch. Once I flipped it out, I found what not only looked clearly like a fuse but also was labeled "F1" on the board. And it was blown. I couldn't see what its original ratings were — this was a little glass fuse, the ratings are normally stamped on the metal ends. I ended up putting an 8 amp fuse in to replace it, from what I already had on hand. Which was a bare fuse, no leads like the original had. So I took some short wires, soldered it in, and covered everything in shrink wrap (like the original) to be safe. You'll have to look close at the picture to see it: it's at the bottom/right of the picture. A large black blob is the original shrink wrapped board. The smaller and closer black blob is the new shrink wrapped fuse, with little green wires leading back to the board.

Once I put the fuse in and closed it up: everything works fine! And of course, the status light is an awful bright blue thing. The hole for it is small enough, but tons of light leaks around the USB ports.

Repair by Damage

2021-10-12 15:57 - General

My "repaired" mouse.

I really like my Logitech MX Master mouse. It's just got one weird feature, a "gesture" button accessible by your thumb. It's wrapped in soft/flexible rubbery plastic. This tends, over time, to get stuck. This holds the gesture button down, and while the gesture button is held, the mouse behaves differently. It stops moving the cursor, so moving the mouse can do a different thing.

I've never wanted these other things (a replacement for Alt-Tab on Windows, at least). I have gotten the button stuck before. Then, I managed to pry a bit and get the plastic un-stuck, and the mouse worked again. More recently it happened again, and I couldn't. I took a look at a disassembly guide online, and I thought I might be able to pry this flexible plastic out of the way. Nope! I ended up breaking it. But this had the side effect of making the stuck-down plastic no longer exist, where it used to bump into the button. So technically, I repaired this mouse by damaging it. It's working again, so good enough for now!