into the Tesla vortex
Saturday, September 14 2019
After Saturday morning coffee, Gretchen took the dogs on a looping walk in the forest, with me following a little distance behind as they headed down the Stick Trail so I could do more work on my stone wall, which is becoming quite an artifact. It will definitely be visible in the next version of the Google Satellite view.
Last night Nancy (who seems to know about upcoming local events better than just about anyone) told us about some sort of electric vehicle show scheduled to be happening in Kingston today at about the same time as the weekly farmer's market (which is held in a temporarily closed-down section of Wall Street in Uptown). Gretchen thought we should go due to our mutual interest in the subject. Her interest tends to be more practical, while mine is tinged with notes of nerdy gadget obsession. So early this afternoon, we parked at the Ulster County office building, thinking maybe the show was there. But it actually in the parking lot of the courthouse, not far away. As we were walking there, we randomly came across Eva and Sandor, who were about to go to the farmer's market and then to brunch at Outdated (I say "brunch," because they would be eating vegan versions of the breakfast foods I do my best to avoid).
As for the EV car show, it consisted of a dozen or more cars (mostly with drivers) of various makes and models. They were all either pure EVs or plug-in hybrids, and there were makes that I didn't know came in EV versions (such as the VW Golf and some flavor of Hyundai, an automaker I know almost nothing about except that it is Korean). After looking under the hoods of a few cars, including a Chevy Bolt (which is probably our favorite EV at this point), we were sucked into the Tesla vortex. Once you see both front and rear hoods of a Tesla open and that there is nothing technical in either one, you start wondering where the car actually is. We were soon surrounded by three guys from Albany who were really into the Tesla brand. They were definitely more geeky than douchey, and did a great job evangelizing the car. This was how we learned that the electric motor lives somewhere between the wheels (in the case of his, a fire-engine-red Model 3) the back ones, while the batteries form a layer under the floor of the car, keeping its center-of-mass low. The driver was clearly obsessed with his car and clearly was stifling a neurotic episode every time Gretchen touched it. When he wasn't explaining the car's many features, many of which could be made to happen via an app on his phone, he would drive it remotely from that same app. It would go a couple feet forward and then back, its steering wheel being turned by unseen motors, all coordinated by a literal ghost in the machine. Gretchen definitely liked the Tesla, but she couldn't see herself actually climbing out of one. But it turned out that we had a number of similarities to the Telsa's neurotic owner: like us, he's a landlord. And also like us, he was the sort to drive old used cars before getting this Tesla, which he did, he said, partly to support the company. He said he never drives the Tesla in the winter or (for obvious reasons) to his rental properties. He maintains a hooptie for those driving tasks.
To get a sense of a Chevy Bolt would be like, we talked for a long time with a freckly woman from Red Hook. Her Bolt had a humble lived-in feeling, but it had all the features we would want from an electric car, including a range in excess of 200 miles and access to plenty of charging stations, many of which provide electricity for free. Like the Tesla, it has its batteries beneath the floor, though there is a lot of technical infrastructure and cables visible when one raises the front hood. The car doesn't have any of the fancy Tesla electronics (such as self-driving and remote-driving modes) and doesn't even have onboard navigation (which hardly seems like a problem given the ubiquity of smartphones). Overall the EV show was more interesting and enlightening than either of us expected. It was a revelation to see that, what with the distribution of charging stations and the reality of battery life, driving such a car is something of a lifestyle choice. Long trips have to be planned so that stops coincide with charging locations, and charging itself is not always a fast process. There are apps to help, but it's still early in the EV revolution. When I asked her about Gretchen later if the show had increased her desire to get an EV, she said that it had.
As the EV show wound down, we walked through the remnants of the Wall Street farmer's market to Outdated, where we found Sandor and Eva at a table out on the sidewalk finishing off their brunch. We walked with them from there back to our vehicles, and along the way Sandor told me about how he's been playing golf lately. By that, he meant the kind involving balls and clubs (two different kinds!) and Trump-branded properties. I wouldn't've had Sandor pegged for the golf-playing type, but I wouldn't've pegged Ray (or Ray's weirdo friend "Chief") for golf players either, yet they all seem to like doing that instead of, say, converting toy cars into robots or building stone walls in the forest.
Back at the house, I made at least one more wall-building foray into the nearby forest. Unlike earlier this morning or past days, there were a fair number of mosquitoes to torment me.
Another thing I've been doing for the last few days is the reconstruction of the source code of my first major software project, a character editor for the VIC-20 that I wrote when I was sixteen years old back in 1984. I had a printout of the code from that period, but it had been done on a small plotter (the kind which prints on a three or four inch roll of paper), which modern OCR hadn't been very good at reading. So I've been reconstructing nearly all of the code by hand. I managed to finish all of that work today, but I'm left with cryptic strings of control characters that the plotter did a bad job of representing. There are only five or six such strings in the program, but they're essential for its user interface, which has to draw and redraw an eight by eight grid of blocks interactively depending on keypresses and various commands.
Normally Gretchen and I would have date night on a Saturday night, but we had a lot of leftovers in the refrigerator (including week-old dahl and taco casserole) and we'd already been out once, so we decided to have a stay-at-home date instead. We started by watching Sunday's episode of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which I was excited to see. But the episode was painful for Gretchen as Ernie, one of the more sympathetic characters, started using his Spanish skils to sell multilevel dreams to a gullible population of Hispanic immigrants. She said she didn't want to watch it any more but would watch it with me if I kept on watching. I remember something similar happening in season four or five of Breaking Bad, though eventually Gretchen decided it had become enjoyable again.
It being date night, we later played a rousing game of Scrabble. I had terrible luck with tiles, ending up with something like four "I"s at one point and nothing but vowels later on. I did get both blank tiles, but I squandered them on the word "TOILET." It was a triple-word play, but all the letters were one-pointers. Gretchen defeated me by sixty or seventy points.
Gretchen in the driver's seat of a Tesla while its owner looks at its controller app. He wiped everything she touched with a handy towel immediately afterwards.
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