Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Good and the Bad of the Tesla Model 3 Performance

My dream car - 2018 Tesla Model 3 AWD Performance:

I've owned the car for a couple of months now, have experienced the reality of EV life, and being bought into the Tesla cult. I still to this day smile every time I drive off in this car

The Great

It's SO fast! Acceleration is immediate, consistent, and intense. An official 3.5s 0-60mph time, but real-world measurements place it closer to 3.2s. It's hard to convey just how amazing the instant power and perfect traction of an EV are for the driving experience.

Phone key. Much maligned in early releases, and rightfully so - many owners had inconsistent results unlocking and driving their car, across popular brands of phone. But I was lucky enough to receive the car almost immediately after a major app update, and it has worked reliably. I walk up to my car: it's unlocked. I walk away, it's locked. I shift to drive, it drives. It feels primitive by comparison to actually have to carry a separate chunk of plastic around.

The phone key has failed maybe twice since I took delivery. In that case, I have the card key in my wallet; which is enough to get me going while I reboot the phone.

Charging at home. My theory was that, between charging at work, and free supercharging for life, I would never spend a single Wh of my own electricity. Well, ownership has taught me something: the $1's a month I'll spend on electricity is worth it for the convenience of just plugging in at home. I don't have to worry about when or where to charge, because I'm full every morning. Whereas, when I end up driving the minivan, I'm invariably looking at "20 miles range" and debating whether I have time to gas up.

Admittedly I'm charging on 120V. It's VERY slow to charge - it would take three days to charge from empty! But since I'm constantly topping up,it's never a problem. For the rare time I'm running under 50%, I'll stop at the local supercharger and get full in under an hour (for free!).

Single-pedal driving. With regenerative braking at max, you very rarely have to actually use the brakes, except to come to a full stop. This is weird for many drivers at first, but within an hour or so I really appreciated it. It makes downhill a far better experience, and takes a lot of effort out of driving in traffic.

Modern conveniences. Hey, I haven't owned a new car in awhile. It's nice that my garage door opens and closes automatically as I approach.That my seat and mirrors remember my position. A full suite of distance sensors, backup camera. USB power.

The OK

It's good, but could be better.

Center touchscreen. It really sold me on the car - the eyeline seemed so perfect. I still love it, but I admit the right-of-driver position adds just a hint of eye fatigue over the front dash. The biggest challenge is blind-spot warnings - those I would have preferred in front of me (like the Model S).

Autopilot. Works as advertised - you can pop onto the freeway, whether stop-and-go or full speed, and it will drive for you. For morning commute, it will probably save my life one day. With a little care, it will even work on city streets (you just have to handle stop signs and lights... for now...). Honestly, with the AI and sensors, it probably handles highway driving better than I do, given it's better perception of acceleration and instant reaction time.

Still, I wish they handled lane splits/merges better. Also, vehicles changing lanes is very much binary - they give no accommodation to a vehicle signaling a lane change until they are at least 50% in the lane. I still find myself taking over in these situations in deference to the drivers around me,

Auto-parking is still not consistently detecting spots, though it parks well when it sees one. Reverse-in parking is just a gimmick.

The Meh

Even I can admit it's not perfect... and not everything can be fixed in a software patch.

Battery Preconditioning and SoC dependence. Certain things behave differently based on the state of the battery. If your battery is cold, regenerative braking is greatly reduced. The "battery preconditioning" available on the Model S is honestly not effective on the Model 3. Regenerative braking is also reduced when the battery is full. Similarly on a low-charge battery, the top end of your power starts dropping off around 20% charge - 5 seconds to highway speed seems entirely reasonable unless you are used to doing it in 3.

Comfort. I'm told by everyone that my car is amazingly comfortable. It looks and feels premium through and through. There's amazing levels of adjustment that let me sit better than any other car. But there is just something about that driver's seat that my butt won't get used to.

I've gotten used to the firm and forward headrest, though from my reading, this is a common design in newer cars. Apparently you're not supposed to actually rest your head on a headrest? Easy for someone without an XL head to say...

The claim that three carseats will fit across the back of a Model 3 seems dubious from my experience.

Automatic wipers. The sensor underestimates the conditions, simple as that. In Seattle weather, you'll have to turn them up manually. Here's hoping to a fix in a software update.

Bluetooth. I've had issues with frequent media subsystem crashes (lose audio for ~5s), though I think a recent update has finally nipped that one in the bud. Still, it isn't always 100% to connect to my phone, or lose connection getting into the car.

Also, seriously, I don't want to use your stupid Tesla voice commands that control almost nothing. Let me trigger my phone assistant from the wheel!

App Control. Great idea, but limited by the "Waking Up" problem. If the car is idle, it can take upwards of one minute to establish a connection. If you want to quickly preheat the car, it can be frustrating to sit staring at a spinner.

On the other hand, a public API! I can (and eventually will) fix this through the power of coding.

Note the wakeup issue does not apply to phone key.

The Real Problem

Hint: all the problems with this car are around the Tesla delivery centers that serve them.

Delivery scheduled last-minute while I was away, then rescheduled for weeks later once they confirmed the delivery.

They didn't process my payment until almost a week after I took delivery (while insisting I had paid weeks earlier) - and support calls to follow up were about 40 minutes hold time on average.

The referral process was a mess; if you're not buying it online, the dealer is liable to skip the step entirely, then manually submit the request into some black box system that might or might not work. My referral bonus (free supercharging) didn't show up online until two months after I took delivery, though to be fair they never actually billed me for supercharging.

They did not even order my license plates for 40 days (out of 45 allowed days in Washington). My tags expired, and I was stuck driving a rental Chevy Impala while they got me plates. I'm no car snob, but I think I'm at the point where I can say with conviction that, as a Tesla driver, that a Chevy Impala is beneath me. It was an awful experience.

There's a (very minor) issue with my steering column; a known issue that should be a quick fix. Great, first service appointment is a month out. But, even then, they cancelled it without telling me, because the part was back-ordered. Seriously, Elon invented Paypal, but can't send me an email notice that my appointment changed?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

2018 Midterm Election

While midterms are hardly the most exciting ballots, we have a few interesting initiatives this time around.

But, the news for me this time around... the lack of news! The major news outlets, in an attempt to retain their integrity and their revenues, have taken to paywalls. Regional news organizations like the Times and the Herald are hiding their articles behind subscriptions, including their endorsements! While I appreciate the need for these organizations to stay afloat in the era of the Internet, their content is over-priced and over-bundled. By hiding their editorial endorsements behind their paywalls, they surrender any credibility as political influencers, or the privilege of acting as trusted intermediaries of voters.

Guess I'll have to rely on Ballotpedia. *sigh*. I'll decline to include any paywall links in this article, no matter the relevance.

As usual, I don't respond to advisory votes because they're pointless, nor positions lower than State Legislature because voting on bureaucrats is ridiculous.

I-1631 - the carbon tax
It's another try at a carbon tax. Unlike last time with I-731, it's not revenue neutral - it's a fee, and the money will be invested in clean energy, and offsetting cost impact in low-income communities. Unlike a tax, the money can't go into the general fund (which Washington's lesiglature would eagerly waste). We give up the sales tax reduction of I-731, but the expected increase in consumer energy costs is also predicted to be much lower (eg. an increase of $0.14/gal for gas vs. $0.25/gal).

Climate change is strongly supported by science, and the recent UN report makes it clear that change is needed urgently to prevent a catastrophic increase in planetary temperatures. A carbon tax may not be the best idea, but appears to be the only idea so far. Presumably why we keep having initiatives on them.

Bill Gates says yes. You know, the billionaire philanthropist trying to cure polio and stuff. He knows a thing or two.

Rob McKenna, our former Attorney General, says no. But he forgot to mention - he works for Chevron now. Skeeze!

I'd have preferred I-731... but I'll accept this.

** YES **

I-1634 - banning a "grocery" tax
They don't want to prevent all tax on "groceries", they just want to make sure no local jurisdiction can pass a tax that unfairly applies to just "groceries".

Oh, and "groceries" is soda. Just soda. This is about nothing more than preventing future soda taxes. They're trying to lock down any local jurisdiction that would dare to copy Seattle.

Diabetes is bad. And sin tax works, as illustrated by every cigarette tax ever. And dishonest campaigns get voted against on principle.

** NO **

I-1639 - gun control
This was a hard one for me. I'm very pro gun control. Guns are fun, and we should all go shoot paper zombies now and then. But it's entirely reasonable to jump through a few hurdles to prove I can do so safely (or at least I will be able to do it safely once I complete the proposed mandatory safety training). I would also have to be realllllllly dumb to store my gun somewhere where an intruder (or my preschooler) could get at it, and I wholeheartedly support prosecuting those that do.

But ugh, some parts of this law are dumb. Gun registries are known almost exclusively for their spectacular failures. Mandating "guns are dangerous, mmkay" language is just... weird... but I suppose harmless. I really don't like the age-based restrictions - if you have proper vetting systems in the first place, rely on them rather than blindly painting every teen as a school shooter waiting to happen.

I could go either way, but the downsides of the bill seem like mostly harmless chaff. Gun control could make us safer, and I will still be able to get assault rifles easy enough, because I'm good at paperwork.


I-940 - police accountability
There's some training in there as a distraction (lol... first aid? really?), but the actual meat of the initiative is removing the "malice" requirement for prosecuting police use of deadly force, and requiring independent investigation into incidents of deadly force.

The new standard seems plenty strong still. There's a two part test - what a reasonable officer would have believed necessary, and a good faith belief by the officer that deadly force was warranted.

Accountability is good in general, especially when it comes to killing people. If police don't want more accountability, they should probably stop killing so many unarmed suspects.


Snohomish County Prop 1 - 911 Tax
This makes me mad. We pay for 911. At least in our wireless bills, probably in a few other hidden places too.

But they want more money... and they want to do it with a sales tax... the most regressive possible way to tax. WHY?

... but 911 needs to work. So, I'll wave the finger of shame firmly at the County, plug my nose, and accept this.


US Senate
Maria Cantwell (D - incumbent) vs Susan Hutchison (R)

Great article on the debate from KING5.

If you're going to warn about "junk science" in the climate change debate, that's a deal breaker.

In housing, Cantwell is advocating to build more supply. Please, do this. Hutchison is blaming government red tape and permitting fees, not nearly as credible.


US Congressional District 2
Rick Larsen (D - incumbent) vs Brian Luke

I say this every two years. Rick Larsen is brilliant and stands for all the right things, and has been doing so since 2001. Healthcare, transportation, education, STEM. Though less publicized this time around (we seem to have bigger problems), he continues to be a strong advocate for campaign finance reform.

Brian Luke seems like a classic Libertarian. Anti-debt, anti-foreign-military-deployment, anti-regulation. Honestly, these are not bad things if executed honestly; but that is unlikely if he has to work with the Republican party.


Washington Senate LD21
Marko Liias (D - incumbent) vs Mario Lotmore (R)

At first, I was actually interested in Lotmore, notably for his statement's support for STEM and multi-family housing.

.. his website fixed that. Anti-transit (he's probably right, but we can't just give up and drive SOVs forever). Support for I-1634 (banning soda tax). General fiscal hawk. A bit too 2nd amendment happy.


Washington House LD21.1
Strom Peterson (D - incumbent) vs Amy Schaper (R)

Social conservatives are generally a hard pass for me, and this is the hardest of the hard passes. Schaper is anti-LGBTQ in as many words, anti Planned Parenthood, anti-contraception. Add standard Republican fiscal conservatism just in case this wasn't already clear boat full of fail tacos.


Washington House LD21.2
Lillian Ortiz-Self (D - incumbent) vs Petra Bigea (R)

Whenever I make notes on Ortiz-Self, the word "boring" ends up being associated with her platform. As far as I can tell, she mostly makes her name supporting teachers' unions.

But Bigea has the classic "taxes are the source of all our woes" so popular with the Republican candidates.

Sometimes I wish Legislative District 21 would actually have something interesting to say...


Thursday, July 26, 2018

What are "Titan keys" and why would I want one?

Google recently announced their "Titan Security Key", that's grabbed some headlines [CNET]. But what is it, and why is it a big deal?

To talk about security keys, one must first understand multi-factor authentication. Each "factor" is a way to prove who I am to somebody who wants to provide me a service.

What I know! I prove who I am because I know a secret that only I should know. Passwords are the common example of this, as well as their cousin, PIN numbers. The weakness is that secrets are hard to keep, and easy to duplicate. Anyone who discovers my password can pretend to be me.

What I have! I prove who I am because I possess something that should belong to me. Credit cards work this way - if I have the card, I can swipe it and make a purchase - sorry, nobody ever looks at the signature. It's usually harder (but not impossible) to copy something I possess, and requires the evil impersonator to be physically close to my possession.

Who I am! I prove who I am because I can be physically identified. This is how a driver's license works - the photo should match how I look. Fingerprints are a popular way to validate people as well. The problem being that physical properties can be hard to verify - is that fingerprint a real finger, or just a piece of tape copying a fingerprint off a door handle?

Two factor authentication systems require TWO of the above factors to prove who I am. These are far more secure, since an impersonator would have to circumvent two different security systems, usually in very different ways. A common example of a two-factor authentication system is a debit card - to use the card I have to have the card in my hand (what I have) and enter a PIN number (what I know). To steal my money, you would have to get both at the same time without my knowledge (or else I'll just change my PIN or replace the card).

Security keys are designed to be a second factor in such a system. Systems that support them require both your password and the presence of the key before they let you log in. This makes my account more secure - if my password is discovered, nobody can use my account because I have the key. If my key is stolen, the thief can't use it for anything without knowing my password.

This does NOT mean you don't need a password anymore. A security key is actually not very secure on its own, because people overall are shockingly good at losing things. A security key's power is specifically in it's use as a second factor.

The Google Titan Security Key is just Google's take on security keys - and are conceptually similar to offerings from other companies (eg. YubiCo).

But why do I need a security key?
Because your password is bad. You used the same password for your bank account as you did on Snapchat, and you told your friend that password so they could continue your streak. But you can't change that password now, because it's the same password you've used since you were 16 years old. It's the password you shared with that Nigerian Prince who needed it to send you your lottery winnings, and entered it accidentally in that response from that email from But really, your password was just your middle name with a 1 on the end, so it was not hard to guess in the first place.

Your password is probably already hacked. If you don't think so, Have I Been Pwned is a fun reality check.

Where can I use it?
There's two variants being offered by Google - one for phones (bluetooth and tap), and one for computers (USB).

The downside is that not many online services support security keys yet, but a few big players do: notably Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

Questions you never asked?
Q: Do I need to use the key every time I use a website?
A: No, most sites will remember you on a particular computer or phone after you use your key once (for 30 days or so).

Q: How does it work with phones?
A: Phone support is still not the greatest, but if you have the right phone and the right security key, you can tap it to the back of the phone.

Q: What if I lose the key?
A: They're made to be cheap enough that you could have more than one. As long as you have one working key left, you can use it to deactivate old keys and add new keys. Generally you can also reset your account through a phone call or other hoops.