News and Views

From my kids accomplishments, to my heretical perspective of the world

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New Grandson!

May 17th, 2023 · 3 Comments

Derek and his wife Kelsey presented us with our first grandchild, Dorian Chen Lafferty! Born May 2, 2023, 6 pounds 13 ounces.

Mother and son, a few hours old

Father and son

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Solar Upgrade

May 17th, 2023 · 1 Comment

I first installed Solar panels on my roof back in 2011. 7.9 kW. It reduced my electric bill by about $130/month and has been very reliable over the past decade.

A few months ago my inverter partially failed and I was only generating about half the power I should have. Along with fixing that, I decided it was time to upgrade my system.

I chose Tesla based on quotes and reviews. They added 4.8 kW of solar panels and 27 kWh of batteries, so I now have about 12.7 kW of solar generation. Unfortunately because of space limitations on the roof 2.4 kW of panels are facing NW, which isn’t optimal for solar generation. But I ran the simulations and it turns out that although NW only generates about 1/3 the power of SW or SE (my other panels) in the winter, it is fully as good as SW or SE during the summer months because of how the sun moves in the summer. Summer is when I need the most power, so this is OK. Obviously I would like more power whenever I can get it because I am grandfathered into net-metering (where the solar company credits me for all the energy I send back to them), but this is the best that could be done under the circumstances of roof availability.

The battery is something new to me, and means that not only can I take advantage of tiered pricing by not using any utility power during peak price periods, but I will also have power during utility outages. In the fall, winter and spring I should be able to pretty much exist indefinitely without any grid power. In the summer I can probably get by for a few days if I turn up my thermostat and turn off most other power draws.

It’s a fascinating technology with real-world impact on climate, pollution and costs.

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We’re still here!

May 17th, 2023 · 2 Comments

I see that the last post was back in 2018!

For several years my family used blogs to keep the others informed of their projects, plans and problems. Since we have started using WhatsApp to communicate in real time, the blogs have sat in a dusty corner covered with spiderwebs.

My family is still healthy and doing well. Since the last post:
— Gisele had her hip replaced, very successfully.
— Derek and Kelsey had our first grandchild (a boy) a couple of weeks ago
— We traveled to Russia, Antarctica and several places between.

I’ll try to post here a little more often…

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October 30th, 2018 · 6 Comments

Hangzhou is a medium sized Chinese city of about 10 million. We spent two weeks there recently on a stay arranged by Gisele’s sister Angela.

Click on any picture for a larger version.

The flight from Los Angeles to Beijing went over Alaska and Siberia. (Actually the Great Circle crosses over the Alaskan peninsula and the Kamchatka peninsula, but for some reason the flight went well north of that path. Could be weather, winds or political.) Hangzhou is south of Beijing, near Shanghai.

Air China’s business class seating is quite nice. Gisele had to climb over me to get out when I was fully reclined, but otherwise pretty good. The food was excellent. This made the 12-hour flight endurable.

Gisele’s sister Angela arranged for this apartment, where we stayed with Angela and Gisele’s brother TaChuan. Gisele and I had our own room upstairs, but Angela slept in the main room downstairs (you can see the corner of her bed at the bottom of the picture), TaChuan slept in a nook upstairs, and we all had to share a single bathroom. That’s my bath towel hung over the chairs — there weren’t enough towel racks in the bathroom for everyone. At least twice I had to ask Gisele to bring my towel to me as I forgot to take it in when I showered!

The apartment was on the 17th floor giving us some nice views of the city. This was sunset on our first or second day. The sun really did look that red. You can see West Lake, famous throughout China with lots of history. There is a green belt all around the 2-mile diameter lake and it is very popular to visit for both residents and tourists.

Hangzhou is a busy city in places, but there are lots of very pleasant streets such as this one, lined with sycamore trees. That’s Gisele, TaChuan and Angela walking in front of me.

Gisele and TaChuan buying steamed buns at one of countless little shops in the city.

There are more scooters than cars in the city, but in the two weeks we were there we never saw a gas-powered scooter. They are all electric by law. On the one hand it made the air a lot cleaner. But it was dangerous too, as scooters often drive on the sidewalk and you couldn’t hear them coming up behind you until they blasted on their horn. Horn use was very common; too common! We were told that batteries gave about 30 – 40 miles of range, and the top speed by law was about 30 mph.

If a scooter is your main mode of transportation, it is nice if you can stay warm in the winter. Many people wear these “scooter jackets” (my name) while riding around. When it rains, they can cover them with a rain coat to keep dry. She may not look too happy, but she gave me permission to take her picture, and actually smiled a little just after I snapped it.

No visit to China is complete without a banquet. Chinese love to eat! The child, man and woman on the left are friends of Angela, and they insisted on treating us to this nice meal. We had a private room and lots more food that we could eat. I ate some of almost everything — there were no duck livers or sea cucumbers on the table.

We took a boat ride out to an island in the middle of West Lake. The island itself was beautiful with green, luxuriant vegetation, but the crowds made it almost impossible to enjoy. We walked around to the far side of the island and it was better, but still impossible to be alone. That’s a major issue for me when visiting China. There are too many people and as prosperity increases, more and more of them have free time and are traveling.

We came across these dancers in the park around West Lake. Notice the cute little lady in the foreground without a partner. Click to play.

Not far away from the dancers we found this group singing. Sounds like traditional Chinese music. The words were not very political as they would have been 20 years ago, just patriotic. Click to play

It was an interesting trip. Angela has an expression in Chinese that I will try to translate: She prefers to be a “stayist” rather than a “tourist”. Meaning, rather than zipping through lots of places on a tour, she would rather stop in one place for a while and get to know it. I can certainly appreciate that. We visited Hangzhou 20 years ago on a zip-through tour, and it is blurred together in my memory with many other Chinese cities. But this time I know it much better and have more feel for what it is like to live there.

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Pixel 3 XL

October 27th, 2018 · 6 Comments

I traded my 2-year old Pixel XL for a new Pixel 3 XL three days ago.

Bottom line: My Pixel XL battery would only last 4-5 hours on a charge, so in that respect the 3 is a big improvement, lasting pretty much all day. Otherwise the upgrade probably wasn’t worth the $700 or so net cost after trade in and store credit.

The camera has some cool features that I will probably never use, though I’m eager to try the night vision feature that hasn’t been released yet. But I think that and most of the other software features might eventually be released for the original Pixel too.

Photography experts compare side-by-side pictures and point out how much better the Pixel 3 pictures are compared to almost everything else, talking about bokeh and other arcane stuff, but honestly I can’t see much difference. Yes, if I look closely I can see that they are not the same, but better? Not sure. I’ll take their word for it, though. Again, the night feature might change my mind on that.

It’s a nice phone, and it does what it’s supposed to do.

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Tesla Road Trip

June 3rd, 2018 · 4 Comments

We drove to Southern California in my new Tesla Model 3 to attend my niece’s wedding. The trip was more interesting than usual because of some of the unique features of the car. Here are a couple of notes.

I was surprised how easy and non-disruptive it was to charge the car, not significantly worse than gassing up a “normal” car. For the 378 miles we stopped twice to recharge, taking 15 minutes the first time in Quartzsite, and about 20 the second time in Indio. In both cases, the car was ready before we were. (We could have made it with a single charge in Indio, but it would have been very close and until I am more familiar with charging and range I don’t want to take any chances.)

The hotel had free charging, so we got to top off the battery there.

On the way back we stopped at the Outlet Mall in Cabazon and while we were shopping we got warned that we were going to be charged idle fees since more than half the chargers were occupied and our car’s charging was complete. I think I got back in time to avoid the idle fees, and I don’t mind the policy. It should make it more likely that a charger will be available when I need one.

We were going to stop and eat at Carl’s Jr in Quarzsite again, but decided to go upscale at Denny’s in Blythe. But we still needed to charge again in Quartzsite, so we sat in the car a few minutes, then went in to use the bathroom and bought a cup of coffee.

So in summary, two charges each way of 15 – 20 minutes each, at convenient places to take a break.

Auto Pilot
Auto Pilot worked well, most of the time. I didn’t trust it too much in heavy traffic, or with sharp curves, but on the open highway it made driving a lot more relaxing. I got pretty relaxed and depended on it to keep me in the lane and a safe distance from the car in front. It will even change lanes automatically if you turn on the turn signal. That sounds like a small thing, but it means you don’t have to disable AP, change lanes, then re-enable it. One simple step instead of 3.

When I first got the car, it felt like it pulled wide, almost over the line, on curves. That behavior is much better now, and it stays centered in the lane even on pretty tight curves.

I am looking forward to continual improvements and enhancements to the capability. At some point it should look at the navigation system, for example, and determine which lane it should be in, and transition from one freeway to another. I haven’t had a chance to try self-parking yet, but that’s supposed to work pretty well right now.

I caught some interest on the trip, mostly from Gisele’s friends and family, and her brother’s neighbor who came over to see it while we were getting ready to leave this morning. I saw lots of other Teslas at the charging stations, but didn’t see a single other Model 3. They are still rare enough that people are interested.

There’s something about an electric car that just seems right. Low maintenance, no pollution (other than at the power plant…), cheap operation, excellent handling and performance. It’s just a lot of fun to drive. I’m sure that as I get used to it, the drive to LA will again become boring and tedious, but for now it is interesting.

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First Tesla Drive

April 28th, 2018 · 6 Comments

I got my Tesla Model 3 yesterday, and Gisele and I took a drive up to the Mogollon Rim today to spend the afternoon with Richard, Dianna, Dale and Donna. It was very pleasant up there, though windy. Dianna made a delicious lunch for us of BBQ chicken, fruit salad and other fixings. I’m so full I think I’m going to skip dinner!

The car is lots of fun to drive, unbelievable acceleration and the autopilot works quite well.

I would have had enough battery to get there and back, but I gave some joy rides and then charged in a 240V outlet for a couple of hours. We made it back with 84 miles of range remaining of our nominal 310 miles.

I noticed a couple of interesting quirks and/or features with the autopilot.
– It tends to crowd the outside of the lane on curves, never actually crossing the lane marker, but getting close. Makes me nervous when there is a car next to me, since many people tend to hug the inner edge of the lane on curves.
– It is supposed to auto lane-change by holding the turn signal. It didn’t work at all on Highway 87, even though that is a 4-lane highway. But it did work on Loop 101 in Tempe. With a little research I found that the car knows when you are on a real freeway and only actuates auto lane change there.
– This one was a real surprise: Coming down from the rim north of Strawberry the speed limit is something like 45, but there are several hairpin curves with 20 mph warning signs. I let the car approach one of these turns and noticed that it was slowing down by itself, even though cruise control was still set for 50. It actually seems to know where the tight curves are and slows down for them.

Autopilot is very cool, and continuously improving. I wouldn’t take a nap with it yet, but it makes the trip a lot more relaxing.

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Tesla: Invited to configure

April 11th, 2018 · 5 Comments

On March 31, 2016 I paid a deposit with Tesla to reserve a Model 3. This didn’t constitute an “order”, it just put me in line so that if and when they started producing the car I would be in the queue to order one.

Early this morning (early here in Taiwan, but mid-day in the US) I got an email from Tesla, inviting me to configure and order my Model 3. At 4 in the morning I got out of bed and placed the order on my phone, and then tried to get back to sleep!

Here’s what I ordered:
– Long range battery (EPA rated at 310 miles on a full charge)
– Premium Upgrade Package (Heated front and rear seats, premium sound, premium materials throughout, glass roof, basically a bunch of nice stuff)
– Autopilot (Tesla’s package of adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, lane switching, auto parking…)
– Metallic Silver paint. I know; boring. I agonized over the color, thinking that the red looks really nice, but in the end practicality won out. It should be cooler in the summer, and much easier to keep (apparently) clean. It is the least popular color that is being ordered (as I learned in the Tesla Model 3 forum that I haunt), which indicates that people don’t think it is as pretty, but also means that I will be more unique.

– I did not get the Fully Self Driving package. This actually isn’t implemented yet, but Tesla says that all the hardware is present and once the software is finished it will be downloaded to your car if you have purchased it. If you don’t pre-pay, it will cost an extra $1000 to add it later ($4000 instead of $3000 now). I think the technical and legal challenges are big enough that it may be a long time before this is implemented, and I will take the chance that my $3000 will grow enough while invested to make up most of the difference.

Note that the long range battery and the premium upgrade package are required at this point. Tesla isn’t making any cars without these “options” until later in the year. I would have bought them anyway, but those who don’t want these have to defer until they are available.

Tesla says it will take between 3 and 6 weeks to deliver. If they meet this, it should be here in time to drive to southern California in early June for my niece’s wedding. That should be fun!

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Taiwan 2018

March 30th, 2018 · 2 Comments

We arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday, after a 14-hour flight from Los Angeles (LAX). We are here for almost 3 weeks, primarily to see Devon, but also to tour some places we haven’t been.

It turns out that we chose a bad time to come. The plan was to spend a week with Devon, then a few days traveling, then another week with Devon in Taipei before going back home. There are two glitches.

1) Devon was preparing for the GRE most of the first week. He is seriously working towards coming home and going to graduate school in the fall, for which we are glad, but it meant that he wasn’t as free to spend time with us as we had hoped. However, he took the test on Friday (yesterday) so he should be freer now.

2) Next week when we planned to travel turns out to be a big holiday here, with most people taking off Wednesday – Friday. When we tried to schedule a tour, we were told that everything was booked full.

If we had known about the problems, we could have delayed the trip a week and avoided them both. As it is we will have to wait and travel a bit the first part of our last week here after the holiday. That should still work out OK. We hope to sail to one of the tiny offshore islands for a couple of days.

Weather here has been nice — short sleeves in the day, long sleeves in the evening. Our hotel is pretty nice, and near Devon’s apartment.

The flight over was pretty nice too. As we get older, we are less inclined to put up with inconveniences and discomfort when we travel, so frequently upgrade our flights and hotels. Gisele sometimes complains that it is not worth it, but she is always glad to enjoy the upgrades. Traveling business class out of LAX, you get to go through a shorter TSA line, and on the flight we got to stretch out and sleep flat, besides enjoying attentive service and good food (lobster for dinner!). It really helped us feel more refreshed when we arrived, though there is no real cure for jet lag except time. But sleeping pills at night and coffee in the morning both help.

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A Company in Trouble

February 18th, 2018 · 5 Comments

Here’s a story of a large technology company.

The security department came to the CEO and warned him that their servers had been hacked by a competitor and proprietary information had been stolen. The CEO pooh-poohed the claim, and said that even if they had been hacked it could have been anyone, not necessarily the competitor. And he emphasized that he had nothing to do with it. He gave no directions to further investigate the situation, prefering to ignore it and claim it was erroneous.

A while later the security department came back to the CEO with clear evidence that they had been hacked, and clear evidence that it was that same competitor. Again, instead of responding to the threat to the company, the CEO just keeps stating that he had nothing to do with it, and anyway it started before he took over the company. Again, no plans or even a clear intention to respond despite strong warnings from the security department that the hacking was ongoing and would continue.

What would happen to this CEO? Wouldn’t the board vote him out immediately? Wouldn’t it be obvious that he doesn’t have the best interests of the company at heart, but rather is just concerned with how he looks and with deflecting any blame for the situation? Some people might even suspect that there were shady connections between him and the competitor.

Of course, this is only a story. Nothing like this could happen in real life. No one could rise to the level of a large company CEO without demonstrating much stronger leadership abilities than this.

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