Diary of a geek

February 2013
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Andrew Pollock

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Sunday, 24 February 2013

Zip lining

Ever since I saw some videos from a team offsite somewhere on the East Coast, I've wanted to go zip lining. I have vague memories of riding what we call in Australia a "flying fox" in Scouts as a kid, and this looked even more fun than that.

I found the Mount Hermon Adventures Redwood Canopy Tours nearby in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and so I booked it for yesterday. Eric was the only one of my friends who ended up being able to join me.

It was good fun. It took about 2 hours all up, but that included gearing up and getting the safety training.

I think there were 7 lines in total, of varying lengths and speeds and heights.

I rented a helmet with a GoPro to capture the experience for posterity, and I'm currently in the process of uploading the videos here.

[21:55] [life] [permalink]

On owning a Nissan Leaf

I'll soon be disposing of the Nissan Leaf that we leased a few months ago, so I thought it a useful exercise to write about my experiences with it.

I am not a car man. I am a gadget man. For me, driving is a means to an end, and I'm much more interested in what I call the "cabin" experience, than the "driving" experience, so this is going to slanted much more that way.

That said, I found the Nissan Leaf a fun car to drive, from my limited experiences of having fun driving cars. I liked how responsive it was when you put your foot down. It has two modes of operation, "D" and "Eco". I've actually taken to driving it in "Eco" mode most of the time, as it squeezes more range out of the batteries, but occasionally I'll pop it back into "D" to have a bit of fun.

The main difference between the two modes, from a driving perspective, is it seems to limit the responsiveness of the accelerator. In "Eco" mode it feels more like you're driving in molasses, whereas in "D" mode, when you put your foot down, it responses instantly. "D" is great for dragging people off at the lights. It's a very zippy little car in "D" mode. It feels lighter.

I've noticed that it has a bit of a penchant for over steering. Or maybe that's just my driving. If I have floored it a bit to take a right turn into oncoming traffic, I've noticed slight over steering.

That's about all the driving type "real car stuff" I'll talk about.

Now to the driver's "cabin experience".

It's absolutely fabulous. I love sitting in the driver's seat of this car.

Firstly, the seat itself is heated (in fact all of them are). As is the steering wheel. Nissan has gone to great lengths to allow you to avoid needing to run the car's heating system to heat the car, as doing so immediately drops at least 10 miles off the range. Unfortunately I found the windscreen had a tendency to fog up in the winter rainy periods, so I'd have to intermittently fire up the air conditioning to defog the windscreen. Of course, in the summer months, you're going to want to run the AC to cool down, so the range hit in that situation is unavoidable. I've only had this car from late Autumn until late Winter so far, so that hasn't been an issue I've had to contend with.

The dashboard is all digital, and looks relatively high tech, which appeals to my inner geek. It's a dashboard. It tells you stuff. The stuff you'd expect it to tell you. Enough said.

The audio system is nice. It supports Bluetooth audio, so one can be streaming Pandora from one's phone, through the sound system, for example. Or listening to audio from the phone. There's also a USB port, and it will play various audio files from USB storage. I found the way it chose to sort the files on a USB stick to be slightly surprising though. I haven't invested the time to figure out how I should be naming files so that they play in the order I expect them to play. The ability to play from USB storage compensates nicely for the fact that it only has a single CD player. (We have a 6 disc stacker in our 2006 Prius).

The car also came with a 3 month free trial of Sirius XM satellite radio. This was fun. The only dance music FM station in the Bay Area has a weak signal in Mountain View, and I hate dance music with static, whereas there was an excellent electronic music station that I could listen to in glorious high definition. As long as I wasn't driving under a bridge. There's no way I'd pay money for satellite radio, but it was a fun gimmick to try out.

The navigation system is really, really good. I haven't bothered using Google Maps on my phone at all. It gives such good spoken directions, that you don't even need to have the map on the screen. It names all the streets. I couldn't figure out a way to get distances in metric.

The telematics service, Carwings, is probably my favourite feature. This is what really makes it feel like a car of the future. Through the companion Android application, I can view the charging status (if it's plugged in) or just check the available range (if it's not plugged in). From a web browser, I can plan a route, and push the route to the vehicle's navigation system. If the car is plugged in, I can also remotely turn on the vehicle's climate control system, pre-warming or cooling the car.

It's a little thing, but the door unlocking annoyed me a little bit. I'm used to the Prius, where if you unlock the boot (that's trunk, Americans), or the front passenger door, all the doors unlocked. This was a convenient way of unlocking the car for multiple people as you approached it. With the Leaf, unlocking the boot only unlocks the boot. Unlocking the front passenger door only unlocks that door. It requires a second unlock action to unlock all the doors. I've found this to be slightly cumbersome when trying to unlock the car for everyone all at once, quickly (like when it's raining).

Another minor annoyance is the headlights. I've gotten into the habit of driving with the headlights on all the time, because I believe it's safer. In the Prius, one could just leave the headlights switched to the "on" position, and they'd turn off whenever the driver's door was opened after the car was switched off. If you try that in the Leaf, the car beeps at you to warn you you've left the headlights on. It has an "auto" mode, where the car will choose when to turn the headlights on, based on ambient light conditions. In that case, when you turn the car off, it'll leave the headlights on for a configurable period of time and then turn them off. This is actually slightly unsettling, because it makes you think you've left your headlights on. The default timeout was quite long as well, something like 60 seconds.

The way multiple Bluetooth phones are handled is just as annoying in the Leaf as it is in the Prius, which disappoints me, given 6 years have passed. The way I'd like to see multiple phones handled is the car chooses to pair with whichever phone is in range, or if multiple phones are in range, it asks or uses the last one it paired with. In reality, it tries to pair with whatever it paired with last time, and one has to press far too many buttons to switch it to one of the other phones it knows about.

Range anxiety is definitely something of a concern. It can be managed by using the GPS navigation for long or otherwise anxiety-inducing trips, and then one can compare the "miles remaining" on the GPS with the "miles remaining" on the battery range, and reassure oneself that they will indeed make it to where they're trying to go. The worst case I had was getting to within 5 miles of empty. The car started complaining at me.

The charging infrastructure in the Bay Area is pretty good. There are plenty of charging stations in San Francisco and San Jose. I'm spoiled in that I have free charging available at work (including a building at the end of my street, so I never bothered with getting a home charger installed). I've almost never had to pay for charging, so it's been great while gas prices have been on the rise.

The car's navigation system knows about some charging stations, so you can plan a route with the charging stations it knows about in mind. The only problem is it doesn't know if the charging stations are in use. If you use the ChargePoint Android app, you can see if the charging stations are in use, but then you have to do this cumbersome dance to find an available charging station and plug the address into the vehicle's navigation system. Of course, what can then happen is in the time you're driving to the charging station, someone else starts using it. I actually got bitten by this yesterday.

Would I buy a Leaf again? Not as my sole car. It makes a perfect second/commuter car, but as a primary vehicle, it's too limited by its range. They're also ridiculously expensive in Australia, and Brisbane has absolutely no charging infrastructure.

[20:34] [tech] [permalink]