Sunday, January 29, 2017

Electric Car Blues

Literally a Museum Piece
So, back in August, the Lovely Bride and I purchased an electric car. No, I haven't mentioned it before in this space. What, do you think I tell you EVERYTHING that's going on in my life?

The big reason for the purchase that the my 2001 Hybrid Insight, DOCBUNNY, was after 15 years of service, was on its last legs. The seats had been worn threadbare long ago, the radio was down to one speaker, the HVAC was spotty, there were some oil leaks with lash-up solutions, the transmission was getting mushy, and the hybrid battery was showing a sudden and shocking discharge rate, such that going up small hills could drain it completely. so the time had come to replace it.

After checking out a lot of vehicles online, we went for the sit test. We went to dealerships and sat in their cars. Test-drives were the second step of this but the big initial thing was whether I would be able to fit in the vehicle in the first place. While I am a bit wide, I can fit behind the wheel of most cars (Chevies in particular are a tight squeeze and off the table immediately), but I also have a long torso, so that for many cars, I cannot see out the front windscreen - the roof line drops down into my field of vision. Toyotas are like that, and so are the older Teslas (and I was not going to wait to see what was the case for new Teslas). We decided on a Kia Soul
Electric, blue with a white roof.

I'm a Soul Man.
And car purchasing is just as painful as it was fifteen years previous.Despite excellent credit, knowing exactly the car we wanted to purchase, and informing the dealership with 24 hours notice and filling out forms online, it was four hours of filling out forms, waiting for them to be processed, giving more information, waiting for THAT to be processed, checking options, agreeing to options that we didn't necessarily want but were on the car anyway (to be fair, the puddle lights have been rather nice), and then learning that the car that we had TOLD them the day before we wanted to purchase wasn't even at the lot (this was cheerfully reported as "We're preparing the car for you - it will be just a little while").

So, then, how is it? Well, it depends on what you're after. I am looking for a vehicle that will get me the 20-some miles up the Amazon and back to Panther Lake once a day, with the occasional side trip. It does that nicely But it does affect my ability to go to various locations in a single trip, so I'm finding myself planning more.

It is all about Ranger and Recharge: Range is how far you can go on a charge. The listed average range for the Soul is 90 miles. Tesla is talking about 300 miles with its new batteries, but they're still building them. Ninety miles is about 3 gallons of gas in a traditional car. So if you're not comfortable driving around with three gallons of gas, then you may want to wait for the future models,

Recharge is finding out where you need to go to get the charge back. The Soul came with a "trickle charger" which ran off house current but does so VERY SLOWLY. Such that you might not drain the battery to half and then not be able to regain the lost energy overnight, creating a deficit situation (plus by "overnight" I mean 12 hours, which means you bring the car home and let it sit.

This car magnet works on so
many different levels.
The Lovely Bride and I went the extra distance and installed a Stage II recharger, with the help of a state rebate plan. This brings me up to full charge in a couple hours, but it is STILL a couple hours. If you are on the road, you again have to plan for some downtime to recharge. Fortunately, my garage downtown has charging stations. Unfortunately, they just started charging for them. There is also a Stage III charger, which I have yet to use (the only one I know about is at the dealership), but then you are still at the mercy of the time it takes to recharge.

Let me add to that another challenge - cold is an enemy. The battery holds less of its charge during the cold weather. We have a spate of freezing weather in Seattle and the range plunged precipitously. Not that the weather has returned to typical Seattle winter (rainy and grey), the numbers have recovered, but it was a concern. This ALSO may mean you won't see as much of electrics in, say Chicago, for a while.

How does it perform? Nicely. There's no transmission, so it accelerates extremely quickly and smoothly. It is a bit boxy, but navigates and turns well. Downsides? Minor things like no CD player, so I had to download my books on tape and put it onto a USB drive. Oh, and the GPS is absolutely horrible. If you want to know at the traffic conditions an hour ago, it is more than suitable, but I found no traffic on roads that it claims are clogged and have been held stock still on patches of highway that are supposed to have clear traffic. But that's kinda minor.

Ah, yes, and the tire sensors are, in the terms of my mechanic, "sensitive", such that if they get even a little out of balance, a sigil lights up on your dash that is supposed to be a cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point but really looks like the Eye of Sauron atop Barad-Dur. I've had it go off three times so far, but to be fair, one of them was the result of picking up a nail and really needing a patch..

The thing I tell people is that having an electric car is like owning a horse. You can't ride it too long without giving it a rest. You have to water (well, recharge) it when get there. And you're always checking out other horses to see if their owners are having the same challenges.

More later,

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theatre: Roll on, Guthrie, Roll on

Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie, Devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russel, and Andy Teirstein, Directed by Nick Corley,  through January 29, Seattle Rep

The Rep has been a time machine this particular season. Raisin in the Sun is set in 1950's Chicago, Roz and Ray covers the AIDs epidemic during the 80s, Charles III takes us a few years into a possible future of England, and Vietgone deals with the Vietnamese refugees in the 70s. So we get another chunk of the 20th Cent with Woody Sez, covering the life of the populist and progressive folk singer from the 30s to the 60s.

The performance is more revue than a traditional play, in that the events Guthrie's life is highlighted by his music. The narrative of his biography is the frame for the performance. We get his boyhood and his family life, but much of his life crystalizes in the Great Depression, when the economy crashed, the dust bowl yawned wide, and people took to the road. Guthrie was a creature of the road, moving from town to town, busking, working, and singing. And the presentation frames that life in the terms of his songs.

And it is excellent. There about about 25 songs from his canon woven through the story, not counting the encore our Sunday afternoon viewing was treated to (which every Sounders fan knows, at least the chorus of it). David Finch narrates and portrays Guthrie himself, a tall drink of water with an Oklahoma twang and a nasty habit of pointing out obvious truths. David M Lutken, who is the "deviser" of the production from the credits, plays all the other roles, including radio announcersm, other travelers, male relatives, and Pete Seegar. Darcie Deaville and Helen Jean Russell, also parts of the original productions, switch off on the female roles, including Guthrie's mother and various wives.

They all sing well, and they all play. The instruments line up on the stage, and they move from one to another easily - fiddle and base, banjo and mandolin, and various breeds of guitar. The songs are from all over Guthrie's career, but power though the story of the man.

And it is political, but it is a hopeful politics of disempowered people that moves him forward, of those down and out without much up to look up to. Framed against a time when the GOP trashed the economy ("Don't worry," Finsh says as Guthrie,"I'll get to the Democrats", but I don't remember if he ever does), it shows where a lot of his thinking comes from. Less detailed is when he changes his mind, which he does - he is advidly anti-war until it comes knocking, then volunteers for the Merchant Marine in WWII and gets his ship sunk twice.

Guthrie died of Huntington's disease, an genetic affliction that claimed his mother and would evenutually rob him of his voice and his talent,. But he left his music and his writing behind, and the performance builds finally up to the one Guthrie song everyone knows - " This Land is Your Land." And yeah, there was not dry eye in the house, and you got the feeling that, no matter how bad things get, there is a way to see things through.

More later,

DOW Breaks 20,000!

It happens during the current occupant's tenure, he gets the score. Never mind that another quarterback drove the ball down to the five yard line, he was the guy who takes the snaps when the ball crossed this particular goal line.

Actually, the weirdness is that it took so long to get here after the last one. Given the traditional end of the year run, a new and a definitely pro-Wall Street administration, with a declared reduction in watchdogging and ethics, the question is why it didn't happen sooner. The market had been rising through the year, but showed an almost hesitancy in crossing this milestone. Working against it possibly has been a general uncertainty of what this new administration is really going to do and a chief occupant of the White House that has a tendency to lash out against anything that displeases him (with the result that an errant tweet can cost a company tens of thousands of values).

Back in 2009, the DOW was below 7,000. So while it's nice to celebrate the most recent milestone, I have to note that it'll have to get to 33,000 before we get a comparable run. Hey. it could happen.

More later,

Monday, January 02, 2017

Book: Midsummer Night's Dreamquest

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson, TOR Books, 2016

Provenance: Kij Johnson was a colleague at Wizards of the Coast and one of the ringleaders of a writer's group I belonged to (The Thousand Monkeys) more than a decade ago. I saw mention of the novella on the book of Face and the Lovely Bride ordered it from Amazon as a Christmas present. I am glad I got it in hard copy so I may press it upon friends to read it as well.

I have spoken of Lovecraft before. I love his cosmic vision, enjoy his prose, tolerate his poetry, and detest his racism. But I have also said that it is the nature of creation to have other creators arrive and develop, add, and subtract. That is what Kij Johnson has done here, to amazing effect.

Vellit Boe is a professor at the Ulthar Women's College in the Dreamlands. One of her students, Clarie Jurat, the daughter of a major supporter, has run off with a man from the Waking World, a dreamer, Vellit Boe must find Clarie and convince her to return before her father finds out. That sets Vellit off on a mission that leads from the stairs to the Waking World to the court of King Randolph Carter to the ghoul warrens below, as the situation becomes more dire with every step.

And it works. Vellit Boe's dreamlands is a "real" world with its shapechanging sky, few stars, monstrous inhabitants, capricious gods and questionable geography. It is a dreamworld with a grounded sense, a trust in its own mutability.  It has its own rules - they are just unlike ours, and change at a whim.

It is a world with its own gender issues - this is the Dreamlands shown from a female perspective. It does not negate what has gone before, but recognizes that it is a male viewpoint with male heroes and male interactions. The women were always there, it says, but confined to the scenery, to the background, to the support team. Kij brings these women forward, aware of the hurdles before them  - Dorothy Sayers' Harriet Vane would be comfortable in Johnson's Ulthar. Exceptional women are still considered unusual. The timeline is also advanced, to say that the Dreamlands exists in a hundred years back - the Women's College is a new thing, and there are steam engines and mechanical farm equipment in this version.

Yet while even subverting it, Johnson remains true to the work. There are the zoogs and the gugs, and the world pivots on the caprices of the gods sleeping in distant Kadash. The seriousness of the situation, and the doom that hangs upon Vellit Boe, deepens the further she goes on the hunt. It lacks the nihilism of Lovecraft, but does not shy from the hard choices.

And the tale is a perfect novella. Love or loathe Lovecraft's style, it often involves ornate flourishes and arcane terminology. Vellit Boe's language is tight and precise and the book is just as long as it needs to be. It could have been a short story, but a little cramped, ticking off locations, more paean than prose. And it could have been a thumping large fantasy epic, or even a trilogy, where you are ten chapters in even before Claria disappears. But  it is not, and its economy serves it well.

This is a contender for the Hugos and Nebuli this year, barring any further weirdness from the Sad Bunnies and their ilk for whom good fiction is unrecognizable and anathema. Read it now and avoid the rush.

More later,

Sunday, January 01, 2017


I'm not much of a public resolutions sort of guy. They always give way to later regrets, if failed, or smugness if succeeded. But here are few things I want to do going forward. The general approach to this year is ... More.

Read More, I have by my bedside the bookshelf of abandoned books - text which I have picked up from one reason or another, then cast aside or quietly dropped but don't want to totally remove from consideration. For some of these I can remember the exact spot where I decided I stopped engaging with them. Some I know I will not return to. Some I look at wistfully (like The Mediterrenean and the Mediterrenean World in the Age of King Phillip II, for example, or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and wonder if I shall ever return. Competing with that is a sudden desire to read The New Yorker. So I will put time aside for reading.

Game More. I game a lot. I have two fairly regular groups with much overlap in membership - a Saturday night group for Call of Cthulhu and a Monday group that is currently D&D/Ravenloft. And we do gaming days at the house (most recently ... yesterday, with the highlights being Sherrif of Notingham and Escape). And I uncoil with the occasional computer game (though Civ 6 has disappointed). and have a number of apps I like (most of them ports of tabletop games like Carcasonne and Ascention). But I want to some Bethorm or Shadows of the Demon Lord or even some old school EPT. I prefer real-life gaming over online, if only because it fits my need to socialize, limited though that may be.

Write More.  With the new job (and the attendant long commute), I haven't been writing as much, including on this blog. And I have backed out of a couple projects where I am just uncomfortable with making the deadlines. That is unusual for me. I will be writing, but it may more be the case where I am writing for something that interests me as opposed to something I have already committed to. Which means it may not be stuff that you see. We'll see how that works out.

Eat More. No, that doesn't sound right. Rather, eat well. In 2016 I lost 20 pounds and my wedding ring (no, we're still married - the ring slipped off my finger last week and is currently in parts unknown, probably in a swamp alongside the Anduin River). But life is too short to eat bad food. So, reducing the snackage while finding good places to try out (and the neighborhood I work in is sprawling with places), plus cooking more. I intend to cook three things from any cookbook I buy or receive as a gift. I already have started in on Alton Brown's Everyday Cook with his quinoa-accented oatmeal (I found it... crunchy).

That's a pretty large (and relatively vague) list - no number of books to complete, no amount of weight to drop. We'll see how is all works out. Tune next year to see what happens.

More later.