I love my electric car, but sometimes – like when I need to transport five people and a week’s worth of their luggage 250 miles and need to get there before the kids’ bedtime! – I still use our big ol’ diesel-burning beast. And it was while preparing for such a journey that I recently got to thinking about the mathematics of refuelling.
It’s rarely worth travelling out-of-your-way to get the best fuel prices. But when you’re on a long road trip anyway and you’re likely to pass dozens of filling stations as a matter of course, you might as well think at least a little about pulling over at the cheapest.
You could use one of the many online services to help with this, of course… but assuming you didn’t do this and you’re already on the road, is there a better strategy than just trusting your gut and saying “that’s good value!” when you see a good price?
Estimate your outstanding range R: how much further can you go? Your car might be able to help you with this. Let’s say we’ve got 82 miles in the tank.
Estimate the average distance between filling stations on your route, D. You can do this as-you-go by counting them over a fixed distance and continue from step #4 as you do so, and it’ll only really mess you up if there are very few. Maybe we’re on a big trunk road and there’s a filling station about every 5 miles.
Divide R by D to get F: the number of filling stations you expect to pass before you completely run out of fuel. Round down, obviously, unless you’re happy to push your vehicle to the “next” one when it breaks down. In our example above, that gives us 16 filling stations we’ll probably see before we’re stranded.
Divide F by e to get T (use e = 2.72 if you’re having to do this in your head). Round down again, for the same reason as before. This gives us T=5.
Drive past the next T filling stations and remember the lowest price you see. Don’t stop for fuel at any of these.
Keep driving, and stop at the first filling station where the fuel is the same price or cheaper than the cheapest you’ve seen so far.
This is a modified variant of the Secretary Problem because it’s possible for two filling stations to have the same price, and that’s reflected in the algorithm above by the allowance for stopping for fuel at the same price as the best you saw during your sampling phase. It’s probably preferable to purchase sub-optimally than to run completely dry, right?
Of course, you’re still never guaranteed a good solution with this approach, but it maximises your odds. Your own risk-assessment might rank “not breaking down” over pure mathematical efficiency, and that’s on you.
Without even a touch of the steering wheel, the electric car reverses autonomously into the recharging station
I won’t be plugging it in though, instead, the battery will be swapped for a fresh one, at this facility in Norway belonging to Chinese electric carmaker, Nio.
The technology is already widespread in China, but the new Power Swap Station, just south of Oslo, is Europe’s first.
This is what I’ve been saying for years would be a better strategy for electric vehicles. Instead of charging them (the time needed to charge is their single biggest weakness compared to fuelled vehicles) we should be doing battery swaps. A decade or two ago I spoke hopefully for some kind of standardised connector and removal interface, probably below the vehicle, through which battery cells could be swapped-out by robots operating in a pit. Recovered batteries could be recharged and reconditioned by the robots at their own pace. People could still charge their cars in a plug-in manner at their homes or elsewhere.
You’d pay for the difference in charge between the old and replacement battery, plus a service charge for being part of the battery-swap network, and you’d be set. Car manufacturers could standardise on battery designs, much like the shipping industry long-ago standardised on container dimensions and whatnot, to take advantage of compatibility with the wider network.
Rather than having different sizes of battery, vehicles could be differentiated by the number of serial battery units installed. A lorry might need four or five units; a large car two; a small car one, etc. If the interface is standardised then all the robots need to be able to do is install and remove them, however many there are.
This is far from an unprecedented concept: the centuries-old idea of stagecoaches (and, later, mail coaches) used the same idea, but with the horses being changed at coaching inns rather. Did you know that the “stage” in stagecoach refers to the fact that their journey would be broken into stages by these quick stops?
Anyway: I dismayed a little when I saw every EV manufacturer come up with their own battery standards, co=operating only as far as the plug-in charging interfaces (and then, only gradually and not completely!). But I’m given fresh hope by this discovery that China’s trying to make it work, and Nio‘s movement in Norway is exciting too. Maybe we’ll get there someday.
Indian horn culture is weird to begin with. But I just learned that apparently it’s a thing to honk your in horn in displeasure at the stationary traffic ahead of you… even when that traffic is queueing at traffic lights! In order to try to combat the cacophony, Mumbai police hooked up a decibel-meter to the traffic lights at a junction such that if the noise levels went over a certain threshold during the red light phase, the red light phase would be extended by resetting the timer.
Last week I happened to be at an unveiling/premiere event for the new Renault Clio. That’s a coincidence: I was actually there to see the new Zoe, because we’re hoping to be among the first people to get the right-hand-drive version of the new model when it starts rolling off the production line in 2020.
But I’ll tell you what, if they’d have shown me this video instead of showing me the advertising stuff they did, last week, I’d have been all: sure thing, Clio it is, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY! I’ve watched this ad four times now and seen more things in it every single time. (I even managed to not-cry at it on the fourth watch-through, too; hurrah!).
The battery indicator on the eV I’m renting wasn’t confident that I’d make it all the way back home without a top-up, so I stopped for a 45 minute charge and a drink – the former for the car, the latter for me – at the services (pic attached of me at the chargers: this is nowhere near the GZ!) and figured I’d try to find the cache while I was waiting.
Coords took me to an unlikely looking spot and the hint wasn’t much use, so I looked at the logs and noticed that a few people had reported that they had found themselves on the “wrong side of the road”. That could be me, too, I thought… but the wrong way… in which direction? There were two roads alongside me.
I spotted a tall white thing that was different to the others and guessed that maybe that was what the hint referred to? When I got there, I even found a likely looking hiding place, but clearly my brain is still in USA-caching mode (I was caching on California a couple of weeks ago) because the hiding place I was looking at was the kind of “LPC” that just doesn’t happen over here. Damn.
So I stopped and tried to look nonchalant for a while, pacing around and looking for anything else that might fit the clue. Then I saw three things close together on the other-other side of the road and it immediately clicked that I was looking for something like them. I crossed over, sat down on the convenient perch while I waited for some muggles to pass, retrieved the cache and – at last – signed the log in what was basically the only remaining bit of space.
Had my GPSr sent me to the right place to begin with this adventure would have been much shorter, but I got there in the end… and still with 13 minutes of charging time left before I could drive away. TFTC!
It turns out that Renault’s target customer base in Brazil do, too. Presumably it was a way bigger deal over there than it was here, because this new car ad feels like it could genuinely be a trailer for a live-action reboot of the series. And now I want to watch it.
(I do have some questions, though. Like: Diana was only 14 years old when she and her friends were transported to the Realm of Dungeons and Dragons… so when did she learn to drive? Am I supposed to believe that she just rolled a natural 20 on that driving check? And where does Sheila go when she turns invisible so that Bobby doesn’t end up sitting on her transparent-lap? And how does the car’s navigation computer work: are we to believe that there’s a GNSS network in the skies above the Realm? The Internet must know!)
There is a distinct lack of coloration in today’s automobiles, with the majority seemingly finished in a shade that could be found on a greyscale chart. Things are no better in the interior; nearly always black, beige or grey, colours that architectural and couture designers refer to as neutrals. To make matters worse, these shades are all too often matched to the exterior pigment (i.e. black with black, silver with grey) to create insidious and mind-numbing monochrome vehicles that appear to have simply been dipped whole into a large vat of colourant.
1937 Delahaye 135, ivory and navy blue with dark red leather
Things were not always this gloomy. From the dawn of motoring through the 1920s, cars were painted in a full spectrum of colours, often in vivid combinations. The world’s first motor vehicle, the 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen was green, with its fully-exposed engine finished in bright red. At the Villa d’Este or Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance one sees a veritable riot of colour that would likely be a bit shocking to today’s consumers: black with orange, yellow with orange, dark and light blue, dark and light green, red with blue, maroon with red; the palette was limitless.
I’m not even remotely “into” cars but I loved this article… and I do think that it’s a bit of a shame that cars don’t exhibit the variety of colour that they used to, any longer. As a kid, I remember that the old chap who lived on the other side of our street kept a remarkably old-fashioned but regal looking car (I’ve no idea what it was: I was only very young) in racing green with maroon trim and leather, and chrome window frames. I used to think how cool it was that he got to have a car that was so distinctive and unusual, because it was already rare to see things that didn’t just fit into the same boxy, bland palettes. Since then, things have only gotten worse: I can’t remember the time that my daily commute took me past a car that wasn’t painted in an all-encompassing single-colour coat of metallic black, white, silver, red, or blue and with interior plastic entirely in one of two shades of dark grey.
Hopefully it’s just a phase that we, as a society, are going through.
Hello, friendly insurance salesman I spoke to earlier today! I’ve been expecting you. Also: sorry.
I’ve been expecting you because you seemed so keen to finish your shift and search for me and, with my name, I’m pretty easy to find. I knew that you planned to search for me because after I caused so much trouble for your computer systems then, well, I probably deserved it.
I’m sorry that what should have been a click-click-done exercise came down to a live chat session and then a phone call. I don’t mean to be more work for people.
But thank you for being friendly. And useful. And generally awesome. I expected a painful process, perhaps because that’s what I’d had from my last insurer. You, on the other hand (and your Live Chat colleague who I spoke to beforehand) were fantastic. Somehow you were more-pleasant, more-competent, and represent better value than the insurer we’re coming from, so thank you. And that’s the real reason that I hope you’ll follow through on the suggestion that you search for me by name: because you deserve a pat on the back.
As Tesla expands its Supercharger network, the automaker intends to up its game, building higher-end, retail-rich locations that CEO Elon Musk has called “Mega Superchargers” but that we’ll call just Megachargers.
CEO Elon Musk has speculatively described them as “like really big supercharging locations with a bunch of amenities,” complete with “great restrooms, great food, amenities” and an awesome place to “hang out for half an hour and then be on your way.”
The move makes sense. Superchargers are currently located through the US and other countries, providing the fastest rate of recharging available to Tesla owners. The station can have varying numbers of charging stalls, however, and they aren’t always located in the best areas for passing the time while a Tesla inhales new electrons, although Tesla typically tries to construct them near retail and dining options…
Knowledgable, friendly staff. However, had an exceptionally long wait for a (pre-scheduled) test drive and was later quoted an asking price that was higher than the price from the dealer’s website, which is less-impressive!
IMO Car Wash,
2 Bicester Rd, Kidlington OX5 2LE, United Kingdom.
Good value, so long as you buy what you want and don’t let your eyes start drifting up the board (“for only a pound more… for only another pound more…”). Sometimes long queues, ocassionally to the point where the nearby junction is impacted – avoid if there are more than two cars waiting to go in!
Update: following feedback from folks who found this post from Twitter, I just wanted to say at the top of this post – we’re all okay.
Our holiday in Devon last week turned out to be… memorable… both for happy holiday reasons and for somewhat more-tragic ones. Selected features of the trip included:
We spent most of the week in Croyde, a picturesque and tourist-centric village on Devon’s North coast. The combination of the life of a small village and being at the centre of a surfer scene makes for a particularly eccentric and culturally-unusual place. Quirky features of the village included the bakery, which seemed to only bake a half-dozen croissants each morning and sell out shortly after they opened (which was variably between 8am and 9am, pretty much at random), the ice cream shop which closed at lunchtime on the hottest day of our stay, and the fish & chip shop that was so desperate to “use up their stock”, for some reason, that they suggested that we might like a cardboard box rather than a carrier bag in which to take away our food, “so they could get rid of it”.
The Eden Project
Ever since it opened in the early 2000s, I’d always wanted to visit The Eden Project – a group of biome domes deep in the valley of a former Cornish quarry, surrounded by gardens and eco-exhibitions and stuff. And since we’d come all of the way to Devon (via Cardiff, which turns out to be quite the diversion, actually!), we figured that we might as well go the extra 90 miles into Cornwall to visit the place. It was pretty fabulous, actually, although the heat and humidity of the jungle biome really did make it feel like we were trekking through the jungle, from time to time.
On one day of our holiday, I took an afternoon to make a 6½ mile hike/jog around the Northern loop of the Way Down West series of geocaches, which turned out to be somewhat gruelling on account of the ill-maintained rural footpaths of North Devon and taking an inadequate supply of water for the heat of the afternoon.
On the upside, though, I managed to find 55 geocaches in a single afternoon, on foot, which is more than three times my previous best “daily score”, and took me through some genuinely beautiful and remote Devon countryside.
We took an expedition out to Watermouth Castle, which turned out to be an experience as eccentric as we’d found Croyde to be, before it. The only possible explanation I can think of for the place is that it must be owned by a child of a hoarder, who inherited an enormous collection of random crap and needed to find a way to make money out of it… so they turned it into something that’s 50% museum, 50% theme park, and 100% fever dream.
There’s a cellar full of old bicycles. A room full of old kitchen equipment. A room containing a very large N-gauge model railway layout. Several rooms containing entertainments that would have looked outdated on a 1970s pier: fortune tellers, slot machines, and delightfully naïve peep-show boxes. A hedge maze with no exit. A disturbingly patriotic water show with organ accompaniment. A garden full of dancing gnomes. A hall of mirrors. A mock 1920s living room. A room full of primitive washing machines and their components. The whole thing feels schizophrenic, but somehow charming too: like a reminder of how far entertainment and conveniences have come in the last hundred years.
We took a hike out to beautiful Baggy Point, a beautiful headland stretching out into the Atlantic to make it the Easternmost point in North Devon. It was apparently used by soldiers training for the D-Day landings, but nowadays it seems mostly to be used to graze goats. The whole area made me reminisce about walks to Borth along the Ceredigion coast. Unfortunately for Ruth and JTA, who headed back to our accommodation before me, I’d failed to hand them the key to the front door before we parted ways and I went off to explore the rest of the headland, and in my absence they had to climb in through the window.
For all of the wonderful things we got up to in Devon, though – everything above and more besides – the reason that we’ll no-doubt never forget this particular trip came as we set off on our way home.
[spb_message color=”alert-warning” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]Warning: this section discusses a tragic car accident.[/spb_message]
About an hour after we set off for home on our final day in Devon, we ended up immediately behind a terrible crash, involving two cars striking one another head-on at an incredible speed. We saw it coming with only seconds to spare before both vehicles smashing together, each thrown clear to a side of the road as a cloud of shattered glass and metal was flung into the air. JTA was driving at this point, and hit the brakes in time to keep us clear of the whirling machines, but it was immediately apparent that we were right in the middle of something awful. I shouted for Ruth and JTA to see what they could do (they’re both Red Cross first aiders, after all) as I phoned the emergency services and extracted our location from the SatNav, then started working to ensure that a path was cleared through the traffic so that the ambulances would be able to get through.
A passer-by – an off-duty police officer – joined Ruth and I in performing CPR on one of the drivers, until paramedics arrived. My first aid training’s rusty compared to Ruth and JTA’s, of course, but even thinking back to my training so long ago, I can tell you is that doing it with a real person – surrounded by glass and oil and blood – is a completely different experience to doing it on a dummy. The ambulance crew took over as soon as they arrived, but it seems that it was too late for her. Meanwhile the driver of the other car, who was still conscious and was being supported by JTA, hung on bravely but, local news reported, died that afternoon in hospital. Between the two cars, two people were killed; the third person – a passenger – survived, as did a dog who was riding in the back of one of the cars.
I am aware that I’ve described the incident, and our participation in its aftermath, in a very matter-of-fact way. That’s because I’m honestly not sure what I mean to say, beyond that. It’s something that’s shaken me – the accident was, as far as I could see, the kind of thing that could happen to any of us at any time, and that realisation forces upon me an incredible sense of my own fragility. Scenes from the experience – the cars shattering apart; the dying driver; her courageous passenger – haunt me. But it feels unfair to dwell on such things: no matter what I feel, there’s no way to ignore the stark truth that no matter how much we were affected by the incident… the passenger, and the families and friends of those involved, will always have been affected more.
It took hours for us to get back on the road again, and the police were very apologetic. But honestly: I don’t think that any of us felt 100% happy about being behind the wheel of a car again after what had just happened. Our journey back home was slow and cautious, filled with the images of the injuries we’d seen and with a newly acute awareness of the dangers of the glass-and-metal box we sat inside. We stopped at a service station part-way home, and I remarked to Ruth how surreal it felt that everybody around us was behaving so normally: drinking a coffee; reading a paper; oblivious to the fact that just a few tens of miles and a couple of hours away, people just like them had lost their lives, doing exactly what they were about to go and do.
It’s all about perspective, of course. I feel a deep sorrow for the poor families of the people who didn’t make it. I feel a periodic pang of worry that perhaps there were things I could have done: What if I’d have more-recently practised first aid? What if I’d more-quickly decoded our position and relayed it to the operator? What if I’d have offered to help Ruth immediately, rather than assuming that she had sufficient (and the right kind of) help and instead worked on ensuring that the traffic was directed? I know that there’s no sense in such what-if games: they’re just a slow way to drive yourself mad.
Maybe I’m just looking for a silver lining or a moral or something in this story that I just can’t find. For a time I considered putting this segment into a separate blog post: but I realised that the only reason I was doing so was to avoid talking about it. And as I’m sure you all know already, that’s not a healthy approach.
Right now, I can only say one thing for certain: our holiday to Devon is a trip I’ll never forget.
There are two varieties of car sharing clubs. These are:
Ones like Zipcar, which are companies with a large fleet of vehicles, pre-vetting of customers, and “live”/”on-demand” booking.
Ones like WhipCar, which act as portals to allow members of the public to borrow one another’s privately-owned cars.
I haven’t had the chance to try the latter variety yet, although there are a number in my area. The important things are the things that both types have in common, and that is distinctfrom most traditional car rental companies:
They keep their fleets spread out in disparate locations, meaning that you don’t have to “go somewhere” to pick up a car.
They make heavy use of the Internet, mobile apps, and – in the case of the corporate varieties – remotely-managed engine computers and RFID technology, to give their members access to vehicles.
As a result of the above, they cater in particular to people who want to borrow a car occasionally, conveniently, but only perhaps for a few hours at a time.
For me, at least, it’s far cheaper than owning a car – I only make one journey a week, and sometimes not even that. It’s far more convenient for that journey, for me, than public transport (which would involve travelling at awkward times and a longer journey duration). If I were using my own car, I’d have to park it in Oxford city centre on Mondays in order to make my journey possible (which is as challenging as it is expensive). Paying by the half-hour makes it convenient for short hops, and the ability to book, pick up, and return the car without staff intervention means that it doesn’t matter if it’s midnight or a bank holiday or anything: if I ever need access to a car or van in a hurry, there’s almost always one available for me to just “swipe into”.
And it’s far simpler than a conventional car rental company… at least, once you’ve gone through the telephone set-up process: a three-way phone call between you, the DVLA, and the car hire company. If I want a car, I pop up the website or pull out my phone, find a nearby one that’s free when I want it, and go drive.
The cars are all new and well-kept, and the pricing is reasonable: you get a daily mileage allowance (now 40 miles, which is pretty ideal for me, as my round trip journey is barely more than that), and then pay a mileage rate thereafter (if you need to fuel up, there’s a fuel card in the car). Paying by the mile, rather than the litre, has the unfortunate side-effect of failing to encourage eco-driving, but other than that it’s a sensible policy which allows you to accurately anticipate your costs.
It’s been great, so far. I’ve been doing it for a few months and I’ve only had one niggle: I was on my way to college, as usual, when Zipcar called me to let me know that the previous person booking my car was running late. I’d never had this happen before: I’d never even been lined up back-to-back with another user before; it actually seems to be quite rare. In any case, Zipcar found me another car, which I declined (it was on the wrong side of town, and by the time I’d cycled back to it and driven across to this side again, I might as well have waited). In the end, the other user was fined, and I was given a discount in excess of the “missed” time, which I spent on a tin of biscuits to share with my classmates by way of apology for turning up late and disrupting the lesson. I’ve had a few difficulties with their website, especially when they first started taking over Streetcar’s fleets, but they’ve been pretty good about fixing them promptly.
So there we go: a nod of approval for Zipcar from me. So if you’re based in London (where there’s loads of them), Brighton, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, or – soon – Maidstone, Guildford, or Edinburgh, and occasionally have need for an on-demand car, look into them. And if you sign up using this link or the shiny button below, we’ll each get £25 of free driving credit. Bonus!
I didn’t sleep well; I woke up several times throughout the night. On the upside, I have a strong recollection of three distinct yet inter-related dreams:
Dream I: Alex and the Accident
I came into work as normal and spoke to Alex, my co-worker. He’d been in some sort of car accident in which he’d hit and killed a man in an electric scooter. There was a lot of ambiguity about whose fault it was – the man had apparently accelerated his scooter right out into traffic… but Alex had been driving too fast at the time.
My mum’s partner’s son, I recently learned, was in a car crash a week ago.
At work yesterday my boss was telling me about expensive repairs to his car.
I was a Western spy during the Cold War, attempting to infiltrate a Soviet University. With some difficulty, I was able to become enrolled at the University, but soon came under suspicion from the administrative management (all Party members, of course) after my luggage was found to contain a British newspaper. The newspaper contained details of Alex’s car crash, from Dream I, and this was later re-printed in the local newspapers, but with a suitably communist spin.
Later, after my cover was blown, I made plans to flee the country and return to the West.
I woke up, got dressed, and went to work. I discussed with co-workers Alex and Gareth a dream I’d had the previous night, in which Alex had crashed his car (as per Dream I) and about a film I’d seen the previous evening, about the infiltration of a Soviet University by a Western agent (as per Dream II). I explained that apparently the film was supposed to be about drugs, but maybe I’d failed to understand it because I didn’t see how it was supposed to be about drugs at all.
A client of ours paid a deposit on a reasonably-large job we’d quoted for, and I begun laying the foundations of the work as described in our technical specification.
Third dream references the first two dreams, but as different media: one as a dream, the other as a film!
I’m expecting to get started on a new contract within the next couple of weeks, similar to the one referenced by the dream.
It was quite disappointing to be woken by my alarm and to discover that I still had to get up and go to work. While I’m usually quite aware that I’m dreaming when I’m dreaming, I somehow got suckered in by Dream III and had really got into the groove of going to work and getting on with my day, probably because I’d so readily assumed that Dream I was the dream and therefore that the same mundane things happening again must have been real life.
I was prompted to wonder, momentarily, if I might still be dreaming, when an unusual thing happened on the way to work. Just after I passed the site of the old post office sorting yard, about a third of the way to the office, I came across a woman crouched in a doorway, reaching out to a blue tit which was sat quite still in the middle of the pavement. Still half-asleep, I only barely noticed them in time to not walk right through them.
The bird must be injured, I thought, to not be flying away, as the woman managed to reach around it and pick it up. I stopped and waited to see if I could be of any use. Seconds later, the little creature wriggled free and flew off to perch on top of a nearby fence: it was perfectly fine!
The woman seemed as perplexed at this as I was: perhaps we both just found the world’s stupidest blue tit. I double-checked the clock on my phone (this is a reasonably-good “am I dreaming?” check for me, personally, as is re-reading text and using light switches) – but no, this was real. Just weird.
Edit: changed “Callbacks:” to “Significance:”. This is the format in which I’ll be blogging about the dreams I share with you now, I’ve decided.