New Tesla charging stations could compete with Starbucks

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

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…

Devon – the trip we’ll never forget

[spb_message color=”alert-warning” width=”1/1″ el_position=”first last”]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.[/spb_message]

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:

Croyde

A Fish & Chip shop in Croyde
This pile of breezeblocks on the edge of a camp site was perhaps the sketchiest fish & chip shop we’d ever seen. Not bad grub, though!

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”.

Annabel on the beach with Ruth and JTA
“You’ve never seen a beach before, have you? Isn’t this exciting?”
/stares in wonderment at own thumbs/

The Eden Project

Annabel looks out over the Eden Project
In the right dome, a Mediterranean climate. In the left, a jungle. In both, lots of things for Annabel to try to grab hold of and put in her mouth.

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.

Annabel gets a drink in the cool room.
The jungle biome was a little hot for poor Annabel, and she was glad to get into the cool room and have a drink of water.

Geocaching

Stile to an overgrown path; Devon.
In Devon, nipple-high grass counts as a “footpath”.

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.

Very badly-maintained footpath in North Devon.
Seriously, Devon: if I need to bring a machete, it’s not a bridleway.

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.

Dan with GC24YCW - Way Down West 105
GC24YCW (“Way Down West 105”) was the last in my 55-cache series, and my body was glad of it.

Watermouth Castle

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.

ABBA Robots at Watermouth Castle
A group of animatronic robots playing automatic-organ versions of ABBA songs greet you at Watermouth Castle. And then things get weird.

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.

Baggy Point

Ruth, JTA and Annabel on Baggy Point
The tip of Baggy Point gave me vibes of Aberystwyth’s own Constitution Hill, with the exception that it was sunny at Baggy Point.

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.

The Collision

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.

Police car in Devon
Ambulances, fire engines, and police cars arrived quickly, or so it felt: honestly, my perception of time at this point was completely shaken.

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.

The emergency services from a distance
Once we’d handed over to the emergency services, we retreated to a safe distance and, for perhaps the first time, began to contemplate what we’d seen.

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.

Zip-A-De-Do-Car, Zip-A-De-Day

Recently, I wrote about the fact that I’m driving to and from Aylesbury once a week in order to study there. I passed my driving test a year and a half ago, but, of course, I don’t actually own a car. What I’ve been doing is using a car sharing company called Zipcar (technically, Streetcar, when I started, but the latter is merging into the former).

Golf "Eulalia", one of the Oxford Streetcar/Zipcar vehicles, seen here parked at Aylesbury College.

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.
The sensor on the top of the dashboard allows the car to be locked and unlocked with your RFID card (assuming that you've made a booking).

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.

As you can probably see, this is the iPhone version of the app. The Android one is virtually identical.

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!

Join Zipcar and get £25 in free driving!

Uncommon Occurances

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.

Significance:

  • 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 re-watched the shocking new don’t text and drive video yesterday.

Dream II – In The Red

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.

Significance:

  • Second dream references the first dream.
  • The University campus was familiar; it was a little reminiscent of the University Of Worcester campus where I was at BiCon almost three weeks ago.

Dream III – Going To Work

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.

Significance:

  • 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.

Digital Sounds For Quiet Cars – I Totally Predicted This

The Economist has a story about a bill going through US Congress about the noise (or lack thereof) made by electric and some hybrid cars. For years, I’ve pretty much predicted this development. Only I meant it in a tongue-in-cheek way.

“Cars are getting quieter and quieter,” I’ve been heard to say, “And electric and hybrid cars promise to be quieter still. I’ll bet that someday, people will realise that these quiet cars are actually more dangerous than traditional, noisy cars with internal combustion engines, and at that point laws will be passed requiring cars to make a noise.”

“There’s already legislation that requires indicators to make a ‘tick-tock’ sound, since we did away with the relays that used to make the sound we associate with indicators. Cheap cars tend to make a shitty-sounding, very-obviously-synthesised sound. So, we can assume that cheap cars in the future will make the cheapest-sounding ‘engine’ sounds. You’ll hear them coming with a uniform ‘brum-brum-brum-brum-brum’ sound, or a grating ‘bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’.”

“But cars are more than a means of transport; they’re a status symbol, and we already see people tricking out their wheels with glowy lights and things that make their exhaust pipes louder and fake spoilers. And as time goes on, the technology to make higher-quality synthesised sounds will make it into the cheap, chavvy cars. And what’ll happen when the cheap, chavvy cars get sold, with sophisticated built-in synthesisers? The same thing that happened when the cheap mobile phones became capable of playing sophisticated audio formats: custom ringtones.”

“Someday, within my lifetime, somebody will be run over by a car that sounds like Crazy Frog. And it will be both sad and hilarious in equal measure.”

Something we didn’t see coming a decade ago.

How To Fix A Flat Car Battery For Beginners

Unfortunatley my plans for a nice relaxed evening over a pint were delayed somewhat by having to help to fix Claire’s car, first. In a fantastic display of sense she’d left the headlights on on Sunday night, and all through Monday, and so by Tuesday the battery was very, very dead.

So she, Bryn, Kit and I stood in a cold and rainy car park, trying to remove Bryn’s car battery to get Claire’s car going, then switch back to her battery while it’s running so we could charge it with a nice long drive. But no such luck: the considerate engineers at Vauxhall decided that to remove the battery you must either (a) own a spanner with a neck width about the size of a human hair or (b) remove the engine first.

Thankfully I was able to persuade a taxi driver at the nearby rank to drive around with some jump leads and get her going. Suddenly this made things a lot easier.

In brighter news, Bryn got offered a year in industry placement with the National Library of Wales, which means that he, too, will be living in Aberystwyth for the summer.