Tag: consumption

In 1998 I acquired a Honda Civic called Sophie. She was a wonderful car, taking me many places: Watsonville, CA; Paducah, KY; Murfreesboro, TN; Hammonton, NJ; Gainesville, FL. We repaired her many times and never thought we would ever need another car. “Man,” I said one time. “I hope we can just keep repairing this car forever.”

Then a deer tried to kill me and we had to give Sophie up to the nice people at the insurance company. Suddenly in need of motorized transportation, I began to explore my options.

“Dear husband,” my wife said during the process, “behold this promotional information from our local electrical company.” She forwarded me an electronic-mail communiqué about a subsidy offer on the cost of an all-new 2016 Nissan LEAF electronic motor carriage.

“I do not think that will suit our many needs, dear wife,” I said. “Thank you for the information, but I would hate to be constrained by the myriad limitations such a transport package requires.” I began looking into used hybrid vehicles.

Then I reconsidered, as my hyperactive brain is wont to do. I realized that 90% of our automotive needs revolve around my daily 20-mile commute to and from the nearby town where I teach. How ever would we take road trips? I wondered. We were under some pressure — the electric company offer was set to expire in less than a week, and the insurance company was eager to snatch up Sophie’s remains. We made lists of pros and cons.

As I pondered, I was invited to join a Facebook group of LEAF owners. I was told I didn’t need to be an actual owner to join, so I did. I inquired about some details, perused the several-years-old Consumer Reports Buying Guides we had lying about, and finally decided to do the environmentally-proper thing.

Imagine never having to buy gas again. Imagine never needing another oil change. Then I realized we didn’t need to buy — in fact, I learned that 75% of those who drive electric vehicles (or EVs, as they are known) lease instead, due to rapidly improving technology. So I arranged for a test drive (it felt exactly like every other car I’ve ever driven), and then said “Okay, let’s do it.” So we did it.

One Story Ends, Another Begins

On my way to swap Sophie for the new car, I realized this was my last chance to play music through Sophie’s system. I put on a mix of very loud hip-hop (Public Enemy, Jedi Mind Tricks, Wu-Tang Clan) and turned the volume all the way to its maximum setting. I expected the speakers to explode or distort horribly, but nothing happened. And by “nothing”, I mean “the awesome music came out real loud”.

At school on the day of the lease signing, I realized I needed to play some appropriate music. Panicked, I checked my iPod Touch to see what I had. I was delighted to find “Electric Avenue” by dub-rock superstar Eddy Grant. “That’s it,” I said to my next-door-teaching neighbor. “His name shall be Eddy.”

I spent two hours at the dealership waiting around and signing paperwork, and then I drove out of the lot blasting “Electric Avenue”. It was a sonically perfect moment. When I got it home, I told my wife about the vehicle’s name. “Niels,” she said. “His name is Niels, like Niels Bohr.”

“No,” I said. “It’s Eddy, like Eddy Grant.” We settled on Niels for a middle name, and then I added “von Yectinbach” because of an awesome name I used once in a short story.

The car came with a standard-looking extension cord for what’s called “trickle charging”: slow electricity from a standard outlet. It can take the car from empty to full in 20 hours. Most days I came home from school, plugged the car in, and it was 85% filled in the morning.

Things got a little tricky when I had to do errands, or we went out in the evening — these things not only consumed more juice, but they cut down on the time allowed for trickle charging. I read stories about people who lost power on the road, and found themselves crawling toward a charger in “Turtle Mode”, a maximum of 5 MPH.


Fortunately, we located and acquired an alternative, in the form of a Clipper Creek HCS-40 EVSE  240V Level 2 EV Charging Station. Similar to the public chargers found in cities across the country, this baby allows us to go from empty to full in a mere four hours. (By the way, anyone looking to have electrical work done in the Madison area should contact Scott Kiel. He is friendly, quick, and professional.)

Even better, there are Level 3 chargers in some spots (including one in Madison and another in Sun Prairie, where I teach) that can fill an EV 80% full in just 30 minutes. (They’re expensive, tho.)

In the future, removable batteries will make life even easier for EV drivers like me. As it is, road trips aren’t really on the horizon. Our car has a range of 115 miles, so I don’t ever plan to take it more than 50 miles from home.

Heat and AC also affect range; as soon as I press the climate control button, the “Distance Remaining” gauge drops 10 miles or so. This isn’t a big deal for me, since I own a good coat and nice gloves. (I never really put Sophie’s heat on more than one notch anyway, except for a few times in the worst bits of February.)

Not Really Mine

The lease aspect has actually given me more pause than the electric part. I’m not used to driving a car that is technically owned by someone else. (This is a profound reflection of my middle-class privilege, I suppose.) I was nervous about applying bumper stickers, because they are sure to have an impact on the residual value. (This is estimated at the start of the lease period, and I pay the difference between the sticker price and the value of the car at the end of three years. Less the electric company subsidy, of course.)

Eventually I threw caution into the wind and bought three cool stickers from Northern Sun, my long-time go-to shop for leftist propaganda. I also found a wicked Public Enemy decal online, and popped it on the rear window. (The cool side effect is the awesome shadow it casts on the back seat.)

Eddy is perfect for us. The back area is a little too small to put Diane’s bike in (as I had hoped to do), but attaching the rack is easy, so it’s no different from Sophie in that respect. With the Level 2 charger I have no more range anxiety whatsoever. Even if I were to drain the battery, I can plug it in at night and it’ll be full in the morning, every time.

The other nice thing is the on-board computer, which recognizes my phone and starts playing music automatically. No more fiddling with aux cables. Hooray! (When I used an aux cord with Sophie, I had to constantly adjust the volume once I returned to headphones.)

Unfortunately, the dealership people didn’t activate something called the TCU, which allows me to connect Eddy to the Nissan App on my phone. As a result I spent several hours trying to sync it up, only to hear from the Nissan Tech Support guy that I needed to make an appointment with the dealer to get it sorted. Apparently it’s a process that takes five minutes, but the guy I spoke to said they wouldn’t have any openings after 4:00 until the end of December.

It doesn’t really matter, because the only reason I want app functionality in the first place is to start the car up in the morning while I’m still inside, and let it warm up while it’s plugged in. On the other hand, I heard recently that the Nissan App is woefully vulnerable to hacking, so maybe I should just leave the TCU unconnected. (Some of the news reports I’ve seen about people hacking into internet-linked cars are distressing. Cars just stop in the middle of the road and stuff.)

All in all, I could not be happier with Eddy. He’s a great lil’ guy, and he even has silly luxuries like seat warmers and a heated steering wheel. He’s kinda bulky, and I can’t wonder how much more efficient he would be if he were smaller. But he’s got really good pickup, and the keyless entry is more enjoyable than I ever expected. (I keep thinking about how nice it would be to abandon ancient mechanistic devices for other locks.)

Plus, we’re going to install solar panels on our roof someday soon. Then — as my lovely wife says — when I drive, I will be “farting out rainbows”. What a time to be alive!

Burning Away

/u/Crinkles_Montgomery posted this on Reddit. Superb work, made from UNKLE’s “Burn My Shadow” and stock video footage.

Reminds me of this quote from David Foster Wallace:

 If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.

Words, Words, Words

Recently a horror magazine put out a call for submissions on Reddit. I’ve never really written a horror story (partly because, as a schoolteacher, I feel restrained from writing the kind of nasty stuff that is usually found in the genre), so I took a shot.

I think the resulting story, “Dermatobia hominis”, is decent, but it got rejected. The editor gave some feedback (which is rare, and which I appreciate) indicating that the main character is underdeveloped and the story feels predictable. I can’t really argue with these, but in the first case I don’t much care. It’s not about the main character (and yet even as I write that sentence its absurdity strikes me); it’s about what happens to the main character. (Besides, we do know some things about the main character.)

As for the second: Yeah, it’s probably predictable (I can’t judge). But isn’t Romeo and Juliet predictable too? I think this strikes at the biggest problem I face with the horror genre: Everything in it is predictable as heck, and I thought I was doing something interesting by exploring the real behavior of an actual animal.

I know writers have to be tough, and generally I don’t care when someone doesn’t like something I’ve written. But this is why I don’t spend much time on the post-writing part of things. I hate begging people to read my stuff, and it’s disappointing to get negative reactions. Then again, it’s got to be part of my life if I ever want to get a bigger audience.

The other problem, of course, is that I wrote the thing so very quickly, and I don’t know how confident I am about it. If this were “z”, then I wouldn’t give two figs about what people said about it. I know that story is awesome. I think this one is good, but I don’t have the same love for it. I think I’m going to submit it elsewhere, but it’s a gamble. If it gets rejected again, that will feel even more painful. But it’s ridiculous to just give up when I get rejected once. (Insert boring aside about my pathetic love life pre-2k.)


On a lighter note: I got a new keyboard, the state-of-the-art Microsoft Wired 600. I wasn’t opposed to something a little more fancy, but the reason I bought this one is because it was literally the only keyboard in two office supply stores that wasn’t wireless. Why do I want a wireless keyboard!? That’s all I need — more batteries running down and polluting the planet. Besides, my keyboard is always in the same place, in my little roll-out tray under my desk. I can’t imagine who has such an active lifestyle (but still uses a desktop PC) that they need a wireless keyboard.

The interesting thing for me is how different the typing experience is with it. I only recently began to realize how gummy and unresponsive my old Apple keyboard was (I have no idea when I got that one). I’m still getting used to the different spacing on this one, so I’m probably getting the same error rate. But when I don’t, it seems so nice and smooth.

I also got the video game Super Hexagon, which is an evil exercise is masochistic punishment. It works much better with a fresh new keyboard. I still hate it, tho.

My Consumptive Hypocrisy

I pride myself on being frugal and living a simple life. In a world awash in hyperconsumption (and therefore drowning in debt, sickened by media misrepresentations, and inured to empathy), it’s a virtue to reject The Man’s prime consumption directive. (In case it’s not obvious, I’m also in love with the second meaning of the word consumption.)

I prefer to meditate, live well, and enjoy what I have. Long ago I realized the sublime joy that comes from detaching from conspicuous consumption. (I once saw a quote somewhere about “How lovely it is to wander around a shopping mall, gazing at all the things I don’t need”.)

We have a house that’s just the right size for us. Our car is 15 years old but reliable. We have a normal human-sized television. I don’t love shopping the way some people do; in fact, I start to get irritated and grumpy after 30 minutes in a store. I can feel the psychological marketing tricks working on me, and I don’t like it.

There are, however, three areas where my anticonsumption simple-living platitudes break down: Books, music, and video games. We ran out of shelf space long ago, so we have dozens of books laid on top of neatly-organized texts. Music is all digital these days, so there’s no space problem there — and truth be told I’m quite picky these days, so I don’t buy much music lately.

Video games are another story. I accumulate games with a rabid fanaticism that puzzles even me. As much as I ridicule people who live at the mall or go racing off to whatever idiotic sale pops up, I find myself compelled to check the internet every day for new game deals. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing.

This morning I hit a new low, when I bought a game on Steam that I already own. I guess this is how it starts — you lose sight of what you have, and you keep throwing money after money at your addiction, trying to sate the monkey on your back. Before you know it, you’re alone with your crap and you spend hours staring at it, wondering how your life went so terribly, terribly wrong. Then you go on Reality TV.

I’m legally forbidden from judging anyone else ever again for Black Friday shenanigans. I will continue to mock and lambaste the marketers responsible for our consumer frenzy, but after wallowing in new depths of this little inferno, I cannot in good conscience level an accusatory finger at other humans for buying things they don’t need.

Davey D on Black Friday

Hip-hop journalist Davey D writes about a wide variety of topics, and his take on Black Friday is definitely worth a read.

Many of the items that drew folks to stand in these long lines were limited. You weren’t guaranteed to get a 50″ flat screen TV for $150. But after standing on-line for several hours you were gonna pony up and buy something.