Has the time of the electric car arrived?

My son is on the wait list for a Tesla Model 3, an electric car that is supposed to be available by the end of 2017 with a base price of $35,000 and a range over 200 miles. If you apply a to-be-determined federal tax credit to that, along with the cost savings on fuel and maintenance, it becomes a very affordable mainstream vehicle.

That got me looking at the Tesla more closely, and what’s available today. It turns out that even today, an electric car with more than double the horsepower of my Prius (3151 vs 145 hp) and a range over 200 miles (EPA) competes with comparable luxury sedans. The well-appointed Tesla Model S 60 has a base price of $66,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit, and an estimated fuel savings of $5,000 over 5 years. 3 There’s also an incentive program that drops another $1,000 from the price, valid until October 15, 2016.

Tesla Model S photo (white)

Those fuel savings (based on the cost of gasoline vs. electricity) may underestimate actual savings, because you can get free charging for the Tesla. Tesla has 613 “Supercharger” stations at strategic locations across the country along the Interstate Highway System. The number of stations is slated to double by 2017. Charging at one of them is free for the driver, and you can get enough charge to go 170 miles in 20-30 minutes. There are numerous accounts on the Internet of coast-to-coast trips.

There about 66,000 Tesla cars in the US as of this past May, with production of about 2,000 per week.2

Is it practical? There are no Tesla dealers or service centers in South Carolina, but there is one in Charlotte. From where I live, you can drive to Charlotte and back, and to Columbia and back on a charge. Atlanta requires a stop at the Atlanta Supercharger. (There’s also one in Charlotte, and one coming soon to Columbia, SC.) If your vehicle breaks down, they come fix it under warranty (within 500 miles of the service center). There is a Supercharger about 20 mines down the Interstate from me in Greenville. Most Tesla owners install a special charging outlet in their home, but if one has a lot of time to wait, it can be charged from a regular 110 V outlet. The basic warranty is 4 years, 50,000 miles, plus an 8-year warranty on the battery and the power train.

Here’s the totally empty charging station in Greenville, SC:

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The Tesla Model S is a very safe car, earning a perfect NHTSA 5 star rating. Only 1% of cars tested get 5 stars in every subcategory. It has 8 air bags, and collision avoidance features. Tesla aims to reduce traffic accidents 10-fold through the use of it’s Autopilot technology. What the current Autopilot can do is to keep you from running up on the car ahead of you when traveling on a restricted access road, and it will keep you from wandering out of your lane. It also has the ability to brake before you run into something to reduce the severity of the collision.

I wrote this article just to say that the status of electric cars in the world changed while I wasn’t paying attention.


1Other versions of the Tesla Model S have up to 532 hp and a range just under 300 miles (EPA).

2 The Tesla, however, is not the only plug-in electric vehicle for sale, only the best-selling so far this year. There are many, including entries from Nissan, Chevrolet, BMW, Ford, Fiat, VW, Toyota, Porsche, Cadillac, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Honda, Audi and Mercedes. (Some of these are plug-in hybrids or have gasoline backup.) This list from an electric vehicle information site includes some cars that are either not yet available, or that may soon become unavailable. The Mercedes will cost $200,000. The Cadillac is available, but very few have been sold. The all-electric Chevrolet Volt will be out the end of 2016 with a decent range and price point.

3 If you drive a Prius, get 50 mpg, live in South Carolina with its cheap gas and average electric rates, you’d only save a negligible amount with the Tesla.

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Pinball Dreams is back!

One of my all-tine favorite games is Pinball Dreams. The original was on Amiga computers, long out of manufacture; however, the game was ported to iOS and I bought it for my iPhone. I enjoyed it for years, but an iOS update broke it a long time ago. I was about to finally delete it from my phone (having periodically checked it over the years), but one more check revealed that it is working again. Hooray!

There was a free trial version, which is a fine and fun game in its own right, but the full version gives you all 4 pinball tables. My favorite, Nightmare is pictured below.

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The Trump phenomenon

I don’t understand why nobody saw it coming.

I know why I didn’t see it coming; I didn’t see it because I’m not plugged into the feelings that Trump supporters have. I started funding my IRA the year the program started. I was told that by the time I retired, I’d be a millionaire through the power of compound interest. It turns out, thanks to some bad investment advice, that the gains in my IRA were somewhat less than a bank rate CD–still I saved in my IRA and I saved outside my IRA and I lived modestly. Social Security that people 15 years ago were saying I’d never collect, started flowing in when I turned age 62 1/2. All in all, I followed the American dream, and did pretty well.

The optimism I hold about the future, about the long-term improvement in the lot of people, is not what lots of others feel. They are the second generation of hard-working individuals who just cannot get ahead. They are crushed by healthcare costs. They are told they need a college education, only to be crushed by debt to pay for it. Families have two wage earners, and hold down multiple jobs, and still can’t get ahead. The Walton (Walmart) family has a net worth equal to the bottom 42% of everybody in the whole county. What do these 42%ers have to be optimistic about? They believe that the “system” is stacked against them (and it pretty much is). For example, an overwhelming majority of Americans (7 in 10) support raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 and another poll found 75% wanted an increase to $12.50, but it didn’t happen. The system didn’t work for them.

That’s why there was to much popular support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Indeed, if it weren’t for the unique support Hillary Clinton brought to the race, we would be seeing an election this fall between Trump and Sanders—the two radical change candidates. People are unhappy, and people are not optimistic. They are willing go take what little they have and go to Las Vegas and bet it all on “00”.

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Patriotism is what you do, not what you share on Facebook

It’s memorial day, and a number of my friends have shared patriotic images on their timelines. With the exception of a few people that I have no clue about who they are, you are my friends and my family. I care about what you’re thinking, and if something stirs your heart, then I’d like to hear about it on Facebook.

There are other things on Facebook that are shared patriotic images to which the text “SHARE IF YOU LOVE AMERICA” is attached. I don’t react well to that. I will decide how I will show my love of America, thank you very much. I choose to express my patriotism most often through community service. For example, the South Carolina primary is being held in a few days, and I will spend 13 hours working at the polls and get less than the minimum wage. Working at the polls is me being patriotic. I give money to political candidates, I build houses for Habitat, I volunteer at the Special Olympics and the March of Dimes. I recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least twice a month. These are how I show my authentic patriotism, not doing something because someone on Facebook tells me I should.

One way that I express my patriotism on Facebook is to carefully check the information I share beforehand, and some of you have felt my criticism when you didn’t check yours. The country is at its best when the electorate is informed, and I have spent many hours over many years trying to get the best information to people. That’s how I show my love for America.

Update:

Less than hour after writing this article, one of my Facebook friends shared a post:

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The original of that by one John Davis got 25,145 shares.

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Habitat for Humanity changed my life

I volunteered once and a while with Habitat for Humanity for years. Since last summer, I’ve been a regular volunteer 2-4 days a week. It’s changed my life.

Since my retirement in 2011, I’ve been doing occasional volunteer projects, at church (web site, choir, Congregation Council, contribution accounting), helping seniors set up their computers, and with Civitan (and through them the Salvation Army, Special Olympics and the March of Dimes). I felt the need to do something more instead of sitting home, blogging and playing video games. As I get older, my perspective changes from personally getting along to giving back. Habitat game me a sense of mission. I feel like I have found my place in society (or the Kingdom of God if you will). It’s very gratifying to meet the new Habitat homeowners and hear their stories. It’s great to give these folks a leg up because we know that Habitat is part of many families’ success stories.1

My doctor told me that people who give back have better health outcomes than those who send text messages and hang out on Facebook all day. Indeed, I am feeling much better these past months both physically and emotionally. I’ve lost five pounds and I am in better condition to enjoy recreational activities than I have been in a while. They say that the key to a successful exercise program is finding something you enjoy doing. I enjoy building houses. I spent my professional career working on a computer—it’s nice to do something totally different.

I’ve made some super friends. Habitat volunteers are some of the neatest people you will come across because they all share the desire to give back. They are interesting, kind and compassionate people, and I’m privileged to be in their company. I can say the same thing for the Habitat staff. I also get to meet the future homeowners as they put in their required hours on their own house and others. Their stories of trying to make a better life for themselves and their families are inspiring.

Did I mention that I got some neat tools? I didn’t buy all that many tools (and a volunteer does not have to buy any), but I know how to use them.2 When the deck stairs on my house started rotting, I knew from the experience of building a deck with Habitat just what I would need and how to do it. I can’t build a house from scratch, but I’m pretty good with vinyl siding and dozens of other construction tasks. My local Habitat affiliate provides formal training for volunteers, and I learn something every time I go out on a job site. Having these skills builds self confidence.

The final advantage is the one I feel the least comfortable about. In this part of the country, there a convention of society that when someone mentions that they are a military veteran, a non-veteran in the conversation will say “thank you for your service.” I get similar remarks when I say that I volunteer for Habitat. I don’t do it for the appreciation of others, but I get it anyway. Volunteer work for Habitat seems to meet with universal approval. I suppose there is some self-validation in those comments, but I don’t think I need it. Doing good is its own reward.

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I don’t mean to say that I was miserable before and now I am happy. It’s not that stark a change, but all sort of good things have come out of my volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.


1There are many misconceptions about Habitat, foremost is that it gives houses to people. Habitat homeowners put sweat equity into their homes and their neighbors’ homes in addition to a mortgage. In Greenville County, the mortgage runs around $100,000 on a house that appraises for $125,000. The homeowner adds 200 hours of sweat equity to that.

2Habitat generally provides all the tools a volunteer needs. You might want to bring your own pair of gloves. In my tool belt, I carry:

  • Hammer
  • Utility knife & spare blades
  • Pencil
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Bullet level
  • Pocket square (Swanson speed square)
  • Measuring tape (25 ft.)
  • Vinyl shears
  • Claw bar (nail puller)
  • Nail set
  • Gutter nail driver (pea shooter)
  • Siding removal tool

I bought my own gloves and hard hat, but Habitat gave me a hard hat after I reached 100 volunteer hours last year (I had 342 total).

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