Tesla reporting vs. journalism — shame on CNBC

So this is a rant about a recent story on CNBC’s website, the headline of which read:

Tesla Model 3 was traveling up to 90 mph before fatal crash in Florida, NTSB finds

As far as I can tell, the reporting is accurate. What troubles me is the fact that the reporter didn’t do any research and apparently didn’t know much about the topic. Rather they relied on innuendo and the scare word, “controversial,” to make the story more exciting:

The NTSB’s preliminary report did not address whether any of Tesla’s controversial driver-assist systems, marketed as the standard Autopilot and premium Full Self Driving packages, were involved or believed to be involved in the crash. A spokesperson for the NTSB declined to comment on any the systems. …

The speed limit of the residential street that the crash occurred on in Coral Gables, Florida was 30 mph, according to the NTSB.

A competent reporter would have least asked someone knowledgeable about Tesla’s Autopilot before making that statement. Any Tesla driver with Autopilot will tell you that the product will never exceed 5 mph over the speed limit on a residential street. Period. End of story.

And with 6 million auto crashes in the United States, and 35,000 deaths, precisely what is newsworthy about this one, given that it is totally unrelated to the self-driving features.

Sloppy writing like this confuses the public and creates fake controversy.

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Tesla goodies

I took delivery of my Tesla Model 3 in August of 2018. Most cars just get older with wear, but Teslas improve in some ways with age. It comes with over-the-air firmware updates. This post details some of the improvements to my car since I got it.

  • Around the time I got my car, Consumer Reports downrated the Model 3 for its long stopping distance. Tesla sent an update that improved it. CR stated that it was the first time that they had ever encountered a car improve track performance without anyone touching the car.
  • Improved range
  • Improved acceleration
  • Dash cam
  • Save Dash cam video on Honk
  • New software-update controls
  • Priority setting for Bluetooth devices
  • Voice keyboard
  • Stardew valley video game
  • Chess
  • Backgammon
  • Classic arcade games
  • Cuphead game
  • Support for 250 kW charging
  • Activate side cameras
  • Camp Mode (facilitates sleeping in the car)
  • Dog Mode (keeps AC on for pet and displays message for passers by with inside temperature reading)
  • Joe Mode (reduces volume of vehicle notices so as not wake kids)
  • Romance Mode (displays fireplace and plays romantic music)
  • Smart summon (car will pick you up in a parking lot with no driver)
  • Navigate on Autopilot (automatically change lanes to pass slower traffic, follow the route, exit and merge)
  • More voice commands
  • Stop sign warnings
  • Dash cam viewer in car
  • Traffic light and stop sign control (automatically stops)
  • Fallout Shelter Game
  • Beach Buggy Racing 2 game
  • Tesla Theater (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Disney+, Twitch)
  • Slacker streaming service
  • Cabin camera activation
  • Object aware acceleration (reduces how hard the car hits your garage door if you try to plow into it)
  • Battery preconditioning for faster charging when routing to a Supercharger
  • Option to disable walk-away door locks at home
  • Sentry mode
  • Range display options
  • App can send notices if doors/trunks/windows left open
  • Open and close windows from the app
  • Green traffic light chime
  • Can read speed limit signs (previously relied on maps)
  • Glovebox PIN
  • Cat Quest game
  • Battle of Polytopia game
  • Solitaire
  • Voice text messaging
  • Emergency Lane Departure Avoidance feature
  • Animal visualizations
  • Cold weather improvements including increased regenerative braking
  • Carioke
  • Updated and improved web browser
  • Sky Force reloaded game
  • Detection of emergency vehicles
  • Car wash mode
  • Mirror auto dim
  • Immersive sound
  • Request Full Self-Driving Beta
  • Safety score

This may not be a complete list, and I didn’t list all the many improvements to existing features, particularly driving visualizations and self-driving. Oh, and as I type this, a new update is installing.

Posted in Autonomous Vehicles, Software updates, Technology, Tesla, Tesla | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Charging towards New York

I drove from my home in central Virginia to Stamford, Connecticut, (through New York) and back this past weekend. I want to share my EV charging experience.

My 3-year-old Tesla Model 3 Long Range (Tesla lets you name your car; mine is “Last Gas”) has about 5% battery degradation, so the EPA range of 315 miles is now an even 300. I set Last Gas to charge to 100% at home, timed for my morning departure, and set off. The trip was around 390 miles, but the car recommended I charge twice along the way, the first for only 10 minutes.

That first stop was in Springfield, Virginia, at a shopping mall. By the time I got there I was totally in need of a personal stop, so I plugged in at the Tesla Supercharger and walked into the mall. By the time I had finished my personal business and returned to the car, its short charge was done and the car ready to go.

Last Gas said the next stop would be at 1:04 PM, but as noon approached, I got hungry. I had hoped to charge while I had lunch, but I decided to pull into a service area in Maryland where they had food. I pulled in, parked and I was walking towards the facility when I noticed a row of Tesla Superchargers! So I plugged in and enjoyed some Pizza Hut Express. Last Gas was more than ready by the time I got back to it.

Model X charging at Chesapeake House service area in Maryland

I also stopped at another service area in New Jersey for personal reasons, and there were Tesla Superchargers there too. I didn’t need to charge.

The worst part of the trip, which had nothing to do with the model of car I drive, was the New York Friday rush hour traffic. I was traveling at 8 miles per hour for much of it. If I were in a gasoline car with limited gas, I might have been concerned, but an EV is more efficient at those low speeds, so instead of arriving with less charge than planned, I got there with more.

So far, I haven’t spent any extra time charging on the trip, but for the return trip home, I couldn’t start with a full charge just plugging in at home. I had to charge somewhere. In this case I found that there were two Supercharger locations in Stamford, and I selected the closest one, at a mall in an underground parking garage. These were Tesla’s urban chargers. Twelve were available.

Urban chargers differ from other Superchargers in that they do not share the power between two cars. Each one stands alone and provides 72 kW. I brought my dinner with me and ate in the car, listening to NPR. I got interested in the program and between eating and listening, the charging session seemed to go quickly. There were 5 Teslas charging there off and on. I should add that there were non-Tesla charging stations there and at the service areas — mostly unused. There were 2 Audi e-trons charging in Stamford. That’s the only instance I recall of non-Teslas charging.

Last Gas at Tesla urban Supercharger, Stamford, CT – Photo by Author

Again on the way back, I stopped at a service area on I-95 in Newark, Delaware, to charge

The final top off was supposed to be in Falls Church, Virginia, where was a Whole Foods store. I bought sushi and by the time I finished eating, the car was long past ready to go. I made it home with about 50% charge remaining.

I saw lots of Teslas, by the way on this trip, particularly in the DC area, and at my destination of Stamford. I even saw an auto carrier truck with around a dozen of them loaded up.

On my trip I found no fewer than four Supercharger locations at places where I happened to be, not ones I sought out, but ones that just happened to be where I was for some other reason. That’s amazing! That’s convenient! On this trip I worried about hotel reservations, and I worried about confusing road signs, and I worried about traffic. I didn’t have to worry about charging.

I have one final comment about energy consumption. According to the EPA, my car’s rated consumption is 260 Watt-hours per mile, measured from the wall. I assume an 8% charging loss (estimates vary), which means the car should show 240 consumption from the battery. And in fact, over the three years I’ve owned the car, 240 wH per mile is exactly my average consumption. For this trip along the I-95 corridor on the east coast of the US, my consumption was only 229 Wh, or about 249 from the wall. That equates to 135 MPGe. I don’t miss my Prius one bit.

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Anticipation — An autonomous vehicle story

It’s Monday and this Friday, according to Elon Musk, the long-anticipated “Request Button” is supposed to start rolling out to the Tesla fleet.

The button requests access to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta, something that up to now only existed on YouTube videos from among the couple of thousand of beta testers.

It’s been a long road since August of 2018 when I bought my Tesla Model 3 with the FSD Capability option. I drove from central Virginia to Yellowstone National Park to Denver and back, five thousand miles using Enhanced Autopilot. It definitely helped, but a completed FSD would have made the trip wonderful.

Press reports say that the “button” will grant Tesla access to vehicle telemetry data, so that they can verify that the request comes from a good driver. During the evaluation period, I’ll have Autopilot on all that it can possibly be on, because it drives smoother than I do (according to State Farm’s Drive Safe & Save™ transponder report).

As soon as I get FSD. I’m heading for the INTERSECTION OF DOOM where plain old Autopilot frequently tries to do bad things. One of the reasons that I’m so anxious to get FSD is that regular Autopilot hasn’t improved much in the past two years, with all the development at Tesla going into the new version.

Starting with my Model S from 2016, with self-driving using the old single-camera system, I’ve driven a lot of miles under Autopilot. I have a lot of experience. I think I’m ready to test the new stuff.

Tesla cars manufactured since November of 2016 have, or can be upgraded to have the equipment to run FSD. I understand that FSD is initially limited to the United States and Canada. 900,000 is a rough number for the number of Tesla cars with the necessary hardware that could receive FSD, but only an estimated 11% of owners have purchased it, so at most 99,000 could potentially request the download. Compared the North American vehicle fleet, that’s not a big number. It averages only 33 cars per county.

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The receding past

Time passes and memory fades. Things wear out and are discarded. The hymn says, “change and decay, all around I see.” But there is a countercurrent, thanks to the Internet. Things that I have searched for unsuccessfully in years past in years past are now accessible, and I have observed new appearances of old things popping up online year by year.

Today I was reminded of a very old query about a piece of music. Sometime around 1970 when I was living in Alabama, I could pick up a music program on a local radio station (not sure if it was in Mobile or Pensacola, Florida) called Holloway House, hosted by a man named Joachim Holloway. One afternoon he played some selections from a musical called “The Last Days of Sweet Isaac.” I got a little of it on reel-to-reel tape. It was special and it stuck with me. I can remember, “I want to walk to San Francisco if I go there” and one song about a young man watching news coverage of the Vietnam war who sang “Look Ma, I’m dyin’ on the color TV.”

I’ve searched for that music several times over the years and got nothing. Today, 50 years later, I got lucky. I ordered the original cast recording on vinyl.

Posted in Music, Nostalgia | 1 Comment

Donald Trump is trying to rig the 2020 election.

This article comes out of a federal lawsuit about mail-in voting in Nevada. As I discuss the suit, feel free to follow along with the complaint.1

One has to read the complaint for a bit to get to the meat of the matter. Just blow by the grousing over the law being too long and that it was, shudder, single-spaced—or that the Nevada Senate passed it on a weekend. The lawsuit does not allege that the weekend vote is illegal. That was left to President Trump’s tweeter:

Trump has a high bar to pass, as the complaint admits:

Under the U.S. Constitution, states have broad discretion to decide how to conduct their elections.

What the Trump side must do is show first is that they have standing to bring the suit in the first place and then that the Nevada law is contrary to the Constitution or existing federal statutes. We’ll look at the complaint first:

Which mail-in ballots count

Their first argument is statutory; federal law sets the date of the election. Nevada law (and this isn’t new) allows counting mail-in ballots that arrive after election day but before the election is certified, provided they are postmarked on or be election day or when the postmark is illegible. The Trump side says the ballot must bear evidence of proper time of mailing, making valid ballots vulnerable to malicious activity by postal workers or machine error.

In fact, the Trump side argues elsewhere that the Postal Service doesn’t do a good job of delivering the mail on time and that they mishandle ballots—all the more reason to allow more latitude in delivery.

The Republicans argue that the Postal Service simply is not equipped to handle the volume. My reply to that is, “Christmas.”

Since the vast majority of Biden voters prefer mail-in voting and Trump voters do not,2 any mail-in ballot not counted will likely be for Biden. (The Trump Campaign has also sued Pennsylvania arguing that secure drop boxes for ballots violates the 14th Amendment.)

A quick sampling of a few states found that all required receipt of the mail-in ballot by the close of the polls on election day, with the exception in some for military personnel voting overseas.

Vagueness

The Trump side argues that some provisions of AB4 are open to interpretation, and therefore not everyone will be treated the same. This somehow violates the constitutional principle of “equal protection.” I read through some of this and it seemed silly to insist extreme micromanagement of county election offices. Here’s an example from the complaint:

Section 25 provides that “[i]f two or more ballots are found folded together to present the appearance of a single ballot, they must be laid aside. If a majority of the inspectors are of the opinion that the mail ballots folded together were voted by one person, the mail ballots must be rejected and placed in an envelope, upon which must be written the reason for their rejection.” But Section 25 establishes no standard by which the inspectors should assess whether the ballots were voted by one person.

You can’t legislate every possible nuance of how something is folded. That’s why we have election officials and not robots.

The thrust seems to be that the Nevada law is not perfect in their view.

New York

The Trump side argues that their concerns are real and urgent because New York has had problems with their mail-in voting. Nevada, however, is not New York, and other all-mail western states are doing quite well. Several claims in the lawsuit from delivery of the mails to the accuracy of voter registration databases are made based on allegations against other states, not Nevada.

Polling places

I didn’t read all of this section, but it appears that the Trump side claims that the allocation of in-person voting places favors mail-in voting. Nevada’s new model seems to encourage mail-in voting, but every county will have at least one in-person site so that anyone who wants to wait until election day can vote.

The mails

The lawsuit, while in not so many words, alleges that the postal service is a bunch of incompetent jerks who are in capable of delivering the mail.

Standing

The first question that must be that settled is whether the lawsuit is valid in the first place. Federal law gives to the states the authority to determine the manner of appointment of electors. But clearly the courts have ruled on election cases where classes of voters are disenfranchised (I don’t think Republicans are a protected class though). Article III of the Constitution limits the federal courts to actual cases and controversies.

Article III standing law is built on separation-of-powers principles. Its purpose is to prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the legislative and executive branch of the U.S. federal government.3

The essential problem for the Trump side is that they will not be able to make the case that they, as Republicans, or the Trump campaign, are harmed any more than the voter in general. They cannot show how Republicans specifically are disadvantaged by AB4. That means that the Trump Campaign and the Republican plaintiffs have no more at stake than the Nevada voter in general, and it is well-settled that broad classes like voters do not have standing to sue.

Merits

If the lawsuit somehow gets past the motion to dismiss for lack of standing, then it will be considered on the merits.

Clearly the strongest argument for the Trump side is the counting of ballots that arrive after the election; however, since the act of putting the ballot in the mailbox can be deemed to be voting, and the state determines the manner of voting, I think this will pass muster. That leaves the issue of ballots with illegible postmarks. Again the state should have the authority to set the standard by which they determine a timely ballot.

I think Trump loses this one.

As for the others, I think those arguments are weaker. Republicans can’t show how any of these nipicks, vagaries, postal service quality and registration database quality disadvantage them specifically. The states have discretion here, and the equal protection argument makes no sense.

Trump loses this one too.

So then…

I am not a lawyer, and I know even less about Nevada law than I do federal law, but it seems to me that the Republicans filed in the wrong court. They should have filed in state court, because they lack federal standing.

The case has been assigned to Judge James C. Mahan and referred to Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach.

PS

The Trump campaign sued in Nevada in 2016 also, complaining that early voting places stayed open to accommodate voters who were standing in line.4  (Don’t all states do that?)

The Trump Campaign is also suing in Pennsylvania alleging that official ballot drop boxes violate the 14th Amendment.5 This lawsuit, also filed in federal court, appears to suffer from the same lack of standing problems for the same reasons.

It appears that Donald Trump is doing everything he can to discredit voting by mail among his followers and thereby biasing them to vote in person. Then he is doing everything he can to make mail-in voting difficult or impossible, and thereby suppress the Biden vote. This is what I call rigging an election.

  1. Donald J. Trump for President v. Cegavske complaint []
  2. July National Poll: Biden Maintains Lead in Presidential Race; Majority Support Nationwide Mask Mandate in Public Spaces []
  3. Case or Controversy Clause – Wikipedia []
  4. Trump Campaign Files Lawsuit in Nevada Aimed at Early Voting []
  5. The Trump campaign is suing Pennsylvania over how to run the 2020 election []
Posted in Elections, General, Politics | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Google search is really good

I read this article at the New York Times a while back, and I wanted to locate it again. I typed in a search query into Google:

trump covie-19 repeated warnings site:nytimes.com

Google first figured out that I meant “covid” rather than “covie” and then proceeded to list results, the first of which was the one I wanted.

Maybe that one was easy, and I have visited that page many times, but Google just keeps getting it right. I take it for granted, but it’s really amazing.


Posted in Internet, Technology | Tagged , | 1 Comment