Camping With Kids

Emily and the kids and I went camping for one night only at Hanging Rock State Park last night. It was good! A lot of work, but I think we all had a good time and it was definitely nice to get out of the house.

I mostly just want to make a record of this so I remember what it was like at their ages. They both did good in the car. They might not have napped at all.

We had a campfire. With s’mores. The marshmallows were especially popular. Three deer meandered through the campsite next to ours. Emily and I thought it was cool. The kids mostly didn’t care. It rained overnight while we were in our tent and we all stayed dry, so it was pleasant without being inconvenient.

Upper Cascades Falls at Hanging Rock State Park

Ruby did a three mile hike yesterday and a one mile hike today, which impressed Emily and I. Edie stumbled a lot and I carried her in our hiking backpack most of the time. Ruby ate pasta out of a bowl without too much trouble. Edie had a hard time holding a bowl without spilling or dropping it.

I’m still very happy with the roof cargo box we bought (Yakima SkyBox 16 Carbonite). Good size. Works well. Super functional. And the built-in roof rails on our Subaru Outback are great, too. I didn’t factor factory roof rails into our decision process when we bought the car but I probably should have.

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Butterfly murals and shoes

The artist Jane Kim has created some huge and amazing murals of monarch butterflies. See this photo of the side of a building in San Francisco. See the Migrating Mural section of her website for more murals, the featured work page for non-butterflies, and her Instagram page for more frequent postings. I think The Wall of Birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is particularly great.

There’s also an absurdly awesome $295 shoe, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Foundation series

In 2008 I said “I’m gonna make a prediction that someone will make a movie based on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series within the next 8 years.”

Today Apple announced that they’re making a series to be released on Apple TV next year.

So they’re five years late, according to my prediction. And series rather than movie, which isn’t surprising. That’s kind of the way of things these days.

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Notes about how air quality affects you

It takes hours for carbon monoxide to leave your body

That means low exposure over a long period of time can be a serious problem.

“Once inhaled, carbon monoxide passes from your lungs into your bloodstream, where it attaches to the hemoglobin molecules that normally carry oxygen. Oxygen can’t travel on a hemoglobin molecule that already has carbon monoxide attached to it. As exposure continues, the gas hijacks more and more hemoglobin molecules, and the blood gradually loses its ability to carry enough oxygen to meet your body’s needs. … In fresh air, it takes four to six hours for a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning to exhale about half of the inhaled carbon monoxide in their blood.”

Those quotes are from Harvard Health.

I only learned about this recently, from an episode of The Sharp End podcast. (The podcast is ok overall… good for adventurers. This particular episode got a bit repetitive.)

“For cleaner air, set car vents to ‘recirculate'”

I used to usually turn off the “recirculate air” button in my car until some years ago when I read an article in the LA Times. Since then I’ve tended to leave “recirculate air” on.

Some quotes:
“Using that setting…can cut pollution concentrations inside a typical car to 20% of on-road levels.”

“Particle pollution is linked to respiratory illness, heart disease, cancer and premature death.”

“There’s one downside to keeping the windows up and using recycled air, especially if you’re carpooling: It can get stuffy. That’s a product of carbon dioxide from breathing, which can build up on longer drives in tightly sealed new cars with several passengers, according to the study.

‘To prevent this, outside air should be pulled in every 10 or 15 minutes for a minute or two, especially if there are two or more people in the vehicle'”

It makes me think that car review websites should measure and publish air filtration quality. I would take it into account when car shopping.

Classroom air filters might improve test scores

A study indicates that installing air filters in classrooms improved test scores. For more, see the Vox writeup or the original paper.

Another Vox article has a good collection of info about how poor air quality affects cognitive ability.

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Cognitive Biases

Five years ago a friend posted a link to Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases with this message, “Note to self: review this at least once a year.” And it really stuck with me. I think about it a lot. It’s a fantastic list. It’s challenging and beneficial to try to recognize and account for your own biases.

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Choosing another new car

Edit, 2021-12-31: I’ve made no attempt to keep this info up to date and it’s from January 2020. Since then the availability of EV vehicles has certainly changed. Ford sells the Mustang Mach-E. Polestar has cars on the market. There are probably other changes, too!


Two years ago I wrote about our process for selecting a Subaru Outback. Recently we bought another new car—a Tesla Model 3. We used the same spreadsheet-driven process but with different criteria.

High level filtering

With the Outback we wanted something for long outdoorsy road trips. For this car I wanted something for commuting and getting around town. Something smaller and more fuel efficient. Specifically either a hybrid (“HEV”), plug-in hybrid (“PHEV”), or all-electric (“EV”).

It’s difficult to compare expected total cost of ownership between gas, HEV, PHEV, and EV since it depends on so many variables: price of gas, price of electricity, miles driven, and battery degradation (for which there’s not much data available, especially for EVs because they’re so new), but it seems likely to me that hybrid or all-electric make sense economically in the long run.

Even if not it also seems likely that all-electrics have a lower total environmental impact than the other options. That’s something I care about and am willing to pay a premium for.

I knew my commute would be about 30 minutes one way. A range of 60 miles would cover most days, but 100 miles is safer as it allows for some cushion, especially as the battery degrades over time. That’s longer than the battery-only range of almost all plug-in hybrids, which means I’d still be using the gas engine somewhat if I went that route.

I was particularly drawn to all-electrics because I love the simplicity. People don’t think about it, but automotive engines are absurdly complex. Valves, spark plugs, fuel injection, ignition system, intake, air filter, exhaust, catalytic converter, muffler, radiator, timing belt, cam shafts, fuel pump, fuel filter, sensors for intake and exhaust. It’s crazy. So many parts that require checking, tuning, and replacing. All-electrics have longer maintenance intervals and that’s hugely appealing to me.

I wasn’t sure I could find an all-electric we’d be happy with, but I felt confident I could find a hybrid at least. So I made a list of every hybrid and EV for sale in the US.

Frustration #1: Limited availability

Automaker websites happily tell you about their EVs but rarely detail their availability. For example, Hyundai dealers in NC, SC, and VA don’t keep EVs or PHEVs in their inventory. Dealers in NC have the Kia Niro PHEV in their inventory but not the EV version and they also don’t seem to have the Optima hybrid or PHEV. The VW e-Golf doesn’t seem to be kept in stock at NC dealers. We could probably have ordered any of these cars, but it doesn’t seem great to own a car that local dealers and shops won’t be familiar with. And test driving before buying could be tricky.

Frustration #2: Automakers treat hybrids and EVs like experiments

The aforementioned limited availability is one indication of this, but there are others. EVs are often small (BMW i3, Chevy Bolt). The Nissan Leaf’s infotainment system felt like it was from the ’90s. I think it’s weird that not all hybrids are plug-in hybrids. I guess there are additional electronics required and added development expense, but it doesn’t seem that bad considering the benefits. Other automakers don’t talk much about fast charging options, whereas Tesla has built out a country-wide network of fast chargers. Also Tesla’s Superchargers are really fast, with a max rate of 250kW. It looks like most alternatives use SAE J1772, which as far as I can tell has a max of 19.2 kW currently, with development in-progress for reaching 90 kW. Though this article talks about 100 kW charging a leaf, so maybe I’m wrong.

EVs have been on the horizon for a long time and it feels like automakers aren’t focusing on them. Tesla has a huge head start. The other automakers are far behind and that’s baffling to me.


Based on a friend’s suggestion I considered used cars. He pointed out that EV tech is advancing rapidly. Early adopters pay a price premium (and are also guinea pigs). Maybe it’s better to get a lightly-used car, own it for a few years, then trade up once there are better and cheaper options.

Since EVs are so new the options for used cars are small. The Nissan Leaf has been around for a while so there is decent pre-owned availability, but model years 2016 and earlier had a range of at most only 107 miles, which I feel is too short even before taking into considering battery degradation (and I’ve read that Leaf batteries do degrade a good bit, especially in hot climates (link 1, link 2, link 3), though some data shows that Leafs are basically on-par with other EVs (link 4, link 5)). So that ruled out used Leafs. The Toyota Prius has also been around for a long time. I looked at prices of used Priuses and the idea didn’t win me over. The options tended to be either very old and in not great shape, or just off a one or two year lease, where the price discount compared to a new car wasn’t huge. And Priuses are of course hybrids, which I was hoping to avoid.

A short list

At this point the list of possible cars was pretty short. The top hybrid contenders were the Toyota Prius Prime and Chevy Volt. The top all-electrics were the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf. The Chevy Bolt is reasonable, too. Maybe a bit short. But I wasn’t excited about it at all.

We test drove the Nissan Leaf and it was good. Acceleration was snappy, as you would expect for an EV. The infotainment felt dated. I got a bit of a weird vibe from the Nissan dealer. Almost like they thought it was weird that we were interested in the Leaf, but this was minor. The salespeople did typical car salespeople things like asked us to come sit in their office so they could try to talk us into buying it, so that was a turn-off—I get angry when people waste my time. The idea of having to negotiate with them on price and going through the purchase process was not appealing.

We test drove the Tesla Model 3 and it was great. I was worried about the lack of instrument cluster and physical buttons (most things are done via the large screen center-mounted on the dashboard), but it wasn’t as bad as I expected (but still bad—I’ll write more about this in a future post).

It seemed clear that the Tesla was the best car of the bunch, now it just came down to price. Was the Tesla more expensive? And if so, was it worth the extra cost?


The cheapest Model 3 is the “Standard Range.” It’s $33,175 when factoring in the $1,875 federal tax credit. Side note: It’s not possible to order a Standard Range using Tesla’s website. I’ll write more about this in a future post

The Leaf configured with the options we wanted and after the federal tax credit would have been around $28,000 according to TrueCar, so around $5,000 cheaper than the Tesla. That’s not a huge difference. I have a little more faith that Tesla batteries last longer than Leaf batteries, which is a significant future expense in the Leaf’s total cost of ownership.

I was actually a bit surprised by how expensive non-Tesla EVs are. I expected them to target a lower price point to compete against Tesla, but aside from the e-Golf (which is $11,000 cheaper) they weren’t much cheaper.

The Prius is actually quite affordable, at $25,000. That’s $13,000 cheaper. We possibly should have considered this more closely, but again, it’s a hybrid and I was drawn to the simplicity of EVs.

The Decision

After thinking about all the options we went with the Tesla. We’ve had it about four months now and it’s been great. I’m still happy the decision. In a future post I’ll write about the highlights and lowlights.

Here’s the spreadsheet we used:

Switch to “The Short List” tab at the bottom to see only highly ranked cars. View full size in Google Sheets for ease of use and to see full column titles. Please be sure to note all the caveats at the bottom of the full list!

Two final notes about vehicle registration

  1. In NC there’s a $130 yearly registration charge for EVs with the rationale that they don’t buy fuel so they don’t contribute to fuel taxes. This is a little reasonable… it’s roughly the same amount you’d pay in gas taxes for a non-hybrid driven around 10,000 miles. And I agree that this will be a problem when EVs are a higher percentage of cars on the road. But come on NC, this is super lame.
  2. We registered the car to just one of us instead of both of us. The other option was to register to “Mark and Emily JTWROS” (Joint tenancy with right of survivorship), but apparently that exposes the value of our house in a lawsuit involving the car, and the benefits of JTWROS are small (slightly less hassle retitling after one of us dies). See these two posts for more info: one and two.
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Assorted music suggestions

NPR hosts things called “Tiny Desk concerts” about twice a week. A band or musician plays a short set of 3 or 4 songs in the NPR office and they post it on YouTube. The quality is high and I’ve found it to be a great way to learn about new music. Some examples:

Unrelated to Tiny Desk I recently stumbled upon the early Cranberries song “Íosa” and I love it. Also this early Cranberries performance is mesmerizing. If you’re not sure whether you want to watch the whole thing then I recommend skipping to 3:38 because the second song is more lively. It’s crazy how young Dolores O’Riordan looks.

Three other amazing non-Tiny Desk performances:

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Laptop shopping

I bought a laptop four months ago. A 13″ MacBook Air with Retina display, 16 GB memory and 256 GB SSD.

I was laptopless after leaving Honor. I have a great desktop but I knew a laptop would be useful during our move from California to North Carolina. I’m a thorough shopper. I investigate every option and circle in until I find the best choice. I wanted to record my notes for my own sake, but also I thought it could potentially be useful to someone else.

Screen size

This was a big factor. Smaller is nice because it’s light and portable. Bigger is nice if you use the laptop a lot or it’s important to have multiple windows open side by side. I’d been using a laptop with a 15.4″ screen and it was fine. I knew I didn’t want anything much bigger than that. I didn’t intend to use the laptop for programming full time, so a smaller screen would be fine. But how small? I visited a local Best Buy to see a bunch of screen sizes in person. 13.3″ felt a little small. 14″ was good, though still on the small size. My sweet spot was between 14.5″ and 15″. Unfortunately there’s a dearth of options in that range. There are a lot of laptops with 13.3″ screens a lot with 15.5″ to 15.7″. It’s a shame, and a missed opportunity for laptop makers.


I decided that performance was not at all important to me. I rarely play games. I wanted to be able to run Android Studio and Xcode but didn’t need them to be blazing fast, so I avoided ARM, Intel Atom, and Intel Celeron CPUs. I do think 16 GB memory is a good idea, rather than 8 GB, which is a common default. I hate disk swapping and 8 GB is cutting it a little too close. And I’m strongly in favor of SSDs, for reliability/durability as much as lower latency.

The finalists

Note: Prices and weights are from my notes from months ago and aren’t up to date.

  • Dell XPS 15, 15.5″
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, 14″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.49 lbs, $1,702.
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd gen, 14″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 3.08 lbs, $1,799.
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, 13.5″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.8 lbs, $1,900.
  • Dell New XPS Touch 13, 13.3″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.7 lbs, $1,870.
  • Macbook Air, 13.3″, 16 GB memory, 512 GB SSD, 2.75 lbs, $1,691 (plus I was able to take advantage of a 15% off friends and family discount because I have a friend who works at Apple).

The decision

The main thing that pushed me over the edge to the Mac is that I don’t like Windows. It has always been a poor operating system. The job of an operating system is to be unobtrusive. A facilitator. It should get out of your way and let you do whatever it is that you want to do with your computer. I’ve used Windows only rarely over the last 20 years, but my impression is that it still fails in this regard. It has regular severe security problems. Installing software updates requires reboots too often. It’s too easy to get into a state where the system is misconfigured. Uninstalling software frequently leaves artifacts on the computer. Windows 10 Home doesn’t even have full disk encryption standard. That’s completely unacceptable on a laptop in 2019.

And so if I got a PC I’d want to run Linux. But Linux on a laptop requires a lot of work to be on par with Windows and Mac OS regarding battery life, suspend/resume, Wi-Fi, special keys (volume up/down, brightness), etc. I’m busy and didn’t want to invest the time.

So I settled on a Mac. The only laptops Apple sells with a screen bigger than 13.3″ is the MacBook Pro. It has a 15.4″ screen and is $2399, which is more than I wanted to spend.

Emily bought a laptop, too

And then it turned out Emily needed a computer so she could start working as a contractor. She does a lot of intensive image editing, so larger screen and better performance are important. She got a Dell XPS 2-in-1 with an Intel Core i7-8705G, 16GB memory, a 512 GB SSD, and the nicer screen option for $2,034. She generally prefers Macs, but a similarly configured MacBook Pro is $2,600 and that’s a hefty premium.

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