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Kickstarter Project: Crazy Circuits: LEGO™ Compatible Modular Electronics

Crazy Circuits: LEGO™ Compatible Modular Electronics

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Chevy Volt – What I Like About It

I decided to lease a Volt after having driven a Nissan LEAF for about 2 years. I could have leased another LEAF at a discount as a repeat customer, but the Volt had a strong case for me to consider.

The LEAF gave me 70-80 miles on a full charge, depending on the season; winter months lower battery range, and 70+ miles is what I could drive on a full charge on cold days. The Volt promises only about 40 miles on a full charge, but it can run on gas. When the battery runs low, the gasoline generator kicks in, and produces electricity that the car runs on. A full tank of gas is about 9.3 gallons, and the MPG is about 35-40 miles on the Volt. So with a fully charged battery, and  a full tank of gas, you get a range of about 370 miles or so, which is a pretty long distance to drive.

So if your typical daily commute is less than 40 miles, then you can drive on the battery through the week. On days when you need to drive more, you have the gas back up. And if you really want to go on a long day-trip, you can drive it like a regular gas car, and keep filling it up as you go. That’s a big advantage if you really want an electric car for most of your driving, but want to have the capability to go long distances without being limited by the battery range.

Besides that, the Volt is a lot sportier than the LEAF. It rides low, and feels a lot like a sports car. The handling is nimble, and it is fun to drive.

I have had the Volt for about 8 months now, and have really enjoyed it.

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Nissan LEAF Driving Modes – ECO, B/D

The Nissan LEAF  offers some driving to optimize for power, economy and degree of regenerative braking.  These selected by the driver using a combination of the economy mode, and the drive mode which is either ‘regular’ or braking’. What do they do, and how do they work with each other?

Having driven the 2014 Nissan LEAF for almost a year, here are some of my observations. How are these controls organized?

The economy or “ECO” mode is selected with a push-switch located on the steering wheel. Using this, you can put the car  in the ECO- , 0r the non-ECO-mode. As the name suggests, driving in the ECO mode optimizes for longer range at relatively lower power.

And then there is the drive mode where you can be in “B” or “D” (non-B or regular) mode.  What does this do? The regular mode is similar to the “D” mode in any car with an automatic transmission. The “B” mode enables higher regenerative braking efficiency, which can be useful to charge the battery while braking in stop-and-go traffic, or while driving downhill.

So, using these two independent controls, you could be driving the LEAF in one of four possible drive mode combination:

  1. Non-ECO Mode and D Mode combination
  2. Non-ECO Mode and B Mode combination
  3. ECO Mode and D Mode combination
  4. ECO Mode and B Mode combination

Let us try to analyze what each of these mode combinations offer, and see when these combinations would be a good choice.

 Non-ECO Mode and D Mode Combination

This is the combination in which you expect to get the highest torque from the motor. That is because both the ECO option and the higher braking option are deselected. So the motor would be able to perform at its highest power, and without any “extra” braking enabled. This is the combination that would typically be the most “fun-to-drive”. So if you are trying to quickly merge on to a freeway, pass a car, you would find it easier with this combination.

Non-ECO Mode and B Mode Combination

In the case, the motor would still perform with the highest torque, but since the enhanced braking mode is selected, it also means that whenever you take your foot off the accelerator, the car would tend to slow down due to the braking. If you are driving in stop-and-go traffic where you also need quick acceleration, this might be a good combination.

ECO Mode and D Mode Combination

This combination activates the ECO mode, while leaving the drive in D mode, which means that the motor operates in economy mode, and braking is at normal level. For fast driving in ECO mode, this would be a good combination. I use this mode when I am driving on freeways and fast city roads, when I don’t need any extra accelaration.

ECO Mode and B Mode Combination

This mode makes most sense in city road driving where you expect to drive at low speeds and also stop frequently at traffic lights and stop-signs. Since you will be using the brakes a lot in such driving conditions, using the LEAF’s enhanced braking mode helps in recovering some of the kinetic energy to recharge the battery due to regenerative braking. It will also reduce the amount of braking that you need to do, thereby minimizing kinetic energy wasted in regular braking, as well as wear-and-tear on the brake liners.

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iPad App: WordPress by Automattic

I found this app while browsing the App Store on my iPad. The description and some of the reviews said that this makes it easy to create and publish posts to either a blog hosted by WordPress, or other sites.

I was looking for an app or browser that with which I could quickly create posts on this blog, and so I decided to give it a try. Downloading and installing only took a minute or so. Then I added my login information to my hosted WordPress blog.

This is the first post that I am posting from the app, and so far I have found it very easy to use. Writing a quick blog note from an iPad should be easy from now.

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Moving Xampp and Included Apps Between Windows Machines

I have been using Drupal as a personal database on a Windows laptop for sometime now and it has proved quite handy. This was my work laptop, and I recently replaced it with a new one as part of a lease refresh.

I wanted to preserve all my Xampp setup, along with Drupal and the associated database, and move it to my new PC. Here is what I did. I first backed up all my data from my old PC along with my Xampp and Drupal folders. When I restored the backed up data on to my new PC, Xampp and it contents were copied back to C:\Xampp. Then I renamed this folder to another name like C:\Xampp_from_old_pc. After that, I downloaded and installed Xampp on my new PC as usual. This got installed on C:\Xampp when I chose all default options. After the installation was complete, I renamed C:\Xampp_backup (just to save it), and renamed C:\Xampp_from_old_pc to C:\Xampp.

Then I started Apache and MySQL within Xampp as usual, and all my Drupal data from my old PC worked as before!

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Lenovo ThinkPad W540: Display Resolution and External Monitor Port

I changed from a ThinkPad W500 to a W540 this week as part of the lease refresh. With my W500, I was using a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter cable to connect to an HDTV/monitor at home. But the W540 has a Thunderbolt port, which can also act as a Mini DisplayPort output. So I tried a Thunderbolt-to-HDMI adapter cable and it works just fine.

The native resolution on the W540’s built-in display is an amazing 2800×1620. It is super-sharp and brilliant. But the default fonts on Windows, etc would look small, and you might need to select larger fonts. Most external monitors have lower resolution, so when you use the built-in monitor and external display at the same time, you will see the difference in resolution and size of windows, but after using this laptop for about a week, I can say that it doesn’t bother me at all.

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Review: Logitech Type+ Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard for iPad Air 2

I just connected my new iPad Air 2 to the Logitech Protective Case with Integrated Keyboard. This my first post from my iPad using this keyboard.

It was fairly easy to slip in the iPad and attach it securely to the case. After that, I noticed that the blue Bluetooth light on the keyboard blinked a few times. On my iPad I did not see the keyboard being recognized as a Bluetooth device. Pressing the key with a lock sign just under the Bluetooth indicator light on the top-right of the keyboard made the blue light blink a few times, but my iPad wasn’t really noticing any device.

I tried disabling and enabling Bluetooth on my iPad and that didn’t make any difference either. I tried doing a soft reset on my iPad as suggested in one of the forum topics, and that didn’t help either. I had followed the pictorial instructions from Logitech, and couldn’t quite tell what was going wrong.

One of the posts in a forum said that it might be a hardware problem with the iPad and it should be exchanged. Some others had additional instructions on connecting the keyboard by observing the green and blue lights on the keyboard.

When nothing seemed to work, I looked for other things on the keybord, and saw a small button next to the USB port. I tried pressing it, and I saw the blue Bluetooth light blink, and now my iPad was recognizing the keyboard as a Bluetooth device!! I just selected it, and that was it!

I was able to type this post quite easily, even though this is the first time I am using this smallish keyboard, and creating a post on iPad. This keyboard effectively converts the iPad into a small laptop. I am a lot more productive when using a regular laptop, or a tablet with a keyboard. I would highly recommend this keyboard-case for iPad Air 2.

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Review: Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0

I needed a quick way to back up data on my work laptop before moving to a new one. Since I have quite a bit of data on my laptop, I was looking for something fast, reliable and easy to use. I have a 500GB Buffalo RAID disk that I bought a few years ago, but that’s almost full with all the pictures and videos that I have accumulated over time. That is also a “desktop” sort of external harddisk, and not very portable. So I went to the store looking for something that is fairly portable, has at least 1TB disk space, and in the sub-hundred-dollar price point.

It was a pleasant surprise to find the Seagate Backup Plus Slim 1TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0 priced at around $69. It is small enough to fit into a shirt pocket, and comes with a USB 3.0 port and cable.

I decided to give it a try, and bought one on my way back to work from lunch. When I reached my desk, I just plugged it in to my laptop, and let it install the Seagate Dashboard. After that I selected the folders that I wanted to back up. In about 90 minutes or so, I was able to back up about 70G of my data from my laptop to this nifty little hard disk! I can now start preparing my laptop for use!

To sum it up, I think this is a very convenient, easy-to-use, reasonably priced external hard disk based backup solution. It also allows you to backup your “cloud data” from your social networking sites, etc. It is so small that I can easily carry it around in my pocket or my computer bag.

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A Personal Database Using Drupal

How do you keep bits and pieces of information organized on your computer? I have tried notes using text files, spreadsheets, and Microsoft OneNote, etc. Depending on how organized you are, and how well you use these, any of these can work reasonably well.

Having set up websites and portals using Drupal, I wanted to try using it as a personal database organizer. On my Windows-8 laptop, I had played with Xampp before, so I decided to add Drupal to that. It is fairly easy to set up Apache and MySQL using Xampp. On top of that, you can install several “apps” including Drupal. All this works remarkably well, and within about 30 minutes or so, I had Drupal working on my Windows PC.

So how do you use Drupal as a personal database organizer? That’s where Drupal taxonomy feature shines. You can create a vocabulary with terms that meet your needs. For example, you can create vocabularies like “person”, “type of document”, “focus area”, and so on. When you post content, you can use all these to create a very well organized, searchable database.

I have used Drupal-based personal data organizer both on my work laptop, and my personal laptop. Every time I need to takes notes in a meeting, or take notes on things I need to do, or collect bits of information for any project, I just keep making entries on my work laptop. At home, on my personal laptop, I can easily keep track of all sorts of information like utility accounts, kids’ activities, my research on Raspberry Pi, or things to do, and so on.

If you are willing to spend a little time installing Xampp and Drupal on a Windows machine, or even a Mac or a Linux machine, you can have a really powerful notes organizer.

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Electric Vehicle Economics

Have you noticed the recent boom in the number of plug-in hybrids (PHEV)  and fully electric vehicles (EV) on the road? Have you wondered if and how it makes sense to buy or lease one of these? Here are some of my thoughts, having recently leased a 2013 Nissan LEAF SL.

Let’s first talk about the one thing that everyone asks about: how many miles can I drive with a full charge? This indeed is one hurdle that fully electric vehicle had to cross to become viable. Plug-in hybrids and non-plug-in hybrids obviously have the advantage of running on gas if they run out of battery. So what about EVs?

The Nissan LEAF has a range of around 80 miles with a fully charged 24 kilo-Watt-hour battery. So if your typical daily commute and other driving is around 40-50 miles, you should be fine with a LEAF. The Tesla has a 150+ mile range, but is also a much more expensive car.

This leads to the next question: Does an EV like the LEAF make economic sense? To answer this, we need to look at a few things. How much do you drive in a day? Where and how often can you charge your EV? If you mostly charge at home, it adds to your electricity consumption and can push you into higher tiers of pricing. What does the EV cost? What are the leasing options? Insurance costs?

To most people, EVs would make good commute cars (if their  total commute in a day is less than about 60 miles or so). If this was primarily your commute car, you would charge it overnight at home, and drive to work and back during the day. If your employer provides either free or paid charging facilities, then your commute range would increase significantly. For example, if the distance from your home to your work place was 60 miles, and you were guaranteed to get access to a charging station at work, then you could stretch your total daily commute to 120 miles.

As it stands, in places like the silicon valley, there are a handful of companies that provide charging stations in their parking lots. But from what I have seen, there are many more employees with PHEVs and EVs than the number of available charging stations. A typical charge would be 3 to 5 hours, and in a day, each charging station would probably be able to serve 3-4 cars. So for many commuters, it is hard to depend on the chargers at their work place to get a daily day time charge.

But if you had a total commute of less than 50 or so miles, then you can charge your car primarily at home every night, and use the one at your work on some days during the week when you happen to find a free charger.

So let’s assume you are using an EV as your commute car and drive it about 1000 miles a month. With a car like the Nissan LEAF, you can get around 4 miles to a kilo-Watt-hour, so you would be using around 250 kWh to charge your car every month. If you were charging your car only — or mostly — at home, then your monthly electricity consumption would increase by about 250 KWh.

If you are already on a higher price tier for electricity, then adding an EV could significantly increase your monthly bill — probably by $60 to $100 a month. But on the other hand, if your usage was low, or if you sign up to a “time-of-use” rate plan, and charge your car only when the rates are lowest (typically overnight), then your EV charging could cost you $20 to $40 a month. So you can compare that with your typical monthly gas expenses for your commute car to see if it results in a saving; if you drive about 1000 miles in a month, it most likely will give you some savings.

What about the cost of leasing and insurance? Smaller EVs like the Nissan LEAF and Honda Fit are being offered at some very attractive lease prices. Depending on the model of the car — S, SV, SL, etc for the LEAF — down-payments, etc, your monthly lease payments can be anywhere from around $100 to $270 or so. If you already have one or two cars and are adding an EV to your auto insurance policy, a car like the LEAF adds about $50-$60 a month to your premium.

What if your electricity bill for you home is already on the high side? Would the EV charging make it too expensive to make sense? It can. In this case, you can consider getting solar panels installed on your roof and offset your usage of your electricity with the solar electricity that your panels generate and pump back to the grid. More about this in another post.

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