My First Electric Vehicle: 10,000 Mile Ownership Update

Why an Electric MINI?

My wife Jing and I needed a second car. When looking for cheap vehicles, some electric vehicles showed up because of $7,500 tax rebates. We were after something small, thus affordable and easy to maneuver. MINI won us over the Leaf or Bolt in part to its cool/funky/cute style and MINI’s feel luxurious. The fit and finish are premium and the cabin is quiet. How this is achieved for $35,000, I have to assume is in part to the small size, and small battery.

MINI has a playful steering wheel, the braking is strong, and the suspension is tight. These factors lead to a more engaged, personal driving experience. Jing describes driving a MINI like an extension of yourself. The tall windows make for good visibility. Parking is hilariously easy in a MINI, always leaving plenty of room around you. Jing ended up selling the Civic and getting a MINI of her own, red, with white top and mirror caps.

I thought the size might compromise safety, but apparently not, with “Good” IIHS ratings, particularly in the side impact tests.

34 cubic feet of storage can easily fit an extra set of wheels and tires for the winter swap.

Battery and Charging Specifications

A wall charger was included that can be plugged into any 120v outlet, and some, like the BMW charger that came with my MINI, can also be plugged into a 220/240v outlet like our dryer plugs into. More than 90% of the time, I plug in when I get out of the car and wake up in the morning to a full charge. However, I also want to talk about that other percent of the time where I have to use public chargers. So far, that has not included plugging into an open wall socket in the wild.. yet.

At home, where electricity is 14 cents per kWh, and it takes 1 kWh to go 3.6 miles on average, which is 28 kWh per 100 miles. That means 10,000 miles has taken 2,800 kWh for about $392. For reference, the average gas car costs $1,396.89 in gas and $66 for an oil change in 10,000 miles.

28 kWh generates ~120 miles on average. I drive 300-400 miles a week, and we take 200+ mile trips a couple of times a year. If we drive around 100 miles for a trip, which is every couple of weeks, we are plugging in at home and forgetting about range. A 50 kWh public fast charging rate means 80% in 36 minutes. For us, after 2 hours of driving, we like to stop to stretch our legs and refresh, making the small range a non-issue for us.

The cooling systems for the battery and motor operate at much lower temperatures than an engine, which means all the energy for heating the cabin must come from the battery, at the cost of range. Therefore: The guess-o-meter for the range increases by a few miles if you turn off the heat.

The State of Public Charging

Getting to a charger with 15% can be daunting right now, because you can’t be sure it’s available, or even functional. The infrastructure needs a ton of improvement. For example, coming through Massachusetts, I planned to stop at a community college on a Saturday to get a quick charge at their only ChargePoint charger. Someone was plugged in, but said she would only be 30 minutes. Ok, PlugShare shows another charger less than 10 miles away at a supermarket.

I pulled into the parking lot and found 2 chargers across from each other, one’s occupied by a Tesla. I park at the other one. The screen instructs to download the app to begin. It’s always great when you need to download an app to make a simple transaction. I’m standing in the rain searching for this app, and find it with 1 star reviews. The app asks me for a station number. I looked all over the pillar, the fences, the parking space itself – nowhere was there a station number. I must have been there 15 minutes trying to start the charge. Defeated, I returned to the community college where I patiently waited to charge.

At a gas station, you just pull up, no regard for accounts (usually), or apps, and swipe your card at the station to release the fuel. ChargePoint and EVGo have decent systems for this, but many others fail miserably, and there aren’t enough chargers to dismiss them entirely. Once, in Waterford, I saw a 12 stall station completely full, with one broken charger, and 2 other vehicles waiting. Average charge time seems to be about 30 minutes. I decided to just go straight home less gingerly. Millions of chargers are slated to be built by governments, non profits, and large automotive industry projects in 2024, but right now, the charging infrastructure is the worst part of owning an EV in general.

I dream of a clean, well-lit area you can sit and charge your laptop and phone while you charge your car. Bathrooms are a necessity. Indoor seating and vending machines would be primo. This should be a place you can clean your windshield and fill your tires, or unwind a bit during a long road trip. Maybe you forgot to charge last night at home, so you’re getting a fast charge while you check your emails and grab a coffee for 15 minutes.

Maintenance and Reliability

Electric cars don’t have engines, so they don’t need spark plugs, oil changes, oil filters, an exhaust system, fuel pump, fuel filter, radiator, alternator, timing belt, transmission, catalytic converter, muffler, or air filters. The average internal combustion vehicle has 2,000 moving parts – the average electric vehicle has 20. This means less maintenance, and less points of failure. This was a major selling point for us.

I haven’t had the MINI a year yet, so of course there haven’t been many maintenance visits. I’ve had a new set of wheels and tires installed for winter, and replaced one tire after hitting an exposed manhole cover during road work. I’m due for the first brake and coolant fluid checkup in a few weeks.

The biggest concern most people have about the reliability of an electric powertrain is its battery, and rightly so since they usually cost about a third of the total cost of the car. While phones and laptop batteries often lose much of their capacity or fail after a few years, all high voltage batteries in electric vehicles come with an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty by law.

The price of these batteries has consistently gone down, 90% from the 90’s, with exciting new battery chemistries being announced rapidly in the past few years as well, such as solid state batteries. If this were an investment with an ICE vehicle as an option, it’s important to consider the cost of gas has gone up 90% in the same time frame.

Driving Experience

Acceleration is instant and grippy, delivering a reliable 6-7 second 0-60. On a wet or icy road, I find myself being extra careful pressing the accelerator pedal since there tends to be more slip than some other cars, like the Civic. 180 HP carrying 3,100 lbs. is sporty and engaging in curvy roads. This was perfect when I met with other MINI owners for MINIs Take Vermont last month. I have heard from other MINI owners that this EV drives like a MINI, just quieter.

Naturally, a smaller car has its benefits. It’s easier to maneuver in general, but especially in tight cities we visit often, like Boston and Hartford. Less weight, wheels at the corners, and all the weight low to the ground and centered, means less body roll and tighter handling, and more responsive steering. It’s also more efficient, and gets better reliable performance as a result.

It has Apple CarPlay, geo location, auto air conditioning, remote start, lane departure warnings, auto dimming rearview mirror, collision detection and avoidance, heated seats, interior and exterior lighting that’s useful for entering and exiting in pitch darkness. The A/C is a heat pump that doesn’t rely on warming up the engine, so it’s nearly instant. In all honesty, this MINI has made the driver’s seat one of my favorite places to be.

Final Thoughts

I have never driven so much in 11 months as I have with my MINI. The driving dynamics and character are important to bond with a vehicle. Low maintenance and projected savings bode well financially. The convenience, independence, and practicality of plugging in at home cannot be understated, but the public charging infrastructure is limited at best, and capable of stranding people at worst. But, that’s not MINI’s fault, and it’s bound to get better in a few years. In summary, I’m happy with my choice, and as you can see, I’m kind of obsessed now.

The Firehose Method of IT Support

Even the most tech-savvy among us have had to look up some issue here or there; it’s the nature of the tech beast. This article will briefly cover an especially egregious example of how bad tech support can be from Microsoft’s very own “Answers” blog.

A firehose overwhelms, inundates. Likewise, to “support” a user by firehose, is to drown them in possible solutions in the hopes that one works, or, more likely, the victim tires of the whole endeavor and just puts up with the problem.

The Case of the Hidden Mouse Cursor

This specific cretin originates from a *design choice* included with the infamous Windows 8. The patchwork that brought that OS to the one we have today is incomplete, to say the least. A vestige of this harebrained scheme to make every Windows machine look like a tablet is to hide the mouse cursor by default, despite nearly every single PC using a mouse during every single session. (Of course, in the future, we will all be using our computers upright, hands, wrists, and elbows dangling in the wind to limply nudge at shiny, flipping boxes on our screens with one finger at a time. Designers call this hip, new fad, “gorilla arm fatigue and injury”.) Yet, here we are, a decade later, without any option to change this behavior. All you can do is wiggle the mouse after the computer starts up. This is where Microsoft Answers comes to the rescue.

A user asks: “Mouse pointer invisible upon startup until mouse is moved”, how to change this behavior?

Microsoft Answers: “It doesn’t sound right,” and recommends a laundry list of steps to take. First, choose a mouse scheme. Maybe a different color will help forget your problems? Then, try every other USB port on the computer. “When did it last work correctly?” Never. Change the batteries anyway. Try the mouse in another PC. Try another mouse in this PC. Update the driver *and* roll it back. Uninstall the driver, then reboot and reinstall the driver without a mouse. Uninstall any mouse software. Reinstall drivers manually from manufacturer. Repair Install from Media Creation Tool. Finally, re-install Windows. Nuke and pave, baby.

I won’t dog on this support person too hard, but this answer could have been infinitely more helpful by just admitting the request can’t be fulfilled. To hide the mouse on boot is an intentional design choice. An attentive user can figure this out. Sometimes you just need to stop and smell the mouse cursors from time to time.

NFT’s – Collectible Media and Blockchain

Explaining non-fungible tokens and their significance.

Note: For the purposes of respecting the value of the assets, I will not be sharing any images on this post. This is also to say there is nothing else stopping me.

Non-fungible tokens (NFT’s) have garnered much discussion over the past few months. NFT’s are irreplaceable media, often providing limited ownership or rights upon purchase. Their transactions are based on blockchain.

To explain how this works, let’s look at baseball card collecting. The sport is popular, and some of the collectibles are rare or sentimental, therefore, some are exceedingly valuable. Whether a card is genuine or fake can be determined using many processes, from using black lights, to the examining printing dots under a magnifying glass. Couldn’t you just appreciate pictures of the cards and save yourself millions of dollars? Collectors would tell you that isn’t the same.

Similarly, NFT’s are of limited supply, often modern artwork. Genuine NFT’s are backed by blockchain, a cryptographic network that verifies the identity of an object, and the transaction that took place. To verify the authenticity of an NFT, you only have to follow its digital paper trail.

Could this be a new avenue for artists to earn money, and for aesthetes to show support? The answer is yes. Artists determine the supply and initial price, and make money from 10% of the futures of the NFT’s in some cases. This means that as the art becomes more valuable, the artists are directly paid.

Will NFT’s be the new must-have collector’s items? They already are. The creator of tech giant Twitter sold his first micro-blog on the site as an NFT for $2.9 million. Maybe people are buying in the hopes to sell for more. Maybe some people just want to feel they own a piece of history. Regardless, an earthly reminder is of the right-click “Save image as…” feature on our browsers.

To me, NFT’s seem like cryptocurrency with tangible upsides; still a speculative asset, but with real-world uses. This is definitely something I will continue to keep an eye on.

Nutrition Data Storage Hypothetical

How much data does food require in the United States? Well, let’s find out. I’ll be using C, since it’s the lowest-level language many programmers are comfortable with, and it is plenty efficient enough to handle this task.

The data required for one label can be expressed in a C struct with 42 data items, including everything from vitamins, to brand name, to serving size. These are all the data points that are found on Nutrition Facts labels that cannot be reasonably calculated otherwise. This data structure is a type that is used to contain and manage many variables that contain the same structure of data.

I calculate 224 bytes per nutrition label using the C sizeof() function to account for language-dependent padding:

  • 50 letters each for food and brand names (100 bytes)
  • 10 letters for serving size and total units (“container” being the longest) (20 bytes)
  • 14 32-bit floating point numbers for decimal-significant numbers (56 bytes)
  • 2 32-bit floating point numbers for servings, to convert to fractions on the label (8 bytes)
  • 24 unsigned 16-bit integers (unsigned shorts) for numbers between 0-65,535 (48 bytes)

The original code can be found here:

You might be wondering where the calories have gone. The macros fat, protein, and carbs will be used to calculate calories. Protein and carbs each account for 4 calories per gram, while fat is 9 calories per gram. Percentage of daily values will also be calculated, especially since they are prone to change over time.

So then, how many labels are needed? Open Food Facts maintains a collaborative database of 347,507 foods in the United States alone, at the time of writing. This should account for about 20 years’ worth of food, seeing as the USDA records about 20,000 new foods per year.

347,507 labels at 224 bytes each equals 77,841,568 bytes, or 74.24 megabytes of data! Is that more or less than you expected?


A free, feature-rich open source screenshot application for Windows.

Ah, today is a good day to write about open source software. Let’s look at an increasingly normal workflow for people:

  1. click on Snipping Tool
  2. click “New”
  3. squint closely at the screen to select the desired pixels
  4. repeat steps 2 and 3 until the selection is correct
  5. click “File” > “Save As…”
  6. finally, choose a destination folder and manually rename the file from “Capture.PNG”
  7. repeat starting at step 2 for each selection

Snipping Tool is abandonware with a dated, cumbersome, limited interface. It supports only four file types, PNG, GIF, JPG, and the oft-ignored, and hardly supported MHT, without options for compression. Snip & Sketch at first seemed like a drop-in replacement with shortcut keys, but its lackluster, mobile-quality features and near to no options made it a non-starter for me, and a downgrade in some respects.

The Greenshot logo.

Well, let’s put those troubles behind us, because today I want to write to you about Greenshot: a free and open source screenshot software that supports selected region, window, and fullscreen screenshots. Greenshot has too many options to list here. However, it solves every problem I outlined with the Microsoft alternatives, and goes so much further.

Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite features, which are always just one rebindable hotkey away:

  • a magnifying cursor for precise selection
  • output options, including filename formatting, and a compression slider
  • external commands
  • integration for services such as Flickr, Imgur, and MS Office
  • a handy context menu for quick preferences
  • an editor with shapes, text, copy, paste, and more!
Snipe those borders perfectly with this brilliant magnifier.

Please, allow me to take a moment to appreciate using a single file for settings. Greenshot uses a single greenshot.ini file, meaning migrating or backing up my preferences is as easy as copying one file.

I highly recommend checking out the official, or its git repo. I give this application 10 “quality desktop tools made for this decade” … out of 10.


How and why I created Wen: Chinese Character practice.

Image of farmland between mountains on a foggy day.
The view from the train window.

On a train ride from Hangzhou to Guilin, China, I began writing a program to help learn Chinese characters. The idea is simple: present a character on the screen, with or without Pinyin, and the user will input the translation. The program presents a score at the end.

This original Python iteration uses dictionary files with comma-separated components: the Chinese character, the Pinyin with tone numbers, and the definition separated by forward slashes (“/”). An example would be:

零, li2ng, 0/zero

The program then splits up each section, replaces the tone numbers with diacritics (i.e. “líng”), and compares user input to each instance of the definitions. You can look at the code for this original command-line version here.

However, this is the year 2021, and users, including myself, expect an application like this to have a graphical interface, perhaps even over the web. I would even venture to say that some among us would even launch the program on their phones. Ask no more, the online, user-friendly version can be found here, and a live version is hosted here.

What began as a curious venture into the uncharted world of JavaScript, the aptly-named Wen Online is the culmination of my week-long journey of learning the language. Wen Online features state-of-the-art drop-down menus and bleeding-edge submit and review buttons.

Rendered in the beautiful default browser font, this program is lightning-fast and just sips data at 2-3 kilobytes per chapter (excluding the > 500 word cumulative exam, clocking in at a whopping 57 kilobytes).

All jokes aside, I have worked on larger projects, and for longer, but Wen has been the one I am most proud of. Chinese is a notoriously hard language to learn, and after studying for more than 5 years, I still have light-years to go. I personally use Wen multiple times per week, and have found it to work better for rote memorization than anything else, including flashcards. I think this is because of the need for input, further securing my memory through typing.