Last week I took an extended weekend off to drive down to the Twin Cities with my family, for the first time in almost exactly 3 years. Ever since we started going down there for punk shows (long before Odessa and I were married) we have made it a habit to trek down at least once per year.
The title of this post is a reference to Chuck Klosterman’s latest book “The Nineties” which we listened on the way there and back. Klosterman audiobooks have become as much of a tradition as the trip itself. Something about the combination of his comic-book-guy-from-the-simpsons delivery plus the fact that we are literally driving through the setting of some of his anecdotes is just so perfect.
In all seriousness though, between the events of January 6th, the presidency preceding it, and the George Floyd protests in the Twin Cities I was bracing for the worst. I expected to arrive in a country where my affiliations would be questioned every time I wanted to use a restroom, a political zealot yelling on every street corner and just general chaos.
But for the most part, everything was normal, like it had been previous years.
So Many Flavours of Mountain Dew
For many Canadians, trips across the border are a bit like visiting a giant Theme Park of Capitalism or maybe walking into r/latestagecapitalism. We simultaneous gawk at the sheer audacity of all the different things we can buy while buying as many of the things as we can possibly buy.
The varieties of Mountain Dew are a prime example a running joke even. [Up in these parts we typically have 3 flavours of Mountain Dew: regular, diet and a rotating cast of alternates (code red, blue shock, that new black one, etc)]
Well I’m happy(?) to report that the state of the world has not affected the junk food shelf. Not only that but the US consumerist machine has managed to find dozens of flavours of everything! Doritos, caned coffee, beef jerky, beyond meat jerky, skittles… you get the picture.
On Apple Pay and Tap
A quick note on Apple Pay.
I was pleasantly surprised that tap payment was available literally everywhere. This was not at all the case 3 years ago — chip&PIN was not even readily available.
That said most cashiers acted like I was one of the first people they’d ever seen actually using my phone to pay.
In the face of a mostly normal visit, the effects of inflation seemed a lot more real down there. Even though the inflation rate is only about 1% higher.
For one, nothing is cheap anymore, especially food. Even though the relatively exchange rates have remain roughly the same (30%, ±5%) for the 20 odd years I’ve been visiting The States you could always count on cheap fast food. Even after currency exchange.
And I’m not really sure any of the clothes and other stuff we bought is significantly cheaper like it used to be. Ohdessa did some on-the-fly comparison shopping vs the Canadian websites and often found similar to cheaper pricing on the .ca.
I bought new shoes out of compulsion.
Actually, gas is still cheap. About CA$0.30/L less (US$0.92/gal).
The most striking economic indicator was the WE’RE HIRING signs literally everywhere! The sign to the left is from a Walmart in Fergus Falls, North Dakota — a state with a $7.25 minimum wage. A Taco Bell in Fargo, ND was advertising a $500 signing bonus! $1500 bonus to start on as a mall cop at the Mall of America (salary not listed).
Not coincidentally, the McDonalds we visited that was not boasting of above minimum wage was so short staffed that the shift manager apologized about the wait to every single customer.
[N.B. Some of these posting might be total compensation (including things like healthcare) but are likely to still be multiples of the minimum wage.]
To counter-balance the kind of icky consumer tourism aspect of these trips, we always try to hit up some art galleries. The Twin Cities have a great art scene!
We were able to check out Piotr Szyhalski’s COVID-19: Labor Camp Report. I am not good at describing art so I will just say that this is the most incredible art exhibit I have ever seen. The dystopian posters, the performance, the orchestra. Such amaze!
The Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Mendota Heights, Minnesota kinda sucks.
My route to Sage Creek took me down to the very far edge of Fermor Ave and then south down Lagimodiere Blvd past Bishop Grandin Blvd. Most of this drive was completely desolate, I passed a “power centre” style retail development, The Royal Canadian Mint and a bunch of empty nothingness. Most Winnipeggers would consider this drive to have already taken them “out of town” but low and behold, you take a left turn on Sage Creek Blvd and there you are heading into a self contained “Qualico Community.”
My initial reaction was just a kneejerk to my boring drive, so let’s take a quick look at the numbers.
I’ll use the intersection of Sage Creek Blvd & Edward Turner Dr as the “centre” of Sage Creek – since this appears to be the midpoint of housing development and compare this to Portage & Main – the defacto (and literal?) centre of Winnipeg.
The straight-line distance is 10.27km. For comparison, the west Perimeter Hwy bordering the city is only 13.15km from Portage & Main. The northern perimeter is only 10.47km. East is 12.82km.
Sage Creek is demonstrably on the edge of the city.
For comparison, by car it’s 12.8km.
At 13.1km, the ideal bike ride is slightly longer than by car. I suspect this is a fairly pleasant bike ride as it runs through some nice parks and quiet streets. But TBH keeping track of all those turns would be challenging and I would be surprised if Winnipeg has the way-finding to simplify this route.
FWIW if these suburbs are going to exist, I would love to see prioritizing bike freeways over car infrastructure and SE Winnipeg would be a good place to start (but that’s a topic for another post).
“But it’s quick!”
A few people in my Twitter replies mentioned that the distance doesn’t matter because the drive is quick.
This is entirely missing the point.
First, it means that you absolutely need a car to leave your neighbourhood.
Second, you’re still driving further, burning more gas, wasting money and needlessly polluting.
Third, supporting infrastructure on the fringes of the city is completely unsustainable.
It shouldn’t be part of Winnipeg
If you’ve ever played Sim City 2000, you should have a pretty good sense of just way this suburb is unsustainable. In the game, every segment of water/waste pipe, power line and road costs $10 (plus upkeep). If you build a mini-town on the edge of your simulated city you end up running out of money very quickly! Often before you even have a chance to build schools or provide fire and police services.
Now, the infrastructure for Sage Creek almost certainly isn’t being piped directly from Portage & Main, it’s not technically as isolated as my Sim City losing strategy. The pipes and power are likely connected to Island Lakes (the suburb directly to the west of Sage Creek).
But get a load of this satellite picture:
It doesn’t look like Qualico have really taking advantage of their proximity to Island Lakes. They haven’t built a bunch of connecting paths, parks or streets. They haven’t packed the dense developments right next to the existing infrastructure for maximum efficiency. It’s mainly unused land, parking lots and parks.
It’s fine for you
Many people on Twitter assumed that I was “slagging” Sage Creek.
This was not my intent. I understand that people like living in developments like Sage Creek. My general attitude is “that’s fine for you.”
The problem is – as illustrated in Sim City 2000 – every new low density development decreases the city’s ability to provide services efficiently.
Take a look at the bus routes as an example.
A minimum of 67 minutes! If public transit was operating efficiently, this travel time should be in the same ballpark is the travel by car. Not 3.5x!
But with Winnipeg’s dozens of suburbs on the sprawled out on the periphery this becomes an impossible problem to try to solve efficiently.
Don’t ask me to subsidize it
Let’s take a quick look at some generalized math.
Since all parts of the city expect similar levels of city services and all parts of the city pay similar property taxes, the basic math of it is that higher density areas subsidize lower density areas.
If each suburb was its own town, they would each have their own tax rates that make sense for their specific concerns.
They could still benefit from city services if they chose to but the big difference would be that The City could make a profit from those agreements.
Rather than each suburb stretching the city’s budgets or making things like efficient transit service totally impossible. Suburbs could be a profit centre!
“It’ll be the centre of town soon enough“
A few replies on Twitter suggested that building suburbs on the edge of town is how we’ve always done it and after a few decades the city will fill in around it.
But this is just totally backwards! Cities should be built from the inside out. Again, if this is not obvious play some Sim City 2000.
Why Are We Still Approving Car-Centric Suburbs?
I’m quite uncertain how Qualico came to the conclusion that their new community is “completely walkable.” It’s got to be a joke, right?
Wikipedia defines walkability as:
…a term for planning concepts best understood by the mixed-use of amenities in high-density neighborhoods where people can access said amenities by foot. It is based on the idea that urban spaces should be more than just transport corridors designed for maximum vehicle throughput. Instead, it should be relatively complete livable spaces that serve a variety of uses, users, and transportation modes and reduce the need for cars for travel.
Sage Creek simply does not have any mixed-use, period. The retail is a good distances away from the apartments and both are segregated from the expensive single-family homes by wide parkland.
A more generous (and perhaps more realistic in the North American context) definition of “walkability” might be the idea of a “15-minute city.” i.e. the idea that nothing should be more than 15 minutes away (without a car).
But here again Sage Creek fails. Since they’ve positioned the retail sector at the entrance of the development almost none of the single-family housing is within a 15 minute walk (I’ve used the Tim Hortons in this calculation).
The Biggest Sin of Them All!
If that wasn’t bad enough, Qualico has the audacity to call this neighbourhood “walkable” without even providing sidewalks to walk on!!
As you can see from the City of Winnipeg’s sidewalk clearing map, they have only built sidewalks on the main thoroughfares. This is absolutely not a way to encourage walking!
I do not understand why city hall continues to approve this garbage.
In all seriousness, by “walkable” I think Qualico actually means “there are parks where you can walk your dog only a 2 minute drive away!” Qualico certainly is not committed to walkability in any common sense of the word.
“But we’ve always done it this way“
A few commentors on Twitter mentioned that Sage Creek is just like many other suburbs in Winnipeg and that I shouldn’t be singling them out.
I actually agree. All of the post WWII suburbs are pretty terrible.
City hall needs to do better!
We can bite bullet and stop approving new developments. They’re a ponzi scheme that has to end, the sooner we rip of the band-aid the better.
We can retrofit existing neighbourhoods with sidewalks and infill housing. We’re already doing a decent job on the latter. I would like to see a candidate in this upcoming election suggest building sidewalks. Hell, we could just steal Edmonton’s 15-minute city playbook, it seems like a good one.
Oh and we should probably at least consider breaking up Unicity before it’s too late.
Seven months ago I wrote a blog post with some of my initial thoughts and reasoning behind buying a Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV. I have been keeping detailed fuel economy records since December 8th, in attempt to quantify and understand its gasoline usage over time.
Above is the screenshot of my spreadsheet. Due to COVID travel restrictions and continued work from home, the majority of this data is running errands inside the city. Two exceptions being two trips to Riding Mountain Nation Park, at the end of December and the weekend of the 20th.
During the winter months, I was having mixed feelings about my decision. As things have warmed up, I’m getting more optimistic.
The algorithm that determines when to engage the gasoline engine is confounding.
Below -20C the engine always engages, in fact the system displays a warning message informing you that it’s too cold to drive in electric mode. I suppose this makes a certain amount of sense since battery performance is very poor at very cold temperatures, as well the engine needs to warm its oil if it’s going to run at all. So I suppose it is “priming” the engine and providing additional heating during these times.
Above roughly +15C the engine never engages.
At temperatures in between, the engine status seems highly dependent on whether or not you’ve got the cabin heat on. The heat seems to be drawn from the engine like a traditional car (and not from a fully electric heat pump, like I was hoping). In temperatures, above -10 or so the engine does eventually stop once enough heat has been built up.
But there are other times, that the engine engages seemingly at random. It’s quite frustrating. Even turning off the heat won’t guarantee that the engine will turn off.
Sometimes when the engine is running for no apparent reason (i.e. relatively warm outside, no heat needed inside) turning the car off and on again seems to kick the car into EV mode. But not always.
As frustrating as that is, even during these periods the batteries are propelling the car, the engine only runs at an idle. So fuel usage is still low.
In fact, the engine almost never goes above idle RPM, except in “sport” mode or if you floor it.
Cold Weather Fuel Economy Sucks
Winnipeg experienced on of the coldest winters on record this year.
You can see this reflected in the data above. The worst fuel economy was mid January at 13.4L/100km. While this is utterly disappointing for a car capable of full EV, I’d expect this is not worse than a non-hybrid Santa Fe during similar temps.
The interesting thing about the characteristics of the EV algorithm is that at these super cold temps, your fuel economy actually increases the further you drive. I think this is due to the fact that the engine is mainly idling so it’s burning a constant amount of fuel while you’re continuing to drive further and faster without using any more fuel.
Warm Weather = Full EV
Based on what I’ve seen in May (if we didn’t take any road trips) I wouldn’t expect to buy more than one tank of gas this entire summer.
At temperatures above 15C the gas engine stays off 98% of the time. It does still randomly engage occasionally for short periods of time (perhaps to charge the DC battery?). And also sometimes when getting up to speed quickly.
I am very pleased by this warmer weather performance.
I fully expect the summer driving on electricity to outweigh the poor performance during this extremely cold winter. If next winter is closer to seasonal I’d expect to say below 9L/100km even in January. The fuel savings should only add up over time.
If you need a vehicle, a PHEV is a great transitional vehicle while the electric infrastructure gets built out. Even in the coldest Winnipeg winter.
When I left the iPhone ecosystem by switching to a Google Pixel 3.5 years ago people who knew me well were surprised. I had become an Apple guy. But iOS was boring. It felt stagnant. The Pixel felt like an innovative layer on top of an otherwise maybe-not-so-great Android ecosystem. I was quite happy with it and I was confident I wouldn’t switch back.
For reasons mainly related to availability, I decided to give iPhone another chance earlier this year. My opinion has flipped almost immediately.
This may sound silly but a lot has changed since 2018; iOS feels fresh again. For example, it’s implementation of widgets is really clever and useful; the cross-device focus mode is a great solution to the notification overload problem. Among other things. Apple is back on its game. I thought I would miss the pixel but I almost don’t at all.
A month in, I’m noticing some things that lead me to wonder if Apple might be building a social network, in reverse, without a newsfeed.
Messages as a Social Sharing Hub
One of the core features of any social network has always been the ability to message with other users privately or in groups. In the early days it wasn’t real time. It was more like limited email. All of my earliest social experience had private messaging features: forums and even prior to the internet BBSes.
In a world where we’ve all been avoiding physical contact and hiding in our homes as much as possible lest we get the plague, text-based messaging has become the definition of social for much of the world.
iOS’ Messages fills this need. Obviously.
But iMessage is doing something that goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen a social network implement.
“Shared With You”
Apple’s News app has a (somewhat buried) feature that lists news articles that have been shared with you in iMessage. Automatically.
It’s almost like a newsfeed specifically limited to the app you’re looking at.
Similarly, Safari’s “start page” shows you everything shared with you from every conversation in iMessage (that isn’t a News link). Particularly handy when you’re trying to remember which shoes your wife wants.
Both of these are more useful and easier to manage than the crazy algorithmic newsfeed of a Facebook or LinkedIn. Both of these features are synced across devices (including MacOS).
“Shared with you” isn’t particularly well implemented in other apps.
Music has a concept of “friend” but they’re hard to find and I’m not convinced there’s much utility in seeing things like your friends’ playlists.
Photos has shared albums but they’re not integrated with iMessage or anything else – perhaps because this feature pre-dates Siri and perhaps also because it’s available outside of the Apple ecosystem.
Gamecenter has fallen by the wayside as a user-centric feature. It’s just a storage and leaderboard utility for game developers now.
Contacts as Profiles
Another social-network-esque feature surfaces with the “Contacts” widget.
Secondly, it’s able to take advantage of iOS integration to securely display a couple of features that might make you nervous in any other context. That is, the contact’s focus status (note: the icon becomes a car when driving focus is enabled) and their current location (if location sharing is enabled).
When you tap on one of the icons, you get a version of the Contacts app that’s more condensed and useful than anywhere else in iOS. It removes all the settings options and editing features that you see in other contacts views, leaving only the contact’s details and shared items.
It’s a user profile.
To reiterate, the extra brilliant thing here is that all of this data has been collected, organized and analyzed on device. No need to grant a third party intermediary with ulterior motives access to your data.
Is this a social network?
The features I’ve described could be summed up as “link sharing” and “messaging.” In my opinion, these have always been core features of every social network. Perhaps the most important features of those social networks. What is Facebook’s core feature? A newsfeed of shared links (albeit perverted by a terrible algorithm).
Not to mention that a large amount of social networks are built around just one of those two features. Reddit was just a link feed for most of its history. Snapchat is just (picture/video focused) messaging. Etc.
At the very least iOS has some of the features of a social network.
However, iOS is missing two features fundamental to social networks. Posting and friend/group discovery.
iOS doesn’t have a mechanism to post a link or message to all of your contacts at once (aside from creating a giant group message comprising all of your contacts and I feel like that would be ridiculously chaotic). Nor does iOS give you a way to find new people, nor discover interest groups.
Without these features there is no “networking.”
No. It’s Messaging+.
What Apple has enabled with its cross-app-data-linking is more like “messaging+”. It adds functionality to iMessage.
It makes an already social experience more useful, in ways that none of the current social networks are actually able to accomplish.
Apple could go further and position itself to – maybe not replace but – obviate social networks as we know them today.
If Apple finally released iMessage for Android (like it’s been promising) so that everybody on any device had access. And if they opened up iMessage’s “shared with you” API to other apps (in a responsible manner) then I think things could get really interesting.
Props to @levisan for pointing my train of thought down this track.
Two weeks ago I picked up a 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV.
I am no Doug Demuro and this is not meant to be a review of the car in general (it’s great!). Rather, I want to talk about the quirks and features of PHEV driving specifically.
The PHEV Experience
The very first thing I noticed test driving this car is just how smooth the electric drive is. The lack of gears combined with the instant power immediately reminded me gliding out of a station on a train. It’s just so pleasant!
My thoughts below are based on the 500km highway and 500km city – in temperatures between -10 to +15 – that I’ve driven so far.
Why not an EV?
In short, “we’re not quite there yet.” The charging network in and around Winnipeg and battery tech is such that most of our favourite camping spots are out of range; and longer road trips (especially west on the Trans Canada Highway) would be anxiety inducing.
Sure these trips are rare and I considered the possibility of renting a car as needed. But given that there’s a significant premium for EVs, buying a $40,000 – $60,000 car only to have it sit in the garage when you really need it most… at the end of the day that just seemed silly.
The PHEV Hyundai Santa Fe has a 13.8kWh battery which has an advertised range of 45km in full EV mode. I’ve found this range to be fairly accurate within a few kilometres. Granted, my driving style is generally pretty modest and I’ve been intentionally making an effort to keep the power level low.
At present electric rates, fully charging this battery costs $1.24.
However, the system actually reserves ~25% of the battery for hybrid-mode. I believe this is because the 1.6L engine is not powerful enough to motivate the 1900kg vehicle on its own.
So this means that the vehicle only uses around 10.35kWh to travel 45km on batteries. That’s about $0.93 electricity in Manitoba. For comparison, a standard ICE Santa Fe would burn 4.77L (or $6.82 at today’s gas price) for 45km of city driving; and 3.15L (or $4.50) with the hybrid version.
From a fuel cost perspective, switching to electricity is a nobrainer. Especially with the relative stability of electrical rates compared to the constant fluctuation of oil prices.
We’ve been having a strange November, with temperatures ranging from -10C to +16C. So I’ve had the opportunity to drive the car in a range of cooler temperatures.
The salesman mentioned that the systems will “prime” the batteries in cold weather but he didn’t go into detail and TBH I was to excited to drive away to ask him for more information.
As it turns out, when the battery is cold the ICE runs for quite a long time (4 – 9 minutes) after initially “starting” the car and even well into the drive. It will also engage at seemingly randomly times throughout the drive.
Li-ion batteries have an optimal operating temperature range of 15 to 20C, so I assume the system is diverting engine heat to batteries directly (via that heat pump system) and/or imparting heat by acting as a generator, recharging the batteries.
When the ICE is in this operating mode it is not being used to drive the vehicle, so you are still benefiting form the efficiency gains of an electric motor.
Unfortunately, this behaviour makes it impossible make a full trip without burning at least some gasoline (albeit maybe only a few teaspoons) in temperatures colder than +15. Very short trips end up using relatively huge amounts of fuel. A 7 minute drive might run the ICE the entire time even though the car has enough battery to make it the full distance.
Luckily, with an unseasonably warm +16 yesterday I was able to test the battery’s behaviour in a warm state. I took the opportunity to make 45km round trip and I was relieved to make the entire drive without burning a drop of gas! The systems did not heat the battery at all.
However, I a very took a similar drive today and once again the engine engaged for a short time to warm the battery, even though it is only a few degress colder today.
I am fairly disappointed with this behaviour. I would much prefer a driving mode that exclusively used the batteries even if I meant a decreased range in cold weather. Even if it meant charging more often the economics would still make sense.
Additionally, I had factored the fuel savings from driving pure EV most of the time into the budget when upgrading to this more expensive car and now feel like I am coming in on the losing end of that calculation.
Hyundai provides a Level 1 charger which manual refers to it as a very appropriately named “trickle charger.”
A full recharge takes approximately 11hrs. On the one hand, that’s a very long time for 45km of juice. On the other hand, my car sits around for at least 8 – 10hrs every night, so it’s not really an issue. I think it would be fine even if I had a regular commute.
Level 2 charging is much faster at 3h30m. According to a recent Reddit thread, having a level 2 charger installed at home costs in the neighbourhood of $1000 – $1500; and this just does not seem worth it at the moment.
I haven’t had the opportunity to use one yet but the going rate for Level 2 charging stations seems to be $1.50/hr. At that rate the economics don’t really make sense vs the cost of gas. If you think of it as paying a small amount to keep some carbon out of the atmosphere though I guess that’s OK. There are also a few (literally 3) free chargers around town and I’m looking forward to having an excuse to use one of those in the next couple of months.
Long Term Reliability
When I mentioned PHEVs on Twitter a while back a couple people raised concerns about readability.
They have a point, PHEVs are a Frankenstein’s monster of new tech operating alongside ancient tech. Marrying the two drive and the two breaking systems must be complicated AF. I suspect this is a large part of the reason Hyundai has opted for a fully drive-by-wire vehicle (a topic for another blog post perhaps).
Hyundai has acknowledged this and is demonstrating strong confidence in their engineering by providing an 8yr/160,000km warranty on the H/EV systems. Which is reassuring.
The Hyundai Santa Fe as a car is by far my favourite car I have owned to date (largely unrelated to the fact that it’s a PHEV though)!
Sitting in traffic with the little green “EV” light illuminated makes me smile. And doing 110km/h on the highway on batteries feels like the future! (But also the past, I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if the oil and gas industry hadn’t killed battery cars in early 1900s)
Unfortunately, I am not very optimistic about the EV performance once winter sets in and we’re regularly seeing -20 (or colder). I expect average fuel economy to in-line with the standard HEV version of the Santa Fe.
I can’t say I understand Hyundai’s choice to optimize for range over gasoline usage.
That said, at the moment, my average fuel economy is 3.3L/100km, which is quite good and nothing to cry about.
Winnipeg has a lot of days from spring through autumn that fall within the battery’s optimal operating temperature. On balance of a year the average combined fuel economy should hit the advertised 2.1L/100km, with city driving at 1L or lower.