Finding a J1772 Charger for my Leaf

I just bought a Nissan Leaf, before I had a chance to get the charging station installed. So now I need to get a charging station – yesterday. The price for the official Nissan charging station is about double what is reasonable. Plus there’s a 3 week wait to get one installed. So here’s what I’ve found so far (I will update as I find more). I am looking only for complete units, not DIY kits – mistakes with 220 volts tend to be very deadly.

What’s strange is three of the companies selling these units don’t post their prices. It makes you think they don’t want to sell to individuals. I’ve emailed them asking for prices.

Warning: Buying from AeroVironment is a gigantic exercise in frustration. You cannot buy from their website. If you send email you will not get an answer. If you call their customer support line they take down your info to “send you paperwork”, but never do. If you get someone on the phone it is a multi-day process to purchase a charging station. Buy the GE unit – it’s a simple purchase on both the Home Depot and Lowes websites.

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I Bought a Leaf!

My old car was 22 years old. It was a super-sweet ride (BMW M3 – the original style). But as my mechanic said, it’s had a hard life (as the only owner I think that comment was aimed at me). It has reached the point where I expected it to just fall apart while driving like one of the cars in The Great Race.

I first looked at the Tesla but it has no back seat for my daughters and the trunk won’t hold the weekly grocery shopping. And about 5 seconds later it hit me – I’m old. Because when I was 25 those would not be important issues yet now they’re the first things that occurred to me.

So that took me to a BMW 535 or a Nissan Leaf. I figured I’d get the BMW. My wife figured I’d end up with the BMW. My daughters were sure I’d end up with the BMW. But at the end of the day, I got the Leaf. Why? Well first the downside – it’s not as nice a car as the BMW (which is reasonable as it’s ½ the price). The Nissan is well made but a BMW is exquisite. The BMW also has superior handling although the Leaf corners well due to the heavy weight across the bottom of the chassis due to the batteries.

Interestingly the electronics in the cars are comparable. Unsurprisingly the acceleration is comparable too – electric motors have a giant advantage on this part. And the turning radius on the Leaf is better than my M3 (barely).

The thing is, with work I basically drive to work and back home, along with a couple of stops in Boulder. My M3 may have the capability to go 180 MPH but driving in Boulder is pretty much limited to 40 MPH. The occasional drive down to Denver is a bit faster but doesn’t require anything more in handling. So there’s the rational explanation (which is not what drives us), that they’re both fine.

I think electric cars are the future. And I’m really curious as to how they will work out. The only way to find out is to take a leap of faith and get an electric car myself. Reading the occasional article does not begat understanding. So why did I pick the Leaf? Because I want to learn what owning an electric car entails.

And within 8 hours I’ve discovered one giant difference. Electrical charge is the center of your universe when you are going to drive somewhere. Your car has a range before it needs to be re-charged. But unlike a 3 minute stop at a gas station, you’re looking at 7 hours – if you have the 220 volt special cable available. 17 hours if you’re using a standard 110 volt outlet. And unlike California, there are no J1772 charging stations in Colorado. (There is also a fast charge that takes ½ hour and requires a special adapter in 440 volts. Once they get those on I-70 then you could stop for lunch while your car gets recharged.)

I learned this with a vengeance because I went in for the test drive yesterday to see if I wanted the Leaf that I had pre-ordered and was on its way. But it turned out I could buy the test model yesterday and did. So I have the car but no home charging station. I figured not a problem, I could use the 110 charger in the garage and stay on top of the driving I did. Uh, no. All of the garage outlets are on a GFI circuit so as soon as it starts charging, it trips the breaker. It’s nice to have that level of safety in the garage but it means no overnight charging until I get the 220 J1772 adapter installed. That has really brought home how important charging time and availability is.

I’m still glad I got it, but I am a little nervous.

Testing, Testing, Is this thing on?

We had a dry run of the code war today. It dropped about 2′ of snow last night so we were truly running like the final – everyone in a different location. It went smoother than I expected. Mostly it was issues where we needed to provide additional clarifications. And we had one link that went to the wrong page – but in doing so it looked right and got people going in the wrong direction. It’s really hard to write good documentation when you know a program well.

We also upped the time allowed for each A.I. turn to 6 seconds. Two of the developers were on home connections that were a little flakey and it sometimes took 3 – 4 seconds for the round trip of a turn (using the simplistic A.I. which is very very fast). We should have much better connections in the final as Universities are on very fast connections. But that incredible bandwidth gets heavily used weekend nights downloading movies.

The communication layer is rock solid (aside from one item – listed next). Not only did the messages cross fine, but when a connection was dropped the A.I. code re-connected immediately. In most cases it still got that turn in. In the remaining cases it was there for the next turn. (If an A.I. drops and all other A.I.s have replied, then the server process that turn.)

We did hit one bug. The communication layer is designed that it must hold all of the incoming bytes of a message until the entire message has been received. As the messages are UTF-8 XML strings this works a lot better – building the string as the message comes in requires handling a break in a multi-byte character and a lot of memory allocation as the StringBuilder is grown. One of the developers used an avatar that was several meg in size (and over the 32×32 pixel size). This was larger than the buffer size. So we grow the buffer if necessary (and it should never happen if players use correctly sized avatars).

This by the way took about 10 minutes to track down, because I first assumed there was a logic error somewhere passing the wrong length for the message, overwriting the buffer, etc. It took me back to when I was creating Enemy Nations and working through log files of the messages sent/received to see what was going on. Never a fun part of game programming.

And that was it. Everything went pretty smoothly and I’m now very confident that we’ll have a very smoothly running code war. (And we will do at least one more test run.)

Oh, and the developer who won the Broadside code war at Windward? All the developers spent 1½ hours writing an A.I. for the game as part of the dry run. His did terrible. Needless to say, we all had fun at his expense. (He figured out the mistake he made, but listing it would be giving a hint about the game…)

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Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)

It dropped about a foot of snow overnight here in Colorado. I can look up at the mountains (Boulder is on the edge of the foothills) and see snow covered evergreens. A very traditional Christmas like you see on many of the cards. And very different from the Christmas I grew up celebrating.

I grew up in Hawaii and Christmas there is a warm 80 degrees. The lights outside the houses are on palm trees. Santa wears shorts and a Hawaiian shirt and travels in a flying outrigger canoe pulled by flying pigs. It’s funny how the traditions we grow up with stick with us for all of our lives.

Tomorrow is a company holiday. Today the dev team is doing a dry run for The Windward National Intercollegiate Programming Championships. With all the Universitites participating we want to make sure this goes off perfectly. And with all the snow everyone is doing this from home so it truly is a test of how we will run the final with teams participating from across the country.

And around noon, after the dry run has hopefully gone (mostly) smoothly, we’ll call an early end to work and everyone can take off to do their last minute Christmas shopping. And with a foot of new snow here, I’ll really be thinking of how nice the weather is in Hawaii…

Merry Christmas.

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