Road Trip #5: Monterey

As members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we have visited multiple times a year most years. Last year, as we all lived through the lockdowns and the global pandemic, the aquarium remained closed and we were unable to visit one of our favorite destinations.

This trip wasn’t quite back to normal (we had to book tickets for the aquarium ahead of time – actually back in April) and we had an assigned 30 minute window when we could enter. Once inside, a few things were different too, though much of the experience was the same. Outside of the aquarium, our trips normally include at least one night in our favorite hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn) where we love the cooked breakfasts, the sheltered outdoor pool and hot tub and the s’mores by the firepit each evening. We also typically enjoy local restaurants for dinners, visit the Dennis the Menace park and perhaps the beach or boating lake. This time we did a day trip, mainly focused on the aquarium visit, though we did get manage to get some other activities in too.

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EV Shopping

No, not for myself (I’m happy with my recent EV purchase), but for somebody else. We went out to look at three specific models, and to ask about some upcoming ones. We ended up adding one more to the list while we were out.

The original plan was to check out the VW dealer in Oakland, then the Kia dealer nearby, and finally drive to one of the few Hyundai dealers (we ended up picking the Hilltop one). The cars we were interested in seeing and driving were the ID.4, the Kona EV, eNiro and to find out more about the Hyundai Ioniq 5 / Kia EV6.

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Road Trip #4: Railtown 1897

About two hours east of Alameda, in the foothills of the Sierra mountains is a small town with a big focus on trains. Not modern trains though. Steam trains mainly, and one old diesel loco.

Railtown 1897 is part of the California State Park system, but the trains are operated by volunteers. Entry into the park comes with a ticket for a train ride, and includes a walking tour of the roundhouse, the old machine shop and part of the train yard, as well as a brief history of the Sierra Railway system, and its relationship with Hollywood for both movies and TV shows.

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Electrify America

One of the included services the Taycan comes with is unlimited, free 30 minute sessions on Electrify America, the charging network that Volkswagen are building as part of their retribution for dieselgate. As early Tesla Model S and X owners will attest to, free rapid charging makes road trips even better. Half an hour on a 150kW charger should be enough to get the car back up to 80% in most cases. On a 350kW charger, if you can find one, it will be more than you need.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Finally, a network to rival Tesla’s awesome super=charger network, backed by vehicle manufacturers so the experience with their cars will be as seamless as Tesla owners are used to: pull up, plug in and charge. And, yes, that really is how simple it is. We’ve rented a Tesla Model X twice now, once in the UK and once here in California. In both countries the experience was that simple. The navigation took us to the charger location, we plugged in (after a short wait on a couple of occasions) and that was it. No cards, no apps. Just plug in & charge.

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Road Trip #3: Cherries and Black Diamonds

This week’s road trip was originally planned to be another state park, but we were invited by some friends to join them cherry picking in Brentwood, so we combined that with a visit to the nearby Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

After an unusually early start, we reached the cherry picking farm just after 9:30am (we had a reservation for the 9:30am to 11am time slot since they are limiting the number of people in the orchard for COVID). The drive was mostly uneventful, at least until we got near to the CA-242 split to head into Pittsburg. As we drove by a temporary roadside sign indicating that CA-242 would be closed until 10am (for overnight construction work), the Taycan’s navigation also announced that the road ahead was closed, and that it did not have an alternative route. Then it immediately repeated the announcement, but rather than not having an alternative route it worked out how to get around the closed section of road.

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Road Trip #2: Gold Country

At Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

The second road trip in the Taycan is a little more adventurous since the round trip distance exceeds the vehicle’s range. This is the first time we will be required to charge in order to get home.

This was originally going to be our first road trip, replicating the first long trip I made in the first car I bought in the US, back in 1998 the I first arrived here. We moved it to the second for scheduling reasons.

The trip started with the battery at 100%, thanks to our JuiceBox at home, and an estimated range of about 240 miles. The direct route to the park would have been about 130 miles, but we had a stopover in Davis, CA which added a few extra miles to the trip.

The majority of the route was straight freeway driving, but when we turned onto CA-49 for the final few miles into Coloma, CA, the road narrowed and became windy, giving us a chance to see what the Taycan could really do (it is an incredibly impressive machine, and an absolute blast to drive).

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Road Trip #1: Bodega Bay

Taycan in the parking lot at Bodega Bay Inn / Roadhouse Coffee

The first road trip in the new Taycan was meant to be up to Gold Country (similar to the first longer road trip I took in the first car I bought here in the US). We had to make a small change in the plans though as we were also planning a visit as part of the trip, and that person was unavailable this weekend. So, as a replacement, we went to Bodega Bay, on the Pacific coast here in California.

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Fairy Doors

Not sure where the idea of fairy doors came from, but there are lots of them on Alameda. On Bay Farm Island, there are twenty-six, one for each letter of the alphabet, around the shoreline trail. Start just past the intersection of Adelphian Way and Sweet Way if you want to start at ‘A’.

We took scooters, but to be honest the path was a little too bumpy for them and in several places we just ended up walking them. It is a couple of miles from A to Z, the end being just before the bridge back to the main island, alongside the Harbor Bay Club fence.

We took an alternative route back, initially to check out another door (called Park Tree on the handy map you can find here). Zipping along the much smoother paths, past the school.

Now, even more than before, my daughter wants to put up some fairy doors. Time to fire up the 3D printer and make her some she can paint!

ESPixelStick Programming

As part of the mission to build out some hardware for sound & light shows at Halloween (yes, I know it is only a few days away; my kids keep reminding me), and Christmas, I picked up an ESPixelStick from Amazon. These come fully assembled, but unprogrammed. How hard can that be I thought?

I will comment that it would have been nice to have some documentation, or at least a pointer to an up to date website in the bag with the board…

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Skull Eyes Project

A couple of years ago I picked up two plastic skull decorations in the post-halloween sales. Once I got them home, it occurred to me that they could become an interesting project. Adding some lights to their eyes with some fun effects was the plan. It has taken me a while to get time to do this, but I finally pulled all the parts together and modified the basic plastic skull with some LED eyes.

The parts, in addition to the skull of course, are as follows:

The circuit is very simple:

Power comes from the USB, which also acts as the data connection to the computer for programming the board.

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