Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2018 Cash Back Rewards Wrap Up, Miscellaneous Stuff, and Foreshadowing

I know I've been away for a bit and I missed posting a net worth update for December. My only excuse is it was the holidays and we went on a road trip (which I did manage to blog about). Today, I'm going to write about a couple of little things that are too small for individual blogs posts. Look at this as the blog equivalent of petit fours, or perhaps a few amuse-bouches, if you will.

Cash Back Rewards For 2018

In October, I posted my cash back rewards for the year to date - $1,026.66. At the time, there were three months left in the year, so I went back to see what my year-end number turned out to be.

I added almost another $400 exactly to finish the year with $1,425.63 in cash back rewards. That's over fourteen hundred dollars that credit card companies gave me simply for using their cards. To put that in perspective, that's like getting one free car payment on my Tesla.

Card Card Interest Charges For 2018

How much did that money cost me or, in other words, how much credit card interest did I pay in 2018?

I'd like to say zero, but I actually paid $2.14 in interest. This was only because I entered a date incorrectly on my bill pay app and missed a due date by a couple of days one month. Missing a perfect record of no interest charges pissed me off. At least I wasn't also hit with a late fee.

Stock Market Volatility

Although I was not able to post a December net worth post, I have been following my net worth. As most people know, the stock market has been incredibly volatile since last September. Take a look at how that has translated to the value of my brokerage accounts:

Click to embiggen
That chart is just my brokerage accounts, not my total net worth and the first big drop in September was when I withdrew money to buy my Tesla. But look at the fluctuations after that, especially compared to before. Crazy! It's even crazier when you realize I add money to these accounts every week, yet I still saw some serious declines. So yes.. You really need to take a long term view when investing in the stock market.

What's Coming Up?

There is a good chance I will have some exciting news in February. Let me just say that it started with a trip to the mall. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Road Trip Wrap Up!

The holidays are over and we've returned from our first Tesla long range road trip. I have to say, I am very happy with how it went.

We drove roughly 1,600 miles from Seattle, Washington to Phoenix, Arizona and back again for a total distance of about 3,200 miles. We only used Tesla superchargers along the way. Because I have free supercharging, energy for the trip was free.

Before we left, I spent a couple hours using the route planner at to plan our charging stops. I did this for two reasons: 1) This was my first Tesla road trip and I did have some range anxiety. 2) We were travelling during the holiday season and with our dog. I wanted to make sure the places we had to stop and spend the night not only had rooms available, but also accepted pets.

In retrospect, I think if we did not have a pet with us, I would be comfortable not planning so diligently. The Tesla navigation system will give you an estimate of how far you can go on a charge and will recommend charging stops along the way if it determines it can't make it to your destination. I would have no problem just getting the in car and going.

We averaged about 1.5 to 2 hours of driving between charging stops. Using superchargers, we were able to charge enough to get to the next stop in 20 to 30 minutes. This was just enough time for us to get out, stretch our legs, use the restroom, and take our dog out for a short walk so she could relieve herself. Truthfully, by the time all that was done, 95% of the time, we had enough charge to continue the trip. The few times we had to wait a bit longer to get enough charge, the wait was only another 5 or 10 minutes.

Washington To Arizona

Our planned route took us down I-5 through California and then on I-10 to Arizona. Our first stop on the way out of town was the Centralia Factory Outlet mall in Centralia, Washington. Here is where I discovered one of the drawbacks of supercharger locations - stores. While supercharging will save you money on gas, it's easy to waltz into a store and spend more money on buying things than you would have spent on gas at a gas station. We picked up an ugly Christmas sweater for my daughter while we charged.

Our next stop was the Holiday Inn in Springfield, Oregon. We didn't stay the night, but while we were charging we did meet up with some friends for dinner at a restaurant next to the hotel. (Hi Jim and Michelle!)

From there we went on to charging stations at Grants Pass, Oregon and finally to Mt. Shasta, California, where we spent the night at the Best Western Tree House. The Grants Pass location was behind a Black Bear Diner restaurant, but since we had already eaten, we walked to a gas station across the street and grabbed a couple bottles of water while we charged.

Charging at Grants Pass, OR

The Mt. Shasta charging location is actually two locations - there are 4 chargers in the hotel parking lot and another 16 across the street. Since we were staying at the hotel, we used the chargers there. (On the way back home, we used the ones across the street.) As I tended to do on our overnight stops, I did not charge at night, but instead woke up the next morning, plugged the car in, then proceeded to get dressed, eat, and pack. By the time that was done, the car was charged. I was a little bit worried about possibly getting up in the morning to find all the chargers occupied, but that never happened.

Charging in the morning at Mt. Shasta

The drive leaving Mt. Shasta was beautiful, with low clouds / fog in the trees.

The following day, our first two stops were in Corning, CA and Sacramento. The Sacramento charger was probably the furthest off the freeway of any of the chargers we used - about 4 miles. It was in a shopping area parking lot. We walked to a restaurant and got lunch to go. By the time we were back, we were charged up.

Charging at Corning, CA. There are 2 more chargers behind the wood box on the left.

Charging in Sacramento, CA
At the request of my sister-in-law, (Hi Mindy!) we took a slight detour on the way out of town to look for "something" on L Street, between 15th and 16th Avenues. She made us promise not to Google Street View it before going. So what did we find?

Hello. I'm Johnny Cash.

Turns out, Google Street View shows this building without the mural, so we couldn't have cheated and looked it up first if we wanted to.

The next stop was an hour and a half  and 118 miles south in Gustine, CA. This time, the charger was at an Andersen's Pea Soup restaurant and I popped in to pick up a couple cans of soup.

Gustine, CA supercharger

While we were charging, a sharp looking Model S pulled up. It was all black with custom wheels and had all the exterior chrome blacked out. It also was sporting the old-school black and yellow California license plates that have become available again.

Black Beauty
The next stop was in Bakersfield. This was the only supercharger we used that was at an actual gas station. I suppose technically, it's at an IHOP, but the restaurant shares a parking lot with the gas station.

Bakersfield, CA
Our final stop for the night was in Glendale, CA. We spent the night at my sister-in-law's house and also took in the Moonlight Forest exhibit at the Los Angeles Botanical Garden. This was a display of lighted "lanterns" (sculptures, really) and was really cool to see!

The Glendale charger was about 3 miles away and located in the parking garage of the Americana mall. We charged in the morning while we ate breakfast at a restaurant there. One thing to note here: there are EV chargers on the first level of the parking garage, but they are not Tesla chargers and are REALLY slow. The Tesla superchargers are on the seventh level of the parking garage.

From Glendale, CA we drove 133 miles to Indio. I charged about 10% more than I needed to here, as we were now starting our driving across the desert and I didn't want to risk running out of power.

Charging in Indio, CA

The next stop was a Carl's Jr. in Quartzsite, AZ. Again, I charged more than I needed to, as we had to drive through the desert for about 1 hour and 45 minutes until the next charging station at Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix. The charging stations were starting to get a bit crowded now, but I still did not have to wait for a spot to open up.

Quartzsite, AZ
The Quartzsite supercharger has 8 stations - two are on the far side of the wooden enclosure in the photo. Unfortunately, those two were not functioning.

Our final stop was in Phoenix. We could have made it to our final destination, but because there were no other chargers nearby and my parents do not have a 220V outlet I could use, I opted to get a full charge here. That would last me for the week I would be in town and leave me enough power to get back to the Phoenix charger on the way back home.

Phoenix, AZ
This was the only supercharger we stopped at that had the old style charging stations. You can identify them by the solid design. The newer ones are hollow in the middle (see above pics). These charge at a maximum rate of 72 kW instead of the 120 kW the newer ones do. 

Update: Turns out, these solid body chargers are actually Tesla's newer "urban" charger design. While they charge at a slower 72 kW as compared to the 120 kW other chargers can provide, they are unaffected by cars charging in the adjacent stalls.

We had dinner at the mall here and were charged and ready to go before we were done eating. In fact, since the chargers were busy, I had to step out of the restaurant and move my car to avoid getting charged the $1 / minute idle fee.

Solar roof on Phoenix Supercharger

This station appeared to have solar panels, which makes sense, given it is in Arizona. I believe the long term plan is for all supercharging stations to be solar, but in the interest of getting the charging infrastructure built out quickly, Tesla has decided to add the solar panels to most locations at a later date.

Fun In Arizona

While in Arizona, I drove onto the Indian reservation just south of my parent's house to test out Ludicrous Launch mode. It's an ideal place to test this - the roads are straight for miles, traffic is light, there is high visibility, and (presumably) there are fewer police patrols on the reservation than there would be in city limits.

I tested Launch Mode a couple times with some different people in the car. Holy crap! It's like being in a roller coaster! Here's a video of me taking off with my wife in the back seat and my mom in the front.

Looking at the speedometer and timing the video, it looks like I went zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds. This is slower than the 2.28 seconds Motor Trend clocked it at. But I'm just watching the video on YouTube and clicking start and stop on the clock app on my phone. Not a very precise measurement. My battery was not also fully warmed up to provide maximum power.

Arizona To Washington

The return trip had us stopping at some of the same places we charged on the way down, but we did stop at a couple different places as well. This was for a couple of reasons: we were starting our journey at a different time of day and we were stopping overnight at different stops. We also deviated a bit from the itinerary I created at home because we felt more comfortable judging our energy usage.

Our first three stops were at the same places we hit on the way in to town: Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix, Carl's Jr. in Quartzsite, and Indio, CA. The two non-functioning chargers we saw in Quartzsite were still out of order. The station was fairly busy and we had to wait about 5 minutes for one of the working spots to open up - the first time we had to wait to charge. Later on, I discovered there is a phone number on the charging stations I could have called to report charger issues. I should have done so.

After Indio, the original plan called for us to charge in Riverside, but we instead opted to charge at the Desert Hills Premium Outlet mall in Cabazon, CA, about 40 miles closer than Riverside. This wasn't due to range issues, but it was simply getting to be lunch time and we opted to stop sooner rather than later to eat. There are 16 superchargers at Cabazon and we thought it would be a quick stop. Turned out, that was incorrect.

This was the day after Christmas, so the mall was packed with people either returning gifts or hitting the after Christmas sales. The parking lot was packed and all the superchargers were full. In fact, there was a line of Teslas waiting for spots to open up. The layout of the chargers in the parking lot here is not conducive to waiting. The chargers are along the front row of the parking lot, so cars pulling in from the steet had to drive right by the chargers. Also, the long row of chargers is at the end of about 3 aisles of parking spots, so there isn't really one spot for Tesla drivers to form a line. This creates confusion and possible frustration about people cutting in line.

Cabazon, CA chargers. Barely controlled chaos.
I don't know how it is here during non-peak shopping times, but it was a bit hectic when we were there. When we pulled in, there were about 4 Teslas ahead of us waiting to charge. I could see more Teslas pulling in and a couple waiting in a different row. My wife was driving, so I decided to get out and start directing traffic, telling people where the line for charging ended, etc. Everyone was very good about it and it was fun to talk with other Tesla owners. I've read a lot about how friendly Tesla drivers are and have experienced it firsthand when someone once directed me to an open charger I hadn't noticed instead of taking it for himself. I felt it was important to continue to project that friendly camaraderie to the flood of new Model 3 owners that I was seeing. It helped that cars were leaving fairly quickly and no one had to wait very long. We had to wait about 10 minutes before we were next in line.

A spot opened up and we pulled in. When I plugged in the charger, I got a yellow warning light at my plug instead of the expected flashing green to indicate charging in progress. My screen said the car was not charging. I disconnected and tried again. Same thing. Hmm.. I didn't really want to back out and get back in line, but I didn't see that I had any other choice. Luckily, another car started pulling out. My wife talked to the driver behind us and told her what had happened. She agreed to let us get the next spot.

Almost at the same time, another spot opened up, so she didn't have to wait. We moved into a spot and this time, we started charging. I walked down to the next Tesla driver in line to explain my experience with what seemed to be a bad charger. As I was speaking to her, another Tesla came in from the street and drove right into the spot we had just vacated. Apparently, he didn't see the line of Tesla waiting. (To be fair, it was easy to miss.)

I walked over to him and, buy the time I got there, I noticed he was plugged in and charging. He and his companion were still in the car, so I explained my issues with the charger and asked how his charge was going. It appeared to be working fine. Then I politely told him that he unintentionally cut in line. I said I couldn't make him leave, but he might get a whole lot of dirty looks as he walked away from his car. He apologized, said he didn't see the line, and immediately said he would disconnect and get in line. He was a really good sport about it.

I walked back to the first person in line, told her what the other guy said, and she decided to try her luck at the charger. It worked for her too, so I have no idea why it wouldn't work with my car.

But I was very happy with how everyone behaved. With the rush of after-Christmas shoppers, high traffic, and abundance of people wanting to charge, there was a potential for things to get real ugly. I'm glad everyone was calm and accommodating. As the population of Tesla owners grows, I hope things remain this way.

After Cabazon, our next stop was the Bakersfield charger, where we grabbed dinner at the IHOP. Our last leg of the day took us to the Harris Ranch Inn and Restaurant in Coalinga, CA. I forgot to take any pictures, which is a shame because this was a pretty nice place. The hotel is fairly large and it's on a working ranch. It can smell like cows a bit, but hey, it's a ranch! They have two restaurants on site, one of which is a steak house that requires reservations. I've heard good things about it and, from the flyers in the room, it would seem almost everything the restaurant serves is raised on the ranch. Unfortunately, we arrived after having eaten dinner, and we opted to eat breakfast on the road the next morning, so we didn't try either restaurant.

The hotel has 18 supercharger stations. As usual, we charged in the morning while getting ready to leave. There were only two other Teslas charging at the time.

The next day, we started off and charged first in Sacramento, where we charged a few days earlier on the way south, then back to the charging station at Corning, CA, where we picked up some lunch. At both of these stops, we kept seeing people we had seen in Cabazon, so it appears we weren't the only ones heading north. Luckily, we kept ahead of the crowd and didn't encounter any more waits to charge.

Another shot of the Corning, CA charging station. These two chargers seem like an after thought. Note the extension cables from the transformer.
From Corning, we kept going north and our next stop was Mount Shasta, CA. We spent the night here on the way down. but this time we were here in the middle of the day. During the time between our visits, some snow had fallen and we were treated to some spectacular views on the way there. These pictures don't really do it justice.

The road to Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta, CA

Instead of charging at the hotel we charged at previously, we opted to charge at the 16 stations across the street from the hotel. This was near a small strip mall. The temperature had dropped to about 42 degrees, but there was a strong wind that just cut right through you and chilled you in an instant.

The other Mt. Shasta chargers
There were a couple businesses here - a hardware store, a grocery store, and a theater. The wind made us all so cold, we sat in the car instead of walking around. Even the dog didn't want to go out to go to the bathroom.

Our next stop was Grants Pass, Oregon, another location we stopped at while heading south. This time, we had dinner at the Black Bear Diner. My wife said their meatloaf was the best she's had!

Our final leg of the day took us to the Holiday Inn in Springfield, Oregon again. We spent the night here.

On our last day of the trip, we charged before leaving the hotel and drove to the next stop in Woodburn, Oregon.

Woodburn, OR
As you can see, we were the only ones there. We walked around bit, but other than a restaurant, there wasn't much to see. It was fairly cold out though. If it were warmer, we would have walked a bit further to check out some other places nearby.

It was still too soon after breakfast for anyone to be hungry, so we piled back into the car and went to our next stop - the Centralia, WA outlet mall. This time, we managed to not buy anything. After charging up here, our final stop was back at home!

Lessons Learned

  • One good takeaway from this was confirmation of what I had read online: There is no need to charge to 100% at each stop. In fact, doing so will slow you down. It takes longer to charge from 50% to 100% battery than it does from 20% to 70%, even though you're adding 50% of your battery capacity in each case. As the battery charge reaches maximum, the charging rate slows down to protect the batteries. Instead, you make better time driving until your battery is down to your lowest comfortable level (which is about 10% - 15% for me - you want some reserve in case you get lost or have to drive further than expected), then just charging enough to get to your next charging location.
  • The Tesla energy consumption app does a pretty good job of estimating how much charge it takes to get to your destination. In order to use this, you have to be using the navigation function, naturally, so the car knows where you are trying to go. The graph shows your battery charge level in real time and projects what it will be at your destination using a green line. A gray line indicates the rated (ideal) consumption. Sorry the picture below is so blurry. When your battery charge drops to 25%, the line turns yellow and under 10% it's red. A couple times during the trip, the gray line would suddenly change, as it did in the below photo. I'm not sure yet what causes that. This graph went a long way toward removing any last little of bit range anxiety I had.

Tesla energy consumption app

  • Supercharging is fast and you can get spoiled easily. Most chargers we stopped at were the newer 120 kW models. Those charge crazy fast. When you get one of the older newer urban charger models (72 kW), it seems like a disappointment, even if you don't have to worry about cars charging next to you. If you are on a trip and have a choice between the two models, go for the 120 kW one.
  • Superchargers are wired electrically in pairs. You'll see numbers on the units like 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, etc. A pair is an A / B combo of the same number. When charging, it's become Tesla etiquette to try to not use one half of a circuit if someone else is using the other half, if at all possible. This is because the entire circuit can only supply 120 kW. If two cars are using the same circuit, for example, if I am charging at unit 1A and someone else is charging at 1B, one car will get more power than the other. From my experience, the first car connected will get about 70 kW and the other will get around 50 kW. Once the first car disconnects, the second will bump up to 120 kW until another car plugs in, then the power will drop to 70 kW and the new car will get 50 kW. Since lower power results in longer charge times, it's polite to try to position yourself at the chargers so everyone gets the fastest charge possible.
  • I saw a lot of Model 3s charging. I think as more and more people start owning Model 3s, there could start being congestion at chargers, especially in out of the way places. Elon Musk has mentioned Tesla plans to double the number of superchargers by the end of 2019, as well as introduce a higher powered charger toward the end of summer, which will charge cars even faster.
  • Cold weather affects energy usage. We used the seat heaters mainly to keep warm when needed and typically left the air heater set to 68 or 69. Even so, really cold temperatures, like in the low 40s to mid 30s, required more power to move the car and also more time to charge. When we were about 5 minute from pulling into the Mt. Shasta location on our return trip, we were at 14% charge at the car displayed a warning about the cold weather possibly causing increased power drain and increased charging time.
  • We were a bit nervous leaving our dog in the car while we went into a restaurant to eat. Most regular car owners don't know that you can leave the Tesla climate controls running when the car is parked. I was worried someone might think the dog would freeze (or, in hot weather, would roast), so I printed a one-page notice I left on our dashboard that said the dog was fine, climate control is on, and she had water. I said we would be returning shortly and included my phone number in case someone was worried. "Dog Mode" is supposedly in planning, but it has not been released yet.
  • Charging stops make long drives more enjoyable. We didn't feel like we were rushing to get somewhere and the forced charging stops allowed us to step out of the car for a bit and stretch our legs and take a break. We got to see some interesting things and talk to some other friendly Tesla owners.
  • Alternate chargers, like the Blink network, are mostly Level 2 chargers, which are too slow to be useful. These operate at 240V and 30A, which is basically like your dryer electrical outlet at home. They should really only be used as an emergency backup. I mean, they work and every Tesla owner gets an adapter to use these chargers, but they are so slow as to be worthless on long trips.

    For example, I tried one in Arizona. I was at 40% battery and when I connected, I was told it would take 9 hours to reach a full charge. Oh, and this charger cost $0.02 per 30 seconds! That's $2.40 per hour. For 9 hours of charging, that would be $21.60. Still cheaper than a tankful of gas for my old Prius, but really, 9 hours? It was faster for me to drive 30 minutes to the nearest Tesla supercharger, charge there, then drive back. So treat Level 2 chargers as an emergency backup and stick with Tesla chargers for long trips.
  • I find the Model S back seat to be somewhat uncomfortable for long rides. The seat back is very vertical and not adjustable. The headrest is not adjustable either. This may just be a personal preference, as my daughter rode the whole trip in the back seat without complaint.
  • Autopilot is great, but can be a bit jerky. When I drove on this trip, I used Autopilot about 80% of the time. I have noticed it tends to brake harder at times than I think it needs to when cars in front of us slow down, but increasing the "distance to the next car" setting seemed to help that.

    Autopilot can also make an unexpected swerve when you first turn it on or when lane lines change. For example, using Autopilot, I discovered I tend to drive more towards the left side of the lane. When you initiate Autopilot, it often steers directly to the center of the lane, which can be a bit disconcerting for any passengers you have.

    I also noticed the "swerve to the middle" behavior when using car pool lanes in California. In these lanes, the right hand lane marker is often a double set of yellow lines - so four paint lines plus the space between them wide. Drivers are not supposed to cross these lines. When you arrive at a point where drivers can enter and exit the lane, those lines change to a single dashed white line. At that point, that lane, in effect, widens by approximately 3 paint line widths. Autopilot detects this and swerves slightly to the right to center the car in the now wider lane. When the dashed lane ends and the four yellow lines return, Autopilot steers the car back to the left to center it in the now narrower lane. This can also be unnerving.
  • Locating the charging stations felt like playing Pokemon Go. Sometimes, they were hard to find.
  • For help finding them, the charger discussion forums at Teslarati provides tips from previous Tesla owners, as well as general information about the locations.
  • Almost all superchargers require you to back into the space to connect the charging cable. A few were configured to allow head-in charging. You can see examples in the Indio and Cabazon photos above. Because Tesla's Autopark feature only works for back-in parking between two cars, you can't always use it at a supercharger. It would be nice if Tesla could equip the chargers with some sort of device to allow Autoparking without other cars on either side.
Even with these little quirks, a cross country trip in a Model S is an enjoyable experience. I would have no qualms about doing it again!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

First Road Trip!

We're heading out on our first Tesla road trip today! We're driving to Arizona from Washington, going down through Oregon and California. I've planned a route that uses only superchargers. It should take about 3 days each way. Stay tuned to hear how it turned out!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Net Worth Update: End of November 2018

At the end of each month, I post an update of my net worth, including a brief discussion of any notable events that might have occurred. The latest month's figures can always be found under the Featured menu in the menu bar at the top of the blog.

Last updated: End of November, 2018
Net Worth: $911,270
Change from last Month: +$43,458

Events Of Note Last Month:

My SQL courses on Udemy generated $47.60 of income. My courses on SkillShare, meanwhile, earned $78.96. This is the first month ever that my SkillShare income has exceeded my Udemy income. I also earned $0.12 in royalties from my real estate ebook :-)

In some strange news, I received a check from Tesla this month for $151. I think this was supposed to be a reimbursement for the alignment I had done. If you recall, they originally wanted to charge me for it ($151), but because my car was still fairly new, they agreed to waive the cost. Apparently that message got altered somehow into them reimbursing me for the alignment. The only thing is - I never paid for it in the first place! So thanks, Tesla, for giving me $151! I applied it to my car loan.

On a somewhat related note, the rear spoiler finally came in and I took my car back to have it installed. The whole replacement process ended up being something of a waste of time, as the corners of the new spoiler are still a bit up in the air and not flush with the car trunk, just like the old one. While I was at the service center, I walked the parking lot and checked out four other Teslas that had a rear spoiler. Half of them had corners flush with trunk and the other half were sticking up slightly like mine. I'm going to say this is just how it is and not worry about it. Honestly, I don't see it causing any issues. It was just something I happened to notice and, while my car was in to get the paint and alignment fixed, I asked them to fix it as well.

Net Worth Update

The stock market bounced back, as it usually does, taking my net worth with it. I'm up $43,458 this month, regaining almost all of the $45,658 I lost last month.

October 2018 November 2018

The process of  shutting down my self-directed IRA and moving it to a traditional brokerage is still continuing. The funds have now been sent to the IRA custodian, which is why my Cash category dropped and my Property category increased. (Mint always puts manual account entries in the Property category.)

The outstanding balance on my Tesla loan dropped to under $100,000 ($99,925 to be precise). There's a long way to go until it's paid off, but this is a nice milestone. I only need another 832,708 more of those twelve cent royalty payments to pay it off! (If you have a Kindle and Amazon's Kindle Unlimited plan, you can help me out at no cost to you. Just get my other ebook (originally published under a pen name) for free and read it or just scroll through all the pages. It costs you nothing and I get royalties based on how many pages are viewed.) 😁

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, please drop me a line in the comments section!