Minecraft Addiction

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Old photo of my bridge on SDBmania Land

Last week I played Minecraft ALOT. Possibly almost too much, but to be fair I hadn’t really played the game much for the last couple of years. Minecraft is the kind of game that you can play for hours at a time until you run out of ideas to build things. For me, I play a lot when I have a cool idea for a project in the game. The last thing I did was build a residential area in my town and wall it up. Now my villagers are pretty safe.

SDBmania Land is quite a sight, if you ever get to see it (which you can if you want to watch hours of YouTube videos). I’ve built up a nice size town, added a nether tunnel, killed stuff, and ventured in the nether world (hence the tunnel). Not to mention I have a kick ass mine cart track and partial subway. 🙂

My “binge” was the result of anxiety over driving with Lyft. It’s a slow process, but I’m getting more comfortable with it. I plan to drive at least part-time to start, but if I get really serious with it I’m likely to buy a used Prius to save on gas. Right now the Escape I drive gets about 19 mpg, which isn’t bad, but not great either.

Minecraft wonderfully distracted me from my anxiety last week when I went back to driving with Lyft. I’ve been using a slow and steady plan to get me used to driving more. Last week I took a day off in between drives with the exception of last weekend. So far, I’ve driven two days in a row this week, working towards making that 5 days in a row.

Thankfully, I’m not in a situation where I have panic attacks, so this level of anxiety isn’t too bad. It lessens a bit with each drive and now I don’t feel as tired afterwards. I’m also fighting against my old lifestyle. Being out of work for so many years, even with school and volunteering in between,  I got used to not having anything I had to do all day. So, getting back to work is part of the process, though it’s not as difficult as the anxiety.

Most of the anxiety contains a few things, like insecurity, uncertainty, and worrying if I can do the job. I still usually don’t know who I am going to pickup or where I will go until it’s all set in stone, but the insecurity and worrying part is slowing being replaced with the confidence that I can do it. I’m not a great driver, but I’m safe and so far no one has complained. If this is the norm, with the occasional bad experience, I think this could become my job. I’m optimistic. I’ve been doing just one ride a day. Last week was 3 days a week, this week 5 days, and next week I intend to drive more than one person. Ideally I want to drive in the mornings so I get it out of the way.

Sometimes I feel like this is taking too long, but knowing my history, I think I’m doing it the right way. It’s not going to be another month until I am driving more often. This way, I’m able to give myself a chance to adjust and face my anxieties without pushing myself too hard. I think it’s a good balance. And really, it’s not going to be much longer until I am driving 4 or more hours a day. That’s something to smile about.

 

Getting Older

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It’s funny how much we dream about growing up as kids, only to then wish we would stop aging as adults. Toys R Us used to tell us that we shouldn’t want to grow up, and the stuck for a little while, but not for long. There are just too many benefits to being an adult! I like to think of cars in the same way. They get older, and show their age, sometimes well and sometimes not. I still remember my ’81 Honda Civic. I’d probably still be driving it I could, probably would have turned it into an electric car!

There’s no need for any electric car conversions anymore, thankfully. I like to refer to them as EVs (electric vehicles). I’ve been driving them for several years now and I’m never going back to gas, at least for my personal car. As amazing as they are, EVs do have potential issues as with any car. The main and most important one is the battery pack, which operates like a gas tank.

Maintenance and refueling is much cheaper in EVs, but if you end up having to replace the battery it can cost several thousands of dollars. Thankfully there are warranties that cover the batteries in case they fail or have unintended problems. But after several years of use, eventually the batteries will need to be replaced and that is going to cost something.

The photo up above is taken from my used 2013 Nissan LEAF, showing my mileage and my battery range. In the photo, my car has 76% charge. This is also expressed on the bars on the right of the photo, the long rectangular bars that hug the range estimator at 52 miles. What’s important for this discussion are the bars on the right of those, what we LEAFers “capacity bars.”

These bars in the Nissan LEAF tell the owner how the battery is aging. The LEAF, as with most EVs, have two batteries. A traditional 12volt battery powers most of the electronics in the car while the traction battery handles the action motion. The traction battery is actually made up of many small batteries similar to AA batteries. As the packs are used and recharged, the life of the traction battery is affected. On my car, you can see from the picture that I have lost one bar. I should have 12 bars total, instead of the 11 I currently have.

This means that I have less range than when the car was brand new. I’d guess at a full charge I have somewhere around 70 miles, down from 84 when the car was new. That’s a significant drop in miles, though should I lose another capacity bar, the range will not drop as much. That’s because the first bar represents much more of the capacity then the other bars.

If you have a new EV or bought a used one recently, here’s a few things you should know:

  • Never leave the battery at 100% for more than 3 hours or so as the battery will degrade faster if it sits at a full charge. Instead, charge to 80% or leave the car at a low-ish charge if you aren’t going to use it for a while.
  • Heat is bad for the battery. Try not to charge the car in extreme temperatures. For the LEAF, don’t charge if the battery temperature indicator is 7 bars.
  • Try to charge before the car gets into a low power state. To be safe, try not to get an EV lower than 20% charge regularly.

Automakers have different ways to deal with heat. For example, Ford uses liquid cooling for their Ford Focus EV. Nissan decided to not use any kind of cooling technology in order to save money. Instead, the automaker has relied on developing heat-resistant batteries.

The current LEAF battery pack is supposed to be very good in hot climates thanks to the chemistry they use. That’s good news for people who live in those areas. However, heating up the battery isn’t great, which is more likely to happen with rapid charging or by leaving the car outside during a hot day for a long time.

The other day, I noticed something surprising, my mom’s LEAF lost a capacity bar! It was surprising to me since she only has about 15k miles on the car and it’s a 2016 model. I think the culprit is bullet point one, leaving the car topped up at 100% for too long.

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When the original 2011 Nissan LEAF became available, Nissan told customers how to charge the car. The basic advice was to only charge to 100% when needed and stick to charge to 80% most of the time. This was believed to help keep the battery healthy and make it last longer. In my car, I can set it to only charge to 80% or to 100% if I want to. However, this feature was eliminated in the 2014 model year in order to boost the EPA estimated range of the car. (A few other small features were removed in the 2013 model year, sadly).

Now most customers are told not to worry about charging to 100% regularly. While the newer batteries in the LEAF can probably be charged to 100% frequently, they shouldn’t stay at that percentage for many hours. It’s a good thing Mom’s LEAF is a leased car, so she probably wont be keeping it at the end of the lease.

Even if you have an EV that doesn’t have an easy option to stop charging, it’s obvious that you can still unplug the car before it reaches a full charge. That might be a pain in the but, but some automakers allow you to stop charging by the push of a button on a smart phone app. And most EVs that I know of have no easy way to tell you how healthy the traction battery is, unlike the LEAF.

Overall, I’m happy with the direction Nissan has gone with EVs. I think it would be great if the automaker put the 80% charge option back into the cars, but it won’t stop me from sticking with Nissan, at least until I can afford a Tesla (though I’ll probably end up with both).

Hello Scott is Live!

Hello Scott

In case you are wondering, the picture above is showing what the “Hello Scott” app looks like in the Apple App Store. That means it’s now official, my app is now available on iOS! A big thanks to Apple for approving it! Also a big thanks to Todd Perkins for his useful and easy to follow instructional videos on lynda.com (link will take you to his videos).

Last year I began working on creating my own app. I even briefly considered in majoring in Computer Science in order to improve my app building skills, which turned out not to be my thing. However, before that, I was working on the “Hello Scott” app. For those of you who aren’t aware, the idea came from an April Fools joke about two years ago. The What’s Up Scott? App was one of my favorite joke posts, but it did get me thinking. What about an app for my blog?

Apps are a big deal these days and much like websites, everyone seems to have one. Well, at least most commercial institutions seem to have one. It wasn’t sure how hard it would be to create my own app, but why not give it a shot? Thus the idea of “Hello Scott” was born. At first, I thought the best thing to do was to create an app that gave people access to the main content on my blog. I started learning about the basics of Xcode from Todd Perkins’ videos. Some of the videos were slightly outdated, not a surprise since tech companies update their software constantly. Thankfully, I was still able to get through the videos without much trouble.

I learned how to make a calculator app, which was fun and easy. It’s not really something that people would want to download, but it was a good way to start coding. I was able to learn other aspects of Xcode and I even toyed with creating my own video game for iOS. Haha, that’s more complicated. I did start using Unity, which is software for game designers and I tried Game Maker Studio. Unity seems like a better platform.

Sadly, I haven’t stuck with app or software development as of late, but after working on “Hello Scott” for as long as I did, I realized recently that it was pretty much done. I still need to learn about debugging. Xcode kind of does some of that automatically; it tells you if the app can run or not. However, I think I could improve the code and make it faster and use less memory. Let me go over the features real quick:

First, the app begins with a nice loading screen. It’s a photo of me outside, squinting. In just a few seconds, the app loads the main screen.

Main Screen

 

Here we see the first tab. It shows the main page on my blog. From here, you can see all of my most recent posts and by scrolling down with your finger, you can see older ones. It’s essentially just like browsing my blog with an internet browser. In fact, that’s really what my app is, an internet browser, except that you only have access to certain sites.

There are four tabs in total. One for my website, and the others for Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. Each tab is related to me in some way. They are linked to my social media accounts, allowing users to see what I’ve said online. The Twitter and Linkedin pages are my real, personal accounts while the Facebook tab is linked to this website’s page, so not my personal Facebook page.

The app has some functionality. You can easily switch between tabs at the bottom and there’s a navigation bar. On the “Most Recent” tab there are navigation buttons for forward and back. I did have those buttons on the other tabs during the beta test, but I found them unreliable. For some reason, they work fine on the main tab, but when I had them on the other tabs they would not function properly, often times not moving forward or backward. So, for the release version, I removed them. Hopefully I will be able to figure out the issue and update the app in the future.

I think the best feature of “Hello Scott” is that it allows users to log in to their social media accounts right from the app. Tired of using separate apps for Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin? Now you can check your own feeds from one app! I really like being able to check Linkedin without using their app, since it often has pop-ups asking me to find new people, which gets really annoying.

For the Twitter tab, once you log in to your twitter account, you can easily tap the back arrow on the website and see what the latest tweets are from your own feed. And by hitting the home button on the tab, you can go right back to my Twitter feed. Heck, you can even login to your WordPress account and blog from my app!

What’s next? Well I have to update my website to add an Apple Store icon and link to the app. Then I’m going to start working on the Android version of the app. I’ll first start designing the UI and the different tabs. Once I do that, I’ll have to learn how to write the code so the different tabs can work as a “web view.” Hopefully it will be similar to how I did it in Xcode. Once I’ve created the app, I’ll be ready for the beta stage, where I’ll need to test out the app. I’m sure I can get my Android friends to help test it out! But for now, I’m celebrating. 🙂