Saturday, July 15, 2023

Owning a Rivian After Three Weeks

Well, after never having a car loan in 37 years of life I have a very large car loan, larger than my house mortgage in rural Kansas. That’s the obvious downside. With that out of the way, wow, this car is a game changer!

For starters, charging at home is unbelievable, it’s such a great experience. And yes, in my little apartment that means running an extension cord out my second floor, back door to my little off street parking. I was doing only 120 volt charging most of the first two weeks, which added maybe 30 miles of range in a 10-12 hour overnight. While not very much, my normal round trip daily driving is 16 miles round trip to work, so it’s actually totally acceptable. However, I stretched the cable, bought a NEMA 10-50 adapter, and managed to plug into my 60 amp 240 volt electric stove and oven plug! That managed to charge something like 70 miles of range in less than four hours! I realize that these numbers are minuscule, and when taking a road trip most vehicles get 400-500 miles for a three minute gasoline stop. However, that gasoline is costing you money, probably $50 or more, while even my 70 mile charging session I estimate was less than $4 since I was charging at night when the electricity rate is less expensive. It feels kind of like getting interest on a savings account, my mileage balance goes up over night and at the end of the month my total electricity bill will likely be only $15 higher. I didn’t realize how much enjoyment I would get out of charging my car at my apartment over night. Plus, I’m driving a brick of a vehicle, a more efficient little car could probably get away with 120 volt charging. I should write a blog post about how offering free standard 120 volt outlets is a very easy way for businesses to support electric vehicles, without having to install $1000 charging stations. 

I’m probably going to write more about the charging aspect, because it was just so cool to fill up at home. I haven’t tried a single fast charger yet or public charger yet, looks like I probably won’t for another month or so.

Other things to like, people are definitely going to say the acceleration, but frankly I’ve only accelerated fast a handful of times, because it all happens so fast that on a city street or in Bay Area traffic it feels reckless. I told a few people, I was excited for an electric 4Runner style vehicle with a 300+ mile range, off road capabilities, and ability to car camp, that I would have bought it with 300 horsepower, not the 800 hp the Rivian has. The backup camera and overhead views are great! The cruise control, with the radar range finders on the front of the car are really nice. I’ve had that on a few rental cars and it’s great! I have not tried to activate the driver assist feature where the car does the steering, I’m skeptical of that functionality based on some previous use of it in Teslas. The front trunk is cool. I can easily see how road tripping or car camping that compartment is going to come in really handy. The wireless phone charging is pretty cool. It’s not super fast, but it’s fun to get a few percent charge into my phone on my 20 minute commute. One pedal driving is really nice when it comes to stopping. When you have mostly let off the pedal the regenerative braking slows you down, so you don’t have to hop off the accelerator and on to the brake really fast like you do in an internal combustion engine when the traffic in front of you suddenly stops. I think I like sport mode better than all-purpose mode for driving, it’s only about 1% less efficient, but the SUV is lower to the ground and has a stiffer ride. In all-purpose it feels sometimes like I’m on a boat bouncing up and down, and it’s pretty high for me to get into. 

I only used the navigation once, and it seems to work well but at this point that’s the bar for entry… not a cool feature like Google Maps was on iPhone in 2008. I haven’t camped in it or taken it off road yet. I've only begun to explore the features in the menus. I haven't used the camp speaker yet. The automatic hood is unnecessarily complicated. It's cool, but too many moving parts, but probably cost like $1500 compared to a traditional hood hinge at $25. I have the 21" all purpose, longer range tires. At some point I'll probably switch to 20" all terrains, but clearly like most new electric vehicle drivers I am worried about range, so it's nice to see the 338 mile range estimate in conserve mode with these tires.

Already, for short trips at least there is basically no going back to  a gas car. When I'm idling in a traffic jam, it's so rewarding to know that I'm not emitting smog in that moment. I know that somewhere a coal powerplant is pumping out a cloud of smoke, but in the moment, driving the EV, I just don't need to worry about carbon monoxide if I run the vehicle in the garage. It makes traffic jams more pleasant. I wasn't expecting to have an emotional reaction to not idling a car, but I do. My lungs are strong, but fragile, and I've always been frustrated when I don't have clean air to breathe, like when people are idling a car unnecessarily and I'm near the tailpipe. I've bicycled behind cars and trucks at times to go fast, but there is often the wafting smell of the emissions making it a little harder to take a deep breath and keep up with the car. It's a satisfying feeling, one I didn't expect.

At the end of the day it's a mechanical and electrical collection of parts, yet somehow it represents a way forward for us to take a little bit better care of the air in the world, and also have a really exciting time in the process.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Design, Manufacturing, and Testing are the basic categories for all types of engineering.

It's taken me years, but I now feel that most engineering roles can be broken down into design, manufacturing, or testing. This is probably more applicable to hardware than software, but it's not limited to hardware. To summarize:

  • Design - People at the start of the product lifecycle process, who design the thing to meet requirements.
  • Manufacturing - People who build the product.
  • Test - People who make sure that the product meets the requirements.
To some extent this is a narrow view, because when it comes to things like requirements, there is a market and a business case that drives the whole engineering process. If there was no business case, it's just a hobby and not a business. Why am I writing about this?

2011 through 2018 I was at a company with very developed processes, and rather static hierarchy, which all worked very well for that company. The company was well over 100 years old, so they had a long time to sort out a system that worked well for them. Then I joined the world of startups and young companies, because it's thrilling and an adventure. However, young companies don't have their processes and hierarchy all worked out. 2011 through 2018 I started in analysis (a sub-set of testing) and then moved over to design. When I started in the startup world I started in design, and then moved over to manufacturing. Through several different organizations I now see how the three basics of design, manufacturing, and testing are really the foundation of bringing a product to market. 

A really small company can have the design engineers build the product and test the product, however that doesn't scale very well beyond the first one, not even to 10 total units. So in the world of race cars, Mars landers, and other highly highly specialized, super low volume products it works, but by the time the volumes creep up to something like the Concord airplane or B2 Bomber (about 20 units total), there needs to be division of labor to keep up with any sort of production schedule and make sure that each role is adequately resourced. Some sort of program schedule takes shape and goes something like this:
Design, Manufacture, Test

Obviously that's an overly simplistic representation of a product development process. In today's world, a lot of testing can happen before the final product is manufactured through virtual analysis tools. And of course, the goal is for the prototypes and production to be the same... but of course that rarely happens and leads to a whole other topic of change control. Also left out of this discussion is requirements for the product. The better the requirements are defined in the beginning, the easier this whole process will be down the road. Defining requirements is hard, and frankly, there comes a point where it makes sense to just start designing and building the product prototypes in order to learn all of the formerly unknown requirements.

I once had the experience where the assembly design (and bill of materials) was released/confirmed on a Wednesday and the very next day the expectation was that we would build it... needless to say supply chain had not bought all of the parts to make that possible. I've also been asked in the past why it's hard to build something without a released bill of materials from design engineers, with the simple answer being, if you want manufacturing to buy all of the parts and use all of them in the product, then yes we need a bill of materials to go off of. I've had another example where some test engineers were adamant that the wrong assembly was built, and yet all three physically built prototypes, and the original virtual design, and the work instructions were all in agreement about the particular issue.

In all three examples, people were upset. They felt like they had been failed by their peers, but it was really a misunderstanding of what their peers needed as inputs in order to do their jobs well. Yet going back to 2011, when I was in analysis (testing), I remember saying that a 25 mm steel plate would work in a location, the design guy said nothing, but the manufacturing engineer said that was unreasonable and we needed to figure out how to use a smaller plate, so we did, because we now had a better requirement (no 25 mm thick plates on this assembly), and this all happened two years before prototypes were built. I remember that interaction as something of the gold standard for getting design, test, and manufacturing in the same room, two years before the assembly was first built, and four years before production, so that when we went to production that particular assembly was very smooth.
The general flow of engineering information.

And again, this image is a simplistic understanding of engineering. However, for the purpose of this article, this is really about organizational structure, schedules, inputs and outputs. It's not possible to do everything at once. Many things can be parallel pathed but you can't drive a car without wheels. You can't drill a hole without a tolerance. You can't weld two plates together if you don't know the materials. Hopefully this small overview gives non-engineers a little more context into the different areas of engineering, as well as perhaps new engineers information about different roles that I didn't understand until I had years of experience engineering. My advice to new college graduate engineers, get your hands dirty doing a little of all three. It doesn't really matter what you do the first two years of your career, just learn how things are designed, manufactured and tested. You can figure out which part you like best when you understand the engineering industry better.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Wedding Day Info

Hello Friends and Family! We are writing this to give out some more details for our wedding in a few weeks. For starters, the venue had a limited number of seats so to our friends that we weren't able to accommodate, please come visit sometime!

The general schedule is:

  • Ceremony at 4:00 PM which will take place outside, unless the weather is bad, then it will be inside.
  • Happy hour with drinks and appetizers immediately following, while we take a lot of pictures. You can wander around outside and inside, there is a lot of cool stuff at the farm.
  • Dinner around 6 PM will be inside the large barn.
  • After dinner we will cut the cake.
  • After the cake cutting we will have a dance!
  • At 9 PM dancing will conclude due to a Boulder County sound ordinance that the venue must adhere to and it's time to go home!
When you arrive, park behind the red barn, you will go past a house and two smaller barns on a narrow dirt road after you turn off the main dirt road. We don't recommend Uber or Lyft because the venue is about 10 miles from Boulder and Longmont, so there might not be many drivers still working at 9 PM willing to drive out in the country.

Please make sure to check the weather in Boulder County and dress accordingly. We have heaters for the reception, however, we hope to have the ceremony outdoors and it's known to snow in April.

For food, we will have a variety of appetizers after the ceremony that will probably have something to appeal to almost everyone. For dinner we will have a buffet with multiple vegan options, most dishes are dairy free, most are gluten free, there is a pescatarian dish, and then yes we have a meat and diary dish which will probably be the favorite. There will also be dessert, and a gluten free dessert option upon request.

For drinks, I recommend the wine, it is vegan and comes from Dave at Chill Switch Wines. We will also have beer, Rowdy Mermaid kombucha, a little bit of champagne, yerba mate, a small keurig for coffee, and of course water. 

We do have a wedding registry, contact us for the link if desired. We don't really need more things, so you are also invited to donate in our name to Give Directly, or the Adams County Food Bank.

Please feel free to reach out with any additional questions. Thank you all for coming in a few weeks, we know that many of you are traveling a large distance and it's greatly appreciated! We look forward to spending a fun evening with you to celebrate this love that we have found!

With love and appreciation, 

Isaiah + Cherelle

Sunday, March 19, 2023

No Races in 4.5 Years!?

I haven't run a race since the 2018 100 km world championships. At my second world championship I DNF'd after 40 km, which took over 4 hours and where my heart rate had averaged over 180 beats per minute. 

About six weeks after that race I discovered I had a pulmonary embolism that I had been battling since March of 2018. Only six month later I broke my ankle skiing and that proved to be a harder injury to come back from. I'm not sure I ever will come back actually. However, in April 2022 I had a procedure to take stem cells from bone marrow in my hip out and put into my ankle bones and ligaments and honestly the ankle is feeling really good. I haven't pushed it or done any big mileage runs over 8 miles due to mild setbacks like muscle cramps and knots that have hampered my progress, but it feels good even on the days after I run, which wasn't the case for much of the last few years. 

I've put on about 20 pounds from my racing weight, and I'm 36, so I don't recover like I used to when I was 26 and 130 pounds. 

...But I'm not done. I don't want to be done. I've only run eight ultramarathons and three "serious" marathons in my semiprofessional running career spanning 2011 to 2018. I definitely don't know what the future holds for me, and I don't want to live in the past... yet the thrill of preparing for and arriving at the starting line ready to give it my best, and then those moments in a race when things are going well and the miles are clicking off... it's so hard to find a comparison to that in other areas of my life. It's such a simple joy. I don't think I ever really took my running ability for granted. I'm definitely a late bloomer, not breaking onto the national scene until 2014 at age 28. I'm nowhere close to race fit right now, but I want to run races again. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Unemotional Pivot?

I've been working on a project for the last eight months. We committed to the process in June 2022, and now in February 2023 we are saying this doesn't work, we're essentially canceling this project and pivoting to something that we know we can make work.

What changed? Well we originally picked the old process based on assumptions we had about lead times, and technical ability to do certain things. And we did have progress. We broke ground in areas that I don't think anyone else has explicitly done. We read published literature and didn't find anyone doing exactly what we were doing. We also had (have?) a path to success using that process we committed to, however we all came to realize that the amount of time and money needed to make that successful was more than we had available. Doing a new cool thing for the sake of doing a new cool thing doesn't make businesses successful. It's about making and shipping a product to a paying customer, or some variation of that as it relates to delivering a service. So we decided to make a change.

For all practical purposes this was essentially a secret development. Only a handful of people actually understood what we were doing. So in the spectrum of failures, it wasn't even remotely public, even across the organization. However, as I've thought about it the last couple weeks, I feel this sense of emotional defeat and personal failure. I advocated for this process, and it failed. As much as I try to make it an unemotional pivot, we tried a technical path and it didn't work, so we're going to go to a more well established path, there is still that sense of failure. 

As I reflect on the failure, there are three technical pieces of information that had we known any one of them at the beginning we probably would not have gone down this path. One was an obvious one, but also one that there was some limited published papers suggesting that it was an issue that could be solved. Unfortunately we ended up solving that problem in an expensive way by adding a whole other process. The second and third issues were unfortunately specific to the application of the process that we chose. I'm trying to avoid any hint of specifics on this because it's part of the secret sauce in my industry. Those second and third issues, had we known from the outset, would hopefully have stopped us in our tracks.

It's not all negative, I've learned a ton in the process. There are some technical things that I now know, with many applications, that were very difficult lessons to learn. I now know from experience some things which could potentially save my company even millions of dollars on future projects. Still, in this moment, it feels like a waste. As I like to say, we created "desk art" which is to say very expensive pieces of hardware that will never be used because they were ultimately a failure.

Can you have a big pivot and not have emotions attached to it? I'm not sure. The more time and effort that gets invested into something the more sunk cost hope there is that it will succeed. By the same token, it's okay to feel bad about going down a dead end. Now you know it's a dead end. One day you might even laugh about it.

While the result of going down this path for eight months hurts emotionally as it feels like failure, I'm really proud of the team that worked on this and pushed the technology forward! We learned an incredible amount. We did things that are truly cutting edge technology. And like most business projects we developed a number of new business relationships that you never know how they might be mutually beneficial in the future. It's a small world, and it's fun to be a part of it.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Why I'm buying a Rivian

In June 2021 I finally put in a deposit for a Rivian R1S SUV. I have had my eye on them since 2018, and when I returned from Denali, having recently turned 35 I thought, 'now is the time.' My estimated window is this year, in the fall, and I've been watching videos and thinking about getting it, and I wanted to lay out why I want a big electric SUV.

For starters, I've spent a lot of time on glaciers, over six months of my life, between time on four longer expeditions and a number of smaller mountains. While I don't have evidence that I have collected myself to quantify climate change, I can tell you that the glaciers are melting. The streams in them are big, some nights the streams don't freeze completely. Other times the rockfall is far higher than it would be if the rocks were frozen. These places just feel precarious. Like if they were a little colder they would be stable, but they are not that cold.

The evidence from scientists says that carbon dioxide and methane from burning fossil fuels is an enormous contributor to climate change. And as anyone who has stood behind an idling 4runner knows, it's just not that fun to choke on exhaust from an off road capable SUV that on it's best day gets 21 miles per gallon.

On top of this, I've never had a car less than 11 years old. My daily driver just turned 21 years old. My weekend adventure 4runner is 16 years old. Yes I can definitely continue driving these vehicles. I've never had a car loan and the thought of one scares me. I like low insurance costs. However, I've been saving money for years, and as I looked ahead to my 40s I thought, 'am I ever going to buy a new car, after all what am I saving for?' My college plan had been to get a job out of college and quickly buy a Mini Cooper, however my 2010 year of unemployment dissolved that idea, and I've been driving at least 11 year old used cars ever since. So I had a bit of a reflection and decided that you know what, I could in fact afford such an expensive car as long as I kept working. Plus, the Rivian comes with an 8 year powertrain warranty, which puts it into my mid 40s by the time it would be out of warranty. I hope that in that time my financial situation looks even better than it does now.

Finally, given all of the above, I feel an obligation to do more about climate change. I think a lot of people either don't care because it's a slow moving crisis, or are overwhelmed because the scale is so big that they don't take any action. Since I make a good income, I feel like I need to take action. Yes, hopefully battery prices get cut in half and the size and weight of batteries gets cut in half in the next five years, and charging infrastructure becomes as reliable as going to gas stations, but until that happens the market (people like me) needs to step in and encourage research, development, and infrastructure build out by creating demand for those products and services. Me buying this expensive car shows Rivian and other companies that there is demand for these types of vehicles. And when I inevitably charge it on road trips, that shows the charging companies that they need to have reliable chargers. 

I test drove a Mitsubishi i-Miev way back in 2012 or 2013, and then a Tesla Model S in 2015. I've had my eye on an electric vehicle for a long time, but nothing really fit the bill to do the things I wanted until the Rivian came out. I like to take road trips of several hundred miles to four wheel drive trail heads and camp there preferably in the car, not exactly what the average EV was designed for. At some point this year I will be taking delivery. And I want to give as many people test drives in it as possible. I want to let others get behind the wheel and experience electric vehicle driving. From a mechanical point of view EVs are simpler than internal combustion engines. It stands to reason that they should last even longer than the existing vehicles on the road. Perhaps you need to replace the battery pack after 10 years, and then you can get another 10 years out of the vehicle. I don't know. It's going to be an adventure!

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Organizational Culture: Part 2 - Laughs Per Hour

How do you measure culture? You can measure it with the rate that people quit (20% at one place), or the rate that people are fired (4% at another place) and laid off (16% at another place), but I think there are other metrics that are helpful. One that I came up with a few years ago, always to be turned down as ridiculous, was laughs per hour. 

We've all had days when we are stressed to come into work, stressed at work, and then have stress when we go home from work. On those days there might not be any laughing. A life without any laughing is sad. But I think for most of us, on most days there are a couple laughs. I'm not sure what a target laughs per hour rate is, but I think in the range of .25 laughs per hour to 2 laughs per hour is probably in the ball park. That means even on the low end there are two laughs in the day. That's still a nice amount of laughing at work, even if that low rate is entirely sarcasm. Of course on the high side, work does need to be done, and comedy can often be making fun of a person or group, so having a lot of laughs per hour is probably not appropriate either because it's bound to marginalize someone in the office.

There you have it, a new metric to measure cultures by: laughs per hour.