Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Leaf On the Win

TL;DR: Love this car. Not going back to internal combustion engines if I can help it. Ever ever ever.

The imminient Kickstarter has things all a-bustle up in here; we’ve built the Pyramids, the ruh-ruh-ruh of frenzied sawing and Italian curse words pour from the windows of Leonardo’s Workshop (marone-a-mi!), we’ve converted eight of ten citiziens into scientists, and I’ll be thrice-damned if the Zhengians aren’t going to beat the Mongols to Alpha Centauri.

The hard work’s done, and now it’s just a matter of getting the publicity photos, writeups, and video in the can. As we like to say in this bidness, the last five percent takes as long as the first 95, and as a fan of doing things fully-assed I’m working hard to apply the jeweller’s rouge to this project everywhere I can. I think you’ll be amused by what we at Zheng Labs have accomplished over the last few weeks. Here’s another teaser image:

But! Elsewhere in our multithreaded civ the fires of Isengard still burn, and we can’t help but crank out a new bauble every now and then.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3, who, in addition to being lovely and talented, is also geeky and eco-conscious and did I mention lovely and talented? recently traded in her gas-guzzler (which if we’re to be completely fair was a gas-sipper but had the unfortunate habit of failing to start in the cold weather so common here, in the windswept reaches of the U.S. north, where red-blooded patriots cast steely, suspicious glares towards our Canadian neighbors yet still enjoy their comedians, country singers, Shatners, and tar sands, but I repeat myself) for a shiny new all-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf, which so far this year has performed admirably, if somewhat disquietingly in its quietude to those accustomed to the rumble, shimmy, shake, and hydrocarbon stank of internal combustion engines.

With this Leaf we’ve no need to visit a gas station ever again except to slake our thirst for jerkies, but we are required to charge the vehicle occasionally. The boomslang of a cable included with the car has been flopping around on the north side of our garage for the last couple of weeks.

We don’t countenance cable clutter in this house, young lady, so I put forth this wall-mounted clip specifically designed for the Leaf.

clip 1

You can download this model file along with many, many others for free from The Forge. I recommend printing at high infill for this model. Glue the clip into the base before affixing to the wall.

Eveything’s Better With Drywall Screws, so drill two pilot holes an inch apart and hang the base from a stud. (2.5 cm in the STL, actually, but I live in the USA, where outdated systems of measurement are a bizarre source of quasi-xenophobic national pride, so inches it is.)

You’ll need several leaves to support the weight of the cable. I’ve included leaves in different orientations so that you can create a nice pattern on your wall if you so choose.

Now, about this car. Zheng3.com is primarily a 3D printing blog, with occasional forays into technology and gadget reviews. This new Leaf is the most expensive gadget I’ve ever owned, (although adjusted for inflation my circa 1998 Softimage workstation might have given it a run for its money if the Leaf’s handicapped by the generous federal electric vehicle tax break) so I think it deserves a mention here.

Heads up: I’m not a car guy and never have been. Driving’s always been a necessary evil, and I’ve always been more interested in DPI and megahertz than torque and horsepower. I respect, but have never fully grokked, people who change their own motor oil or drive for any reason other than to get from A to B.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 was driving a 2011 Mini Cooper before its wintertime air intake troubles became frustrating enough to consider a trade-in. We test drove two other cars before settling on the Leaf. The Camry hybrid felt like a rental and the 2014 Prius handled like a brick with faulty shocks.

The Prius UX, what with its sweeping gearshift arch and gratuitous, minimally informative graphic design, felt like the designers ripped off the bridge of the TNG Enterprise. This would have RULED! in 1993 but today felt like a hamfisted marketing ploy targeting GenX geeks. Major, major, turnoff, Okudas be praised.

Remember that we’re comparing the Leaf to a Mini Cooper, the gold standard for small-car handling in my limited experience. The Leaf comes out OK in this matchup; it’s not a sports car, but it’s peppy enough, corners well on city streets as long as you’re not trying to be Vin Diesel, and accelerates just fine getting onto the highway. I thought I’d be driving a golf cart and was pleasantly surprised to find that that this all electric vehicle is, in fact, an ACTUAL CAR with a comfortable ride.

Here at Casa de Zheng every car gets a name. We sent Mini Cooper Shadowfax to the glue factory and replaced him with Radagast the Leaf. Driving the smallish Leaf through the city does resemble being on a sled pulled by giant rabbits dodging wargs. By which I mean oblivious soccer moms, crunked-up on Chobani and coconut water, careening around in Escalades.

Radagast emits a whisper-hiss-whine while it’s in motion. No chugga-chugga here. For that matter, no changing motor oil, ever. It doesn’t exist in this vehicle. The car’s eerily quiet, and at idle there’s little aural difference between an active and passive Leaf. Only the radio and heater fan let you know the car’s been turned on.

The car beeps when it’s in reverse, which is a nice touch for pedestrians in parking lots who are unaccustomed to mostly silent cars.

The Leaf’s ECO indicator helps the driver maximize range by gamifying the feedback display; drive efficiently (no jackrabbit starts, judicious use of regenerative braking, and the like) and the Leaf will sprout a little conifer in your dashboard. Continue to be nice and you’ll build up a grove of tiny tannebaums. Careful motoring during the short jaunt to pick up Elder Zhengspawn from school will net you at least a couple of branches, and of course there’s spousal competition to see who can build a tree the fastest.

eco

Keyless entry, bluetooth sync, heated front/back seats, and a reverse-angle camera come standard with the Leaf. These are all nice features lacking in my 10-year-old Outback.

The heated steering wheel. Wow. Suck it, polar vortex.

Lest you think it’s all sunshine, roses, and redistributed CO2 emissions over here, gentle reader, I must mention two minor complaints about the car’s user experience.

First: the gearshift knob is a tiny little nub of a thing that I can only grasp with my fingertips. The designers must have had a reason for giving it such a low profile, but I can’t fathom what that reason might be. I’d ask Nissan to either put the gearshift on the steering column or make it taller so it can be grasped with the palm.

gearshift

Second, and this is the bigger annoyance, is that the button that opens the charging port door does not self-illuminate. You’d think this would be a minor problem, but oop North it gets dark in wintertime, yo. Twenty years of driving internal combustion engine cars has conditioned me to just walk away when I’m done, and by the time I remember that I’m supposed to charge the car I’m reduced to using my phone as a flashlight, fumbling for the button.

I’ll be using this as an opportunity for personal growth, reconditioning myself to open the charge door whenever I get into the garage.

On charging: the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3 has a five-mile commute, so at the end of the day she’s still got another 40 miles of range left before a recharge, but we plug it in every night anyway. The aforementioned boomslang runs off household 110V AC, so no fancy rewiring of the garage is necessary. Just plug in at the end of the day and wait. Nissan engineers take note: it’d be nice if the cable had an LED at the business end so I could use it as a flashlight when I’m stumbling around a dimly-lit garage in February.

RTFMing will reveal one bit of WTFfery: The Leaf’s trunk is touted as being able to hold two golf bags, and provides far-too-detailed instructions on how to get two golf bags, specifically two golf bags, into your car. They spend an entire paragraph on this, and some overworked graphic designer had this diagram on an Adobe Illustrator todo list at one point.

golf bags

Note where the designer’s eff-it-o-meter lurched into the red zone on the lateral view and he depicted the golf bag cross-sections as sharp-cornered rectangles.

Even by the standards of eccentric units of measurement golf bags seems peculiar, especially for a car with such nerdy appeal. Nissan. Give me a meaningful volume for trunk space. MegaD20’s. Picoparsecs cubed. Golf bags? Honestly. How much LARPing gear can I fit in this thing? That’s information I can use.

Tooling around our small city, we’ve never even come close to the car’s limit in our weekday and weekend routines, so range anxiety hasn’t been an issue yet. We’ve still got the ICE Outback if we need to go for a long haul somewhere, but I highly, highly recommend the Leaf for anyone with predictable and relatively short daily driving patterns.

Having exhausted all the intuitive and expected options of a new car, we’re gradually discovering Radagast’s not-so-obvious bells and whistles. The curious will find that the above-linked manual reveals the secrets of Radagast’s built-in 110V outlet, Wi-Fi integration, luggage hook, and other minor niceties.

I find myself making excuses to drive the Leaf when the lovely and talented Mrs. Zheng3’s not using it. I’ll even volunteer for errands I’m not particularly interested in doing, just to drive the car.

Which I guess is what people who drive for reasons other than to get from A to B feel like. Huh.