Sunday, July 2, 2023

iMessage Contrast

If you use an iPhone and text folks with Androids, or are in group chats which includes folks with Androids, you might have noticed that the green bubbles are hard to read. Here’s a quick tip to increase the contrast ratio in iMessage:

  1. Go to Settings ➡️ Accessibility.

  2. Scroll all the way to the bottom and tap on “Per-App Settings”.

  3. Tap “Add App”

  4. Scroll down to “Messages” and tap it.

  5. It’ll take you back to the Per-App settings. Tap on “Messages”.

  6. Tap on “Increase Contrast”.

  7. Change it to “On”.

And you’re done. Now the green bubbles will be much easier to read. The blue iMessage bubbles will also have better contrast. 

If you’re wondering why the default contrast makes it hard to read in the first place, that’s a different story. If you Google, “Apple messages contrast”, you’ll get a bunch of links of how Apple violates its own contrast guidelines with the green bubbles (and to a lesser extent, the blue bubbles too). The reason is obvious: by making the experience of texting Android folks less pleasant, you associate Android itself as less pleasant, and induces peer pressure on the Android folks to switch, even though it’s the iPhone that’s lessening your experience. Ultimately it helps Apple sell more iPhones. And that’s all I’ll say about this subject.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Car Dependency

I like to have redundancy in my life. When my toothpaste tube is halfway done I buy the next one. I have an extra pair of glasses (which saved me after I broke my main pair in a bike crash, but that’s a story for another day). What I don’t have is a backup car. 

I drive a 2010 Camry. My mom got it new and gave it to me before my final year of college. I love this car. It’s comfortable, drives well, gets ok gas mileage, and most importantly, it’s never let me down. Until earlier this year.

I always go home for the holidays, spending 2 weeks in Florida. I’ve always flown home, driving to the airport and leaving my car there. And every time it’s started right back up when I get back.

One thing I don’t like about living in Harrisonburg is not having a big airport nearby. I grew up in Miami and got spoiled having easy access to Miami International. There’s no big international airport near Harrisonburg. There’s SHD, which is super convenient to get to, and they have free parking, but the flights are super inconvenient and super expensive unless you book way in advance. There’s Charlottesville. A bit of a drive to get to (an hour), and still a bit on the expensive side, and somewhat inconvenient flights (every flight will connect through Charlotte or Atlanta, depending on whether you’re flying American or Delta).

Dulles is a great airport. Plenty of direct flights to places I want to get to, parking isn’t too bad. The interior is well designed. Overall, it’s an A-tier airport. (Atlanta is an S-tier airport, but I digress). The problem with Dulles is that it’s almost 2 hours away.

I’ve flown a lot out of Dulles this year because there are so many flight options. I’ve kind of just accepted that I’ll have to drive 2 hours to get those flights. 

Ok I’ll stop. This post isn’t about my airport options. 

Dulles is important because there’s a bus that goes there from Harrisonburg. It’s called Virginia Breeze, run by Megabus. There are a few lines, all with Washington Union Station at one end, and spreading out throughout Virginia at the other end. In my case, there are two lines which run through Harrisonburg: one with an endpoint at Blacksburg and one with an endpoint at Bristol. I found out about this bus late last year and was able to use it for my flight home this holiday season. 

The bus is fairly cheap. The round trip ticket was $40, which is just a few dollars more than it would cost me in gas. And I saved around $140 in airport parking. So, a pretty good deal. And I could take a nap (or do anything else) on the ride. 

But this post is about car dependency you say. Why are you going on and on about airports and buses? Stick around. I’ll tell you. 

I’ll keep going about the bus for just a few more sentences: My only complaint about the bus is the schedule. The one starting in Blacksburg gets to Dulles airport at 1pm. The one starting in Bristol gets to Dulles airport at 5:45pm. In the other direction, one bus leaves Dulles at 10:40am and the other at 1:55pm. This means I need a late departure from Dulles and an early arrival into Dulles. I’ve flown a bit out of Dulles this year but this is the first time I was able to get flights that worked around the bus schedule. 

All this to say, I was able to take a bus to Dulles and back. 

I flew into Dulles on the 8th around 11am. I killed some time at the airport and then took the bus home at 2, arriving a bit before 4. Excellent. 

I was leaving for a work trip the very next day, flying out of Charlottesville. Around 9pm, I was loading my car with skis, since we were planning to ski upon getting back and the resort was on the way from the airport. I thought it would be a good idea to start up my car, maybe drive around the block, make sure I’m good to go, considering the car had been sitting for 2 weeks. I turn the key, it cranks, and doesn’t start. 

This car is almost 13 years old. It has nearly 150k miles. And it’s never let me down. Until now. I turned the key and it cranked, but the engine wouldn’t start. Uh oh.

I shudder to think what would have happened if I drove to the airport like I normally do, and gotten been stuck in the economy parking lot.

I called a buddy (who is also my neighbor) and asked if he could give me a jump. Bless him, he got off his couch and came over within 10 minutes. I had already tried my battery jump starter but it didn’t work. But since I had never tried it before I couldn’t be sure it was working properly. So we tried jumping it the traditional way, but no dice. Again, I was pretty sure the battery wasn’t the problem. I had left my car for 2 weeks plenty of times before with no issues. This battery was less than 2 years old. And the car would crank. The headlights were bright. But it would just keep cranking, without ignition.

What to do… I need to fly out of Charlottesville at 6am, meaning I need to leave Harrisonburg by 4am, at the latest. There is no bus from Harrisonburg to CHO (let alone one leaving at 4am). My coworker was willing to pick me up but that would add an hour to his travel time, which means an hour less of sleep for him.

It’s around 10pm at this point and I also need to get to bed, considering I need to wake up in less than 5 hours and we need to be productive tomorrow. I decided to reserve an Uber, a little early, so in case it doesn’t show my coworker still has time to pick me up and get us to the airport in time. I went to sleep. 

The Uber was excellent, no complaints there. It was quite expensive but I was going to expense it, so not my problem. But this post is not about Uber. 

This post is about car dependency. As I said in the beginning of this post, I like redundancy in my life. I live alone, so I don’t have someone else’s car to borrow. If my car stops working, I’m in trouble. 

I’ve had car trouble once before. The problem was entirely my fault (a botched oil change, which is also a story for another time). But it still grounded (parked?) my car for a few days while I got it fixed. It wasn’t until then that I realized how much I depended on my car. I think it is true of most people that almost every time they leave their house, it is to use the car to go somewhere. Furthermore, we use our cars for two critical needs: earn an income, and feed ourselves.

That first time I had car trouble, I needed the car for literally everything. I lived at the edge of town. The closest source of anything was a Sheetz, which was over a mile away. A divided highway was the connection and it didn’t even have a sidewalk so it wasn’t safe to walk on it. This was a few years pre-covid, so grocery delivery wasn’t really a thing. I literally couldn’t feed myself without a car, unless I wanted to spend exorbitant amounts of money on delivery. 

In this situation, I was able to get the car repaired within a day or two, so I didn’t starve. But this event illustrated to me how much I depended on the car and how repairing the car instantly became my #1 priority. And I’m lucky. My job is flexible, I could take time off to get it fixed without losing income. I can also work from home if my car had to be in the shop for a few days. So many people don’t have these luxuries. Car trouble means income loss, which is exacerbated because repairing the car will often be very expensive!

In the second car trouble event, from earlier this year, the situation was much different (ignoring the part where I had to get to the airport early the next morning). I now lived downtown. A grocery store was a 10 minute walk. Beer was downstairs. Car trouble? Meh. I’ll get it fixed when I get to it. What a difference this made! Yes, I had to get the car fixed because I couldn’t work from home forever. But I could survive without it. I could feed myself. Repairing it was a priority, but it wasn’t an emergency. And this is liberating. 

For most of us, a car is easily the most complicated piece of machinery we own. Thousands of moving parts. Driving over potholes, bumps, and gravel. They spend their lives outside, enduring temperatures from 0 to 100 F. They are contaminated by all the stuff on the road, from nails to pieces of wood, to oil, and salt. And they keep going for thousands of miles with minimal maintenance. The fact that cars are so reliable today is a testament to 100+ years of engineering advancement that has gotten us to this point. Yes, cars are very reliable. But every machine breaks down and cars are no exception. Just take a look at how many auto repair shops are within a 5 mile radius of you. It’s good business (until electric cars become more prolific, with a fraction of the moving parts of an internal combustion car, but I digress). 

Why is it that the most complicated piece of machinery we own is also the tool we are most dependent on for literally every aspect of our lives? Does it have to be this way? 

And don’t tell me electric cars will solve this problem because they are more reliable.You can guess how I feel about electric cars (see this post). 

I often hear people say that cars are freedom. But if you take away the car, you lose that freedom. That doesn’t sound like true freedom to me. From my experience with these two car trouble events, I believe that true freedom is losing the car and still being able to live my life (for the most part, but we’re taking baby steps here). Knowing that my life would mostly be unchanged while my car was inoperational is liberating. And that’s only possible because I live in a place in which I could fulfill my needs without the car. 

You have two feet. You have the ability to cover greater distances with one of the most efficient machines ever invented (hint: it has two wheels and two pedals). But wait, you say. I don’t live downtown! The nearest grocery store is 5 miles away! You expect me to walk there?

Ah, well now you see the problem. Because of car dependency, our cities have been designed with the assumption that everyone has a car. So everything is far away, separated by long roads, high speed limits, and massive parking lots. And now you need a car even more. It’s a vicious cycle. Everybody has a car, so why invest in public transportation? Then because the public transportation sucks, only the people with no other options use it. And since these people tend to not be in positions to make their voice heard, the public transportation keeps sucking. How can we change this?

Now we’re cooking with gas. Now we’re pedaling in high gear.


If you were wondering what was wrong with the car, I don’t know. After I got back from the work trip, I tried cranking it for longer than I had tried before. After ~15 seconds, it started right up. It was a very painful start, with lots of grumbling, but it started. The second start was normal. And I’ve had no problems since then. My guess is the combination of sitting for 2 weeks and the extremely cold temperature right before Christmas led to condensation in the fuel lines, and it took some effort to clear that out.


This post is not the one I alluded to in my previous post.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Update and a Poem

I'm sure you, my dear readers, have been anxiously awaiting my next post. I know it's been a while since the last one. I have a lot of ideas queued up, but this summer has been quite busy (and I've been a bit lazy) and progress on this blog has been slow. My next major post is going to be a good one and I'd say it's about 50% done. 

At my current rate, it'll be done in 3 more months (hopefully a lot sooner than that). But to satisfy you in the time being, here's a short post.

I took a ~2.5 hour bus trip recently and on that ride, I was inspired to write this poem. I hope it tickles your brain. Also the last time I wrote a poem was probably in high school. I am not a poet. 

The Bus King
By Sumeet Gudi

I’m traveling on a bus and I’m a king

I booked a bus ticket.
Thought I was getting myself into a thicket.
Don’t only peasants ride the bus?
Doesn’t this seem a little sus?

Being surrounded by all these people
And having to stick to that schedule
The money savings isn’t much
Why am I getting myself into this crutch?

Got on the bus and picked a seat
Wow, I said, this is pretty neat. 
I can watch tv, or sleep, or chill
I’ve got plenty of time to kill. 

The bus driver is paid to drive me around
While I sit in my throne, unbound.
Royalty doesn’t mean having a lot of bling
Is this what it’s like to be a king?

Thursday, April 21, 2022

How many ebikes in an electric car?

I got a real bike in September of last year. “Real bike” means a bike from a bike shop, and not a Walmart bike. Nothing against Walmart bikes, which while cheap and generally of low quality, are a great way to get into cycling without spending a lot of money. Getting a bike was on my list of things to do for a while but a friend finally convinced me to buy one, so I did. 

The bike is not the point of this post, but I’m starting with it because it’s a good introduction and transition to the topic of this blog post. So, bear with me as I talk a little bit more about the bike.

I’ve been riding it around town and exploring the back rounds that surround it and it’s a lot of fun. In particular, a nice highway runs between my town and the neighboring town. It is somewhat bike friendly (bike friendly is super generous for what it is, but more on that in a later post), meaning it has a large shoulder and has two lanes in each direction, so nice drivers will leave a lane between me and them, and not so nice drivers still have some separation. 

When I feel like going on a low effort ride on a relatively straight and flat road, I will ride here. This road runs right next to a small town which has a fairly large Mennonite population. The Mennonites here like to ride horse and buggies, and bicycles, so seeing them on their preferred modes of transportation is pretty common. 

I was riding on this road once and behind me I saw a cyclist. Cool, I thought. It’s always nice to see another cyclist on the road. I didn’t get a good look at them and they were a fair distance behind me, so I figured there was a good chance I wouldn’t meet them. Much to my surprise, a minute or two later, she passed me! I was able to get a good look at her bike and it was definitely an ebike, and by her dress, I was pretty sure she was a Mennonite.

Let me define ebike very quickly: it is mostly a normal bicycle. It has pedals. But it has a battery mounted somewhere in or on the frame, and a small electric motor in either the crank or the back wheel. The electric motor just assists your pedaling, helping you move faster and use less effort when riding, such as up a hill. To be clear, an ebike as referred to here is not an electric motorcycle or a moped. It is simply a bicycle with pedals but also with an electric assist. If the battery were dead, you could ride it like a normal, although somewhat heavy, bicycle.

I had talked to my coworker a few times previously about riding my bike and he was saying how Mennonites are really quick on their bikes because they cycle so much, so they have really strong legs. And I told him that based on the single piece of data I observed, Mennonites ride ebikes, implying that that’s how they are able to cycle so quickly. And he said that was impossible because Mennonites don’t use technology, and if they’re willing to use an ebike, what’s wrong with an electric car?

I’m not sure how true it is that Mennonites don’t use technology. A quick Wikipedia search yields the answer “it depends”. But that’s not the point. The point is the question of the equivalence of the ebike and the electric car.

Electric cars have been heralded as one of the great tools in our battle against climate change. If everyone were using electric cars, tailpipe emissions would be eliminated, and the greater efficiency would mean that power plants are generating the energy required for transportation while generating fewer emissions than all the gasoline and diesel engines that would have been on the road otherwise.

Some weeks later I was talking to another coworker and this topic came up. I told him it’s not right to think of an electric car as equivalent to an ebike. The car takes vastly more resources to manufacture and run than a bike. I told him if you took the battery pack out of an electric car (which is made up of many cells), and split up those cells into a typical ebike, you would get this many ebikes. (I will reveal the number later). And it’s a big number.

I decided to message another coworker the following question: 

If you took the battery pack out of an electric car, say a Tesla Model S, and split up the cells into ebikes (pedal powered bicycle with electric assist), how many ebikes would you be able to make? Don't think about it too hard and don't look it up. I'm curious what your first guess is.

I then figured, might as well question the entire room. So I went through the whole room (on Microsoft Teams) and asked the question. I also asked our sister office about 2 hours away. I got approximately 30 answers like this. Then I went through everyone I had texted recently. The next time I was at the brewery I asked the bartenders, and the people sitting next to me. As of now, I have 84 responses.

I spent some time thinking about how best to visualize this and this is what I came up with. Here is a plot of each answer and the frequency of that answer.

Here are some 5th grade statistics:

Mean: 312

Median: 50

Mode: 100

The mean is a bit skewed by the few very high guesses. I think the median is the most accurate representation of the data. The mode is pretty good too. But overall, the guesses were pretty low, less than 50 ebikes per electric car. 

Obviously, the correct answer will vary depending on a lot of variables. Teslas tend to have larger batteries than other electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf. And of course there is a huge range in ebikes, from light recreational bikes to larger cargo bikes. But here’s a calculation for an approximate answer:

According to Wikipedia, a P85 Model S contains 7104 battery cells. The type of cell (like AA or AAA) is “18650”, which simply means it is a cylinder with diameter 18 mm and length 65 mm. An ebike might have between 15 and 20 of these 18650 cells. Some simple division, and you get a ballpark of 400 ebike batteries for a single Model S. 

When I first learned this, I was astonished. I would have guessed the true answer was somewhere between 20 and 30. I was very surprised to find out that one could get 400 ebike batteries from a single electric car battery!

The purpose of this question was to get an idea for peoples’ intuition for how big an electric car battery is. Most people haven’t seen one and haven’t driven an electric car, and so won’t really have a basis for making an estimate. This is fine. The idea was to see what people think without knowing any of the numbers. I think it is easy to conclude that most people, including myself, vastly underestimate its size. An electric car battery is simply massive. You might have seen an ad for the Ford F-150 lightning, which has enough power to run your house for a few days.

The obvious follow up question to this is, are electric cars really the answer to our transportation problem when the resources required to transport a single person (or 5 if it’s fully occupied) in an electric car can be used to transport 400 people? Four hundred people!

I know what you’re thinking: How can someone commute to work on an ebike? You can’t expect people to complete their 20 or 30 mile commute on the highway or interstate on an ebike. What about getting groceries or going shopping? What about weather? What if it’s cold or hot or raining or snowing? Do you seriously think we can give everyone an ebike, take away their car, and not expect riots in the streets?

But you have to wonder, are electric cars really a crucial and necessary component in our fight against climate change? Or do they exist just to save the automobile industry?

These are questions I hope to address in future blog posts. 

However, the plan for this blog is not to discuss electric cars or climate change. Rather, I want to explore the dominance of the automobile in influencing the design of human spaces in North America. 

I was inspired by this topic after I started riding a bike. Once I started exploring the world on two wheels rather than in a metal cage on four, I began noticing all the ways in which the space we live in is designed around the automobile, and how unfriendly it is once you leave it. We take our car dependence, and all the other aspects of our lives that go along with it for granted, but is this really the best we can do? Is there something better? Are there other places that have already figured this out? I think the answer is yes, there is something better. But more on that later.

This is more for myself rather than you the reader, but the following are some ideas for future blog posts addressing this question:

  1. The dominance of car infrastructure, at the expense of “human infrastructure”, in North America.
  2. Cars and the energy problem. Weight and velocity.
  3. The greatest contributors of carbon emissions in modern society.
  4. What does it really mean to have cycling infrastructure?
  5. Lithium battery manufacturing. Is it really green?

iMessage Contrast

If you use an iPhone and text folks with Androids, or are in group chats which includes folks with Androids, you might have noticed that the...