2014 BMW i3 Real Life Review

Four months ago I leased a 2014 BMW i3 with a range extender. I currently have 2100 miles on the car.

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It’s an electric car, that’s just how it works

The car’s range will vary greatly depending on how you drive, what electronics you have on in the car, and the weather. It’s summer now and with the AC running I can go about 70 miles on the battery. Last month I didn’t have to run the AC so hard and I could do 85-90. I understand from other drivers that winter weather will decrease the range to 50-60 miles depending on how cold it is. At highway speeds (70+) range is about 60 miles. With a gas car, steady speed on the highway is your best fuel economy. With an electric with heavy regen braking like the i3, in the city hitting some stop lights is the best for battery economy.

Range anxiety… I was so worried about getting stranded that I paid $5K for the range extender; a motorcycle engine in the back of the car that will charge the battery giving an extra 50 or so miles of range. I’ve used it once. In a gas car having 30 miles of range left warrants an immediate stop at a gas station, in the i3 it’s all good. It’s a weird attitude to have.

You’ll need to install a 220V L2 charger in your garage. The L1 charger that comes with the car will charge it from empty in 18 hours. An L2 charger will charge from empty in four hours. Between the charger and the electrician this was an extra $500 expense.

The i3 is an around the town car. It’s not the best choice for a weekend trip to grandma’s house.

What I don’t like

In the four months I’ve owned the car it’s spent 18 days at the dealer being worked on. I’ve had trim pieces come loose, BMW Assist stopped working, the rear seat came loose,  a drive train malfunction warning/vehicle stall, and awful tire noise. BMW of Northwest Arkansas has been good about getting everything handled under warranty and keeping me in a loaner car. Even so, wondering if my car is a lemon tickled the back of my brain often.

The i3 has very aggressive regenerative braking, so much so that’s its not often the brakes are used. This means that when you do use the brakes it sounds like you’re braking in a car that hasn’t been driven in a year. Lots of grinding and some squeaks.

The car forgets settings. Every time you start the car the radio volume defaults back to just slightly too quiet. The zoom on the nav will sometimes default out. The driving mode always defaults to comfort.

With blue tooth audio playback there is no way to play/pause from the steering wheel or iDrive. This is a thing with every BMW I’ve driven. Edit 8/21/15: An anonymous person was kind enough to point out that pushing the ‘power’ button on the radio will pause Bluetooth. The left and right rocker switch on the far right of the shortcut buttons is a previous/next track button.

The trunk is pretty small. It doesn’t look that way but you’ll have a hard time fitting an entire cart of groceries into it. The rear seats fold down though, giving you a ton of room to work with. You get more road noise with the seats down so you can’t keep them that way all the time.

The front trunk, the frunk, is a joke. It’s smaller than a case of beer and not water proof. I put the L1 charger that came with the car in a ziploc back inside of the frunk. I opened it up the other day and there were some old leaves inside. This is a $50,000 car.

The beep when you lock the car via the key fob is ear piercing. It is really loud.

Things I didn’t like that I fixed

You’re able to change a lot of settings on BMWs by ‘coding’ them. You connect to the car’s on board computer and change some settings. I’ve increased the size of the fuel tank (yes really), enabled turning on the gas engine at will, and changed the keyfob to open the trunk instead of the frunk.

The car came with white carpet floor mats. They looked great until the first day it rained. I replaced them with some all weather mats.

What I like

It’s fast. I always win the zero to the speed limit stop light race. The throttle response is instant. Acceleration is smooth, no gears to change.

One pedal driving. With the regen braking all I do to stop is let off of the accelerator.

The i3 drives like a proper car. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly what that means. If you’ve driven a proper car before you know what I getting on about.

I like the design of the car inside and out. Some people say the outside looks dorky or that the inside looks like it was made by Ikea. I would agree with those people. I like the way it looks. There is a lot of room on the inside.

I like that I don’t have to stop at a gas station once a week. I don’t care about the environment so much as I care about not wasting the time to stop and gas up.

You can fit two rear facing car seats in the back without the driver and passenger having their knees touch the dash. You would be surprised at the cars you can’t do this in; pretty much anything that isn’t a mini-van or full size SUV.

TL;DR

I like my i3. It’s not perfect, but then again I’ve never seen a car that is. I’m happy with the purchase and I have a lot of fun driving it.

How to play GameCube, Wii, and Playstation 2 games on Android or Amazon Fire TV

I’m a big fan of Limelight game streaming. It works remarkable well on my Galaxy Tab S and Amazon FireTV with a PS4 controller.

I had something of a revelation the last week. If you add an emulator as a Non-Steam Game to your Steam library, you can then stream the emulator over Limelight. I’ve tried Dolphin and PCSX2, and they both work well. At this point I’ve played through all of the cups at 100cc in Mario Kart Double Dash on my Tab S and I couldn’t be happier.

The prerequisites for the setup are out there, you need:

  • A PC capable of running the emulator(s).
  • That PC needs to be GFE compatible. (Basically a GeForce GTX 650 or higher graphics card. I use a GTX 760)
  • An Android device
  • A controller for the Android device. (My Tab S is rooted and I use a PS4 controller over Bluetooth)
  • A network connection between the Android device and PC of at least 30mbp/s. (My PC and Amazon FireTV is on a gig wired connection to the same AP/router my Tab S connects to via 5GHZ wifi)
  • The Limelight software installed on the Android device. (this part is free)
  • Steam installed on the PC with the emulator(s) added as Non-Steam Games.

At the time of this writing that’s about $700 worth of PC, a $50 controller, a $80 router/AP, and then whatever your Android device costs. Anywhere between ‘free’ for a phone and $500 for a nice tablet.

As an aside, you can also stream PC games. I play a lot of Borderlands 2 over Limelight, its great playing it on my big TV with surround sound in the living room or even playing in bed.

I’ve played a lot on my Tab S and an Amazon Fire TV. I also have the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Samsung Note 4 phones, I’ve loaded Limelight and played around for a few minutes, as far as that goes it works on those devices.

 Edit: For giggles I decide to give my Galaxy S3 a go and see how well it works. I played Left 4 Dead 2 for about an hour and a half. It was playable. The only issue I ever saw was that sometimes when there was a lot of things going on on screen the game would briefly stutter, losing maybe 1/4 second worth of frames. It mostly happened when a propane tank exploded. A bit annoying but nothing to make me stop playing.

IPEGA 9023 Bluetooth Telescopic Controller Review

ipega9023

 

The IPEGA 9023 is a bluetooth controller that allows you to mount a phone or tablet into it. The sides of the controller telescope out and then spring back in to grip what ever is in the center.

I bought my IPEGA 9023 for use with my Samsung Tab 10.5 tablet. I mentioned in my emulator review for it that I didn’t like the IPEGA because of button placement; turns out I was wrong about  that. It’s not the button placement I dislike, when you use the IPEGA 9023 with a device that’s heavy you (or at least I do) hold it in such a way that makes it uncomfortable. I figured this out while trying the IPEGA with a Samsung Galaxy S3. When using the smaller device the IPEGA works very well and I was happy with it.

Since then I’ve tried the IPEGA with an iPad Air and a LG G Tab 8.3. Both tablets fit into the IPEGA and are able to use it as a controller. Both tablets are heavy enough that I hold the IPEGA awkwardly and end up uncomfortable in a short period of time.

I’ve also tried the IPEGA with an iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Samsung Note 4. All three of those phones work really well with the IPEGA. I’m able to hold it comfortably for long periods of time.

Having your screen in the center of the controller does take a little getting use to though.

As a controller the IPEGA 9023 works well. Its definetly not on par with a PS3 or NVIDIA Shield controller, but it gets the job done. I’ve read some reviews online speaking about dead zones in the analog sticks, my controller either doesn’t suffer from this, or I’m not one to notice it.

All in all the IPEGA 9023 is a good solution to the problem of holding your phone and controller at the same time while playing games. Its not good for holding a tablet. Considering I bought it just for use with a tablet I’m a bit let down.

 

Samsung Tab S 10.5 – How well does it run emulators?

Samsung Tab S 10.5

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Great
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable. (Emulator problem as much as a hardware problem)

I’ve had my Tab S 10.5 for about three weeks now. I bought it as a replacement for an iPad 3. It’s been rooted and all of the Samsung junk turned off. I use a PS3 controller via the Sixaxis app.

I’m very happy with the tablet as a tablet. As an emulator machine its really good. My only complaint is the same complaint I have with emulation on any tablet; how do you hold the tablet and the controller at the same time? I tried an Ipega 9023 telescopic controller, the mount was good, but the controller had poor button placement for my hands. That made the controller difficult to use. Next I tried to DIY solution using a Gameklip and a car tablet mount. The Tab S was too heavy for the Gameklip. I end up propping the Tab S up via its case and setting it on a lap desk. This works, but I would much rather to have it mounted on the controller.

Having such a large screen makes emulating Nintendo DS games much more enjoyable than on a Shield Portable or phone. You have plenty of room to see both screens at the same time. The downside of the big screen is that games will look bad unless you apply a filter. Once you apply some HQ filters though, the games look amazing.

My favorite emulation device is still the NVIDIA Shield Portable, if for no other reason than the screen is mounted over the controller. The Shield is pretty dedicated to one task though.The Tab S is a great choice when you need a tablet but you also want to play some games. The screen on the Tab S is amazing and when you use emulators that support filters, your old games never looked better.

Since the Tab S 8.4 has the same hardware as the Tab S 10.5, all of the above should equally apply to it.

NVIDIA Shield Tablet – How well does it run emulators?

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the Shield hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Great
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable. (Emulator problem as much as a hardware problem)

There is one problem with the Shield Tablet that makes it a poor choice as a hand held emulator console, the battery life. I was lucky to get four hours of battery browsing the web and playing videos. Using it to play Chrono Trigger for the SNES got me about three hours of battery. The advertised battery life is 6-8 hours. Even more disappointing was that I could plug the charger in and the battery would still drain just from browsing the web/playing YouTube. I thought that my device had a hardware defect and sent it back, the new device had the same problem. If you read the NVIDIA forums, this is apparently a ‘thing’ with the Shield Tablets.

Considering how great the Shield Portable is its such a shame the tablet has these power problems. This one problem ruined an otherwise perfect tablet for me. Very disappointing.

NVIDIA Shield Portable – How well does it run emulators?

NVIDIA Shield Portable

Below is my quickie rundown of how well the NVIDIA Shield Portable emulates classic consoles.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
SNES: Great
Genesis: Great
Gameboy Advance: Great
N64: Good – the Shield hardware is more than enough to run the games, the emulators available are the problem.
Playstation/PSX: Great
NDS: Good. Some lag in parts, but nothing too bad.
GameCube and above: Poor – games are unplayable

tl;dr: The Shield Portable is best handheld emulator console out there.

Cheap DIY treadmill desk that won’t murder your wrists.

I sit at a computer the better part of my day. I try to mitigate this some by walking around (pacing) while I’m on the phone. On days I work I’m lucky to get in 7,500 steps, this is below the 10,000 generally considered to be healthy.

One day I stumbled across an article about a DIY treadmill desk, essentially you bungie cord a board to your treadmill, set your laptop on it, and then walk and work. That piqued my interest, but my first thought was that it would kill my wrists. If I don’t keep my hand level with my wrist/arm I feel it very quickly. I’m well aware of the permanent damage you can do to yourself by keeping poor wrist posture.

You can buy some really good looking treadmill desks that can be adjusted up and down, but its a large expense for something I wasn’t sure I would even be able to use. I was on the fence if I could even walk and type at the same time.

I wanted something I could try out cheaply. I built a reasonable facsimile for about $50.

My idea was this:

  • Use a TV wall mount to attach a spare monitor to the wall in front of the treadmill
  • Set my laptop on a table next to the treadmill.
  • Build a raised desk attached to the treadmill’s rails. This would be where the keyboard and mouse would sit.

Parts I had to buy:

Total: $51.50

Parts I already had:

  • Treadmill
  • laptop
  • extra monitor
  • keyboard
  • mouse and pad
  • build tools and fasteners
  • table to put laptop on

Building it

The general idea is that you’re going cut one of the shelf boards into legs and attach them to the intact board.

The top of the desk should be level with your elbow when held at your side. I stood on the treadmill and measured the difference between my elbow and the top of the rail, this was 7.5 inches. My U-bolts were 2.5 inches wide. To give myself some room I took the elbow measurement and added 4 inches (U-bolts size plus extra) to it. 11.5 inches was the length of my desk legs.

After cutting the legs I needed to know where to drill holes for the U-bolts to go. I measured from the top of the leg down 7.5 inches and made a mark, this was where I needed to drill for the first hole for the U-bolt.

I assembled the desk in place. I attached the legs to the treadmill with the U-bolts, and then placed the remaining board on top and screwed it into the legs.

My last step was mounting the monitor to the wall. I followed the instructions that came with the mount. You’ll want the monitor to be positioned in such away that you don’t have to look up or down to see it.

Below is what it looks like completed. Not the prettiest project I’ve ever done, but functional. Fortunately I work at home and no one ever sees my office.

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How does it work?

Surprisingly well. I set the treadmill to 1.6 MPH. I’m able to walk and type and use the mouse OK. Walking doesn’t mess with my concentration. I gave Kerbal Space Program, Team Fortress, and DOTA a try, no problems at all. I did have to train myself a bit not to step off of the treadmill when circle strafing in Team Fortress.. I would naturally step to the side and eventually make it off of the treadmill.

I don’t use the treadmill desk full time. I have a normal sit down desk that I use for the majority of the day. I use the walking desk for an hour or so to make sure I meet my 10,000 step goal for the day. I do roughly 1,000 steps each ten minutes I walk at 1.6 MPH.

Future Improvements/If I did it again

If I had to do it over again I would use actual real solid wood for the desk. It would look better, be stronger, and last much longer. Engineered wood was some good uses, furniture isn’t one of them. Especially furniture built by a guy like me.

I would take off the control console of the treadmill and run all of my wires through the middle of the metal support posts.

I would also think long an hard about a better mounting method than the U-bolts… they’re ugly.

 Three Week Update (11/10/14)

After three weeks I still use the treadmill desk everyday. My goal is to have 10,000 steps walked out before 5PM. This usually results in me walking on the desk for an hour or so starting at 3PM.

I normally walk at 1.6 miles and hour. I can walk at 2.5 miles an hour and still work, but at anything over 1.6 miles an hour I tend to think more about walking than what’s on the monitor.

Instead of continuing to use my laptop, I purchased a 25 feet long HDMI cable and connected the treadmill’s monitor to my office PC. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, so when I want to walk on the treadmill I just move them over there. This works better as there is no loss of continuity when switching from my usual desk to the treadmill. I also do not have to plug in and unplug my laptop every day.

I also took the time to bundle up all of the cables and hide them. This did a lot for improving the appearance, but I still wouldn’t call the setup an attractive piece of furniture. If the particle board were to deteriorate or I were to break the desk I would definitely spend the money on a commercially made desk for the appearance alone.

What is the best handheld emulator console?

It’s no secret I like old games. At one time or another I’ve used an emulator on every handheld device I can find. Which one do I think is the best?

Sony PSP

If you already have a PSP this is a good choice. PSPs are very easy to load emulators on. They will run consoles up to SNES or GBA just fine. They’ll run PSP games and stream from your PS4 too.

Nintendo 3DS

A 3DS can emulate up to SNES era. It will semi-natively run GBA and DS games. It’ll run 3DS games too. You’ll need to buy a DSTWO flash cartridge though to get everything working. The build quality on the DSTWO carts can be suspect, mine works but is held together with tape. Unless you already have a 3DS I wouldn’t bother.

Android Phones and Tablets

The quality of the emulators for Android is outstanding. You can easily attach purpose made Android controllers or even use a PS3 or XBOX controllers. A two year old Samsung Galaxy S3 will emulate NDS, N64, and PSX games. 

iPhone and iPad

IOS devices will run emulators once jail broken. I wouldn’t recommend it. PITA to jail break and then a PITA if you want to update your phone. There is also a trick wherein you can install and run an emulator if you change the date on your phone every time you load the emulator, again a PITA. (This doesn’t work in the newest IOS version)

Random Chinese Android Consoles

They’re great when they work. The build quality and battery life can be very poor. There are a lot of different devices out there and I’m painting with a wide brush. Unless you can get one for practically free I would stay away.

GCW Zero

The GCW Zero will run anything up the SNES era. The build quality can be iffy at times. The battery life is awesome. If you can find one for under $100 its not a bad choice, though you can find PSPs for under a $100 and the PSP would be a better choice.

NVIDIA Shield Portable

The Shield has all of the good points of an Android phone and a built in controller. It will run any system short of the Game Cube. It’s seriously good.

What do I recommend?

If you have an Android phone made in the last two years, get yourself controller and use it. If you don’t have an Android phone, buy an NVIDIA Shield.

The quality and the ongoing support for emulation on Android is really amazing. The quality of the hardware on most Android phones and definitely on the Shield is excellent.

Cost wise a phone or a Shield are great choices. An NVIDIA Shield portable is $150 at the time this was written. An Android phone is something lots of people already have, you can get yourself setup with controller that attaches to your phone for less than $50. The other devices I mentioned in this post typically start at around $175 and go up from there.

I have an NVIDIA Shield and love it.

pdtk on RedHat Enterprise Linux 7 (RHEL7)

I use pdftk in order to split PDFs into individual files for each page. I recently moved a server to RHEL7 and was kind of disappointed that I couldn’t find it via yum. I tried finding an RPM, I tried an RPM from a previous version, I tried to build from a source RPM, I tried to build from the source, no luck. As with most things I suppose I could keep beating my head against the wall and blow a bunch of time to figure it out, but why bother?

It turns out the ImageMagick’s convert command will split a PDF into individual pages. ImageMagick is easily installable via yum. I don’t believe I’ve seen many Linux systems without it. It also has Window binaries.

Here is the command:

convert -quality 100 -density 200x200 PDF-IN PAGES

Amazon Fire TV NES, SNES, and GBA Emulators

The Amazon Fire TV can run NES, SNES, and GBA games. You can even use the included remote, though the game controller works much better.

I made up a package with a batch script that makes it pretty easy.

Here is how to play NES, SNES, and GBA games on your Amazon Fire TV.

Note: This does not require you to root your Fire TV. You will not lose access to the Amazon interface. Nothing will be removed or change. If in doubt look over the package you download and definitely look over all of the .bat files.

Enable USB Debugging and Find out the IP address of your Fire TV

This steps turns on the features that allow you to remotely install software on your Fire TV.

  1. From the Fire TV Home screen, select Settings
  2. Go to System -> Developer Options
  3. Select ADB Debugging to turn it ON
  4. Go to System -> About -> Network, and take note of the Fire TV’s IP address

(Thanks XBMC Wiki)

Download and Extract my Installer Package

Amazon Fire TV Emulator Package: Download

Once you have it downloaded, unzip it.

Install Emulators and Send Your ROMs to the Amazon Fire TV

Installing the emulators:

  1. Double click on INSTALL-EMULATORS.bat (in the installer package)
  2. When prompted, enter the IP of your Fire TV
  3. You should see the emulators install with a ‘Success’ message

Copying the ROMS:

There are folders for ROMs for each system in the installer package. Copy your ROMs into the folder appropriate for them. If your ROMs are zipped, unzip them. Make sure the NES ROMs have a .nes extension, SNES .smc, and GBA .gba.

To play GBA games you’ll need a GBA bios file. Put it in the ROMS-GBA folder.

Once you have everything in the appropriate folders, double click on INSTALL-ROMS.bat. When prompted, enter the IP of your Fire TV. You should see everything copy over.

If at some point in the future you want to add more ROMs to your Fire TV, just add them into the appropriate folder and double click on INSTALL-ROMS.bat again.

Launch Emulators and Configure 

You should now have your emulators and ROMs installed on the Fire TV. Unfortunately side loaded applications do not appear in the Home screen, you have to launch them via the Settings menu.

  1. From the Fire TV Home screen, select Settings
  2. Select Applications
  3. Find and select the emulator you want. (Nesoid, Snesoid, GameBoid)
  4. Select Launch Application

You will want to go into the settings for the emulator and map the buttons for the remote (or your controller) to the game buttons.

Where to go From Here?

If you’re only using the remote that came with the Fire TV you’ll want to get a real controller. The remote works OK for RPGs and games that don’t require twitchy actions. Amazon sells a very good controller made for the Fire TV. XBOX 360 and PS3 controllers work well too.

The emulators I’ve included are not the best out there. There are some really good commercial Android emulators out there, installing and using them makes for a better experience.

What Exactly does the Installer Package do?

The general idea is that it side loads the emulator’s apk files via winadb. The installer package (if you can call it that) contains a apks for the emulators, winadb, and a couple of .bat files. The .bat files launch winadb with the appropriate commands to connect to the Fire TV and install the emulators. You can easily modify the .bat files to allow you to install other emulators.