The Electric Vehicle Road Trip

Hey, we went to Wales! First, the trip itself was awesome. It’s a beautiful country. Now, the last time we were in the UK we were in Scotland, and ScotRail was our primary means of transportation. We stayed at a place right next to the train station, and just hopped the train for our trips, which was totally awesome. When people talk about countries with great train systems I think of Scotland. For Wales we opted for a car, since rail didn’t seem like it would work for the locations we want to visit… We hired a car (that’s “rented a car” for you Americans) and requested an automatic, and we had a gasoline powered car reserved, but the best laid plans…

Oddly enough, trains. So the trains from London to Cardiff were all running late due to a fatality on the tracks and some issues with switching equipment. This meant we did not get to Cardiff in time to pick up our car on Friday, so we rebooked the car to pickup on Saturday morning. When we got to the rental place they said “We only have an electric car that is an automatic” and well… not great. We explained we would be driving all over Wales, and did not think that would work, but unfortunately they had no petrol-powered automatic transmission cars. (Dana is okay driving on the “other” side of the road, but adding stick shift into the mix would have been too much.)

We came up with a plan where we would stop at another rental car location along the way and swap it for a petrol-powered automatic transmission car. (Spoiler alert: That never happened. They didn’t have any.) So, how was the electric vehicle? It was great, except for the charging, which was not great.

While I know a little bit about EVs due to a number of friends with them (including friends who built their own a decade ago) I have never had to drive one or be in charge of… charging one. At the rental place they showed us how to charge on their charger. They said “You tap you payment card, grab this charging cable, and plug it into the car.” It was not even close to the reality we faced. Oh, there was a case in the trunk with a big cable and I said “What does that do?” and they said “Oh, you won’t need that.” But yeah, we totally needed that!

We waited at a cafe next to the car hire for about an hour while they charged it up before they closed at 2pm, and they got it close to 100% charged. Good enough for us to hit the road. We traveled to Barry fine, then to the place we were staying for the night. We knew we would have to charge up the next day so asked at breakfast where we could charge, and (remember, we were in a small village in Wales) no one knew of any charger in town. We searched online, found nothing. We altered our plans to go to the nearest city with a charger. We ended up parking at a parking lot and paying to charge. It was a 7kw charger, which we quickly learned is a “slow charger” and spent maybe two hours and, well… didn’t add too many miles to our car. Oh, and that cable in the back we “shouldn’t need”? We totally needed it. Many chargers do not have cables! You need to bring your own. It’s like having to bring your own hose to a gas pump. (I can’t even imagine running your own cable on the ground in the winter in Wisconsin without having a pair of heavy gloves and tub in your car to stare the filthy and wet cable.)

We managed to get enough to make it to our next destination (keep in mind we were typically driving a few hours each day) and really needed to charge. We now new we needed a fast charger. We finally found one! At a university in a parking lot, on a Sunday. Luckily the security guy was super nice and got us sorted. Okay, so for this one it didn’t take cards, you needed an app. With my slow data connection in the UK I downloaded the app in about 20 minutes. Argh! Then I had to buy credits. At this point I had no idea how many credits I would need, but had to make sure it wouldn’t run out while charging. I think we got 50 pounds. Once we were fast charging we walked to town, which took about 25 minutes, in the hot sun. It totally sucked. Actually, it sucked coming back, because that was all uphill. Also, I now have 17 pounds credit for a charger I will probably never use as I do not own an EV.

The next day charging was, well… hold on to your butts! We located a fast charger but due to some road construction and endless roundabouts we could not seem to get to the Lidi store that had fast charging, so we went to Tesco where they had a 7kw slow charger. We had this plan to leave the car charging, take a bus to a castle, grab lunch, have a day, and then come back hours later. We did come back hours later, to find it only charged for under an hour. Maybe since it’s a store they only allow charging for one hour? We’re new to all of this and don’t know shit. But basically this meant we barely charged at all, and had a long journey the next day. So we tried again and managed to get to the Lidi in the evening and did not get to use the fast charger at first, and used the medium charger (so 22kw instead of 50kw I believe.) At some point charging stopped. Do you know why? Because the people next to us on the charger hit the goddamn e-stop button which seems to shuts down charging for everyone! Anyway, they left so we grabbed the 50kw charger, reset the e-stop switch, and charged up. This was an extremely rough one.

While we were charging a group of women came to charge and they knew less than I did about it. They were also given an EV from a hire car company, and it was not fully charged, and they said they spent the entire day trying to get it charged so the could start their trip. They were pissed. And look, I am all for EVs, they are the future, but car hire companies need to do a better job. Charging companies need to do a better job. Right now it’s a fucking mess. And yeah, I know… everyone I know with an EV says “I just charge at home!” but for a hire car on holiday, that’s not an option.

The chargers are hard to find, often located way in the back of parking lots, often near bushes and bugs, and sometimes require you to install yet another app, and set up yet another account. I know we are in early days, and I really hope it gets better/easier. It has to.

(Note: I did learn that most (all?) EVs come with a very slow charging cable you can plug into a standard outlet to charge at home. If we had one of these we could have used it overnight a few times to get 10 to 12 hours of charge. Of course at such lower power it probably would not have helped much, and we’d need permission from the property owner to do so. Yeah, forget I even mentioned it.)

Sorry, this is getting long. Like the time it takes to charge on 7kw…

The next day we stopped in a small town for lunch, were unable to locate a charger and I think eventually said “fuck it” and kept going. Which meant we’d need to find something the next morning. Well, we opted to try at night, and our Airbnb host was kind enough to lead us to the nearest charger. This one had no interface at all, and required… an app. After 20 minutes to download this one, it would not work. A friend of our host’s showed up! He was charging his car and wanted to help. See, for the app I installed I put in my info and it kept thinking I was in the US instead of Wales. He told me to delete it and reinstall it. I was not convinced this would work, and told him it would take 20 minutes. (At this point we’ve been there 30 minutes, and not charging.) He had me connect to the WiFi on his phone and I reinstalled in a few minutes. Amazing! It still did not work. It would not believe I was in Wales when I crouched down on the ground to scan a QR code about 50cm off the pavement. We gave up, said we’d figure it out in the morning, and went for dinner and a walk.

But wait! After dinner and the walk we decided to give it one more try. The friend mentioned a health club that had a fast charger, so we went for it. We managed to find it and got charging, and all was good. Except that we had to just sit in the car and wait for like an hour and a half. It was a parking lot at a golf course / health club at night with nothing around. Another rough one. But we got all charged up!

We were convinced we had enough power to get back to our starting point and return the car. Funny that though… You know how you think you’ve got plenty of something and then you’re like “Hey, where did it go!?” Well, the numbers showing how many miles you have kept going down, unless we went downhill, then they went up. Bleargh! We decided we should get one more charge, because had this vision of running out of battery a few miles from the hire car place. So the final charge was at some restaurant, a fast charger so it didn’t take long, but damn, we were so ready to be done charging that goddamn car.

(Note: I read a post on Reddit about some car hire company that requires you to return the car fully charged, which is a pile of bullshit I am glad we didn’t have to deal with or it would have probably ruined an entire day.)

So just to reiterate: Our trip was great. Wales is lovely. We would have preferred a petrol-powered automatic transmission car but we got an electric car that needed charging every day, which was not easy to do. If we subtract the issues around charging, the car itself was fine, the trip was grand. All good… We just need the charging to be better. The “how to charge” information was almost useless, so that needs improvement, and car hire companies have a lot of work to do if this is to be painless in the future, which I hope it is. At one point we called the hire car company in the city we were staying in to ask if we could use their charger. Guess what? They don’t have one! Seriously… if your company is renting EVs you need to have a charger at every location and offer charging.

Thanks for reading. Sorry it was long and complainy. I wanted this as a record for how things work(ed) in 2023 in Wales, UK with an EV as a hire car for a holiday. Cheers!


Mother’s Day Card

Shortly after getting the Provisional Press working I thought to myself “I should try a two color print!” and while I used to run a six color screen printing press, I’m not sure I ever did multi-color relief printing, so why not give it a try?

Fortunately my daughter Madeline had recently sent me a photo of an illustration of a flower she did for school. (I tend to bug her with a “what are you making lately?” text every few weeks.) She sent me the file and I designed a card around it.

I managed to print a few with no real registration system (totally screwing up one of them!) and they mostly turned out okay for a first attempt.

I gave one to my mom, Madeline gave one to her mom, and we had a spare that Madeline gave to Greg to give to his mom. I consider that a win, and will probably make this an annual tradition.

Oh, here’s a shot of the laser-etched plates. I’ll do a post about how I make printing plates one of these days…


Recycle Print

After I made my own recycled paper I had to do something with it… Well, the plan was to print on it! So I did. I used my (recently built) printing press to print a recycle symbol on the paper… which seemed fitting, since it is recycled paper.

I really love how this turned out. One of the things about printmaking is, you need paper. I remember when I started experimenting with printing and was told “Two words: Rives BFK” and yeah, you know what? That shit’s expensive!

I get that to make high quality prints you need high quality materials, but I’m also cheap, and I love doing what I can with low-cost materials. I’m using water based inks because they are cheap and easy to use (and clean up in my slop sink) and I do get some paper that isn’t total crap sometimes, but I’m also going to use cheap material sometimes because art should be accessible. But…

The more I think about it, the more I want to just make my own paper using the stuff we already recycle at our house. We shred plenty of paper, and toss a lot in the recycle bin, so why not put it to use? I think making my own (recycled) paper and then printing on it makes perfect sense.


Making Paper

Hey, I made some paper! To be more precise, I made recycled paper using scrap paper from my own home. I remember facilitating an event years ago at the museum where we had people make paper, but it was one of those things where I was so busy running things I didn’t actually get to make anything. So a few years later (and with my renewed printmaking efforts) I figured it was time to make my own paper.

And if you’re interested in the whole process, there’s a ton of information online, and plenty of videos on YouTube. I watched a bunch, and while I didn’t follow any one of them exactly, I got close enough to get some good results for the first try. I bought a tub, strainer, and sponges from a dollar store, found a piece of scrap screen from a window, and then I made my own mold and deckle.

This is one of those things where if you’ve got a wood shop and scrap wood and that sort of stuff, cranking out the mold and deckle would be quick and easy… Since I don’t really have access to those thing I figured I would 3D print them. I designed the two parts so I could embed magnets into the corners to help hold them together while in use. It mostly worked. I may tweak a few things in the next revision.

I printed the parts on the Prusa MINI and they’re about 160mm square, so the paper I made is just slightly smaller than that, probably closer to 145mm x 145mm, which is about 5.5″ square which should work well for my prints that are on 3″ x 5″ paper.

I made two pieces, one of them turned out good. It’s thick enough that no light passes through it…

The other piece, not quite as good. It’s a little thin, and you can see the lighter spots in the photo where it’s a little translucent due to the thinness. Still figuring out the technique. I used an old t-shirt for my couching sheet, but I may need to experiment with other material or break down and actually buy some real sheets.

Overall for a first attempt without really knowing what I’m doing, I think this is a success! If you remember my experiments with home recycling of HDPE this is pretty similar, except it’s with paper, and less heat, and probably more useful for the art I’m creating now.


Large Laser Cut NeoPixel Sign

Over at Brown Dog Gadgets Josh asked for a large sign in the entryway and since we’ve got a large laser cutter (basically 5 foot x 4 foot cutting area) I designed and cut a large wooden sign, stained it all, and then added NeoPixels.

I designed it in Inkscape with finger joints for assembly. The large back piece is the same as the front, just cut without the lettering/logo. I basically made two open boxes that would fit together, sort of like a traditional shoe box where the inside is slightly smaller than the outside. Same here, with the inside being the part that mounts to the wall, and the outside being the cover the slides into place over it.

Here’s the back side glued up and with the NeoPixel strips added. There are just two strips running in parallel along the top and bottom.

The NeoPixel strips connect to a Crazy Circuits Robotics Board running some Arduino code. There’s also a RTC (Real-Time Clock) module so it can turn on and turn off at scheduled times each day. (Which sometimes does not work, so occasionally we have to unplug/replug it.)

I made a few grid lines on the back piece as guides for the mounting hardware. Here it is all lit up and ready for the front cover to be put in place. (You can see the simple fade animation happening. It just repeatedly transitions between colors.)

Here’s the front cover in place! There’s a sheet of light diffusing plastic inside. Actually it’s a bunch of smaller pieces cut up and glued into place as needed wherever there are holes in the front. (It appears I failed to get a photo of this.) You can see a Mini USB cable hanging out the bottom which goes to a 5 volt USB wall wart to provide power.

Here’s a side view showing the thickness. And now for the hack. It did not sit completely flush and sort of tilted a little bit on an angle, perhaps due to warping since it’s suck a large piece of wood.

I ended up drilling a hold and placing a pin (well, a bolt) into the side of the sign to hold the cover in place a bit more securely…

Adding the first pin made the opposite corner pop out a bit. So let’s add another! I colored the bolt heads with a black Sharpie marker so as not to be so distracting since it is silver hardware. Basically we just need to remember to pull out these two pins before removing the cover if we ever need to do any maintenance. It’s been running for four months now, and besides the whole RTC clock not always working right it’s been solid, and it does look nice.

The sign is 1016mm x 508mm x 95mm (or 40″ x 20″ x 3.75″ for you Imperialists!)