Book review: Dark Money

Dark MoneyWant to get really depressed? Have I got a book for you!

Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” is a thoroughly researched, very detailed account of how small, tactical changes to laws have changed politics in our country. At a time when Americans are deeply disgusted with politics, it’s an interesting and important book.

I realize both sides of the political spectrum are using dark money to manipulate the masses and to frame today’s political discourse, but this book really explains how it has been done. It describes how our democracy has been stolen from us, with our approval. It explains how we, as a people have become so polarized, but more importantly, who (at least in the case of conservatives) is behind it and why.

The names involved include a who’s who of current political events, like Charles and David Koch, The DeVos family, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, as well as other names familiar to you.

My interest is in the current climate change debate and how we went from a point where the majority of Americans believed the scientific consensus to the current point of constant debate. Make no mistake, the same firms that confused the public about whether or not tobacco was harmful were involved in creating the confusion about global climate change. In fact, their slogan was “Doubt is our product.” And who pays these firms for their work? Why those who have been fined millions upon millions of dollars for damage to the environment and see rules preventing them from doing this as infringements on their freedom. Those who, to make an extra $7 million, reopened a gas pipeline they knew to “leak like swiss cheese,” killing two teenagers, when it exploded, resulting in a $298 million dollar civil judgement against them. Those whose employees, when they reported dumping of MERCURY onto the ground near rivers, were terminated for reporting the crime to management or the authorities. One instance of mercury dumping poisoned the fish for fifty miles downstream and made it into people who unknowingly ate those fish.

Did you know your politicians created a law allowing the very wealthy to place their children’s inheritances into trusts, where if the funds remained untouched for twenty years and the interest earned was donated to non-profit organizations, became a tax free inheritance? That doesn’t sound so bad, until it is uncovered that those same rich people created their own non-profit organizations which then distributed the interest earned to political campaigns, via donations to other non-profits, which removed their fingerprints from the funds. Some of the schemes were described by the officials trying to investigate them as “Russian nested dolls.”

It is one thing to confuse smokers into believing that the product they’re using isn’t killing them. That affects the users of tobacco and their families, but leaves the rest of us unscathed.

It is quite another thing to confuse the public into believing in “clean coal” or that global climate change is a “job killer” or is an evil plot by liberals to redistribute wealth from “doers” to “takers.” In this latter case, we all lose if we kill the planet.

Again, I believe both sides are doing this and the media is complicit, focusing on false “outrages” to keep the people of America distracted.

When will we wake up?

Will it be too late?

Where are the true statesmen/women?

Stepping into a larger world

A friend of mine that I met, during my 2013 trip to the Chicago Auto Show sent a message to me recently. He said he had seen someone looking for writers for articles, to be published on an automotive website. He thought I’d be a good fit. I responded the only types of vehicles I could write with, with any authority or expertise, would be EVs and hybrids.

Brad, my friend, forwarded my response to the publisher, which resulted in a phone call, from the publisher and a discussion of how publishing with his website works.

I have a demanding full-time job, as well as a blog and a podcast I am starting, so I was pretty timid about sticking my toe in the pond. Armen, the publisher, suggested sending a test article. Like most people, I am unsure of myself, but this seemed like a good approach, so I submitted the article. If you like it, please share from TorqueNews or leave a comment there!

It was published almost immediately on TorqueNews.TorqueNews Article

Ego Power+ lawn equipment at the start of season 4

Ego Lithium-ion battery-powered lawn mowerBack in March of 2014, I wrote about my excitement at acquiring a lawnmower, powered by a lithium-ion battery. It was an Ego Power+ model. Less than a month later, I decided to get their string trimmer as well. In August of that year, my good friend Charles joined me for a video review of these two devices, as well as the leaf blower. I was so blown away (pun intended) by the leaf blower, I bought one, shortly after the video review.

EGO String TrimmerToday, I started my fourth season of lawn care with these devices.

My main concern, in getting battery-powered lawn equipment, was battery longevity. I keep the batteries on their charging unit, hanging on the wall of my garage. In the Summer months, with Chevy Volts charging in the garage, it can get pretty hot out there. Winter months don’t get too cold in my garage, both due to me living in Texas and the charging Volts. However, it was with great curiosity, that I began my yard work.

Grass growth is just getting started, in Texas, so the load was not very heavy for the mower. The grass catcher was only about 1/3 full, after I finished mowing the front and back yards. At the height of the season, I will easily fill the grass catcher and have to empty it out about half-way through the back yard. The load on the string trimmer was about the same as usual, because I edged and trimmed everything as I normally do.

EGO BlowerThe mower battery gave out very close to the end of mowing the back yard, which I do after the front yard. Usually, it needs a charge about half-way through the back yard. The string trimmer lasted through all the trimming. Its battery is shared by the leaf blower, but as it is a windy day, I did not end up using the leaf blower. Normally, I just use it for a very short time. In my estimation, the smaller leaf blower/string trimmer battery is as strong as it was, at the time of purchase. I think the mower battery is as well, but won’t know for sure until the grass is thicker. At the peak of the growing season, I perform my yard work in this order:

  • Use string trimmer, in the front yard, to edge all sidewalks, the driveway and to trim around the house and brick gardens.
  • Use leaf blower to clean up walkways
  • Put string trimmer/leaf blower battery back into the charger.
  • Mow the front yard.
  • Put mower battery back into its charger (if I’m not in a hurry).
  • Use the string trimmer to trim around the entire perimeter of the back yard.
  • Mow the back yard.

Even if I do not place the mower battery back into the charger, between front and back yard work, it usually lasts well into mowing the back yard, just not as close to the end as it did today. My “gut feel” is that the battery is as good as ever, especially since it hasn’t been taken off the charger for the last five to six months.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on developments…

Book review: Strengths Finder 2.0

*Spoiler alert* It changed my life.

Strengths Finder 2.0This will be only the 2nd book review that I can recall posting to My Electric Vehicle Journey. I decided to write about this book because, when telling a customer about how it affected my life, I saw her eyes fill with tears. This is something I have to share. To do this, we’ll go back a few years, in my career…

I started out in manufacturing (oilfield manufacturing, believe it or not) and from there ended up working for computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software companies, as the technical person on a software sales team. I didn’t have to do any “salesy” stuff, just demonstrate the software for potential clients, answer questions, teach classes, consult. These were almost full-time customer-facing roles and I really enjoyed it.

People were always telling me back then, “You should be in sales.” I didn’t want to hear it. I hated the idea of cold-calling people, setting appointments, schmoozing, etc… I also loved being the expert in the room. The salespeople I worked with deferred almost all technical questions to me and I love(d) being the center of attention, when there were tens of thousands (and sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars hanging in the balance.

After 9/11, my job (and many others like it) evaporated. Air travel restrictions forced companies to look at other methods of presenting their products than traveling to the customer’s location. Using the Internet to perform live demonstrations or have libraries of videos available 24 hours a day, meant they no longer needed us. I ended up being laid off and then hired by a client of mine. I eventually ran four departments in his factory. I worked long hours alone, stretching my technical skills immensely and successfully, but miserable in my career.

I came across the book, in a library, while looking for career advice. The premise was straight-forward: The Gallup Organization had performed studies to better evaluate potential hires for companies. In studying the issue, they determined that people have 34 strengths or themes. They also determined that the old adage, “Work on your weaknesses to strengthen them.” is unprofitable. The book states that, if you really work at it, you can improve a weakness’ performance by only about 10%. However, if you work on your strengths, you can become a super-star!

At the end of the book (which is a quick read) there is a sealed envelope. In the envelope is a code that allows you to take a test online and learn your top five strengths/themes. Based on your strengths, you will be told what environment in which you’d best be suited.

I took the test and was informed my top five strengths or themes are:

  • Achiever: (hard worker)
  • Input: (craving to learn, collector of information)
  • Learner: (enjoys the process of learning, wants to know more)
  • Woo: (enjoys meeting new people and winning them over)
  • Maximizer: (not afraid to push yourself to new levels)

Based on this, it was recommended I look for a career where I’m:

  • acquiring new information every day
  • using that information to take action
  • in a career that employs constantly changing technology
  • sharing the information I’ve learned with others
  • interacting with many people, during a day
  • networking continuously with others to achieve goals
  • free to work as hard or as long as I want.


Maybe I should take a look at sales. I went to work for Apple. In fact the book Strengths Finder 2.0 was a big topic of conversation in Apple HR and management circles. People were always comparing strengths with one another. I was hired to work in an Apple Store as the “Business Partner,” later “Business Manager,” leading the effort of the store to sell to businesses. It was a perfect sales job to start with, because I didn’t have to cold call anyone. Customers came into the store and were often surprised that Apple had programs set up to help businesses. Many of my Apple Clients are friends to this day.

After I acquired our first Chevy Volt, I wanted to do more to promote electric vehicles, so I started this blog. I also suggested to my dealership that they invite all their Volt owners back for National Plug-in Day (now National Drive Electric Week). They hated that idea, but invited me to speak to the entire sales team about why I thought the Volt was so important to General Motors as well as our country and planet.

Three days later I had a new sales job.

They even let me select my title, so I’m the EVangelist at Classic Chevrolet.

Now back to telling my customer about this book: We were actually discussing careers and they noticed I seem to really like what I do. I told them how I almost always have a smile on my face as I drive to work, even though this isn’t the highest-paying job I’ve ever had. I told them how part of my enjoyment and satisfaction comes from helping people: helping them find that perfect vehicle, helping them get out from under a bad vehicle, helping them cut through the BS and get to a win-win with the dealership. I told them how the second customer to whom I sold a car was a divorcee in a bad financial situation with a terrible car that wasn’t going to last much longer. I worked hard to find a new car that would fit her budget, while meeting her minimal requirements. She was so happy as she drove off, in her new car, that it made my day and solidified the realization that I was in the right career (at the age of 56). On the drive home that night, I realized I was grinning foolishly, so I called my mom, in Houston, and started our conversation with, “Hi mom. Guess what I did today!”

Bottom line:

I’ve had jobs where I made lots of money and was miserable. Sometimes this was due to management, coworkers, working conditions, etc., but now I believe, most of the time, it was because I was in an environment where I couldn’t use my strengths. Yes, I am making somewhat less money, than I did at the peak of my earning power, but my income is steadily increasing and will be near (if not exceeding) my peak, within two more years.

But better yet: I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my career and the world is a teeny-tiny bit better because of that.


It really is that easy.

Tenacity defined


Almost four years, after acquiring our first Chevy Volt, I finally had a service issue with my 2017 Volt, “The Silver Surfer”. The problem was that the A/C stopped running in automatic mode (i.e. thermostatically controlled), but ran perfectly, in manual mode. Classic Chevrolet‘s service team determined that the A/C controller unit was faulty and needed to be replaced. It took a couple days to get a new controller. Once installed, there was software that needed to be installed, to initialize the controller. Once that was completed, the controller failed. This happened twice. The GM Volt Support Team had our Service Tech checking wires for shorts, but none were found.

My Volt had been in the shop for three weeks and I got it back today. I’ve had a Volt loaner (LT model) as a replacement for my Premier, because Classic added Volts to their loaner fleet, knowing Volt owners don’t want to drive an ICE when their Volt is being serviced.

Pat Galan web

The MAN, Pat Galan!

The Service Technician (Pat Galan) was tenacious, in tracing the problem. On two occasions, he was advised by GM’s Support Team to keep checking the wiring for short circuits. Pat felt there was something else going on, because he could get the controller installed and everything would check out. But once he installed the software, things would stop working, or worse, the controller would fail.

Then something odd happened: A Volt in Washington state had the same issue. Then four more in the Eastern U.S. exhibited similar problems. Pat became more and more certain that there was something wrong with the software or the installation program. GM’s Support Team contacted Pat and verified what he’d surmised: The software installer program was faulty. A new install app was sent out and everything worked!

Tim Foote...he's a hoot!

Tim Foote…he’s a hoot!

Many, many thanks to Tim Foote, my Volt Service Advisor, who kept me updated, during this process, Pat Galan, the Service Technician who was tenacious in his efforts to track down the culprit and Mike Zorn, the Service Manager who kept checking on things to keep everything on track, even though he was unaware that the Volt was mine.

This proved what I’ve thought for years now: Your selection of a salesperson, knowledgeable about your new vehicle (especially the Volt) is important, but just as important is your selection of a Service Department that truly understands your vehicle and  a dealership that supports the vehicle by making sure the technicians are well-trained, certified and have the freedom to delve as deeply as is warranted to get to the bottom of any issue.

Mike Zorn

Mike Zorn leads the team

Enthusiasm for Volt…IN TEXAS!!!

TXGarageThe other day at work, one of my colleagues escorted a man toward me and I heard him say, “This is the guy you need to talk to.”

The only times I hear that, is when someone needs help with Apple CarPlay or want to ask about the Chevy Volt.

The man with my friend was David Boldt, Managing Editor of TXGarage, a relatively new automotive blog, based in the DFW area. We sat down at my desk and discussed all things Volt and how I came to be such a fanboy.

The next thing I know, I see this enthusiastic review!

2017 Volt, 1st week’s impressions **UPDATED**

The Chevy Volt at sunsetI drove my new 2017 Chevy Volt off the dealership lot a week ago today. I drove from there to Austin, Texas, to attend a meeting. So, my first week included a 400+ mile trip and my usual daily commute. Here’s what I think so far:

I absolutely love this car! (I know. surprise, surprise…)

I got both the safety packages and am quite impressed with the features they provide, such as:

  • Side Blind Zone Alert (Driver Confidence Package I): I’ve experienced this feature, on test drives of Corvettes, Silverados, Tahoes, etc, buy that’s not the same as having it in your own car. The pronounced blind spots in our Volts (this is our 5th Volt), have made us very cautious about changing lanes. It’s a tough habit to break! So far, I check everywhere before remembering I have this feature! When I have utilized it, I love the peace of mind it gives me.
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert (Driver Confidence Package I): The first time this alerted me to approaching traffic, it really impressed me! I was backing out of a charging spot at the dealership, when the alert sounded. I looked at the radio’s touchscreen and saw a red arrow, pointing to the left, and a red arrow, pointing to the right. The backup camera has a wide angle of view, so I saw that the object approaching from my left was a pickup truck, but the surprise was that the object approaching from my right was a pedestrian! I did not expect the system to warn me about pedestrians.
  • Lane Keep Assist (Driver Confidence Package II): I’ve experienced Lane Change Alert (beeping or vibrating, when you’re changing lanes a freeway speeds without your turn signal being activated). Lane Keep Assist is like Lane Change Alert on steroids. It not only warns you that you’re drifting out of your lane, it actually steers you back into the lane from which you’re drifting. The first time this happened, it freaked me out a little. The minor loss of steering control reminded me of the sensation of trying to steer, when a car is hydroplaning. I gently pulled the steering wheel in the direction I intended to go, and the Volt complied easily. Still, I might like that it beeped to let me know the feature was activating…
  • Forward Collision Alert (Driver Confidence Package II): This is a set of four red lights (located where the projector for a heads up display would be, on a Camaro or Corvette). The lights light up BRIGHTLY, if your approach velocity indicates a problem with the velocity of the vehicle (or presumably, lack of velocity, of a rock or tree) ahead of you. It does not brake to avoid a crash. Braking at freeway speeds to avoid collisions requires Adaptive Cruise Control, which I wanted, but was unavailable at the time I ordered my Volt. If you’re curious about ACC, check out my review of the Cadillac ELR, which had that feature. In Texas, if you put on your turn signal, your fellow Texans may accelerate to prevent you from changing lanes. (Drive Friendly my you-know-what!) Accelerating like that causes the Forward Collision Alert to activate. Sometimes I want to disable this feature, but it has also warned me well before I got too close to the car ahead of me, which I liked. I’m undecided on this feature.
  • Intellibeam Headlights (Driver Confidence Package II): were on the ELR as well, and they’re great. In fact, the headlights of the 2nd generation Volt are a huge improvement over the previous generation. I see much more clearly at night.
  • Low-speed Front Automatic Braking (Driver Confidence Package II): I have not experimented with this yet, but plan to test soon (but not on a live pedestrian). Stay Tuned.

I did not get the Navigation system, since I have an iPhone and access to OnStar for directions. I noticed that there was a speed warning feature I could activate. I was disappointed that it didn’t work, as I have seen in other Chevrolet vehicles, and showed the speed limit for the road on which I’m driving. Instead, I can set a static speed, at which the system beeps to show you’re exceeding that speed. This seems like a useless feature to me. Once we get a Volt in, that has navigation, I’ll have to see if the speed limit information requires the navigation option.

Driver Information CenterThe displays are PHENOMONAL! Getting away from the touch-sensitive buttons on the previous Volts’ center stack was a great move, although I haven’t found a way to navigate the menus without touching the screen. In the previous Volts, I could use the tuning knob to highlight and select icons, keeping my screen fingerprint-free. I’m a little OCD about this…

Apple CarPlay is a better feature than I’d imagined. In the previous generation Volts, (all the way back to my first 2012), I could do the following, by voice command, without ever touching or looking at my iPhone:

  • place outgoing calls (duh!)
  • answer incoming calls
  • put appointments on my calendar
  • update my Facebook status
  • dictate outgoing text messages
  • select albums, songs or playlists to play on the stereo
  • ask for driving directions
  • set up geographic reminders (“remind me when I get home to…”)

I did’t know how CarPlay would be much better, other than allowing me to see Apple Maps on my car’s display. The interface to begin commanding the phone has improved with every new model year, but this is the best so far. I just press the speech button, on the left side of the steering wheel, and say “Hey, Siri.” Once I hear the Siri tone, I can give commands, such as, “Give me directions to the nearest Chevy dealer.” Bingo! Apple Maps open on my center stack display, showing my route, and Siri begins giving me directions. The iPhone has to be tethered via USB for Apple CarPlay to function. A couple things I learned about Apple’s navigation:

  • On the way to Austin, Siri came on and said there was heavy traffic ahead. She asked if I wanted to take another route to save 10 minutes. I said yes, so I was rerouted around the jam.
  • On the way back from Austin, I hit a terrible traffic jam. I was in it about an hour and a half. We would stop for several minutes, then pull forward about one car length and sit again. In this case, Siri did not warn me (possibly no better route?). I left the maps app, to call my wife, and the jam was so bad, everyone seemed to have the same idea (calling their spouses, not mine). There were no cellular connections available. When I went back to Maps, the map could not be displayed, because Apple uses cell towers to transmit data over the internet. No cell signal? No navigation!

**UPDATE** Automated Park Assist (APA): I hate to admit it, but I forgot my new Volt had this feature. The first time I tried it, it worked like a champ! It will assist (but not completely control) the Volt in parallel and back-in parking situations. I have only tried the parallel park assist so far. Here’s how it works:

When looking for a parallel parking space, large enough to accommodate the Volt, the car’s speed must be 18 MPH or less. The system will look for parking places to the right of the Volt. If you want to parallel park to the left side, just turn on the left turn signal and it will search to the left.

When a suitable space is detected the Driver Information Center will instruct the driver to come to a stop at a particular spot. If you overshoot, you can back up a little to position the Volt optimally. Once stopped the DIC instructs the driver to let go of the steering wheel (the steering wheel will vibrate, as a reminder) and to place the car in reverse.

From this point on, the car must move at 5 MPH or less, or it will terminate the APA.

When the driver’s foot releases the brake pedal, the car will start moving backwards and will turn the steering wheel to angle into the detected parking spot, then steer to be parallel to the curb. The DIC will tell the driver when to brake and shift back into drive. The Volt will then pull forward to center itself in the parking spot, notifying the driver when it’s time to step on the brake pedal. Just put it in park, and you’re parallel parking is finished!

Of course, if the parking space is tight, the Volt may have the driver move the shifter between reverse and drive multiple times, so it can squeeze into the spot, by moving back and forth.

The first time I tried this, it worked beautifully. I’ve had one attempt, where the Volt backed into the curb, but it was a low curb and the manual states this could happen, in that situation. I have enough faith in APA now, that I try to find a spot to demonstrate the feature on my test drives. Newbies experiencing this are blown away! I have even shown this to a long-time Chevy salesperson, while we were stopping for lunch downtown. Even he was in awe of the ease of parallel parking the Volt!

The Bose sound system (which we didn’t get in our first three Volts) is amazing.

It will definitely spin the tires, on takeoff, if you’re not careful.

I really like the appearance of the new Volt.

I have yet to hit the stated 53 miles of electric range, but I’m usually in Sport Mode and going about 75 MPH…