Mike Agranoff

Blog - 2024

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July 24, 2024

My grateful thanks go out to my friend Amy Livingston, who brought this to my attention. For the past few years I've been including in my storytelling repertoire, a wonderful piece by the late Grant Baynham called Mystery Story. It's a beautifully crafted recitation telling of a wealthy numismatist (coin collector) who purloins the first coin ever minted from the British Museum. I love the story, not only for its clever plot, but for the exquisite craftsmanship of the writing, employing interior rhyming throughout the entire piece.

Amy spotted this article in the NY Times recounting the very crime that Baynham envisioned, which actually took place, right down to the modus operandi of the theft. I was particularly delighted at how the thief in the real story redeemed himself at the end.

If you're not familiar with "Mystery Story", I recommend you watch this video of my performance of the piece (It's short; only about 5-1/2 minutes.) before you read the article. It is a brilliant example of how closely life can imitate art.

Grant Baynham was a brilliant performer from England who was virtuoso of the guitar and the English Language. He passed away about 6 months ago.

June 17, 2024

Well, it finally caught up with me.  I caught COVID last week. For the first time. 

And had fully recovered three days later. It did require that I cancel a gig that Friday, which was disappointing, but aside from that, there were no ill effects.

When I think of the panic that diagnosis would have caused me three years ago, it all seems so anti-climactic.  I was in the Minneapolis area over the weekend playing a couple of concerts.  I probably picked it up at one of those gigs, in the airport, or on the plane home Sunday night.  I felt a little scratchiness in my throat on Monday, and took one of those zinc tablets that are supposed to nip a cold in the bud.  They usually work pretty well for me, so when the mild symptoms persisted into the following morning, I blew the dust off one of the antigen test kits I had remaining from the Pandemic, and tested myself.  Boy!  Was I surprised to see two bright magenta lines in the test window.  I thought I had ducked that bullet.

I was feeling fine.  No trouble breathing.  An occasional light cough.  Some post-nasal drip. Clear head. No loss of smell or taste.

I called my doctor. He inquired of my temperature.  I blew the dust off my fever thermometer, and found the battery dead.  That meant I had to go out to buy a replacement battery, which also meant I had to rummage around and find blow the dust off a box of face-masks in the kitchen cabinet.  Temperature was 99.1.  Only slightly above normal.  Doc said if my symptoms continued mild or went away, and my temperature dropped to normal for at least a day, I was done with it, and fit for human society again.

Wednesday was the worst, and not particularly bad, for all that.  Still a little cough and drip, but no real congestion.  I could even sing.  Some mild muscle-ache, and general lethargic malaise.  I spent much of the day in bed snoozing, but not in any real discomfort.  Thursday, I was bright of eye, bushy of tail, and 98.4 of Fahrenheit.  So that was COVID, eh?  What a tempest in a shot-glass!

Thinking back over the whole Pandemic, it was an interesting ride.  I had a couple of gigs scheduled in Albuquerque on March 14 and 15 of 2020, just when the country was coming to the realization that the finger of Armageddon was on its doorbell.  I had contemplated canceling the gigs, but decided to make the trip.  Bad decision.  Attendees were canceling their reservations left and right.  I played two concerts to a crowd of nearly several, and rescheduled my flight home from Monday afternoon to Sunday evening while planes were still flying.  I got home just under the wire before the entire country shut down.  I remember thinking to myself, "Crap!  At age 75, I’m about to spend a significant portion of the rest of my life in solitary confinement!"

Face-masks.  I hated face masks.  And what good is an N-95 mask when worn over an N-25 beard?  Washing groceries.  Remember that?  I was fortunate to have an almost unused 12-pack of toilet paper laid in at the outset.  What was in short supply, however, was kitty litter.  Zoom meetings.  Not seeing Jenny in person for over a year.  No more contra-dancing.  No more gigs.  The Troubadour was shut down, along with every other live music venue in the world.

I’m not by nature a particularly gregarious person.  I live alone, and I’m comfortable with solitude.  But to have absolutely no congress with another living human being for months on end was hard to deal with.  I bought a web-cam, but Zoom is a poor substitute for face-to-face.  Particularly when it comes to making music.  I discovered a weekly online song-swap called the “Transatlantic Zing”, run on Monday afternoons (for us. Monday evenings for the Brits.) by Debra Chesman, who has feet planted on both sides of the Pond.  I attended that pretty regularly for several years, but it’s a poor substitute to actually making music with others.  I still drop in the Zing every few weeks to this day.

I remember in ’21 when the first COVID vaccines became available.  Try and find an appointment.  I searched all through the NewJersey.gov website, trying to find an appointment, and finally found a shot available all the way and gone down in Glassboro, a good hour and forty-five minutes drive.  I headed out, thinking, “Geez!  This is the first time I’ve driven more than 10 miles at a stretch in over a year!”  It was a huge mass-vaccination site run by medics and the NJ National Guard, surprisingly well-organized, and serving many thousands of people at a time on the campus of Rowan University.  It was over and done with in about 45 minutes.

And then there were the vax-deniers.   I must confess, I harbored unkind attitudes regarding them.  I thought, “Good!  Evolution in action.  The stupid ones will all die off, hopefully before they get a chance to breed, thereby raising the overall intelligence of the species.”  It was not a Christian thought.  Oh, well, I’m not a Christian.

The Troubadour reopened in September of 2021.  I was expecting a pent-up rush to experience live music again.  I was wrong.  People were still afraid.  I suppose they had reason to be.  People were still getting sick and dying.  I wasn’t.  I was masking up, and scarfing up every COVID booster shot the CDC would allow me.  The Troubadour shut down again in January ’22 after the appearance of a new variant of the virus led to the Holiday Season Spike. It didn’t re-open again until Spring, when enough of the country had either gotten vaccinated, or gotten sick and recovered, (or not) and some measure of herd-immunity spread through the populace.

It was around that time when I made one of my first post-COVID social visits.  I went to see long-time friend, dulcimer wizard, and fellow punster and parodist, Sam Edelston.  We hung out, went out to eat, and spent about 6 hours in his unventilated basement room swapping songs.  The next morning, he called me up with the news that he had awakened to a scratchy throat, tested himself, and discovered he had the bug.  I immediately tested myself (negative), and isolated myself for the requisite time period, causing me to miss a show I had hoped to emcee at the Troubadour that Friday.  But I had ducked the bullet;  I was not infected.  I started to feel somewhat proud, if not a mite smug about the strength of my immune system.

Well, so much for that theory.  I caught COVID last week.

'What a long, strange trip it’s been."  Jerry Garcia

April 8, 2024
The Great American Eclipse, 2024

I was first made aware of what is now being called "The Great American Eclipse" about a year ago. Shortly after the COVID lockdown I, like many other musicians deprived of the opportunity to share their music with others, joined a Zoom songswap. This one was called the Transatlantic Zing, and was run by Debra Chesman from the Southern Tier in New York State. She has connections both in the US and England (hence the name), and gathered together a number of musicians from both sides of the Pond to participate in a 3-hour Monday afternoon (for us, evening for the Brits) song session.

Debra also presents Valley Folk, a folk concert series in Horseheads, NY, which, like all the rest, closed during the Pandemic years. When Valley Folk reopened after COVID, it, like all other venues, was struggling to rebuild its audience. Debra got the idea to hold a fundraiser for the venue with performances by the Zing participants, both-in person and virtual on Sunday, April 7. And then, since Horseheads was in relatively easy reach of the path of the total solar eclipse the following day, all the in-person performers who were able could then travel to someplace where we might all see it together.

Eclipse? I hadn't heard about any eclipse. Jenny and I had seen one in 1998, and I was blown away. We had seen it under the best of circumstances: It was in the Caribbean, and we had joined a Windjammer cruise on a 4-masted stays'l schooner, scheduled to be in the path of the eclipse off the island of Montserrat. (For my Blog report on that trip see my entry of February/March, 1998 entitled, What I Did on my Winter Vacation. If you want to skip to the day of the eclipse itself, scroll down to February 26.) So I called up Jenny, and asked if she wanted to join me on that excursion. She was game.

Well, it turned out that circumstances wound up unfavorable for the benefit concert, and that whole plan fell through in early summer of 2023. But since Jenny lives in Vermont, within a reasonable drive of the path of the eclipse, I asked if she would want to go see it with me someplace else. She agreed, and we set up our usual vacation division of labor: She does all the planning; I do all the driving.

She was anxious to avoid being one in a mob of tourists, so her search led her to a small outfit called Adirondack Riverwalking and Forest Bathing in Paul Smiths, NY, near Lake Placid. This is a small two-woman operation that leads hikes and snowshoe excursions in the Adirandack State Park. Their excursions are quite spiritual with a lot of attention paid to appreciating the plants and animals in the environment. They would be leading a group of no more than 12 to view the eclipse, which was perfect for Jenny. So, we booked our reservations with them.

I drove up to Jenny's place in Vermont on Saturday, the 6th, and hung out with her over the weekend. She had fractured a bone in her forearm a number of weeks earlier, so I helped her out with numerous chores around the house. We had been hearing on the news and the Internet all sorts of horror stories of unmanageable traffic predicted for Monday, and had some concerns about that. However, looking at the map, I noted that, with the exception of about 15 miles on I-87, our trip was all on 2-lane roads that traveled largely westward, rather than northward, and were less likely to be mobbed by Eclipse-junkies. So I was somewhat optimistic on that score. Nonetheless, we decided on early to bed on Sunday, and leaving at 3:30 in the morning for the 190 mile journey, to arrive in time for breakfast.

Good plan, Mikey! The roads were almost completely empty except for that short stretch on I-87, and even that was moving along smartly. As we approached our destination, we traveled through miles of the Adirondack State Park. As it grew light, we saw the roadside was dotted with parking areas for trailheads and scenic overlooks that were already populated with folks settling in for the show slated for the afternoon. In Lake Placid, about 15 miles from our destination, we pulled off for breakfast, and found found the Downtown Diner, the quintessential spot for that. We finally arrived at Paul Smiths Visitor Information Center around 8:30

Paul Smiths VIC is an adjunct of Paul Smiths College, located in Paul Smiths, NY. (The inclusion or exclusion of the apostrophe seems to be an unresolved matter of debate. I shall omit it in this report.) The college specializes in areas of environmental studies, forestry, and the like. The VIC serves as a trailhead for 25 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails in the Adirondack State Park. The first thing I did upon arrival was to stretch out for a nap in preparation for what was to be a very long day, since we were planning to leave for Jenny's after the Eclipse. The Prius is very good for that, and I was able to stretch out full length with the seat as far back as it would go, and the seatback fully reclined.


Paul Smiths VIC

1. Arrival at Paul Smiths VIC

2. Rear of Visitors' Center

3. Fire pit

4. Art Gallery

5. Museum

6. Playground

Click any photo for a full-screen image.

The guided tour was due to convene at 1:00, and we had a morning to kill. So we decided to poke around the Visitor's Center, and maybe walk out on one of the hiking trails. Our first stop was to look over the Paul Smiths VIC (Visitor's Information Center). As we stepped out of the car into the 40-ish degree weather, I realized that I had forgotten my hat back at Jenny's. That problem was immediately solved in the vestibule of the VIC when we were presented with a set of shelves upon which were displayed a number of items which I assumed were unclaimed articles from their lost-and-found box with a sign "Free" above it. Among the flotsam and jetsam was a serviceable red wool hat, which I appropriated. (Photo 7 below) The VIC was a substantial modern building, which included a small museum (Photo 5), an auditorium, a number of classrooms, a cafe, an art gallery (Photo 4), and other attractions.

Heron Marsh Trail and Eclipse

7. Me in my borrowed hat

8. Jenny in designer shades

9. Trail map

10. Signposts

11. Heron Marsh Trail

12. Observation platform

13 Jenny on the observation platform

14. Downed tree

15. Front row seats

16. Poor Photo #1: Darkening Sky

17. Poor photo #2: Darkening Sky

18. Poor Photo #3: The Sun

19. Poor photo #4: The Sun reflected

20. Post Eclipse campfire

21. Pine tea

Click any photo for a full-screen image.

We decided to walk one of the many trails in the Park (Photo 10) to pass the morning. We chose the Heron Marsh Trail (Photo 11) which encircled the eponymous marsh in an approximately 2-mile loop. It was pretty chilly when we set out, maybe 35° or so. You can see from the photos that there was still some remaining snow cover on ground, mostly hard packed and uneven on the trails, which made for treacherous walking conditions. But, I had brought my "4-wheel drive boots", a really old pair of lace-up outdoor shoes that had served me well for decades, and off we went. A few hundred yards along the trail, we spotted a boardwalk that led down to a wooden platform on the marsh's shore, roped off with a sign that said the site was reserved for a private party. "That must be us," I thought, and was later proven correct. There was also an observation platform with a built-in set of binoculars (Photos 12 and 13) a little further along the way. We passed an enormous tree downed by some storm whose upturned root bole must have been 15 feet high (Photo 14). I wonder if anyone was there to see it come down. (And did it make a sound?)

As the hike wore on, the temperature climbed considerably, and we shed layers of clothing. I put my sweater in my backpack, but there was no room for my parka, which I tied around my waist by the arms, and which kept coming untied. The temperature, the uneven footing, and my lack of sleep (and probably my age) began to tell on me, and I was ready for the hike to end long before it did. I was never so glad as when we finally got back to the car, where I shed my backpack and excess clothing, collapsed in the driver's seat and slept.

I had set an alarm to wake me in time to join the group at the VIC. Our tourguides, Helene Gibbens and Suzanne Weirich had prepared for us a guided walk down the trail to learn about and appreciate some of the more intimate details of the forest environment. I was still pretty knackered from the morning's walk, so when we passed the roped-off boardwalk which I had correctly guessed was our eclipse-viewing location, I opted to stay there, while Jenny went on with the group. I unfolded my chair in the now-warm sunlight, closed my eyes, and caught a little more sleep.

Jenny's report on the activities of the rest of the group went as follows:

"Walked on the trail, pausing at several subtly different habitat configurations for silent observation (aural, visual) of plant and animal life, and the state of the air (scents, temperature, movement, changing light as the moonshadow moved in), awareness of activity of own minds and bodies.  Some guided meditation, some sharing of nature lore and personal insights, a little ritual at the pond."

As I said earlier, this was not my first total eclipse. That that previous experience left such a powerful impression on me that I was determined to see it again in my lifetime. But also, knowing what to expect, I was less blown away by this more recent one. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It was still pretty spectacular.

The rest of the group had not yet returned to the observation point when the moon took its first tiny mouse-bite out of the edge of the sun. I had my cardboard eclipse goggles, and the mylar filters over the big ends of my binoculars all prepared. As I had remembered from the last time, it was hard to find the sun with the binoculars. Its field of vision was so narrow that it took a lot of sweeping back and forth of the binocs before I finally saw it swish by. Even so, the image, while enlarged, was a lot dimmer than when viewed at its normal size through the goggles. I wound up abandoning the binoculars until it reached totality.

The sun was about 1/4 obscured when I heard the rest of the group arriving, and the sky had begun to dim slightly. They all arrayed themselves lying on the boardwalk (Photo 15) on mats provided by the tour group. What little conversation took place slowly faded to awed silence as more and more of the sun's disk became obscured by the impossibly black "dark side" of the moon. Actually it only seemed that dark in comparison with the brightness of the sun. It actually would have been fairly clearly illuminated by the sun's light bouncing off the earth, if it could have been viewed against a night sky. The sky slowly darkened to a shade of indigo, but of an even color over the whole hemisphere of sky. There was a light high-altitude haze, not enough to obscure our view of the eclipse, but enough to show up as patches of wispy white in areas away from the sun/moon meet- up. It began to get chilly, and I put my parka back on.

If you were hoping for spectacular photos of the solar eclipse, you're in for a disappointment. I have neither the equipment nor the skills necessary to take good photos of an eclipse, as evidenced by the few attempts shown here. Photos 16 and 17 were attempts to show the darkening of the sky. I really needed a tripod if I wanted those shots. The camera on "automatic" left the shutter on for several seconds, and I could not hold the camera steady enough to keep the image from blurringI tried to cover the lens with the same aluminized mylar I had used for the binocs , but that didn't do much good (Photo 18). Still blurry. In a stroke of genius, I tried to get the image of the sun reflected in the water of the marsh (Photo 19). Naw, that didn't work either.

When the moon finally obscured the sun entirely, the corona flared into existence, no longer washed out by the sun's brightness. It was not the great surprise it was the first time, but still pretty spectacular. Sort of the color of a fluorescent tube, with tinges of blue and pink, maybe twice the diameter of the sun. Removing the filters from the binoculars, the view was much brighter, and more satisfying than before totality. With them I could see one bright orange dot of a prominence in the corona, and a couple of planets showed bright in the dark blue hemisphere of sky, still not dark enough to make stars visible. Knowing what to expect, I was less blown away than I was the first time a quarter century ago. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It was still pretty spectacular, and I'm glad I saw it.

Inevitably, the sun reappeared on the opposite side of the moon with a sudden flare that quickly expanded into a thin crescent, and the spell was broken. We retreated to a nearby lean-to, where prepared campfire was lit (Photo 20). We gathered in the welcome warmth, and talked quietly, eating some snacks that had been prepared for us, and drinking cups of pine tea (Photo 21). (What it sounds like. I prefer Constant Comment, but I appreciated the sentiment.)

We headed back to Jenny's. I had hoped for dinner at the Downtown Diner (Nothing could be finer.), but it was closed after lunch. We did find a nice restaurant called the White Bear, and split a portion of baked fish of some kind. Jenny did most of the driving on the way home. There was some traffic, but it was bearable. I slept through most of it. We arrived around nine-ish, and hit the hay. A very long day, but a satisfying one.


April 1, 2024

That's Googol.

Not Google.

Many of you know what Googol is, but for those who don't, "Googol" is a mathematical term for 10100. That's 1, followed by 100 zeroes, or 10,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000. The term was coined in 1920 by 9-year-old Milton Sirotta, nephew of U.S. mathematician Edward Kasner [Thank you, Wikipedia.] as a word for an unimaginably big number. That's a big number. That's a really big number.

Well, just how big is a googol?

That question arose one evening around the dinner table during a visit to my parents sometime around 1980. My dad was, like me, an engineer. He was born in the Soviet Union, and came to this country in the early 30s with a high-school knowledge of English, and graduated college with an engineering degree 5 years later. I don't remember how the subject came up in unstructured dinner conversation, but there it was, and we two engineers commenced to pondering the question. How big is a googol?

Well, are there a googol grains of sand on the Earth? That might be a good place to start. How many grains of sand are there on the Earth? That's an easy question for an engineer to answer. We start with an engineering approximation. We postulate a spherical shell the diameter of the Earth and 10 miles thick, and fill it with cubical sand grains, 0.01 inches on a side. Find the volume of that shell, and divide that by the volume the sand grain, and hey, presto, that's the number of grains of sand on the Earth. At least within an order of magnitude or three.

OK, what's the volume of that cubical grain of sand? Easy. .01" x .01" x .01", or 0.0000001 cubic inches.

What's the volume of that spherical shell? Easy. It's the surface area of a sphere the diameter of the Earth times the 10 mile thickness of the shell. OK, the diameter of the Earth is roughly 8,000 miles, so its surface area is...? What's the formula for the surface of a sphere? Neither my dad nor I could remember. We both remembered that the volume of a sphere is 4/3Πr3, but what's the surface area? All my old textbooks were at home. All his old textbooks were at work. And of course all this was way before Google, where one might look it up. We were stuck.

So, my dad says, "Let's derive the formula." So we both sat down at the table with pencil and paper and my 10-year-old memories of calculus, and his 40-year-old memories of calculus, and set to work. And he figured it out, and I couldn't.

The old man went up a few more notches in my estimation that night.

In case you're interested, the surface area of a sphere is 4Πr2, where r is the radius of the sphere. That calculates out to 1.3 x 1010 grains of sand on the Earth. So it would take 7.700,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000,​000 Earths to hold a googol grains of sand.

Yep. A googol is a really big number.

Post Script: March 12, 2024
Jenny said the story seemed a little familiar. Did I post it already sometime in the past. I didn't remember doing so, but she found it in my December 17, 2013 post under the title, Like Father, Like Son. Oh well. many of you might have joined my Blog list since then. Or have forgotten it the way I did.

March 7, 2024
Artificial Stupidity

It's all over the news. It's all over the Internet. It's all I hear. Artificial Intelligence. It'll make our lives so much easier. It'll put us all out of work. We'll all be able to write like Hemmingway and paint like DaVinci and sing like Caruso, and replace Abraham Lincoln's head with Donald Trump's ass on Mount Rushmore. It's already invaded my iPhone. When I start my car, and Google Maps lights up on the dashboard display, suddenly my car knows where I'm going. It's learned that if it's Friday late afternoon, and I'm in my car, I'm headed to the Troubadour Concert Series. It lights up with the address of the Troubadour all programmed into the app, waiting for me to press the"Go" button, smugly proud of how smart it is.

Well if it's so bloody smart, how come it can't figure out that if go there every Friday, maybe I don't need the friggin' map to tell me how to get there???

Does anybody know how to turn off this helpful "feature"?

Post Script, March 17:
Well, we have a new wrinkle on this issue. Yesterday, I was on my way to go dancing, when I stopped and parked the car near my local pizzaria to grab a couple of slices. Inside the restaurant, I had the occasion to use my phone. When I turned it on, it showed me a notification from Google Maps: "You've parked your car. We have marked its location on Google Maps."

Actually, although it feels sort of creepy, I don't mind that one. There have been times when I've parked in a big lot in a mall when I've had trouble finding it again. There was one incident sometime in the 90s when I visited the New York Subway Museum in Brooklyn, and had a hell of a time trying to find a parking spot. I finally found a spot and went to the museum. When I came out, I didn't remember where I had parked, and combed the streets in the neighborhood for over an hour, looking for it. I finally took a bus home, and waited for the police to tow it away and notify me. I could have used a little artificial intelligence then to supplement my own.

March 4, 2024
More on the Prius

I'm sorry if this Blog seems to be degenerating into a treatise on the Prius, but that's what seems to be occupying my mind these days.

I actually have some hard figures, which surprised me, and may surprise you. I bought a wattmeter. Not too expensive. Somewhere in the region of $20. You plug it in the wall, and then plug the device whose energy consumption you wish to measure into the meter. It has one mode where it measures accumulated kilowatt-hours (KWH), and will continue to count them until reset. I started measuring at the beginning of last week, and continued until Saturday, doing virtually all my driving in electric mode. Over that time period, I accumulated 51.1 miles, using 31.1 KWH. My electric bill says that my rate is $0.18 per KWH. That comes out to 11 cents per mile.

On a long trip I took in January, which was almost entirely done in hybrid mode, I drove 375 miles, using 9.41 gallons of gas, which came to 41.0 MPG That cost me $33.41, which calculates out to 9 cents per mile.

So, it’s actually more expensive for me to run on electricity than on gas!

There are a couple of mitigating factors, however.

  • The long trip was largely traveled at high speed. 70 - 80 MPH, which definitely lowers the gas mileage.
  • My driving over the past week in electric mode was all done with outside temperatures somewhere in the 20s. That meant I was using the cabin heater, the seat heater, and the steering-wheel heater, all of which use electricity, which would lower my miles-per- KWH number. Not only which, but the battery is less efficient at cold temperatures. We'll see how this comparison fares, as the temperature warms up with spring's arrival.
  • This one's the biggie. I purchase my electricity from Green Mountain Energy, which is all from renewables. If I were to switch back to regular JCP&L as my supplier, which uses fossil fuels to generate electricity, the cost would be $0.09 per KWH, half the cost of renewable electricity generation. I may be a sucker, but I’m sticking with renewables.

February 8, 2024
Prius Impressions and Adventures

Well, I've had my new Prius for three weeks now. I've owned 11 cars in my life, and I don't think any one of them has been such a different experience from the previous one as much as the Prius. (With the possible exception of going from my first car, a six year old 1963 VW Bus to my second one, a new Opel.) So having had the opportunity to take two long trips in addition to local driving, and put over 1,300 miles on it now, I thought I'd give you some first impressions, and relate some minor adventures I've had with it. First, the impressions

  • This is the first car I've owned with an automatic transmission. I've always found the stick-shift to add entertainment to driving, and I miss it. I still find myself reaching for the clutch as I come to a stop. Also, the sound is different. When the gas engine is engaged (Remember, the Prius is a hybrid with both gas and electric engines), the RPM of the engine is no longer tied directly to the speed of the car, because the transmission is variable ratio, controlled by the car's computer. It often sounds like it's revving faster than it ought to, and I keep wanting to upshift. It's not a big thing, but it's there in the back of my mind, and it bothers me. I'll get over it, I imagine.
  • After 20 years of driving Mini-Coopers (four of them) the Prius seems way too big. I have to pull out too far into an intersection to see cross traffic. I keep heading for parking places that I'll never fit into. (Check out this space into which I put the Mini. On my first attempt!)
  • The car is much more powerful than anything else I've ever owned. I would call my driving style "politely aggressive". On the highway, I will set the cruise control to my desired speed, whether that be the posted limit, or 20 MPH above that limit, while keeping to the right-most lane possible to do that, and maintaining a safe distance from the car in front of me. So I change lanes a lot, but will do so only if it does not discommodate other drivers. That means I sometimes have to accelerate in order to insert myself into a reasonably sized hole in the traffic of an adjacent lane. When I call for acceleration, the Prius delivers it in bounteous quantities, even at highway speeds.
  • I'm still trying to suss out the car's algorithm for when it runs the gas engine, and when it relies on the electric. It has two "modes" EV (Electric Vehicle), and Hybrid. Ostensibly, the EV mode is for local trips around town, when it will run on the electric motor, which can be recharged by plugging it in at home at a cost saving over buying gasoline. But if the battery charge drops to a point where it will not provide enough power, the gas engine kicks in. In Hybrid mode the gas engine kicks in whenever the computer's algorithm thinks it necessary. Sometimes the battery charge hovers around 2/3 when running in hybrid mode, sometimes it let's the battery get almost completely discharged. I think it depends upon how much charge was in the battery when I started the trip, but I'm not sure. And then there's Auto mode where the gas engine kicks in by some other algorithm. I don't know when to use Auto and when to use Hybrid. It's all very confusing.
  • The small rear window, large rear roof pillars, and rear seat headrests make for rather poor rear visibility in the mirror. The rear video camera helps, but it's not operational while driving forwards. I've folded the rear seatbacks forward as the default condition.
  • There are all sorts of "safety" features I can turn on or off as desired. It can warn me if I'm drifting out of my lane, or if there's another vehicle in my blind spot, or if there's cross traffic approaching the intersection, or if I'm parked and open the door when there's another car coming, or if it thinks I'm not paying attention to my driving, or if it thinks I need to stop and take a coffee break, and lord knows what-all else. All the controls for these safety features are buried in menus I need to sort through, and are identified by acronyms and icons that are equally incomprehensible in all languages. And while I'm trying to figure out what the hell "PCS" or "LTA" or "FCTA" means, I'm liable to drive straight into a tree.
  • With all the cameras and sensors and radar and lidar and poison gas sniffers, for all I know, necessary to provide input to all the "safety features, there is that much more to fail on the car, and would make any minor body damage a really expensive proposition to repair.
  • The car is very comfortable to drive for long distances, but somewhat cramped and confining for other activities, like trying to retrieve something from the back seat. And there are some surprising ergonometric lapses. Like most new cars these days, there are many buttons and feature controls located on the steering wheel. But those buttons are all flush with the surface, and not identifiable by feel, which means I need to take my eyes off the road in order to find them. There's one panel of buttons on the dash located directly behind the directional signal lever, rendering them invisible. Many of the buttons are lighted, but the ones controlling the interior lights of the cabin are not. Hey, you interior design geniuses: Did you ever stop to think that I generally want to turn on the interior lights when it's too dark to find the light switch.
  • There is a very large (12 inches wide) LCD screen that essentially duplicates the functions of my smart phone. That's very nice, especially since it can serve as a GPS screen. However, it is, like my smart phone, a touch-screen. Anyone who puts a touch-screen in a vehicle deserves to be shot. (The Mini also had a nice screen display for GPS, but its controls were handled by a joystick-type knob on the center console, which I could use without looking at it.)
  • I've only had to refill the gas tank twice since buying it, and only recorded my gas mileage once. It was a somewhat disappointing 41 MPG, but most of that was used on a trip to Vermont to visit Jenny, where much of it was at 75 - 80 MPH. I know that hybrids do better in around-town local driving than highway driving, but I was expecting better. I guess that's my problem, and not the car's.
  • There are all sorts of things I have to remember to do, like unplugging the car, or putting my phone in the handy inductive charger pocket before I drive off. (And taking the phone out of the charger before leaving the car.) I'll get used to that. Eventually. I hope.
  • The car doesn't come with a spare tire. Not even a "donut" emergency spare. No room in the trunk due to the large battery for the electric motor. There's an "emergency" puncture sealer kit in the form of a pressurized can of air and gunk that's supposed to seal a puncture and hold pressure in the tire. I wouldn't trust it to seal anything bigger than a nail puncture, and wonder if the tire would be usable after using the emergency kit.
  • So all in all, a mixed review, but mostly positive. Now for some of the adventures I've had in the car.

    On the aforementioned drive up to Vermont, I nearly christened the car with its first speeding ticket. I left NJ around 9:30 Friday evening to arrive at Jenny’s at zero-dark-thirty. On I-91 in Massachusetts close to the Vermont border, I was cruising at 80, pretty much the same as what the rest of the sparse traffic was doing, when I saw the blue lights in my mirror. I performed my usual interaction with highway cops by rolling over on my back with all four paws in the air, and greeting the nice state coppette with polite respect and documents in hand. She told me my infraction was not so much that I was speeding, but that I went through a construction zone without slowing. She wound up giving me a warning, for which I thanked her. It made sense. Obviously there was no actual construction occurring at the time if the incident.

    The following weekend, I had a couple of gigs, in Massachusetts. During the day on Saturday before the gig, I drove out to visit the Fredrick Law Olmsted House National Historic Place. I was stopped at a red light, when CRUNCH! I was hit from behind by another driver. Less than a thousand miles on the car. We both pulled over, and the other driver admitted full responsibility. We got out to inspect the damage. There was none. It sure sounded worse than what it turned out to be. Not a mark on either car, and my rear hatch opened and closed with no complaint. We did exchange contact information, and I took a photo, but I don't expect any repercussions. We both got lucky.

    January 17, 2024
    Bye-Bye Mini, Hello Prius

    Click on photo for full-screen view.

    On Christmas Eve last year, it rained. Boy, did it rain! They said it would rain, and they were right. That's OK. Been there and done that. I've been living on the banks of the Rockaway River (and, on occasion, within the banks of the Rockaway River) since 1980, and I've learned to see it coming, and to deal with it. For those of you new to this Blog, take a look at some pretty impressive photos of the worst flood I've experienced in 2011.when Hurricane Irene hit. Even then, the water never got into the house.

    But it does get into my garage, which occupies the entire first storey, a few times a year. That's still easily dealt with, as that garage came into being when I raised the house after the first, and only time I got water in the house in 1980 or so, and was constructed to be undamaged by floods. The water comes up, and then goes down after a few days. The garage floor is at ground level, so the water doesn't collect. It just drains out. I give it a few days, and then hose the floor down, and sweep out the collected dirt when it dries. All better. All the electrical wiring and other stuff that might be damaged by water was deliberately mounted high on the walls. I move anything portable susceptible to water damage off the floor, and take the car out to the head of the driveway, and out of harm's reach. Takes me all of ten minutes.

    So that's what I did. My new electric lawn mower I lifted up onto a table, and I moved the car out to the driveway, and I was all set. Or so I thought.

    I have three levels of floods: Boots, Chest-Waders, and Canoe. Well this one was Canoe. Christmas morning I woke up, looked out the window, and found myself completely surrounded by water, which was lapping at the rear bumper of my Mini Cooper all the way out at the head of the driveway, and still rising. Slowly. I knew it was too deep for the waders. I keep my canoe stored on home-made davits off my 2nd floor deck (As shown in the photo above.), so I uprighted it, lowered it into the water, and paddled out to the road. I saw that the water had not yet gotten into the cabin, so I got in, and drove it to my neighbor's driveway across the street. I paddled back home and spent the day doing household stuff. (There was COVID in the home of the friends with whom I was to scheduled have Christmas dinner, so I had no other plans.)

    The next day I was able to get out in my waders. I sloshed out to the car to bring it back into my own driveway. It was only then I noticed that the sun roof was open. That's weird. Why would I have opened the sun roof in a torrential rainstorm? Then I saw the glass shards on the passenger seat. Oh. The sun roof wasn't open. It was smashed. And then I saw the tree branch amidst the glass shards. Apparently what I had done was to take the car out of the garage to prevent it from being flooded, and put it under a tree with a rotten limb, which broke off in the wind, and landed on my sun roof. Ya can't win!. I called my insurance company, and took the car out to a body shop to be repaired.

    Bottom line: when the sun roof got shattered, it opened the cabin to torrents of rain, which soaked the interior, and dripped into the electronics under the floor, and did so much damage that the car was totaled. I was in the market for a new car. I had driven Mini Coopers since 2003, and I really liked the car. But I was always disappointed with the Mini's gas mileage, which generally averaged in the mid-30 MPG range. And I figured it was time to get something that used less fossil fuel. I wasn't quite ready for an all electric vehicle; there simply aren't enough public recharging stations around the country yet. So I settled on a Prius Prime. That's a "plug-in" hybrid that can be charged at home overnight from a regular 120 volt outlet, and gives about a 30-mile range on battery only before the gas engine kicks in. I ordered it the very next day, and I picked it up yesterday. Drove it home through the slush and snow that shows on the photo above.

    And to add minor injury to major injury, the table wasn't high enough, and the new lawn mower was inundated too, and had to be replaced.

    I'm not fully satisfied with the new car. I really liked the Mini, and was very used to it. The Prius feels way too big. The rear visibility is somewhat restrictive, the controls on the Prius are complicated and require a 2 credit college course to master, and I really miss the manual transmission on the Mini. I'll get used to it in time, I suppose, and will look back on my Minis with fond nostalgia.

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