Nikola Motors and its hydrogen truck story

In the current pandemic crisis this is like kicking a man when he’s down, but I still read uncritical stories on Nikola Motor Corporation, a Tesla wannabe since Tesla was still called “Tesla Motor Corporation.”

Nikola Motor has the attention span of a headless chicken and has been in endless hype mode for years. First it was going to use a gas turbine generator to power a big Class-8 semi truck. Then it switched to a breathtakingly grandiose scheme: zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell trucks refueled at a network of 700 truck stops all making hydrogen on-site with renewable energy. That $3+ bn story excited many suppliers of hydrogen electrolysis, storage, pumping, and fuel cells, who have struggled with anemic demand for their products from the stalled and tiny market for hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles, and so Nikola got investments from them, truck part supplier Bosch, and truck body makers Fitzgerald and CNH/Iveco, all on the chance that the big idea might succeed and they’ll rake in the big bucks in orders. Of course when you’re a supplier and an investor you’ll probably be robbing yourself to make Nikola’s costs work for years…

It’s not an insane strategy, just unlikely and high risk.

But since 2016 Nikola has unveiled a slew of pointless garbage concepts. The NZT offroad vehicle. The Reckless military vehicle. The WAV personal watercraft. The Badger pickup truck. Two more truck models. And it can’t even stick to the hydrogen story! The Nikola Two and Tre commercial trucks will also come in a battery-only version without a hydrogen fuel cell. Not one of these vehicles has reached production, let alone general sales. Then late in 2019 Nikola made a pure B.S. announcement that it acquired battery tech from an unnamed university that will double the energy density, reduce weight by 40%, and halve the cost of lithium-ion batteries. If that’s really true then it can scrap the inefficient hydrogen detour, in fact scrap truck manufacturing and just make billions selling its breakthrough battery.

While Nikola farts around, battery electric trucks are available, though not yet in the biggest semi size. Just as with hydrogen fuel cell cars, there is 20x more investment, announcements, and actual sales of battery vehicles than HFCVs. You can buy battery electric buses and trucks right now, while hydrogen fuel cell is stuck in tiny demonstrations and pilot programs.

Nikola’s pitch for its hydrogen truck is to lease or sell the truck, maintenance, and fuel all-in for about $900,000 for a million-mile package, which is cheaper than diesel. But if the hydrogen doesn’t get really cheap then that package will not be profitable even when (if!) Nikola reaches scale on all the other parts of its scheme. Alas, “green” hydrogen from electrolysis remains much more expensive than making it from fossil fuel (primarily natural gas outside China). Bloomberg New Energy Finance thinks by 2030 green hydrogen will still require carbon taxes to be cost competitive. Sure, sometimes renewable energy is cheap, but if you only run the expensive electrolyzers when the sun is shining, then it dramatically raises your capital expenditure costs. If Nikola caves and gets its hydrogen from fossil fuel (where 95+% of all the hydrogen currently used comes from) that will annoy its hydrogen production and electrolysis investor/suppliers, and the optics of huge diesel trucks delivering dirty hydrogen to the truck stops will deservedly trash much of the green cred that Nikola has.

Finally CEO Trevor Milton has no engineering skills. “Big trucks avoiding the weight and recharge times of batteries by running on hydrogen that is produced at dedicated truck stops on routes.” Cool idea, bro, but ideas are cheap. What intellectual property, process innovation, or engineering breakthroughs has Nikola Motor Corporation got to realize the idea? Nothing.

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skiing: technical wear as fashion

Keegan Brady wrote an article in GQ about the rise of “technical outerwear” in fashion. I wear and love this stuff while skiing, but once I’m off the mountain it goes in a storage tub.

He mentions the rise of The North Face jacket in the 1990s, but could have gone further, e.g. the Eddie Bauer/plaid flannel/Timberland boots rugged outdoor look from the late 1980s that accompanied the initial rise of the SUV. For centuries people have worn clothes to look as if they’re from somewhere exotic or doing something interesting, from sportswear to resort wear to surf clothes to today’s “I just descended the Matterhorn!” look.

Ever since Bogner in the 1970s went from ski racing apparel to one-piece après ski outfits for tanned Eurotrash, many, many technical ski and mountaineering clothing brands have suffered loss of credibility as they expand to sell clothing to casual skiers and hikers, while any innovation they came up with is copied by the rest of the sub-industry. As Descente (zip-off racing shells), Spyder (advanced fabrics), The North Face (integrated hoods), etc. lost their cachet, new boutique high-end brands like Phenix (multi-layer shells), Killy, Kjus (integrated stretchy wrist gaiters with thumb holes), and Arc’teryx (boxy articulated knees and elbows, complex cuts, waterproof zippers) showed up to be the new hot high-end technical wear. Arc’teryx has managed to expand into streetwear while remaining very expensive and fairly cutting edge, so it still has some credibility on the mountain. (Though you need reinforced Kevlar or Cordura shoulders for carrying gear!!)

It’s silly to wear this clothing on the streets of a city – “technical” gear for what activities, exactly? – but fashion has already been about delirious dreams and dressing up. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re just wandering around the city why not wear clothes that are beautiful to look at by Jhane Barnes?

As worn by my heroes…

I’m intrigued by clothing lines like Veilance by Arc’teryx and Errolson Hugh’s intense Acronym that divorce from any sport and aim only to be meaninglessly extreme technical streetwear for its own sake. William Gibson loves this stuff (and thinks eloquently about clothing):

Hugh Errolson with William Gibson wearing Acronym gear in 2017
Sorry Mr. Gibson, you’re still not a tactical urban ninja
(“Uncle Bill” Instagram post by Errolson Hugh on the left @erlsn.acr February 24, 2017)

and so does John Mayer. Maybe I could join them… but I’m not inspired to open my wallet to $700+ clothing items without trying them on, and since Jhane Barnes exited menswear 😢 I never go to fancy clothing stores.

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music: relationship advice or Cocteau Twins?

Quick quiz: who wrote “Intimacy is when we’re in the same place at the same time. Dealing honestly with how we feel, and who we really are. That’s what grown-ups do; that is mature thinking” ?

A: noted relationship philosopher Elizabeth Fraser sang this in the exquisite “Half-Gifts”! (full lyrics). Read The Guardian piece “Elizabeth Fraser: the Cocteau Twins and me“: the Cocteau Twins made their most nakedly beautiful music after Ms. Fraser was broken down by tensions and her failed relationship with band member Robin Guthrie.

“Half-Gifts,” from the album Milk & Kisses and the compilation Lullabies to Violaine

I had grasped some of the lyrics, thought I thought she was saying “I have no friends” at the end. Her journey to partial intelligibility from the ineffable mystery of the songs on Blue Bell Knoll and earlier is interesting; there’s a good collection of her comments on it. The mystery lies in the incoherence, so you should only read fans’ guesses at the lyrics of a song after listening to it over and over.

As I’ve said before, Prince mentioned he listened to the Cocteau Twins and that’s all it took for me.

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making movies surrounded by real virtual environments

The Volume” for The Mandalorian at Manhattan Beach Studios

I’ve never seen it, but this in-depth article on filming “The Mandalorian” is fascinating. Instead of filming actors in front of an enormous green screen and later replacing it with CGI background and special effects, as you see in Game of Thrones “making of” featurettes, the actors act in “the Volume,” encircled by 270 degrees of video wall and a video ceiling that display the surroundings of the scene rendered photorealistically from the point of view of the camera lens as they film! It’s the old technique of projecting the scenery behind actors in a car while one pretend to steer it, times 10,000; the Holodeck from Star Trek: Next Generation brought to life.

The consequences of this are far-reaching. They can shoot a desert scene as dawn is breaking for 10 hours. The actors see their surroundings, they don’t have to imagine them. One you wouldn’t think of is it removes much of the need for set lighting. The wall of LEDs *is* the ambient light of that desert dawn (although it doesn’t work as well for direct sunlight). It means metallic things naturally reflect accurate details of the scene.

The Star Wars environments tend to be based on real places on Earth, so they have a “scanning and photogrammetry team that would travel to locations such as Iceland and Utah to shoot elements for the Star Wars planets. … the scanner straps six cameras to their body which all fire simultaneously as the scanner moves about the location.” (Nice job!) And then, instead of doing location scouting to imagine what filming will be like, “the director and cinematographer can go into the virtual location with VR headsets and do a virtual scout. Digital actors, props and sets are added and can be moved about and coverage is chosen during the virtual scout.”

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music: Billie Eilish = Nina Persson of The Cardigans

On a lot of songs (“myboy,” “idontwannabeyouanymore,” etc.) Billie Eilish sounds like Nina Persson of The Cardigans! “everything i wanted” is “Sick & Tired,” while the vaguely “up” songs are channeling “Celia Inside” and other gems from The Cardigans’ “Life” album.

The big difference is Billie’s producer brother Finneas is no Tore “Doctor” Johannson, and his bedroom is no match for Malmō’s Tambourine Studios. What an album that was!

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web: frictionless writing corrections

When people rite rong, I can’t help correcting them, it’s the former tech writer/Edna Krabapple in me. If they have a Twitter account I’ll tweet a correction, but even if they notice and acknowledge the misteak they have to locate the original text, edit it, find the errors, and make my suggested corrections. For simple typos this is mindless busywork; I’ve done the work, just apply it to the original.

Meanwhile, in a distributed version control system like Git, I can “fork” someone’s code, fix a bug, and offer my fix (called a pull request or a merge request). So… if someone published their writing using git, they could accept corrections with a single click, as if their document was a program with bugs. Well, some people do, and it works very well!

Software developers are so adept at creating tools to automate and improve their work. Every other occupation and endeavor can learn a lot from them.

Here’s another low-friction fix I made:

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eco: hydrogen home fantasy

Right now you can put up solar panels, attach them to a battery, and live off-grid. The problem is in winter you need a lot of panels and a big battery for cloudy days, or you “cheat” and get heat energy by burning something.

Cue the hydrogen proponents, saying e.g. “Solar+hydrogen = self-sufficient/self-sustaining.” People run their houses off propane tanks, and some off-grid survivalists don’t just burn propane for heat but also to power generators for appliances; therefore, swap the propane for hydrogen made by electrolysis, and you’re green and sustainable.

But you can’t buy this green solution. Nobody sells a home system that combines solar and hydrogen. The commercial home fuel cells that are supposedly “big in Japan” run off natural gas piped to the home to make some electricity together with heat. That’s not decarbonization! Meanwhile the company HdF-Energy (Hydrogène de France) touts its Renewstable® “Multi-MW power plants supplying firm power 24/7” using hydrogen storage, but it seems to be a big industrial system for remote industrial operations and islands that aren’t connected to the grid (that as of January 2020 doesn’t seem to actually be in production).

It seems plausible that you could shrink the Hydrogen Economy™ down to some panels on your roof and a tank of hydrogen. Why not? Because physics affects economics! Here’s HdF-Energy’s schematic:

Renewstable hydrogen diagram
Why bother with the dashed-line part?

It’s intuitively obvious the electrolyzer, compressor, tanks, and fuel cell add a lot of cost and complexity over using only a battery to store the electricity. And the inefficiency of using electricity to make hydrogen, then compressing and storing the hydrogen, then running it through a fuel cell to make electricity (or for even worse efficiency, burning it in a generator to make electricity) means you have to put up 2.5 times as many solar panels. Note the dotted line around the middle: just cut it out to massively save on capital costs!

Despite all the downsides, it turns out someone has done this, Mike Strizki with his “Hydrogen House”. I can’t find prices for his Gencore Plug Power fuel cell and Proton Energy electrolyzer, or 11 big propane tanks, but they’re probably a lot more than a Tesla PowerPack battery. Call him with a big check in hand, ignore The Man in local goverment who wants to make you get approval and permits to make and store explosive hydrogen on your property, and live the green dream! Note that even in his hydrogen house “[solar PV electricity] is collected in a relatively small battery bank used to run a low-pressure electrolyzer,” so we’re back to the question why bother turning electricity into hydrogen when you could just increase the battery size. (Similarly, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles all have a lithium-ion battery in them.) The practical benefit for a DIYer is she already has a propane stove, hot water tank, and central heating. The theoretical benefit is a propane tank is a lot cheaper than a bigger battery, so at some point a far more complicated system with cheaper storage per kWh than a big battery must surely end up cheaper. If you fill your yard with used propane tanks, maybe it does. At grid scale, some kind of enormous hydrogen storage tank or underground cavern must surely end up cheaper than shipping containers packed with batteries.

All this is more proof of spage’s law:

In a world of cheap renewable electricity, the inefficient detour into hydrogen is always at risk of getting optimized away.

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web: how to link to a Facebook post?

Someone I follow asked “How does one copy the link of a Facebook post?”

So you want to get a link to your Facebook post (e.g. send it in an e-mail). Facebook makes this stupidly hard! I wrote a long explanation of how to extract this from the “< / > Embed” item that sometimes appears in the three-dot menu next to a post title, before I realized it’s much simpler! In a desktop web browser, simply right-click the gray timestamp of a post or comment and copy the link. That gets you Ta-da!

Of course if your post is not public, a link to it should not display its content to people who aren’t logged into Facebook or aren’t your friend (I think Facebook will just show them your post’s title together with an invitation to [Log In] or [Create New Account and Submit to Facebook Tyranny]).

Also I don’t know how long a URL to a Facebook post will continue to work. With literally a trillion posts from a billion users, there’s no guarantee Facebook will still display it in 2025 if there’s no money to be made. I don’t think the wonderful Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” (donate today!) archives Facebook posts by default. Another reason to also post your screeds of wisdom to a web site that you control.

(For grins, the dumb hard way follows to end)

In a browser, click the three dots next to a post’s title, click “< / > Embed” (which isn’t always present in the three-dot menu), then copy the stupid iframe src=blahblah chunk of HTML that Facebook produces:

<iframe src="" width="500" height="332" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe>

That lets you embed a Facebook post into another web page (so Facebook’s code runs, so f***er Zucker can spy on that page as well), in a 500×332 “frame.” Instead paste the stupid chunk of HTML into an editor, and then search for the part after href= , in this case If you squint that looks like a mucked-up URL; it’s been encoded to work inside that stupid chunk of HTML. So now you have to convert the %3A and %2F encodings into ‘:’ and ‘/’, and possibly other stuff. There are online tools for this transformation, e.g. paste the HTML for embedding into and click [decode–>]; or if you know how to bring up your browser’s developer console, use window.unescape("paste the %3A%2F nonsense here"). That should get you Ta-da!

Again, this is stupidly hard. The whole basis of the web is easily linking from one piece of information to another. But ^%$#@! social networks want to suck you in and make it really hard to go back to an open web; Sir Tim Berners-Lee is sobbing in the corner over the debasement of his genius creation. One answer is to simultaneously post everything you write to your own web site, but it doesn’t have the same friction-free liking and sharing that the walled gardens provide. I intend to do this, but I haven’t found a great tool to automate it; any online tool that will post your thoughts to multiple social networks probably knows all your logins and is doing its own privacy-sucking surveillance. It has to be something I run entirely locally in my browser.

Having done all this detective work, there’s probably an easier way to get the long numeric ID of a Facebook post and simply append it to There is, just click the timestamp of a post or comment!

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cars: Toyota fumbles the future

Old-line car companies mangle the English language and engage in doublespeak when they talk about how they are leaders in “electrification” and that soon all their cars will be “electrified.” All “electrified” means is their cars will have something more than the 100-year-old 12-Volt battery.

Let’s look at Toyota. All its “electrified” cars all have gas engines! It does not sell a single car without an engine. Its upcoming true Battery Electric Vehicle is for Japan only; it is a laughable kei car (mini car) with a top speed of 37 miles per hour. And it’s tragic when you remember how Toyota earlier made two generations of fine RAV4 EVs, the second in conjunction with Tesla. Toyota squandered that expertise and instead made a massively stupid bet on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, despite hydrogen’s cost, inefficiency, and lack of infrastructure. It’s the only car company left pushing HFCVs over BEVs, so no country other than Japan will install the thousands of hydrogen refueling stations required. Honda and Mazda have balked at the dumb industrial policy of The Hydrogen Economy™ and are releasing good BEVs, so we’ll see how much longer Toyota and the Japanese government waltz together into this abyss. Toyota does make a decent plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the Prius Prime. But consumers aren’t excited by half-measures with a tailpipe. VW is gearing up to sell BEVs in large volumes; Toyota is talking up the weasel-word “electrification” and clearly hoping BEVs will be a small slice, environment and livable planet be damned. Hence its mind-blowingly stupid decision to side with the Trump animation in opposing California’s fuel/emissions regulations. That was a great way to tattoo “We are no longer the leader in environmentally responsible cars” on your forehead.

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music: questions for Cory Wong

I paid for a VIP pass to Corey Wong’s upcoming show so I could spend more time with such a great musician. Part of it includes a master class, but I hope I can just ask him questions, including:

What’s the relationship between Starks and Ewing, Frogville, and the greatest damn rhythm guitar break in the last 20 years that you play in Frogville // Airplane Mode live?

A: the bit is “Airplane Mode,” he’s yet to record a version he likes. Cory played that break for us to start, which blew my fragile little mind

Two-part question: Do you ever sing along with your guitar like smooth jazz king George Benson and Theo , and is it true that the only difference between a lead guitar player and a rhythm guitarist is the former sings along with their guitar?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

What is so good about being Pat Metheny, and what’s your favorite Pat Metheny track?

A: His favorite jazz musician. I forgot what Cory said was his favorite track!

Did the scratches on your blue Strat get there because of some Wolverine-type incident where you went into beast mode?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

Are you going to play Even/Uneven in full, and what were you doing between that in 200 and MSP Pt. 1 in 2016?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

When you release on streaming services only, there are no liner notes for tracks unless you release a YouTube video (e.g. who plays trombone in Roll Over?)! Is there a list of credits anywhere on your site?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

What is you favorite Nile Rodgers/ Chic song, and how can it not be “Thinking of You”?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)

Did you join Stay Human?

A: He played with Jon Batiste on Minnesota Public Radio’s Live from Here show early this year and they hit it off; he might play with the Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s house band a week each month or so. (And today I learned mandolinist Chris Thile is the host of that radio show, and you can watch Cory Wong collapse to the floor in total fan admiration of Chris Thile and Dave Koz soloing on “Smile Meditation” during Vulfpeck’s triumphant Madison Square Garden’s show.)

Do you always compose songs on guitar, or sometimes on piano?

A: (didn’t get a chance to ask)


He loves Emily King recordings.

He talked about playing quarter-notes to a 120bpm metronome to lock in the rhythm, then switching to 60bpm metronome so it tocks on the 2nd and 4th beat, then down to 30bpm so it tocks only on the 4th beat. So I asked:

Do you ever play three notes to the beat? Do you ever write songs in waltz time?

He’s done a few 12/8 songs, but thinks neither he nor Vulfpeck does a lot of 3/4 6/8 songs.

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