Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Five Years of no EV for Me

Five years ago this week my search for an electric compact SUV ended with me buying a conventional gas-powered car. I disliked the car (a Nissan Rogue) within a month after buying it, and I've been on the lookout for an electric replacement ever since. 

Over the years, I've vented my frustrations with the EV market in a number of blog posts, sometimes focusing on their high cost and sometimes on the lack of models with the basic features I'm looking for: all-wheel drive, an openable moonroof, a 360-degree camera, and an EPA range of at least 235 miles. In November, I discussed the luxury-car-level pricing of the only two cars that meet these criteria: the Nissan Ariya and the Volvo XC40 Recharge. Since then, the only things that have changed are the name of the Volvo (now called the EX40) and the elimination of the prospect of Chinese imports pushing down EV prices. (The US government has adopted a policy of keeping them out of the market.)

In the meantime, what I'm looking for in an EV has evolved a bit. I still want all-wheel drive, an openable moonroof, and an all-around camera, but I now want a car on the shorter end of the compact SUV spectrum. My Rogue is 185 inches long. I'd prefer no more than 180 inches. (Tesla's Model Y is 187 inches. Ford's Mustang Mach-E is 186. VW's ID.4 is 181.)

My thinking about range has also changed. EV ranges can't touch those of gas-burners, so I understood that distance driving in an EV requires planning. But this didn't strike me as a problem. If you're driving, say, 400 miles to get from Point A to Point B, stopping for a half hour at 200 miles to recharge isn't a hardship. 200 miles represents 3-4 hours of driving, and who doesn't want to stop at that point to stretch one's legs, use the bathroom, grab a snack, etc? 

A recent trip made me realize that not all long drives consist of extended driving sessions. My wife and I put 400 miles on a tank of gas while meandering along the southern Oregon coast. Most of our driving sessions were under an hour, because we stopped at various beaches (including, of course, Meyers Creek Beach, which is at the mouth of Myers Creek) and small coastal and inland towns (e.g., Bandon, Coquille, Port Orford, and Gold Beach). Many of the places we stopped had no facilities of any kind, much less charging stations. 

According to the Oregon Clean Vehicle Rebate Program EV Charging Station Map, the charging options in Gold Beach, where we spent one night, consist of one 120V charging outlet for E-bikes and one 120V outlet for use by hotel and shop patrons on the opposite side of the river from where we were staying. A two-port charging station at a motel we weren't staying at is noted as "coming soon." The source for this information is shown as PlugShare, but the PlugShare web site shows only the "coming soon" charger, so it's possible that there aren't any charging options in Gold Beach at all.

This casts the "planning" aspect of traveling by EV in a different light. If you're off the beaten track and poking along in a gas-powered car, stopping here and there as the whim moves you, you can take refueling opportunities for granted. (There are four gas stations in Gold Beach.) In an EV, you may have to actively seek out recharging options. You really do have to plan

I haven't yet decided what that means for me as a potential EV owner. It's a simple fact that EV ranges are notably lower than ICE ranges, and it's an equally simple fact that the EV charging infrastructure is much less well developed than the gas station network. For the foreseeable future, buying an EV means accepting those facts and finding ways to cope with them. If I really want to own an EV, I'll have to figure out how to do that.

I probably have plenty of time. The only EV that satisfies my basic criteria and fulfills my new not-longer-than-180-inches criterion is the Volvo EX40 (née XC 40 Recharge). MSRP as I'd like it equipped is nearly $62,000, which is about $20,000 more than my budget.

However, I have a gas-powered riding lawn mower that's not likely to last a lot longer. I'm already thinking of replacing it with an electric version. It could be that the form my first EV takes will be that of a machine you sit on top of and cut grass with.

Monday, May 20, 2024

German Grammar Checkers

I can speak some German. I'll never be fluent, but I can usually get by. Sadly, I make a lot of grammatical errors. It'd be nice to have a tool that could help me find and eliminate them. Syntax and grammar are structured things, seemingly tailor-made for algorithmic analysis. Surely there is software that can analyze my sentences, point out places where I've broken the rules, and tell me how to fix things!

There is. I recently tested more than a dozen programs and web sites that offer this service. The results were less impressive than I'd expected. On my (tiny and unrepresentative) set of sentences containing errors, most tools failed to find most of them. For errors that were found, it was common for the suggested fixes to be wrong. 

I found these sites to offer the most useful results:

  • LanguageTool describes itself as an AI-based spelling, style, and grammar checker. My sense is that the focus is on spelling and grammar, not style. I've found it to do a pretty good job, though there are errors it misses.
  • Scribbr bills itself simply as a grammar checker. It also produces good results, though a hair below those of LanguageTool.
  • DeepL Write claims that its AI approach yields "perfect spelling, grammar, and punctuation" and provides alternative phrasings that "sound fluent, professional, and natural." This means it may rewrite your text to not just eliminate mistakes, but also to make it sound different (presumably better). In my experience, it does a very good job of finding and eliminating errors, but it's sometimes difficult to determine whether it changed something because it's incorrect or because it just felt like rewording it.

In daily use, I generally feed my writing to both LanguageTool and Scribbr, because they're fast, and each sometimes finds mistakes the other misses. If I'm extra-motivated, I also turn to DeepL Write. I've found it to identify mistakes the others miss. I don't use DeepL Write all the time, because I find it annoying to have to tease out whether it changed something on the grounds of correctness or stylistic whim.

In addition to these sites, I also (very cursorily) tested the following systems. I found them to produce notably inferior results. I've listed them in order of decreasing performance, based on my (really limited) tests:

  • QuillBot is a sister company to Scribbr that presumably uses the same underlying technology. I found that the two systems generally give identical results. There are exceptions, however, and in those cases, I found that Scribbr did a better job.
  • Google Docs can be configured to check spelling and grammar as you type. In my testing, it delivered mediocre results.
  • Sapling also produces mediocre results, but it often says "Sign in to see premium edit." I didn't do that, so I can't comment on its premium edits.
  • Microsoft Word, like Google Docs, can be configured to check for spelling and grammar errors as you type. On my tests using Word from Microsoft 365, its coverage was inferior to Google's.
  • Rechtschreibprüfung24 and Korrekturen produced the same results in my testing, so it's possible that they use the same underlying (and unimpressive) checking engine.
  • TextGears and GermanCorrector also produced the same results on my tests, so it's possible that they share a checking engine. The results are similar enough to those from Rechtschreibprüfung24 and Korrekturen that it's conceivable that all four use the same underlying technology. In addition, looks and acts identically to GermanCorrector, so it could be that there are two URLs for a single underlying checker.
  • Duden Mentor is the only system I tested that flags the errors it finds, but doesn't offer suggestions on how to fix them.
  • Online-Spellcheck couples its poor ability to find mistakes with a checking speed that is notably worse than its competitors. In addition, it replaces its input window with an output window, so you can't just paste new text in to check something different.
  • Studi-Kompass found none of the errors in my tests. That suggests that it wasn't working or that I was doing something wrong.

I must reiterate that my testing was very limited, so my conclusions are tenuous. If you know of more comprehensive comparisons of German grammar checkers, please share what you know in the comments!

My testing focused on incorrect articles, because that's a problem area for me. I used the following test sentences, where I've boldfaced the part of each sentence that's wrong. I realize that if you know German, you will recognize what's wrong without my help, and if you don't know German, you'll just see randomly boldfaced text, but I can't resist the Siren's call of the boldface error indicator.

  1. Das Tisch sieht gut aus.
  2. Ich gehe im Küche.
  3. Ich bin in die Küche.
  4. Ich will einen Ort finden, die schön aussieht.
  5. Beim Check-in haben wir die Größe des Lobbys bewundert.
  6. Schließlich habe ich mich entschlossen, dass ich einen Ort finden musste, der zwischen Singapur und den USA liegt (d.h., der auf dem Heimweg ist), und die gute Flugverbindungen hat.

I invented sentences 1-3 as representing common simple errors. Sentences 4-6 are from or are variations on things I've actually written.

I scored the systems' results as follows:

  • 2 points if the error was found.
  • 2 more points if only one fix was suggested and it was correct; 1 more point if more than one fix was suggested, but the correct one was among them.
  • -1 point if only incorrect fixes were suggested.
  • -1 point if rewrites were suggested beyond what was in error.  (This is designed to penalize DeepL Write for mixing error corrections and stylistic rewrites.)

If a system found the error in a test sentence and suggested the proper fix (and it didn't suggest anything else), it got the full four points. If it found the error, but it didn't suggest the proper fix, or if it muddied the water with rewrites unrelated to the error, it got between one and three points, depending on the details of what it did.

A perfect score for the set of six sentences would be 24 points. The best any system did was LanguageTool, which got 21. Scribbr was close behind at 20 points. DeepL Write got 19. Then there was a gap until QuillBot's 16 points. Google Docs scored 14, Sapling 13, and Microsoft Word 10. Rechtschreibprüfung24, Korrekturen, TextGears, and GermanCorrector/ clumped together with 6 points, which is one reason I suspect they may all be using the same checking technology. Duden Mentor also got 6, but its behavior is quite different from the other systems with that score. Online-Spellcheck got 5 points. Studi-Kompass got none, but, as I noted above, my guess is that either the system wasn't working or I was doing something wrong.