I recently bought a car. I've never owned a car before.

Up until now I've lived places where walking and the occasional bus have worked for everything. A car was a luxury I neither needed nor could afford. My father has never been able to understand but this may be because he's an alien.

I'm not fussed about driving fast or other bells and whistles. It's not that those things can't be fun but they're not things I associate with motoring in Britain. If I can drive some ramshackle contraption across a desert at high speed that'd be amazing. Doing a few extra miles per hour down the motorway on my way to visit a friend..? Nah.

Instead my criteria for a car were as follows:
  • A few dents
  • Small
Whenever I rent a car I'm constantly stressed about whether I'm treating it correctly. Will it get damaged? Will someone attempt to break into it? How much paperwork will be involved?

I want something that I can park somewhere and know that if something bad happens the paperwork will be the biggest concern. I want it to look old enough and a bit dented so that anyone looking at it will think about the much nicer cars around it.

As it turns out the car we found suited me in several other ways. It's a 2003 Suzuki Ignis.

It's a very strange blend between an SUV and a compact car (I don't know the UK terms for those things). In reality it's pretty tiny but it sits quite high on the road with the visibility of an SUV and I absolutely love that. Also kerbs are a non-issue with how high its chassis sits - another concern allayed.

Given its age the inside is quite simple and that's a blessing in disguise. The reason for that is fairly simple. I don't know about you but growing up my parents' car had various blanking plates and similar. The notion of a car having any bells and whistles wasn't really there. That said they did mod them somewhat - usually to mount a radio antenna on them for falconry:

The equipment for that was never properly integrated into the car though and I always got the impression that cars and electronics were beyond the ken of mere human adults. At least, those not professionally employed in that direction.

One of the things I did the other day was figure out how to take apart my car's central console. I wanted to know what the space was used for (mostly nothing) so that I could potentially install things in there. That's something that I feel would have horrified most adults when I was younger (and I mean, say, 15, not 7!).

The car I have is cheap and has very little resale value. That's basically carte blanche to make strange modifications. The first one has been rather more involved than I intended but has mostly worked out just fine (one unexpected quirk aside).

I'm rather obsessed with MiniDiscs. They're like the ultimate refinement of mixtape technology. They have the quality of a CD with better sturdiness than a cassette tape. They're also black boxes in their own weird way. In principle there's data on the disc but there's no way to use that storage space for anything except music (I can't speak for things like NetMD - I'm talking about the original format). No PC drive was ever released for music MDs. They cannot be ripped in the traditional way.

That's strangely liberating for me and so I have a growing collection of mixes that I absolutely love:

They bring me intense happiness for some reason and so I resolved that the one thing I wanted for myself in a car is a radio that could play MDs. To that end I tracked one down on eBay. It came from a Subaru Impreza Newage WRX 2005. My car is not a Subaru but it's a radio so what the hell.

The thing is that standards exist. My car has standard ISO-compliant connectors for its radio. The Subaru radio does not. In fact it has some weird Subaru-exclusive, era-exclusive connector. Also a different antenna plug!

What it should have.

What it actually has.

Of course things couldn't be easy. That's okay. Unfortunately things were hard. As in finding any sort of documentation has been damn near impossible. Even finding out the names of the ports has been a slog. That square one on the end is apparently a CeNET connector (specific to Clarion, the radio manufacturer) and is for accessories. The white one next to it is utterly unknown (I've had the machine apart trying to find a clue and still - no idea). The chunky black one is the Subaru connector and the round one is the antenna.

Let's start with the antenna as that's the easy bit.

So that's a special antenna plug. Great. Trying to source a replacement for it is difficult and expensive. They're easy to source in the US (about $10) but over here I ended up paying £7 postage to get one shipped from Exeter. Apparently the Royal Mail doesn't trust Exeter or something.

However the cable I bought isn't for a Subaru radio. No. It's for a Nissan radio. It works just fine though!

Now the Subaru connector... that's where things got a bit dicey. Just getting hold of the connector itself was damn near impossible. I'd planned to solder the connections to standard ISO plugs (the Subaru pinout can be found here) but I couldn't find just the connector anywhere. In the end I found something unrelated - a cable for something called a "Parrot handsfree kit".

From what I can tell that kit uses ISO plugs and so wouldn't be compatible with a Subaru radio. The cable that's available has ISO plugs (both male and female) and Subaru plugs (male and female). I think the idea is that the device uses the ISO plugs and passes the connection through:
The wire between the two Subaru connectors is the one wire that ISO plugs don't have (pin 7 if you're interested - it's part of the illumination brightness level, I think).

Well cutting that extra wire and using just half the lead worked first time! I now have a Subaru radio in my crappy little car!

Admittedly I had to make extensive use of a Dremel to modify the DIN slots the radio uses (why have two DIN slots if the enclosure they're in doesn't actually have space for devices that use them both?).

before (mostly)
...and after.

I ended up using the chunk I cut off to reinforce the back plate as I had to make several more holes in it to fit the ports on the radio but I got there in the end!

The only issue is that this radio is imported and, as it turns out, that means it's currently set to the Japanese broadcast band (76MHz - 90MHz). I'm going to see whether that can be changed somehow but if not I'll just live with it. I have an FM transmitter that can be connected to provide Aux-in and the two ranges overlap. Then my phone or even a battery-powered FM radio can be used! Perhaps that'd be a fun way to add DAB functionality to the vehicle, I suppose?

One last thing to mention - the radio stated that it supports a CD changer (the label is gone as it came off with the rather sticky perished coating I cleaned off!). I assumed this mean that one could be connected and its slot was just for individual CDs. Nope. When I opened it up I was shocked to see this:

I'll be honest, the CD functionality was of no interest initially but if it's an in-dash CD changer then perhaps I'll load it up with a few of my old albums. The ones I like every song of (I wrote about them back in 2007). That'd be kind of fun.

Next task - replacing all five wheels. That's going to cost me...

I've been doing some work with some other people of late. For the most part it's going well. Occasionally I do see something that annoys me though. It's a bit of an old cliché but this is my blog and I'll cliché if I want to.

There's a quote in Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett that goes like this:
... it is possible, after a while, to develop certain dangerous habits of thought.  One is that, while all important enterprises need careful organization, it is the organization that needs organizing, rather than the enterprise.  And the other is that tranquility is always a good thing.

I was rather pleased that several of us working together managed to make a sale. Not only that but we sold something that was gathering dust on a shelf. Currently sales are fairly low but that's kind of a good thing given availability of manufacturing capacity (yay, pandemic). Part of this sale was customising the product for the customer - which we decided to charge extra for. The customer also now wants to buy two of our other products. We'll see if he follows through on those but even if he doesn't, it's a win.

The thing being that one of the team who handles lots of the admin discouraged me from offering a custom job. I certainly wouldn't offer custom work on a large scale but the idea that we'd rather turn down a sale during a slow period just because it's marginally more hassle? To me that is really indicative of someone who has spent their career isolated from risk. I'm a bit weird in that I basically haven't had that. I've spent the majority of my working life trying to get people to buy my products. If money doesn't come in, I don't get paid.

I'm also reminded of the flip side of this. A while back a friend of mine didn't feel he'd done enough work for the amount of money he made (I can't recall whether it was reselling models on eBay or commission artwork or what). He'd spent his entire life insulated from the same risk. Show up for work and the result is money in the bank.

Both of these examples are issues with cause and effect. Work hard and pay will follow. It's a common cultural value but as Blackadder would have it:
You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan... ...it was bollocks.

Sometimes hard work is required, sometimes it isn't. Often it's more a matter of timing, or publicity, or any number of other things.

This stuff matters because if the enterprise is to stay afloat this must be central to decision making. It would be nice if we could show up, make things, and know that the end result would be a predictable amount of money. Vast armies of consultants are paid to find ways to bring this closer to reality than it naturally is. Our first example thinks that he will always be paid regardless of the fate of the organisation and the second example feels uncomfortable when faced with the reality that sometimes having the right product at the right time results in money with minimal work.

Personally I'm mostly concerned with figuring out which bits of work tend to result in the biggest sustainable payout and where it's safe to take risks. I've not figured it out yet.

Oh mae stahhrs!

12 January 2020

I didn't grow up in a house that watched sport. I've tried over the years to find enjoyment in it but I've never succeeded and at this point I've given up and made peace with it. Playing sport can be fun but watching it... pass.

However in recent years, in our house, GDQ has become our equivalent of the Olympics. GDQ being "Games Done Quick" - a twice yearly week of videogame speedrunning (Summer Games Done Quick, SGDQ, and Awesome Games Done Quick, AGDQ in winter). Obsessive nerds playing videogames to either an astonishing level of skill or breaking their mechanics to an absurd degree.

I wouldn't personally want to speedrun anything, much like I've no interest in participating in athletics. However watching someone be ridiculously good at a game I've played can be quite entertaining.

Something that's a bigger deal to me is that GDQ isn't one night. It's a week. It's like a festival I can attend without leaving home. There's familiar faces, there's new faces, there's silly in-jokes (HONK!), and there's nail-biting action.

Watching the Super Mario Maker 2 blind relay race, for example. Wow. The premise is fairly easy to understand - various people create Mario levels specially for the event. Teams attempt to make it through these torturous gauntlets. Each time they lose a life, they switch to the next player in the team. The first team to make it through the level gets a point and all teams stop and move onto the next level.

The skill involved in playing these is immense. The teams have to learn as quickly as possible and read the cues the creator has left for them to understand what they should be doing. This time the teams were so evenly matched that one level came down to a difference of half a second. It had us howling at the screen when they almost succeeded, cheering when they did, and generally having a wonderful time.

Other runs were fun too, of course, but that was the apex. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was rather cosy, Clone Hero was mesmerising, and the Hebereke run was extremely charming, to name just a few.

What gets me is that a certain subset of folks cannot abide GDQ. It's usually for the oddest of reasons. They don't like that runners are requested not to swear on stream, for example, and will argue until they're blue in the face about it. The point of the event is to raise money for a charity - there's loads of ancillary reasons too, but ultimately the event exists for that purpose. In order to do that certain restrictions need to apply. They're advertised up front, it's not like runners arrive at the event and are then given a list of new requirements. A very odd thing to get worked up about but it does speak to the mindset of these, shall we generously say, "critics".

I say "mindset" because each criticism I read from people of this opinion seems to be tied up in their own social issues. People having fun and being silly on stream are described as "cringe" (as with many other things they're not aware of how to use the word properly, much like "so cliché" rather than "so clichéd"). As we say online "Don't @ me". I do not care to hear your opinion about your insecurities.

By that I mean that I have been to parties. I've been to conventions. I've spent time around humans and you know what?

We're not beacons of dignity.

We have fun, we make fools of ourselves, and we enjoy ourselves. Oh, does our dancing make you cringe? Poor you! Would you prefer if we didn't have in-jokes that make us feel part of a friendly and encouraging social group? Too bad!

You're not required to take part, although you're invited to. The fun is open to all, assuming they're not mean-spirited misanthropes who want to make their inferiority complexes everyone else's problem. I phrase it that way because, you know what? I have issues about looking silly and feeling like an arse when dancing! I absolutely do!

However I recognise that those issues are my burden to bear, my baggage to be dealt with. It's not everyone else's fault for having fun in a silly way. Perhaps I wouldn't be brave enough to dance but I'm confident enough to chance my precious dignity on shouting HONK!