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2008/04/21 Got Guts at Thunderhill
π 2008-04-21 20:12 by Merlin in Cars

I had just gotten the car back with changed fluids, and brakes, and I was looking forward to getting some instruction from Rick Weldon. I did actually get a few laps from him eventually, but they ended as I got a total brake system failure: loss of hydraulic pressure in the breaking zone before T14.
Thankfully I was able to stop with the parking brake, go around the tire wall at the end of 14, and crub off the rest with a 180 on the tarmac connecting to T8.
Turns out that one of the speedbleeder screws check valve apparently failed, causing the loss of pressure and a good size bubble in the system.
After that, I decided to call it a day, since there was no need to take any risks with a faulty system.





This was a trip in memory lane: former instructors from my first miata school in 2001


first lap, with John


I've decided to get the system replaced with a more reliable big brake kit from brembo, which will hopefully take care such situations in the future.

here are the remaining pictures
2008/04/20 Windows still sucks, and how it will get worse with Vista
π 2008-04-20 22:12 by Merlin in Public

So, windows sucks of course, but if you have to pick one, XP is mostly agreed upon as the most usable and least sucky one (although I have windows 2000 in my vmware image because it's smaller and good enough as an application loader).
I wanted to test the new Seattle Avionics Voyager 3D flight planner and synthetic vision software, so I had to use native windows.
First I found out that my WXP partition on my thinkpad was actually broken and that windows would just BSOD after a few minutes of use without any useful error message.

Ok, I used a WXP SP2 CD to do an install/repair on top, but first had to disable AHCI SATA and set my boot drive as IDE to make windows happy (see the SP2 installer has 0 SATA support!). Ok, fine, whatever, I get windows reinstalled on top, things actually work out pretty well, I go in the bios, put SATA AHCI back to make linux happy and go on with my life.
The next day, try windows again and realizes it won't boot longer than 10 seconds, and later I figure out that it can't boot because it removed the SATA drivers in my existing install and became unable to use my drive in AHCI mode. Good job microsoft!
I then wasted a good 2 hours trying to convince WXP to install the AHCI driver (I even knew what chipset I had, which exact driver I needed and where it was on disk), but WXP kept ignoring my request and installing ide-piix instead, the driver for the IDE emulation mode....
In the end, the only thing I was able to do was to find a USB floppy drive, find a floppy (both are hard to get today), find an intel WXP driver floppy generator which then made a driver floppy I was able to use for a 3rd WXP re-install. The best part is that you have a couple of seconds to press F6 during the install boot to tell it you have a driver disk. It went by so fast, I missed it 4 times before I saw and caught it. WTF can't the installer even tell you "I need a driver, do you happen to have one?" instead of "I can't mount your Hard Drive, press F3 to reboot".
Please fire the morons reponsible for all that crap!

Anyway, hours later, system is back up in AHCI mode.
With linux, it would have taken me about 15mn of my time, it would clearly have told me it couldn't find the boot drive, and it would have allowed me to add/enable the driver without having to do 4 consecutive 1H long installs to reinstall a simple driver that I already knew by name!

The thing that worries me is that how ridiculous, and quite frankly difficult things have gotten. This procedure was overly complicated, and quite frankly borderline impossible for most people, simply because microsoft could not be bothered to add SATA support to their installer. I think it's because they just want people to install their piece of crap Vista instead, and this part worries me because they're going to make it increasingly difficult to use XP and force people into all the crap that is vista and its even worse license.
2008/04/19 Choosing the right Closet Organizer System: Zen Space Solutions (and blinds.com for blinds)
π 2008-04-19 11:14 by Merlin in Public

Jennifer and I were missing blinds for our house, and some kind of closet solution (right now, we only have empty closets, and nowhere to put our stuff away).
For the blinds, the least expensive was actually to get premium hunter douglas material direct from blinds.com, and tack on a local installer. It was cheaper and better than Home Depot, or 3 day blinds (this is the summary of several days of work and research from Jennifer).

For closets, to have a good idea of what we needed and designed, you can look at what we got after working with Coast Closets, the last design we came up with (note that you can click on the 3D views to see 3D versions of the closet designs). The final proposed price was actually lower after rebates and some tweaks we could have done.

We tried some local companies first, wood, and then melamine, but they basically wanted $7500 to do all our closets. It just felt too much, so we started looking at other options (especially Jennifer).
Eventually, we found Budget Closets for a local option, downgraded our color from floor color to white, and Jennifer later found Coast Closets , which looked like the ideal and cheapest option: we eventually got a quote around $3200, but there were three catches:
  1. the design had to be done via Email and or the phone since it was an order from the East Coast. We also had to take very exact measurements and be ok with having closets that would be slightly too small since they wouldn't be cut to exact fit on site. This would have been ok to save $1000, although designing and correcting on the phone was a bit frustrating and pretty time consuming.
  2. the next issue was that we'd have to arrange for our own local install. In theory it's something we can install ourselves, but we just didn't want the burden or deal with potential problems if the install in the studs wasn't quite right, and later the cabinets fell because of too much weight in some of the anchor points. Problem was that experienced installers wanted to charge a ludicrous $1200-$1500 for a 1.5-2day install, which then made that option not attractive anymore. It would probably work better in places where contractors don't charge an arm and a leg.
  3. but the last problem which ended up being the dealbreaker for us was that in order to offer better prices than just about anyone else, Coast Closets works directly with the mill and is constrained by what the mill can do, or extra charges they might add if we wanted some non standard cut (making the end price less attractive). Mark from Coast Closets really tried hard to help us, but our closets and needs were just a bit unusual and ended up requiring a bit too much custom work, making his solution not as much of a good match for us anymore.

After going back and forth on that solution and seeing how we could work with it, we ended up giving up and going with a small local installer/builder we found while looking for installers: Zen Space Solutions . It ended up costing $4500 at a deeply discounted price since he was trying to compete with the Coast Closets offer. The end result will be about $1000 more, but more custom and better finished. I guess this is what it takes...
At least, we didn't just throw money at the problem, and while it was painful and draining at time, at least we did proper research and diligence in finding the best result/price deal.
Otherwise, Budget Closets would have worked too, although they have more overhead and are more expensive, and for people who don't mind installing themselves, and Coast Closets is still the cheapest option by far if you are comfortable doing your own installs or have access to cheaper install labour than we did.
2008/04/17 A weekend in Mammoth for spring skiing.
π 2008-04-17 09:31 by Merlin in Flying, Snow

Jennifer and I had only gotten a short stay in Mammoth when we were able to fly there for a half day 2 days ago. I had really wanted to go back since then, and in a faster plane this time. In a Cirrus SR22, it took 1.2h of flight time in each direction.
We flew there saturday morning, picked up the rental car in Mammoth, and were on the slopes by 10:30, in time for the icy snow to be nice corn snow.





my trusty copilot, at work :)


Hello Mammoth, we're landing and we'll be back in a minute






The snow coverage was still pretty good considering, although considering the warm temperatures, it's probably going to melt fast now.
I took Jennifer around all the lifts and the entire mountain over the two days we were there. As long as we stuck with the sun during the day, the snow was actually fairly decent.











The weather was so nice, that a bunch of college students crowded the mountain in bikinis and swimmers, even at 11,000ft (3000m), which was definitely fun to see. I don't even think they got too cold :)







For the first day, we ended up doing the side of the mountain on the side
of Canyon Lodge.





While the base lodge is a clusterfuck to park at (their parking lot is a joke, and you have to park down the street, quite a ways away), the main lodge itself was nice, and it had the famous Mammoth of course.







We ended up not parking by the main lodge, and by Mill's Café, which is midway on the mountain, and by the Stump Alley/Gold Rush Express lifts going on both sides of the mountain. When the sun allowed, we checked out the other side of the mountain and the back side for our second day.





More pictures of Mammoth Mountain
By sunday late afternoon, we had covered a combined 80 miles of terrain (120km) and used all the lifts that went to terrain (we skipped a few baby lifts).
I was pooped, so we drove back to the airport around 15:30, and had another 1.2h flight with a few nice views of Mammoth on the way home. We were back home after 2h45 from when we left Mammoth (which included rental car return, loading/unloading the plane, and driving to and from the airport), so it wasn't too bad considering, and definitely beat the otherwise 6.5h drive.
And if you'd like it, here's the GPS track of the two days in Mammoth .











More pictures of the flight to and from mammoth .
2008/04/10 New MythTV setup: ER in HD
π 2008-04-10 23:35 by Merlin in Public

As part of the new tech setup, I've been working on getting my mythtv PC to work with HDTV. That shouldn't be hard in theory, but "theory, theory and practise are the same, in practise, they're not :)".
The first thing I found out is that the AMD Sempron 3100+ CPU in there isn't fast enough to play even 720p in realtime, but I found that by using nvidia's XvMC in the card, that was good enough to barely play HDTV in realtime (although that took some configuring).
Then came the problem of actually recording HD content: I had gotten an HDHomeRun from a coworker, which is indeed a neat little device that records unencrypted HD from cable, and forwards the mpeg2 stream to a computer, in my case my mythtv computer.
Up to then, my cable quality was an issue in the house because the incoming cable feed was split 2 ways outside by comcast, then 6 ways to each rooms, and then another 8 ways next to my my AV center in the family room. Obviously the signal was crap by then and I had to find places where to put amps and where to split the signal just the right amount of times.
I found a good store close to my house where they had all kinds of home wiring stuff, including various amps and high quality splitters, and after that the fun was to find where to put the amps, splitters, and signal attenuators (yes, ampping too much makes things not work) to get everything to work. Oh, the best part is that if you put a cable modem behind a regular amp, it won't work, you need a 2 way amp for the return signal of the cable modem to work.
Anyway, when half a day later I had decent analog cable signal where I needed to, I was able to get unencrypted HDTV channels to both my TVs and especially the HDHomeRun device.
You'd think I'd be done by then, but that didn't do much good until mythtv both had TV guide data for the HD channels, and knew to prefer HD recordings to regular recordings. That part wasn't much documented but I got help on the mythtv-users list , which basically was a matter of finding the right xmlids for the HD channels and giving them a higher priority over the same channels.
Anyway, after all this, I finally got one program in my lineup that recorded in HD: the weekly episode of ER, which was a nice surprise.
Yet, for SciFi-HD, I still get to download shows from BT if I want HD because comcast suck (and if they didn't suck, it'd be encrypted so that I can't get it anyway...).
Some people would ask why I go through this pain, which is a valid question. I still like the flexibility of running my DVR, as well as the occasional tinkering.
2008/04/04 Overdue First 2008 track day at Thunderhill
π 2008-04-04 21:27 by Merlin in Cars

It had been a little while since I got to flog the red car at thunderhill. I was curious if I'd get to improve on my lap time of 2:09 without the wheel misbalance issue.

I did what I thought was a nice pass in the SSes because of an NSX that was slow and way off line, but apparently I scared the guy off a bit and he didn't expect me to pass him. Oh well, he'll check his mirrors next time and stay on line or expect to be passed, although while I was in my full right to pass him anywhere in group A (if he's not comfortable with that, and/or can't keep pace, he shouldn't be in that group), I still apologized to him since he was clearly upset and I did scare him off a bit.



The NSX is visible on a portion of the picture on the left. Eh, at least the picture shows that I wasn't the only one on his butt :)


So it sounds like I can't talk about a track day without talking about brakes. Sure enough, my pads worked, but they were struggling with keeping the car in check, which I think is partially responsible for preventing me from going faster, as I just wasn't sure I'd be able to stop in time before the next turn.
And on the 4th session, I checked my pads before going, and it looked like I had enough pads left for one more session, but that turned out to be a wrong guess (the inside pads ran out first...)



I was under the mistaken impression that the 2mm of pads I had left would be enough for one more session

turns out that was pretty optimistic on my part


The brand new pads in


and they caused me to overshoot turn 14 and have to drive straight off the track to another piece of unused asphalt before I was able to stop the car (using the backing plate and whatever pads I did have left and return to the track and exit in the right place :)













Changing the pads was kind of a bitch since they were burning, and I only got everything changed half way through my next session. Better than nothing I guess...
Unfortunately, on my last session, some guy lost it in turn 1, damaged his car, had to be towed out and ruined the rest of our session.





The flight to Willows was uneventful. My trusty driver Scott showed up early that morning, and he had fully working brake pads and tires to drive home.
Unfortunately, on the way back he got a flat on Hwy 5, just 20 miles from Willows, putting him far from home. Poor guy had to call the tow service that came with my car, and got home around midnight while I got the car home a bit past midnight. I haven't heard back on what went through the tire yet, or why the fix a flat and compressor that came with the car, didn't work.






The flight home was also a bit eventful for me: I picked up a stranded passenger and CFI in Willows who could not go home due to a failure on their plane. I was dropped them off at Sonoma County Airport and then headed home by overflying San Francisco and the California Coast (made for a pretty flight).









The remaing pictures (including GotBlueMilk shots ) are here

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