Category Archives: About Me

Good To Go

As fate would have it, my passport expires this year.  On one hand, who’s going anywhere right now?  On the other hand, who wants to get the fuck out of here right now?

What seems like forever ago, I applied for my passport renewal.  Forever in this case is 4 months ago, to the day.  That would be February, prior to the world hitting the pause button on life.  A month or so into the process, I checked up on the status.  It’s actually kind of nice that you can check the status of your passport application online.  I doubt that feature was around when I first ordered my passport.  As expected, the status was "In progress".

Another nice feature is that you can submit your email to be notified of changes in the status.  Again, things you would take for granted with modern businesses seem completely astonishing when applied to government agencies.  So I submitted an email and waited.  And I kept waiting.  I checked up in another month and the status had not changed, which is consistent with me not getting any emails about a status change.

One thing that was different about the status page when I revisited it was that they said they were on limited staff thanks to COVID and there would be a delay of "several months" in processing applications.  This is fine and not fine.  I’m not going anywhere, but things are getting weird, so what if I did need to go anywhere?  It’s never a good feeling to have an answer of "you can’t", even with your most remote imaginations.  You grow up surrounded with the promises that "you can do anything", until you have a moment where the answer is "no, you can’t" and that’s made even worse by "you could have, but not right now".  Anyway, enough of the dystopia for the moment…

Then about a week ago, I did get an email.  Wow!  It said my application was "in progress".  Oh.  In hindsight, this should have been a good sign, meaning my application has been taken off the pile and into someone’s hands, but I didn’t know this at the time.  I just thought it was more of the same.  I’d been waiting 4 months, what’s another 4?

Today I got another email.  My application status was "approved"!  Yes, finally!  The email stated that when I applied, I chose routine service, so the processing time would be 6-8 weeks.  What?!  But then it said I would get my book around 6/24/2020.  What?  This doesn’t make any sense, but whatever.  I’m getting my passport soon!

I got another email from USPS, with my soon-to-be-in-my-mailbox notifications.  It was already aware of my passport and said it would arrive Monday.  I click on the tracking link and no, it’s going to arrive today – exactly 4 months from the day I mailed the application.

The only regret I have while I was waiting for those months is that I didn’t choose to get both the passport card and book.  I only chose the book.  The reason I want both now is for having a backup.  Of course, being involved in computers, I’m always thinking of backups and redundancy.  The secure plan would be to take both the book and the card on vacation and only travel outside with the card.  Let’s say you’re at a cruise port and you get robbed.  Your wallet is taken with the passport card in it.  In this case, you wouldn’t be able to pass back through security to get to the ship, but you could send someone to get your passport book from your room and recover.

That small regret aside, I mentioned that things are getting weird around here.  It’s actually in the back of my head that depending on how things turn out later this year, my passport might actually be utilized.  It’s a remote chance. but I need the reassurance that if that time comes, "I can".

Stages Part 4.5

In previous posts on this subject, I’d been advancing my home stereo towards some goal of having big, energizing, musical sound.  The "final" step in the process was buying tower speakers for the amplifier.  I’ve come up with a step in between.

I was skeptical of the claims made that putting your bookshelf speakers on stands would improve their sound dramatically.  I was proven wrong.  The change was highly noticeable.  So much so, that it made me wonder if I really needed tower speakers.  At the very least, it would delay their purchase for a while.  The improvements got better when I separated the speakers from the stands with silicone buttons and added the floor spikes to the stands.  Both are things that audio fetishists go crazy over.  Not as much the spikes, but to read about the "isolation" and "decoupling" of the speaker from the stand using (only) sorbothane balls or brass spikes gets a little weary.

And I thought I had taken things about as far as I could with what I had.  One of the improvements I got with my changes was improved bass.  I could hear the bass and slightly feel it, too.  And you know, once you get a taste of something good, you want more.  That was going to be taken care of by the tower speakers, when I bought them.  But I wasn’t ready to buy them yet, because I liked what I had.  Well, I guess I wanted to like what I had more, so I had a choice to make.

That choice was whether to add a subwoofer to the system for the extra bass.  I read a lot of articles.  I researched a lot of products.  I reviewed my budget.  In the end, it felt like a "fuck it" decision anyway, so yeah.  Subwoofer it is.

Here’s the catch.  Based on what I’ve been reading, having a subwoofer is just not enough.  A very well-written article by a generally polarizing individual explained the technical reasons for subwoofer use in the 60’s, 70’s, then 80’s and beyond.  And that article, along with other higher-end articles stated pretty simply: you need multiple subwoofers.  At a minimum, you need stereo subs, because although it’s popular to say sub=bass is mono, it really isn’t.  But as long as you’re entertaining the idea of multiple subwoofers, having four is not out of the question.

Now, four subwoofers was not and would not be my plan.  But, while researching products, the subwoofer model that I settled on (due to price) did not have stereo inputs.  That would mean that I would have to buy a cable to merge the left and right channels to go into the sub.  I’m not a fan of that idea; it just seems wrong.  So the evidence is stacking up for getting two subwoofers.  The budget doubles.  So which one (or which two)?

You can get subwoofers with speaker sizes of 8", 10", 12", 15", or even 18".  I start small, looking at 8".  I need two of them.  The more I look at them, the less I am convinced.  My bookshelf speakers already have 6" drivers, and the tower speakers I was looking at for the future have multiple 6" drivers.  Is an 8" really going to provide the depth I should have?  So, I look at the 10".  That’s about as far as I will go.  There’s no way I can reasonable justify having two 12" or larger subs in my little listening room.  I wouldn’t even have room for them.  I’m already looking at compact subs because of space concerns.  But, if the future means I have a larger room for my listening hobby, then the 10" subs will be able to handle that growth.  If I do go with the tower speakers in stage 5, the subs will complement them as well.

So the retail price difference between 8 and 10-inch is $229 vs $344 – $115 dollars to upgrade to the larger sub with the bigger amp.  Because of sale prices, the prices are now $126 and $189 -  a bigger discount on the bigger sub.  Now, the upgrade cost is $63.  Still, I need two.  And after looking back and forth and back and forth at numbers in both my web browser and in MS Money, I reached the "fuck it" point and bought two 10" subwoofers.

Fortunately, the subs do come with cables, but I did need to buy two splitter cables, to send the low-level output from my pre-amp to both my bookshelf speakers and the subs.  And what have I ended up with?

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Also new in this picture is a switched power strip mounted below the amplifier, which turns all four speakers on and off.  Since all the controls for the subs are on the bottom of the units, and I was getting concerned and also annoyed by pushing the power buttons on the speakers each day, a single switch should help everything.

Now, how does it sound?  I started my test with all knobs set to the minimum and put on Rush – Signals as my first test.  I went through a few tweaks, raising the crossover, raising the input level, lowering the crossover, and back and forth between the different possibilities.  The result was nice, but not earth-shattering, nor room-shaking.  I was underwhelmed.

Then I thought maybe my choice of album wasn’t that great, so I put on Edgar Meyer – Dreams Of Flight.  Holy shit.  Now I was shaking the walls, which was actually hilarious to see the cat repeatedly alerting on the sound of the pictures vibrating on the wall.  With that album, I did a few more tweaks and lowered the levels a little.

The next test was Tom Petty – Full Moon Fever.  Being produced by Jeff Lynne, certainly this album would have a lot of things happening everywhere in it.  And I wasn’t disappointed at all from the results.  My expectations were being tempered by reality.  Where I expected kick drums to hit me in the chest, that’s not how (decent) albums are mixed.  But what I wasn’t expecting was the loss of the shrillness.  When I would turn up the stereo before, I sort of had to grit my teeth and suffer the high end to get any power.  With the subs hooked up, It was like the high end was tamed.  I don’t want to say "lost", because I don’t think it sounded any duller, just less piercing.

The last test was Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.  I didn’t get the sound I expected, but the sound I got was excellent and very engaging.  My ears weren’t ringing at the end either, which was a blessing.  And it seemed like I was able to go louder than before, probably because I wasn’t getting ice picks in the eardrums.

I’m actually thinking there may not be a stage 5 now…

Stages Part 4

In the previous post on this topic, I discussed the stereo buildup to the point where I had a good listening system.  The next transitional step would be to physically prepare it for the tower speakers, which will be stage 5.  I had made another post about the fortunate timing of my speaker stand purchase, which saved me around $50 or almost a third of what I had budgeted.  So the items have come in and are ready for implementation.

The first piece that came in was the stereo rack.  All black glass and chrome, it allowed each component a shelf of its own, but I still kept the amplifier and equalizer together.  Quality-wise, the stand is a big meh.  I didn’t pay a lot for it, so I can’t be disappointed, but I expect at some point, I’m going to be getting a better rack.

The next day, the speaker stands come in.  Heavy steel plates and posts, which are supposedly the key to keeping bass and separation.  No disappointment here.  We’ll have to see how they perform.

I disassembled my setup and moved the current table out of the way for the new pieces.  While behind the system, I did a little wire management for tidiness sake.  This is what it looked like.

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What did it sound like?  Well, I don’t want to get into all the audio snobbery adjectives, but I will say it sounded better.  Significantly better.  Of course, maybe it’s a placebo effect, I’m not going to rule that out, but I tested out two different CDs, with widely differing musical styles and both sounded more impressive to me than I remembered before.  So I will call it a success.

What’s stage 5 again?  Tower speakers.  Well, that can wait for some time now.  I’m going to have to get tired of this new sound, which could be a little while.

Collection Completion And Expansion

I want to start off by mentioning that CDs are collectables.  There is one irrefutable reason I can make this claim.  That reason is the irrationality of the pricing of any particular CD.  While it shouldn’t be a surprise that any particular thing can be collectable and priced unreasonably high when it becomes scarce, sometimes, the outrageous prices set a particular expectation when researching and shopping.  In this way, I suspect there are a lot of dealers of collectables who will list items at outrageous prices to get people’s expectations set, then actually sell an item (maybe even as a different vendor) at a price less than that expectation, while still being somewhat unreasonable.

So anyway, this is about the last CD in a series that I need for absolute completion.  I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve had so far because those that I have are all of the retail versions out there.  The one I have been missing is a promo-only copy.  Not only a promo-only copy, which could include retail copies with a "Promo, not for resale" sticker or stamp on it, this is a promo-only version.  Obviously far less available and made in much lower quantity.  All this time, there has been one seller of this disc, offering it for $50 plus shipping.  The guy knows the scarcity.

Very recently, a new seller popped up, selling it for $30.  This guy knows, too.  And he’s looking to make a sale based on the one and only one person who has this CD in his wantlist (me).  And you know what, he almost had me.  I was getting ready to buy it when I decided to do a quick sanity check on eBay.  eBay has never had that CD before, but you never know.  And amazingly, it’s on there now.  And only $10.  It’s an immediate buy for me.  Sure, I just paid a decent amount for a used CD, but it’s been unavailable for years and has had an unflinching price of $50.  And now, my collection is absolutely complete.

Do I have other discs in my collection like that?  Yes I do.  Will I be fortunate enough to reap the benefits of scarcity when I sell?  Collectors don’t sell.  That was a trick question.

So, like I said, that completes the collection.  The IRS NoSpeak series is now complete.  The original CD collection that got me into being a completist was the MCA Master Series, which I’ve posted about many times.  Out of curiosity, I did a search to see how much of that series was available for sale on eBay right then.  That would give me an idea of the scarcity of my collection.

I would say it was maybe 50% available and of those, many were double-digit prices, so that’s actually pretty promising, from a value perspective.  But as I was browsing the results, I didn’t have any category filters set, so I was seeing CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.  But there was another product that was in the results – a promotional poster from the record label for the MCA Master Series. 

Well, now.  There’s a product you don’t see very often.  In fact, I’ve never seen one ever, nor heard of it existing.  And that would be understandable.  Posters are given to record stores and other record label contacts, are hung up until they fade or rip (or the label goes out of business), and are discarded.  No one keeps promo material like that.  But here was a surviving example.

I’ve posted before about my big artwork project of scanning, printing, framing, and hanging all of the MCA Master Series album covers as art in my house.  There should not be any doubt whatsoever that this poster must belong to my collection.  And so it became.  I don’t buy a lot of posters.  I don’t really know how much they go for.  But I got this poster for $16 shipped.  Considering the thing is over 30 years old… I don’t think that’s too bad.  It’s a decent size, also:  28" x 26".  I have a place picked out and expect I’m going to spend the big $$$ on a professional framing job.  Once stores open again, of course.

In all, this has been a spendy weekend.  But, a lot of stuff is changing in my music room.  Now stands for stereo speakers and components, a few new CDs are on the way, and a neat poster to hang in there.

The Unexplainable Terror

Following on the heels of the other dream post, last night I had a nightmare.  I know, most people’s nightmares are pretty realistic and usually grounded in some sort of reality.  An event that could potentially happen.  No, not me.  The things that scare me to death are just… weird.

In most of my dreams, they play out kind of first-person, kind of third-person.  More accurately, it’s like I’m a cameraman in the dream.  I may interact and be party to the events going on, but there are also a lot of wide shots or overhead shots, or views that I could not physically have if I was there.  It’s actually quite typical for the astral plane, which is not bound to any concepts of the physical plane.  But I digress.  I’ll come back to that in a bit.

The part where the dream centers on is where myself and a few people have been placed in a remote location.  Not exactly barren, but there’s no civilization there.  We more or less know each other but we don’t know why we’re there.  We are informed that a nuclear explosion is expected to happen.  It’s not absolutely certain, but it’s highly likely.  The time frame is also unknown, but it’s expected to be soon.  It’s assumed to be an attack from outside, not something we’re doing to ourselves.  Despite this, no one is really freaking out over it.  It’s all delivered and received very matter-of-factly.

This is the unexplainable part.  After being told that essentially we’re all going to die soon in a nuclear blast, it is explained that is not exactly how we’re going to die.  When the first nuclear explosion happens, we will utilize a different weapon for retaliation.  Not much detail is given about this weapon or technology, but when asked about its effect, the explanation is "time will go backwards for about 30 seconds."

That statement still creeps me even now.  I can’t explain why, but I’ll try in a little bit.

Our group passes the time, inexplicably, playing music together in a band format.  We’re figuring out songs that everyone knows and surprising each other with our musical knowledge and breadth of experience.  During one song, me being cameraman, I have a wide shot of the group playing and suddenly the music stops and everyone has been knocked to the ground.  In the distance, a mushroom cloud starts forming.  The time has come.

As cameraman, still, the scene pans to the left to an open field where I know the special weapon is.  Out of the ground, small (like really small, maybe an inch in diameter) metal tubes rise up.  The number sticking in my head is 60, but there were no way 60 in the scene, maybe 8-10.  And they each shot a small cylinder high into the air.  No huge explosion or report – I’m not sure how they were propelled.  A few seconds later, the payloads came back down to the ground and submerged into the ground.  Again, no explosion, they just buried themselves into the ground near the tubes they were released from.

The weapon then started and it appeared like the payloads got sucked back out of the ground and arced back to their tubes, but the motion was choppy and sequenced.  Not all the payloads came back out and the ones that did made a very clear whooshing/shh-ing sounds as they came back out.  And then.. nothing.  Stillness, a freeze-frame.  And I woke up.

I woke up absolutely terrified.  And what I was scared about was not death or dying, but this concept of time going backwards.  As I’ve spent the day pondering why that is so scary to me, the best I can come up with is that in my dream, the smart people have theoretically devised a destruction method that transcends all life.  A nuclear response is simply not enough.  Destroying all life on Earth isn’t enough, even physically destroying the Earth itself isn’t enough.  This weapon has to destroy the entirety of existence, everywhere.  Because no one knows what would really happen if you could reverse time.  The best theory we have is the event horizon of black holes where time slows to nothing and matter is ripped apart at the atomic level.  What could happen if you went beyond that?

And even that explanation doesn’t satisfy me.  It’s assigning a bogeyman to the concept, but it’s the concept itself that scares me.  One of my post-waking thoughts was a consideration of how supposedly everything in our universe is simple vibrations.  Denser matter (the physical) vibrates at a slower frequency and you move into the astral and higher planes of existence the vibrations become higher.  And my mind thought that a sudden shift in time from forward to actual reverse, would disintegrate our beings by disrupting the vibrations in a way that we could not rematerialize again.

That probably doesn’t make any sense.  Let me try and give it some context.  In esoteric philosophy, there is the belief that at our core, we are a soul (an ego, an id) and we present ourselves on different planes of existence by forming bodies of material native to those planes.  Those bodies would be of the vibrational frequency native to the plane.  As you move up in divinity, you shed each denser body to begin life in a higher-frequency body in the higher plane.  Follow that so far?  So now, what if your ego/id/soul was ripped apart even at its highest frequency?  You would no longer exist, period.  Nothing, no one would exist anymore.  It’s the real end-times.  Not just the end of the physical world, but the end of all planes of existence, the end of existence itself.

But, that’s just a weird, funny, unexplainable idea.  I mean the planes of existence concept isn’t even widely considered valid, and no one even knows what time is all about.  Some sources say we’re a unique species that is bound by time, where other, higher forms do not have that constraint.  Oh well.  I guess time will tell what comes of this.  It’s just a dream, right?

A Long Time To Decide

The quarantine finally got to me a couple of days ago and I had to go out for a drive to get some dinner at a place about 90 minutes away.  On that drive, I had a CD by The Good Rats and a song came on, Victory In Space.  This song is somewhat about NASA buying hookers for astronauts, but it’s also the germ of an idea I had for a NaNoWriMo novel.  The story idea – all I had – was about an intergalactic hooker in an erotic comedy genre.  That’s open to just about anything I could think up.  So when I heard that song come on, it got me thinking about the story again.

NaNoWriMo is still 6 months away, so I have plenty of time to commit and begin planning, or just let the idea waste away for another year.  Last night as I was falling asleep, I gave some consideration to the idea.  NaNo doesn’t care what format you write in, as long at it has a word count.  So I started thinking out of the box.  First I considered something like a series of blog entries.  There’s lots of ways I could present that.  First person, like a journal of the hooker; or third person, writing about her.  But blog entries always have this "newer is first" problem that makes reading a story difficult.

While thinking about the navigation aspect of such a story, it led me in a different direction.  Maybe I could write a choose-your-own-adventure story.  Hypertext and links are the perfect medium for presenting a story like that.  However,  a story like that could be a massive undertaking and while it’s literally unlimited in scope and plot, that’s also its downfall as many paths would be unfulfilling.

Considering those issues rekindled yet another memory of mine, where I would imagine I was a movie director.  My magnum opus would be one movie with at least 4 different plot lines in it and each had different endings based on the result of a climax in the second half.  The first half would reuse most of the scenes in each of the plots, but there would be some differences between them, like being shot from a different perspective or in a different place at the same time, showing extra info about the other potential plots.  The goal of the movie would be to cause a bunch of confusion at release time with different reviewers writing about the story and their reviews all conflict with each other as to what happened.

With that in mind, what if I did something similar with my adventure story where as you progress, you might end up in a different plotline depending on when you navigated to the next page?  But who would ever notice something like that?  You’d have to make it known at the beginning to watch out for it, which would just spoil the whole concept.

And all this is just thinking right now.  I’m not even sure I want to commit to another month of writing non-stop.  And if I did, it would be a planned story instead of my usual figure-it-out-as-you-fuck-it-all-up style. So that could slow me down anyway.  We’ll see…

Stages (Parts 1 – 3)

Being cooped up in the house with the COVID stay-the-fuck-at-home orders has led me to express my shopping needs in other ways.  The subject at hand is my stereo system.  An earlier post reminded me that I’ve had this goal to recapture the stereo excitement of my youth for quite a few years now.  And that’s not to say progress hasn’t been made – it definitely has.

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It started with a cheap thrift store stereo, a tape deck, and headphones.  Then a CD player was added.  Then another CD player was added.  But still, very little listening was being done.  Then the milestone of having a dedicated room for listening was reached and I cobbled a new and different stereo system together using my powered studio monitors and a new preamplifier to handle inputs and volume.  A dedicated listening chair completed the arrangement.  This setup has worked very well for over a year.

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But I’ve been envisioning the real stereo experience, with a powerful amplifier and full-size speakers to go with it.  However, in these uncertain times, I don’t want to blow a wad of cash all at once, so I’ve planned out a phased approach to get there relatively quickly.

The primary hardware to complete the goal is really only two items: the amplifier and the speakers.  There’s also some ancillary bits as well, including furniture for the hardware.  I’ve kind of been stalled on progress because I didn’t want to buy the amp and the speakers all in one go, but I didn’t want to buy either one and just have it sit unused until I bought the other.  Then, I had a revelation, which came late, but probably at a better time.

If I buy an amplifier, it would be a waste until I bought my speakers, because my existing speakers have built in amplifiers without any way to bypass them.  My revelation made me realize that although the amplification in my speakers can’t be bypassed, the amplifier circuit in the right model of amplifier could be.  That would reduce the amplifier to only preamplifier functions, just like the preamplifier I currently own.

The search was then on for a receiver that had preamp outputs on it.  And the critical decision needed to be made: do I go vintage or modern?  In my original plan, I had current, modern products picked out and a pretty large budget for them.  And now, after experiencing a number of vintage CD players, I’m not sure I need anything more modern than them.  So vintage it is.  And in keeping with my nostalgia, I’m going to choose the Technics brand.  Justly or no, Technics has a bad reputation for their 80’s gear.  There are fans out there as well, but they get shut down often by "the ones who know better".

The model I picked was the SU-V98, which has the required preamp outputs and will also be suitable for my future speakers with 110 watts per channel.  That’s actually pretty respectable as many of the amps I had been looking at were 30-50.  As luck would have it, a listing just popped up on EBay selling one for $70.  Others were priced in the $150 range, so the purchase was made.  Step one complete.

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Now, the last step in the transition will be the purchase of the speakers.  I’ll be able to run everything right the way I have it now, simply substituting my preamp for this new Technics amplifier.  But, it’s not going to be a viable long-term option.  See, my stereo setup is on a long Ikea table.  Ikea stuff isn’t known for its durability and even with only a couple of CD players sitting in the middle of the span, I can see the slightest bit of sagging happening.  Adding a 15lb amp to the table isn’t going to make that any better.  So step two in the mid-term is going to be new furniture.

Replacing the Ikea table will require a new stereo rack and stands for the studio monitors.  In the final stage, the studio monitors and stands will be replaced with tower speakers.  Since the speaker stands are only temporary, I can skimp out on them, but I should get the stereo rack with the goal of having it be suitable for the future.  However, when shopping for speaker stands, there is a clear distinction between "good" and "good enough".  That difference is the size of the mounting plate on top.  In most all affordable stands, that plate is 5"x5".  My speakers are about 8"x10".  Balancing those heavy, expensive speakers on a tiny platform 32 inches off the ground doesn’t sound appealing to me, especially with cats in the house.

That alters my plans a little bit.  It essentially doubles the budget for the speaker stands.  But, to remain positive, the stand quality will be excellent and the speakers are already excellent, so there won’t be any unnatural need to rush to the last step and buy the tower speakers.  There will be time to enjoy and appreciate the configuration as it is. 

And that’s really the plan:  to enjoy the upgrade journey.  Sometimes when you get the end result all at once, you can’t appreciate al the elements involved, because you have no history of change to compare it to.  This is really the best way to grow a stereo system.  Will it ever end?  For a lot of people, it never does.  In fact, I do know one more step I can take after "the last step".  If I find my amplifier doesn’t sound as good as I think it could, the preamp outputs in the SU-V98 can be used for what they were designed for – running an external amplifier.

Album Artwork Project

Today, I completed a project that has been an off and on effort for a very long time.  Finally, I have all of my ripped music with high-quality cover artwork.  My definition of high quality starts at 950px, but the ones that I have been augmenting myself are 1500px.  This began many years ago, judging by past blog posts, about 6 years ago.  My first thought was scanning ALL of my CDs.  That was overly ambitious to say the least.  Then the plan was to scan only the MCA Master Series so I could print them and hang them on the wall as art.  That was doable and was completed.  Then the plan became to only scan the covers which had no suitable online version.

And that is what took me years to complete, just because it became somewhat low priority.  If I had artwork at all, that’s pretty good.  But when I started using Plex regularly, I really noticed when my artwork was subpar.  The cover would be all fuzzy and pixelated on my large TV where I was viewing Plex.  So that sort of got me motivated.

The biggest problem was identifying which albums had poor album art.  And for that, I wrote a utility that would scan my Plex database and read all the covers and get their measurements, then create an export file that I could filter and sort to what I needed.  And over time, the list of low-res covers shrank, to the point where I am today.

And while I was creating these better quality scans, I continued to upload them to my Flickr page for anyone to download, but I doubt anyone really finds them there.  So along the way, I tried to find a more popular website where I could share my work.  Fanart.tv seemed to be promising, and I did get some covers approved there, but I ran into a problem with moderators that were either too picky, or didn’t recognize the original artwork and dismissed it as incorrect.  And as I had read in their usage guidelines, you are not to argue with a moderator, just do what they say.  I chose to leave, instead.  I’ve had such trouble finding a community that I can participate in.

Despite that trouble, I’m still pleased with myself.  I’m not one to need a lot of recognition or praise, I just want to contribute.

On The Side

Today I learned something.  While working from home, one of the cats was being stupid as usual and batted something off the kitchen counter onto the floor.  Naturally, I went to go clean it up and when I picked up the mess, I was surprised to see water on the floor.

"Where did this water come from?"  I opened up the lower cabinets and immediately suspected the coffee maker that’s been sitting under there for months.  But that didn’t make any sense, surely I would have drained the water tank before I put it away and even if I didn’t, why would something start leaking now?

I started pulling things out of the cabinets, which prompted the cats to get in the cabinets… ugh.  And what I found to be the source of the wetness was a 12-pack of 7-UP.  I pulled the box out and went to the sink and started removing cans.  One can was noticeable hissing.  Its seal had broken.  And there was a second can that was deflated as well.  What the fuck!

I cleaned up the drained sugar water from inside the cabinet and went to pull out the other 12-packs I had in storage under there.  Oh no.  This has happened before, and somehow, I never noticed it.  Two cardboard boxes were absolutely covered in black mold.  Excising the contents showed that two of the cans had broken seals, who knows how long ago.

I got out the Lysol and removed all the mold from the inside of the cabinets.  Unfortunately, the soda never drained out onto the floor where I could see it, so that means it all went under the cabinets.  Someone’s going to be in for a surprise when they remodel that kitchen.

But here’s the lesson.  The 12-packs, also called fridge packs, like this:

This is not how they get stored.  You have to turn them onto their sides, so the cans remain upright.  Maybe the soda ate through the seal opening (I wouldn’t be surprised), or maybe the seal just failed from age or poor quality.  In either case, had the can been upright, the carbonation would have just escaped and the can would be depressurized.  But, with the can on its side, as pictured, well, that liquid is going to go somewhere.  And I found out the hard way.

But, All The Money I Saved

What did I accomplish this weekend?  My plan was to work on the car.  When I last had my brakes done, the service center gave me a list of what else needed fixed on my 10 yr old, 300k mile car.  One item of note was the valve cover gasket.  It was leaking.  The other items were like $3k of work.  But a gasket, I can handle that.  Unbolt the valve cover, replace gasket, bolt cover back on.  One hour, tops.

That’s all well and good for “normal” cars.  The MX-5 is anything but normal.  Changing a headlight bulb on a normal car is popping the hood, taking out the old bulb and putting in a new one.  Changing a headlight bulb on the MX-5 means jacking up the car and taking the wheels off.  It’s utter bullshit.  So listen to me when I say that if you’re going to change the valve cover gasket on an MX-5, you have to take off the windshield wipers.

I started the project pretty optimistically.  I started with the obvious things.  Take off the spark plug coils.  Ok, I can see the sway bar crossbar needs to come off.  Ok, the rest of the sway bars need to come off as well.  Ok, now the AC hoses are in the way, let’s unbolt those.  How do I even get to these back bolts?  There’s a steel panel that has to come off to get at those bolts.  That means I have to take the cowl off.  Off come the wipers, off comes the cowl.  Off comes another plastic drainage piece.  Still no room to work.  Off comes the windshield wiper motor.  Finally, off comes the center plate blocking the access to the rear bolts.

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About this time, I was pretty well pissed off.  Every bolt or nut I take off is one that I have a high probability of dropping into the engine bay, never to be seen again.  Every part I take off is potentially one I could either forget to put back or put back in the wrong order so I have to take it back off again.  While taking a break, I refer to the service quote for my car.  How much am I actually saving for this hassle?  $200.  200 fucking dollars.  There’s no way this job can be done in $200 time.  The gasket itself is like $25.

I finally get everything off and all valve cover bolts loosened and the cover won’t come off.  All the videos I saw online, the cover just pops off.  Not mine.  And you’re discouraged from trying to pry it up, either.  My workaround was to run a nylon zip tie through an unused hole on the corner of the cover and pull up.  With a loud pop, the cover broke free.  Finally, some progress.

The gasket was in poor shape, yes.  It was hard, dry, and brittle when I pulled it out, to the point of splitting multiple times as it got pulled.  Replacing the gasket felt pretty good in comparison.  Despite the difficulty of the work, I feel this should have been done at least once before on this engine.  I added the silicone sealant as I’d seen in videos, which differed from the official service bulletin, but was consistent with the sealant residue left on the engine from the original gasket.  After tightening down all the bolts in the specific order needed, I gave up for the day.  That was four hours of work.

The next day, I got to reassembly.  It went a lot smoother and I made no mistakes while fitting all the pieces back in.  That’s not to say it was easy.  The plastic cowl covering the wiper motor and holding the washer hoses was a real pain in the ass.  I know it’s now not as good as it was before, but it’s livable.  And I was left with one bolt left over.  I purposely did not put it back in because it was in a terrible location and only held a bracket for an electrical connection that I had broken off anyway.  No sense replacing a bracket that can’t hold anything.

My initial startup test didn’t show any leaks.  My post-reassembly drive didn’t show any leaks.  My drive to dinner and back presented some slight oil burning smell, but that could be left over oil from the work.  I didn’t see anything leaking around the cover.  The first spark plug well had a substantial pool of oil in it when I started.  I mopped most of it out, but couldn’t get all of it.

In the end, that was over 6 hours of work.  It would have definitely been worth the $200 to have the dealer install it and not have to worry about possibly doing it wrong, nor getting covered in dirt and oil, nor back pains from stretching and bending over an engine bay for hours.  But I did get to use my tools.  They did their job quite well.