Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Getting my music back

Ever since I picked the R up with 34 miles on the odometer I'd noticed that one or two of my CDs would reach a particular track and stop--without fail--and be automatically ejected. I originally assumed that the R's CD player was having a strange reaction to some type of copy protection and while this gave me the initial impetus to purchase a 6-disc CD changer other than that I left it alone.

More recently the stock CD player has completely gone kaput. It won't recognize any CDs it had played previously. I stick the CD in, the player spins uselessly, Error 1 appears, and the CD pops back out. At first I shrugged my shoulders and let it go. I have my CD changer, right? But as time went on the inconvenience began to bother me. I keep my current favourites in the changer, but for a change I find it convenient to use the player in the headunit. I did some research, mainly on vwvortex, and discovered that others with similar problems had had the entire headunit replaced under warranty.

Anywhoo, I decided that at my rapidly approaching 30k service I'd inquire whether Pro-Imports could take a look at the CD player at the same time. This lasted about a month or so until I began to question why I was willing to pay for repairs still covered by my Volkswagen 4-yr/50k warranty. Scaring away customers from free repairs must be a talent only VW has.

So the next question was which dealership do I take the R to? I've been to several in my area, the best only lasting 2-3 cases before disappointing me and causing me to promise, never again. This time I decided on King VW--I've been there frequently for parts, but never for service; they're conveniently located with shuttle service every half hour to the Metro.

This morning I had an appointment at King VW for 8:00 am. Apparently, although my appointment was for 8 o'clock, VW would need 8 hours to look at it. Wangos. I finished signing paper work at 7:55 am. Unfortunately, I'd missed the 8 o'clock shuttle. Eh? Oh well, to their waiting room, then, which had a table, some chairs, one lonely magazine, and a television showing Good Morning America (which deserves a separate post all on its own). No coffee, no newspaper, nada.

8:30 am--bored out of my mind and still no shuttle, but no longer alone. Several other customers seem to be in the same boat.

9:00 am-- Yay! All aboard... a Nissan. Eh?! Oh well. We're on our way, yipee! But... wait... first the driver needs to stop for some gas. While the driver is outside filling up we passengers compare notes on the quality of customer service at different dealerships.

2:00 pm--I'm finally at work and still pretty confident that King VW doesn't really need 8 hours to confirm that the CD player doesn't work. I call for an update. Gee, the entire headunit needs to be replaced and you don't have it in stock? Tell me something I don't know.

In the evening I picked up the R (one of the reasons I dislike VW service is that in my experience they always adjust the seats and never even attempt to put them back the way they were) and discover that King VW is unable to even give me an estimate as to when the part will arrive. Ugh.

So, what condition was the R in when I picked it up? No new scratches or dings (yay!), seats out of whack (oh well), and my flapper mod was activated. Eh? I'd purposely turned it off before dropping off the R. I hope they were just trying to see what it was, rather than goof up the wiring. If they were that curious they could have just called me. Oh yeah, and the R no longer beeps when I lock the doors. What the heck?! How for the love of all things R did they mess *that* up when they were only checking my CD player!?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Subaru STI: One year fuel-consumption data

STI at Night
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
I finally got around to entering my fuel receipts into the spreadsheet I have for the 2006 Subaru Impreza STI. The STI actually hasn't seen much road time since last September when the Honda Odyssey took over main grocery-getter duties (including chauffeuring the kids to their martial arts lessons twice a week). Intoxicated with the new-car smell of the Odyssey's leather interior and distracted by shiny electronic trinkets like voice-activated navigation, I'm sad to admit that I had no need to fill the tank in the STI at all for the entire month of October.

Thank goodness for the snow! The fluffy white stuff that causes many drivers to shudder uncontrollably, put a huge grin on my face. Using the DCCD to lock the center differential meant that the STI handled even the worst conditions with total confidence--and a little flair ;0)

After getting a call from Rob Tang last week, I've actually been driving the STI more--especially since the "risk" that I was encountering at work was no longer a factor (for now). Because my driving sessions in the STI are fewer, they have been... how should I put it... filled with more "enthusiasm." You'll see evidence of that in the fuel consumption data where I went from a high average of 18.7 MPG during July, to a low of 13.6 MPG for the most recent fill-ups.

You can find a link to the fuel consumption data on the side bar under Vehicle Information Links but this is the direct link.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Panasonic vs. Sony: And the winner is... LG!

Well, it finally happened: we bought a new TV. This is definitely not a common occurrence because the last TV we bought was a 19" Toshiba I picked up from London Drugs about 8 years ago.

The reason for this momentous occasion is the (imminent) death of the main TV set in our living room: a 32" picture-tube Panasonic GAAO. In it's glory days, it was a wonderful set and it's definitely seen a lot of use. Being at least 15 years old, it has probably outlasted it's lifespan. I noticed for awhile now that the sound coming from the set was getting harder and harder to hear. I would turn it up louder, but I still couldn't understand what was being said. I thought there was something wrong with my ears. I turned it up so loud that the garbled noise filled the entire 3 floors of our house. The problem finally visualized a couple of weeks ago when the screen started to sputter and pop for a few minutes whenever we turned the TV on.

Now I think that 15 years is a pretty good track record. I don't think there are very many consumer electronics that can be used for hours and hours almost every day of the week for 15 years without a hiccup. Yet, I can't help but question the quality of Panasonic televisions. Why? Because we have a couple of Sony television sets that are even older and are holding up strong.

The first is a 27" Sony that my wife's parents bought just before I met her back in 1987--over twenty years ago! I was so impressed with the picture and sound ("surround-sound" was just introduced) that I convinced my father to buy a similar 27" Sony a couple of years later. Both are still in use and both are running perfectly. So our plan is to dump the Panasonic, bring the 27" Sony downstairs and use that as our main viewing set. (I've already taken measurements, so when the Sony dies we can get a 52" plasma!)

Right now, the Sony is sitting in the IKEA wall unit in our bedroom but, like all picture-tube televisions, this set is so heavy that there's an uncomfortable "curve" on the shelf where it rests. It will now be replaced with a brand new (and much lighter) LG 37LC2D--a 37" flat panel LCD TV :0) I was so surprised how easy it was to carry home and setup by myself. I chose this particular model because it's a mid-range LCD that got good ratings in the November 2006 issue of Consumer Reports. Flat-panel TVs are too new to have a long track record, but CR says that LCD and Plasma sets have shown to be just as reliable as picture-tube TVs in the first 2 years.

For now, the new flat-panel is in the living room and it will stay there until at least after the SuperBowl next week. I actually heard on the radio that TV sales peak every year in the weeks leading up to Superbowl Sunday. I guess I've just added to that statistic!

Postscript: I've done some more reading about this particular LG flat screen, and there have been some minor changes in the specifications. The model number printed on the box states: 37LC2D-UE. Changes in this model include two HDMI inputs (vs. one) and one coaxial input (vs. two) and support for higher resolutions when connected to a PC.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sony PSP Homebrew

I've meaning to post about this for a little while but I wanted to make sure that I got everything working first. Last week, the last item that I ordered from the Best Buy's online Boxing Day Sale finally arrived. It was a San Disk 4 gig Memory Stick Pro card that had been back-ordered.

I bought the 4 gig memory card to use in the other thing I bought myself: a Sony PSP! I didn't know much about the PSP until someone I knew showed me theirs. It looked pretty good so I got interested and when I saw the basic console on sale, I decided to get it.

It wasn't until I got the PSP in the first shipment that I started to research more about it and I discovered a whole new world of Homebrew and downgrading. When Sony first introduced the PSP, it had the ability to run "homemade" software and people took advantage of that to write programs and games and share them with others. With subsequent firmware upgrades, in addition to adding new features, Sony has removed Homebrew capability with additional security patches. Thus you have the phenomena of "downgrading"--taking your newly purchased PSP with updated software, and switching it back to the good old days of Version 1.5 where Homebrew lives in glory.

So what I have right now is a Sony PSP running version 3.03OE (Open Edition) which gives me all the Homebrew ability of version 1.5 but also all the new features and capabilities that Sony has introduced. I'll describe some of those in another post.

Now downgrading is not without risks. It is possible to turn your $200 PSP into a brick, but if they steps are done correctly you can minimize that risk. I already posted some of the links I used to help me in my bookmarks, but here are the steps I followed:

1. What arrived at my doorstep was a PSP with firmware version 2.71 and a TA-082 motherboard. Sony introduced more anti-homebrew security with this motherboard. The latest firmware was version 3.03 which was released in December 2006 and it was lucky that Best Buy sent me the older model because it is the last version that is currently "downgrade-able." Anything over 2.71 is not. I followed the excellent steps posted here by Jak_Master to downgrade from 2.71 to 1.50.

2. Once I was at firmware version 1.50 I was able to install the custom firmware written by Dark_Alex, version 3.03 OE-B. It seems the whole Homebrew community owes a lot to Dark_Alex. Once again I used the excellent steps written by Jak_Master to install 3.03 OE. It took my PSP about an hour to run through the whole process--much longer than other people. I think it may have been due to the speed of the 1 gig memory stick I was using.

3. Last night I upgraded to version 3.03 OE-C. Immediate improvements include a faster boot time, and higher Wi-Fi speeds. It's awesome. This step took the longest, almost an hour and a half. Make sure you have the PSP plugged into the wall outlet if you attempt to do this yourself.

BTW, I don't wear pink sunglasses! When I was taking pictures of my PSP for this post, my 4-year-old daughter stopped playing and watched me instead. She took off her sunglasses and as I was composing the shot, she gradually pushed the sunglasses closer and closer. She was very pleased with herself when I took a picture of my PSP with her sunglasses :0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

VW R32: Missing center cap

A while ago I'd been making my customary circuit around the R when I saw the rear passenger wheel was missing its center cap. Ugh. Serendipitously I had time that same day to stop by a local Volkswagen dealership to purchase a replacement (Part No. 1J0-601-171). It wasn't as expensive as I'd feared and installation was a snap... literally. It pushes straight in.


and after...

Anywhoo, more pics here, but really, not much more can be said.

Monday, January 22, 2007

BlogShares: The Fantasy Blog Stock Market

Lately I've been spending a lot of time over at BlogShares. It's an online stock market game that I find quite fun. I first found out about the site one day while I was Googling myself (hmmm... that sounds kind of unsavory...). I had no idea what it was all about--stocks and bonds and P/E ratios all sounded too complex for me. But I was pleased that my blog had been entered into some kind of directory.

For several months, I would check back once in a while to peek at what was going on, but I never got curious enough to sign up until after R32Argent posted about BlogShares on his site. That was it. I decided to sign up myself and learn about the game.

In BlogShares instead of trading shares of companies, you buy and sell shares in blogs. Blogs are sorted into "industries" (like categories) that simply describe what the blog is about in the directory. It works much like a stock market where trading in shares can affect share prices and your net worth. Unlike a real stock market, it is absolutely free to join!

Playing the game is actually quite simple and it's easy to build the B$500 you are given as seed money into something quite large. In fact I found BlogShares quite addictive. How addictive? Well, in the few weeks after I had signed up, I found myself ranked number one in net growth for the month of December 2006!

Beyond the simplicity of getting started, once you build-up your cash reserves to where you want them, you can challenge yourself by getting involved with different levels of strategy. I've since joined a corporation and have gotten involved with strategic voting, hostile takeovers, and defending assets--all great fun!

One last thing is that by participating in BlogShares and voting blogs into different industries, I've been visiting and reading so many different blogs on so many different topics. Ha, ha--I didn't realize how many people around the world were blogging!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Most drivers are unprepared for winter

Last week we got another dump of snow just in time for the morning commute. Of course, it happened to be on the day that I had a 7:30 am appointment in south Vancouver. It normally would be a 40 min trip, but it took me almost 2 hours to arrive--most of it simply trying to get out of Coquitlam and New Westminster.

Because of the additional snow on top of the deep freeze (-11ยบ C overnight temperatures) a few days before, the roads were very slick. Not that we had any problems in the Subaru. Back-ups were caused by people who were slipping and getting stuck simply because they were not prepared for the weather.

But I mean, really, shouldn't have these people known better? I saw one person in a BMW X5 with their wheels locked sliding down a very slight incline unable to stop. There was no danger because it was were sliding at a pedestrian pace toward the curb, but that person was holding up traffic for blocks behind them. If you drive a BMW X5 you should be able to afford winter tires!

I know I set myself up for disappointment, but I would have hoped that people would have the sense the need for winter tires since we had a record snowfall back in November that caused all sorts of havoc and created a run on winter tires. Three weeks later--plenty of time for time shops to re-stock--we had another dump of snow and then the clear skies with the deep freeze that I mentioned before. Lots of black ice in the mornings, lots of accidents, lots of news reports. Wouldn't that make someone think that maybe they should buy some winter tires? Especially if they live on a mountain?

I guess my expectations are too high, considering the number of front-wheel-drive cars I've seen in the neighborhood with winter steelies mounted on the rear!?!

Anyway, I took the picture above at about 5pm in the parking lot of Pizza Hut in Coquitlam. We were ordering some take-out for dinner. Right after placing our order, the restaurant decided to close early and send all their employees home.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Envizio Wheel Wizard

Beng posted this link over at Odyclub and I thought it was amusing. It's a wheel selector that allows you to customize your vehicle by choosing size and type of wheels as well as colour and suspension height. Then you select a background (unfortunately there are only 3 available) and you can pan, tilt, and rotate until you get the look you want. Once you are done, you can render the image and email it to anyone. It's pretty nifty, although the rendering of the STI came out kind of dark. I also wish there were a better selection of wheels available.

Note: You do have to install a plug-in to get it to work, but it's small and fast and works fine in Firefox (I don't use IE).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Where I spend a lot of my time....

I updated my website with some interior pictures I took this morning. But I thought I'd save everyone the trouble and post some here. :o)

The R32 has great seats (from Koenig) with large bolsters that provide great support and hold you in place during quick turns. My R has the only option offered for the 2004 VW R32, leather seating.

The rear seats are nice, too. The R comes with three full-sized head rests in the rear, but I removed the middle one because I found it distracting. The seats fold down for extra storage space.

I love the R's thicker steering wheel with thumb cutouts. I just can't say enough good things about it. It’s really comfortable to hold and the shortened rack is wonderfully responsive.

The 2004 R32 only comes in a 6-speed manual transmission (for the United States, anyway). There's torque just about everywhere, and shifting feels great. The R32 already came stock with a shortened throw, but early on I had installed a short shift from EIP that makes it even better. :o) The shift knob has lost a little of its shiny-new luster, but I still like how it looks.

When I had my 2003 GTI I looked into getting .:R pedal covers--expensive! So I was quite pleased that they come stock with the R. Sorry about the dirt, but hey, it's winter!

The R also comes with some nifty .:R floor mats. I replaced them immediately with monster mats, but they still look nice, don't they?

The R comes with a Monsoon system with AM/FM, CD and tape player, along with climatronic. Climatronic is nice, but it's positioned kind of low so its hard to make adjustments without taking your eyes off the road. Sound is acceptable (for me, at least). No navigation was offered; I purchased a used 6-disc CD changer that was a simple plug-and-play in the hatch.

Mmmm... shiny.... :p

Finally, here's a look at the dashboard from further back, just to provide perspective on the layout.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Out with the old....

There’s the saying, “out with the old, in with the new”, well, recently I said my final goodbyes to something old—a white 1988 Toyota Camry. It was the first car I ever drove and it was mine to drive for 5-6 years before I moved overseas. It’s been sitting in my parents’ garage for the past 10-11 years collecting dust but the Camry is finally moving on to a new owner.

I don't have anything really new, so I'll just go with this: R32 fuel consumption 2007.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

2006 Honda Odyssey - 3580 km - Winter tires mounted

With yesterday's snowfall I finally decided that today was the day to put the winter tires on the Honda Odyssey.

Actually, I didn't make my final decision to do it until noon today when I went outside with the intention of shoveling the driveway. Overnight, the melting snow iced over and everything was frozen. The messy slush that created pools of water everywhere was now replaced with hardened snow and black ice. No chance in me even attempting to shovel the driveway.

Swapping to winter wheels on the Odyssey in the middle of all this snow and ice was not a problem because there was plenty of clearance inside my garage. Also the jacking points were very easy to find and access with the floor jack.

What a difference the Hankook Ice Bear winter tires make. My previous encounter with snow in the Odyssey with the stock all-seasons had me immediately stuck half-way in my driveway. The winter tires had no problems in today's icy conditions.

I weighed the stock wheels and tires and they were about 50 lbs each.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Surprise, Snow!

Surprise: snow!
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
We got more snow today than the forecasters predicted. After dropping my wife off at the train station this morning I meandered my way back home.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

R32 personal fuel consumption

Here's my R's fuel consumption data for 2006. I think one of my New Year's resolutions will be going to Shell less often. :o)

Fuel consumption: 2004; 2005.

How do I spell relief?

Despite the amount of food I gorged on during the holidays, I'm not talking about Pepto Bizmol. While I definitely enjoyed my holidays, I also missed driving--though my angst was somewhat alleviated by a chance to drive Stargazer's STI. :o) During the flight home I became increasingly anxious about in what condition I would find the R. Well, I was relieved to find my stressing had been a waste of energy. It's dirtier than it was, but that will be solved as soon as it warms up enough to wash.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

2006 Honda Odyssey Navigation Screen Hack

UPDATE: 2008 Honda Odyssey Navigation Screen Hack

I received this information from Brian who was successful in completing this mod on his 2008 Odyssey:

I was able to Hack my new '08 Odyssey Navi with help from your blog and other sources. I used the new DumpNavi "bysin.exe" instead of CEbin.

The '08 has a couple other bmp files you have to modify to match your picture. I had to modify move and match these four files:
  1. Navi_Title.bmp
  2. Honda_emblem.bmp
  3. Opening1.bmp
  4. OpeningBase.bmp
Just thought I'd leave that bit of information for anyone else trying with an '08.


I originally posted my success with modifying the startup splash screen on our 2006 Honda Odyssey navigation system here but I never actually put down all the steps in one place. Until now :0)

My thanks go out to the people at OdyClub and AcruaZine whose threads I followed to get inspired to do this modification. Special thanks to sejong over at OdyClub, who pointed me to the correct file to start with and answered my questions when I ran into problems. I wouldn't have been able to complete this modification without his help.

Your mileage may vary: By posting this here, I am simply describing what I did with my own 2006 Honda Odyssey Touring. This information may not apply to different model trims or years. I can make no guarantees that this will work on other vehicles nor can I guarantee that doing this mod will not turn your navigation system into a brick. If you are unsure how to create a batch file using Notepad and how to use the Command Line prompt on your computer, you may not want to attempt this mod.

Software that I used:
  1. HVCT - To convert the image to the proper format.
  2. CEbin - To update the original bin files from the navigation disc. Another program mentioned on the forums dumpnavi didn't work for me. (There is an "Improved DumpNavi" that may work and may be easier to use to update the .bin file but I haven't tried it.)
  3. A program to burn files to a CD.
The following are the Odyssey-specific steps I did to customize the opening screen on the genuine-Honda GPS navigation system. Note: As far as I know all files are case-sensitive.

Step 1
I copied the 9 bin files from the Honda Navigation DVD (v4.31C) to the hard drive on my computer. Only one actually needs to be modified, but I copied them all anyway.

Step 2
I also copied these four additional files as well:
  • A0000_00.MNG
  • DCA0.REG
  • UPDATE_APL.exe
Step 3
I used a paint program to create the picture I wanted to use for the opening splash screen with the following specifications:
  • 24-bit BMP format with no more than 256 colors
  • Dimensions: 480 x 234
Step 4
I used the HCVT program to convert my 24-bit bitmap image to the proper format required by the navigation system. It converts a 480x234x24-bit bitmap to a 16-bit bitmap of the required 224,712 bytes. I then renamed this file as Opening1.bmp

Step 5
I used CEbin to replace the old image in the bin file with my new image. To operate CEbin I created a replace.bat file using Notepad with the following text:
image 05Touch2.bin
verbose on

replacefile Opening1.bmp Opening1.bmp

Step 6
Using the command prompt, I typed this command:
cebin replace.bat
That updates the 05Touch2.bin with the new splash screen file called Opening1.bmp

Step 7
There is now a new file called in the directory. I moved the original file (05Touch2.bin) and renamed this new file to 05Touch2.bin

Step 8
I used a CD burning program to copy the updated .bin file plus all the other .bin files as well as the other 4 files (in Step 2) onto a blank CD-R.

Step 9: Out in the garage
I put the key in and started up the nav system. I didn't have the engine running because I was confident the battery would not die.

Step 10: Updating the navigation system
When the nag screen came on, I pressed the MAP/Guide + Cancel + Menu buttons at the same time and held it for about 5 seconds. After a little "beep," this screen appears:

I pressed "Version" and saw this screen:

Then I opened the door to the Nav drive (which is under the driver's seat), ejected the disc, and replaced it with my custom burned disc. LEAVING THE DOOR OPEN, the system attempted to read the new disc. I waited until I got this screen:

I press the MAP/Guide + Cancel + Menu buttons again to go back to the Diagnosis screen. I pressed Version again.

Next I pressed Download and saw this screen....

...and then this one after the system recognized the disc:

It took about a minute or two for the progress bar to finish. Once that's done, the system reset and I saw my custom splash screen. After a little while, I got the same error message I got before about the door being open. So I took out the burned CD and put back the original Nav disc.

And that's it!


Black and blue
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
A popular topic on a lot of automotive forums is a "Spotted!" thread. It's usually organized by different regions and this is where local enthusiasts announce when and where they've spotted, beeped or waved at, or otherwise acknowledged another driver in the hopes of finding a fellow enthusiast. These are often accompanied with full descriptions of the vehicle and or driver. It's amazing how much detail (complete with type and brand of mods) a car nut can gather in even just a fleeting glimpse.

There can also be multiple sightings of the same vehicle especially with a close-knit car club in a small area like the Lower Mainland. Obviously, the more mods a car has, the more it gets spotted. Following one of these local spotted threads you can't help but go through range of emotions from loneliness-- "How come I never get spotted?"--to paranoia/horror--"I can't go anywhere without someone stalking me!"

Yesterday was the last day of R32Argent's visit and I let him take the Subaru STI out for a drive. The only time that he had driven it before was last year when the STI was still in the break-in period and I had not yet installed the K&N intake. I had ulterior motives, however, because since we needed two vehicles for this outing, it gave me the opportunity to "spot" my own car and take note how it looks on the road from the outside :0).

My conclusions?
  1. I'm glad I wash and wax the exterior regularly.
  2. I'm glad I went with the light black window tint.
  3. The HIDs do an amazing job of lighting up the road in front of the vehicle.
  4. The stock exhaust is really quiet.
  5. The STI looks incredibly stock and boring.
  6. I need some more mods....

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

20 Seconds of Kendra

20 Seconds of Kendra
Originally uploaded by istargazer.
Our youngest daughter has the habit of putting on a strange forced smile (like the one in the top left corner of this mosaic) whenever she poses for a picture. That's for family shots. Forget trying to coax a smile out of her if you're a stranger. She refuses to smile or grin for any of her pre-school photos or even for photos with Santa. We always have to assure the photographer that, yes, it's OK, you did a good job because that's the best expression you'll ever hope to get out of her.

In reality, our little 4-year-old is a bit of ham when she doesn't have to sit still and pose. And I'm sure that anyone familiar with young children will know that it's very difficult for them to sit still. I have to resort to doing silly things that Dads do and pressing the shutter on the off-beat to bring out more of her true character.

Thus, this picture is 20 seconds of Kendra.

Kerosine Flamestance. by ~MorbidRealityDesigns

A cloud picture I took was used as part of the background for someone's artwork. I'm flattered!

Archives / Past Journeys