Replacing The Junker

Some of you may remember the first car that I owned: a 1994 Plymouth Acclaim. The behemoth handled like a Plymouth van (which handles like a boat) and guzzled gas like it was a Slurpee. The only thing good about that car was that it got me around and it had a pretty awesome custom sound system in it.

This past summer, with my co-op job bringing in some serious cash, I decided to buy a ‘new’ car: a 2006 Ford Focus ZX5 SES, to be more specific. My stipulations when picking a new car was that it had to be a manual transmission, sporty looking, fun to drive, a good track record for repairs, and relatively easy on gas; the Focus met all of those, and came at a great price as well.

With me being the audiophile that I am, my first thought was that I would be replacing the sound system pretty soon. When the car salesman heard this, he thought I was nuts. He kept on going on about how the sound system was “pretty darn good for a stock system”. I’m tempted to take my car back now for him to see. I lasted maybe two weeks before the sound system was ripped from my old car and put into the new car, with a few improvements along the way.

The gear going into the car

Here’s a quick rundown of the sound gear that got put into the car:

  • 1 800W Sony 2-channel amplifier (for back speakers)
  • 1 1300W Sony Class D amplifier (for subwoofer)
  • 1 Farad capacitor (helps battery deliver current quickly)
  • JVC single-DIN head unit w/ iPod cable
  • 2 Alpine Type-S 6″x9″ speakers (for custom privacy screen)
  • 4 Soundstream 5.25″ speakers (door replacements, not pictured)
  • 2 4ga-8ga distribution blocks (distributes power lines)
  • 4ga Power line from battery to distribution blocks
  • 8ga power line from distribution blocks to amplifiers

The first thing to do was to rip out the stock head unit and replace it with my custom one. This was probably the easiest part of the job, as it involved only a bit of soldering, and the entire front panel popped right out. The DIN converter plate has a nice little storage pocket underneath for the iPod hookup.

The next step was to run a power line from the battery to the trunk to power the amplifiers, as well as the remote and audio lines from the head unit to the trunk. I decided to run them on separate sides of the car this time: power on the left, data on the right. I also opted for a higher-gauge cable: 4ga (1/4″ thick) instead of my old 8ga (1/8″ thick). 4ga wire should be able to take a couple thousand watts without much trouble. I took pictures of the carpeting ripped up, but unfortunately they did not turn out well.

Now the door speakers needed to be replaced. There were two tricky things about this. First, the door panels needed to be removed (picture on left). Secondly, the stock speakers were 5″x7″ speakers, and the hole would not support the 5.25″ speakers I wanted in there. The solution was to build custom mounting brackets to support the speakers in the hole. All I had to do was trace the old speakers and drill a few holes. Problem solved!

Now for the part I think I’m most proud of: the subwoofer cabinet. My old cabinet was a ported box that takes up at least a third of a trunk. Don’t get me wrong: it sounds amazing. My main goal however was to have a functional trunk when I was done with my custom build, and my old cabinet simply did not accomplish this. Time to build a new one. Inspired by the Focus SVT model which comes with it’s own subwoofer, I built mine into the opposite side of the car trunk, and designed it to be as small as possible while still being around the ideal volume for my subwoofer (about 0.95 cubic feet). The end result, after carpeted and equipped with the sub, amplifier, distribution blocks, and capacitor, is something I’m very proud of. Had you seen it prior to it being carpeted, most people would have thought it was professionally built.

I’m glad to say that this is now fully installed and sounding beautifully. I got a great deal on that 1300W amplifier, and it really packs a punch; seriously, if you don’t believe me, ask Tyler S for those of you that know him (he can attest to how his hair started vibrating at about 3/5ths volume). More importantly, however, is that it sounds clean, clear, and balanced, and it most certainly does.

I have also done some other work on my car, but unfortunately I do not have photos of it…yet! So, you will have to stay tuned for part 2, when I will have photos of the custom-built privacy screen (that part in hatchbacks that covers the trunk space), the custom shift and e-brake boots (I pulled out the sewing machine for them!), and the custom lighting mods, which look amazing. If you don’t believe me, below are a few teaser shots of my trunk with the subwoofer cabinet installed and the trunk lighting on. Talk to you all later!

New Music Monday Recommendation: Professor Kliq and SXSW

I know I said I was going to write a post about backing up your iPhone SMS messages, but that’ll have to wait until later today (it’ll be out in the afternoon: I promise!).

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a great artist. I mean, really great. Yes, there are talented artists out there, many of which are mainstream in today’s society. That isn’t what makes this artist great, however. Yes, he’s talented. Very talented, as I hope you’ll find out when you listen to some of his music. What makes this artist great is that he distributes all of his music for free.

Yes. Free.

If you are even remotely interested in electronic music, you’ll love Professor Kliq (Mike Else). Making music since 1996, he has been making music for almost fifteen years, experimenting with many different forms of electronic music, taking both grassroots and modern styles into his experimentation. He has put out six albums, one EP, and one set of remixes. Do yourself a favor and give this a listen; if you appreciated electronic music half as much as I do, you’ll love this.

Secondly, if you love music, chances are you’ve heard of SXSW, or South By Southwest. SXSW Conferences & Festivals offer the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies. Even if you don’t attend the events, many artists give out a free MP3 of their music to be distributed by SXSW on their website. The latest batch of 2010 entries was recently put up on BitTorrent, boasting a grand total of 1083 songs, and 5.43GB of disk space across two torrents. If you want the opportunity to be exposed to some amazing new music by independent artists who are freely (and legally!) giving away their music for you to listen to, check out the link below for more information.

iPhone 3.1 Firmware Issues?

Hey all, this post will be a shorter one. Not too much to talk about today, but I do have a bit of an insight into the new Apple iPhone firmware update.

After having my iPhone for the past month or so, I’ve found very few problems with it. In fact, I’ve never had a problem  yet.

Well, that’s not completely true. I’ve never had a problem until earlier this week, when the new firmware was released. After about 24 hours of running my phone, I noticed two significant changes. First of all, my battery life was dropping faster than a kid coming off of a caffeine high. Secondly, my phone took a whole 3 seconds (yes, three – I counted) to respond to the “slide to unlock” bar. Those were two things that I was not willing to put up with.

After doing some reading up on the subject, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Some people blamed the firmware, while others blamed the users. I blame both; clearly the issue wasn’t universal. A hard reset (ie. not using the “slide to power off” slider) seemed to be a temporary fix, but I wanted something more permanent. It seemed the only way to fix this was to do a DFU factory restore. The only catch is that when your phone restarts, you have to create a new phone profile, and NOT restore an existing backup.

The process was relatively painless. I only lost a few photos and my text messages (I’d love to have a way of backing up text messages!), but aside from that I got all of my old data back after loading it on again.  The reset seems to have done the trick; here’s hoping it stays that way.

Upcoming Swing Events

For this Monday’s blog post, I’d like to stray a little from my typical technology discussions and focus on something far from that: dance. Not just any kind of dance, though. I’d like to quickly discuss swing dancing.

This might seem like an odd topic for a geek to discuss. After all, I’m supposed to be glued to my computer, make obtuse references to nerdy shows and movies, and have a natural inability to talk to women. While all of the above may or may not be true (heh), I also found myself two years ago to have an interest in swing dancing, thanks to a friend who convinced me to go to the University of Manitoba Swing Dance Club (UMSwing) open house (thanks Jacklynn!). Although initially I didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, I found myself addicted by the end of that open house, and walked out that night with a full membership. I’m still shocked that I’m even capable of dancing, but regardless, it’s a great way to get some exercise, meet new people, and get out of the house.

Two years later, and I’m on the executive committee for UMSwing as their omnipotent web administrator. I’ve met a lot of great people through the club, and by being on the executive committee, I can hopefully give back to a club which has helped me a lot. One of the events that is happening in just over a week is this semester’s open house, which I will be MCing. The club puts on one open house per semester, usually within the first few weeks. We pride ourselves on being able to teach anybody to dance, regardless of skill level. You don’t need to bring a partner to dance with, and you don’t need experience. We do some demos, teach you basic Jive, and do some social dancing. Oh yeah, and there’s a bunch of prizes that we will give away.

So, if you have nothing to do that night, come out and enjoy yourself.

UMSwing’s classes tend to be geared towards beginner swing dance. If you happen to have swing experience, HepCat Studio is a swing studio that is starting up today at 6:00pm. The first class today is free, and they will teach both beginner and intermediate swing dancing. You can find their website over at

So, I will continue with random technological rants and whatnot next Friday. Methinks that my next post will probably discuss my upcoming server build and the parts involved. Although I had posted on it a while back, I’ve solidified my decisions for the next server incarnation. It will be awesome. Very, very awesome.

Car Upgrades, Pt. 1

Due to the recent success I’ve had from getting a job (see a future post) and me having slightly more money than I expected to have at this point in the summer, I decided I would do a bit of celebrating and treat myself. Although I could have looked into purchasing some of those upgrades I need for my server, I decided that I would put a bit of money into my car.

When I first got my car, it was all factory parts. Although it’s old and have no intention of putting any more money into the car than I have to, I decided that it needed a better sound system. I had a simple logic behind this: any sound gear that I put into my car, I can pull out in a few hours when I get a new car. My first purchases when I got my car were a new deck and speakers for the interior. Within a month, I had hauled an old amplifier out of my basement (which was found in the middle of the street) and bought the cheapest sub woofers I could find (2 10″ subs with enclosures for $70), and put those in my trunk. After those subs got stolen (the joke’s on them – those subs were crap!), I decided that I would do an upgrade – to a Sony 800W amplifier and a 1000W Pioneer Premier 10″ sub, and a Stinger 1 Farad capacitor to help with the powering of said system. My system has been like that for about 9 months now, and I decided that I would put new parts in.

I decided that I would get two 6″x9″ speakers, enclosures, and another Sony 800W amplifier to power them. Although putting the speakers in the trunk would initially seem like a ridiculous idea, I left enough slack in the wiring for them to be pulled out of the trunk for public events where portable sound is needed, such as any Lindy Bombing events that UMSwing puts on. Although I had to remake some wires (and I almost ran out of wire to use!), installation went off without any problems.

One thing that I was toying around with and decided to do as well was to try putting neon lighting in my car. Now, this would normally be a waste of money for an old car like mine. After all, who wants to spend a few hundred dollars on StreetGlow? But, I assure you I didn’t spend that much. In fact, I only spent $40. Rather than buy glow designed for cars, I decided that I would simply use Cold Cathode tubes from Logisys. It required a bit of wiring hacking, but I managed to put two 12″ tubes in my trunk and two 4″ tubes in the front dash by the feet. So far, it looks amazing, and I’m going to get more later to replace the old lights in the car with LEDs so I can actually see things in my car.

I also replaced the windshield wiper blades with some snazzy-looking red ones to go with my car, but that’s not particularly important. After studying today I plan on doing a good cleaning of the interior and possibly the engine. I’m also going to get a paint touchup kit, but that’s for another day. I’ll be sure to post pictures of my trunk (and the neon) soon.

Five Albums I’m Listening To

For this installment of “Five Things“, I have decided to talk about some of the albums that are on my playlist right now that I enjoy listening to.

Mute Math - Mute MathMute Math
Mute Math – 2006

Mute Math is difficult to fit into any one genre. While they have an electronica base, they also exhibit both rock and pop stylings. Their music goes from fast-paced trace to smooth downtempo, and is guaranteed to get your head bobbing to the beat. Although this is their first main release, they have also released an EP back in 2004 entitled Reset which is a phenomenal addition to their repertoire. If good music alone doesn’t do it for you, they also have a phenomenal stage presence as demonstrated by their both their live performances and their music videos.

Queens of the Stone Age - Era Vulgaris

Queens Of The Stone Age
Era Vulgaris – 2007

Queens of the Stone Age have never fit into the mold, and their quirky music certainly shows this. Their odd style of music stands out from the crowd, but not so much that their music doesn’t go mainstream. Their guitar styling is great to listen to, even if it sometimes isn’t the most pleasing to the ears. Their rock styling with lyrics a-la-“Red Hot Chili Peppers” make this a unique band that shouldn’t be passed up.

Cake - Comfort EagleCake
Comfort Eagle – 2001

Cake’s music has always been something to chuckle at, and Comfort Eagle is no exception. Cake is an indie-style band with a sense of a humor and a way with words, and they enjoy using different instruments and effects in their songs. If you’re looking for some music to put on while friends are over to hang out, consider this album (and their others) for some background listening. Other notable songs on other albums include the remake of the Muppets song Mahna, Mahna, and the Frank Sinatra song Strangers in the Night.

Royal Crown Revue - Passport To AustraliaRoyal Crown Revue
Passport to Australia – 2000

Royal Crown Revue is a rockabilly swing group with a knack for getting your feet tapping. Normally I steer clear of live albums because of all the screaming in them. This album is different; there is very little applauding and cheering in it, but is instead graced with the music that you paid for. The band is one of my favorite contemporary jazz groups for their unique sound and groove, and their live album Passport To Australia reaffirms my choice. If you pick up one rockabilly album, make it this one.

Pronobozo - Zero = One = EverythingPronobozo
Zero = One = Everything – 2007

Pronobozo is a phenomenal artist; his unique style redefines breakbeat music. After getting exposure on the internet podcast Hak5 by providing much of the music used on the show, he released his album to the masses under the Creative Commons license. The pressed version of his album is a limited quantity version, and is definitely worth picking up for a listen. This is currently my preferred album to listen to while I program; it has the perfect mix of downtempo stylings, breakbeat, and that instrumental “smoove” feel to keep you in the programming groove. What are you waiting for? Go buy this album. Now.