Modding My Smart: Stereo System, Part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts about modifications I make to my Smart Car.  The first big mod I'm making is installing a new car stereo.  The Passion Cabriolet comes with what Smart calls the "premium sound system," but let's be honest: factory installed car stereo systems always suck.

If you are a Smart owner and want to work on your car, you should get to know the website Evilution really well.  This site has information on how to do basically anything in your Smart with regards to assembly/disassembly.  This is good because Smart/Mercedes is very protective of the official service manual.

I replaced the head unit yesterday which was incredibly easy.  I must say that the Smart is, by a long shot, the easiest car I have ever worked on.  Nearly all the screws are the same type (torx 20 or 25) and none of them so far are torqued so tight that you can't unscrew them with a manual screwdriver.  Nice!

My head unit of choice is the Sony Xplod MEX-BT2700.  I bought it mainly for the price as it is by a long-shot the cheapest bluetooth car stereo solution out there right now.  It does have some glaringly stupid limitations, like not automatically reconnecting A2DP to existing partnerships when the radio turns on (it does, however, automatically reconnect the bluetooth hands-free phone profile).  So each time you start the car, you have to press a button to reconnect your bluetooth audio device to the radio..  Despite that, it's a great unit for the price and the built-in microphone works really well for hands-free bluetooth goodness.  Here's a couple pictures.

Sony Head Unit
You can see RCA cables coming dangling in the passenger foot area.  Those will eventually find their way to the amp!

Sony Head Unit
The car kit for the Smart looks really nice and creates a very professional "factory" look even when replacing the double din factory radio with a single din aftermarket like above.

My next post will cover replacing the factory door speakers with Orion XTR652 coaxial speakers.


I Got My Smart!

I got my Smart on Tuesday.  So far, I'm loving every second of driving it!  It's such a fun car.  This weekend, in goes the stereo.  I'll post pictures when it's done.

My Smart Car Look at her smile for the camera!


Private Health Insurance, Defined

Atrios defines private health insurance perfectly.

"Health insurers are middle men who make money by not providing payment for services they're supposed to pay for. They're skimmers who provide no useful service."

That is the best definition ever.


Not Billy Mays Too!

First Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson, and now Billy Mays has died.  Okay maybe it's weird that I'm a fan of a teevee direct marketing pitchman, but I really liked the guy.  I didn't find his "Hi! Billy Mays here" commercials annoying at all, and I use several of his products and think they work exactly as advertised.  Plus, after watching his show Pitchmen on the Discovery Channel, I really grew to like the guy as a person.  He just seemed like a nice down-to-earth guy who really believed in the products he sold (unlike the shamwow guy, who I find very annoying).  This is a sad day for direct marketing.  Their biggest star, who was still far from his peak, has passed on.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mays.  I will certainly miss you.


Rest in Peace, Michael Jackson

The title says it all.  No matter what you think about his (admittedly bizarre) personal life, he was an absolute entertainment phenomenon.  There will never be another entertainer like him.  Thriller will always be one of my most prized albums in my collection of vinyl.

With this and the death of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, this has turned out to be a hell of a depressing week.  It can't end soon enough.


SQL 2008 Reporting Services + an IIS Subfolder Named "Reports" = WTF?

I ran into a situation today where on our new beta server, we have a custom web application with a subfolder named "Reports."  It always worked fine on my other servers, but on this server no files in that folder could be accessed from the site.  What's more, we'd receive a prompt for user credentials, despite the fact that the only authentication mechanism enabled on the entire site was anonymous.

It turns out it's SQL 2008 Reporting Service's fault.  In SQL 2005 and older, you would see a subfolder called "Reports" and "ReportServer" under the Default Website.  With SQL 2008, it seems SQL does it a little different.  You use its own configuration manager to assign what IP addresses and subfolders respond to Reporting server.  These paths then do NOT show up under IIS.  Since the default is all IP addresses, there was a name collision with our custom web application.

It's an easy fix.  Go into the Reporting Services configuration and make sure the two folders only respond to IPs not associated with your custom web application.

Still, not seeing the folders in the Default Website really threw me off.  Also, I'm not sure I like how SQL can just override all other site's folder in this manner.  Oh well.  I'm sure there's a good reason for it that I just can't see right now. :-)



I think it's great that the people of Iran are beginning what appears to be the start of a revolution against their oppressive theocratic government.  That said, I am always equally disappointed in the American politicians exploiting this situation, where innocent people are dying, using it as a chance to grandstand.  Every American politician that calls for American intervention in the uprising has blood on their hands right now.  The mullahs want westerners to call for Iranian revolution.  It adds credence to their myth that westerners are meddling.  They want any excuse possible to put this thing down.

I also find it very ironic that the same politicians calling for western assistance for the revolutionaries were, not a month ago, supportive of bombing the crap out of Iran.  I'm looking at you, Senator bomb-bomb-bomb McCain.

All that said, if the Iranians ask for help.  I hope they get help...

But we should never forget that this is not just a series of interesting twitter feeds.  There are real consequences and real lives -- innocent lives -- at stake.

Good luck, Iran.

Update (June 23, 2009): Excellent op-ed here on this subject; h/t ginandtacos.com


Excessive Fines

A woman steals something from someone.  Actually, she stole 24 things.  And they were from a company, not a person.  Actually, they are illegal music downloads and she didn't really steal from the copyright holder as much as she obtained copyrighted material from a third party without the copyright holder's permission.  It's still theft.  And you won't hear me argue otherwise because I do believe copyright infringement is a serious crime.

So did she perform an illegal act?  Yes, absolutely.  Should she be forced to pay a civil penalty beyond simply the market value of the product she stole?  Yes, sure.  That's part of the punishment for committing a crime and its also a deterrent for others thinking about committing the same crime.   Should she have to pay a penalty that is 80,000 times the market value of the product?  pfffbbbtbttttttt!  WTF?!  HELL NO!


This is ridiculous.  These types of excessive fines do nothing to add value to copyrighted material like music, books, and videos.  If anything, it just makes copyright holders look like petty bullies, diminishing the value of the works that they are protecting.  As a copyright holder of my own music, I am sympathetic to the concerns of copyright holders regarding illegal downloading of music.  I was a big defender of shutting down Napster (the original highly illegal one).  I also have no sympathy for The Pirate Bay.  But this case… This case is just absolutely ridiculous.  It is beyond excessive.  IANAL, but to me this case seems to be an Eighth Amendment violation.

The punishment needs to fit the crime.  Make her pay the court fees, the market value of the music, plus a $250 civil penalty and call it a day.


Excellent Rant

I don't mean to just turn this into a blog of short blurbs and links, but I've found a lot of excellent posts lately that I want to share.  Here's another one.


Finally, a Union for Technology Workers

I just recently joined the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech).  They are a part of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), which itself is a part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

I had been toying around with the idea of joining a union for a long time.  I knew there were a lot of things happening in the technology world that only organized labor could properly deal with.  For example, outsourcing our jobs to countries where labor is cheaper and the stagnant wages we've seen since the tech bubble burst of 2001.  However, it just didn't seem like there was any option for me as a high tech worker.  I was actually quite envious of my blue collar brethren.

Then I discovered WashTech.  I thought it was awesome that Microsoft workers formed this union, but I just didn't see how that would directly benefit me, living in North Carolina, other than the national advocacy and lobbying they do.

Well, I finally bit the bullet and decided to try it on for a year.  So I plopped down my union dues and today received my membership packet.  The benefits I'm receiving are much more than I expected.  Since WashTech is a part of CWA, which is a part of the AFL-CIO, I receive every benefit that every other AFL-CIO member receives.  This includes discounts on tons of stores and items through their "Union Plus" discount program.  I also receive free life insurance.  Not a huge amount, but it's free just for being a member.

They may not be able to help me negotiate contracts or directly local high tech communicate workers' needs to businesses in my area, but the fringe benefits plus the national advocacy is a fantastic start!

It feels good to know I'm now a member of an organization whose mission is to protect my job.  And the discounts I'm receiving I feel will nearly pay for the union dues.  I'm a pretty proud union member right now.

If you are an American tech worker, I highly recommend joining.  It doesn't matter if you don't live in the northwest, you'll enjoy some great benefits and also know that somebody is watching your back in this crappy economy.

The more tech workers that join, the more powerful the union will become, and the more our voices will be heard.


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