And that, is the end of that

What my credit card looks like, as of a few days ago:

Current balance: £0.36

I won't even tell you what it was a year or so ago. All I will say is that the interest payments alone at one point were pushing £250 a month, which is a non-trivial amount of money for anyone that isn't Scrooge McDuck swimming in piles of cash.

This is absolutely not some woe-is-me story, because obviously, I was a fucking idiot who made some very poor financial decisions (see also: cash furnace of a car) and I don't blame anyone but myself.

Still. Not to get too personal here, but all of my late teens and my 20s were spent not so much in a bad financial position as in no financial position at all. I got my shit together far too late, and when one does get one's shit together one starts getting credit card offers.

When you are feeling financially stable for the first time in your life, those offers look all too tempting because woohoo, I can have even more money right now and I can build my credit score and such! And of course you will pay back the whole amount at the end of the month, right? Until you start thinking that just for this month you will make that small minimum payment instead, and then they start upping your credit limit (mine increased twentyfold from when I started)...and if you do that enough times you end up with a substantial portion of your income being dead weight.

So it goes. I was an idiot! But I also learned in the last few months that even when I'm throwing a substantial amount of my income into paying off the capital on that credit card, that I can still be quite comfortable and even have a little money left at the end of the month, if I behave frugally. Which is to say, if Mazda Amy doesn't throw any new and hilariously expensive curveballs at me I might have some hope of building some savings and shit or I might forget what I just said and buy lots of car parts.

Whatever happens there: it's over, and I am much happier for it.

Gratuitous car post

My Mazda 323 GTX, sitting pretty.

Yeah, I know she's an old shit car, that she has her scars, and that she's probably not pretty to anyone but me. But I do love seeing this little thing, ready to go and ready to make tiny turbo noises.

That's all. 💕

In which I get a little boost to my faith in humanity

Today, I lost my wallet. This has a happy ending...

After topping up Mazda Amy with oil this afternoon (she's basically a Diesel at this point, in that she burns nearly as much oil as she does petrol), I went to the shop for supplies and then went for a hoon on the backroads (and by the way, that never stops being fun). When I got home, I realised I did not have my wallet anymore.

It's easy to make me anxious (possibly moreso than most people), and losing my wallet with my money-equivalent cards and my driving license was enough to trigger something not far off my worst episodes. Not so much that I could not function at all or not be able to drive as in the very worst of my episodes, but...

So I backtracked to the shop, and asked if anyone had handed in a wallet. Nobody had. I went home. Checked every inch of my car. Checked every inch of the car again. Emptied absolutely everything, tools and glovebox contents included, out of the car and checked every inch again.

No dice. Then I remembered that I realised a short while after I drove off from the shop earlier that I had not shut my passenger door properly, and pulled over to open it and shut it again. So I backtracked there to see if my wallet was there just in case I had put my wallet in the passenger door card and it had fallen out while I was loading supplies into the passenger side. Not there either. I went back to the shop and gave them my number in case anyone handed in a wallet; something I had not thought to do earlier.

Panic really set in here. In retrospect I know it was a totally manageable situation: it would require a few phone calls to cancel my cards, and going online and ordering a new driver's license card and some other stuff. But still, full panic, which I dealt with by doing another inch-by-inch search of my car and at this point I am shitting myself.

And while I was doing that last panicked search, as if that would reveal something a complete emptying of the car would not...a well-worn BMW E92 with all the seats full of family rolls into my driveway. And as it comes to a halt...the driver holds my wallet out the window. There's social distancing and all, a norm I'm not comfortable with because I wanted to hug the shit out of him and propriety these days requires that I not even give him a handshake, but it is what it is.

I asked him for a PayPal address or something I could use to send my thanks. He refused, but he did tell me the way I probably lost my wallet, which was that after loading stuff into the front passenger seat of the car I likely left my wallet on the top of my car then drove off and it went somewhere. Well, that's happened before and all I nearly lost were some onions, and maybe I need to establish a ritual for checking the roof of my car just as I have a ritual for checking exactly three times that my front door is locked when I leave...but that's another thing.

I did offer again after he explained how he got hold of my wallet to send him some money via whatever means he liked; whatever amount I sent him would have been a tiny price to pay compared to the amount of financial damage someone less decent with my credit & debit cards & my de-facto identity card could have done. But nope. Refused.

I was reminded today that there are decent, honest people out there who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.

Thanks, BMW E92 guy. You is good people.

Fuji X100: reloaded

Fuji X100 camera

I now have a Fuji X100. Early Christmas present to myself!

I actually had a Fuji X100 many years ago, I loved it, and I wrote about it in some length. I ragequit it a few months later when it repeatedly misfocused while photographing the winners of an event at a tiny track in the middle of nowhere because I can be a little capricious. I sold it to a guy I met on a train for about £250, taking about a £100 hit for what I paid for it, because I wanted it gone as fast as possible and did I mention I can be a little capricious.

I always semi-regretted selling that camera. It was somewhat old then (and is now a decade old!), but it almost always got awesome photos under any kind of nasty and/or dim artificial light, if the subject did not move too fast. And, other than Fuji's later cameras that took the X100 design and added more letters to the end, there is still nothing quite like it. (Unless you count Leica's digital offerings and...well, they're quite the thing, but I'm not paying that kind of money.)

Well, let me backtrack there. The combination of being small, being of little weight, having a fixed fast lens of "perfect normal" focal length, and looking superb under artificial light...rather describes today's flagship camera phones.

Which I have no interest in! Because I don't want to buy into either Google's obsessive tracking and the Android vendors' unwillingness to provide timely security updates, nor into Apple's lack of a fucking headphone jack (nope, I'll still never regard this as normal, and you won't talk me out of it). I've dealt with the phone manufacturers being fucking awful by compartmentalising, and having multiple phones for different purposes. Including one just as a camera! My long term plan is to switch to the pure-Linux PinePhone when the software matures, but that's not now. And the camera on the PinePhone is not all that good and seems like it will always be (which is to take nothing away from the people who are working hard on the software end of this).

I have my Nikon SLR gear of course, all of which is old and tired and malfunctioning and in a couple of cases falling apart, due to years of abuse and being used in the very dusty Norfolk Arena (which I will head back to once mask requirements are dropped). I always hated lugging that stuff around. It's nice to once again have a camera I don't mind carrying!

Oh, and merry Christmas to all of you, and all of your people. :)

The Suspension: the final episode

Today, I decided to take a look at the Gaz rear suspension that I removed a few days shy of two months ago.

Mazda 323 GTX Gaz coilover

I know, it looks like shitty old suspension and maybe that's because it is. But this was a nice and rather expensive bit of kit in its day. Back in 2007, when my brother owned the car and had some intention to get it back on the road after a failed MOT, he replaced the rear shocks with two of the custom-made Gaz shocks seen here. These cost £250 for each shock absorber back then (about £300 inflation-adjusted).

Before the K-Sport "biting the bullet" episode, I had the idea that maybe I would also get Gaz to custom-make some front ones too. I decided not to; even at the non-inflation-adjusted price, that would have been £500, minus the desperately-needed new springs both front and rear. Each corner also needed new top mounts (which would have been another very expensive custom job) and even that would have left me unable to adjust preload and ride height separately as I can on the K-Sport setup, so they had to go.

That made me sad, because I knew these shocks, as old as they are, had maybe 100 miles of driving on them, if that, and that it was top-quality stuff in its day (and still is). So today, I decided to give them both a bit of a cleanup to see what they looked like. Top is before, bottom is after:

Mazda 323 GTX Gaz shocks, one of them cleaned up

Tools used: Brillo pads! I'm not kidding. If you need to remove tarnishing or crap from any metal, a slightly damp Brillo pad is your best friend. The steel wool is only slightly abrasive, and with the built-in soap and a bit of water they glide over whatever you are trying to make pretty. On top of that, I used some electrical contact cleaner (for when I needed to quickly blast away the soap residue to see where I was with the cleaning), paper towels, and a little WD40 to lubricate the threads on the shocks to make it easier to get the bottom nuts on.

It's a tribute to Gaz that even after 13 years of disuse and only a hundred miles of use that they are still in really rather good condition. There's a tiny bit of pitting on the shafts but otherwise these shocks are close to perfect and still feel great today!

I don't know if these will make any amount of money that is worth my time to list them on eBay. I am not worried if they don't. They're just too nice to go onto the scrap pile, and I would rather see these go on a car again rather than being recycled.

Onwards!

Backroads are fun

Mud splattered on the 323 GTX

The backroads were rather fun this weekend. For whatever reason the tractors around here have been busy this weekend, and deposited a ton of mud onto the wiggly roads around here. Which is fine, because that's where our food comes from and all. The tiny 4wd Mazda was bothered by it even less than I was. I'm amazed at how well she handles on greasy roads!

This weekend's blasts were mostly about debugging a whole lot of squeaks and rattles coming from Mazda Amy's interior trim. I bought a huge box of assorted varied trim clips that might help with this.

Onwards!

A cheap Ubuntu-friendly drawing tablet recommendation: XP-Pen Star G640

This is a quick recommendation for the XP-Pen G640 drawing tablet, for those fellow Linux users who like to do a bit of a scribble. It costs a penny shy of £40 as I write this, and it works flawlessly out of the box on Ubuntu 18.04 and 20.04 with no drivers or any other fiddling required. Just plug it in and go.

This is a great little tablet for doodling, whiteboarding in the working-at-home era, pwning noobs on Skribblio and generally messing about. For all I know someone might even buy one of these, download Super Street's car colouring pages[1], fire up MyPaint and burn a few hours in the evening when lockdown gives them nothing better to do.

Finished Super Street colouring page: A80 Supra
Hey, I'm not here to judge!

I shall give a necessary disclaimer that I occasionally doodle stuff just for myself (it helps my concentration in read-only tasks, and when I am in deep thought) and that I am not an artist at all. If I was I might want something like a few dedicated buttons for commonly-used operations like undo and erase. And I'm sure that in many other ways, someone using this for actual artwork would find this vastly inferior to things costing several times as much money. But for me, this cheap tablet works great!


[1] Alternative source as Super Street have, for GDPR reasons, blocked the whole of Europe from accessing their site. :(