davidn: (prince)
I mentioned a little improvement project when I posted about the car...


I was sure I'd taken a photo of all the bits before I started, but apparently I forgot to, so this explanation is going to be a little less comprehensive than I intended - nevertheless, this is:

- A Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, in the black case - even tinier than the first edition
- A coiled USB/Micro USB cable for power
- A tiny HDMI cable
- An obvious USB copy of a SNES controller
- A 32GB micro SD card, with an image of RetroPie by Florian Müller (which is excellent, by the way)

When I ordered the Pi 2B, I hadn't realized that the new models took micro SD cards instead of full size ones, but I also bought a micro-SD card with adapter instead of a full size one by mistake, so the mistakes cancelled each other out.

The 2015 Honda Fit has an HDMI input (to preserve the lives of idiots everywhere, you can only switch to it when the car isn't in motion) - and the cased minicomputer fits neatly underneath the dashboard, powered by the USB connection at the front of the car. RetroPie is very easy to set up - putting the image on an SD card boots it up into the interface automatically where you can configure the joystick, and from there, one of the sample games is an ARM port of Doom which you can throw a regular WAD into.

And here's the result!



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DSYr4ehi7w

(Professional, closed course, do not attempt.)

Car 2

Jun. 22nd, 2015 08:32 pm
davidn: (savior)
It's been a hectic week of talking to insurance representatives and storage people and salesmen, but this is the result.



It's the 2015 model of the Honda Fit that we had before! It's a lot sleeker than the old version - this one hasn't been ploughed into the back of a jeep yet.

Once again we went for the top of the range of options, after getting an excellent price from a salesman who claimed the quote was a mistake but he would honour it anyway (but I always thought he was a bit dodgy). As a result, it's a subcompact/economy car but it doesn't seem to know it, with a lot of things that you would normally expect to find on much more high-end cars - rear-facing cameras, satellite navigation with map updates and live traffic, and so on. And it moves about quite competently as well, despite being slightly more computer than car - I plan to install a DIY improvement soon which I hope to reveal in the coming days.

This one also has a spoiler on the back and I remain disowned by everyone in Scotland.
davidn: (savior)
Whitney has passed her driving test on the first attempt!

We were signed in to the test centre by a tester that Whitney thought seemed nice and we were hoping that he would be the one testing her - unfortunately, while we were waiting in the car queued up at the "Road test parking" sign, he came out of the building and got into the car in front of us. We watched him drive off with the woman he was testing and turn to the right around the corner in front of us. About two minutes later, the same examiner suddenly emerged over the bank of grass to our right and got into our car instead with a brief "Well, don't do what SHE did!" This unfortunate woman had managed to conclude her test within the first few seconds - I had a terrible image that on the other side of the bank was a burning wreck from which he had calmly extracted himself, turning only to throw a "FAILED" form on to the charred debris.

So her own test began and it went much better. In Massachusetts you have to have your sponsor (a driving instructor or other licensed driver) sit in the back of your vehicle as you take the test - consequently I have now sat through three driving tests in my life, and this shouldn't happen to anyone. I spent the time mostly just trying to stay detached and trying to remember to breathe, while he took her around a simple driving route, found a rare example of a legally parked car to do manoeuvres around (which she executed flawlessly), and passed her with absolutely no hesitation.

Now I get to panic about preparing for Furfright in two days!
davidn: (rabbit)
For the first time, there are a couple of anniversaries at this time of year. Even though it really doesn't seem like it, it's now exactly one year since I started my new job (which I should stop calling my "new" job, seeing as it feels perfectly normal now). Going into a company with some semblance of hierarchical organization was a completely new experience to me, as small as everyone else thinks it is, but I seem to have found a secure place and even feel like one of the older people there as others come and go.

I still miss having an office with a door, but now that I'm sitting in an open-plan room next to the corridor where people come in, I feel that I get much more conversation with people. We're moving across the road to a bigger space in about a month, so perhaps I'll manage to get myself a window seat - the only seating plan anyone has put forward so far is just all arriving as early on moving day as they can possibly manage and camping out in the best spots.

The car has also had its first birthday - over the last twelve months it's taken us 4,907 miles that would otherwise have been covered (far more slowly) by buses, and by my estimation, we've spent about $500 on fuel for it (compared to $1400 for the total cost of MBTA passes for us for a year).

The occasion was marked by having to go and have the Massachusetts inspection sticker renewed - it's a test that's done on several aspects of the car to make sure it's safe and within acceptable bounds of emissions, though I'm told that all they actually have to do is to connect the car's computer up to a different computer and ask if it's reporting any problems. This was the first time I'd had to take the car to anybody who wasn't our actual dealership - the whole process was done in about fifteen minutes by the most monosyllabic man that I've ever met. I've owned goldfish that had attempted to exchange longer dialogues than he did, with his entire contribution to the conversation being "Keys? Sit. ... Okay. Cash? Mastercard. Keys on the front seat."

So now I have a new green sticker instead of an old orange one. Quite by coincidence I met my driving instructor this evening, so I could say that his teaching had led me to having no incidents at all for a full year.
davidn: (skull)
I think I just nearly died. That is, we made sure to buy a car with an incredible safety emphasis and that virtually transforms into a bouncy castle as soon as the bumper is hit, but I'm glad that... by about an inch, we didn't find out how effective the airbags were.

I can't really type just now - here's a diagram of a junction on our normal route home from the supermarket. There's no traffic light - the lane in our direction widens, to let cars who are turning left get out of the way of oncoming traffic, and I was sitting there...


On this particular occasion, someone coming in the opposite direction sped forwards to overtake the car ahead just before the junction - I couldn't believe it when he came out, and thought that he would surely brake and reconsider right up until the moment when he swerved back into his own lane, surely missing me and the car he had illegally passed by no more than an inch.

I have never seen a car coming head-on towards me at 40 miles per hour before, and I hope never to again. This is the stupidest thing that I've ever seen anyone do on the road - there's no excuse for overtaking on a corner at that speed, unless he was delivering an emergency case to hospital or had just robbed the bank. Once I'd got through what's usually a very unremarkable junction, I had to pull to the side of the road and breathe for a while before continuing - my heart still sounds like a Michael Jackson song.

Never mind - he'll be dead soon.
davidn: (Jam)
Being rather new to ownership of cars built after the turn of the millennium, this symbol entered my life yesterday. Even though I'm pretty sure my parents just ran their cars on the same tyres without touching them for years, tyre pressure - which is measured in the almost beautifully unwieldy unit of pounds per square inch - can vary a lot by the season, and drops significantly during colder weather. And, as I found out when I looked in the manual, our car warns you when a tyre is beginning to become underinflated (though decades of computer evolution have not allowed it to tell you which one).

As we were going to the hardware-type shopping centre anyway, I got a little gauge/repressurizificatenizer thing, which attaches to your car's power outlet, screws on to the tyre valve, has a handy non-adjustable light pointed directly away from both of these fiddly attachments, and produces a horrendous buzzing noise while doing absolutely sod all to the tyre's pressure. The dial did at least allow me to discover that I was at 30ish psi at the front and 25 at the back, though - so I took it to a garage instead and found the air dispenser... thing that I've never even paid attention to in my life before. It took me about three goes, but I eventually got them all up to the pressure that it wanted - after going up a couple of psi above the recommended level, I finally realized that the warning light wouldn't go out until the engine had been on for a couple of minutes.

On the way back from our business in the area, we took a turning on to the main road into our town and I noticed that all the other cars on the road were crawling in a very organized line in the left lane. Thinking that there must be roadworks ahead that I didn't know about, I moved into the lane with them, and it was only then that I realized that I was now in the middle of a long column of cars in a funeral procession. Junctions were being redirected by the police around us, so I felt we were stuck with it - and not really knowing what else to do, I just turned on my hazard lights like all the other cars in the line and proceeded to use our vaguely appropriate colour to blend in, making sure not to smile. Then when we reached the graveyard I just indicated out and sped away, feeling slightly guilty about having accidentally hijacked what must have been a fairly important funeral, even if it saved me a bit of time getting home.

We also narrowly avoided being part of an actual funeral later in the day, because we've just come back from driving fifty miles through a stupidly early October snowstorm. This, on reflection, was a bad decision - we were at a wedding, and when I saw the warning that snow was starting to come in I actually asked the front desk of the hotel if they had any rooms left for the night - but with no rooms available, we decided to brave the journey.

With visibility at a very unsatisfactory level, everyone on the road was in the middle lane, in a long snake just following the lights of the car directly in front of them - then a bus, going far too fast (probably one of the budget lines trying desperately to complete a route before it fell over and/or caught fire) absolutely buried us in its wake, throwing half a ton of snow on to our windscreen which obscured everything before the wipers got through it. After ages just concentrating on the very faint lines on the road, avoiding having to brake and hoping that I would just continue travelling in the direction I was pointing, I've never been more glad to get back on to town roads and the hugely reduced speed that comes with them.

The Honda has served us extremely well so far. Tomorrow we will stay inside.
davidn: (rabbit)
I swear to you, I was behind a car with the number plate "CANHAZCHZ" on the way back from work today. But I suppose "TWAT" would be too short for a vehicle registration.

I also finally worked out how to use the cruise control on the car - to cut a long story short, I had been pressing the wrong button every time I'd tried it before. Once you've got it on, you really feel it - it's weirdly like being tugged along on an invisible rope for the first few minutes, and it's nice not to have to worry about accidentally drifting either over or under the speed limit. I'm aware that everyone else has probably had this as standard for the last ten years already, but the last vehicle I drove was a Ford Fiesta from about 1995, and this still hasn't got any less like driving a spaceship by comparison - even having a working headlight alarm frankly feels like a whole new world.

It occurs to me that I've never done anything to the car at all apart from filling it up with petrol occasionally - the last one regularly needed its evaporating brake fluid reservoir topped up or lights replaced. But our current vehicle always tells you exactly how much longer it is before it wants serviced or an oil change, and you can hardly open the bonnet up without getting the dealership to do it for you if you want to keep your warranty - it's not so much driving as moving a computer about, and if that analogy holds true, this one's definitely a Mac.
davidn: (skull)
When I write about real-life incidents here, it's nice to be told that I've taken something very mundane and blown it up into an entertaining story. I'm beginning to wonder, though, if this isn't through any actual writing ability but because these things really do seem bigger than they should to me, through nervous stress that's been building up over the last twenty-six years.

I had another parking ticket yesterday - I had noticed the car marked "Parking Officer" hovering around the car park I use for work, but didn't see the slip of paper half-melted in the rain at the bottom of the windscreen until I made to turn right out of it. They mark it with a red strip on the front addressing you as "TO VIOLATOR:" as if you've just exposed yourself, and this one said that I had been in a restricted area. Being specifically allowed to park in the space that I was in, I zoomed back to my space and caught the car just before it moved off. The woman inside acted like a bit of a miserable old piano teacher when I presented her with the ticket, asking me where my permit was and where it was meant to be displayed. The answers are on the back and front, respectively, but no instructions to this effect had been provided, and as I park with the back of the car facing outwards I thought it more logical to put it on the back window rather than make the traffic wardens stumble through the hedges when checking them - but if they prefer to do that then I have no argument. She became a lot nicer when she realized I was a new driver and had an accent, though, took the ticket back, and I've peeled the permit off and put it on the windscreen to prevent any more potential bat attacks in the future.

I'm not used to this compared to the situation where I lived in Scotland, where we've got plenty of room and so you could just pull over and leave your car where you felt like it, as long as it wasn't in anyone's immediate trajectory. It also means, of course, that I've had 100% of parking tickets rescinded in my entire time as a driver here - let's start as I mean to go on.

Also, I'd like it known that if you're whipping cream without holding the bowl, and it tilts even slightly when the electric whisk impacts the side, it then paints the most wonderful clear stripes across everything and everyone in the vicinity. That was a much better problem.

Outside

Apr. 23rd, 2011 08:43 pm
davidn: (skull)
What a couple of days. I think that I only ever managed to get through my life because nothing ever really happened in it, and I can't really cope with... events. My self-declared holiday had been going perfectly quietly until I stepped out into the world, but once you do that, the world starts giving you things to think about.

Whitney's parents are here for a while, and on the day they arrived, a huge van drew up outside our house and started gouging huge chunks out of the road. Their preferred digging technique seemed to be hitting the asphalt with the back of a JCB shovel as a makeshift hammer, but otherwise things had gone smoothly enough and they had cleared off by the time it came for them to park outside. The next morning, though, I saw the workmen outside staring glumly at the hole cover they'd left, which my father-in-law had parked his colossal hire car on.

So I decided I'd better move it away, and went out with their keys - the roadworks men were friendly and relieved to see someone who could move the car, and one of them asked me what I thought of this new Ford Explorer. I had to say that my car was actually the one in the driveway (which would have fit comfortably into the back seat of this goliath) because I am not eight feet tall and am comfortable with the size of my penis in all three measurable dimensions. Operating it felt rather like driving one of the Transformers - feeling like I was ten feet up from the road, I had to perch on the front of the seat and just crawl it along, hoping the road was wide enough to actually get through the vehicles parked on either side, and then left it in front of somebody else's house as soon as I saw a parking space wide enough to accommodate it, which it fit into with all the finesse of an elephant trying to squeeze into a pair of size M tights.

On the walk back, I was performing my new-found habit of looking at other people's makes and models of cars, and suddenly realized that every single one of them had a rectangular sticker in the window that I didn't have. This is the Massachusetts inspection sticker, which the dealership had never given me through some oversight. And after visiting Whitney's work just after lunch, where I managed to get hold of our salesman and arrange to pick it up, I returned to the car to find that some efficient public servant diligently doing their job fascist bastard had put a ticket on the windscreen for not having the inspection sticker in the five-minute space between my phoning to arrange getting it and returning to the vehicle. But once we got to the dealer, they took the ticket in and paid it without question, for their omission - I think we chose our place well, they're great people.

And to wind down from that and taking the car out to a neighbouring town on the freeway and back in the evening, we somehow decided that the best home activity for today was to screw a massive plate into the wall to hold up our television. We had actually had the wall mount since moving in, but hadn't ever put it up because it had instructions like "Get your knees to unbuckle enough to hold the entire thing in place on the wall while you mark the positions of the mounting points with one of your other twelve arms". With Whitney's father's help (and two separate trips to the local B&Q equivalent to retrieve missing parts and tools), though, it's finally up where we'd meant it to be last June, firmly bolted to the walls studs and unlikely to come down even during a major earthquake.

It's strange being able to tug such a huge piece of electronics about to re-align it, remembering that its mount is made of something stronger than steel and it's impossible to accidentally knock it off. Actually, now what I'm afraid of most is that we'll come downstairs tomorrow morning and it will indeed still be firmly fixed to the studs, which it's ripped clean out along with most of the wall on its journey face down on the floor.
davidn: (savior)
After the two-hour wait for the registry and the final cleanup (where I think they were understaffed - our salesman came past apologizing for the wait, with oil on his shirt and a power screwdriver in his hand), we finally got to take the car home. When we got in, more than ready to have dinner, we found that the chicken that we had in the fridge for our planned dinner had gone off... and then realized that instead of improvising something else, we could now just scoot down to the supermarket and back in about ten minutes, without it being an hour-long planned excursion while wrestling a granny-cart along with us. It was like a huge revelation - is this how normal people live? I hadn't realized the amount of flexibility that I'd been missing since living in Scotland, just in owning a vehicle - I can't wait to go around to see someone back in Brookline (for which the MBTA's site estimates about an hour and a half) and say yes, we'll be there in fifteen minutes.

I've been doing some light reading in the form of the navigation manual (150 pages) and the owner's manual (330 pages), just working out what we can do with it. I've never regularly driven a car that was put together after about 1995 before, so most of the available array of controls except the steering wheel are new to me - like central locking, cruise control and something called "RES ACCEL" that I think might fire rockets. One of my concerns about the navigation system was its ability to understand me - even other humans sometimes have difficulty with that, but on a few test routes, it didn't pick up the name of the destination any worse than I feel it would have for anyone else. We've already been arguing with it in terms of what route to actually take - on the main road rather than through a maze of residential streets - and the speed at which it recalculates the route when you stray from it is very impressive.

In general we've been just getting used to the existence of our newfound transportation - I drove Whitney to work this morning, though we don't plan to use it to replace that walk often, and for my last day at the office I rode the bus of irony one last time because I didn't really want to deal with parking, or the inner city traffic, at this point. We've already had a folding table in the back - with the back seats down flat, it's suddenly like we've rented a van. I'm sure that I'll get used to driving again, even though in America it seems that you need to be a lot more alert in general - here, everything is the Forfar Road roundabout(s).
davidn: (rabbit)
Oh dear God I've just bought a car. I was hopeful about sealing a good deal this morning when we went back to the Honda dealership for a third time to test drive the actual model we were after, but I was prepared for it to go either way, if they couldn't match the price we wanted.

We had been advised that the initial offer that I had planned ($2000 under the sticker price) would be regarded as comical at best, but when we were talking about the other cars we were looking at I managed to find a point to half-jokingly say that if he could get it down as far as that, then we wouldn't give anything else a second thought. To my great surprise, he took it seriously, went to talk to his invisible boss, and after one iteration at $700 below the given price, I brought out the other offer that we'd had by phone from another dealership, which knocked them all the way down to $1400 below.

That made me feel a lot better about going a bit above the station that we had originally planned - we're getting the third-level car for the price of the second-level one. After our victory on the base price we got re-screwed a bit because of having to arrange to install Bluetooth separately (which unlike our other model options, wasn't a standard feature), and a small "VSI fee" which I didn't have the energy to contest by that point. But on the whole, we did much better than I had imagined, and got a price that was something like $150 under the average price paid on the Internet. We just had to wait a couple of hours while they washed it down and took the plastic off.

Do you want to see it?



Here are some technical details, as far as I know about them:

The decision: Honda Fit. Thanks to everyone who recommended this to me - [livejournal.com profile] wolfekko, [livejournal.com profile] ms_noone, [livejournal.com profile] sporty_fox, people at work... I should have known from the beginning that the one that I just dropped in to look at would be the one we ended up buying, as well as our previous certainty the Yaris dropping straight to the bottom of the list.

Trim: Fit + Sport + Navi, the top range of the options. As detailed before, I hadn't thought we would go this high at first, but was talked into it because of the price being nowhere near what I had feared. Along with other reasons, such as the unstealability of a built-in navigation unit, and my sense of direction (and need to concentrate fully on Boston drivers just leaping out of junctions when they feel like it).

Colour: Dark grey-ish (official name, without joking: Polished Metal Metallic)

Transmission: Automatic, with paddle shifters for sport mode

Engine: Yes, it's got one

Tyres: 4

Mileage: 30 mpg-ish combined (27/33) - drivers on forums that I've read obsessively since starting this decision report this fluctuates a lot, but usually works out as actually a little better.

Price: Enough to summon Savato all over our bank account for the time being with the down payment (Actually, this is exactly what we wanted to use the house-buying rebate for, so it's not unplanned). But I changed my original four-year loan plan to five years when I saw that there would be no overpayment penalty - that way, we can plan to pay off as if it's four years but still have some breathing room if anything disastrous happens. The interest rate is a bit higher than I would have liked at 5%, and I tried to act like this put me off, but when it was demonstrated to me that a percentage difference adjusted the monthly payment by $6 and the total cost by about $400, I decided that this wasn't really all that important either.

So now I might be able to sleep a bit better, with all the really big life changes made and put into action for the time being. Except I'm now going to be really paranoid about it just sitting out there, or having left something on that'll run the battery down, or something. Except I now have a working headlight alarm - that's a completely new experience for me.

Friends in Scotland, I realize that in our decision to get the Sport, this means that I have bought a car with a spoiler on it. I will understand if you don't want to see me for a while.
davidn: (prince)
  • Car
  • Spreadable butter

Just to put things in perspective, the entire email exchange with our insurance company for explaining and organizing car insurance, from first sending my UK licence through explaining and exchanging documentation for the entire process, spans 21 emails. A post about a Playstation game has gone back and forth for sixty comments since yesterday and has not yet stopped.

For the last ten days, I've been adjusting numbers in various spreadsheets and reading reams of advice online, trying to work out exactly what I'll be earning, what we'll be paying out with various approaches to down payment and financing, and learning to toughen myself up and prepare to negotiate when we go back to see Honda Man tomorrow. We're hoping to get quite a bit off the given price, as we've already been given a rather decent offer from someone down the road, that I convinced my contact to put down in writing - it seems, oddly, that the best tactic is to find the dealer who'll give you the best price, then avoid them completely and ask a reasonable-looking alternative dealer to beat their offer. But on top of that, I'm prepared for them to hit us with various surprise fees, including for documentation ($100 is normal, the $280-$250 range that we've been quoted is ludicrous) and made-up things like detailing, fabric protection and rustproofing. I feel that I've done a lot of research, and that I'm better-informed at this point than most dipsticks that go in to be cheated out of their money, but still, I'm nervous about not ever having done this before.

By sending out messages to local dealerships from manufacturers' sites, you pretty much earmark your email account as a spam folder for the next few weeks - I've had replied pouring into my inbox ever since we started looking, and have been feeling like some important businessperson having to answer constant phone calls and update people on the models I'm thinking about and the bids that I'm taking on them. Ford went one better - they sent us a little flowery "thank you" card which arrived in the post today, along with the salesman offering to pick us up if we ever wanted another test drive. What an industry.

Indecision

Apr. 9th, 2011 09:32 pm
davidn: (Jam)
It's strange that the first question that dealers seem to ask us when we come in for our appointment is always "Did you find parking okay?". I don't have a car - that's why I'm here.

The choice between Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta rages on - but really only in my head, at this point. The Honda has some extra safety features we want, as well a significant amount more space (it appears to be slightly bigger on the inside) and an onboard navigation system. I've been told by many people that the Honda is the one to choose for reliability, and that it'll last forever, and when driving it it's just felt... better. It is also about $3000 more expensive than the Fiesta, which also has slightly better mileage - so the Honda is definitely the larger investment overall. But it's one that's probably worth it.

Mathematically, I believe that we can afford it - but that doesn't stop me setting up simulation after scenario in Excel, and on various car loan calculator sites, and going through them with slightly changing figures. At the same time, I can't help noticing that this is still an inexpensive car, that the average first-time car-buying age in this country seems to be about 16, and that everybody else seems to manage. In addition to the cost, there is also the issue that I would be buying a car which unavoidably comes with a spoiler and paddle gears, therefore making me a colossal wanker and unable to show my face in Scotland ever again.

After a huge palaver setting up an Internet fax-by-email account and getting up to contact the DVLA at six in the morning because they're only open until noon, I finally received a copy of my driving record for the insurance people.



Yes, it's a set of screen prints from a green-screen terminal put together in about 1976. It's as if a portal to the past has opened and this message has just tumbled out... the last page classifies the document as a "microfilm retrieval request"! I think that the reason for them not being able to send details via email is now clear - in their reality, they've still got twenty years to go until it's invented.

On cars

Apr. 4th, 2011 07:03 pm
davidn: (rant)
I received my driving licence in the post this morning, and it now occupies pride of place next to the existing UK card in my wallet. This new one is reassuringly elaborate, with a shiny seal across the middle and a much better photograph than the one that was taken of me when I was 17, so it makes it feel like it wasn't a huge amount of wasted effort. It's still sort of difficult to believe that I have it - not just because I'm suddenly going into a buying process, but because it represents this large step towards normalcy that I'd previously accepted that I just didn't have here.

Our aim is now to find a small, reliable, efficient car to get for ourselves, in a price range of about $15,000-$20,000 - we're open to both new and used, apart from the models like the Fiesta where used cars do not yet exist. So I completely failed to spend my weekend relaxing from the turmoil of the last month as I had planned - yesterday, Whitney and I both went out to look at Toyotas and Volkswagens, and on Sunday, with her on the way to California, I was suddenly called by one of the Nissan dealers I'd sent an email to, encouraging me to come down and test drive them. Here is the entire summary of my thoughts so far.

Toyota Yaris - I honestly thought that this one was going to be at the top of our list and an easy buy for us, and it was the first that we went to see, but when we got to look inside one at the dealership, it instantly felt really cheaply made. There are a lot of bare plastic surfaces on the armrest and central console, and the driving position is uncomfortable - I'm a seat-all-the-way-forward kind of person because of my slightly dachshund-like legs, and in this position, the base of the unit for the steering wheel gets in the way of your knee. Instead of having the dials in front of you, they're placed away over in the centre of the console for reasons I can't explain. And the boot of the hatchback sort of nullifies its own usefulness by being too small to fit anything at all unless you put the back seats down. Despite our expectations, the sedan version is slightly better.

Toyota Prius - This is the most expensive car we've looked at, but as it's a hybrid engine, the fuel savings are (theoretically) astronomical. The interior is comfortable while still showing off with slidey space-age designs, and the only thing I found strange was the completely inadequate gearstick. (While I'm on the subject, why is Reverse forwards and Drive backwards? This never made sense to me.) A physical disadvantage that I found with it is that the distance between the driver and the front of the car is... enormous - it's one of the longest-nosed cars I've ever seen. It doesn't seem particularly unusual in a photograph, but inside, the dashboard is extremely deep. I've talked to [livejournal.com profile] wolfekko and his other mechanically-inclined friends, and have learned a couple of drawbacks - that in reality the fuel savings are not that significant compared to smaller petrol-engine cars unless you're always driving in busy city traffic, and that maintenance is extremely costly, having to go to a specialist dealer instead of any old garage.

Volkswagen Jetta - We looked at one of these at the almost deserted Volkswagen dealership down the road, as Whitney's mother had told us it sounded like a good small car. She must have been looking at a reduced photocopy, because it's the size of a bus. We left without anybody noticing we were there.

Nissan Versa - This one was the model of car that was our favourite to hire when we lived in Brookline, and it drove very well both then and when I took one out for a test drive. The dealership only had two of them, both used and not yet cleaned, and I didn't get to try the hatchback, because after walking out to the car park, the salesman couldn't find it! During the test drive, someone in front of me suddenly stopped dead for no reason in the middle of traffic, so the brakes got a good test and scored highly with me. According to the car reviews on US News, they have issues with safety and reliability, though, which are things that obviously seem fairly important. I've got another couple of offers on Versas (Versae?) from other dealers as well, and might try to pit them against each other if we go down this route.

Honda Fit - I had just intended to look quickly at the Honda dealership on my way back from the Nissan place, but I ended up going for a second test drive that day. This was pretty much an afterthought on our list, but after driving it, it went right up to near the top of the candidates in my mind - it's actually what I thought the Yaris would be like. It's small but doesn't feel cramped inside, is smooth and comfortable, has the speedometer and readouts in the right place, and the steering wheel is easily adjustable to a much better place where it doesn't obstruct your knee. It also has as standard a USB port on the passenger side, where you can plug in your mobile/music device and then control it from the wheel. I know that shouldn't impress me so much when buying a car, but it does.

I'm slightly wary about this one, though, because Honda Man can tell I'm interested - he asked me if there was anything to do to get me to name a price and buy that day, and I had to say no to him twice. While sitting at his desk going through the likely price and offers, he was on the phone to his boss chuckling away at unheard things like he was Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal talking to the Banker, and he kept relaying questions that shouldn't seem as loaded as they did, like which British football team I supported. Anyway, I'm going to look at this with Whitney again and see if she likes it as well.

Ford Fiesta - In America, this is a new car - I would comment once again on how America seems only to get good things many years behind other parts of the world, if it wasn't really a completely different car from the one that I drove in Britain. This is looking like the other of the most likely choices and it ranks as number 1 on the above site which says you absolutely cannot go wrong with it, though we're still to actually go and see and test one. Most of the ones that are available at the local dealer seem to be manual-transmission, and I'm not sure why I feel so reluctant about that seeing as that's what I learned on - I suppose I just assumed that every car was an automatic here, and that the availability of manual gears puts yet another choice on to the pile. It's also a little bit more expensive than the others that we're considering, so if we like this and another model equally, it might come down to price.

That's about it.
davidn: (savior)
I now hold the logically questionable achievement of having passed my driving test for the first time twice. After a night of dreams involving junctions and difficult overtakes, I got up early, buzzed around ineffectually for as long as I could, and then started my walk across the town to the driving school. I didn't even get as far as the office before I met my driving instructor on the way back from somebody else, and he had me drive over on slightly busier roads than I had previously experienced, to get to the RMV where the test was to take place.

The test honestly can't have been longer than about five minutes. I was taken up on to a main road, past a junction, down on to a minor street where he went through the three manoeuvres, and then back to the same car park, with no one-way pitfalls or potential for errors of judgement. Throughout the manoeuvres he fulfilled his examinerial obligation to be a bit of a bell-end, chastising me for twitching a little on the accelerator, looking at my reference points too much instead of over my shoulder, and prompted me suspiciously through the parking procedure ("You're on an upward hill, where are your wheels?" "Right - no, left!" "What else?" "With the handbrake on." "And what about the gearstick?" "In 'Park'"). As we went back I thought that if there was anything I would fail on it would be those, but he grunted a "This is good" when I stopped at a traffic light further down.

So I sneaked a look at what he was writing when we stopped in the same place we had started, whereupon he instantly became a lot more friendly, asking about where I was from and where in America I'd visited. I was delighted when he circled "Pass" on my examination sheet, and he told me to go in and fill out the form to get my temporary licence.

I have to say that I was rather hoping to get a lift back to the driving school at which I'd started, rather than sitting in the benches for an eternity waiting for numbers to be called and then being left to my own devices, but for my trouble I now have an almost identical pathetic bit of paper as the last time I visited, with "Temporary Driver's Licence" on it instead of "Learner's Permit".

Projects during the weekend are going to be delayed even further from now on, as any plans are to be replaced by going out to look at cars.
davidn: (rabbit)
I was quite curious about part of the driving lesson procedure that had been detailed to me when I was at the office last week. They said to me specifically that the instructor would "arrive outside the house, he won't leave the vehicle, won't phone or come to the door to alert you, and will wait ten minutes for you to appear." Approach wearing a blue lapel pin and ask if you once had a barber called Dominique. I still don't know why they were so discreet about it or apparently scared of the outside world - I had pictured someone coming to the house in an armoured vehicle and nervously peeking out of the hatch at the front. But at five to noon, I saw a very normal driving school vehicle had sidled up at the end of the front path.

I couldn't remember or pronounce his name, but my instructor was from Puerto Rico, though I thought he had an Italian accent at first. He set me off driving with occasional directions, just to see how I did at first, and was obviously quite comfortable because he had pulled out his phone and was talking to someone else as we went along after the first five minutes. It was instantly one of the most relaxed first driving lessons you've ever seen - we talked about being foreign in America, his family, where I'd come from before moving to Boston, and so on, in between him telling me where to go and offering observations like "You see, that was a woman" when someone pulled out in front of us without looking.

The manoeuvres took a couple of goes because I'm not used to doing them from the left-hand side of the car, but after re-learning parallel parking, I found his own technique rather better than the one that I had learned previously (mirror to mirror, one right turn, reverse until the right mirror blocks the left brake-light of the car in front, then turn hard left until you see both your headlights reflected in its back). Three-point turns are also different because the roads are about two or three metres wider, so much that you might as well not bother with the three points at all in most places.

I've asked some people for their thoughts on the test, as well - people seem to generally say that if I passed in Britain I'll have no problem here, but I'm just very aware of all the little things that can go wrong. I have another lesson at the same time next week, and then the test soon after that.
davidn: (skull)
When I put myself in stressful situations, I don't just do things halfway. So to add to this month's schedule of two appointments at the doctor, one at the dentist, all the stuff that's going on at work, and organizing another Flash game sale, today I went down to the local driving school and booked myself in for two lessons and a driving test at the end of March.

I'd passed the written test a while ago, after which I realized that I really didn't want to do another practical test - but I was finally spurred into doing this by the thought that it would mean that we were able to go more than fifteen minutes' walk away without a ton of planning, or go to the supermarket during the winter without the trouble of putting on snowshoes and scraping our cart over the tundra. Everyone keeps on saying that if I passed in Britain this will be easy - indeed, if you'd seen the driving standard of most people here you would be quite surprised to learn that there even was a driving test - but it's still something that's going to further the amount of general dread on my mind. Most people only have to pass once, do it when they're seventeen and then just forget about it and never use their indicators ever again.

I've got a book called "How to Control Your Anxiety" out of the library, and am constantly worried about remembering to return it on time.
davidn: (Jam)
Having felt that there just hadn't been enough to worry about in my life recently what with the whole business of buying a house and my parents arriving tomorrow, I went down to the RMV this morning to get a learner's permit for driving. I hadn't really planned the visit much in advance, only having said that I might go at some point in the next while, and had done very little preparation - I downloaded and read the drivers' manual on the bus on the way there. It had occurred to me that this time, I wouldn't have the advantage of seventeen years of picked up knowledge behind me, and unlike the rest of the country I wouldn't automatically know what colour a regulation sign was or what the various road markings meant, but during the couple of practice tests that I mentioned in the last post, it seemed that the general approach of it was just to make sure that you weren't a total moron, and apart from the different shaped road signs, everything looked fairly comparable to what I was used to.

Like all American governmental departments I've seen (which is more than most people have to in this country), on arrival they give you a ticket and then keep you sweating in a row of benches while waiting for your number to come up, occasionally ringing an electronic bell and flashing up letters and sequences of numbers on the screens around you like you're at the world's drabbest Bingo hall. Having been assigned to the C-class personnel, it seemed that my queue moved most slowly, while they absolutely rattled through the As and Bs, but during the time it took for the five or so C-numbers in front of me to be dealt with, I took the chance to look over the vehicle regulations again, noticing that it advised such things as "make sure your vehicle operates good", being one of the few educational publications directed by Derek Zoolander.

Even though I had been calm and unbothered about the level at which I was to be quizzed, the process of even getting to the test is like being interviewed by an elderly Gestapo member in a wooly cardigan. I'm sure I saw a few people in front of me being turned away for not meeting the requirements, but I had brought a whole envelope full of evidence in preparation for their strict rules on needing three separate documents that showed social security number (the original card), proof of signature (my permanent resident card), proof of residence (after some rifling, a mortgage update from the bank) and proof of birth (I'm standing here now). With your whole life plotted out on to their computer, further testing is done right at the counter.

The eye test got off to a rocky start when I failed to find the eye testing equipment - rather than an optician's chart somewhere across the room, you have to stoop down and peer into a sort of Viewmaster mounted on the desk. Looking into this, I had to read out numbers on a background that were visible only to my left or right eye, then pick out another number sequence in a kind of ghostly lighted grid pattern, which I could only just do. Then came the worst part - she switched on an LED at the periphery of vision, and asked me what colour it was.

"I don't bloody know," I didn't say. I can see colour-vital things in the road perfectly fine because the reds and greens they use are very distinct, but if you're going to ask me what colour something is, don't show me a pinprick of light at twenty degrees past my field of vision. Hoping for the best, I guessed "red".
"No - there's a light on the edge of your vision, what colour is it?"
I turned my eyes directly to it, hoping that that would offer me some help. "Sort of... yellow-orange?"
"No - there's a light on the edge of your vision, what colour is it?"
"Green?"
"Yes."

And that's how they ensure your colour vision is accurate - just keep on asking until you get it right, like a less impatient Granny's Garden, and it doesn't matter that you've just apparently demonstrated that when encountering a traffic light you're going to just go as fast as possible no matter what it's showing. With that safely out of the way, I was pointed to a glass-walled room where - in an arrangement much like the British theory tests - a number of touch-screen workstations were set up with the testing software, and it told me that I needed to attain the generous pass mark of 18 out of 25.

And things started off very well. I recognized the first couple of questions from the drivers' manual and could have answered them very easily anyway with only a bit of common sense, but I didn't know that the machine had a trick up its sleeve - just as you're getting used to the process, it'll suddenly bring you to a dead halt with an irrelevant statistics question. Staring at the first one, it felt like the Bridge of Death from Monty Python - "What... do you do at a Yield sign? What... are the indicators for? What... is the percentage of accidents on the freeway that are caused by drunk driving?" In what way does the last one imply anything about my ability to operate a car? And that wasn't the worst of them - there were the occasional questions about the maximum penalties for speeding and alcohol-related incidents for drivers between the ages of 16 and 21. I struggled through them with guesswork and inference from the questions it had asked before (unlike the British test, you're immediately told whether you were right or wrong and a running total is kept at the bottom of the screen), and was relieved when it seemed to calm down again and offered up some road signs instead.

Despite the machine's best efforts, I passed the theory test with 20 right, having only failed to guess the average age of drunk drivers and the height of the occasional dam in Kazakhstan, and joined the younger girl who had been taking the test beside me in the queue to get the licence handed out while talking about the stupidity of half of the questions. You don't get a card for it - instead I have a rather pathetic slip of paper that tells people I'm a licensed learner driver and includes a photograph that makes me look no more than 90% like an escaped murderer, and I was out of the building in no more than an hour and a half.

I now, once again, have two years to organize and pass the driving test.
davidn: (Jam)
Here's the list of things I've learned from my information-gathering attempts for finally getting around to obtaining an American driving licence:
  • America does not have the noun form of "licence", and it is "license"
  • The name for the body of people and things that govern things like this is the DMV
  • Massachusetts does not have a DMV
  • Massachusetts has the RMV
  • An RMV is a DMV
  • A DMV is probably not an RMV
  • Each RMV generously has an individual page where you can see the current wait times
  • Even at three in the afternoon the wait is upwards of one hour
  • What are you all doing there? Get a job, the lot of you
  • No RMV branches appear to have phone numbers
  • There's one unified phone number for everything called the RMV Telephone Center
  • The employees on this line have the voices of people who have had all their soul sucked out of them through their nose and are now disembodied brains in jars phoenetically reciting script after script along their intracranial optical fibres
  • There's no distinction between an automatic and manual driving licence here
  • I need to start from the beginning as a learner again because I have a foreign licence
  • The theory test here happens before you even get a learner's licence, not just before the test
  • From initial impressions, the theory test appears fairly laughable:
    Question #6. What should you see in your rear view mirror before attempting to return to the right lane after passing a vehicle on the left?
    1. The driver of the car you are passing
    2. The bumper of the car you are passing
    3. Your hair

    Question #7. After you have parallel parked, how close to the curb must your vehicle be?
    1. 18 inches from the curb
    2. wheels should be touching the curb
    3. parallel parking scares me so much I'll drive around for an hour rather than try it
  • "kerb" is apparently spelled with a C and a U
  • You must provide four forms of ID to get a licence
  • One of these must be from the primary ID list
  • Twice as many as half of the rest of these must be on the secondary ID list
  • A licence expires five of your birthdays after its issue date
  • Insurance is not tied to a person-car pair but to a car itself... I think
  • You must have a driving licence to get car insurance
  • You have to have car insurance to get a licence
  • It is therefore unclear to me how you actually organize a car in which to pass the test
  • "Fully Loaded" crisps means that they're cheese and onion flavour
davidn: (Jam)
Er, I might be buying a car this week. It's something that Whitney and I have sort of talked about one day getting around to considering for a while, and I've been encouraged to finally get a licence instead of continually relying on the way that Zipcar inexplicably allow me to just drive in the knowledge that I held one in a country that drove on the other side of the road, but I always thought it would be something that would get pushed off indefinitely. This afternoon, though, our neighbour came round to tell us about the plans she had for moving out, and casually offered us her car for "$500 or less".

So... I'm not sure what we should do, now. The decision would have to be made fairly quickly because she moves on Friday, though once bought, the car can freely just sit in our off-road parking space until such time as we're ready to use it. I don't know how the whole process really works in America, but I've sent an email off to the man who does our home insurance to ask what the monthly payment might be likely to be, and he should be able to give me some idea of what I'll need. I hope that I'll get time this week to test drive it and get it looked at - it's a roughly-1985 Pontiac 6000 LE (whatever that is), she says it's been good to her and she's taken it to be checked every six months, and it seems to have worked all right during the two months we've been living next to her, at least.

At the moment, hiring a Zipcar for a full day costs us about $100. So the way I see it, if it goes about five round-trip journeys of decent length before the engine jumps out and all four wheels fall off, then it's already paid for itself - and getting an incentive to finally get a licence will be welcome, as would the ability to go beyond ten minutes' walk away without a ton of planning. It might even replace the bus and train to work if I can get unterrified of driving among people from Boston. And if it doesn't work out, we can sell it on to a junkheap and probably break about even.

Is this a remotely good idea?

Edit: She's actually decided not to sell it after all, so all of this turned out to be a bit pointless - however, thanks for everyone's thoughts, and it was clear that this made us consider it, so that tells us a lot...

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