Back On the Yard

This is one of a series of “classic posts“. Resurrections of old posts that I enjoyed writing, and you might enjoy reading.

car-partsI had a massive flashback on Sunday. A flashback to the days of running a beat-up old car. Spending weekends underneath it, fixing something or modifying something else. A flashback of trips to the car wrecking yard, taking home something that ‘might just fit’, returning later to find something that’ll ‘surely bolt straight on’, before finally fixing and refitting the original part.

I run a much more modern car these days, but it didn’t stop the WoF guys from pulling me up on a cracked brake light. Being a Sunday, the only place open was the post-apocalyptic Pick-a-Part. This place is a self-service parts yard. You rock on up with your tools, find a car vaguely similar to the one you need, and go to town. Anything you can drag away with you they’ll charge you for. The good part is they charge something like $18 for a tail light that would be $50 anywhere else.

Pick-a-Part is like something straight out of Mad Max. The gatehouse is barred and chained, the walls are made from scrap corrugated iron, and the yard is bare dirt covered in cars sitting jacked up on piles of disused wheel rims. On a cold Autumn day, the wind whistling through the iron fencing and the shambling, boilersuit-clad scavengers really added to the ambience.

Huge signs proclaimed the “Yard Rules”. Such gems as “No children in the yard or left unattended in the car park”; “No gas torches or plasma cutters”; and “No theft: we’ll check your pockets and socks when you leave!”.

The final touch of apocalyptical sweetness is the exit door. Once I paid for my shoddy wares, the toothless lady in the gatehouse untied a length of wire from the leg of her desk. Initially puzzled, I realised her diabolical genius when I followed the wire snaking up past the payment window, out a hole in the wall, and tired securely around the exit gate, holding it shut. In my mind I pictured some greasy, penniless scavenger, frantically dragging half an engine towards the gate, only to be foiled by Ma Dixie’s security wire of doooooom!

Hacking for Parental Sanity

This is one of a series of “classic posts“. Resurrections of old posts that I enjoyed writing, and you might enjoy reading.

There is a company somewhere in Asia that manufactures small speakers. Small piezoelectric speakers that can put out a surprising amount of noise. I would one day like to visit this company, and spend a little bit of time pressing each button on all of my son’s noise-making toys that no doubt contain the spawn of this hellish company. Small demons no less, screaming nauseating 8-bit music at the top of their lungs.

More than once I have worried about my son’s hearing. One such toy is a cartoon-like telephone. Apparently designed to be held to the head in a similar manner to Dad’s cellphone. This would be fine if the little phone didn’t pump out something in the region of 70-80dB of noise (I’m not joking – louder than conversation, and approaching a food blender in volume).

Thankfully I am not afraid of hacking. In fact hacking electronic devices can easily be a life and sanity saver. Hacking these noisy little beasts generally falls into two categories, named in suitable serial-killer chic as Muffling and Exterminating.

The Muffling hack is useful when you have a toy that is designed around the sounds it makes (e.g. the toy cellphone in my case), and also has a bit of space inside it. The approach I take is to find some decent compressable material (e.g. lightweight foam or dacron), open the toy, find the baby demon speaker, and wrap the fucker in a couple of layers of your material. You can usually then stuff the speaker back in its original location, and close up the toy. I find this technique can knock an easy 20dB off a noisy toy, making it comfortable to listen to at an arm’s length.

The Extermination hack is a more robust hack for those toys that are just plain obnoxious, and have no place emitting the noises they do. My example is a cool little firetruck that drives along and pops up a water-cannon. Great, except it also screams “Matchbox to the rescue!” at 80dB, which would be supremely ironic for a firetruck if it weren’t manufactured by Matchbox. The hack is simple: open the toy, find the speaker, and detach one or both wires from the speaker. A hard yank will usually do the trick (and is very satisfying), but you could use wire cutters or a soldering iron if you are a poof want to do it right.

There is probably a third hack that involves reducing the volume of the speaker through passive electronics, possibly by soldering a resistor in-line with the speaker. I shall leave that as an exercise for the reader. If you have any other suggestions (not counting the impact-with-concrete hack), then feel free to comment.

Update: Dan Rutter has a good writeup (second question down the page) on how to use electronics to quieten these offensive toys.