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!

In case you are a hadn’t noticed, I’ve changed my main domain name. still works fine and will continue to redirect all traffic to the new domain, but I just didn’t feel it described the site anymore.  Back in the day I tended to focus mainly on gadgets, but the site has become so diverse now, and is more of a personal catalogue of interests and intricacies.

I’m Ben, I’m a geek, and I’m in New Zealand.  Ben.  Geek.  NZ.


Genesis loses focus…

This is brilliant. With my Genesis power bill I got not one, but two brochures telling me about how my power company is focusing on climate change. Two identical brochures printed on high-quality, bleached, heavy stock. I guess they’re not too focused on reducing wastage or energy spent on printing and processing.

Here’s an idea Genesis: how about offering me an online-only bill option so I can stop receiving unnecessary pieces of paper!?

Improve Your Life

Like so many things I read, I find cognitive therapy to be basically codified common sense. The same thing applies to project management, money management, negotiation, ad infinitum. The market for books on the subjects makes me reconsider if these things are in face common sense.

Still, I find a lot of excellent stuff when I read about cognitive therapy, and this latest post over at Lifehacker has distilled most of cognitive therapy down into some sort of 100-proof cognitive moonshine. Go there to read the detail, but in summary:


  • Stop jumping to conclusions.
  • Don’t dramatize.
  • Don’t invent rules.
  • Avoid stereotyping or labeling people or situations.
  • Quit being a perfectionist.
  • Don’t over-generalize.
  • Don’t take things so personally.
  • Don’t assume your emotions are trustworthy.
  • Don’t let life get you down. Keep practicing being optimistic.
  • Don’t hang on to the past. This is my most important suggestion of all: let go and move on.


If we could all apply these principles the world would be one hell of a dull place, but I definitely know a few people who could do with consuming a wee bit of this kool-aid. Yours truly included.

Searching the AOL Search Records

No doubt you’ve heard about AOL’s colossal screw-up, whereby they released hundreds of thousands of ‘anonymous’ search queries for the purposes of public research. Downloaders quickly discovered that because each search term is tagged by a user id, it is very easy to look at the search habits of a particular anonymous surfer and discover some very intimate details.

Well now an enterprising person has taken the 2 gigabytes of data, loaded it in a database, indexed it, and made it searchable.

It took me all of 30 seconds to find this gem. Seems some diabetic person is interested in property, hypodermic darts, and how to construct grenades. Perhaps he needs them to protect the gold claim that he plans to buy?

Loving it.

Update: looks like the search result I posted is screwed. The userID has disappeared completely. Either the owner of is removing some contentious results, or perhaps re-indexing the database.

Update 2: Yes it appears the original link is pretty broken. This search page seems to have the full database available, and now there are pages listing the most interesting/popular/bizarre search terms. Additionally it appears the first person (of many no doubt) has been positively identified from the data. Come on down Thelma Arnold. If a company could blush, I imagine AOL is bright crimson right about now.

Update 3: Oh dear god won’t somebody make it stop!? The unfortunate truth is that I don’t believe user 927 will be the worst uncovered.