The Last Car I Will Ever Own

Pictured above is my new 2016 Nissan Versa, parked across a couple of handicap spaces because that’s just the kind of guy I am.

A few weeks ago, Liana and I spent one hellish Saturday afternoon, looking at cars and dealing with some of the sketchiest car dealership employees ever. We finally left with the Nissan and a new car payment that I don’t know how I’m going to afford, but it’s an awesome car and I love it. It’s very low-end and doesn’t even have power locks or windows, but it’s great to have a reliable car again. One that can go on extensive road trips, just like the good ole days, which I plan to do very soon. And, most importantly, it’s got an Aux In jack. So long to listening to Spotify through a cassette tape adapter.

My 2000 Ford Focus has been a great car for the past 13 years, but its numerous problems and break downs were starting to add up, and it had 211,000 miles on it. I listed it on Craigslist for weeks, one week for $400 and the second week for $300, and nobody ever bought it. But less than 24 hours after painting “FOR SALE” on the back window, it was gone, purchased by a guy who plans to fix it up and use it for work. I let him have it for $280 since the gas tank was empty.

I bought the Focus in 2003, for the sole purpose of taking a cross-country trip from Illinois to South Dakota to hang out with The Spessas, which I did within a month of buying the car. Since then my Focus has taken me all over the country, on road trips by myself and with the kids, with friends and girlfriends, it’s helped aid me in all kinds of wacky pranks and schemes, from Texas to New York to California and a bunch of other fun places, it’s been a great car and has been mostly reliable. I will miss you, 2000 Ford Focus. Since I have the address of the guy I sold it to, I’m tempted to occasionally drive by and look longingly at my old friend. But I totally won’t do that, because that would be creepy. Nope, not me.

Below is a video I made in 2014, demonstrating how easy it is to call oil change places and trick them into handing out my own personal information. Included in the video is every picture I could find of my Focus from my photo album. You’ll see pictures from when I made a laptop mount in my front seat because GPS barely existed yet, you’ll see how I turned the passenger seat into a desk for a few road trips, the Nova emblem that I drilled into the back of the car to confuse other drivers, the weird things we painted on my windows, the 1980’s-era radio I installed after the first time a crackhead stole my nice stereo, and other miscellaneous photos of my old car from the past 13 years.

Why is the Nissan Versa the last car I will ever own? Because the entire world is on the verge of a buttload of changes to transportation and pretty much everything else. Semi-autonomous cars are already here if you can afford them, and fully autonomous cars will be here easily by 2020. Once the cars are working and the government regulations are laid out, things are going to change insanely quick. Elon Musk recently said that full autonomy will be ready within 2 years and the government will be ready for them in 3. And Elon knows what he’s talking about since he plans to be selling 1,000,000 autonomous cars per year by 2020.

I’ve seriously hated being a slave to my car these past couple of decades. Sure I love owning a car, but only because that’s been the only option for me. In the medium sized cities I’ve lived in, public transportation generally sucks. In a few short years, I’m going to be able to call for an autonomous car to pick me up from a cell phone app, to take me wherever I want to go, quickly and cheaply. Owning a car will become pointless and expensive. Even if full autonomy doesn’t happen as fast as I’m sure it will, services like Uber and Lyft and all those car sharing companies are going to start showing up in medium sized towns. No matter how this all goes down, it’s going to end with nobody needing to own a car.

About 4 years ago I wrote about how it sucked that I would never live through another revolution. I got to see the internet happen and I got to see the entire world end up with tiny super computers in their pockets, but I felt like that was it for me. I thought in another 10 years, all we’re going to see is neater cell phones and faster internet. I had no idea this was coming and I’m incredibly excited for it.

Self-driving cars are going to change everything. I know most of you have heard it all by now, but they’re going to save 30,000 or so lives per year because they will rarely crash, they’re going to reduce air pollution, they’ll require less roads and parking spaces and they’ll let blind, disabled, and old people get around as easily as the rest of us. Insurance rates will plummet, cops won’t be able to give you speeding tickets anymore, and car ownership will become a thing of the past. When I finally get rid of my Nissan Versa 10 years from now, there probably won’t be a single incentive to trade it in for something new.

The world is going to be in a lot of trouble soon, and I’m excited for this. Besides self-driving cars stealing the jobs of taxi drivers and truck drivers, they will eventually cripple the auto industry. Imagine all the car dealerships in your town going out of business permanently. This is something I would love to see happen, after having to deal with those car dealership people a couple weeks ago. Sketchy car salesmen across the country will be out of jobs and will have to settle for mugging people in the park. All of the independent used car lots will disappear too. And then most of the service garages, oil change businesses, Auto Zones, and insurance companies. Cops won’t be able to ticket people for speeding anymore, but that’ll be good because everyone is going to lose their jobs.

And that’ll just be the fallout from self-driving cars. Automation is going to blow up in a huge way soon, stealing the jobs of fast food and factory employees, and I’m sure plenty of other people. No, seriously, this is all about to happen. In our lifetimes, within the next 10 to 20 years. They’ve already figured out how to fully automate a fast food restaurant, basically turning a McDonalds into a building-sized vending machine. Pretty much every non-skilled job will be gone permanently. I’m sure we’ll figure out a way to make all this work, but from the looks of where things are going, we’re either headed for the next great depression or we’re headed for an awesome utopia where machines do all the work and we just sit back and play on our fancy new cell phones all day.

These things are going to happen quickly and we’re probably all doomed, but I absolutely love things that upset the status quo. The economy as we know it is incredibly bad for the Earth and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. The only thing I know for sure is that driving won’t be necessary 10 years from now, and I’ll be happy to never touch a steering wheel again.

Bi-Yearly Update

I got pulled over a couple weeks ago for running a stop sign. On a bike. Yes, on a bike. It was one of those streets that rarely has any cars on it, where I just kind of look both ways and keep going. The cop pulled me over and ran my license. He was really nice about the whole thing and we chatted for a bit, but still kind of weird. He was probably just making sure I wasn’t a tweaker or something. I’ve seen in the local police logs where they’ve pulled over bikes and they had tools and stolen car stereos in their back packs, so maybe I just look like THAT kind of guy.

I don’t think I’ve had an actual ticket since 1997 when I was pulled over for doing 31 in a 25 in Celina, Ohio. I’ve been pulled over 4 or 5 times since then, but I always get warnings instead of tickets. Never speeding really pays off.

I found out this week that my nick appears in a short scene on the new TV show called Mr. Robot. I watched the pilot of this months ago on YouTube and it seemed like an interesting show. The second episode, which I haven’t seen yet, shows an IRC chat room and one of the chat names in room is RBCP. I guess that COULD have been a coincidence, just a random 4 letters, but it’s also possible some guy on the staff of the show stuck it in there. I’m sure they have actual hackers working on the show that know of PLA.

mr_robot

So that’s weird thing #2 that’s happened to me in the past few days. Here’s the post on the 2600 Facebook, where I originally saw it.

Thunder Tweets

Thunder is really rare in Albany. So is lightning. And snow. But I’d say in my 8 years of living in this area, we’ve only had real thunder maybe 3 or 4 times. It’s rare to even hear a rumble off in the distance. It barely exists here. But last night we had a really awesome thunderstorm, lasting nearly an hour with a lot of house-shaking thunder that really freaked out our cat.

These past few years I’ve discovered that anytime anything out of the ordinary happens here, it’s fun to turn on the local Twitter feed and watch everyone freak out about it. So I present to you all…People Who Are Way Too Old To Be Afraid Of Thunder, Being Afraid Of Thunder.

thunder tweets

thunder tweets

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thunder tweets

So I’m curious – outside of this weird little bubble I live in where normal weather doesn’t exist, are people really this afraid of thunder? In the places I’ve lived before here, Twitter and Facebook weren’t around yet so I never had much opportunity before to get so much enjoyment out of everyone else’s fear. Good times!

Explosive Toilet Drama

I’m pretty sure I experienced some horror movie stuff today. I was sitting on the toilet this morning, innocently taking my poo, and I could hear kind of a hissing sound AND THERE WAS A SNAKE and I figured it was the valve in the tank just needing to be jiggled or something. So I finish up with the pooing and the periodic hissing sound continues and I notice that the poo water in the bowl is kind of moving back and forth. Sloshing, if you will. Before I can reach to flush the toilet, it starts getting worse. Then it starts bubbling. A lot. I’m not sure if it’s an Earthquake or Judgement Day, but I really want to flush my poo before whatever is happening gets worse.

But I don’t, because by this point the water looks like it’s boiling. Imagine a pot of boiling water on the stove, but scale it up to toilet size and add poo. I figure if I hit the flush handle, it’s either going to overflow or spray poo at the ceiling. I’m pretty sure that I’ve fallen asleep and am in a Freddy Krueger dream. You’ll be happy to know, that my poo wasn’t too poo-ey. I mean, it was a healthy poo and not a liquid poo. So that was good at least.

I needed to leave the house to pick up the kids from school (no, that’s not a reverse poo euphemism) so I closed the toilet lid and left. I didn’t see much reason to be late for that since all I could do was helplessly stare at the toilet bowl of boiling water. As I left, I noticed that the pipe on the roof above the bathroom was really noisy. When I got back home, it had stopped. Things were about as I expected. I had a mess to clean up, but it wasn’t too horrifying. Mostly just toilet paper and water and little of it was on the floor.

But yeah, I’m pretty sure I have poltergeists now. Really, what causes that? I’ve lived in dozens of places all over the U.S. and I’ve never had a toilet being boiling before. There was some kind of road work happening about a block away, so I guess they could be responsible. I haven’t talked to my neighbors yet to find out if the same thing happened to them. I haven’t even seen them. Maybe they’re dead. Guess it’s a good thing I left when I did.


In other exciting news around here…Bonecage’s new album features ME leaving creepy voicemails for a girl. It’s the track called Charlie Loves You. Bonecage was also nice enough to record an entire song for PLA, which I’m currently in the process of creating a crowd-sourced music video for. I’m pretty happy about both of those things. Also, I just put a new PLA album out. It’s got all those car ding calls we did from a couple years ago. And I guess that’s it. When poltergeists aren’t trying to murder me, all my life news revolves around internet projects.

Answering Machine Hacking

As far as I know, answering machines in the homes of everyone you knew wasn’t really a thing until the late 80’s. I know they existed long before that, but normal people just didn’t have them. My brother and I would occasionally make prank calls in the early 80’s and I remember how weird it was to actually reach an answering machine. It seemed amazing at the time, being able to leave wacky messages for strangers that they would have to listen to when they came home. I brought an answering machine into my family’s home in the very late 80’s (or maybe it was even 1990), when I bought them one for Christmas, but I was so excited about the idea of it that I took it out of the box and played around with it for a few days before wrapping it.

I owned a few answering machines of my own when I was a teenager, for the phone line that I’d purchased for my room. Some of them I would return before the 30 day return policy expired, but I did keep a couple of them. The last one I owned before moving out of my parents house was a Panasonic KX-T1450 (the answering machine from the movie Sneakers), which had dual-cassettes and remote access so I could check messages while away from home. The remote access also let me monitor my room using the machine’s microphone and it let me change the outgoing message. I know all that seems pretty useless for a teenager, but coworkers and I sometimes passed the time by creating wacky new messages for my machine from work.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered the fun of hacking other people’s answering machines, but it had to be at least a year before I moved out of my parents house because I know I was keeping lists of numbers I’d found that connected to machines and I began recognizing brands based on how they behaved and the tone they used. I also began opening up answering machine boxes at Wal-Mart so I could read the instruction books on how their remote access worked and write down default codes if there were any. The first one I hacked was the same model my parents had, which had a 1-digit access code. Yes, a 1-digit access code. After the beep I had to hold down the single-digit code button for at least 2 seconds and then I was in. The machine I hacked had the same code as we did so I probably ended up getting it on the first try.

Some machines didn’t have any options once you got into them. They’d just play the messages and then hang up on you. Others would let you skip messages or speed forward and backwards through them. Deleting a single message was rarely an option, because almost all machines used tapes and you couldn’t delete a message from the middle of a tape. The best machines, though, were the ones that let you change the outgoing message. I’m sure plenty of people were surprised to call a person and hear whatever weirdness I put on the machines of their friends/family. I really don’t remember a lot of what I did on them. The fun part was just figuring out how to get into them.

Most machines had 2 digit codes and they would only recognize the CORRECT tones and they would ignore the wrong ones, so if you could cycle through 0 to 9 fast enough you’d be in. Three-digit machines were a little harder, but not much because of the same reason. You always knew what the last digit of the code was because that was when the machine let you in, so the next time you called, you’d cycle 0 to 9 for the first digit and then press the 2nd digit of the code.

Zak & I probably hacked a record number of answering machines in the city of Roy, New Mexico in 1995. Our goal was to prank every resident in that town, which wasn’t too hard since there were only a few hundred people living there. A lot of people weren’t home, so we hacked a lot of machines and changed a lot of outgoing messages. We probably hacked more machines than talked to people, and then we had a list of all the numbers and the codes to their machines, so we’d call back and do it again a few days later.

What this is all leading up to is my latest weirdness involving my phone obsession. About a month ago I bought a used computer and set up Asterisk/FreePBX on it. This software allows me to run my own telephone PBX system, complete with full IVR capabilities and about any phone feature you can imagine. A few weeks later I bought a couple of Linksys PAP2T phone adapters from eBay, which allows me to connect 4 actual phones to this phone system. And you can probably guess what I’ve hooked into the system.

I’ve connected answering machines to all 4 lines and people from all over the world have been calling in to figure out how to hack them. The machines have been taking calls all day and night for about a week now. I had to open each one of the machines up and disconnect the speakers in them so they would stop waking me up in the middle of the night when people called in. People have been leaving messages of frustration because they can’t figure out how to get into them, but plenty of others are succeeding, erasing messages, changing greetings, and probably monitoring my room because I haven’t disconnected any of the microphones.

I searched a few thrift stores for old machines to plug into the system and I now own a total of 5 old machines. Only one of them uses tape and it’s probably the least-interesting one since there are no options on the remote features, but I’m hoping to add a couple of more tape machines to it. I might not have spend anymore money on machines, though, because a few people have promised to mail their old machines to me. (You can too! Brad Carter, P.O. Box 465, Albany, OR 97321)

Over the weekend a couple of people donated money to PLA, totaling $50 (Thanks, JagTV and Snorlax Security!), so I was able to buy a couple more of the phone adapters from eBay, meaning this weird thing I’ve created will soon have 8 answering machines hooked to it, sitting and waiting for people to break into them. My plan is to stop at 10 machines, but who knows how long that plan will last. If people keep helping out with the project, it could really get out of hand. But I love that people who never got to experience answering machine hacking, either because they never thought to try it out or because they weren’t born yet, are getting to do it now, and in a way that’s completely legal.

The other cool thing is that I have home phone service again, through this Asterisk computer. I’ve hooked one of the lines into our phones downstairs, so we can use the pay phone hanging in our living room, and the phone in our kitchen. We used to have MagicJack for home phone service, but it expired awhile ago and I never bothered renewing it since we all have cell phones and Skype and a few dozen other ways to communicate with people that make more sense than picking up a home phone. I’m tempted to just start wiring phone jacks into every room of the house, and on the porch, and in the bathroom, and the closets, but yeah, I sure won’t do that. Nope, not me.

I’m really excited about the whole project, though. I’ve played around with Asterisk a few times in the past, but I never got as far as actually hooking up physical telephones to it. Around 2009 I set up a system with an incoming number that did a few IVR things, but I gave up because it was constantly crashing, it turned out because of bad RAM in the machine. I’ve got all kinds of plans for this thing, though. Fun stuff, that people calling in will enjoy playing around with. And fun for me, just to play around with this amazing combination of old tech and new tech. So thanks, Asterisk and FreePBX, for creating this completely free software that lets people experience the fun of running their own phone system.

In your grandma’s face, like a giant lump of botox

Remember when I used to write things here? Those were the days. I’ve been up to the normal, boring fun stuff lately. On Sunday I created a music video for Rappy Mcrapperson’s song called Welcome to the Shrubz and he put it on his YouTube channel. It’s made entirely out of clips from the 1990 movie Home Alone. Here’s that:

Weeks before that I finished up a song called Free Water, then spent another week making a video for it. I figured simply writing out the lyrics in block letters would be a quick, simple video, but I was wrong. It took a full week of evenings to put it all together. Never doing that one again. Here it is:

I’ve been reading The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury for the first time. I’ve got a few Bradbury books queued up on my Kindle and I plan to read all of them before the year is over. The only thing I’ve ever read by him before is Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and that was a couple years ago. Still hating that I didn’t read tons of science fiction growing up instead of tons of horror. Nice that Ray thinks kids will still be playing “kick the can” far into the future.

A month ago the kids and I went to PAX. Tonight we watched Now You See Me. What else. Oh yeah, there was my crippling Breaking Bad addiction these past few months. People have been telling me for years to watch that TV show, but I never did because a show about meth sounded incredibly boring. But holy crap, was I wrong. I think I watched all 4 seasons in a month. Then the half-season of 5 the following week, just in time for the show to finish up. Then I watched almost all of the episodes again with the kids because they got into it. Best show ever. I’ve never loved (and hated) characters so much.

And now I’m watching Stargate SG-1 for the first time ever. I’m nearly done with season 4, with 6 seasons to go. My entire life revolves around consuming media.

I bought an Android tablet – a Nexus 7. This is my third attempt at owning an Android device. The other two attempts weren’t good at all, but I love being abused so I’m giving it another try. It started off bad with constant crashes and lockups, but then I factory reset it and updated it to the latest version and it’s been relatively stable for the past month. I’m mostly using it to play The Simpsons Tapped Out game, but the main reason I bought it was to use as a soundboard for Madhouse shows, which has worked really well so far.

Somebody is Missing

When I was a kid, it was always exciting to think about “the future” and all the cool advancements we’d have after the year 2000. We were promised many things, like flying cars, robots, teleportation, and fax machines in every room of our house. So where is it all? I know I’m not alone in feeling completely lied to by books and movies about what life would be like in 2012.

It’s weird to think about where we’d be technologically today if certain key people from the past had died before they invented amazing things. Like Nikola Tesla, who did amazing stuff with electricity and radio, almost died in a boat on his way to America. And he almost died as a kid of some disease. And his father hated the idea of him being an engineer and wanted him to become a priest instead. If any of those things had happened to Telsa, we might be living in a 1950’s-like world right now. Or we might just now be getting home computers and connecting them to AOL on our dialup modems. All because of one man.

What if Einstein had died as a kid? What would life be like for all of us? Sure, someone would have figured it all out eventually, but how long would it have taken? Would that drag us back another 20 years?

There must be hundreds of amazing minds from the past that died of disease or in wars or their parents forced them to work as a coal miner to support their family instead of learning about quantum mechanics and making mind boggling discoveries that completely change the course of the world. Somebody important died in the past 100 years before they got to show us how to get free energy and flying cars.

At this point in my life, I’m fairly certain that I will never see any truly amazing advances in science. If I live another 30 years, all I’m likely to see is a bunch of neat things like cooler phones and smaller computers and faster networks and a bunch of medical advancements. Which is all great, but I really doubt anything revolutionary is going to happen in my life. It sucks but it’s true. At least I got to see the internet happen and that was a really great thing to live through.

I bet if Doc Brown went 30 years into the future to see what 2015 was like, he’d think his time machine had malfunctioned. “WTF, this can’t be right. Everything is the same!”

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