Because Racecar

I made a racing sim.

Daddy’s Racing Corner

It’s awesome.

There are 4 main components to building a racing sim. The base, the seat, the driving gear, and the computer. The computer is a beast, which you can safely assume from the VR headset in the seat. I built it from mostly MSI parts.

The driving gear is all Fanatec. I’ve got ClubSport pedals and Porsche GT2 driving wheel. Paddle shifters on the wheel. It’s all discontinued now, for shame, for shame. It has some quirks, but I found a way to update the driver so the wheel won’t keep forgetting to connect to the computer. What a pain. But essentially, I bought it and plugged it in. Fun, but not a whole lot of construction involved. Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Racing seat.

Through a series of semi-random events, I had a couple of Porsche 996 911 seats lying around in my garage. See, what had happened was that my Boxster seats were terrible. The original light grey leather was dry, brittle, cracked, split, “repaired” with duct tape, and missing large chunks of bolster foam. The driver’s seat was bad too. So I shopped around for new leather seat covers and finally settled on a new set of skins from LeatherSeats.com at $995, plus a couple bucks for red double stitching, plus a couple bucks for the Porsche crest stitched in the headrest. Right before I placed the order, my buddy Rick pointed me to a Miata forum where the photographer for my track day run group was selling a pair of very decent 911 seats for $500. So, I was faced with the decision of adding automotive upholstery to my list of skills that I’m not very good at but have done once or twice anyway, or spending half the money to spin 8 bolts and have my car’s seats updated in 30 minutes. Decisions, decisions. So that’s how I came to have a couple extra Porsche seats.

The old seats were out. Leather was still absolute trash, so I called around to my leather shops again and asked if they have any returns, demos, seconds, or single seaters. I was asking for something that they wouldn’t be proud of in a customer’s vehicle, but would be just fine for a racing sim. One of the best shops returned my plea and said that he in fact had a pair of black leather skins that a customer had botched that he would let me have for a sandwich and a song, then he over-charged me for all of the bits and bobs that need to be sewn on to get the leather to stay on the seat, which I thought was perfectly reasonable. Now I have added automotive upholstery to my list of skills that I’m not very good at but have done once or twice anyway.

Seat in construction. Some assembly required.

The seats are electronically controlled. The easy thing to do is to is to buy a Porsche seat computer and plug it up. They’re $600, used. No sir. Normal people might put in manual rails. I, on the other hand, rewired the switches.

Sparkfun

Porsche invented some voodoo in their seat wiring for no reason that I can discern other than to make it nearly impossible for people to re-wire their seats to put into a racing sim. There are 8 functions in the switch (seat forward, seat back, seat up, seat down, tilt forward, tilt back, backrest forward, backrest back) that Porsche controlled with 6 wires. Good on you Porsche. Add lightness. But I wanted my analog switches analog, so I had to cut traces and rewire. Notice that hole in bottom of the circuit board near my green wire? I had to cut a trace under a switch by assuming where the trace was and drilling through from the other side. It worked. I then tapped into all of the motors and made a relay bank. From what I have discovered on the Porsche forums, I think I’m the first person to get this working. I am a very stable genius.

This is only about half the wires.

Box.

A racing seat doesn’t do a whole lotta good without a place to mount it, so I built a box out of MDF.

First glue-up

I designed this all in CAD and printed out a full scale template for the side pieces. So, that’s where I started. All the weight-supporting MDF is doubled up. You’ll see that the long runners only have one piece of MDF, and that’s because the side pieces glue to those bases.

Template for routing

This thing gets heavy quickly, so it’s best to have a helper.

QA checking to make sure everything’s square.
Checks out.
Never seen that before

I ran into a small issue where the MDF that I bought started to delaminate. I’ve never even heard of this with MDF. They, uh, forgot glue in their glue-and-sawdust manufacturing process. Oh well guys. I’ve got some glue.

I finished the glue up, painted it baby blue for a Gulf Livery setup, Sarah hated it, so I painted it Porsche red.

All painted, super heavy box.

After that, I flipped it over and installed the gear. It’s better explained with a picture, so fast forward a couple steps and bribe a neighbor with beer, and I got the sim upstairs. All of the seat electronics are under the seat part of the seat, so it’s off in this picture.

Flight Sim

From top to bottom, the first metal box is my 12V supply for my seat. Directly under that is the relay bank for my seat, and you can see the seat wires poking out of the hole right under that. The big amplifier-looking thing in the middle of the sim is an amplifier. It powers Butt Shakers in each corner so that you can feel the road when you go over some gators or smash into a wall.

Lil’ help with the wiring. Sweet picture of my thumb.

After that, plug and chug! I finished the wiring top side, installed the seat, mounted some pictures on the wall, and ended up with the lede picture. Charlie and Mommy surprised me with the photo wall!

Charlie’s super awesome race car

I’ve destroyed many dozens of Miatas at Road Atlanta on iRacing. I’ve wrecked a couple million dollars worth of 911 GT3’s on the Nordschleife. I’m probably going to wreck some more tonight. Maybe someday, somewhere, sometime, I’ll turn a clean lap.

Josh

I Can See Clearly Now

I fixed muh tee-vee.

tv

Many moons ago, after a very long day, Sarah and I sat down to enjoy some quality network programming (if I’m playing odds, it was probably a Modern Family rerun). I pressed the go button on the remote and no picture. The screen did not turn on and the power light blinked exactly 6 times. Nada. Dammit.

I got off the couch and pressed the power button manually, hoping that the act of getting off the couch and actually pressing a button on the device would improve things. It did! I got a closer look at the no-screen and 6 blinks. Nada. Dammit.

I considered the evidence. I pressed the power button and got 6 blinks from the power light and got no picture. Then I pressed the power button on the TV, got 6 blinks and no picture. I was doing the thing that was supposed to get me a picture and I got no picture. Hypotheses were forming. Conclusions were coming into focus. Either 6 blinks was the new “watching TV” or my “TV was busted.” My heart sank. Neither option seemed good. I had a very good, very well researched, Josh spec’d Panasonic Viera Plasma TV. It had perfect blacks. Vivid color. Dead.

In my scotch-induced haze, and I swear this is true, I fired up the Google machine and just Googled “Panasonic TV 6 blinks”. First thing that came up was a Youtube video on how to diagnose your Panasonic TV with 6 blinks. First thing to do was to take apart your TV. This seemed reasonable. At least I could figure out what was wrong. So I took the monitor from my computer and brought it downstairs and rummaged through my trunk and got a DVI to HDMI cable, hooked up the monitor, got Sarah setup with American Idol or America’s Got Talent or America’s Got A Dude That Belly Flops Through Rings Of Fire Into A Wading Pool Of Alligators And Somehow This Is TV, and marveled at the fact that I had a 6′ DVI to HDMI cable in my trunk.

I got a screwdriver.

It was surgery time. Poured myself another scotch, got to work. Watching this video, I learned that there were really only two possibilities for the dreaded 6 blinks. First and easiest, was a failed power board. Second and not easiest, was a dead SN board. The SN board renders the picture on your screen. It’s considered important. Dude on the Youtube video, who seemed to know what he was doing, said disconnect this cable, disconnect this other cable, try to turn it on. If the TV power light stays on but screen stays off, it’s your power board. If your TV power light blinks 6 times, SN board is toast. So, I disconnected the cables and turned on the TV. A spark shot out of one of the chips on the SN board. Magic Smoke was released.

My SN board was toast.

So I went on Panasonic’s website to order the SN board. I found out that SN stands for SNotgoingtomakeitanymore. Well dammit.

eBay? No new boards, but there’s a dude on eBay that sells a fixit service for 6 or 7 Blinks. There’s another dude that sells a fix for the exotic 3 Blinks. I settled on a guy that (1) claimed that he could fix any 3, 5, 6, or 7 Blink SN board, and (2) actually owned an electronics repair shop. He was a $15 premium over the basement-dwelling 15 year old (hey, I don’t judge, I was that kid once), but I figured money well spent. I think he was in Van Nuys. I called him up, paid him through eBay, sent him my board. Got a quick turn from him too. Probably within a week, or just about.

But that weekend we went to Sarah’s parent’s house and borrowed David’s TV. Then the SN card sat in a box.

And sat.

And sat.

Finally, we cleaned off the operating room table dining room table for Thanksgiving, and I had room to try out this new board. Time to pour myself a scotch.

I took apart the TV again, and put the SN card in place. Then I looked for the screws. Dammit. Where did I put the screws? Then I thought, where would John Dewar and Sons put the screws? I checked where the TV should go, in the TV cabinet. Bingo.

Put it in place, screwed it in, got most of the lines working. This is an HDTV and there are 1080 horizontal lines of pixels, and there are 1080 pins that have to line up with 1080 sockets in the SN card. At first try, I had some stragglers. So, on the lines that didn’t work, I pulled out the cable, blew it off Nintendo style, and reconnected. Success. Success. Success. Try Again… and Success….. Success!

tv_sophia

Please know dear reader, where you may see a crappy aliased cell phone screen grab of Sofia Vergara, I saw no dead lines, a working SN card, and a beautiful, beautiful picture.

So I poured myself a celebratory scotch.

Josh