Ubuntu + Hildon UI = in-Car PC UI

Awhile back, Ubuntu announced a mobile and embedded edition of it’s popular Linux distribution. The buzz was around the possibility of Ubuntu Mobile showing up on future UMPCs. The news caught my eye, but didn’t really get my attention until the plans for Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) were announced:

“Ubuntu 7.10 will be the first Ubuntu release to offer a complete mobile and embedded edition built with the Hildon user interface components” (developed by Nokia for the Maemo platform.)

Now that’s interesting. Could it be that we’ll see Ubuntu Mobile booting on Nokia N800’s? It’s certainly a possibility — and one that could bring a larger breadth of software to Nokia’s mobile Linux tablets.

However, as interesting as it may be if Nokia adopts Ubuntu, the possibilities for wider Hildon support didn’t hit me until my drive home today. It was one of those obvious moments. I had been using my Nokia N800 while walking to my car, so the touch- and small-screen friendly UI was fresh in my mind. Then I started thinking about my Car PC. It uses a 7″ touch screen and runs Ubuntu (a full distribution, with a UI designed for full-size monitors.) Running Gnome on my cheap, in-car 7″ monitor makes for a pretty lousy experience. Text is hard to read, and everything is too small to click on. However, if this news is right, Ubuntu 7.10 will change all of that. I’ll be able to run Hildon on my Car PC! That’s killer. Imagine having Canola running in-car, sitting on 100GB of multimedia…

Texas heat and a coolant leak

Somehow I always end up working on the car during my holidays, and this past week was no exception. It’s been hovering somewhere around a million degrees in Texas for much of July, and with heat-soaked concrete and traffic jams, the temperatures can be a little harsh on our combustion-powered friends. Upon returning home on Sunday, my Subaru promptly expelled it’s coolant into a stinky mist of boiling fluid dumped onto the exhaust manifold. (Fortunately, the car had returned home unharmed before launching this little performance, since the carburetor gods have been less friendly to a few other folks I know. Over the past week, two have had their radiators blow, and one killed an engine [overheating so far as to melt some plastic bits in the engine bay and ruin the heads.])

Expecting the worst, I waited for the car to cool down, then popped the hood to have a look around. Puddles of coolant stood in every nook of the front-right corner of the engine bay, though the source of the leak eluded me. I was at least expecting to see a blown hose, but unfortunately, everything looked just fine. Since I knew that more probing was needed, I pushed the car into the garage to let it completely cool overnight.

The next morning it was time to call in reinforcements. In this case, they came in the form of a Snap-on Cooling System Tester. It’s not uncommon for a coolant leak to only happen under pressure, so a cooling system tester can be used to pressurize the system. The device is pretty simple — it’s just a hand pump, but it’s crucial for testing hoses and fittings. (Thanks for letting me borrow the tester Rob!)

The pictures below show the process:

Step 1: Pop the radiator cap from a completely cooled engine:

Coolant test: Step 1

Step 2: Attach the right adapter…

Coolant test: Step 2

Step 3: Attach the pump, and pump it. Watch the pressure gauge and don’t exceed the pressure your system is likely to run. In my case, I didn’t want to exceed 15 psi (~1.1 bar.)

Coolant test: Step 3

Step 4: Watch the coolant spray out the pin-hole leak like a fountain!

Coolant test: Step 4

As you can see in the pictures, the leak was pretty easy to find with the right tools, but would have been extremely difficult without them. Fixing it was even easier, and it gave me a nice excuse to flush the system and replace the other hoses as well (I went with higher-strength hoses for the replacements.) Also of note, you may have noticed in the pictures that I’m running a high-pressure radiator cap. (The STi cap is rated 1.3 bar.) This may have caused the blown hose, so do be aware of this when swapping caps.

If you’d like to replicate this at home, remember that automotive coolant is considered toxic once it’s been run in an engine. Always wear protective gloves when working with automotive fluids, and recycle them appropriately. (See the EPA page on Antifreeze for more on this.)

Since this repair, the radiator lasted another year before also developing a crack and blowing coolant all over the engine bay. The stock WRX radiator features a plastic top, which was the failure point for mine. Since all the coolant hoses were replaced with high-strength lines, that plastic top may have simply been the next weakest link in an over-pressurized coolant system. Now that the car has an all-aluminum radiator, I’m curious where the next weakest link might turn up (hoping that it’s not catastrophic!)

Jumped the gun

I guess I spoke too soon about the car being drivable… it’s now stuck in the garage waiting on (unanticipated) parts. It’s one of those times where you did your research to make sure everything would fit together, but when you bolt it up, you find out that there were actually two different part numbers and it just so happens that everyone who said it fit hadn’t tried the redesigned part. And I’ve got the new design. Figures.

There were a few alternatives available to make it all go back together, but I’m one of those “If you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right” people, and to do it right meant ordering some different fasteners (that no one in town had.)

At the same time that the car was apart, I also noticed that it might be about time for a compression and leak-down test.. as it seems I may have some bad rings. Arrg… Not what I wanted to see, but then again, I didn’t really expect the motor to last as long as it did. Hopefully I can still buy some time with it though, as building a new motor isn’t exactly in the budget.

So just like last year, the holidays are over and the car’s still on jack stands (and it will continue to be there for at least a few more days.) However, I did go ahead and order one of these ATC style fuseblocks for the in-progress rewiring project. I went with the small, 6-fuse unit. Once it arrives, I can finish wiring up the new relays so that I’ll have some fresh 12v to tap. It’s a bit overkill, I know, but I’ve got another project up my sleeves that will require power (and code :-) More details to come…

Grease monkey…

Last year around this time I was fixing a fuel leak on the car. It was an unexpected repair, and the whole project took a bit longer then planned because I needed parts from shops that were closed for the holidays. This year I decided to once again use the time off to do a little work on the car, only I planned in advance and ordered the parts I would need before hand. “A great plan”, I thought — I’d have plenty of time to get everything working. If only it went so smooth… When working on my car I generally run into the “might as well” problem. Meaning, while I have everything torn apart, I might as well fix a few other things while I’m in there. And unfortunately, I didn’t pre-order those parts. So just like last year, the car’s half apart while I wait until the new year for the local speciality shops to open again. Oh well. At least it’s still drivable this time.

So what am I up to? Mostly general maintenance. The car’s developed a slight exhaust leak from a variety of places in the exhaust manifold so I ordered new gaskets and cleaned and re-sealed it. It was about time to give everything a once-over with the torque wrench anyway, so it didn’t bother me that much and it’s easy enough to do.

Next up was a fuel pressure gauge. The changes to the fuel system made last year raised the fuel pressure slightly and I’m not sure how well the stock fuel pump is keeping up. After the original fuel system changes I used a temporary gauge to smoke test it, but I decided it was about time for a permanent installation. Unfortunately, I ended up needing one more hose fitting that just so happens to be uncommon enough for the general automotive shops to not carry it.

While installing the gauge I also decided that I might as well do the wiring proper and run fresh power to a set of relays driven by various ignition-key positions and whether the headlights are on. Unfortunately, it turned out to be more complicated then I expected to source a decent fuse and power distribution block, so that’s also waiting for next week to be finished. (On a related note, I was explaining this to a friend who commented that buying a fuse box was probably a common thing to do 20 years ago. But I guess people don’t rewire their cars much anymore.)

The next bit I found particularly interesting. I decided to mount the new fuel pressure gauge in the corner of the dash by the A-pillar. Doing the installation nicely would require a few holes to be made in the factory plastic to run wires, so I went in search of a used piece to cut up instead. I figured that a part like this should be an easy find on eBay, and if not, there are always people buying wrecked Impreza’s for parts. After having no luck with eBay or craigslist, I hit up the usual Subaru discussion boards and found the part selling used for about $25. Then out of curiosity, I called the dealer… who quoted me $25 for the part new. Huh. It is certainly a peculiar market when a scarce used part sells for the same price as a readily available new part. Once the wiring is complete, I’ll start the pillar trimming — and if I’m really lucky, my new phone will be here soon and I’ll be able to photo-document the installation.