Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Install an Auxiliary Input (aPAC-NIS1) In a 2005 Nissan Altima

After installing my home speaker system last year, I decided that my 2005 Nissan Altima, called Silverman, needed an auxiliary input. I was tired of using my GPS' FM transmitter to listen to MP3s through my car's speakers and burning CDs is just sooooo passe. As a black belt master Googler, I scoured the web and bought an aPAC-NIS1 Aux Input.

There's just one problem...I've never stolen a car radio before. In this case, I'd just be modifying my radio, but how's it done? Turns out, all you need is a Phillips screwdriver, a willingness to bend dashboard molding, and the realization that the product's instruction writers should be fired. My chop shop resume is just beginning.

The aux input instructions in the package and online were awful. The writing (much like this blog!) was unintelligible so I got help from an engineer with advanced degrees. It's not that hard for Pacific Accessory Corporation (PAC) (or Pac-Audio) to hire a technical writer. Email me and I'll help.

One box, lots of wires, and the world's greatest fat-fingered hand model.

For one, please include a chart that tells me which DIP switches should be up instead of having me call your support line. Using a combination of Nissan forums searches, radio wiring diagrams, competitor instructions, and finally trial and error, Silverman now plays music, GPS directions, and cell phone chatter through its speakers, accepting any device with a headphone jack.

To help the greater good and fill a void in the Internet, allow me to help those in need of better instructions. Aux input inputters of the world, who are installing the same product in a 2005 Nissan Altima with a 6-CD Bose radio, let me guide you as we overcome aPAC-NIS1's disastrous instructions.

Sure, I could've paid $50 for someone to install it, but where's the fun in that when I got to be frustrated installing this device for several hours over two days. With some luck, it'll take you about an hour. Merchants selling the product offer instructions that contradict each other so while one method may be better, safer, and faster than mine, this one worked for me. In other words, it's completely your fault for following these and short-circuiting your car.

Step 1 - Disconnect the negative terminal from the car battery. As cool as it is to have your hair stick up from electricity, the rest of your nervous system won't like it much, along with your heart. My battery terminal was tough to remove so be ready for some elbow grease. We held the wire away from any metal with the wrench's rubber handle. Electricity likes metals so keep'em away like the two hormone-fueled teenagers they are.

Step 2 - look at your dash one last time and say a prayer. It's time to go in. Make sure your door is open in case you have to be hauled out of the car and let someone know what you're up to. Note that this device only works on an Altima radio with a satellite ("SAT") button.

Step 3 - pull the HVAC molding down and away from the dash. Do this gently. You'll need to bend the molding just enough to get your fingers behind it. Wow, this hand model actually has two beautiful hands!

Step 4 - remove the four screws holding the HVAC controls with a screwdriver. Unscrew the screws slowly and be sure you catch them as they come out. I kept them in my door pocket.

Step 5 - pull off HVAC controls by pulling the unit out from the bottom and then down. What glorious wiring to behold.

Step 6 - gently lift the molding for the vents from just below the radio controls. This is held in place by four clips so you will have to carefully pop it off of the clips. This can be very fickle so take your time. You may have to wiggle it and use a flat tool to pry it off.

Step 7 - remove the four screws that hold the radio in place. These are difficult to catch and not lose when they come out. I used my finger to keep the screw in place, but it didn't always work as I lost one of them into the abyss known as my car's innards.

Step 8 - Pull the radio out. You're almost halfway done. Well not really, just one-third.

Step 9 - look at the pretty wire colors one final time before adding even more complications.

Step 10 - disconnect the connection on the far left of the radio and the connection second from the right (when looking from above). These connections can be difficult to remove and may require a tool to push the little knob down and away to unlatch the plastic molding from the radio. As tempting as it is, do not pull the connections using their wires. A second set of hands is really handy here (ha!).

In addition to incomplete dashboard removal instructions, the instructions that came with the device and those on the web offered zero help in knowing which connections to remove from the radio. That's why I'm writing this very long blog entry that may not help anyone.

Step 11 - as part of the necessary trial and error, the radio eventually had all of its wires removed. So for your edification, here it is from the back, but don't actually remove all of the wires.

Step 12 - connect the audio cable (3.5 mm cable/RCA), used to input the headphone, to the aux input's blue box. For once, a picture isn't needed, right? Good, because I didn't take one.

Step 13 - connect the aux input's bound of wires to the radio using the only two connections that will fit and match the open radio ports. The connections will snap into place.

Step 14 - run the other end of the aux input's bound of wires down from the radio to behind the cubby that's below the HVAC controls. This is tricky and requires some maneuvering and small fingers. There's a small opening between where the HVAC controls are and the cubby that pops open below. The circled connection disappears behind the cubby in the second picture and may require pulling it down from the cubby too. Ultimately the wire will come out the cubby (see Step 24).

Again, nowhere is it discussed what you should do with the aux input wires so let this be that somewhere it is discussed.

Step 15 - set the aux input's blue box DIP switches to: 1 - down, 2 - up, 3 - up, and 4 - down. I had to call PAC Audio's support line for this. Heaven forbid a chart for all makes and models would be included.

Step 16 - connect the circled connection in picture 1 of step 14 to the aux input's blue box and pull a decent amount of wiring into the cubby. The cubby will store the blue box and your audio input device when used. So convenient!

Step 17 - place the radio back onto its holder in the dash (reverse step 8).

Step 18 - reconnect the battery's negative terminal (reverse step 1); you should hear the radio's CD changer cycle. Some instructions suggested waiting three minutes with the key turned to the "Acc" position before moving to Step 19, but I don't think it matters.

Step 19 - turn the ignition switch to "Acc", turn the radio on, and press the "SAT" button...what do you see on the display? If you see "NO SAT" then that's not good. If you see something like "AUX-01" or "XM CH-001", then it worked! Go ahead and plug an audio device to the aux input to hear something. You may have to turn up the device's volume and the radio's volume. Let's pretend these steps worked so we can move forward.

Step 20 - screw the radio back to the dash harness (reverse step 7). Try to keep all wires down and away from the HVAC system as possible.

Step 21 - place the HVAC vents back into place on the dash (reverse step 6). It should wedge its way back to the original position.

Step 22 - place and screw the HVAC controls back into place (reverse step 5 and then step 4). Good thing you haven't lost the screws, right?

Step 23 - replace the the HVAC molding (reverse step 3). It will snap back into place ever so gently.

Step 24 - take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and revel in the awesomeness of your Altima's auxiliary input.  Now I can run my MP3 player through the car's speakers or my MP3/bluetooth-enabled GPS.  Better yet, both can be connected at the same time, just switching input choices to hear one or the other.  Solid!

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Fingernail, I Hardly Knew Ye

"The biopsy came back negative."

Five days after my nail bed biopsy, the hand surgeon gave me the great news. I only had a bruise on my nail bed; a stubborn, stubborn bruise that thought it'd be fun to leave a streak in my fingernail and cause me to learn far too much about subungual melanoma. Thanks to a solid family history of cancer, I had to be vigilant and proactive. Ignoring health concerns do not heal them.

I learned quite a few things from this experience. For one, I don't know how to put on a woman's dress. The nurse told me my patient gown is "simply put on with the tie in the back as you would with a woman's dress". When she returned to tie the gown, I had it on backward. For the nurse's sake, I made sure the ties were double-knotted so I had no chance of giving the staff an IV-fueled burlesque show with a twirl.

I learned that the best nurses are from New Jersey, right mom? My surgical nurse and I bonded over tales of northern NJ diners, accents, and Turnpike traffic.

I learned that telling the anesthesiologist that redheads require a higher dose ensures that I'll be knocked out really well. A few seconds after I felt the anesthesia in the IV, the operating room ceiling faded to black. When I awoke 20 minutes later, I was in a different bed, with sheets wrapped around me, and I couldn't feel three of my fingers for at least another hour. I'd much rather have it that way.

I learned that hospital beds aren't long enough for me. Like every sleeping camp bunk bed, my feet dangled over the edge. If there are going to be wider wheelchairs for overweight patients, there should be longer beds for taller patients. Equal rights for above average height!

I learned that Holy Cross Hospital gives patients great socks for surgery.  They kept my feet warm and gave me great traction.

I learned one way to get a turkey sandwich at the hospital is to have staff use a blood pressure cuff that's too large for my arm resulting in a low reading. Hello lunch in a box! A quick resizing showed my numbers were plenty normal, but not before I got to stuff my face for the first time that day.

I learned that when a surgeon goes to tell your girlfriend his preliminary observation that I don't have melanoma, she shouldn't be left in "The Grief Room" for more than a nanosecond until he arrives. When other rooms are full, as was the case here, just wait a few minutes until the, "Nothing to Worry About Room" is available.

I learned that my body definitely gets nauseous from anesthesia. Hello lunch in a box, not so nice to see you again!  I was so nauseous that I wasn't able to eat the matzoh ball soup and homemade kugel waiting for me at home.  It pained me to wait one whole day before taking in those calories.

I learned that codeine is wonderful no matter its one-day side effects.

I learned that having a fingernail and part of your nail bed removed makes for a gnarly story.

I also learned that my fingernail will grow back to the fingertip in four months and will look healthy again in 9-12 months. That's a small aesthetic price to pay for peace of mind.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Slippery Slope of Fingernail Discoloration

Slopes can be slippery.  The more that's at stake, the steeper the decline, and the easier it is to get going.  I tend to not do well with hills like these.  When I was 12, I broke my wrist skateboarding by going up a street that was too high for my balance.  My mom encouraged me to "go just a little higher."  I wasn't comfortable and the speed caught me.

Today's skateboarding street is my fingernail to be biopsied for melanoma tomorrow.  A few months ago I noticed a brownish-reddish streak on my left ring fingernail and thought it was a bruise that would grow out as the nail did; however, the bruise didn't grow out. 

Being redhaired and fair skinned, the sun has never been my friend; I've always thought it held too much power over our lives.  I slather on sunscreen, wear a sunhat better suited for a trek in the Mojave, and find shade whenever possible.  Thanks to my skin type and my skateboard coach's early stage melanoma that was removed recently, the dermatologist suggested I see a hand surgeon for a biopsy.  The hand surgeon quickly reached the same conclusion...a nail bed biopsy was needed just to be safe.

A nail bed biopsy involves removing the fingernail as deep as the nail bed.  I think of myself as a reformed nailbiter so as much as I used to have a fondness for chomping down, neither me nor any nailbiter would ever want to go as far as this surgery calls for.  The nail should grow to the fingertip in four months, but it will take about a year for it to look healthy again.

The surgeon said it was difficult to place a percentage on a diagnosis, but if pressed he said there was a 10% or less chance that the streak is the result of cancerous cells.  He said it could simply be from trauma to the nail for example.  Let's hope I somehow forgot that I smashed my fingernail in a doorjamb some time ago.  I'm not concerned about the procedure or care afterward, I'm concerned about the diagnosis.

I don't know why I have this streak and I don't t like waiting to find out.  Can I just skip ahead like I'm watching something on TiVo?  Waiting gives me time to overthink the worst case scenario.  As such, waiting also gives me time to underthink the greater likelihood that this won't be a significant concern.

I'm always quick to remind friends and family to not research medical concerns online, but nobody was faster to Google "subungal melanoma" than me.  From medical sites to message forums, I read horror stories of people passing away from ignoring their nails that were far more hideously discolored than mine to uplifting stories of people getting checked out and being just fine.  I know the information is misleading and only populates my head with unnecessary fears, but I need some control; however unattainable it may be.

Nail bed melanoma is very rare in whites, making up less than 3% of all melanoma cases, and is commonly found on a big toe or thumb.  So I have that in my favor, but my skin type and family history make it an easy call to be safe than sorry.  The common treatment for a toe with this is amputation and for a finger is amputation at the nearest joint to the lesion.  Damn the information online!  My mind gets to race between an inconsequential, benign issue in my nail bed to not getting to see the tip of my finger again.

I know that thinking through any scenario does me little good.  It won't change what is occurring with my finger.  I try to stop myself from thinking the worst, but it's hard not to.  I think all of us naturally jump to the extreme result to feel prepared and feign having control, but really we don't know how we'll feel when we hear for sure.

Whatever the doctor tells me is the next step for treatment, I'll welcome it worth open arms (errrr, fingers) because as my mind races ahead, the alternative would be worse.  I see no reason why I shouldn't use the slippery slope's momentum to boost me up the ensuing uphill climb.

So I bid adieu to the fingernail on Thursday and wait for what's sure to be an agonizing five days to hear the diagnosis on Tuesday.  I hope that my hill levels off and coasts to a stop.


For the diagnosis, see the next entry here.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My Eardrums Don't Like Movie Theaters

I'm not old.  I'm a sprite 30-year-old male afterall.  Just one who never attended rock concerts; pumped up the volume on speakers, headphones, or alarm clock radios; or enjoyed ringing ears from tone deaf bar and bat mitzvah/roller rink/wedding DJs.  After a visit to the movies on Saturday, I've learned that the rest of the industrialized world can't hear as well as me and I'm just going to suffer through it.

These sound effects are pleasing to my ears.

Last weekend, me and QP watched "Black Swan" at the Rio's AMC theater.  Among the multitude of previews was one for an action movie full of explosions and wooshes and empty of plot or sense.  Sitting in the theater's prime center seats, we were excited for perfect stereo audio.  That excitement vanished when ads for the concessions stopped and the previews started.

"In a world overrun by movie studios trying to compete with B and T Crowd's awesome 5.1 stereo surround sound-HD-TiVo-PS3-Blu-ray system, was a blogger named B and T Crowd and his girlfriend named QP.  They thought a rare visit to a public theater would be enjoyable for all of their senses, but no one could predict the auditory consequences of the blogger's endearing, romantic, and well-meaning dinner and movie date night."

Boom!  Rrrruuuuummmmmbbbblllle!  ZZZeeeerrrrrrummm!  Ting!  Berrrrrrrcchhhhhkkkk!  Oh my bleeding eardrums from 2:00 forward!

My eardrums didn't appreciate the decibels and bass used for the explosions, bullets, and music. I get it; it's an action movie, the CGI scenes are exciting, and fighting a war against creatures from another world would be loud, but it doesn't have to be that loud.  I covered my ears and still heard the sound effects fine, just without the pain and suffering.

QP asked why the previews were so loud.  I said it's like TV commercials that are louder to grab your attention (at least until the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act is signed), but it'll go down to a reasonable level when the movie starts.  How could it stay this loud for an entire movie?

QP thinks I have super sensitive ears and hear more than most, but then why don't I listen to her?  Ba-dum-bum!

The volume didn't decrease, but fortunately "Black Swan" didn't rely on the sounds of explosions, missiles, and car chases; instead using lots of classical music.  There were still a few sounds that my ears didn't appreciate, but a few moments of discomfort weren't long enough to make us walk out.

In 2011, I resolve to not view another loud movie in a public theater again.  Instead, I'll add it to my Netflix queue and watch it at home.  I'm old enough to enjoy to it just how I want without ear plugs.