iPod Breakout Dock

A short while ago, I discovered a project aiming to open up the Dock Connector interface on the iPod and make it possible for anyone to interact with it. The iPod Breakout Dock (found via MAKE, naturally) makes the Dock Connector signals easy to access, allowing for connections with microcontrollers and other devices. I’m in the process of building one myself, and I’m considering creating a custom board to remove the need for tedious soldering. The board would slide between the rows of pins on the JAE manufactured Dock Connector plug and provide a row of pins that would snap into a standard breadboard, ready for hacking. I have yet to choose a supplier, much less begun designing the relatively simple board, but I’m curious if anyone can recommend a low-run PCB manufacturing house. Also, I’d like to know if there’s any interest in such a board, as I’d certainly consider selling them at a reasonable price. Comments and suggestions are welcome!

iPod Breakout Dock

AtomicParsley

I recently found this little utility, AtomicParsley, which has the ability to change data within iTunes M4A and M4V files and make iTunes believe they are of a different type. For example, if you rip your own TV shows to the iPod video format directly from the DVDs (instead of buying them through iTMS), the encoded files will be added to iTunes as Movies. Doing a Get Info on the file(s) within iTunes does not allow you to change the type of content you’re inspecting. AtomicParsley can edit the file, changing the very resource (called an Atom) that iTunes uses to differentiate the content type, thus making your DVD rips of TV shows into true iTunes TV Shows. Edited files will appear alongside any purchased TV shows, as well. For the time being, AtomicParsley is a command-line program and requires some basic Terminal knowledge. If you’re unsure of this, be sure to see the short Terminal primer bundled with the download. Changing the information is as simple as ./AtomicParsley /Users/collin/24_1x01. –genre “TV Show” –stik “TV Show” –TVNetwork FOX –TVShowName “24” –TVEpisode “0101” –TVEpisodeNum 01 –TVSeason 01. Fill in the details for the show name, TV network, season number, and episode number, and let AtomicParsley do the rest. Upon importing the newly edited file into iTunes, it will be moved to the appropriate category.

AtomicParsley

WordPress 2.0

WordPress 2.0 is almost here and sports a long list of new features, including the Akismet antispam plugin I rave about, as well as a backup plugin to keep your site safe. I can’t wait to upgrade, and may do a bit of a redesign shortly after (my CSS is ridiculous in size, and is still broken here and there). Having messed with a number of blogging systems on my own machine, I can yet again highly recommend WordPress for its two-minute installation, nearly infinite customizability, and overall ease of use.

WordPress 2.0

Hacking Dell

I recently learned of a cool hack at my new job, pertaining to recovering Dell laptops from a BIOS password protected state. While I don’t use a PC at home, I deal with various PC related hardware all day long, and it’s great to be able to do little tricks like this. Assuming you have a Dell laptop in which you can no longer access the BIOS setup, it may be possible to short out the chip responsible for storing the setting (as well as the Dell Service Tag) and grant access to the previously locked setup. Personally, I’ve done it on several Latitude models, although getting physical access to the chip required completely disassembling the laptop and removing the motherboard. On the bottom of the board, quite often near the RAM slots, is the target 24C02 serial EEPROM. By shorting pins 3 and 6 while powering up the machine, the chip is disabled and the Dell laptop goes into “manufacturer mode,” where the BIOS password no longer exists. I’ve read that the Service Tag data can be re-entered using the ASSET.COM utility, available from Dell’s FTP server. For more detail, you can check out a tutorial I found which no longer exists at the original location, but is thankfully saved at Archive.org. It’s a dangerous, but clever and impressive little hack that just might get you out of a tough spot with a machine that would otherwise be a simple paperweight. I hope to post more hacks like this as I discover them.

Hacking Dell

PowerBook Overhaul

Now that my PowerBook is over two years old, I decided it was time to invest some money and extend its life another few years until Intel-based Mac laptops — iBooks or PowerBooks — are readily available (which may not be as long as previously thought). This is by no means a how-to for upgrading your own PowerBook, but simply a run down of what it took to get my own back up to speed. Feel free to comment about your own upgrading experiences.

My PowerBook is a stock 1.25 GHz 15″ Aluminum configuration, with the original 512 MB (2×256) RAM, 80 GB hard drive, and 2X SuperDrive. Two years ago, it was a killer machine and cost an absurd amount of money, but it’s nearing low-end by today’s standards. Such is life in the computer world.

What upgrades can be made to keep an aging PowerBook from gathering dust? By far the easiest upgrade is simply adding RAM to allow for more multi-tasking and memory intensive programs like Photoshop, Aperture, and other “pro” apps. To that end, I was able to obtain a single 1 GB stick of PC2700 memory, bumping the total installed RAM up to 1.25 GB. Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice a 256 MB stick to install the 1 GB, making the original decision to stick with two 256’s seem a bad one. At the time of purchase, though, upgrading to a single 512 MB module was expensive and didn’t increase capacity at all. Aluminum PowerBooks have an easily accessible RAM panel on the underside of the machine, allowing upgrades to be made with little effort.

Another reasonably affordable upgrade I decided to make was to swap out the SuperDrive for a newer, faster model. Having seen upgrades from MCE technologies advertised on MacNN a number of times, I decided to give them a shot, and purchased an 8X DVD±R/W DL “SuperDrive” from them. With it, DVD burning would be four times as fast, and double the capacity. After receiving the new drive, I discovered that while MCE offers a great piece of hardware at a reasonable price, their documentation is extremely weak. I only received a printed manual for installation into a Titanium PowerBook, which is older than mine.

Luckily, PBFixit offers great instructions on replacing various PowerBook and iBook components, complete with a guide for keeping all those tiny screws in order. Having never opened my PowerBook before, the upgrade took just over an hour. In addition to the tools listed by PBFixIt, you also might find some others useful: A dental pick, fine tweezers, a pair of hemostats, and a nylon pry tool or two. The hardest part of the upgrade was undoing the three clips just above the optical drive. (For reference, I was finally successful in removing the top of the PowerBook case by sliding it away from the screen to release the clips.) After unhooking the keyboard and trackpad ribbon cables, the top of the case can be pulled free. From there, it’s just a matter of moving the optical drive brackets to the new unit and dropping it in. Reassembling the PowerBook was very easy thanks to the PBFixIt guide. Here are a few pictures of the upgrade process:

   

Several other photos are available in my Flickr photoset.

PowerBook Overhaul

Half-Life 2

I finally finished playing Half-Life 2 on the Xbox (as evidenced by the lack of updates around here), and it is outstanding. I’m not a gamer by any means, but I do enjoy a well-crafted piece of work when I find it. Though Half-Life 2 has been out in the Windows world for quite some time, the Xbox release is rather new and it’s obvious why the port took so long: Valve put a tremendous amount of work into making this one of the best Xbox titles to date. The level of detail is one that I’ve never seen before on the Xbox, with accurate physics, impressive lip-syncing, clever map design, and some of the best textures anywhere. Eye candy aside, the gameplay varies between charging through enemies, avoiding their AI, and solving puzzles — all of which help create an enjoyable gameplay experience. If you haven’t yet played Half-Life 2 on the Xbox, check it out. Even for a non-gamer like myself, it was a real treat to play.

Half-Life 2