By Collin Allen

iPod Hard Drive Technology

June 13, 2007

Tom’s Hardware has an excellent article on the technology of 1.8” iPod hard drives and their increasing capacity. Hard drives are now being produced in 100 GB sizes, which may very well find themselves in new iPods in the near future (although not too soon, as to steal thunder from the iPhone…). Other details noted include transfer rates, access times, and power consumption – all the gritty specs you’d need for building a low-power 1.8” hard drive based device.

One very surprising fact I learned is that the tiny ZIF connectors on these new drives are rated for a mere 20 insertion (plug/unplug) cycles, which isn’t very many if you plan on moving the hardware around a lot. If you own a 1.8”-to-larger IDE adapter, you may want to consider leaving the ribbon cable connected to the adapter at all times. The article is quite a few pages long, but well worth a read.

Font Finders

June 6, 2007

For the graphic designers and Photoshop enthusiasts, here are a few resources for identifying fonts:

WhatTheFont is far and away my favorite tool in the bunch primarilty because it’s automated, fast, and shockingly accurate. Just upload an image (the more contrast, the better) or provide a URL and their software will match characters and, more often than not, the correct font name.

If fully automated solutions are of no help, you can always call upon others in the industry who deal with typefaces every day. Someone out there knows about your font, and the WhatTheFont Forum is one of the best places to get a good response.

Identifont helps you find fonts by asking multiple questions about the font you’re looking for. It’s a unique approach that, in my usage, works about 30 to 40 percent of the time. As a last resort, it may very well come through, despite it’s apparently limited font selected.

ZipIt Hacking

May 24, 2007

I just picked up a neat little handheld device on eBay, a ZipIt wireless messenger. Originally intended to be used as a portable, wi-fi enabled chatting device for teens, it can also be reflashed to run a tiny distribution of Linux (actually, it already runs Linux, but the reflashed version is considerably more hacker-friendly). I’ve only had it for a few hours now, and I’ve already got Linux flashed, booting, ready, but it looks like it will take extra modification to run something more useful like an SSH client. Telnet works out-of-the-box.

zipit device

I’m not quite sure what I intend to do with it just yet – perhaps a portable email client or SSH server-controller is in store. For $25, though, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hack around with such a cool little device.

Helpful Resources

Setting up MySQL 5 and PHP 5 under Mac OS X (Tiger)

April 22, 2007

While setting up MySQL 5 and PHP 5 today, I documented the steps I took to get it all running under Tiger. Here’s the basic rundown if you’d like to move to these new versions as well.


Install Xcode

Installation of Apple’s Xcode Developer Tools is straightforward – just install the .pkg file inside the .dmg if you downloaded it, or run the .pkg from the discs that came with your computer.

Install MySQL 5

Setting up MySQL is just as easy as installing Xcode, as the developers have kindly put together a .pkg installer. You could always compile it yourself if you have the need. Also included in the .dmg are a StartupItem and Preference Pane, both of which I find handy (although StartupItems are a bit out-of-date, and should probably be replaced with a launchd item).

Install PHP 5

Unpack PHP’s .tar.gz file with your favorite decompression utility, and open a Terminal window. Type cd, followed by a space, then drop the uncompressed php-5.2.1 folder right into the Terminal window and hit Return to change directory to the PHP files.

Type ./configure --with-mysql=/usr/local/mysql --with-apxs=/usr/sbin/apxs to configure the PHP installation, noting the location where MySQL keeps its files (so PHP knows how to get to it in the future).

While PHP is configuring, in a new Terminal window, you should set the root password for MySQL. Enter cd /usr/local/mysql/bin, then ./mysqladmin -u root password 'new-password', where new-password is your chosen MySQL root password. Note that this has nothing to do with your computer’s “root” password, and is entirely separate.

Back at the PHP prompt, you’ll see “Thank you for using PHP.” when it’s done configuring. You can then enter make to compile PHP from the source code. This may take a while.

When done, enter sudo make install to install the files to their predetermined locations.

Reconfigure Apache

You’re almost done, except that the Apache web server doesn’t know to handle .php files for PHP 5. PHP 4 comes preinstalled with Mac OS X, but PHP 5 changes your Apache config file to enable itself (to include its shared objects when Apache boots), which turns off PHP 4. In this state, .php files will be printed out to the web browser as text files instead of executed – that’s not good! You’ll have to tweak the config file and reboot Apache to make it all go again. If you have the TextMate command-line utility mate installed, these next steps are quite easy.

Enter sudo mate /etc/httpd/httpd.conf (or sudo pico /etc/httpd/httpd.conf without TextMate) in the Terminal to edit the Apache config file. Find <ifmodule mod_php4.c> and change that 4 to a 5, as we’re now using mod_php5.c.

You’ll also want Apache to recognize index.php as a Directory Index file, so hunt down DirectoryIndex index.html and add a space, then index.php to the list, so it looks like DirectoryIndex index.html index.php when done.

At this point you can save and exit if you prefer, but I like to make one last change so I don’t have to dig to /Library/WebServer/Documents every time I want to edit a file I’m working on. In the root of your hard drive, create a folder called WebServer, and then jump back to TextMate (or the Terminal window) where you’re editing the Apache config file. Find the line DocumentRoot "/Library/WebServer/Documents" and change it to DocumentRoot "/WebServer". After making this change, also change the location a few lines down: <directory "/Library/WebServer/Documents"> to <directory "/WebServer">. Finally, save and exit.

Back at the Terminal prompt, enter sudo apachectl graceful to reboot Apache and let everything fly. I hope that helps some people setting up a PHP coding environment out there! A final note: watch out for the “smart quotes” Wordpress likes to insert – they may cause copy-and-pastes to produce failures in the Apache config file.

Variable Power Supplies

April 13, 2007

For the more serious hardware hacker, no tool is more essential than a variable power supply. Able to supply voltages and currents adjustable to the tenths of a unit, the supply will run just about any reasonably-powered electronic device including circuits, iPods, laptops, and more. In only the last few weeks I’ve used my own to test a portable DVD player which had no wall adapter, power an iPod attached to a breakout board, and temporarily resurrect a dying PowerBook. I bring all this all up because I happened to see an influx of these great tools available on eBay using one of my saved searches, and thought others may benefit from them. To find them, search eBay for (HY30*,HY50*) supply or click here.