By Collin Allen


February 11, 2006

Connecting a Mac to an original Xbox is a great feature for users of Xbox Media Center, as there are a number of ways to stream your content to your TV. Network shares, iTunes DAAP access, and several streaming programs can all be used to get your stuff from “here” to “there.”

With the release of the Xbox 360, though, there are no easy ways to achieve the same results. The 360 is limited to communication with a Windows Media Center powered PC – software I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Luckily, NullRiver Software just released Connect360, a small $10 shareware Mac application which can eaily share iTunes and iPhoto libraries to your networked Xbox 360. This should tide us over until the 360 is truly as hackable as the original Xbox is. Thanks to Olly for the tip!

Picking Computer Case Locks

February 7, 2006

Recently, I found the (legitimate) need to pick a computer case lock on a PC tower in a situation where the hard drive resided in a hot swap bay, but the key was not included. Computer keys are most commonly found as a short, tube-shape piece with a stubby handle and a small bump to put torque on the lock. Upon initial inspection, nothing looks to be unique about case lock keys. I actually tried two “homeless” keys, but with no avail. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that there were four small cuts in the outer edge of the key tube, sliced at different heights. Comparing one key to another, I found that they were indeed different, and were quite similar to the bumps on a household key. The locks work the same way, but the pins are simply in a circular arrangement instead of linear. With every pin exposed instead of hidden deeper and deeper into the lock, it should be far easier to pick than a household lock. I just had to try.

With a pair of thin needlenose pliers clamped on to apply tension to the lock’s center tumbler, I pressed a straightened paperclip into each pin location. After a few gentle presses, the lock turned just slightly. The first set of pins was then picked. Without removing pressure with the pliers, I moved on to the next three sets of pins, doing the same procedure to each. Upon pressing in the fourth pin, the lock tumbler turned completely, and the drive was freed. Not terribly secure, but I’m guessing they’re not meant to be.

Installing DarwinPorts

February 7, 2006

If you’re comfortable trying out new software and familiar with the command line interface in Mac OS X, you may want to try out the DarwinPorts package management system. Justin Mayer has written a great tutorial detailing how to get up and running with DarwinPorts and the latest OS X 10.4.4 update.

In the past I’ve used Fink, but following this article, I’m going to give DarwinPorts a try. With Mac OS X built on a Unix foundation, a great library of free software has become readily available for the Mac. DarwinPorts helps out by doing any necessary tweaks to ensure that it all works smoothly, as well as providing an uncomplicated setup system.

iDisk Web Access

February 3, 2006

Earlier today, Dave Waker alerted me to a cool tip regarding .Mac members’ iDisk storage. As a .Mac member, you receive 1 GB of online storage that can be used for photos, movies, email, and public web space. To communicate with this great service, it’s necessary to use a program with .Mac features built in, the Finder, or a WebDAV client (the iDisk is WebDAV based, as compared to FTP/SFTP). Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” introduced iDisk syncing in the Finder, though I’ve found hasn’t always been 100% reliable. Personally, I use Transmit’s iDisk features, but sometimes the need arises to change files and folders on the go and without prior installation of software. Here’s where the tip comes in. You can manage your own iDisk data via a web application similar to the .Mac webmail interface. Simply visit the following link, substituting “username” for your .Mac member name. When prompted, fill in your username and password in the secure dialog, and then manage your iDisk files from anywhere!

Even More Adapting

January 28, 2006

If you’ve ever had an iPod die on you, there’s a good chance it was due to a hard drive problem. The software may have gotten corrupted or the drive may have had some mechanical issue…all kinds of things can go wrong with your beloved mobile music machine. The good news is, there is hope. With this 1.8” to 2.5” IDE adapter, pointed out by a reader, you can connect your iPod to a laptop IDE bus. With yet another, but more common adapter, you can connect that whole assembly to a regular, rune-of-the-mill desktop IDE bus. In short, you can plug your iPod drive into your desktop and run standard disk repair software on it. My personal favorite is Hitachi’s Drive Fitness Test under Advanced mode, which will run a full scale hardware and disk surface scan test of the drive and allow you to repair any bad sectors. For an easy way to run this test (on PC hardware), download the free Ultimate Boot CD which contains a myriad of utilities. Burn and boot the CD, then hit F2 followed by F1 to launch the program.

So the next time your iPod stops working and all seems to be lost (as far as Apple suggested fixes go), try opening it up and running a test. You might just be able to repair your iPod’s drive with a little work and a handy adapter or two.