Mom Knows Best..

The other day my Mom came by for a visit and she had brought along a 1st generation iPod shuffle that she “had never got it to work properly”.  Being one of the geeks in the family, I tend to get random computers and what not brought by for me to fix up – so this was no surprise.  I zipped upstairs and plugged it into my PC and it was recognized and looked to be fine.

It was a bank account give away my Mom had picked up a year or two ago, and apparently she has no use for it and I was free to hang on to it – or find it a happy owner.  Initially my reaction was, hmm.. who’s going to want this?  Then Jenn had the insight to suggest that I use it.  It took a while for me to warm up to the idea.

It appears my 30G Video is dead – or at least, the logic board is bad.  I could likely buy a used one locally for around $120 either for parts, or just as a replacement.  There is a good chance I could recover some of the cost of a new device by parting out my busted one as the drive and screen appear to be in “ok” shape (and have some value).  Of course, the (refurbished) 8G touch is tempting – but going that route means living with a subset of my music.  So.. if I can fill the portable music gap with this old (free!) shuffle, it will also let me experiment with life with a subset music collection.

The shuffle is actually a good match for my music listening, for the most part – I listen to a single smart playlist on shuffle.  I did use the video on plane trips to watch ripped DVD movies, and I’ll miss that.  As well, ever once in a while I’d get a song served up to me that I didn’t know who (or what) it was – having a display is nice there.

The first challenge was deciding what should go on the shuffle.  Based on my past toying around with playlists, I simply fired up MusicIP and used it to build a new playlist starting with the Liar’s Rosebush track Artcrime.  The free version of MusicIP stops you at 75 tracks, but the 512MB shuffle can only store around 70 tracks at my MP3 encoding rate, it’s fate I tell you.

Secondly I had to fight with iTunes to get it to copy the playlist onto the shuffle in the order of the songs on the playlist.  I managed to make this work, but I’m not sure I can explain it – the key is to get iTunes to copy files in the correct order.  I’ll just say again how much I dislike iTunes on Windows, its performance really eats away at the Apple “cool factor” for me.

So I’ve joined the iPod cult again (did I ever really leave?) rocking some retro gear.  Thanks Mom!

iPod woes

Almost 2 years ago I joined the iPod cult by winning a raffle at work where the prize was a new 30G iPod Video.  Just the other day the iPod stopped working.  Over its lifetime there were a few times when a hard reboot was required, but now the device doesn’t power up at all.  Rebooting it doesn’t do anything – I just have a dark screen and that’s it.

As I’ve past the default 1 year warranty, I’m on my own to fix (or replace) it.  Looking at the Apple site, repair will cost me $149 + tax + shipping.  It seems via various 3rd party resellers, I can pick up a refurbished 30G Video for around the same price.  The Apple store has refurbished 80G Classics for $189, and the 8G Touch for $209.  I may look around to see if there is repair option locally that is a bit cheaper.

Of course – I love to open stuff up, and Karl had a set of the tools to lend me so I had no excuse.  Using instructions from I was able to get a good feeling for what I was in for.  Opening the case was actually easier than I thought it would be.

I then detached the battery using a toothpick in place of the “spudger” tool the instructions reference.  Originally I was thinking that maybe I should try to see if there is something funky with the battery not holding a charge, but looking at the ribbon cable I’m not sure how I’d get a multi-meter in there to test it.

So I detatched the headphone jack ribbon cable, and hard drive to get a good look at things.  Usually if something electronic has failed badly, you can smell the burning components.  In this case, the logic board looked (and smelled) just fine.

I tried plugging the iPod into my PC in various states of “taken apart”.  I wanted to see if my PC would supply power / recognize the device.  Now, I know basically nothing about diagnosing iPods – so it is entirely possible that once you disconnect the battery nothing will work at all.  Either way, nothing seemed happy when I applied power to it – no harm done, but no magic solution here either.

I suppose that I could start probing the logic board to determine if I’m getting power over the USB cable, but I’ve tried the cable on both a USB wall wart, and more than one PC.  It is possible that the cable is busted – so I can try that tomorrow at work with someone elses cable.

At this point I’ve eliminated any obvious problems, and satisfied myself that opening (and reassembling) the iPod isn’t all that hard.  If it is the logic board, then I’m looking at $90 or so.  The Apple store $149 option is starting to look pretty reasonable.

If the 32G touch wasn’t $419 refurbished – then I might be thinking that was the ideal upgrade.  Any other option means I can’t simply carry all of my music with me and I may as well just get a $55 shuffle – or dump the whole iPod thing and get something that is Linux friendly.

Well, more on this later – shout out if you happen to know more about DIY ipod diagnosing.

Acer Aspire One – Initial Impressions

Well, despite my successful installation of a DIY solid state drive – the old laptop continued to develop new problems (the keyboard started to get sticky keys).  I did agonize over buying something new (or maybe a used ThinkPad) and finally settled on one of the new netbooks – the Acer Aspire One.

Now while it is primarily going to be Jenn’s machine, I will get to tinker with it.  Tonight I spent some time getting it on our network, downloading updates and then installing VNC so she can remote to her Mac.

Out of the gate the Aspire One is way more machine that the old clunky laptop we had.  Its fast, small, 11G wireless and has working sound.  It boots to the UI in about 20 seconds, but you’ve got to wait another 10 seconds or so for the wifi to connect.

One annoyance was the fact that the initial setup process doesn’t allow for passwords with punctuation in them – I fixed that by getting into the terminal and changing the initial password.

The process to do that is as follows: Go to Files > My Documents to open the File Manager. Then go to File > Terminal.  Its actually pretty trivial, but this is the gateway into adding more software.

Once in the terminal you can modify the XCFE settings by running the xfce-setting-show command: Click on Desktop to get to the Desktop Preferences and choose the Behavior tab. Now mark under Menus the Show desktop menu on right click option and close the window.  Once you’re done here, right click one the desktop background will bring up the Desktop Menu.

The Aspire One users call the above the “Advanced Mode” hack.  The primary reason to do it is to enable the Add/Remove Programs function (the Package Manager).

Now before you get going, you will want to fix the root password.  Thankfully this is trivial: Simply launch a terminal and sudo bash to get a root shell, then use passwd to fix things.

At this point you can run the package manager from the Desktop Menu, provide the root password and away you go.  As I mentioned, I chose to install a VNC viewer.  This worked fine, but the normal home screen menus did not pick up the new application (the Desktop Menu did).

To modify the home screen menus you need to edit /home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/group-app.xml and add a line something like: 
<app sequence=”10″>/usr/share/applications/vncviewer.desktop</app>

You will need to reboot to get it to show up.

So far, its a very cool gadget for a fairly reasonable price.  Once we’ve had it a while, I’ll write up a proper review.