Red Ring No Longer

So, if you’ve been following my Google Plus account, you’d know that last week I got the dreaded Red Ring of Death. After 6 years, the ol’Xbox 360 launch console finally decided it had enough and put up the flag or surrender. I called Mircosoft and of course the console was three years out of warranty and they wanted $150 (plus shipping) to fix it. I thought that was about the most retarded thing I had heard in a long time and told them as much. Instead, I opted to buy a RROD repair kit and fix it myself. The only draw back I could foresee was that I would void my totally non-existent warranty. If it didn’t work, oh well, I was out $20.

I did a little digging and settled on the kit from Team Xecuter, the guys that mod consoles just for giggles. I figured if anyone knew a gaming console inside and out, it was probably a modder. I considered the one from iFixit as well, but it was a couple dollars more with slower shipping. I did use their really handy “how to open your Xbox” guide however. It was far more instructional (including photos) than the Xecuter one.

Shipping from XConsoles was crazy fast and I had my kit in two days. So, kit in handy and a free Saturday afternoon, I decided to see if I could resurrect my dead 360. The hardest part of the entire thing was getting the top and bottom of the case apart. One you get the sides and the front off, the back of the console has about 12 itty-bitty latches that need to be popped all at once. You could use a “opening tool” but I didn’t want to spend the extra cash and the instructions all said it wasn’t necessary, which was true, but it did take me about 45 minutes just for that one section of the case without it. Luckily I have about 3 dozen micro screwdrivers and I stuck one in each slot instead.

Once the case is apart, the rest of the fix is really easy and strait forward. If you’ve opened up a computer in the past 10 years, you can fix your Xbox. Essentially, what Microsoft did to save a couple cents per unit, is what’s killing consoles. They used this crazy X shaped bracket to hold the heatsinks to the bottom of the motherboard. It’s very reminiscent of older computer CPU fans, the kind where you needed to bend the bracket/latch down, almost to the breaking point, in order to secure it to the motherboard. Think that, only with four sides instead of one. The 360’s X brackets holds down the heatsinks so poorly, they separate and the thermal paste fails, resulting in a RROD.

So, the “repair” is really just to replace the thermal paste (good ol Arctic Silver!) and then re-secure the heatsink. Instead of using the X brackets, the kit comes with bolts and washers that are the same height as the bracket. A couple minutes later and I was putting the motherboard back in the case.

Then comes the moment of truth. Since the RROD is like a check engine light, it won’t go away until it’s cleared (thanks again MS!), meaning a working console that’s been fixed could still appear to be “broken”. How do you clear it? Give it ANOTHER error. The error in particular? The classic “overheat” error. You might have seen this one if you’ve ever put your 360 in an entertainment console, or had something sitting on top of it. The trick is to use the fan in the console to your advantage. You turn the console on with ZERO cooling. It overheats in about 30 seconds, flashing the two red lights instead of the 3. You immediately connect the fan to vent the heat and power down the console. Give it a few minutes to cool, fire it back up, and bingo, no more RROD!

I was actually pretty astounded. I really didn’t think it was going to work. What’s essentially $2 in screws fixes a console that they want $150 to repair. After seeing what the inside of this thing looks like, it’s very apparent that they tried to cut corners, save a couple pennies per unit and it really bit them in the ass. A normal cooling solution would have completely eliminated the RROD problem and saved them millions in the long run. I hope they’re taking notes for their next console.

Anyway, in total the repair took about 2 hours on Saturday and another 30 minutes (snapping the case back together) on Sunday and I’m completely pleased with the results. If anyone ever has a broken 360 and they’re just going to get a new one, tell them not to. A couple screws and about 2 hours of your time can save you $300 bucks. The bonus upside is that since the case is essentially open now, I can replace all the other parts if need be. I can swap a quieter LG drive for the cheap one that’s in there, or replace the cooling fans with silent ones from Vantec. All sorts of stuff.

Mission accomplished, game on!



I read about the Netflix/Qwikster announcement this morning and just had to laugh. That company is so severely confused and mismanaging what was a virtual monopoly on the video rental industry that they almost deserve to fail. I say almost because even though I’ve personally cancelled my membership a long time ago, it’s still the representation of the idea that streaming media can work and, more importantly, that it should not only come from Tier 1 service providers.

Netflix was, long ago, the white knight, saving us from Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, the evil corporations that charged you extra for being lazy and not bringing videos back. That was their business model. You would pick up a movie for a couple bucks and end up paying twice that because you forgot to return it on your way to work the next morning. Then, they raised the prices of the initial rental, just to get those people who actually returned it on time. I remember renting a movie from Hollywood video for around $5, going home, watching it, and returning it tw0 days later and paying $10 in late fees. That business had to die. (more…)

GeekTool FlipClock

Being a big fan of desktop customization in general, and a self-proclaimed Photoshop wizard, it was really only a matter of time before I started making things for GeekTool, the roll your own Mac info widget thingy. I’ve been using GeekTool for probably a year or so now, mostly on my desktop at work. It’s a handy way to keep track of the weather, the time, the day of the week, etc. The “time” was always kinda basic and bland. It’s really just a text display and unless you have a ton of fonts, there’s really not much in the way of customizing you can do to it. And the “minimalistic text” thing gets kinda boring after a while. So, since it’s good to flex the creative juices every once in a while, and since I had just finished creating a set of Photoshop Styles for another project, I figured I may as well used them. So, I present to you, FlipClock for GeekTool.

It’s a fairly simple set up, but I thought maybe someone else might find it interesting. The clock is four pieces. The background layer, the background of the flip digits, a script to grab the time, then the “bar” graphic overlay on top. The font I’m using is regular old Helvetica since it’s spacing is consistent, but it should work equally well with other equidistant spaced fonts.

In GeekTool, just make a layer sandwhich. First, and an image layer with the background. Then a second image layer with the digit background. Then the included time script. Then the bar image on top.

Also available on the downloads page.

Enjoy. 🙂

PS: I do realize there are multiple widgets, scripts, programs, etc for displaying a “flip clock”, as well as at least one other for GeekTool. There’s nothing wrong with those others, I just like mine better.

The Cloud

I would send a trackback to Chris’ post on the subject, but since I can’t (and will continue to raz him for it) a link will have to do. I can’t help being perplexed by the concept of “the cloud” as it pertains to music. I can see documents, I can almost see photos, and I can easily see email and online services. Music is a tougher sell, at least to me. Most of that may be due to my usage of the medium. The vast quantities of music, both legally obtained and, well, not, that I consume simply wouldn’t fit into a cloud. At least not a cloud with limited space. I’ve mentioned my vast music collection in the past and in fact it was Chris who actually witnessed the majority of it being purchased. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have purchased nearly as many Global Underground collections if it weren’t for him, for which I am eternally grateful.

Part of me agrees with the concept of having things available to me, any time I want it. Being able to pull up a song from some vast sky based storage labyrinth with a couple buttons has great appeal when I want to have someone listen to something I’ve found. The other part of me cringes that the concept of sharing or physically handing someone the same content would be lost forever. Being able to access my music is inviting, but not having the physical item (file, CD, etc) with me or at least accessible in the end, is a deal breaker. That cage has always been a part of iTunes and Apple’s attitude towards music, but we won’t get into that.

What do you do if you put everything on the cloud, then want it back, and it says no?

From a technical standpoint, I would have to invest countless hours to upload and sync the collection initially and as Chris pointed out, there’s still quite a bit missing. While a “Search & Sync” feature is nice in theory, what about things it can’t find? The sheer number of “Essential Mix” mp3s I have is staggering. I also don’t cherish the idea of Apple/Amazon/Google knowing exactly what I’m listening to. If you think for a second that any of those services wouldn’t turn over information about what they’re storing if faced with legal action, you have far too much faith in them. I hate to be the paranoid type, but if I uploaded the music I had, through iTunes, into the Apple cloud, the flags it would raise in the legal department would rivial a semaphore competition.

I also lack the number of devices it would really take to make a service like that useful. I don’t have an iPod that I can plug into a stereo system. I don’t have a HTPC to stream music to. I don’t have an iPhone to listen to music on the go. In fact, I actually don’t have any music loaded into my Android smart phone at all except the few tunes I use as ringtones. The vast majority of my music listening is done in the comfort of my own home, where all the music current resides. If I’m 10ft from the music in the first place, I don’t really suppose it needs to be “in the cloud” to begin with. I do a lot more listening at home/work than I do on the go.

That actually brings me to an idea. Since the concept of the cloud is completely valid, and having things accessible on the go is nice, my only real objection to it is the services/companies running it in the first place. What if you could combine the old and the new? What I’m talking about is a personal cloud. A home server, or a home device, that synced and fed content on demand. Your own personal cloud, probably with a web interface. We’d most certainly need a few prerequisites: cheaper home high speed connections, IPv6, cheap physical storage media in large sizes. Just imagine the possibilities of having music.yourname.whatever and simply having the gateway to it on your portable devices. That would be magical.

Apple does a great job of taking ideas, refining them, making them great and then putting them in an iron cage with a fence around it. Your information is YOUR information. You should manage it. Having your stuff, on the go, without the need to pay someone else to manage it for you should be the end goal. Apple wants to hold your hand and help you make your things easily accessible, and that’s an admirable goal, especially for the less technical of us, but their failing has been in never recognizing that some of us simply want the mechanism, and not the hand holding that comes with it. Give me the concept, give me the tools to create it, then stay out of my way. Everyone should have a cloud. Everyone. It should be a concept that’s embraced, not bottled and sold by a single company.

Also, and maybe this shows my age, there’s something to be said about the “collection” in the first place. I want my daughter to SEE the music that her Dad has. I want to have her listen to everything from Miles Davis to the Beastie Boys to John Digweed and not have to buy the music a 5th and 6th time to do it. I have it all on CDs and tapes and vinyl, and whether or not the medium still exists is besides the point. It’s real. It’s in a box. It can be shared. The vast amounts of it speak to the diversity of it. If I had a bigger house I would literally have a room that housed nothing but music and movies. Something about digitizing it all into a 3×4″ device with a headphone jack seems to cheapen the experience, and removing even that device from the equation all together completely destroys it. I’m not suggesting that we all sit around our living rooms listening to phonographs, but there’s certainly something that was gained by doing so that we seem to have lost over the years.

In the end, perhaps it’s just my media lifestyle choices that define the way I listen to music. I have sympathy for the old ways. While I embraced digital photography, I still have a love for paper and chemicals and the darkroom. In the same way, I embraced the MP3, the software and eventually I’ll embrace the cloud, but I still have a love for record players, the fuzz and the pops, and listening to jazz on rainy Sunday mornings. I can’t wait to share that with my daughter.

The Good Old Days

You know what I want? I want music software to be the way it was in the 1990’s. I want this:

Instead, I have this bloated, full of shit, piece of festering software monstrosity that looks something like this:

I have YEARS worth of music. I can’t physically load that much music into iTunes. Why? Because it would have a fucking aneurysm. I personally take the time and organize my music, on my hard drive, into folders, with correct labels and tags and album artwork. I do NOT need a program to do that for me. If you do, then I can only assume you welcome the day that our computer overlords will pick out socks for you to wear from your personal vast collection of socks, because we’re talking about something as equally simple.

You know why the iPod Shuffle is such a success? Because it’s so small the only thing it actually does WELL is play fucking MUSIC. I don’t want music on my phone, I don’t want music on a iPod Touch, I don’t want music on my TV, my toaster, or anything else that’s a pain in the ass to carry around. Nor do I want one universal media brick/phone/blender/air-conditioner that does everything for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone, but I use it to make PHONE CALLS… and play the occasional game of Angry Birds. I don’t watch YouTube videos, I don’t surf the web and I don’t play music on it.

My non-need for a multimedia device is just a reflection of the over all point I’m trying to make. Let me be exceptionally clear.


That’s it. Just listen to it. I know, it’s mind blowing. I want to click play and for my ears to enjoy the sonic vibrations of artists playing instruments.

I don’t want to organize it. I don’t want to categorize it. I don’t want to tweet about it on my facebook. I don’t want to track it on Last.FM. No. I want to play it. The song I chose. The one I clicked “play” to hear. That’s it.

Please, someone, anyone, PLEASE make me a music player that doesn’t suck. That’s it. I’m not asking for much. Something little. Something tiny. Something that simply plays the music I give it.

This comes close. It’s a Bowtie theme, but you have to run iTunes in the background. I don’t want that. I just want the player. Please, someone help! Save this generation from thinking that EVERYTHING needs to be inter-connected with everything else. Let them know that it’s completely ok to sit on the floor and listen to Miles Davis and NOT be building a “Genius” playlist around your listening habits. Someone save us!

Goodbye Netflix

I thought I would feel more sadness, instead I’m actually kinda pleased. As nearly a 10 year member of Netflix, it’s been my sole source for DVDs for quite some time. Unfortunately for Netflix, I have far better things to do with my money than wait 4-6 weeks for new releases only to have them arrive on crappy scratched disks with unskippable ads.

It’s clear that I’m no longer the key Netflix demographic. I don’t stream content and I don’t have my video game console in the living room. It’s also completely obvious that Netflix really doesn’t want to be in the disk shipping business anymore. That’s been plain to see since they announced deals with all the major game consoles. I have precious little video gaming time these days and odds are that when I turn on my Xbox, I’m doing it to play a game, not to watch a movie. Plus, although it’s no fault of Netflix, my 360 launch console is loud as hell, movie watching simply isn’t going to happen in the same room with it.

As for renting DVDs, the movie industry has created such turds in the past couple years that nearly all new releases are things I’m not going to watch and any movie I did enjoy I’ve purchased. Batman, The Hangover, Star Trek, Up, Tangled, etc. I purchased them all MONTHS before they were available on Netflix. Somehow Netflix got royally fucked on the release dates and movie are available for purchase, on pay-per-view, in Redbox and at Blockbuster long before making it to Netflix. After they finally do, they aren’t “retail” disks anyway, meaning that it’s the movie, in a fixed format, with unskippable ads and trailers in front of it. Ever time I received a disk from Netflix I felt like I was being punished for my choice of movie acquisition.

We had also completely ran out of things to watch. As I’ve already mentioned, New Releases were a joke, but we had worked our way through our back catalog of movies we had wanted to see over the years. We were literally watching old Jimmy Stewart movies when I canceled. We had the last disks sitting on the coffee table for almost 5 weeks.

So, no new movies, no old movies, no streaming and not retail disks. What exactly was I paying for? That’s what I thought.

For the price I was paying Netflix I can rent, in full HD, 3 movies from UVerse a month, which was about our going frequency with Netflix in the first place. I also have on-demand access to a backlog of TV shows. No, it’s not as extensive as Netflix, but it’s there if I want it. Lastly, if all else fails, I have the internet. If I really need to stream something, I can guaranty you that I can find it online in nearly the same amount of time it would take a Netflix stream to buffer.

So, there you have it. I ditched Netflix and I don’t feel sorry about it at all. Actually I took the money I would be spending and signed up for Amazon Prime, which is much more handy…  AND they just announced that they have streaming videos, lol. That wasn’t even planned.

So long Netflix! Next time trying sending me a disk without bullshit on it. Fuckers.