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Just say no to black boxes

When the PS3 was released, one of its advertised features was that you could install Linux on it and use it as a Linux computer. I doubt many people did it, but it was a useful feature for those who did.

Sony later took that ability away in a firmware update. You could choose not to install that later firmware, but then you gave up other capabilities.

Now, some enthusiasts have figured out various ways to get that capability back, and Sony is so thrilled about that, they’re suing.

Sony is in the wrong.
Read More »Just say no to black boxes

The 2wire 1701HG and its dodgy power supply

I picked up a 2wire 1701HG DSL modem/router/WAP this weekend cheap. The power supply (or AC adapter) was missing. Google indicates the factory power supply is really dodgy. A replacement 2wire 1701HG power supply costs anywhere from $13 to $25.

But it turns out the Sony PSP’s AC adapter works fine with the 2wire. Sony’s power supply is common and dirt cheap. Normally I prefer to get higher amperage when buying replacement power supplies, but the connector is a little weird. The PSP box is readily available, so I’ll go with that, at least for a while.

Now I just have to configure the 2wire in such a way that I don’t have to redesign my whole home network… That’s a project for another day. The main thing is getting a quality replacement 2wire 1701HG power supply, so the unit itself will be reliable.

Buffer overflows explained

Buffer overflows are a common topic on a Security+ exam. The textbook explanation of them is confusing, perhaps even wrong. I’ve never seen buffer overflows explained well.

So I’m going to give a simplified example and explanation of a buffer overflow, similar to the one I gave to the instructor, and then to the class.

Read More »Buffer overflows explained

What to do when an Xbox DVD drive sticks

So I got this Xbox really cheap. When I got it home, I found out why–the DVD drive wouldn’t open. Here’s what to do when an Xbox DVD drive sticks.

It’s a good thing I didn’t pay much for it.As it turns out, there’s an emergency eject hole below the drive, about an inch and a half to the left of the console’s eject button. Turn the power off (this is important) and then straighten a paper clip and poke that into the hole to release the tray. Provided there isn’t anything obstructing the tray, it will come out.

Hopefully it’s a temporary problem, but as a drive ages, apparently the teeth on the tray or the gears that mesh with them can wear down, making it hard for the drive to eject its tray. Supposedly you can also cause this problem by leaving discs in the system while it’s powered off.

Whatever the cause, the problem with my Xbox seems to be permanent. After I manually eject it, it will usually work a couple of times after that, then it starts sticking again. I can live with it, since I bought it mostly to experiment with. I probably won’t play Xbox games with it very often.

If you dropped your Xbox and now it won’t open, there’s a good chance something broke off and is obstructing the tray. In that case your best bet is to replace the drive. The best source for replacement drives anymore is eBay, at a cost of $35 and up depending on the vintage. Thomson drives tend to be the cheapest. Samsung drives, which are the most desirable, cost more. If you’re adventurous, read this Xbox repair page, but be careful. Once you open an Xbox, there is an exposed power supply inside, and if you touch the wrong thing, it will ruin your day at the very least. At worst, it really can kill you. I don’t think that page stresses that enough. The power supply sits under the hard drive. Don’t touch anything over there.

If any of this makes you nervous, you’re probably better off calling around and seeing if you can trade in a broken Xbox for one that works. Call your local game shops, or look on your local Craigslist for someone advertising Xbox repair or modifications.

As far as Xbox reliability goes, I don’t have any solid statistics. Whether the Xbox or the PS2 is more reliable depends on who you ask, but I see (and hear about) more broken Xboxes than PS2s. If you buy a used first-generation Xbox, make sure you buy it somewhere that gives you some kind of a guarantee.

Usually the manufacturer sells its consoles at a loss, hoping to make up for it by selling games, which are extremely profitable. Microsoft seems to cut more corners on its consoles than Sony or Nintendo, and the result is that the Xbox and Xbox 360 aren’t as reliable as they could be. I don’t usually recommend extended warranties, but if I were buying an Xbox 360, I would get one. (The original Xbox is discontinued now, so buying a new one of those isn’t an option, unfortunately.)

Replace your video game system’s power cord cheap

This weekend I found myself in search of a power cord for an original Playstation. It’s the same plug that the Sega Dreamcast and Saturn and Sony PS2 use, but it seems like online almost everyone wants $10 for a suitable replacement. I learned how to replace your video game system’s power cord cheap, and I’ll share the secret with you, too.

I found out by accident that the local Game Stop sells them for $4.99. I had to run an errand about four doors away from a Game Stop anyway, so I dropped in. It took me a little while to find, but I found the cable.

It’s not the same. What they sell as a “universal” AC power cable has two round sides on the plug, not a round and a square like the original Sony cable. I knew I’d seen the connector on the end of that Gamestop cable before, so I didn’t pay $5 for it. It turns out it’s universal because it also fits the original Xbox. An Xbox cable works on a Playstation but not the other way around.

Replace your video game system's power cord cheap. Look for this connector.

This super-common power connector fits most video game consoles. If you find one of these in a junk drawer, it can replace a missing video game power cord. Image credit: Miguel Durán/Wikipedia

I did some digging, and I found that the official name for the connectior the Playstation uses is IEC 60320 C7P. The “P” stands for “polarized.” The “universal” connector on the cable Gamestop was selling is the IEC 60320 C7. The nonpolarized plug fits the polarized connector, but not the other way around.

A ton of home appliances use the IEC 60320 C7. Every tape recorder or boombox I ever owned, for instance. It’s the most common connector used for devices that draw 2.5 amps of current or less. Well, my boomboxes are long gone, so I raided my wife’s. Hers just happens to be different. Rats. I ended up swiping the cable from a dead laptop AC adapter. Wouldn’t you know it, it plugs right in to the Playstation’s power port. That old laptop cable was probably made in the same factory as the cables Gamestop sells as universal video game power cables.

I’m happy. I saved five bucks. (The wasted trip to Gamestop doesn’t count because I walked there from someplace I had to go anyway.)

It wasn’t long ago that you could find this type of AC cable anywhere for a two or three dollars, tops. By anywhere, I really do mean anywhere–discount stores, Radio Shack, consumer electronics stores, maybe even dollar stores if you’re lucky.

Cables are high markup items, but even at $3, these things offer a healthy profit margin, so they should still be readily available at something near that price. I know sometime in the last decade I’ve bought one of these things at Kmart.

So before you pay even $5 for a replacement cable, raid the drawer where you keep all your stray electronics wires and see if you can find one that fits. Failing that, look around for something else around the house, like a boombox, VCR, or DVD player, that has a power cord that will fit. If not, hit the electronics section of your local discount store. Odds are it’s closer than the closest game store, and a suitable cable should cost less there too.

Don’t go into a store asking for an IEC 60320 C7 because they won’t know what you’re talking about, of course. The name may be listed on the packaging. The United States doesn’t require that name to be molded onto the cable, although some countries do. Study the image above and you should recognize the cable on sight in a store. If worse comes to worse, print out the picture above and bring it with you to compare. Miguel Durán drew it to be helpful, so let it help you.

So why does Sony use the polarized connector? Probably to fool people into buying a replacement cable from them at an inflated price to replace a lost cable. They fooled me, and I should know better.

How to get Black Friday specials without camping out before the crack of dawn

So, tomorrow’s the biggest shopping day of the year, with deals like 2-gig SD cards for digital cameras for $25; Sony Playstation 3s for, well, regular price while they last; 1-gig USB disks for $13, select CDs and DVDs for $9.99 and under, laptops for under $300, and so on.

Did you know you can get some of that stuff without leaving home?Right now I’m buying a USB disk and an SD card for a digital camera from OfficeMax’s web site. They’re actually offering the specials today. Some sites don’t offer the specials until the stroke of midnight. But if you don’t want to fight the crowds and camp out in parking lots, or if you’re like me and–ahem–have to be at work tomorrow (I was going to say “have to work,” but we all know how productive tomorrow’s going to be), it’s still possible to get the deals.

So, hit the newspaper or your favorite Black Friday site (blackfriday.info isn’t a bad place to start), find what you’re after, then start hitting the web. Maybe you’ll have to stay up until midnight tonight, but that’s a lot easier than getting up at 4.

I won’t keep you.

Original Sony Playstations as high-end audio components?

I saw an MSNBC article this week about people using the original Playstations (not the later streamlined version pictured at the top of the article) as high-end CD players.I haven’t had time to try it yet. The model that you want, for a couple of reasons is the SCPH-1001. It’s easy to recognize because it has separate RCA jacks for audio and video. Later models, such as the SCPH-7501, use an odd cable that connects to a proprietary Sony connector on the back of the unit, and has RCA plugs on the other end. These days, that cable sometimes costs more than the unit, and the quality of the cable is open to debate–especially if it’s an aftermarket cable.

An SCPH-1001 unit lets you use high-end audiophile cables if you want the best sound, or whatever you have laying around, if you’re like me.

I’ll have to try it out. I have a couple of Playstations that I almost never use, and the thought never occurred to me to try one out as a CD player.

So, if you’re looking for a cheap but good-sounding CD player, look for a Playstation on, say, eBay or Amazon. If you’ve got a Playstation in the closet that you’ll never use again, if you want to sell it online and get the best possible price for it, make sure you mention the model number in your description–especially if it’s an SCPH-1001–and it may not hurt to play up the audiophile angle a bit.