The Workbench Project: Operation Phoenix Down [iBook G4]

Every now and then at the hallowed office of ZeroXR 13mg, I do salvage projects. These things range from sterilizing computers with computer forensics tool kits to building full scale machines. This round… I wanted to do something charitable for my sister.

Alice has had a trustworthy iBook G4 that she’s had with her from entering college… Well, about a week ago… She’s reported it would get into a phase where the machine would be stuck on a white screen with a gray Apple logo and the spinning icon keeps going… No system boot-up at all. She is going to Florida to attend my cousin’s wedding and well… because she’s got no laptop… she won’t be able to sync and charge her iPod nano.

I felt bad and this evening… I took her iBook to my lab table. I tried resetting the PRAM and NV-RAM, resetting the PMU with no avail. My friend Tyler had suggested trying to boot from Single User Mode and to run the repair command… That worked… but on rebooting… same issue. I tried to reboot to safe mode and that failed. I tried a forced disk boot and the OS X Tiger disc reported the disk was ok… so I am at a loss…

I would hate to think it’s the logic board… but anyone else have possible ideas? Anything would be good… I’d like to help my sister out cause she’s got tons of valuable files on the machine to boot.

Lament of Summer

So the Texas summers are finally here and they are here with a vengeance. The days open up with an 83F morning and quickly rise to a 95+F afternoon (heat index of 105F) and then ending at 90F. The days almost feel lethargic and torturous. I know friends like Noirsword hate the idea of even travelling just to hang out in the afternoon.

Texas A&M Commerce thankfully fixed my financial aid this past Thursday. It was one of those “About $@#%+&!%# time!” moments in my life cause they have been working on my case since April. I know for the longest time I feared the expense of school, so being able to rest easy and sleep without worry is a huge load off my shoulders.

Summer classes will be upon me soon. It’s more remedial math to unblock my prerequisites. I pray I will get a good instructor unlike the stunt I pulled in spring semester of learning the entire semester in a 4 day cram-a-thon. I may see about more self study on calculus should I comprehend trigonometry.

Gaming has been a bit sad… A few members of The Order of Corrupted Souls are on vacation via real life or in other games like Guild Wars, Aion, City of Heroes/Villians, or NeoSteam. The few of us still gather in the Vent server to chat and socialize, so it’s all fun here.

I hope you readers are having plenty of fun out there and possibly in temperatures cooler than the Dallas area!

A Fun Phone to Remix Zero – Apple iPhone 3GS

So some of you who keep up with this blog knew I was mulling over either the iPhone 3G versus the 3GS models. The more and more the wiser tech geek spoke out… The 3G is the “bare bones” model now and I still remember what happened to me when I bought the first generation Mac Mini and cheaped out. I was left miserable and bitter as support kept vanishing and vanishing for my product and it basically became a glorified paperweight.

So I decided to phone around during the pharmacy “lunch” period and see if any shops had them… Wal-Mart was probably the worst cause some of the reps were shady and sounded like they were trying to hoard the phones or they were sick of the “Do you have the iPhone 3GS in stock?” calls. I decided to give an odd long shot to Best Buy. Sure enough… I got a lead… 8 of the black 32GB and 5 of the black 16GB iPhone 3GS models remained. I made haste and went to wait…

The waiting game wasn’t bad as I expected… The worst part was probably the credit check and paper work. It was a bit tedious and boring… All went well until the submission of my stuff ran into a computer glitch. As the sales rep put it best “I’ve never see it do THIS before…” so time was whittling away… It was bad as the rep was afraid the system may have glitched and set me up with 2 separate contracts. Thankfully everything resolved itself and then came down to deciding the phones. By the time I got done with “check-in” There were only the 32GB iPhone 3GS models left. I figured to just go for gold and get the best of the lot because of the fact that I worked hard for my spoils and I should enjoy the small victories.

The 3GS is the phone that the iPhone should have been at the get-go. The “speed” that the [S] portion of the iPhone 3GS name definitely is well merited. The other features like the 3 megapixel camera with auto focus/adjustment is a trip down memory lane for me and my old Sony Ericsson P990i. The compass, oleophobic screen, and the 3.0 software update are things that make it a joy to use…

My only gripe at the moment would probably have to be AT&T corporate’s attitude with roll-outs. MMS is not due to hit until summer’s end. Then there’s the staunch “We can charge whatever we want” attitude that AT&T has been pushing that isn’t helping their case. The dramatic irony gets worse as you have people with in the ranks that also do not like the pricing and wonder what’s stopping Apple from taking their killer phone from AT&T’s clutches.

The inner audiophile in me will say that if you do want to make the most of your headphone listening pleasure… Do not use the stock iPhone headphones. If you use Bluetooth stereo headphones, then you could probably use the Jaybird JB-200 or the Motorola S9-HD. If you like cords, I would say the Skullcandy Full Metal Jackets are great as a budget pick, especially if you can get the iPhone/Blackberry model ones with the in-line microphone.

Give me a week or so and I can give you my comprehensive thoughts on my new device.

I will say that to go from a long line of business phones to now a fun phone… it’s quite a change and I think I could get use to it!

Byakko Documentation and Slated Upgrades

[Documentation] Project Byakko

[Formal Completion Date] April 25th, 2007

[Build Status] Stable and pending additional upgrades

This post is for the person who wants to find out how I built a phenomenal machine on the cheap. This is also for the person who wants to save a good chunk of coin for a system that won’t be stuck in the “stone age” while technology pushes on.

If you fear wires, this is not for you. If you fear installing Windows on to your own system, this is not for you. This write up is based on the current parts in it now and not from the current inception.

[Price Saving Tips]
What kept most of my costs down so far were a USB flash drive, a second hand LCD monitor, and reusing a good deal of peripherals. I can say part recycling is probably the major reason why sometimes system building can pay off big time in the end.

The purpose of Byakko is a budget build PC with the purpose of entertainment and being a workstation for me. The main requirements were to have an expansive hard drive for archival purposes and then also give the system some life versus what I was used to.

Byakko is named in the nomenclature that I name my computers after creatures from mythology. Byakko is known as the White Tiger of the West in Chinese mythology. In Asian astrology, it is composed with some of the western constellations: Orion, Taurus, Ares, and Andromeda.

[Purchase Information]
Most of this build has been composed of parts and deals from CompUSA out in Plano. The reason is that the store honors online price deals due to their ownership from Systemax/Tiger Direct. The build can be purchased through online if so desired and you may see additional savings. Your mileage will vary.

[Brand NEW Parts Shopping List]
$40 – Thermaltake Wings RS 100 midtower case
$50 – Biostar MCP6P M2+ motherboard (AM2/AM2+ AMD socket)
$90 – AMD x64 Phenom 9500 Quad-Core 2.2GHz processor (AM2 socket)
$30 – Ultra brand 450 watt power supply
$50 – Seagate Barracuda 320GB hard drive (SATA 3.0/7200 RPM)
$60 – OCZ ReaperX HPC 4GB DDR2 1066 RAM kit (2x 2GB)
$130 – XFX GeForce GTS 250 512mb GDDR3
$30 – Logitech ChillStream controller
$426 total part cost for NEW parts

[Reused Parts]
$0 – Logitech G9 Laser mouse
$0 – Logitech G13 Advance Gameboard
$0 – Pioneer USB external DVD+/-RW burner
$0 – Saitek Eclipse blue illuminated keyboard
$0 – Netgear WG311T Atheros 802.11b/g wireless LAN card
$15 – Generic 15″ LCD standard definition monitor

[Build Notes]
Because I did choose to go with the Geforce GTS 250, which is a double slot card, I effectively lose 2 SATA ports of the 4 I have on the motherboard. This will be later revised with the motherboard change later to come and described on this report. For the person who absolutely must have the PCI ports open, I could recommend using something like a XFX GeForce 9600 GT or 9600 GSO for single slot options.

I had opted for a quad-core for the future proofing, because even though dual cores are more popular for gaming now… I do see quad-cores being used more often later on.

The reason I used AMD’s chipset versus an Intel board is really due to cost as it was cheaper to obtain.

The choice of going with Nvidia versus ATi is more from the fact that more and more games are starting to see the Nvidia/Ageia Physx engine support… Not to knock on ATi, but the only big things going for them as far as their cards were mainly the GDDR5 memory and CrossFireX capabilities with their cost being a little too high for my liking.

I did come across one predicament where I couldn’t get my IDE DVD-ROM drive to be recognized… so I ended up copying my Windows Vista Ultimate DVD ROM to a USB flash drive and did the complete install via USB.

[Future Changes]
$90 – XFX nForce 750a motherboard
$80 – Hitachi DeskStar 1TB hard drive
$200 – Thermaltake Armor+ full tower case
$80 – Lite On Blu-Ray reader/DVD burner drive
$100 – Corsair 650w power supply
$60 – OCZ Blade 4GB RAM kit (2x 2GB)
$?? – Extra case fans to keep the system cool
$150 – Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fata1ity sound card
$100 – Widescreen monitor

[Notes on Future Changes]
Most of the future changes are semi-dependent on the new motherboard as I will have ample room to play around with it. The additional RAM will max out the board to a grand total of 8GB of RAM giving me a full load. The power supply and fans go together as those will help in keeping the system cool, which is very important. The final piece really is the case as it will keep things even more cool and under control.

[Help/Technology] The Dark Side Beckons… With a Vengeance!

Alright… Most of you technologically wild folks know that the big tech shows are going on. Apple’s WWDC, E3, (I think) Computex etc… These are all industry breaking shows in which manufacturers and developers get to show off their works in progress or even finished products pending release. However… for me, things got interesting.

Almost 1 years ago, I had blogged about the iPhone 3G finally hitting all of the global carriers… yet that it was still flawed from not supporting things many basic features that even standard phones have supported for the last few years. Things like MMS (picture/video messaging), video recording, A2DP Bluetooth stereo streaming, encrypted e-mail were just some of the issues I had with the iPhone 3G being balked as the update the phone needed… Another thing later on when the iPod Touch revision came out was the support for the Nike+ system. Somehow… the iPhone missed out on that and it would basically hose any interest I had as I would love to track how much I run be it for classes or just working out. The final nail in the coffin would be that I had friends who noted iffy phone service on the iPhone via AT&T because I feel that BASIC functionality is very essential.

Yesterday and Monday’s updates on the gadget and tech blogs were quite an eye opener, however. Most of them had pointed to Apple’s new iPhone 3G [S] site and had noted that a lot of my grievances with the 3G version have been resolved. Phone calls seems to have gotten better with those who are using the leaked Developer version of the iPhone 3.0 software/firmware. The phone also has improved with things like faster processor, the addition of a compass with the GPS chips, and a few other features. The Nike+ system finally got added so it sweetens things a little bit more. Sure $200 – $300 for a phone is a bit steep… but at this moment… That’s basically the price point I am looking at for phones.

To thicken the plot… When I had left Commerce on dorm check-out on May 7th, my BlackBerry was showing I had weak T-Mobile service throughout all of Commerce. The few times I have been back in the past couple weeks, my signal has diminished to T-Mobile going to Roaming Mode on Cellular One’s backbone. This is rather crippling… The reasons for that being 1) When I am on roaming, I have asked my BlackBerry to kill my data functions to prevent roaming charges and 2) I get charged extra for taking calls while roaming. Point #1 is a killer because I have become really data centric with my BlackBerry especially when I am without my laptop. Point #2 is just murder for me as a college student, especially considering I got TONS of calls from classmates with AT&T during the day time hours with my already small minute pool.

AT&T seems to have a stranglehold for the area, as my friends have noticed. I have heard some hearsay of the Commerce area AT&T users mentioning that 3G service is unrolling soon or already present. On top of that, AT&T is killing the 2G towers in favor of the 3G revolution. Sadly, the only BlackBerry on AT&T that is 3G ready is the BlackBerry Bold and it’s not quite what I am looking for. T-Mobile’s signals are diminishing and sadly their BlackBerry devices are just rehashes of my Curve 8300 or the Pearl 8100 series. Call me odd but the fact that just about any smartphone supports Lexi-Comp, including the iPhone, is a huge impact to me as a pre-pharmacy student.

For now… I am in no rush really to convert or anything of that sort yet. I am roughly 2 weeks away from my current T-Mobile 1 year contract finally expiring and I also need to see where my own family stands as far as service goes. I know my own family is debating on if they may be switching carriers or staying and doing month-to-month with T-mobile. If they are switching, then it makes a little more of a big sell point for me to jump ship with them… If they stay, then I’ll really need to sit and talk with them.

Anyone who has insight on this… Post away and let me know!

Dual Sport Surgeon ZeroXR – Cars and Computers

So… Friday was one busy day filled with projects.

After work, I made haste to visit Track Dog Racing in Dallas for Devil’s part. After paying Gary for the coil packs, I would wait for the engine to cool enough so I could just get in, change out the coils and then go home. There were a few Mazda engineer snags like tape and zip ties, but the guys out at Track Dog helped with those as I bolted in the coils. After the coils were in, the moment of truth was upon me. I was to take Devil around and make sure throttle response was stable again as well as ignition. A test run of about 5 minutes showed all systems were normal and I was relieved.

From there… I sped back home to Plano to hit up Comp USA for a few things for Byakko (the desktop computer for those confused with my nomenclature). I would pick up a GeForce GTS 250 by XFX, 4GB of DDR2 OCZ ReaperX HPC RAM, and 4 more USB ports to plug them up… This is where the real fun began.

The fitment of the Geforce GTS 250 into my Micro ATX board was a little tight but manageable. It does show how much real estate disappears when you have a graphic card that eats 2 slots… That for me was essentially one PCI slot gone. After the parts were in… it was then time to power it all up and behold the glory…

I decided to try to “benchmark” my games on fluid playback… and surprisingly… Most of my games had decided to set themselves to “High” settings and played without any choppy frame rates. This is probably the first time I have ever seen “modern” games coming even close to looking decent. Sure there was some behind the scenes tweaking with drivers and stuff, but it was highly rewarding to say the least.

The funny part is just how in common fixing up cars and computers are… The fact I got to play in both worlds was rather rewarding. Devil being back to tip-top shape as well as my computer being in excellent condition made things far more sweeter.