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Monday
May092011

iFixIt Tears Down FBI Tracking Device

The cool folks at iFixIt got their hands on an FBI car-tracking device.  What did they do?  Tore it down and documented it, of course.

Tracking Device Teardown

The long tube is the battery pack. It holds four lithium-thionyl chloride D-cell batteries.  The service life is rated at 10 to 20 years!  You won't find those batteries at your local Radio Shack!

Monday
May092011

Tour of New TWiT Studio

Leo Laporte continues to build his successful TWiT podcast empire.  With new shows being added regularly and over 5 million show downloads per month, TWiT has outgrown its existing studio (affectionately called The Cottage).  On May 8, 2011, Leo treated Loic Le Meur to a tour of the new TWiT studio under construction.  With video camera in hand, Le Meur captured an early look at the new studio.

 

Monday
May092011

Apple is the Most Valuable Brand

WPP, a brand performance analysis group, has released their annual BrandZ report identifying the top 100 brands.

Apple became the world’s most valuable brand last year.

The brand increased in value by 84 percent to $153.3 billion. Apple’s rise came as the value of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands appreciated by 17 percent to $2.4 trillion, driven by year-on-year growth in all 13 product sectors studied.

Next in brand value behind Apple are Google, IBM, McDonalds and, rounding out the top five, Microsoft.

Let's face it, it's cool to own and use Apple products.  Apple's products continually rate at the top of the charts in performance and satisfaction surveys.  Apple's customer service and support is unparalleled in the computer and gadget industry.  Millions of people around the world love the Apple brand and their ranks are swelling fast.  Apple products are sleek, sexy, highly useable, easily learned, and the best value for the dollar.

Why on earth do some people settle for less?

Sunday
May082011

The Bucket List

We all dream of things we'd like to do before we exit this world.  Contrary to what some people think, the term bucket list existed long before the movie of the same name (2007's The Bucket Lista good movie by the way).  I remember my parents talking about their bucket list.  For the most part, I think they lived their dreams.  They were realistic and didn't dream too big.  But that didn't make their dreams any less significant.  They liked to travel, so—in their retirement years—they sold their house and purchased a motor home.  They joined a couple of camping associations which gave them dozens of places around the country where they could hook up their motor home to enjoy its creature comforts yet still be parked next to a lake or other scenic spot.  They traveled the length and breadth of the USA and made new friends along the way.  They were having fun!

Having fun is one of the most important things you can do in life.  Having fun is better for your heart and soul than any health food or vitamin pill.  If you don't believe me, just Google it.

Fun is not an option, it is important!

Although you may have priorities in life, it is essential that you make room for at least some of the activities that you enjoy.

Fun is essential.  In our complicated lives, finding the right balance can be challenging.  But we simply must strive for that balance.  Fun and a bucket list go hand-in-hand.  It is fun to dream but it is even more fun to live those dreams.

Route 66 is More than the Road

As I mentioned in my review of the EZ66 Guide For Travelers, Cathy and I "discovered" Route 66 in 2007.  Before the end of that May 2007 trip, the dream of traveling the entire length of Route 66 was on our bucket list. To start in Chicago and take at least a couple of weeks to get to Los Angeles.  Stay at old motor court motels wherever possible.  Eat at restaurants that have been visited by Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives).  Drive top-down in the Miata through the dozens of small towns that are missed if you are on the super slab.  Meet the people and wave hello to fellow Route 66 travelers going in the other direction.  Maybe be joined by some Miata friends that have the same dream.  It all sounded like a lot of fun to us.

We've flirted with Route 66 a few more times since 2007, but the dream remains unfulfilled.  That's about to change.  In less than two weeks we will begin our ultimate road trip adventure.  Chicago to L.A in the company of like-minded friends.  I predict there will be an immeasurable amount of fun and laughter.  Our friendships and our love and appreciation for each other—as well as for our beautiful country—will grow stronger.  Our hearts and our souls will be nourished.

And a check mark will be added to our bucket list.

The Mother Road Awaits

Wednesday
May042011

Excellent Reason to Encrypt iOS Backups

iTunes offers the ability to encrypt your iOS backups that are stored on your computer.  Turning this feature on or off is done via a simple checkbox on the iOS device's summary page in iTunes.

(click image to expand)

Encrypting the iOS backup on your computer helps protect your personal data in the event someone gets their hands on your computer or hard drive.  But, according to Josh Sunshine at gigaom.com, there's another excellent reason to encrypt your iOS device backups:

There are other, non-security related reasons to encrypt your backups, too. If you restore a new iOS device from a backup of an old one, usually passwords such as mail account passwords aren’t stored, and you’ll have to enter them again on the new device. However, if your backup was encrypted, the passwords will be kept, making the transition to a new device that much easier.

Now that is terrific news!  Every time I've upgraded to the latest iPhone I've had to reenter all of my email passwords.  It's nice to know that checking a little box can not only provide better security on my computer, but also prevent excessive hassle when upgrading to the latest and greatest iOS device!

Wednesday
May042011

Custom iPhone or iPod Install in '99-'01 Miata

In 2007 I detailed a custom iPod install using an earlier model of the Dension iPod Cradle.  Unfortunately, the earlier model only supports the 12-volt charging pin on the iPod dock connector.  In 2008 Apple dropped support for the 12-volt charging pin on new models of the iPhone and iPod.  That meant the latest iPhones and iPods couldn't be charged by the original Dension Cradle.  Subsequently, Dension released an updated model of their Cradle that supports the (now standard) 5-volt charging pin on the iPhone/iPod dock connector.  This article details the installation of the latest Dension iPod Cradle in a 2001 Mazda Miata using the factory radio.

DISCLAIMER:  These instructions are supplied for informational purposes only.  Installation should only be attempted by someone with the necessary technical knowledge and skill.  I cannot be held responsible if you don't know what you are doing and you screw up your iPod, iPhone or your Mazda factory radio.

Follow these instructions at your own risk!

I do not make or sell the necessary home-brew wiring harness so please don't ask me to make you one.

Applicable Mazda Miata Models

This article applies to the following Miata factory radios.

  • 1999 - 2000 Miatas with Single-DIN non-Bose factory radio
  • 1999 - 2001 Miatas with Single-DIN Bose factory radio

Note: This installation might be compatible with certain 1996 - 1997 Miata factory radios.  I do not have any personal experience with these radios.  See Stephen Foskett's Miata Audio Pinouts site for more information about the various factory radios Mazda has used in Miatas.

Why This Custom Install is Possible 

The above Miata models have a 16-pin connector located on the rear of their factory radio.  This connector is normally used to add the cassette player option to the sound system.  Present on this 16-pin connector are direct (line-level) inputs for audio right, audio left, and audio ground.  The 16-pin connector also has a pin that — when +12-volts is applied — turns off the AM/FM circuitry and turns on the direct (line-in) circuitry.  This allows the direct connection of external audio devices, such as the iPhone, iPod or other mp3 player.

Note: If you already have a cassette player in your 1999 - 2001 Miata, you will have to either remove it or figure out a way to tap into the cassette player's wiring harness.

Why So Few Models?

Miata factory radios prior to the mid-1996 model year can also have a direct (line-level) input added.  Those earlier radios have a round connector on the back, which is not being detailed in this article.  However, the information I am providing in this article could be used in conjunction with the 1990 - 1996 factory radio audio pinout designations to fashion a similar home-brew harness for those early models.

Starting in 2002, Mazda switched to a different design for their Miata factory radios.  These later models require a different approach to adding a direct (line-in) input.  Commercial solutions are available from various vendors for 2002+ model years.

Not Every Step is Covered

These instructions assume the installer is already knowledgeable about the disassembly of the Miata's center console and removal of the factory radio.  Lots of helpful information regarding wrenching on a Miata can be found in both the forums and the garage section of Miata.net.

Parts Needed For This Project 

Tools Needed 

  • Soldering Iron
  • Wire Cutter
  • Wire Stripper
  • Multimeter, Test Light, or other method to check continuity
  • Screwdrivers, Wrenches, etc. 

Home-brew Wiring Harness Description 

  • Pin #1 on the 16-pin connector (Audio Right) goes to Pin #1 on the 9-pin miniDIN socket
  • Pin #2 on the 16-pin connector (Audio Ground) goes to Pin #2 on the 9-pin miniDIN socket
  • Pin #3 on the 16-pin connector (Audio Left) goes to Pin #3 on the 9-pin miniDIN socket
  • Pin #6 on the 16-pin connector (Line-In Trigger) goes to the SPST Rocker Switch
  • Pin #9 on the 16-pin connector (+12-volts) passes through the In-Line Fuse and the 1K-Ohm Resistor and goes to the SPST Rocker Switch
  • Pin #4 on the 9-pin miniDIN socket (+5-volts) goes to the positive lead of the Cigarette Lighter Adapter
  • Pin #7 on the 9-pin miniDIN socket (Electrical Ground) goes to the negative lead of the Cigarette Lighter Adapter

Installation Photos and Descriptions

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  The following photos should help explain the assembly and installation of the necessary home-brew wiring harness.

Factory Radio

Rear of 2001 Miata Factory Bose Radio (click image to expand)

Note that the 16-pin connector is numbered right to left with odd pin numbers across the top and even pin numbers across the bottom.

Closeup of the 16-pin Connector (click image to expand)

Dension iPod Cradle

Dension iPod Cradle (click image to expand)The Male 9-pin miniDIN Pinouts (click image to expand)

Home-brew Harness

Assembled Home-brew Wiring Harness (click image to expand)

The Female 9-pin miniDIN socket Pinouts (click image to expand)

The SPST rocker switch is installed into passenger-side dash trim cover.  A notch is cut in the corner of the dash trim cover to allow the Dension iPod Cradle's cable to pass through.

Passenger-side Dash Trim Cover (click image to expand)

Home-brew 16-pin Connector

To fashion a 16-pin connector that will fit the 16-pin socket on the back of the factory radio, the two Molex connectors are attached together (stacked) using a piece of the 3M double-sided foam tape.

Home-brew 16-pin Connector (click image to expand)

Home-brew 16-pin Connector Attached to Radio (click image to expand)Routing the Home-brew Harness

The harness is fed through the opening where the dash trim panel was removed.  The 16-pin connector end is fed to the area behind the factory radio.  (Remove the glove box door to gain easier access.)

The Harness Partially Installed (click image to expand)Opening in Dash for Factory Radio (click image to expand)Tapping the Fuse Box

The power to charge the iPhone or iPod is tapped at the factory fuse box using an Add-A-Circuit Fuse Adapter.  This clever device allows you to add a new circuit — complete with its own fuse — to an existing circuit.  I chose to install the Add-A-Circuit Fuse Adapter in the cigar fuse slot of the factory fuse box.

Add-A-Circuit Fuse Adapter (click image to expand)

The Add-A-Circuit Fuse Adapter is connected to the center terminal (+12-volts) of the cigarette lighter socket. The surround of the cigarette lighter socket is attached to any convenient screw that is attached to the Miata's chassis (ground).

Cigarette Lighter Socket (click image to expand)The Add-A-Circuit Adapter in Place in Factory Fuse Box (click image to expand)

Cigarette Lighter Adapter

I did not take photos of the cigarette lighter adapter.  The cigarette lighter adapter is used to convert the vehicle's +12-volts to the appropriate +5-volts needed to safely charge your iPhone or iPod.  Cut off the USB plug at the end of the cigarette lighter adapter's cable and strip the wires.  There should be just two wires.  Red is +5-volts and black is ground.  Use a DC voltage meter to double-check the output voltage and polarity of the cigarette lighter adapter BEFORE you connect it to the Dension Cradle.  It must read about 5 volts.  Do NOT connect higher voltage or you risk damaging your iPhone or iPod.

After installing the Add-A-Circuit Fuse Adapter and cigarette lighter socket, plug the cigarette lighter adapter into the socket and secure it in place with some electrical tape.  You want the adapter to stay nice and snug in the socket.  Tuck the cigarette lighter adapter and socket up under the dash near the factory fuse box and secure the package in place with some nylon wire ties.  Be sure none of the wires are rubbing against any sharp metal edges.

Finally, route the cigarette lighter adapter's cable over to the area behind the center console.  The cigarette lighter adapter's +5-volt and ground wires attach to the appropriate wires on the home-brew wiring harness.

Mounting The Dension Cradle

I mounted the Dension iPod Cradle using a Panavise In-Dash Mount.

Panavise In-Dash Mount (click image to expand)

Keeping Things Neat

I used a couple of black nylon cable clamps to secure the Dension Cradle's cable to the backside of the Panavise mount.

Cable Clamps to Keep Things Tidy (click image to expand)

Time to Listen to Some Tunes

Once everything is installed and hooked up, throwing the SPST rocker switch will put the radio into LINE mode ("LINE" will be displayed on the radio's LCD screen).  Press play on your iPod or iPhone and enjoy your favorite music or podcast!

iPhone Installed in 2001 Miata (click image to expand)

iPhone Installed in 2001 Miata (click image to expand)

Summary

Thanks to this new model Dension iPod Cradle it is finally possible to have an attractive iPod dock mounted in your car and charge the latest iPhone or iPod devices at the same time.  It is also worth noting that the sound quality from the audio pins on the iPhone or iPod dock connector is vastly superior to the sound quality from those devices' headphone jack.

Happy installing!

Wednesday
May042011

Route 66 Logo Magnetics

Those participating in the upcoming Ultimate Miata Road Trip - Route 66 Chicago to LA decided to have some custom-logo door magnetics made to commemorate the adventure.

SDMC is Ready to Cruise Historic Route 66 (click image to expand)

Our thanks to our friend Tom for the logo design and to our friends Jeri and Sean at Sign Up for making the magnetics!

Wednesday
May042011

Apple Releases iOS Update

Apple has released iOS version 4.3.3 for the GSM iPhone 4, GSM iPhone 3GS, iPod Touch (3rd & 4th generation), iPad and iPad 2.  In addition to bug fixes, the latest iOS version also changes the way the crowd-sourced location cache is handled: 

  • Reduces the size of the cache  
  • No longer backs the cache up to iTunes
  • Deletes the cache entirely when Location Services is turned off

A separate iOS version 4.2.8 is also available for the CDMA iPhone 4.

Both updates are available through iTunes when you connect your iOS device and click Check for Update.

I have installed the update without issue.  Total time to install and sync my iPhone 4 was approximately 13 minutes.

 

Tuesday
May032011

Apple Introduces New iMacs

Apple Inc. introduced new iMac computers this morning.

Apple today updated its signature all-in-one iMac® with next generation quad-core processors, powerful new graphics, groundbreaking high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology and a new FaceTime® HD camera. Starting at $1,199, the new iMac is up to 70 percent faster and new graphics deliver up to three times the performance of the previous generation.

 

The new iMacs feature the Sandy Bridge quad-core Intel Core i5 processor design.   Apple is offering four models.

  •  21.5-inch, 2.5GHz quad-core i5, 4GB (two 2GB) RAM, 500GB HD, AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 512MB, priced at $1,199
  • 21.5-inch, 2.7GHz quad-core i5, 4GB (two 2GB) RAM, 1TB HD, AMD Radeon HD 6770M with 512MB, priced at $1,499
  • 27-inch, 2.7GHz quad-core i5, 4GB (two 2GB) RAM, 1TB HD, AMD Radeon HD 6770M with 512MB, priced at $1,699
  • 27-inch, 3.1GHz quad-core i5, 4GB (two 2GB) RAM, 1TB HD, AMD Radeon HD 6970M with 1GB, priced at $1,999

A quad-core Intel Core i7 processor is a $200 option on the $1,499 and $1,999 models resulting in Core i7 processor speeds of 2.8GHz and 3.4GHz, respectively.

The 21.5-inch models feature a single Thunderbolt port while the 27-inch models come equipped with two Thunderbolt ports.  Four USB 2.0 ports and one Firewire 800 port are included on all models.  A built-in FaceTime HD camera is also standard.

Monday
May022011

Another Sony Service Hacked

Last week, Sony's PlayStation Network was hacked.  Today, the Wall Street Journal is reporting a second Sony video game service has been hacked, the San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment.

Sony Corp. said computer hackers breached security for a second online service, gaining access to personal information for 24.6 million customer accounts as part of a broader attack on the company that has compromised data for more than 100 million accounts.

Sony is saying no U.S. credit card accounts were accessed by this latest hack.