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It's Alive! Subaru iPod Surgery Successful

This was probably one of the more complicated endeavors I've undertaken in a while, so let me blog about it! (there's a TL;DR at the bottom)

Flashback - It's 2006. Jean and I drive home in our new used 2003 Subaru Legacy with 6 disk CD changer. Cut to months later - I'm looking online for a how-to for Legacy auxiliary inputs. No dice. This particular model year has a proprietary interface and nobody has reverse engineered it. Only solution for iPod goodness in the car: iTrip FM transmitter. Years of static-y music follows.

Flashback - early 2010. Riding in the car with friends, Jean asks about whether there's a way to connect the iPod to the stereo. Friends antagonize, saying, "there's got to be a way to wire in an aux in cable." I insist there's no way, since nobody has reverse engineered the interface. The only solution would be a new car radio. Skeptically, friends and Jean leave it alone. Cut to months later - I'm looking online again for a solution. Bingo! Someone has produced a custom circuit board to splice in between the radio and the cd changer with RCA jacks for an aux out to an iPod connector. Hm, it says that 2003 Legacy/Outback will work. Does that mean Legacy & Outback or just the Outback version of the Legacy. Eh, it should work. 

Present day - So you've probably already figured out that it was a bit of an ordeal, but I managed one of the more complex modifications I've attempted in a while. I got the kit last week, which consisted of a breadboard, filter, and RCA to iPod dock connector cable (with wiring for power so it can charge at the same time). On Saturday afternoon I started the project, and finished last night at around 1am. I took several breaks to spend time with friends and even drive around a bunch, meanwhile the inside of the car looked "really ghetto." Total time was probably around 7 hours.

The heart-sinking moment came when I finally took out the harness for the stereo, brought it inside (after having to drill out a stripped screw - man those brass screws are like butter sometimes), took apart the casing for the CD changer and found that the kit wasn't designed for my stereo after all. That's where I stopped on Saturday, and after a fun night, I woke up the next morning rested enough to decide to poke around some more. I took apart the head unit instead, and found a compatible connection for the ribbon cable on the board. Success! Well, no, because there was no room inside the unit to secure the board. So I spent another 45 minutes puzzling out where on the outside of the system I could zip tie the board and have enough slack ribbon to run the connection. There was 1 spot but it was just a centimeter out of alignment enough to dislodge the connection if the wrong pressure was put on it. I tied it in place anyway, put it back in, and a few tries later had it in just the right spot for it to work. I connected the power line by patching into the cigarette lighter port and grounding to an existing grounding screw and put the pieces back together and it was done! 

Or so I thought! After the first test drive, the security module re-seated lower and dislodged the connection, locking up the stereo (it wouldn't turn off! eek!) so I had to go home, take the panels off again, unplug the stereo from behind, find a new spot for the security module, put it back together and test it out again on super jarring roads. This time it survived the meanest pothole I could find and 20 minutes of driving so I called it a night, satisfied. 

The finished product is pretty sweet. This particular kit is a hack in itself - it ties into the audio feed to the entire stereo, so it came with a CD full of silence that you have to switch to when you want to play the iPod; but it's easy to mix it in among the 6 disks in the changer. The sound is amazing - full quality digital audio through the stereo. And with the powered iPod dock connector it works with an iPod and iPhone, charges it at the same time, and lets you control the volume levels on the head unit. 

TL;DR - Someone finally made an iPod connector kit for a late model Subaru car stereo. It was for a different kind of stereo but I made it work anyway because I'm awesome.

Posted via email from Brian Fioca Land

Filed under: Fun, Internet, Productivity

RescueTime, the deliciously detailed and informative Internet productivity meter, now for Chrome

by Sebastian Anthony (RSS feed) Apr 20th 2010 at 1:30PM

I only just covered this bad boy in last week's Firefox Friday -- and now there's a Chrome version! RescueTime advertises itself as a 'Productivity Meter' but really it's just a cool way of seeing how you spend your time on the Internet.

All you have to do is install the extension and it'll do the rest. At any time you can click the menu button to see a quick breakdown of how distracted you are as well as how productive you are compared to other RescueTime users. If you visit sites like Facebook or Flickr, your distractedness rises; stick to work-related stuff and you're 'safe'. Talking of 'safe', no login is required to use this extension -- you are anonymous (for all intents and purposes)!

The proof is in the pudding, though: after a few hours or days, check out 'Detailed Stats'. Prepare to be shocked, awed, amazed and disgusted by the damning but beautiful graphs. The amount of data that the RescueTime team and its users have collated, and thus the accuracy of the reports, is quite stunning.

(Incidentally, if you're a manager of some kind, there's a 'pro' version which you could no doubt use to improve the efficiency of your team...)

Rescue Time: Chrome Extension / Firefox add-on

I love these write-ups! :)

Posted via web from Brian Fioca Land

Filed under: Internet, Mozilla, Browsers

Firefox Friday Five: news, add-ons and updates

by Sebastian Anthony (RSS feed) Apr 16th 2010 at 2:00PM

Yet another week has strolled by. If you're in Mozilla's age-old stronghold of Europe, you're probably enjoying some delicious bright sunshine right now -- and if you're lucky there'll be some great sunsets caused by the erupting volcanoes in Iceland! Americans, I guess you might've had your flights to Europe cancelled -- but other than that, I trust your Spring is coming along nicely?

Mozilla has been active this week! The fruition of its unabated development has come to fruition with a few important releases this week -- but I've also got some neat add-ons to show you too. Here we go:

1. Firefox 3.7 alpha 4 (Gecko 1.9.3a4) released; faster, improved shutdown time

Other than a slew of rendering fixes/changes, Windows users won't see much of a change in the new alpha. Firefox on Mac OS X now supports an out-of-process Adobe Flash, however! There's also mention of a 'Core Animation rendering model' for Mac OS X plugins, apparently speeding things up.

In non-Gecko-related updates, a simple change to the way bookmarks and history are handled has resulted in a 97% increase in shutdown time! A faster browser remains the primary focus of Mozilla and the Firefox team, and it sure looks like 3.7, when it reaches release later this year, will be seriously fast.

2. Jetpack SDK 0.2 released: developers rejoice -- enthusiasts, why don't you write your first add-on?

You may have noticed that Lee and I are getting steadily more interested in add-ons and extensions. Every week Download Squad brings you the latest and greatest Chrome and Firefox mods -- but... how about writing one yourself? Believe it or not, writing an add-on is really easy -- I wrote my first one earlier this week! So how about it? Jetpack is the wave of the future, and while it might not polished enough for the eager end-user, you can definitely wade in and give it a go.

You need to install Python and the Jetpack SDK, but once that's done it's clean sailing! Just follow the guide -- and if you want to go further, check out the Jetpack SDK documentation.

3. 100 add-ons for home-schooling your children more effectively

This compilation, pointed out by the Firefox Extension Guru, is a real goldmine of excellent add-ons. Whether you're looking for a graphing calculator toolbar to help with math and science, or easy-access translation add-ons, this collection has just about everything you could ever want for teaching kids at home.

There's also a great section for Parental Controls and Computer Security with a lot of add-ons that we've previously covered on Download Squad!

4. Mozilla opens its doors for Labs Night; also reaches out for more collaboration with students, schools and universities

Open source, and by extension Mozilla and Firefox, has always been about collaboration. By sharing ideas and working together to create a better tool, the world as a whole gains. Mozilla, never one to shy away from engaging the community, has two great schemes in operation: first, Labs Nights, which is a bit like Google's Campfire One meets... only... foxier. If you're in the Mountain View region, why not go along and listen to some in-depth presentations of up-and-coming Mozilla projects?

On the next point -- student collaboration -- Firefox has always been an active exponent of 'laboratory' work in universities around the world. You've surely heard of Mozilla Labs' Design Challenges -- well, a lot of those are undertaken by universities all around the world. They want to step it up though, get more schools and colleges involved, increase the scope -- so, if you're a teacher, or a student, get in touch with Mozilla.

5. Finally, a way to measure just how productive you are on the Web: RescueTime, a Firefox Productivity Meter

Yes... we all do it. You write a sentence... and then you switch tabs. Sometimes it's just a few words before you reach for the mouse (or Wiimote). We know we shouldn't do it, but it's simply a sad fact of life: the Internet is without doubt the greatest procrastination device ever invented. If only there was something we could do about it...!!!

Of course there's something we can do about it! This is the Internet! The cause AND solution of all our problems! Now, I'm not going to highlight some kind of draconian add-on that stops you wasting time, but there IS a really neat, statistic-heavy add-on called RescueTime that might convince you -- via shock and awe -- to do more work.

Basically, via some kind of heuristic analysis of the browsing habits of a 'worldwide user base', RescueTime assigns a 'productivity score' to tens of millions of websites. When you Ctrl-Tab and spend time on a 'bad' site such as Facebook, the add-on records this as 'distracted browsing'. You can even see in real time if you're more or less distracted than other users of the add-on.

The best thing though -- other than its awesome, anonymous, no-login-required nature -- is the detailed, graphed analysis of your time-wasting. You've been warned: it's pretty scary.

Posted via web from Brian Fioca Land

Apple Campers: You're doing it wrong.

So you're an Apple Camper. That's my term-I-just-made-up for someone who is always waiting for the next hardware revision to come out before they buy. Whether it be iPhone, MacBook, or iPod, there's always a product refresh just around the corner that you might as well wait for. If this is you, I want to tell you that I really think you're looking at this whole situation wrong.

I know, I realize you really just want to get the most bang for your buck. And I don't blame you for wondering what's coming next; Apple is notoriously good at keeping things secret and letting people hype all kinds of crazy magical possibilities. But really you should ask yourself, "Why am I really getting this device?"
If the reason you're considering a new Apple device is that your current hardware doesn't suit your needs or is generally causing you pain: Are you upgrading from an existing piece of Apple hardware? Is it 3+ years old, or broken, or otherwise actually underserving your needs (and not by just being not-as-cool)? Or are you a first-time buyer or switching from another brand/type of device? Then go ahead and buy now. Whatever revision coming next isn't going to be a big enough deal to seem significant over what you have now. Seriously - I've been through enough Apple hardware cycles to know that every time I skip one or two generations it's really not a huge deal. The reason why will become clear in a second.

If the reason you're considering a new Apple device is because OMUGUH EVRUHONE ELSE HASS HWON, or I MUST HAVE THE LATEST THING. Then yes, you should wait until the next revision and stand in line to make sure you have one on the day it's released. Then you have a good month or so of being able to show off the new styled device and its subset of new things it can do to everyone else that has the old version. There's seriously something to be said for the amount of smugness you can display for the few months of time when everyone else hasn't caught up to your novelty.
Typically, the features you're getting with the version that's out now are really solid and reasonably current. I mean seriously, they refresh these things every year or less anyway so you're getting the state of the art in most respects. Apple wants you to want the next thing they're putting out, no matter what it costs. And they want you to look at what you have now and think, "Man, if I only had the latest version it would be better." It makes them a lot of money this way. And it makes you unhappy. Modern psych studies show that material things (aside from food/clothing/shelter) are terrible at making you substantially happier and jumping on the treadmill of Apple upgrades from the start is just going to be a bummer later. Believe me, I know.
One final note: If you're waiting for the next revision because of financial reasons, It is true that they have substantially discounted older model versions in the past. The iPhone 3G dropped to $99 when the 3GS came out. I can't argue with that point, as long as it's close enough to the date where there's really going to be a refresh. But then again, how do you know? And does the amount of time lost or stress involved in coping with the hardware you currently have make up for the amount of time you'll have to wait for the refresh (especially hard to calculate when they don't announce anything solid anyway)?

So now I've said my peace on this. As a recovering Apple Camper myself, I'm happier now that I make my buying decisions based on whether there'll be a substantive improvement in my quality of work or life because of them. Ever since I've avoided the treadmill of waiting for the next version and being unhappy when it arrives, I've been a slightly happier person. Your mileage may vary. Some restrictions apply.
So when does the next iPhone come out again? Summer? *looks at current iPhone 3GS* I wonder if it'll have a higher resolution... hmmm... :)

Posted via email from Brian Fioca Land

RescueTime - Firefox Productivity Meter

Here's what I've been working on for the past few weeks. If you're not a RescueTime user and you just want to see how much time you waste in Firefox, try it out! No account needed, so it's private. A Chrome version is coming next. (Note: If you already use RescueTime this won't do anything so as to avoid conflicts).

Posted via web from Brian Fioca Land

Really itching to do iPhone/iPad stuff!

I could always port this to the uber-sexy world of Apple mobile platforms:

Or maybe Shuttle Escape.

Posted via web from Brian Fioca Land

Testing, Testing, ...

Is this thing on? ...
I just moved my main site over to posterous. It was HORRIBLY outdated and I haven't really posted anything blog related (other than usual Facebook, Twitter shorts) in over a year now. Mark my words, that's all going to change! Mark them.
Here's a clue about something I've been working on recently:

Posted via email from Brian Fioca Land

This blog is dead, long live this blog.

Actually, long live the idea of this blog broken up into many tiny pieces. This has always been a way for me to post my random thoughts about things but lately I've been able to find other outlets for them - Twitter and Facebook. If you'd like to have a more scattered, but at least semi interactive view into my world, you can friend me on Facebook (if I've met you in person) and/or follow me on Twitter.

And with that I likely conclude my broadcast here (at least, in public).

Edit: Ok, Maybe I won't conclude, but I had to put something up since I haven't posted in FOREVER. :P

Productivity Porn


Here's a look at my top 5 applications from 2008 and how much time I spent in them by week.
(from an alpha version of an upcoming version of RescueTime)

TextMate is the app I use to do all my coding. It was a rough summer for writing code, it seems...


This is just ..... so cool

Check this out.

Our next president has a blog.

The entire website makes me giddy. If this is what we can expect from our new administration when it comes to information access and interaction, I'm going to feel so at home.

From the page source:

document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js'

They use google analytics.

This is a really interesting page. I love that they essentially have a feedback/submit ideas form.

Based on this and the barackobama.com site (on which I made a profile in Feb 2007, btw ha), you can tell the people in charge are on top of the latest in internet application development best practices. Their entire site is pretty state of the art. I can't wait to see where they're going to take this.

Government 2.0 is coming.

Edit: I forgot he also twitters: http://twitter.com/barackobama