Monthly Archives: February 2005

iPod Volume Control

2004 was definitely the year of the iPod. I bought one, my brother bought one, my sister brought one, and even my Dad bought one.

Unfortunately, though, iPods sold in Europe have their maximum volume capped compared to similar US models – in fact, the maximum level is about 30% lower on the EU models.

This is apparently to comply with EU legislation. Unfortunately, because it affects line-level output as well as headphone output, it causes all sorts of problems when you use something like an iTrip or connect the iPod to your hi-fi or car radio’s line-in – the iPod volume is significantly lower than that of the other equipment, so you spend a lot of time adjusting volume as you switch between your iPod and radio or CD.

There have been several hacks that attempt to overcome this by tweaking a volume compensation tag in each MP3 file you download to your iPod. However, these are not ideal – you have to remember to do it whenever you update your play list.

I finally found a utility that did what I really wanted: just remove the cap entirely. The utility is goPod and it simply adjusts a field in the firmware to indicate that capping is no longer required.

It works really well. If you have an iPod in Europe, you need this.

A decent registry cleaner

Over time, the Windows Registry accumulates dead and unused class keys, installtion keys, and other cruft which can gradually slow down the operation of your PC. If you notice the Start Menu taking longer to appear, and Explorer appears sluggish when opening files, it may be time to give the Registry a clean.

I’ve been looking for a good Registry cleaner for a while, and I finally found one: EasyCleaner.

Not only is it free, it also does a nice job of finding dead shortcuts, temporary files that are no longer used, abnormally large files, and plenty more. Particularly useful is the ability to find all large files and directories on a particular partition, to give you a heads up on where all your disk space has gone.


Google do it again

From a map of Dublin to … a map of the whole United States. But this one’s Google-style. is yet another cool-looking application to come out of Google Labs.

It has a funky real-time dynamic-HTML interface that lets you interactively zoom in and out of maps, drag-scroll using the mouse, and (very cool) do location-sensitive searches.

For example, if I search on ‘pizza in st paul, mn’ Google will jump to the St Paul, Minnesota section of the map and then highlight all the Pizza shops on the map. I can then click on individual jobs for more details, or even get directions there.

Let’s hope this makes it to Ireland someday…

(If you’re interesting in how they implemented the slick user interface, there’s a good analysis here. Also check out this amazing satellite map of Switzerland, which has a similar interface, and this Java-based map of Ireland / Europe.)

Finding your way around Dublin

A friend just sent me a map to his house using a website I hadn’t seen before:

It’s quite neat – essentially, a route planner for walking or cycling around Dublin. It recognised the name of my old employer and also the name of the house where I grew up, about six miles away, and had no problem plotting a route from one to the other.

Particularly handy for emailing directions to visitors not so familiar with Dublin.

Affordable broadband at last

The big news this week was that Smart Telecom (the largest independent Irish telecomms company) announced a new residential DSL product with some very attractive features:

  • 2 Mb/s download (128 Kb/s upload)
  • No download limit
  • No fixed contention ratio – bandwidth will be increased to match demand
  • Free line rental to the first 100,000 subscribers (the total installed base of broadband in Ireland at the moment is about 100K users)
  • Voice service included (free calls to other Smart Telecom users, cheaper rates than Eircom to elsewhere).

As usual, there has been plenty of discussion at about this. Most people are impressed by the high bandwidth / low cost ratio, but concerned about the miserly 128 Kb/s upstream bandwidth.

Still, at €35, I expect they’ll make a killing. It will be interesting to see if and how the other ISPs beef up their offerings to make them more competitive.

Not taking any sh$t…

I ordered a few bits and pieces from Big Pockets last week — a bunch of blank DVD cases, some blank printable Ritek DVD-Rs, and a set of replacement colour inkjet cartridges.

They arrived at the office on Wednesday, packaged in a large cardboard box which originally housed a B&Q white toilet bowl. I can say this with confidence, because large pictures of the toilet were printed on the side of the box.

Since I was out of the office Wednesday & Thursday, everyone else had two days to ponder what I might have been up to that required urgent replacement of a toilet bowl…

Nice to see Big Pockets are recyling where possible!

The irony of spam

During the week, I received what purported to be a legitimate email from Sales. Surprisingly, it arrived at my business address, which is not registered with Eircom.

On closer analysis, it had several hallmarks of a spam phishing expedition:

  • None of the inline HTML images displayed correctly
  • The sender’s actual (hidden) email address was even though the message was apparently from sales
  • At the bottom of the email was a polite “To unsubscribe, please click here

(A common tactic with spammers is to offer an unsubscribe link in the hope that unhappy recipients will follow it, thus confirming that the email address is read by a real human. That email address can then be sold to other spam merchants for a significant premium over unverified email addresses.)

Although I knew they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, I figured might be interested to know that someone was sending out emails on their behalf, so I forwarded a copy of the offending email to

Rather annoyingly, this resulted in an automated reply telling me to report the problem using instead. I wouldn’t have minded, except that page didn’t give enough space to report the problem in as much detail as I’d have liked. Still, I did my best.

Imagine my surprise when a day or so later, I received a message back from Eircom Support telling me that in fact, the message was completely legitimate. is apparently Twelve Horses, a direct marketing company that Eircom have employed.

And the subject of this direct marketing? Eircom were promoting their new secure business email service.

Hard drive woes

Shortly before Christmas, one of my media drives (a 300 GB Maxtor) started to give warning signs that it was about to die — a number of files mysteriously developed CRC errors for no apparent reason.

I downloaded Maxtor’s PowerMax utility which gives the drive a once-over. PowerMax can run a 90 second test to give a quick estimate of the drive’s condition, or a more thorough test that lasts several hours. In the event, it took only 10 seconds to figure out my drive was quite sick and should be sent back to Maxtor for replacement. (The drive was just over 12 months old, but to my relief, it turned out to have a three year warranty. Exactly the same drive sold in the USA comes with only a one year warranty. Go figure.)

I bought a replacement 300 GB drive to back up the data (luckily, I only lost a few files), and then kicked off Maxtor’s RMA process. Conveniently, if you give them your credit card number, they will ship you the replacement drive first — you can then use that drive’s Maxtor-approved packaging to return the defective unit.

Three weeks later, Maxtor Support emailed me to say that it would be February before an exact replacement for my unit would be available, but that they’d be happy to ship me one of their new DiamondMax 10 6B300R0 models instead if that was acceptable. While RAID users might have preferred an exact replacement, I just wanted a new drive (and this one was better specced) so I told them to go ahead.

The new drive duly arrived about two weeks ago, and I decided to install it as the boot drive in my main PC; I partitioned it as a 30 GB C drive for Windows with the remaining 250 GB for my D: drive. (Yep, that’s only 280 GB, but that works out as 300,647,710,720 bytes — got to hand it to those hard drive marketing guys…)

After installation, it slowly became apparent that something wasn’t quite right with my system. Simple file copies from one partition to another (and especially from firewire drives to my D: drive) seemed much slower than they should be. Worse, while this was going on, Windows would slow to a crawl – in some cases, I could see individual window elements rendering a few pixels at a time.

It took me a while to figure out the drive was the issue – for normal use, things worked fast enough. I checked the DMA settings on the drive (Windows XP has a tendency to disable DMA without telling you, if it detects errors) but it was fine. Eventually though, I noticed that HDTach 3 showed rather erratic performance – instead of the usual smooth graph, it was very choppy.

That got me thinking, and I finally decided that the culprit might be the removable drive caddies that I use in all my systems. These are only rated to ATA66, yet the new Maxtor is an ATA133 drive. A few minutes later, I’d whipped out the caddy and connected the drive directly and — everything back to normal! I also replace my ATA66 cable with a newer ATA133 cable, which improved the HDTach results by another 10% or so.

I can only presume Windows must have been retrying like crazy before, hence the heavy CPU usage — or possibly switching briefly to PIO mode to recover from a corrupt DMA transfer? In any case, it’s good to have a system at 100% again!

Lesson learnt: adding any new hardware to a working system should always be done very carefully!