Archive for February, 2008

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Hacking (Literally) the Xbox 360 for HDMI with Optical Digital Audio

February 14, 2008

I actually like Microsoft. Microsoft, for example, brought affordable computer networks to the masses, dramatically improving productivity (and gaming). Vista, like Windows ME before it, is a complete pile of very unpleasant substances, but in the meantime we have Windows XP, the best Windows-based operating system to ever grace the planet. (Now, don’t get all tech-bashy on me; I like the look of OS X as well, use Linux systems on occasion, and program in Java.)

However, in a capitalist society, caveat emptor is still worthy of being heeded. Such is the case with the newer Xbox 360s and HDMI output that uses digital optical for audio.

In a perfect world, one wouldn’t need to output both digital audio and HDMI. HDMI includes digital audio output. One would just plug the HDMI cable into a receiver, run the receiver HDMI output to the television, and the receiver would take care of everything, including the video switching. Sadly, such a perfect world requires far more pictures of dead Presidents than I am willing to part with, especially since it would involve replacing a receiver that I am very happy with.


Xbox 360 back panel, showing the A/V port and HDMI port.

The standard Microsoft Xbox 360 currently ships with a component video cable for HDTV or standard TV that also outputs surround-separated stereo. That cable also has a plug for digital optical audio output, which is ideal. Unfortunately, if one plugs in the supplied cable, due to its size and shape it completely covers the HDMI port on the 360, which precludes using HDMI for video at the same time as optical 5.1 Dolby Digital. (Note that some older 360s do not have an on-board HDMI port, but that any recently purchased one should.)

Enter the product pictured above. This $45 item is designed to provide the ability to output both HDMI and digital optical out simultaneously. Problem solved! Beautiful, isn’t it? It would be, if it weren’t a case of manipulative engineering. (I am reminded of an old “Monkees” episode, in which a computer designs toys to break almost immediately, so parents will enrich the toy company by continually buying replacements.)

If both an HDMI and the A/V cable could be plugged in simultaneously, there would be no need for this extra cable.


A little work with a hack saw, and a consumer can easily save $45 or more.

Enter the hack saw, and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. (A better way to do this would be to use a Dremel tool, but I do not happen to own one.) By carefully cutting into and removing the plastic on the Xbox 360’s included adapter, one can easily make enough room to plug in an HDMI cable. It will be a snug fit, but it should work without any difficulty. Embedded in the A/V cable’s plastic body is a metal shield that protects the connector and helps eliminate electromagnetic interference. Although it is acceptable to scratch it, be careful not to cut through it. Also watch out for the cord itself. The picture above should provide all the guidance you need.

As one might expect, there’s always the slight risk that you’ll damage the A/V cable while cutting it, in which case, you’re going to be spending that $45 anyway. Hey, I told you to be careful.

Enjoy.

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Doug’s New Dress

February 9, 2008

Shopping for a new dress is hard.

This is true even with the wonder of the Internet, although the Internet certainly changes it from being nearly impossible to mostly possible, it is still decidedly difficult.

Background: Every January or February, Kronos, the company for which I work, holds its annual Winter Thaw event for the employees and their dates, in lieu of a Christmas party. Starting with an event scheduled at the MFA several years ago, the events have been hosted at various museums or similar venues. This year’s event, which took place last Saturday, was held at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

With Nichelle’s incredible weight loss and constant fitness training, I wanted her to have something for her to wear to the Thaw that would accentuate how much more stunning she has become in the past year or two. Or, in other words, I wanted her clothing to be as beautiful as she—which is, of course, impossible.


The absolutely stunning Nichelle wearing the gown I purchased for her.

I did some searching online, and quickly determined that J.C. Penny appeared to have gowns like I wanted in a price that was affordable. Macy’s had gowns, too, but was quickly excluded due to their prices. Also useful was J.C. Penny’s different views of each item, normally with at least one photograph in each of the available colors. With that, I also able to figure out what style and color were most likely to be pleasing. One interesting factor is that clothing available online tended to be available exclusively online, and there was no indication of what the local store branches would actually contain. (Men would never settle for this when it comes to electronics items. One would think women would be equally demanding. Perhaps years of nonstandard sizes in everything from blouses to shoes have simply worn them down.)

So, with Nichelle’s size stealthily extracted during a conversation about weight loss, NaNi and I went off to the mall one Monday after Nichelle had gone to work, to see what our local Penny’s had in stock. The Internet browsing allowed me to essentially go “buying”—I had no interest in “shopping”; this is another difference between men’s and women’s desired commerce experiences.

They had quite a few choices, but that was narrowed down by the available sizes. NaNi still preferred the more “princessy” outfits, which were more suited for a prom than the Thaw, although there was one slightly showy dress that might have been “mature” enough to fit, that I considered. That being said, I picked out a red strapless gown that was classy without being overly fancy, and was delighted to find one left in the right size, and it was even on sale. NaNi talked me into checking the Disney Store for the “Mermaid Swimsuit” she insists they have, and used her extra-cute-face to manipulate me into buying her a Tinkerbell dress, which was half-off. I figured it was fair enough, as I’d saved money with Nichelle’s dress on sale.)

I brought the dress home, eager for Nichelle to see it. She loved it! But, when she tried it on, we discovered one of the hazards of all the weight training she’s done. Although it fit perfectly nearly everywhere, her back is so muscular that she couldn’t zip it up.

So, back to J.C. Penny I went, hoping it to exchange it for one size up before they closed…

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single dress in the size we needed. They were helpful, calling other area stores, and checking the inventory system; but not one of the gowns I wanted in the size needed was available within 50 miles.

I checked Sears. Nothing but prom dresses in juniors. I went home, and back to the Internet.

A nearly identical dress was available as a catalog order, but in the size we needed, it wasn’t available in a color I knew Nichelle would want. Grrrrr!


“Classy Nun” or “Bride of the Penguin”? Poor color choices. (The woman is a bit pale, too.)

Then, I noticed something I’d overlooked at least 15 times in two days. The dress, pictured above, was also available in cranberry! It would be perfect, if it were in a solid color. The silly white-on-black cuff (Classy nun or Bride of the Penguin?) had turned me off, even thought I liked the overall style.

But I had to be sure. So I found and phoned J.C. Penny’s customer service department, and the lady there confirmed that the cranberry dress was indeed a solid color. Even better, I could have the dress shipped to the catalog pickup at Penny’s in Nashua, and it would arrive by Saturday at noon, about six hours before we needed it.

The dress actually arrived on Friday afternoon, so I picked it up on my way home from work. It fit perfectly, with the results are shown at the top of this post.


To modify a line from Always: Nichelle is all twisted steel and sex appeal. I can’t be with a woman who looks like I won her in a lottery.