Saturday, October 18, 2008

iPod™ Ready

Ever since I traded in my old Firebird for the beamer, after I pulled out the Sony Xplod CDX-GT620IP stereo I had installed to replace the stock stereo that stopped working, I had the iPod-ready unit sitting on the shelf in the garage. I knew that the stereo in our powerboat was also a Sony and so I figured that upgrading the boat's stereo to this unit would be fairly easy. It would be worthwhile to do since our old method for listening to tunes on our iPod was via the iTrip radio-modulated transceiver (I think that would be the technical description of what the iTrip is, but I'm not 100% sure). Although the iTrip worked well enough, because it played tunes via the radio, it suffered from two problems. First, you had to tune the iPod to a certain FM frequency. This was a problem because you had to find one that wasn't occupied by some radio station. Not that easy to do on the crowded FM dial. Furthermore, you had to load the iPod with a bunch of radio frequencies, and occasionally the iPod would switch itself off the chosen frequency. We more or less got used to the deet-deet-deet that it played when it did this. Most annoying. Second, because the communication between the iPod and boat stereo was via FM transmission, it wasn't very clean. There was always a bit of an audible buzz. So, since the Sony CDX-GT620IP comes with an iPod cable, I knew it would sound much better. And because it had the same pin-outs on the back, exchanging the units would be fairly simple.

So here's how it's done. First, remove the old stereo. Usually this entails removing the stereo from its metal case which sits in the glovebox hole. The pictures show the progression. First you see the empty glovebox with the metal sleeve removed. In the back there's a rod that supports the back of a radio via a screw. You can level the radio by sliding the screw up and down along the hole in this support. Then insert the new metal sleeve and bend in these little triangular wedges so that the sleeve doesn't slide out. Three, insert the radio (it locks in to the metal sleeve) and four, attach the faceplate. Well, I jumped a step. Between three and four go round to the back and attach the various cables.

You can see the main connections in this back-of-the-radio shot. On the left is the antenna plug attachment. In the middle is the screw I mentioned above. To the right of that is the main pin-out connection. This is a multi-pin plug that hooks up the power and speakers. And to the right of that is the iPod cable and below it is the remote control connection. And the latter is what gave me the next problem: the CDX-GT620IP doesn't have this plug! So what you're really looking at is the 3rd Sony car stereo that I had to buy to support this connection, the Sony CDX-GT820IP, what seems to be a model up from the CDX-GT620IP.

Here's the remote control head unit. It's the RC-1B from Access Technologies. It's fairly important during boat operation, because as you slow down to go under bridges, you want to be able to lower the volume without having to let go of the wheel to reach over to the passenger's side, open the glovebox, and turn the knob. So what I had to do was find a Sony iPod-ready head unit that was compatible with the RM-X2S or RM-X4S remote controls (since that's what the RC-1B is compatible with). The CDX-GT820IP is about the only Sony head unit that promised to be compatible with everything: the iPod, the remote control, as well as the pin-out wiring.

Here's the radio in action. As it turns out, it's not compatible with the iPod Nano (4th generation)—arrrrggh! You can just make out the "iPod Communication Error" message onteh display. Luckily, it is compatible with our iPod classic (what we use in the beamer). And what's cool about this head unit is that it has about 4 lines of text in the display so that when you scroll through the iPod's menus and playlists, you get to see some context. Now if only the Dodge truck would do this, all our modes of transportation (except the sailboat) would be fully iPod-ready. Come to think of it, now that the Sony CDX-GT620IP head unit is back on the shelf, I'll take a look at the sailboat to see I can swap out its radio.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The drummer's face

Corey says my drumming's improved. Well, at least I've developed something of a drummer's expression—intense! :) That's got to be my current favorite drumming pic, taken Aug.29 when I was playing with Klaxon at the Enable '08 benefit.

Hounds practice

Last Friday the Hoodoo Hounds played a friends-and-family kind of practice over at our soundman's place. Part of the reason for doing this was to iron out some kinks with the sound system—I think one new addition to the setup was a pair of speakers that needed to get tested. So it was in part just a practice, but in part it was like a normal gig since we had to set everything up like we would normally. About the only thing I didn't have set up for the drums was my electric fan. I didn't need it anyway as it got kinda cold in the evening. Below is my typical setup along with the newly added resonant bass drum head with our band name. Next show is Oct.31 at 356.

Gas shortage in the southeast?

Last week on the way home I noticed long lines at a local gas station. I saw on the morning news that there was a gas shortage in the southeast due to Hurricane Ike shutting down oil refineries in Louisiana. Indeed, when I had gone up to NC to get an iPod connection and new speakers for our truck, there was no gas at stations in that part of the state (western NC). Since people here tend to react with a touch of panic (local grocery stores sell out of bread and milk if there's even a hint of a snow flurry), I thought I'd participate in the panic and grab our vehicles and fill them up while the gas stations were still open. Three gas stations up the road had actually closed down so maybe there was reason for concern after all. The pic was taken while on my bike. The CAT (Clemson Area Transit) buses were causing a bit of a problem in getting into the station. Right after taking that shot I managed to cross the road and find an open pump. Actually I tried two: both displayed a message that the pump wasn't working and to "replace pump". WTF? So I went inside and happened upon the owner. He eventually got the pump to work, filled up my bike, and explained that he had just received a tanker shipment of gas and that the refineries were coming back on line in LA and that they would be delivering at 300% normal capacity. I guess he knew what he was talking about since (luckily) this week I've not seen any more long lines for gas and no more closed gas stations. I guess we're back to normal and gas prices seem to have come down to around $3.60 or so, so perhaps the panic was an overreaction. Still, I doubt the price will ever drop to the 97¢ price I still remember from several years ago.