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Unique ID Code: 0000115077
Added by: RJS
Added on: 8/4/2009 12:08
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    Freedom to Fiddle!

    I Can Fiddle With My Car

    The last car I bought was second hand, I've modified it by changing the speakers, adding a subwoofer, swapped the stereo. Well okay, I didn't do any of that, I paid someone who knows what they are doing to manage it. I did however fit the iPod adaptor myself, which involved cutting a hole in the back of the glove box. If I wanted to, I could modify the engine in any way I wanted, providing it still passed its M.O.T. and I declared what I'd done on the relevant insurance form.

    There are people who have bought classic cars, there is a good friend of the family who rides a classic Triumph motorcycle. He's had to machine parts for it, things that aren't made anymore. The idea that the original manufacturer (or whoever owned the company's rights in this modern day and age) could deny him from doing this is ludicrous to most people. Maybe when I say most, I should perhaps say all but the most capitalist crazed conservative, of which no doubt one or two exists in America.

    Can I Fiddle With My iPhone?

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    And then we have products like the iPhone, locked to the network you bought it with, unless of course you do what I did and hack it using a utility like QuickPWN.

    When the 3G was mere months away from being announced, O2 in the UK started flogging the handsets cheaply. I didn't need 3G or GPS (I have a TomTom for the latter, and no need for the former), I just needed a new phone that would work on Orange. In those days, you activated the phone at home, signing up for a contract then, not in the store. When the 3G came out, they fixed that loophole, although there are, I believe, (expensive) ways of getting one without a contract still.

    Now obviously phone companies like O2 want you to buy a phone, which they've supposedly subsidised but by how much I don't know, which is locked to their network. And quite a few small companies make a reasonable trade unlocking these phones so the second hand and import markets can exist.

    Apple have ironically made the iPhone easy to unlock by including a recovery mode, basing it on the same Unix flavour (BSD) as their main desktop OS, and using iTunes. So hackers have a way of downloading software directly to the unit without any additional hardware (recovery mode), don't need to waste months working out how Apple has done even the most basic things (because it's a Unix system, a real one not like that thing in Jurassic Park), and can even abuse Apple's own software (iTunes) to deliver the full hacked firmware package in the process.

    This is great for the likes of me, the person who likes to fiddle. And so far all Apple has done to combat the practise is small changes in each official firmware update, designed to make it a tiny bit harder. Ultimately it isn't that much harder, especially for those who have the earlier model, plus I haven't read Apple taking any legal action against any website which contains software or information on doing this all.

    Personally, I don't think Apple really cares that much, it just feels it has to show some attempt at caring, otherwise mobile phone providers will get angry and stop selling their phones. Before the Apple Store opened, I would say that I had about 30 or so apps downloaded via one of the unofficial sources, which all require a jailbroken phone. These days the number is about 3, the rest are now all on the official store, so I could live with a merely unlocked phone nowadays.

    What is Jailbreaking?

    If you don't know and are actually interested, jailbreaking is a *nix term that relates to what level of access software has to the main file system. If a program is in jail, or jailed, or the more official geeky term in a chroot jail, it can only see the directory it sits in, nothing outside of that directory is accessible to it. Security and stability wise it's a very handy thing, since a program can't go mad and start fiddling with other parts of your system, because all it can see is the directory it is jailed in. Nothing else exists as far as it is concerned. If only Microsoft would appreciate the concept, we'd have far less trojans and virii rampant on the net than we do now.

    Anyway, on the iPhone, applications run jailed to various directories, exactly what and where I don't know. But the point is you can only install official software from Apple, unless you hack the firmware to remove the protection of this jail. Removing the protection is called jailbreaking, aka breaking out of the jail, and lets you stick software anywhere you like, obviously with a loss in security.

    Fiddling with Game Consoles I'm Not Supposed to Fiddle With

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    As you've probably guessed by now, I have chipped game consoles. The first one I did was a Sega Saturn which I'd got off ebay, modifying it so I could play imported discs. The second one I modified was the original X-Box when they were being sold off for £50. That required some soldering of a chip, the result of which allowed me to copy games to the hard drive, and install media centre software. I still think that proved to be one of the most reliable media centres I've seen.

    On top of that it opened up a world of emulation, a topic very close to my heart. I've been obsessed with emulators, partly because of my misspent youth in arcades, for as long as PCs have been fast enough to emulate. I even wrote my own Space Invaders emulator once, just to understand what it was all about. I've bought a GP32 handheld, actually I had 3 revisions at one time, still own 2 of them. I got it's successor the GP2X, and I've pre-ordered the Open Pandora unit which looks to be the ultimate in portable emulation heaven.

    None of this is about stealing money from the mouths of starving children, or in fact companies big or small. It's all about fiddling, and trying to recreate the experiences of games I had bought and played, on machines I had bought and played when I was a kid.

    Ultimately It's About the Fiddle

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    See, for me, I like to fiddle with stuff I've bought. Why should I be content to only use them for the exact purposes that the manufacturer intended? I don't mind too much if they would rather I didn't, providing they don't throw around legal threats willy nilly at anybody who might help me get more out of what I currently own.

    I appreciate they want to protect their profits, I have no problem with that. Just don't stop me from fiddling, or make me out to be some kind of criminal for doing so. Car manufacturers don't do it, they'd be laughed at if they did. Even Apple don't seem to do it, a rare example of a company in this day and age that doesn't.

    If only other companies would understand that some of us like to get more out of our purchases, and not fear that fact. Maybe they should take a leaf out of the Open Source world, and actually encourage us to do so.

    This Week's Videos

    First up a short but sweet, stop motion battle between Iron Man and Bruce Lee. Really good example of whats great about YouTube and the internet in general.

    Not very short but equally entertaining, Colonel Louis Zocchi gives a great two part performance explaining why his Game Science dice are the best. I can't say after all this if I'd buy them, since I gave up role playing when I became a grown up. However if I decide to dig out some board games in the loft, I may have to seriously consider how random my throws turn out.

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