Hacker’s delight

Ten ways to soup up your iPod

Photo Illustration by Michele Brown and Don Button

The only difference between a hacker and a programmer is that the latter is getting paid. All good-natured admonishments not to mess with your iPod are, in other words, political and merely so. My guess is that almost every piece of technology ever made has some sort of exploitable weakness snuck into its design. Over the years, Steve Jobs and Apple have become notorious for this brand of nerdy, harmless prankage. Look hard enough through Mac system software, and you’ll stumble upon inside joke after inside joke by and for the company’s programmers, some of them impenetrable and others capable of changing the way you approach desktop computing. The thing is Apple hacks are nerd Fight Club: I can’t tell you about any of them.

Dangle some greenbacks in front of me, though, and this is what you get: a cheat sheet to some of the best iPod hacks—software and hardware—available online and elsewhere. Some are essential; others are just for laughs. Most are available at www.versiontracker.com. And remember, any tinkering with your iPod hardware voids the warranty.

1 iPodRip v3.8.1—The big to-do when the iPod debuted in 2002 was that, although you could transfer MP3s from your computer to the iPod, you couldn’t transfer them from the iPod to your computer. So, if your buddy brought his iPod over to your place, you couldn’t take all his songs and put them on your machine. Well, that lasted for about a week. Now there are hundreds of programs available that reverse-download or “rip” songs from the iPod onto a computer. IPodRip is the best of them. It’s the least buggy and the most like iTunes with regard to graphic interface.

2 Party-Pod Pro v4.0—After someone figured out how to make “dummy directories” on the iPod, files and folders with names but nothing in them, all sorts of useful iPod database programs started popping up. I’m not Mr. Collar Flip Party Shirt Esquire, but this particular program has 650 mixed-drink recipes, 55 drinking games, bar and club listings for every major American city, and—I kid not—100 pickup lines for use on men and women. None of them works, but still …

3 iWorkout v2.0— This program is of the coach-on-tape sort, a workout routine for your workout routines. In fact, an actual American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer had something to do with its creation—it’s his voice you hear counting off your crunches and telling you to give it more. (And you thought jocks didn’t know how to use computers.) If you have an iPod Photo, you can even watch videos instructing you on how to do several different gym exercises. Some of these illustrations are so perplexing, they could qualify as indie shorts at Sundance.

4 Book2Pod v1.2.2—Maybe because PDA (personal digital assistant) designers were developing MP3 technology competitive with the iPod, Apple eventually added a Note Reader program into its player. Users can now upload short, simple notes for themselves, as well as songs, but what about uploading a whole book? Book2Pod takes an enormous text file (i.e., a book), chops it up into Note Reader segments and adds a directory for easy “page turning.” Bam! You’re jamming out and reading, too. A hint: Project Gutenberg has more than 16,000 classic works of literature you can download for free at www.gutenberg.org.

Photo Illustration by Michele Brown and Don Button

5 Podzilla—There’s so much to say about Linux users’ antagonistic relationship with Windows, Apple and those systems’ proprietary hardware and software. For instance, Podzilla (www.ipodlinux.org) began as a simple program to replace the iPod firmware with free and fully functional Linux-based hardware. Over time, however, Podzilla users realized that Apple was withholding info about the iPod’s hardware capabilities. They have revealed, among other things, that the earphone port can double as a microphone port and that you can even use your left headphone to record the audio. Sure, the Apple iPod firmware is rock-solid, but Podzilla is worth a try if you’re the total-liberation type.

6 iPodWizard—Late last year, the tech-gossip blog Engadget (www.engadget.com) posted links and a guide to manually changing the icons on iPods—sort of like changing the icons on your desktop. So, instead of the Apple logo on the iPod’s boot-up, you might have the Microsoft logo or something crazy like Bono’s face or the Edge’s ass. Now there’s iPodWizard, a program that automates the whole process. This is one of those for-laughs-only deals. You could parlay it into a prank, perhaps stealing the Edge’s iPod and changing his boot-up icon to, oh, his ass or something. The possibilities are endless.

7 iPodVolumeBooster v1.0—I don’t know whether this program is necessary anymore—maybe European lawmaker-types have wised up—but check this. In Europe, the volume output on iPods is limited to 100 decibels, which makes listening on public transportation pretty damn impossible. So, this hack ups the volume on European iPods. It’s a simple fix but arguably more important than the hack with all the pickup lines. Arguably.

8 Replace your battery—And so we conclude the software-hacks segment of this article and move into hardware enhancements. Everyone knows that the iPod’s biggest weakness is its battery length. Advertised as lasting 12 hours, the standard iPod battery gets eight hours on a good day, five to six most others. Apple wants extortion-level cash to replace batteries out-of-warranty, and even third-party batteries can be obscenely expensive.

It turns out it’s really easy to replace the battery on your own and to use better, longer-lasting batteries. Replacement kits for all generations of the iPod are available at www.batteryship.com. (I’m still not crazy about buying shit off eBay, especially batteries. It’s like buying a knife set at a flea market.) BatteryShip.com’s kits, which come with a battery and tools to crack open the iPod case, seem to be the best. The batteries have infinitely more capacity: 850 mAh vs. 550 mAh (that’s milli-amp hours), which is what Apple will replace yours with.

9 Get rid of the white earbuds—Garbage. Complete garbage. Nothing says “I just got a new iPod! Punch me in the face!” like those goddamned headphones. IPods lose battery power more quickly with greater volume, and the white earbuds don’t have any power, so you end up cranking them really high in loud environments like, you know, most of the world. Another thing: More and more people are getting jumped for their iPods, and the white headphones are a total giveaway. So, if you like having long battery life, better sound in public and not getting jumped, you might think of picking up a pair of closed-ear, noise-canceling headphones like the Sennheiser PXC250. I recommend these because you get good sound without looking as if you are wearing a set of potatoes on your ears. The noise-canceling device is separate from the actual headphones; it’s the approximate shape and size of one of those multi-ink pens that pre-med students like to use. Clip it on your undershirt or belt, and nobody will suspect a thing, not even those in the oncoming traffic you won’t hear.

10 300 GB iPod, a.k.a. iPod Super—As all great things seem to, the iPod Super started as a joke. Mac-geek blog Command-Tab (www.command-tab.com) posted step-by-step instructions on how to rig a 300 GB standard 3.5-inch ATA hard drive, such as the one found in your desktop computer, to the iPod. It involves soldering, de-soldering, hammering this to that with specific adapters and keeping things relatively safe with new power supplies. Woof. I think I’ll just stick to the hack about workout exercises.