Sunday, May 31, 2009

Box of Rock

Leave it to a recent disappointing online dating experience to resurrect my interest in a little on-again/off-again project: Messing with Rockbox on my SanDisk Sansa e200 MP3 player.

I got the Sansa back in October last year as a completely impulse purchase. I had no experience with miniature MP3 players, and woot kept selling them. Rockbox is (in simple terms) an open source replacement for the software that runs common MP3 players. I knew that the Sansa e200 could run Rockbox, and figured that I deserved a silly impulse purchase once in a while.

The first question you may be asking is, "Why in the world would I want to change the software that is inside my MP3 player?" That actually is a very good question. The truth is that if all you want to do is simply listen to MP3 files one after another or any of the simple, basic functions of the player then you probably wouldn't want to change. However, the Sansa e200 actually has a dual-core ARM processor, a color 176x220 pixel LCD screen, and a bunch of buttons plus a selector wheel. This little gadget is a fairly powerful computer in a small package. Why limit the thing to only playing MP3 files and other fairly simplistic functions?

Enter Rockbox -- An open source replacement for the Sansa's software. Open source means that the programming for the software is freely available on the Internet and can be modified or fixed as needed by someone experienced with programming. People all over the world have participated in creating and improving Rockbox. Rockbox natively supports a number of audio formats beyond the ones that the native e200 software handles, plus has bunches of "knobs and buttons" to change how audio is played. For example, I like my songs to play like a radio station with the last 2 seconds of the song (as it fades out) mixing with the first 2 seconds of the next song, to produce a steady stream of music with no gaps between. Rockbox can do that. It can also, without any translation, keep a bunch of pictures in JPEG or other common format, and you can view them on the screen. I do believe you can also play movies with Rockbox as well, but I have never done this. In point of fact, Rockbox has so many controls that you can get lost messing around with all of them!

So you're in the waiting room at the DMV or on an airplane and get bored, and are tired of just listening to music. No problem. Rockbox comes with a complete suite of games such as solitaire, blackjack, maze, minesweeper, even pong. These are all included as plugins, that can be expanded as someone writes them. If you're so inclined, you can write your own. The only issue with many of the games is that the resolution of the screen is limited, so you may find yourself doing some squinting at the screen if your close-up vision isn't too good.

What's the catch? Well as I started to use more of Rockbox, I found that (like most software) it wasn't without its bugs. For example, the crossfade feature I described before didn't work as described. It would annoyingly do the 2-second fade-out and fade-in when I manually switched tracks, even if I turned the feature off for that mode. The latest version of the software also had issues in the playback display where the song status bar was plastered half over the top of the time/track display line. So with a few hours of understanding the C language source code, I was able to figure out the cause of the problems with these functions, fixed it, rebuilt the system, and put my fixed version onto the Sansa. Voila, problem solved. Now I need to review my changes and contribute them back to the project, so others can benefit from my work (like I have benefitted from others' work on this project).

So maybe I wasn't lucky enough to find my soulmate on the dating web sites. I could let it bug me and spend time trying to figure out how I messed-up things on that first meeting. Okay, yeah, I did do that. After a few hours I realized that I am who I am, and that I didn't mess things up at all. We just didn't click. While the Sansa e200 and Rockbox are both cool and useful examples of modern technology, I'm not so impressed with dating web sites right now. I know I've said this before, but as time goes by and my experience with these sites increases, I find more often that I have more meaningful contact with people I meet initially in person than on the computer. Even with all the profile questions, pictures, and matching algorithms, getting to the core of a person seems to only work well for me when meeting in person. I have a very unique set of quirks, strengths, weaknesses, interests, likes, and dislikes, that, when pulled together as a whole, makes me a difficult person to match to someone, either in person or online.

So as I wrap up this entry, I return to my Sansa to see what other neat stuff I can do with it. What a cool impulse buy...

1 comment:

JC said...

The insight that you had ("I didn't mess things up at all. We just didn't click") is a great one. If there was one gift of knowledge I could bestow on teenage girls and boys, it's that. It took me most of my lifetime to get to the point where I understand that.

There is no 'right' or 'wrong' behavior, look, etc. It's all about what is perceived as acceptable or desirable by the other person in the relationship.

My husband and I recently had a HUGE fight over some things he was doing that I wasn't aware of that were completey unacceptable to me. Ultimately, he didn't do anything inherently 'wrong', I just didn't like what he was doing. We had to have several long discussions about why what he was doing is unacceptable, the first reason being that his wife doesn't like it. And that's all it takes for something to be seen as 'wrong' - someone else's opinion.

Long story short, even once you do find the lid for your pot (and I do truly believe that there are probably several lids for every pot, out there somewhere), it's still an uphill battle to keep it from getting blown off once in a while when the pressure builds up.