20 Things They Don't Want You to Know

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Game Consoles Are Hackable

Sony's slick, hackable PlayStation Portable.
Photograph: Rick Rizner

Today's game consoles are powerful, crammed with useful technology, and (to habitual PC buyers) relatively inexpensive, so it's no surprise that hackers are constantly finding new ways to make them do more than just play games. The Xbox, for example, is essentially a PC with specialized graphics and audio hardware and a CPU that's a few generations old. With some dedicated hacking you can install Linux on it and use it as a PC. See Xbox Linux Project's step-by-step guide for answers to any questions you might have. (I did not find a similarly simple way to turn an Xbox into a Windows PC.)

Within a week of its release, Sony's PlayStation Portable had been hacked to let the user customize its background images and browse the Web using a secret browser built into the game Wipeout Pure. The PSP Hacks site has the story on this and other PSP hacks, including the continuing effort to allow the device to run home-brewed software. At press time Sony had just released a firmware upgrade that adds a Web browser and customizable background images, but locks out the latest home-brew hacks. Count on hackers to find a way around that eventually.

You Can Use an IPod to Move Music

Apple doesn't make it easy to employ your IPod to duplicate your music collection on both your work and home PCs, but you can do it. If you have a Windows machine, simply plug in your IPod, find it listed in Windows Explorer, and make sure your machine can view hidden files.

Open the 'IPod_Control' folder and copy the 'My_Music' folder to your PC. Import those tracks into ITunes and put them in order there. Select Edit, Preferences, and choose the Advanced tab. Select a location for your music library by clicking the Change button, and then check Keep iTunes Music folder organized.

Utilities such as the $15 IPodRip--available for PCs and Macs from The Little App Factory--can help automate this process.

You Can Get a Human on the Phone

Follow the directions at Paul English's Find-A-Human IVR Phone System Shortcuts site to reach a human operator at any of more than 60 cell phone, PC, and travel firms.

MP3 Players Run Down Too Fast

Illustration: Dan Page

Today's digital audio players and other portable devices often feature two levels of "off." One--a standby mode that allows the player to turn power back on quickly after a period of inactivity--keeps some of the player's circuits active and constantly draining a bit of power. That's what Jan Schuppius and several other members of Creative Labs' MP3 support forum found was reducing the battery life on their Zen Micro players from 12 hours to fewer than 6 hours. (Click here for their analysis.)

Creative fixed that problem in early July with a firmware update that lowered the standby time to 4 hours before the device shuts down fully, but I found the same drawback with an IRiver H10 I've been testing. Device manufacturers could follow Creative's lead in lowering standby time or correct this issue by permitting users to completely power down their players. Given the choice, many would opt for longer battery life.

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