Wednesday 1st September 2004

Wednesday already? Where has the time gone? Does it feel like September? No, it does not at all. The summer is dying away and the train is getting for embarkation. Destination, the end of the year. Are you ready? Neither am I. I am sure together we will make it to the finish line, only to find this vicious circle starting again.

“Your warranty has just been voided by the way…” Not the words, you want to hear on a lazy Sunday morning. Very few things can get me up early on a Sunday. The thought and possibilities of converting my lonely games console, which was in fact, just a large paperweight, come desk stop. I had hardly played games on the machines (as my previous posts clearly describe). In several discussions on MSN Messenger, I had pestered Hussein, on how long the process would take in total. Two hours, was the likely estimate I had always got. He had also always given me the option to drop the box off, and pick it up again the following weekend, so I was not waiting around. There would be no fun, it doing that now, would there? So the let me take you on this adventure and fill you in on the background. Saturday evening, I called our local superhero, purely to double check the times and also if all required parts, tools were available. I could provide the special screwdriver, but sliver conductive paint was missing. This was the first of many setbacks. This seemed to the biggest obstacle in upgrading my console. With hope still strong in my heart, I headed off towards North West London around 8am, on Sunday morning. It was an unhealthy time to be awake, but it was worth the effort. Of course it was. Even if I came back home with a dead junk of metal, silicon and plastic.

I would have met one of my Internet idols. Someone whom I have looked up the past eighteen months, learning all about this live through his fantastic log. Felt strange when I finally got to his house and saw him. How would you describe meeting your idol? You think them greater than us mortals, yet when they appear before you, there is still that distance. That sense of being star struck! Although, this was the first time I was meeting Hussein, there was no time for showing too much respect. There was a job to be done. We didn’t have much time. Many other time. I was greeted by a relaxed, confident Hussein, aiming to get the job done. But disappointment was also on the doorstep. No silver conductive paint. The solution? A trip, to Maplin in Watford, adding at least another hour onto our scheduled upgrade time. My XBox was quickly unboxed and placed on the Jodiyawalla dinner table. It was turned over, as Hussein searched for the special screwdriver in my modest toolbox. As he unscrewed one of several metals screws to crack open that XBox. Be it by a third party, my warranty which still had a full four months left to run, had now become, completely void. A message in my head was telling me, “I hope this works…”. Did I have anything to fear? I was not sure. Normally, when you meet someone for the first time, you enjoy a meal, a drink or even a movie. You do not normally pressure them to mod your video console. I thought he had be optimistic with the time frame, but then again, what did I know? The whole process may have only taken an hour but Hussein wanted to add additional time in case we were facing problems. The first problem was on how to flash the bios. I will keep the more technical information on a separate project page. For now, I will keep it simple and explain what went wrong (well almost). Instead of hot swapping hard drives (not for the faint hearted) we were using the Mega X Key. This was to theoretically make the entire upgrade process much easier. In practice you transfer the saved game hack from PC to the key via USB. Then transfer from the key to the original XBox hard drive and then flash the bios. What could be simpler? Well it took a solid hour to transfer the game over to the key. The reason for this was, the 12″ Powerbook G4, Rev C being used as the project machine was running Mac OS X. I am not really familiar with these machines, but the file extension for saved games was not being shown. This was because VirtualPC was running on the Mac. Basically simulating a Windows 2000 partition. But as this was a fresh version, file extensions were hidden and as WinZip was not installed we could not have opened the saved game files. We did not know they were saved and hence compressed in zip file. This was only discovered after switching to the humble PC and Windows XP. With the game transferring and appearing as required on the key via the load game option in James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire (The world famous signature tune, does get rather annoying after hearing it thirteen times, almost on continuous repeat!).

With all the preparatory work complete, we headed across to Watford. Luckily the journey did not take as long as I expected and being a Sunday morning, traffic was light. We parked in one of the car parks just off the High Street. As we left the car and headed towards the main pedestrianised area. To our right, further up the street we could hear the small collective chanting of sanskrit from some converted Hare Krishna followers. My sense of direction is not great but luckily Hussein just has the ability to find a place quicker than me. (Seeing a passerby carrying a box in a large Maplin bag was a major giveaway!) So we headed in the direction in which he had came, to discover the shop was just a few hundred yards away.We got to the shop, to find it moderately busy. I searched around aimless to begin with but eventually we found the item we had been looking for. Yet, this was not enough, we needed a fine art brush to paint over the specific boards on the board. We went over to sales assistant Wayne, a 20 year old, who appeared completely oblivious to the our requirements. We explained that we needed to paint over to points on a PCB. He looked bemused and without any emotions advised us to head for an art shop instead. We headed for the Harlequin Shopping Centre and WHSmith. It is surprising how the quality of customer of service suddenly changed. We went from economy to business class within the space of a few minutes walk. The female sales assistant at the stationary store, was stacking some shelves but was more than happy to leave her post in order to provide us with the articles we required. Not only that, she went the extra mile, showing us a range of brushes and eventually we found one which was ideal for the job. Happy, we headed back to the car. As I started the engine, I asked Hussein, “How long do you estimate we got left?”. Rambling on in his way, which was just his head whining through the various processes that remained, he said an hour and a half at a push plus the time it would take to get home. I headed back to Hussein’s house with a contented smile, the project was back on track and my faith in my friend had grown. He would get the job done.

The clock ticked over to midday as we returned to the house, and Hussein got back to work. Wanting to record everything on my blog and also to provide photographs for both my own project and Hussein’s XBox page. Some people are just built for certain tasks and Hussein takes to this type of advanced DIY. It was as if he had been programmed before birth to use technology. Watching him work was a breath of fresh air. I have met many techie people in my life, and I am sure I will continue to do so. All, up to now have shown signs of great frustration when the technology is not going their way. Instead of throwing things around and bashing at the keyboard, Hussein just would logically think of the best strategy in order to get the job done. He did give me several heart attacks, I must admit. When attempting to flash the bios on the XBox, an error code would appear advising us to Contact Customer Support. I thought my worst fears had come true and my XBox was dead. Luckily there was someone there who had a good head on his shoulders. He was already carrying out the diagnostics and working through in his head, what we should do next to try and resolve the issue. The fact that the console could be successfully restarted meant all was not lost.

It took another few hours but we finally realised what we had been doing wrong. I saw ‘we’ but it was Hussein who found out the problem. We had been loading the saved game directly from the Mega X Key. However has this was making major changes to the bios, it would not copy over currently and the actual upgrade would not finish copying. Then as the XBox was reloaded the error message would appear. We needed to transfer the game over to the standard hard drive. Hussein discovered that we need to select the actual saved game, rather than the title itself, to get the option to transfer from the USB device to the hard drive.

It worked. Would you believe? A simple 2 second operation had taken over 2 hours to do. I felt rather stupid, but then I think Hussein felt more embarrassment. He was firstly much more of a gamer than myself and had more experience with this console than me. After all, mine had been boxed away for most of this year. Not to worry, we were making progress, if somewhat heavily behind schedule. It was 3pm, and I had hoped to have been home by at least 1pm. To make matters worse, we had treble checked the alterations to the motherboard, originally convinced that the points had not made the necessary contact. The moment we had all been waiting for happened and as a broad smile appeared on my face, I began to lose my patience. Starting to pester my friend on how long the final few processes would take. I should really not have let him to such distraction and instead just let him get on with the job at hand. I was hoping to leave within the hour but I was again being far too optimistic. Configuration was the final task but this was broken down into several other small tasks. Firstly backing up the data from the old drive to a PC. Then drop in the Western Digital Caviar SE drive. Then coping back the files from the old hard drive. The backing up process literally took a few seconds so I expected the same when placing the files and folders onto the new drive. But this was not the case. The whole process took over an hour with a feeble transfer rate of 40kb/s. Hussein explained that this was due to the Evox bios and to safe guard again file corruption during transfer the rate was capped. I really could not understand it but waited, if somewhat impatiently for the files to transfer. Meanwhile, Hussein setup the configuration for XBox Media Centre. More details to follow on my Project page. Stay tuned. Then to kill some time, I watched Hussein play Doom 3. Now I happily admit that I am not the bravest person in the world, but just this computer game really scared me witless. My mind drifted as my remember the brilliance of the first Doom. Let me just put it this way, this is not a game you would play in the dark, with your surround sound system up high. The thought alone sends a shiver up my spine.

With everything loaded up and working as required. The day was gone. There was not even time to transfer over some of the music videos which were on Hussein’s server. Never mind, I am sure I can come back in the future. I would like to extend my gratitude to Hussein for taking time over the Bank Holiday Weekend to mod my XBox. I would also like to extend my thanks to his family for putting up with for several hours longer than expected. At least they were able to squeeze in watching Khan clinching sliver at the Olympics. For months I had dreamed of the possibilities of having a media player in the lounge. Something beyond a DVD player. Finally, my dream has come true. There is still plenty to explore. I have only touched on some of the features available. I mainly use the device at the moment, to watch my personal collection of music videos and MP3s. There is web radio, DivX movie encoding and the ability to play emulators of good old SNES games 😉 Good Bless you XBox users! 🙂 Now where is that XBox remote control?

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