Tuesday, May 17, 2005

30 Second Hack - Play your iPod Shuffle while charging!

So every now and then I whip out some quick little hack to make my life (or someone else's life) easier. I rarely even take the time to document them, since usually the hack is so trivial as to make documentation insulting.

The last one was this little circuit for a bloke on Miata.net. Yes, I'm a lazy bastard, I didn't really draw the circuit so much as link to one someone else drew, and tell him what resistors to use. But the point is, I applied my hard-earned BSEE to the gripping problem that was this dude's garage door opener.

Well, here's another 30 second Hack. I'll literally spend 10x more time with this blog entry than I spent on the hack:

How to play tunes on your iPod Shuffle while charging the battery.

Problem: The iPod shuffle both charges its battery and does data exchange (iTunes and thumb-drive) via its built-in USB port. Normally this is great, except that for some inexplicable reason, any time the iPod has a data connection going, it disables the player functionality.

Why is this a problem? If you're sitting at a PC, why not just use the PC to play music? In my case, I work at any number of PCs, both in my office and in the lab. For various reasons (company policy, not the least of which), I don't have iTunes installed or any .mp3s loaded on any of these machines.

So my choices are to either play my iPod and run the battery down, despite being inches from a suitable charging port, or to charge the batteries in silence. Dumb.

Solution: I made a USB "Power Cord" which charges the battery but doesn't establish a data connection, so the iPod keeps-on-a-rockin'.

For background, consult the USB pinout standard, but you can just duplicate this in all is simple-gory details below.
You'll need the following:

Parts: Electrical Tape, 1 USB Extension Cable with suitable ends (probably Male 'A' and Female 'A')
-or- a regular A-B cable and one of those Female-B to Female-A adaptors (which is what I used because we have literally hundreds of these things lying around at work).

Tools: X-acto Knife, Cutters

Disclaimer: If you somehow manage to mess this up and fry your iPod or your PC's USB port, I accept no responsibility for this. Simply disabling the data lines should be safe, if you can accomplish that task without doing anything stupid.

  1. Using the X-acto knife, Slit about 1" of the USB cable's outer insulation, preferably near the iPod end, but it doesn't really matter.
  2. Your cable probably has a woven shield and/or a foil jacket around the actual wiring. Try to slit and part this to expose the 4 wires, while doing the minimum amount of damage here.
  3. Using the cutters, snip the Green and White wires (data lines). For neatness, I actually snipped out about a 1/4" of these wires just to make sure they wouldn't short to each other. I suppose the really anal types might work harder to ensure no shorting of the data lines to the shielding occurs. I didn't. Doesn't seem to matter.
  4. Tuck the wires back into the shield weave/foil.
  5. Wrap electrical tape around the slit.
  6. If you're like me, the electrical tape will be a sufficient indicator that this is now a USB POWER CABLE which will no longer serve any other purpose. Otherwise, you might want to label the cable somehow, so the next unsuspecting geek doesn't try to use it to sync his PDA or something...
  7. Plug in the cable to your PC or hub. Plug in the iPod to the cable. Confirm that the amber light on the battery indicator is lit (charging). Marvel at the amazing ability to charge the battery and listen to music at the same time.
Yep, that's it. Told you it was simple. Apple will probably make a "iPod Shuffle Computer Charging Cable" at some point and sell it for $29... Read More...