Ubuntu + hpmount = a fucked up iPod

I’m in the middle of leaving my present job to a new one in another country, and yesterday I was mulling the different options I had to back up all the stuff in my $HOME that I want to take out with me (office documents, data files, idl and matlab programs, images, all kind of crap accumulated during the past 3 years).

Once I had cleaned up $HOME a little (removing the jhbuild directory, for instance…) it amounted to ~13 gigs of data. This was kinda cumbersome to copy to floppy disks – or even CDs, for that matter. DVDs were a viable option, but I don’t have a burner on my machine, the only DVD burner we have around here is an internal one, so it means I would have to take stuff apart, which I was reluctant to do since these are not my machines (also it would mean losing part of the directory tree structure, which is a minor PITA). I could have just snatched the disk and leave with it (nobody’s gonna cry over a 30 gig HD, I guess) but since this place is an administration, I’m sure 10 years from now the FBI would find me. I didn’t have any external hard disk either…

But wait, I thought, I have a perfectly good iPod with more than 30 gigs of free space ! I just need to backup my home directory on it ! Easy as a pie ! Joy ! So I brought my cable at work, and hooked it up to the computer. The fact that I’m running ubuntu dapper at work (I know, it’s not the smartest thing in the world), and that these events just happened in the middle of a hal/dbus transition, didn’t really help : nothing happened. I was not surprised, as since the day before my USB key stopped automounting as well. Pain.
At that point, I still had hopes that it would just be a matter of creating a mount point, figure out the filesystem and mount the damn thing. I was quickly able to browse the contents of the ipod (lots of mp3s and weird thumbnails for pictures) but my joy was short-lived. Apparently the iPod, when formatted for a Mac, uses a filesystem called hfs+. Until recently, there was support for this filesystem right in the linux kernel, but since a recent 2.6.15 release (I guess the rc4) hfs+ can only be mounted read-only because journaled filesystems can’t be modified yet. More pain.
As I’d seen reported elsewhere, dmesg | tail gave me something along the lines of “file system mounted read-only, use mount force option to write at your own risk”. Reasoning that, after all, I was already using an unsupported operating system, and that I couldn’t do much damage anyway (I could always reinstall the iPod software from home), I lost myself in man mount.

Unfortunately, after several attempts mount still would not do anything. Forcing the read/write on the mount command resulted in… nothing at all. I was not able to access the contents of the drive – the mount point was empty, it all looked like nothing was mounted at all.

I decided to try another angle of attack, using one of the tool I had read about in one of the several sites I visited : hpmount. The first times I tried the command, it spewed some error message saying that the drive was not the right kind. I tried several variations (apparently iPod drives are divided into 3 partitions with one for the firmware, etc, so I figured it was just a matter of finding the right one) and after a while I got a different error message, one which got me worried – about trying to write past the end of the drive (I even think there was mention of a superblock or some other black magic stuff).

That’s approximately when I decided that this was enough, that I had reached the limits of my willingness to tinker with an expensive piece of hardware, and that I unplugged the damn thing. Apparently, that was not a smart thing to do. The iPod rebooted (so far, so good), presented me with the usual black-screen-with-apple-logo-on-it (stupid unwarranted feeling of pride) and then… made some cranking hard drive noise and rebooted. Again, and again. There was something wrong in the startup sequence, that made the iPod panic and reboot again. The damn device was lost in a rebooting cycle, which is not very productive for an mp3 player.
Then I started to get a little worried. I mean, it’s hard to reinstall the iPod software when the thing keeps rebooting every 5 seconds. I browsed some Apple support documents (I get a lot done at the office) and finally ended on a page that basically said :

  1. try resetting the ipod.
  2. If (1) fails, try charging and resetting the iPod.
  3. If (2) fails, try reinstalling the iPod software.
  4. If (3) fails, you’re fucked.

(Of course Apple people are way more polite).I enjoy a lot following instructions, so I tried resetting the iPod. It happily obliged by rebooting, something he was apparently able to do all by itself, and went on its happy reboot cycle without paying any attention to me. I plugged the iPod in the linux machine for power (nothing on the desktop ? At least it’s consistent) and resetted again. No change.

I was getting mildly discouraged. How was I supposed to reinstall the software if the damn thing kept rebooting ? At this point the iPod was a very elaborate and hi-tech battery-draining device, kinda like a symbol of our advanced civilization. I guess that at least I could have used it on my way back from work to warm my hands while driving. Better than nothing.

Then I remembered reading somewhere that you could switch the ipod to a disk mode. You have to press play and menu and select and swing the hold switch back and forth 24 times and the device switches to a weird black-and-white screen without backlight and a very tiny message reading “ok to disconnect”, which is weird considering it was not connected to anything. Apparently it was not possible to turn the device off in this mode either, but at least it had stopped rebooting. Things were getting better.

As, for the first time ever, I had brought my ibook at the office, I was able to plug the iPod in disk mode, mount it (the laptop complained that the disk was unusable… so I *had* fucked up the partition table somehow) and reinstall the iPod software, restoring order and erasing 20 gigs of songs in one fell swoop.

So the moral of the story is : when file systems are not supported, there’s a reason. Also, it can be a lot faster to just tar your entire home directory, gzip it up, and ssh it over the Atlantic, instead of trying to copy everything on an iPod.

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7 Responses to Ubuntu + hpmount = a fucked up iPod

  1. Dumbass Kid says:

    Dude my ipod is pretty screwed up aswell but the problem with mine is that all it does is display a folder, oh and its in B&W instead of color.

  2. nick says:

    gah, if only I had read this 3 months ago! I did exactly the same thing, but didn’t know abut the force hard drive mode thing. I’ve just today got a new ipod from apple after a nightmare 3-month long repair fiasco that involved my ipod being lost somewhere between the UK and the Netherlands!

  3. dave says:

    my ipod is fucked to the core. once you select a folder such as a song, it will refuse to go back to the songs listings untill you have reached the end of the song list. then it will go to the men scren only to start the layered buttfuck screens. any comments?

  4. dave says:

    P.S apple sucks shit i called and the forign fuck hook said “it will cost $250 to repair” when a new one costs $200. to which i said get fucked!

  5. Anon says:

    See, that’s why iPod’s suck.

    *I* on the other hand have a Creative Zen Vision:M 30gb. It works SO much better than an iPod. I mean, all I have to do is hook it up to a machine and I can write to it like a USB key…

    Of course, that machine must be running Windows XP or higher, and Windows Media Player 11. If it’s only got Windows Media Player 10, then you have to install the special software that came with the Zen and use it’s slow, painful interface to load in songs and files. And if the machine isn’t running Windows, you’re pretty much screwed. When I dual-boot into Ubuntu, it auto-mounts my Zen as a camera. *Sigh*

    See, that’s why Creative mp3 players are SO much better then iPods.

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic. I find it funny how mp3 player review sites always compare players to players, but never get into detail the heart-ache and slavery to certain OS or software you’re going to get locked into…

    If it’s any consolation, I don’t think Ubuntu plays nice with many mp3’s. I think Ubuntu’s just now able to work “out of the box” with iPod’s using Amarock or some such mp3 applications. But you have to kill yourself trying to get anything but an iPod to work with Ubuntu. And woe be to you if you just want to use your mp3 player as a USB Mass Storage device.

    I was doing great with using my Zen as a UMD in Win XP with WMP 11 (seriously, just had to hook it up and use it like an external 30gb hard drive!). But, alas, I nerfed my WinXP install when I followed Disk Cleaner’s advice to delete old Win98 install files, and I can’t boot up WinXP ever since.

    Now I’m stuck with Ubuntu and my Zen being loaded as a glorified camera. At least the Zen has a little pinhold reset button to wipe it’s brain and reinstall default firmware if it blows up. Not sure why Apple, the user-friendly folks, didn’t think of putting that on their iPod’s?

    Anyways, just my two sense. Seriously, why can’t someone just make an mp3 player which just a very large USB key that has software on it to play music on it’s own? Apparently that’s too much to ask with iPods and Zens.

  6. Anon says:

    Got to thinking about mp3 players (which, you know, totally helps you with your problem…d’oh…sorry), and figured I’d outline my idea of the “perfect” mp3 player.

    – Uses a standard USB plugin, either using a USB cable to hook into it if it’s an external hard-drive type, or by being a USB key (no proprietary, funky cable BS…seriously, I lose the cable that came with my zen, or the special adapter, and I have to pop $50 to replace that crap instead of just popping $5 for a standard USB cable…suck)

    – When plugged into a machine, with whatever OS on it, the player should just get recognized as a USB Mass Storage device. mp3 players are nothing more that hard drives or storage devices with the added bonus of being able to play mp3’s. So, let me toss whatever the hell I want on my mp3 player without restriction, save for maybe having to use a specific folder for the mp3’s so the firmware knows where to look for mp3’s to play. Other than that, my mp3 players storage should be my sand box to do with as I please (toss 30gb of garbage files on, install Ubuntu on for a USB boot device, whatever…) Instead, mp3 players have firmware that only wants to play nice with certain OS’, or media players applications, or you have to install special software. Stupid. And Windows has an niche USB protocol called Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) which is supposed to make syncing up the device easier. Syncing up your music library should be your media player APPLICATION’s job. I don’t see why some special USB protocol has to get involved which makes accessing and using the mp3 player as a hard drive that much harder.

    – Instead of built in internal battery, uses AA or AAA batteries, so you can use rechargeable and replaceable batteries without having to pop $150 to get the internal one replaced when it eventually poops out. Likewise, as an alternate portable power source, they should make special battery packs that hook into the player through the USB connection. Either lithium-ion snap-on packs, which you can recharge for about 10 hours of use, then just swap out with another when the first is low, or like those “quick charge” (ni-cad?) batteries you can get for cell phones. Those things are sold as “disposable”, but actually they’re quick-charging (in like 30 min), and last for about a couple hours. It would increase a person’s power options immensely.

    – A very dumbed-down firmware, but one that still has the ability to
    – set up play-lists
    – modify id3 tags on the player (even if you have to use a slow, screen-oriented “keyboard” to type in your stuff)
    – point your player to different folders for mp3 to play, so folks who like to organize via folders instead of id3 tags can do such (EG: a play option to “play all in this folder”…which would be an alternate method to setting up an album)

    – However, the firmware should be easily “hackable” for advanced users…folks who want to do some programming or extensibility of their mp3. It’s just a hard-drive/storage space, with some RAM and a prorcessor chip and firmware/OS to organize it all….hand out some damn development IDE for it and let me program some shit for it! Seriously, the first mp3 player company that does this will become very popular, as suddenly their player will be able to do all sorts of cool new stuff because folks are programming shit for it. Some industrious folks have already done this with iPod’s, but they had to pull up chip specs, reverse-engineer firmware, etc, to figure out how it ticks so they could program stuff for it (pdf viewers, calendar programs, games like DOOM, etc). The company shouldn’t make it this hard for the community to add value to their product. It may not be a full-blown programming IDE or language, but at least provide some kind or proprietary scripting language that would allow advanced users to create new display styles, and maybe some useful stuff besides just eye-candy modifications.

    – If the player could just use a standard USB, make it where you can plug in a damn USB keyboard somehow so you can edit id3 tags and do other stuff on the player. Is it a portable computer? No. Is it a palm pilot? No. But they’re making some micro-flex keyboards these days out of silicon that can easily roll up, and take with you. When you have free time sipping coffee or waiting for your damn movie to start at the theatre (since you have to get there an hour before the showing to get a decent seat), you can pop out your micro keyboard (an optional accessory the mp3 player company could sell), plug it into your mp3 player, and organize your music library while you wait. This is apparently way too much to ask, even if it is one of the most logical ideas I ever heard.

  7. Adam says:

    Get to the nearest mac you can and format the IPOD hfs+ then use the ipod recovery option. P.S you can use macdrive on windows.

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