July 21st, 2008

Her name is Rio...

I had a little scare yesterday.

I went to Fremont to run the levee, and when I was getting ready to start, I turned on my MP3 player and noticed the usual problem: nothing but silence in the left headphone. But the usual remedy usually resolves the usual problem, so I tried wiggling and jiggling the connector to see if I could get at least a little static, which typically eventually resolves into fully functional stereo sound.

Why am I so patient with an aging, slightly ailing MP3 player? Because it's extremely good for what I use it for. It was my first MP3 player, or "portable media player," I should probably say. A Rio Forge, a direct descendent (I believe) of the original MP3 player brought to market by Diamond Multimedia back in the late 90s. Before the iPods and everything else. The Rio Forge was designed for athletes and works beautifully for its intended purpose, with a durable design and included armband with clip. Plus, the controls are a breeze to use when 95% of your attention is going towards running. The catch, of course, is that the Rio line is no longer available.

My Rio has been my faithful companion on treadmills and mountain trail excursions ever since I got it for Christmas in 2004. It's been up and down Mission Peak and Mount Diablo more times than I can count. Unfortunately, being my media player is a really tough life, entailing constant and repeated exposure to sweat, sunscreen, sweat, trail dust, and sweat. Did I mention sweat?

So I'm pretty amazed that the Rio has held up as long as it has. The chrome plating on the buttons has begun to wear off, the screws securing the faceplate have turned to rust, and the leather strap holding the clip to the armband broke (which my mom [kyle_webb] was able to fix beautifully, seamstress extraordinaire that she is), but otherwise the Rio just keeps going. It started life with 256 MB of internal storage, but a cheap SD card bumped it to the 1.25-GB level, which is plenty for me. After all, only certain songs in my collection are suitable for exercise anyway.

But yesterday, despite all my efforts, I couldn't get even a hint of static in the left channel. I jiggled the connector, plugged and unplugged it, blew air violently into the headphone port, and even removed the battery in case the problem was some bizarre firmware bug. But, nothing. I eventually gave up and ran without music for the first time in a long time. At least I wasn't on the treadmill, so I had things to look at and a tangible goal in mind other than numbers on a cardio machine.

Well, today I wanted to explore this problem further before giving up on the Rio entirely. I was really unhappy with the idea of having to abandon it just because the left audio channel wasn't working, while the device was otherwise fine. I was prepared to even try taking it apart in case the connectors needed cleaning (and I have nothing to lose with a device this old), but for some reason, it's working fine now. Oh, but not before a bizarre series of diagnostic steps:

  1. I tried my usual headphones with the Rio again today to confirm the problem. Yep, still no left channel, just like yesterday.

  2. I tried the same headphones with another device but still had no left channel. "What? It's the headphones and not the Rio?" I was massively relieved at the idea that I needed only to replace my headphones...

  3. I tried another set of headphones with the Rio, and they worked fine! Yep, must have been the headphones.

  4. Oops! I realized I had plugged my potentially bad headphones into ancient computer speakers that also have left-channel problems. So instead, I plugged them into something else, and then they worked fine too. I was beginning to become horribly confused.

  5. So I tried the same usual headphones with the Rio again, and, well, the left channel worked...(!)


If, in fact, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, then not only am I insane, but I have also proven that insanity is a successful strategy. (In this case at least.) I have no idea why the thing is working now, but I'm not complaining, and I'm just hoping it holds up a while longer.


Now, it just so happens that I own two flash-based iPods. Both were gifts from previous employers, and I have never even removed them from their boxes. Accordingly, there have been those who have been unable to comprehend why I don't use them or sell them. It's simple: as long as I have them, I have backups for when my Rio finally does die (which is inevitably going to happen at some point). But ultimately, the Rio is a superior instrument for exercise, especially running; and there is absolutely no reason for me to abandon it in favor of flashier, trendier technology (requiring me to learn a new interface in the process) considering that I like it, it works, and it does the job.