Hudson's Ipod Secrets (From December Prime)

So you finally broke down and purchased an Ipod. Or maybe that little wrapped box under the tree turned out to be one of these wonderful Apple products. Either way, you are now the proud owner of what is arguably the most innovative consumer product to come out since the home computer.
You’re bound to be a little overwhelmed when you first open the package. How does this thing work? How do I make the most of the Ipod’s features? That’s where I come in. I’m here to point out some things that you won’t find in that little instruction manual that was included in the packaging. In fact, much of what I say in the following paragraphs would never get a nod of approval from the fine folks at Apple. I guarantee, though, that at least one of my tips will be useful to any Ipod owner.
Initially, you must follow Apple’s instructions. Download Itunes and connect your Ipod to the computer to initialize and register your player.
Here’s where I first break from Apple’s preferences. The company recommends that you set your player to be “in synch” with Itunes. In other words, whatever is stored on your player is also kept on your computer. That’s pretty unrealistic if you have any of the models with a large capacity, or if your family owns more than one player. In my home, my son owns a 40 gig model, while I own both a 40 and 60 gig. There’s no way, even with two computers, that we can store that much material.
One of the reasons Apple makes this recommendation is for backup purposes. Electronic devices eventually break down, and storing your tracks on both your computer and Ipod is a bit of a safeguard. As I recently discovered, however, there’s no guarantee that a recovered computer or Ipod will once again synch together. That’s also why I don’t understand those who sell off their CD libraries after they’re loaded onto their Ipod, or who no longer purchase CD’s. I still have a desire for the “hard” copy, and rarely purchase music from Itunes.
To go “out of synch”, you simply have to click the “manually manage music and videos” option on the summary page that opens up when you connect your Ipod. While you’re at it, also click on the “automatically download album artwork” option in the preferences section (more on that later). One other advantage to not being “in synch” is that you’re no longer tied to one computer. You can hook your Ipod up to up to five different computers, which is really handy if you want to add some of your friend’s albums or have a few spare minutes at the office to add some new stuff.
You’ll also need to purchase some accessories. I can’t recommend highly enough that you’ll need some sort of protective sleeve or carrier. Ipods are extremely fragile, much more so than a cell phone, and it’s inevitable that you’ll drop it at some point. Other accessories include speaker systems, carrying cases, and even alarm clocks. My only real recommendation is to not be afraid to spend a little extra cash for a car adaptor. There are a lot of cheap products out there that have no business being in the stores. I went through four different adaptors before finding one that worked to my satisfaction.
Let’s go back to Itunes. It’s now time to load some music. This couldn’t be easier. You pop a CD into your disc drive and click “import” (or answer yes to a prompt). The majority of the time Itunes will figure out what disc you’re importing, and will supply the needed information to each track.
There are times, though, that Itunes’ database doesn’t appear to contain your disc. You’ll then have to do this yourself. Before you begin this tedious process, though, go to the advanced tab and select “Get CD Track Names”. Quite often, the info will come through on this second shot.
If you are forced to provide the info, you’ll quickly learn that the “shift/click” is your best friend. In other words, click on the first track and then shift/click the last. The entire album should be now highlighted. Right-click and select “Get Info”. You’ll then be able to type in various attributes (album title, artist, etc.) and it will apply this info to the entire disc. All you’ll need to do after this is type in the individual song titles.
If Itunes does recognize your disc and you’ve selected the “download album artwork” option, the album cover should pop up whenever you play a track from that album (if you have one of the newer models). Itunes is not perfect in this area, however. If by chance the artwork isn’t downloaded, or you’ve had to manually type in the album and track info, just go to amazon.com and copy and paste the artwork in the appropriate section after once again right-clicking “get info”.
After you’ve loaded a few discs into your computer, you’ll need to transfer them to your Ipod (if you have selected to not be “in synch”). I have found that the easiest way to do this is to go to the “recently added” playlist on the left hand side of Itunes, do a “select all” (or “shift/click” the desired tracks), and drag the highlighted tracks onto the icon of your player. Depending on how many tracks you have to load, this may take a few minutes. After they’re loaded, you’re free to delete these albums from your hard drive.
Speaking of playlists, one of the handiest features of Itunes is called a “smart playlist”. A normal playlist is pretty obvious. You create your own greatest hits collections of your favorite artists or party mixes of favorite songs.
A smart playlist, though, allows Itunes to use parameters that you select to group tracks, artists, genres, and seemingly dozens of other options into a collection that can be automatically updated.
In my case, I quickly discovered that while I was continuing to purchase just as much (if not more) music, these new tunes were rarely being heard as I normally listen to my Ipod in “shuffle” mode. The odds of hearing a new song or two is mathematically almost impossible when your player holds 10,000 songs. I created an automatically updating smart playlist unimaginatively titled “New Releases” that contains nothing but the tracks that I’ve added to the player in the last 15 days. On a similar note, when I recently held a party for old college buddies, I put together a smart playlist that featured nothing but alternative music released between 1981-1985.
Let’s move on to what will ultimately be the most controversial section of this piece. Most of the newer, large-capacity Ipods allow you to play videos. Apple would love for you to purchase all of your video material from their Itunes site. I personally have a hard time spending money for something that I will ultimately purchase on DVD in the future, particularly to watch once or twice on the Ipod’s tiny screen. I think of my Ipod as a portable DVR, and download shows that I initially missed or want to show my friends. They’re generally deleted within a week.
I’m not going out on a limb when I say you can find almost any television show somewhere on the internet. Many fan sites host recent episodes, and there are tons of “torrent” sites. I recommend tvtorrents.com, or torrentspy.com.
Torrents may be the most exciting method of downloading invented in recent years. While the speed of conventional downloads decreases as more people aspire to own the same file, torrents actually depend on a high number of downloaders. This occurs because you’re sharing the “bits” you’ve already downloaded as you’re gaining more and more bits from others. These bits are collected together to create the actual file.
Here’s two important pieces of advice to torrent “newbies”. When you click on a torrent, you’re actually just downloading a small file that partitions space on your hard drive for the actual video (or audio) material. You have not yet actually downloaded this material although it appears to be on your computer. Clicking on the torrent file (and using a torrent program such as Azureus) will begin the actual downloading process.
It’s also torrent etiquette to “share” at least as much as you download. Many sites will boot you off their system if your “share ratio” is below 1.00. To avoid this problem, keep the torrent open for a few hours after your download is completed.
Since a good percentage of available video files are not in the Quick Time format, you’ll also probably have to convert the files to play on your Ipod. There’s a ton of converter programs available that will not only convert these files but any DVD’s that you wish to load on your Ipod. Most of these are extremely easy to use, and after converting you just have to import it into Itunes and drag it onto your Ipod icon, just like you do with music files.
While most of these tips may sound a bit intimidating, there’s nothing stated above that can’t be accomplished by even the most casual computer user. The good news is that any mistake is correctable. Does that video not work correctly on your Ipod? Just delete it. Did that smart playlist pick out tracks that you have no desire to hear? Create a new one. Whatever headaches you may encounter is more than made up by the fact that you can now carry in your pocket a library of music ten times larger than the playlists of all the local radio stations combined. You are now your own program director of your own personal radio station. What could be better?

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