Gadgets, Personal, Technology

I am now a technology lemming

May 29th, 2007 by Jeff | Dump Core

Last week was my birthday. I usually try to keep very quiet about it, and I don’t go advertising it on the GPF site as a way to drum up artificial congratulations from fans. I know it’s always annoyed me when other webcartoonists do that, expecting their readers to all sing in chorus and make them feel self important, so I expect it annoys others as well. Such cults of personality extend into the blogosphere and other similar user-generated realms, of course, but I know I saw it in the webcomicing world long before the term “blog” came into being. But I digress. I don’t do GPF to have tons of people become my personal cheerleaders and gush on and on about how much they think of me and my work; I do it for myself first and foremost, and it’s an added bonus if one or two (or several tens of thousands) of you enjoy it as well. It did kind of surprise me that nobody on the forum mentioned anything, given I know there are a few of you out there who are obsessive enough to keep track of such things, but I’d much rather have a low-key quiet birthday anyway.

And it was a nice birthday. It started off kind of lackluster, as I had a doctor’s appointment to have some blood work done and had to fast (only black coffee… no cream or sugar… blech), followed by Ben’s nine month checkup (which went very well). We ended up throwing a third doctor’s visit into the mix, as Randi the Wonder Kitty was throwing up (more than usual) and suffering from diarrhea (as if cat feces wasn’t unpleasant enough already). Still, she turned out to be doing just fine, and whatever was bothering her seemed to pass pretty quickly. After that, my wife took me out to finally see Spider-Man 3 (which I’ll agree with most critics that it wasn’t as good as the previous two) and have a nice dinner by ourselves. I received some nice gifts from all my family and nobody made a particularly big fuss about it, which is exactly what I wanted.

But I will tell you about the most interesting gift I received, which was “from” Ben. (Yes, I’m realistic know that a nine-month-old baby probably would have had extreme difficulty picking out and purchasing such an item over the Internet by himself, so I know he had help from Mommy.) I have finally plunged off the technological cliff with the rest of the lemmings and am now a proud owner of an iPod.

For some reason, I seem to resist some trends, even when they’re obviously techie. It was years after cell phones became hip and commonplace that I finally caved and signed up for one, and even now my current phone (my second) is rather spartan and utilitarian. No music or video, no Web access, not even a camera; it makes phone calls and that’s about it. The most useful secondary features it has are the contacts list (which is a watered down version of what’s in my LifeDrive) and the tip calculator (which is usually handier to get to than the one in the Palm). I had no immediate interest in MP3 players initially, preferring the permanence of CDs. Even once I started using PocketTunes on the LD, I have never purchased music online; I always ripped my existing CDs and encoded them myself. In fact, with the LD’s built-in 4GB drive plus any number of Secure Digital cards, I never felt the need for a dedicated MP3 player.

However, I now have some nice discounts with Apple through my current job, so I’ve toyed with the idea of adding some Apple products to our technology collection. While I’ve used my share of Apple ][s and Macs over the years (boy, does that first item date me), I’ve never owned an Apple product. I’ve eyed a MacBook a few times to make our little home network truly operating system agnostic. Still, I’m cheap and lazy, which does not make for a good combination for impulsive spending. I waffled back and forth in a similar fashion about purchasing a PDA before my wife broke down and bought my first Palm (a IIIc), and I’m now on my third. Sometimes it takes a good solid shove to get me moving in a give direction, and my wife is pretty good at that. 😉

So now I’m the owner of a sleek, black, “fifth generation” 30GB iPod. (I understand the “video” part of the name was dropped at some point.) I’ve got to admit, this thing is pretty slick. There are some very good reasons why these things dominate the portable media market. I had always heard the interface was intuitive, but I didn’t realize it was so ridiculously easy to use. I barely even looked at the instruction card (it’s hard to call it a manual, when there’s only a few fold out pages and very little actual information). I was using it almost right out of the box with no tutorials. It did take a day or two of on-again, off-again syncing to copy all my media onto it, but that was relatively easy to do. It imported my previously ripped CDs without (much of) a hitch and ripped the rest (new CDs I received for my birthday plus a few I never bothered to copy before) very quickly. I re-encoded some of my home videos of Ben into a compatible format and they look awesome on that tiny screen. It took a bit to figure out the podcast subscription setup, but once I got it down I was able to add the few podcasts I listen to with relative ease. The jury is still out on battery life as I haven’t been able to listen to it too extensively yet, but it does seem to be holding up better than the LD for extended listening.

Some of the few caveats I’ve encountered, which are mostly personal irks than anything else and actually have little to do with the device itself:

  • Charging takes place through a USB port. What the…? Who came up with that bright idea? Okay, yes, it can be a bit unwieldy lugging both a sync and charging cable around like I have to do with the LD, but I know there’s been plenty of times I’ve had to charge the LD away from my laptop (or any computer for that matter). I’ve also set up iTunes in a rather custom way so that Apollo the ThinkPad runs the program but the actual files are stored on a shared drive off of Diana, our ThinkCentre desktop. (Diana has much, much more disk space.) What happens if I need to charge the iPod while I’m in San Diego in August, and Apollo can’t access Diana’s share drive? Will iTunes barf? Will my files on the iPod be lost, since my library can’t be found? I don’t know yet, and I’m dreading finding out. Fortunately, I used my sister’s gift (a Best Buy gift card) plus some extra cash to get an outlet adapter so I can charge the iPod without a USB port. Why that doesn’t come standard seems completely idiotic to me. (I suspect it’s just another way for Apple (and it’s army of third-party accessory makers) to get more money.)
  • iTunes, at least for me, is a hog. I don’t know if it’s my setup (program on one machine, files on another) or just that Apple has trouble writing for other OSes than Mac OS, but iTunes seems to lock up or get really sluggish sometimes. I mean, it worked fairly well at ripping and organizing files internally and it did really well at ripping things, but it’s annoying as can be when I’m actually trying to sign up for an iTunes Store account and it goes off into lah-lah land for five to ten minutes while I’m trying to enter a credit card number. (And why do I need to put a credit card on file when all I’ve done so far is download a free game demo? C’mon, Apple. I’d feel much safer if you asked me to enter it on each purchase, rather than trusting you to keep it on file. Yeah, it’s more work for me, but I work in the computer industry and I know how sloppy computer security can be.)
  • The iTunes help file is pretty useless. On the few times I’ve had to look something up, it’s taken forever for find it in the help file or I’ve never found it and had to figure it out myself. Other forms of help are only available online. I understand that iTunes works as a largely online application with the whole integrated store, but what if I’m just charging/syncing without a wireless connection and I run into trouble? How is the Apple website going to help me then?
  • Minor personal irk: iTunes by default organizes files by artist, then album, and there’s no apparent way to change this. Yes, I found out too late that you can organize your files manually yourself, but I only found that setting after iTunes completely reshuffled my files every which way. While I’m sure artist-to-album makes sense for certain setups, it really trashes compilation albums. I ripped one Dr. Demento collection and ended up with dozens of artist folders, some with only a single song file in them. Now without iTunes it’s impossible to find everything associated with that album again, which makes me wonder just how stable iTunes really is. The same thing happened with my Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack, which put all the instrumental pieces under Danny Elfman but each song under the person singing the solos.

Now that I’ve vented, I thought I’d share a little humorous bit I thought up. Shortly after I had toyed with the iPod a while, an imaginary conversation popped into my head about what the LifeDrive and iPod would say to each other on their first meeting:

LifeDrive: So… you’re the new guy, huh?

iPod: Yep! Hi, I’m an iPod! And you are…?

LD: A Palm LifeDrive.

iP: A… what?

LD: A LifeDrive. From Palm. You know, they make PDAs.

iP: Oh… one of the “old guard.” Gotcha.

LD: “Old guard?” What’s that supposed to mean?

iP: Heh… ah, c’mon. A PDA? Who uses those anymore? I mean, with cell phones doing all that PIM stuff…

LD: And playing MP3s…

[Uncomfortable silence]

LD: So… you play music. What else can you do?

iP: Oh, I can do much more than that! I do podcasts as well. That is, after all, where podcasts got their name.

LD: Jeff used me to listen to his music and podcasts all the time.

iP: I can do video too!

LD: Got about a hundred megs of baby videos right here on this SD card. And I saw the files he converted for you. They’re several megs bigger than the files he encoded for me.

iP: I can also play games!

LD: Been there, done that, bought the leather case with a belt clip. What else you got, kid?

iP: Uh…

LD: Got BlueTooth?

iP: Not… built-in…

LD: Wi-Fi?

iP: N…no…

LD: Voice recorder?

iP: As an $80 add-on accessory…

LD: Copious amounts of storage space?

iP: HA! Got you there, old man! 30GB right here. How much do you have?

LD: Er… built-in? Only 4GB.

iP: AH HA!

LD: But with SD expansion cards I have virtually limitless capacity!

iP: And just how many cards do you have?

LD: Well… um… if you add them all up…?

iP: Yeeeessssss…?

LD: Um… there’s the ones here in my case… add in these old ones in the briefcase… maybe count the ones with the old Tungsten C… so… approximately 3.84375 GB?

iP: Approximately?

LD: Well, some are less than a gig. And if you include the built-in hard drive, that brings me up to 7.84375 GB. But then, realistically, you have to subtract the drive space used for “memory” and that brings it down to…

iP: Never mind. I’m sorry I asked.

[More uncomfortable silence.]

iP: Well… at least you’re not a Windows Mobile device.

LD: Of course not. I’m from Palm. Although some might say my OS is becoming outdated, at least it’s not a watered down version of a piece of desktop bloatware. The only reason those guys have so much more memory and processing power is because they need it just to make the darn OS run. And I won’t even associate with those Treo 700w’s and 750’s. Traitors.

iP: Amen to that.

LD: Why do you say that? You got something against Microsoft?

iP: Well, duh. I’m from Apple.

LD: OH…. That… that says a lot right there.

iP: Yup.

[Still more uncomfortable silence.]

iP: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

LD: Just keep your ear buds to yourself, kid, and you’ll get along here fine. Just wait ’til you meet Cell. He’s… special. If his antenna falls off, try not to notice.

iP: Um… right.

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