iTunes SCHMiTunes continued (3)


During my intense and gripping investigations I heard this word podcast. Podcast……. What is a podcast?

WOW! Apple must have invented this brand new technology right?

Wrong, but you wouldn’t know it.

A Podcast is basically a radio show that is not broadcast over the radio waves, but instead is streamed over, or downloaded from, the Internet, but the beauty of the Podcast is that, unlike the vinyl album I mentioned previously, you don’t have to trudge all the way physically from your house to the shop to get it. You don’t even have to trudge virtually from your desk to the relevant website. The Podcast is delivered to you automatically once you subscribe to the RSS Feed.

RSS Feed?

Yes, the RSS Feed. Whenever there is a new show recorded, it is placed on the website and the RSS Feed is updated, then the show is delivered to you, or to be more precise to your RSS Reader.

The casual listener would assume that this is a new technology discovered by Apple themselves, after all, perhaps nowadays one of the most famous RSS readers is iTunes. Far from it, RSS feeds have been around since the early days of the internet and were originally used for things like news headlines, and still are of course. The only difference is that those ancient RSS feeds now have audio and video content within them.

Now because I’m down wiv da kidz I had to get in on this brand new phenomenon and after looking at some of the most popular Podcasts, I decided on a few that I would listen to. Now, this was pretty much the turning point, and the point at which owning a player other than an iPod would begin to become a problem for me. Not a problem so much as an inconvenience really, but there is a point at which the inconvenience becomes too much.

The thing is I would listen to Podcasts at home, in the car, on the toliet or on holiday, and I would download them and transfer them to my player using different computers and even different Operating Systems both at work and at home. However I was going to do this, it had to be convenient.

Yes, I did say on the toilet. Go figure.

Using the Creative, I was only able to transfer Podcasts using Windows as there is no other client application, so my Linux machine at home was out. I could use any Windows machine which meant installing the Creative transfer client on my home and work machines. Not great but not really a problem as it gave me the next best thing to Drag n Drop, i.e. I didn’t need to maintain a media library like iTunes does. If I wanted a file or an album on my player, I transferred it using the client and could delete it from my computer.

So how would I listen to the Podcasts? Well, when I was at home, walking around with headphones on was not convenient, so I needed a pair of speakers that would use the headphone socket on the player. After trying a £3 pair with no built in amplifier, I bought a set of these which did have an amplifier in and were plenty loud enough, but of course that amplifier needed powering somehow. The speakers didn’t come with a mains adaptor but did come with a USB adaptor that could power them, yet I failed to see the sense in that. If I could plug them into a USB slot, why not just listen to the podcast on the PC instead?

Battery power was more convenient in that respect, but the damn things would always seem to run out when it was least convenient, plus you had the added consideration of ensuring that the player itself had enough battery life in it. Maintaining battery life in 2 devices is double the trouble and we’re going for convenience here.

In the car an easy solution would have been a line in socket on my car radio but I didn’t have one of those, so I had to buy one of these instead. It plugs into the headphone jack on the player, and transmits the sound using an FM signal on 1 of 4 preset frequencies which you then tune your car radio into and the sound comes through your car’s speaker system. The problem with this solution was two fold in that I drive into Manchester every day which has lots of local radio stations, some of which occupy the same frequencies that my transmitter used so every so often my player would get drowned out. You can buy models with a fully adjustable frequency range rather than 4 presets like these, but once again our old friend battery life raises its ugly head. Again you are maintaining batteries in 2 devices which again is inconvenient. It may not sound too inconvenient, but I was doing this every day, and it became a bind. An annoyance I could well do without, and that wasn’t the half of it.

I was forced into several steps in order to get this radical new content onto my Creative player and organized how I wanted it. You see I wanted all the podcasts together rather than searching through the long list of artists and albums for each show while I was driving, so I wanted them all to show up as being by the artist Podcast and on the Album Podcast, and that meant me following 3 steps which consisted of;

(1) downloading the podcast
(2) changing the id3 tags
(3) copying the podcast to my player.

Whoa! id3tag?

Yep, there’s another new term. Basically an id3tag is information contained within a music file which gives us metadata about it such as the Artist, Album, Year, Genre etc. Most modern players organize music using these tags rather than the actual filenames.

So, Step 1 was easy while I only listened to a couple of Podcasts a week, I could virtually trudge all the way down to the website and manually download them, but once I started to listen to half a dozen or so, this became far too laborious and I had to find an RSS reader that would do it for me. The one I settled on was called Juice. I still use it today for some things and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in such a program.

It was so simple, run Juice, add an RSS feed and it would go out and pull down a complete episode listing for you. If you wished it would download them all or just the ones you selected. Once subscribed to a feed, just run the program and it does the rest, downloading the Podcasts to a folder within My Documents.

Once that was taken care of I had to change the id3tags so that the artist and album for each was Podcast, or I actually used ZPodcast so they would be right at the bottom of the list and if I searched upwards, they would be the first artist/album I found. To do that I used a simple and free program called Tagedit.

Step 3 was easy and was just a case of using the creative client as normal.

While the software and editing issues weren’t major, the daily problems of batteries and portability and losing FM signals got to be an annoyance, and in the end it was just so much easier to bite the bullet and buy an iPod. At home I could either play it through speakers or one of these, and conveniently, if I plugged it in at the same time it would charge my iPod erradicating the battery problem. With a standard usb lead it would also allow me to connect it to a PC without the bespoke iPod lead.

In the car I could play it through one of these, which is an FM transmitter with an adjustable FM signal, and conveniently it takes its power from the iPod, so there is no need to worry about charging it. What could be simpler?

Well, finding a piece of software I preferred to Itunes, that’s what.

Tune into the next gripping installment to find out about iTunes and it’s alternatives. Just don’t tell Apple about it.

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