I finally got an iPod last month. It’s something of a fitting irony that as soon as I get one, no one talks about the iPod anymore and it’s all about the iPhone. Oh well, whatever.

I got the 80GB model because, other than just being an iPod, the most important thing to me was storage space. Of course, Apple does like every other vendor of hard drives and advertises it as 80GB but it’s only 80GB in base ten numbering, but every operating system worth its salt countd bytes in base two, so it winds up having a formatted capacity of 74GB. Which is fine, except that I still had too much music in MP3 form.

The first thing I did was to go through and properly tag my collection. I’ve always been pretty good about this but apparently not good enough. I got my Wife a red 8GB iPod Nano for her birthday back in April (it’s somewhat ironic that I’ve been whining about wanting an iPod for years now and first one I buy is not for me). In dealing with iTunes on her system, I learned several things. Namely, iTunes runs solely off of tag information for everything. That folder structure you’ve been maintaining for years now? That’s nice, but it doesn’t mean squat unless the stuff is tagged properly. That “folder.jpg” file you’ve kept in the folder for the album cover art? Doesn’t mean squat – iTunes goes off of what album art is embedded inside of the MP3 file. Also, you need to use the “Album Artist” field so that the one song on the album with a different artist (i.e., Snoop Dogg featuring Xhibit) still winds up in the same “album” with the rest of the entries. I had to re-adjust my practices a bit. Fortunately I found a program, MP3tag, which seems to do everything I need it to.

For my own technology-snobbish reasons, I actually went to the Apple Store in Plano to get the thing. The irony of passing many Costco, Best Buy, Circuit City, Fry’s and Wal-Mart stores that all sell iPods was not lost on me. I don’t really have any concrete reasons other than the fact that I figured, if you’re going to buy an Apple product, go to an Apple Store. Why not, right? I originally wanted a white model, but I had halfway convinced myself to get the black one. It did look a lot slicker in photographs but when I actually got to the store, where there are several tethered-by-a-steel-rope models to play with, the black ones were much dirtier, and the screens just didn’t look as good, even at maximum brightness. Plus, iPods are supposed to be white. So I went with white. I also picked up a good clear sturdy plastic case.

So once I got home I did one last pass on my MP3 collection with regards to proper tagging and then proceeded to back it up. It took 19 DVD-R’s to do so, and I had actually started the process a few days prior (making 19 Nero documents and then burning them later). Then, I went through and pruned the collection – I removed any artists I wasn’t really that interested in. I removed any albums that I didn’t think made sense on my iPod. For example, I cut out the Nirvana boxed set since it’s neat as a completionist’s entry, but not as something to actually listen to. I cut most of Prince’s albums because, well, most of it is crap – but I kept the greatest hits albums because he does do some great stuff now and again. I trimmed the collection down to about 63GB.

Then I fired up iTunes. Or rather, first I went and downloaded iTunes. It used to be that it was included on a disc with the iPod – now they literally just tell you to go download it. Not that it’s a big deal, just that with a $350 investment, a 20¢ disc is an odd way to cut costs. It also used to be that the most expensive iPod also included a dock, but now it just comes with the same cable as all the others – of course the most expensive iPod used to cost about $50 more, so I guess it evens out (since Apple’s Universal Dock is about $40).

So then I imported my music collection into iTunes. The main reason I did the DVD-R backup was because I’ve read a post or two where iTunes wiped out someone’s music collection this way. I had better luck as iTunes didn’t wipe me out and took about 30-45 minutes to import my collection.

Then I synced the iPod. I had actually been playing with it a bit while I was waiting for discs to burn and for iTunes to finish importing songs. I bought this thing on a Friday evening while my Wife was out running an event until 2 in the morning. I don’t remember when I started the syncing but basically it didn’t finish before I went to bed three hours later. By my estimates it took about four hours over USB2 to send all the music over. I didn’t get to actually check it out until the next morning.

So I hit eject. Only it didn’t work. iTunes told me that something else had a handle on the iPod. I just figured it couldn’t handle that much music being sent over at once. I resorted to disconnecting it anyway and doing a soft reset. It worked fine after that. I eventually figured out that Winamp has a default plugin now that is designed to “grab” an iPod when it’s plugged in, so as long as I don’t have Winamp running when I want to eject, I’m good.

There were still more quirks to overcome. The “Artists” menu was cluttered with every one-off artist from every soundtrack or various artists album I’ve ever owned. I eventually figured out the Compilation flag which keeps these artists out of the Artists list and in the Compilations list. Then I looked at the Artists menu and I saw “Adolph Hitler” – turns out I had missed the South Park Christmas Album.

I’ve also started to do some more proactive things to trim my collection down further – all the better to store new music and podcasts on. For example, I’ve removed any redundant songs from greatest hits compilations – you know, the ones where all the songs are old except for the two new ones? I’ve deleted all the previously released songs. I think without this, I would have Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” like 20 times on there. If I want to listen to a boxed set, I construct a playlist of the running order of the set – the old songs and the ones specific to the boxed set.

At present, I have about 14,000 songs on the iPod. I’m not sure if that includes the podcasts or not but anyway, I more recently went through and downsampled anything above 192kbps down to 192kbps. In the time since I initially loaded up the thing my collection grew to 70GB but now I have it back down to 65GB. Soon I’ll need to just suck it up and start removing stuff I don’t listen to in favor of things I do listen to. I actually downsampled everything to 128kbps and got things down to 52GB but everything just sounded too awful (though ironically I do have several 128kbps files that sound great) so I went and rolled back (after doing a second backup/restore onto DVD-R’s)

I always figured I would never use the iPod for video but for grins I fired up the trailer to The Simpsons Movie and dangit, I actually like the video capabilities of this thing. So I fired up a video converter and now I keep the ocassional DivX -> QuickTime movie on there. One of the first things my Wife did when I got her the Nano was to cash in some of her credit card reward points on a boom box that takes the iPod as input – so now we can use either of our iPods in that boom box and listen to our music on the go. The other thing we got her for her birthday was her family and I got her a new car stereo system to replace the dying one – this new one has an 1/8″ jack so she can listen to her Nano in the car. It also has an iPod-specific cable but at $50 for the cable and $30 to install it, we drew the line there.

I have a friend who hates the iPod. Actually, he hates Apple. He hates Apple with the passion of, well, the passion of how a Linux zealot hates Microsoft. I still haven’t told him yet that I own an iPod, mainly because I just don’t want to hear about it. My friend likely just hates Apple because they’re run by liberal turtleneck-wearing hippie Democrats in California. It does make me think about why I went with it. At one point in time you could make the argument that iPod was overpriced, and it still is expensive, but now they’re in-line with other players. The 30GB iPod and the 30GB Microsoft Zune cost the same. The Creative Zen tops out at 60GB and the Archos line of players is mainly about video, which like I said is secondary on my list of concerns. The Sandisk Sansa line is an up-and-comer, but they’re flash only and have nowhere near the capacity I need.

The iPod’s interface, features and marketing are tough to beat – to say nothing about the ecosystem of peripherals and accessories. Ironically, this is exactly the reasoning behind Windows’ dominance – you could switch to Linux or Macintosh but so many things – from games to scanners – can’t come with you. And if you think about it, it makes sense why the iPod is so popular. Apple makes computers and some people do buy them but so much of your content – that is, your programs, documents, games, etc. – can’t come along. The Macintosh is incompatible with most of your existing content (Boot Camp and virtualization notwithstanding). The iPod, however, by virtue of the fact that it can play MP3’s, is compatible with your existing content. This is why iPod has 75% of the MP3 player market, and Macintosh has 5% of the PC market.

Anywho, just thought I’d share.