Sync Is Something Else

Being one of those fools with more MP3s than will fit on any iPod ever made, I’ve never used iPod/iTunes in sync mode – I’ve been more than content to drag tracks and playlists in manually, remove them when ready to move on. Listening to podcasts changed that dynamic. Unlike music, podcasts aren’t something you want to keep around — listen once or twice and discard.

But suddenly there was a need to manually update my “Podcast” playlist on a near-daily basis, which meant a several-step process: Delete tracks from the iTunes playlist (and from the Library, via the Delete Selected Tracks AppleScript), ditto on the iPod. Populate the iTunes list manually, drag its contents over… the process was seriously harshing my mellow. The patient’s passages needed to be unobstructed by food particles and other debris; there had to be a free flow from RSS reader to iTunes to iPod, effortless. Discovering that NetNewsWire 2.0 could be made to automatically add enclosures to a specific playlist in iTunes partially mitigated the hassle, but still required deleting old content before downloading so that old and new didn’t get all mixed up.

Then I discovered what most iPod users have probably known all along – when an iPod is plugged in and you access iTunes’ preferences, you can tell it to just synchronize certain lists. Keen. But when I did that for the Podcast list and sync’d, was amazed to see that the rest of the content on the iPod had been wiped. Not only that, but the contents of the iPod were grayed out in iTunes. Allowing sync to take over meant that everything from now on was going to have to be sync’d – no more manual updates. Which meant that if I also wanted music, I’d have to create new playlists for the purpose and tell them to sync as well.

Funny – this is how the iPod was “meant” to be used, but in almost three years I had never seen iPod sync in action. Not sure I like it, but it’s workable. Can’t help but think there’s got to be a better way. I’d prefer to stay in manual mode, but be allowed to designate specific lists as sync-able.

And now the plot is thickening. Some sites are taking such a huge bandwidth hit from podcast downloads that they’re turning to the distributed model of BitTorrent. That makes good sense, but to keep the flow intact, RSS readers that handle attachments will need to gain the ability to handle BitTorrent files, or pass the job over to the BitTorrent client, then move the decompressed archive back over to iTunes. Small pieces loosely joined, sure, but someone’s got to do the joining. Meanwhile, I’ve stopped listening to Slashdot news and a few others.

While we’re talking smooth integration, someone’s got to solve the problem of sites like philosophytalk, which only cast in Real or other proprietary formats.

Bonus horror: Downloading some fresh casts tonight, when the iPod totally locked up (as Dorothy Parker famously uttered, “What fresh hell is this?”). Then I realized that iTunes, NetNewsWire, and the Finder had all locked up as well, a tangle that ultimately turned into a forced reboot. FireWire bus problems are pretty much an uptime kill on any platform, but damn, that was egregious.

Update: I don’t think the problem was the FireWire bus after all. Something deeper happened, probably on the motherboard. This morning there’s a thin blue line running vertically down the left side of the screen, about 2″ from the left bezel. A reboot didn’t make it go away. Looks like it may be time for this one to go to the shop.

Music: The Magnetic Fields :: The Things We Did

11 Replies to “Sync Is Something Else”

  1. Not only that, but if you connect your iPod to both Macs and PCs, syncing is not advised… this can really screw up your iPod, for some reason.

  2. Good tip Michael – I’ll give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I would always want it to delete tracks that have been played through once – a lot of these IT Conversations casts are good enough to hear twice. Hopefully that would be a user option.

  3. Do you have an iSight? I believe that under Panther if you have an iSight and an iPod plugged in at the same time, sync operations can cause the Mac to appear to freeze. Not sure if that was fixed in Tiger or not, but I think it was because I haven’t seen the problem since I upgraded.

    Also, the really cool stuff starts when you tell iTunes to sync a SMART playlist to your iPod. That opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

  4. Jeff, nope – no iSight. Although I do keep multiple FW drives plugged in simultaneously (but I’ve done that for years without incident – the FireWire bus can theoretically support up to 127 devices daisy-chained).

  5. I basically have my ipod divided into playlists rather than one big library. Most playlists are “genre” and do not change… Alternative, Classical, etc. All of the lists are set to sync and contain all of the songs of that variety that I have stored in itunes — or at least those that I want to listen to. The only playlist I ever change is one called “current” which I edit on itunes with the songs I want to hear – say – for when I go workout. All (most) of the songs are already on the ipod so there is little transfer other than the list itself when the ipod syncs. I imagine if I was in to podcasts, I would just add that additional list to sync. I do not, however, have enough music to completely fill my ipod though so I don’t have the problem of having to swap songs in and out. BTW, I fully expected some kind of posts with Tiger thoughts. Is that forthcoming?

  6. Sean, I should have a copy of Tiger pretty soon, but I’m kind of content to wait for something .01 — tired of the bleeding edge. I’ll let the geeks work out the kinks (and I hear there are plenty). Plus there was SO much to read in the blogosphere (using that work for your benefit :), I’m not sure how much I’ll have to add, and it certainly won’t be timely by the time I do.

  7. Actually Scot, Jeff might be onto something with Smart Playlists… Do you using the rating system at all within iTunes/iPod?

    Keeping in mind that I’m thinking out loud here, but if not, you could use the rating scheme to decide whether to drop or keep the podcast. Basically, create a Smart Playlist that will, say, include all items rated 1 star. Create another that includes all 2 star ratings. Set your iPod to synchronize the 2-star Playlist (and any other music ones you’ve created). Then rate the podcasts you haven’t listened to as 2 stars. Once you’re ready to get them off the iPod, change their rating on the iPod to 1 star. The next time you sync, they’ll automatically be deleted from the iPod and then you manually delete them from iTunes.

  8. My problem is that my music collection seems to always grow at the same rate as the ipod capacities do… The biggest iPod you can get now is 60GB, but my music collection is 80GB + 5G content. So sync is never very practical for me…

  9. I actually do have 1- and 2-star smart playlists already, which I use for batch-pruning. While listening, if I come across a track I don’t care to keep, I’ll give it a low rating. Then a few times a year I do a sort by star rating and batch-delete hundreds or thousands of tracks at once (it may seem like I’m a pack-rat, but I actually have no interest in having a “complete” collection of anything – I just want good music, period).

    Anyway, good suggestion on using Smart Playlists for simpler iPod sync’ing, though I’m already starting to get used to the current system — just maintaining a few additional playlists dedicated to the iPod. It’s not bad once you re-orient your thinking.

    Also, rating podcasts after playing them really isn’t any easier than deleting them.

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