Monday, January 15, 2007

Latest Projects

I've had a lot of fun lately with my first gen iPod Shuffle. It's a mere 512 megs, huge by the standards of 5 years ago, but low-end compared to the competing devices of 2007. Even though there are shinier, more powerful gadgets out there, the Shuffle does well for me.

It all started, oddly, when I bought my new car, a Saturn Vue. The Vue came with a free month of XM radio, which I did not renew, but is magically still working more than 2 months later, which I imagine they will try to bill me for. After browsing around through stations, I found XMPR in the talk radio block of stations, which is basically NPR for XM. So far I have been spared pledge drives.

Leaving for work at 6 in the morning, I found a great show on XMPR, "This American Life". The show is basically long interviews with people on a variety of topics, grouped into shows on the same theme. It was contemplative, reflective, funny, and moving, and I loved it. I loved it so much, I wanted to be able to regularly hear an entire episode, so I searched for their podcast on I found "This American Life", as well as "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me", "Science Friday", "Pop Culture", and "World Cafe: Next" podcasts, and set about configuring a Linux app, Rhythmbox, to subscribe to and download as much of them as I could.

Why not just use iTunes on the Mac? Two reasons. First, it's Stacey's Mac, and I moved it into her room after her last birthday. Second, being in front of iTunes makes it too tempting to spend money on music or shows I may or may not listen to. No, a Linux replacement solution, free of charge and free from temptation was called for.

I bought my Shuffle in 2005, when they first came out. I used it excessively at first, mainly when working out, and imported most of my CD collection into iTunes. I tried an FM transmitter device to hear my music through the car stereo, but had poor luck with it, and poor luck again with a different brand, so I gave up. Over time, my excitement about the Shuffle abated, and it fell into disuse. Until recently.

As it turns out, the radio in my Vue has a standard mini input jack. I was able to take a mini-to-mini cable from my computer speakers, and use it to connect the Shuffle directly to the car stereo. A little tinkering around with output levels, and I was able to get pretty good sound.

At that point, I had a working podcast snagger for Linux, and a working Shuffle-to-car-speakers interface, leaving only a way to get the NPR shows onto the Shuffle using Linux. That problem has been solved 10 times over, which a quick web search told me. I downloaded a small Python script to update the iPod's database files, and found I could mount the Shuffle as a USB drive, copy mp3 files to it, run the Python script, and be in business.

And in business I am, and have been happily listening to podcasts and some ripped CDs in the car and on walks for the past couple weeks. I haven't taken on any geeky side-projects for a long time, having come close a few times to swearing off technology. This project had a clear goal, didn't require much time (no coding, just web searches), and as a side benefit improves the health of me and my dog. Not only do I spend more time doing laundry and dishes while listening to the iPod, but I take more walks, at work for lunch, and at home with Heidi.

Not much other news to report. I discovered another standard suburban tradition that was under my nose for years, but I never noticed: holiday gifts for teachers, troop leaders, coaches, et al. So now I'm guiltily trying to catch up on some gifts for the major adult players in Stacey's life. For the music teacher, I have a DVD burned of the latest Christmas concert -- that was a no brainer, really, as I had already made one for family when I went down to NC this Christmas. I came up with a suitable gift idea for Stacey's Girl Scouts troop leader to spring on her when it's my turn to bring snacks for the girls, but that will deserve its own write-up later. (You don't read my blog, do you Cheri?)

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