What I want from a portable audio device

It’s kind of annoying when the market comes close but doesn’t quite give you what you want.

I want an MP3 player that I can listen to podcasts on. Poking around in forums and reviews for suggestions on what might be suitable, it seems that the typical response is “Podcasts are just MP3s aren’t they? Anything can play those!” Which is true, but kind of unhelpful.

MP3 players on the market present a user experience for people who want to listen to music. Listening to music is a subtly different thing. You organize by artist and album, for one. You want really good sound quality and features like gapless playback. You make playlists so you can listen to different types of music for different types of activities or moods. All these things that are great for music are either useless for listening to podcasts or they actively get in the way.

I want

* to be able to find podcasts easily so I can pick what I’m listening to.
* my player to keep track of whether I’ve listened to something.

The biggest problem for me, I think, is that the iPod actually does a very good job of both those things. Aside from maybe the Zune (I haven’t tried), it seems to be the only player out there that does. My problem is I want all of that, but I don’t particularly want all the other nonsense that comes along with using an iPod. Namely iTunes.

There’s extra stuff that iPods don’t give me. I *also* want

* to be able to play Ogg/Vorbis files.
* to have an expansion slot for more storage.
* to be able to swap out the battery.
* a player that syncs up podcasts over WiFi. Or maybe bluetooth.
* my player to similarly handle other audio files that are kind of like podcasts but didn’t originate from RSS feeds.
* a non-proprietary USB cable.
* my player to work nicely on Ubuntu.

So I’m pretty much screwed. Some things come close. iPods come close, sadly. I never had a chance to try syncing mine up on Linux to see how that worked (there are tools to do it). I’d lose Ogg, the battery, the expansion and syncing over wifi (the iPod touch has wifi, but you can’t download podcasts that way. And it’s obscenely expensive). But I’m going to have to make some sort of compromise anyway.

The Zune does wifi podcast downloads. Maybe it has a decent interface for them. It will never, ever be able to get it to work on Linux. And I’m not buying the damn thing if it means [giving money to Universal Music Group](http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061109-8187.html). That’s a deal breaker. I’m never going to use this thing for music. Especially Universal’s music. They can just fuck off.

Other players look good, but compromise the basic podcast stuff. The iRiver clix2, the Creative Zen, the Cowon D2… If I can find a player that actually runs [rockbox](http://www.rockbox.org/), while the interface isn’t so great, it’s open source. So maybe I can *make* what I want.

In the interest of science, I think I might pick up a few different players to try them. I’ve decided that this is actually important enough for me that I don’t mind wasting investing some extra money in it.

RCA Lyra 1020

My sister got a new iPod for Christmas, so she didn’t need her old MP3 player anymore. She gave it to me. She was having trouble getting music to work on it anyway. She couldn’t tell me why, but I can usually figure these things out.

[The RCA Lyra RD1020] It was an RCA Lyra 1020, vintage 2002 or so. The nice thing about it is, even though it’s only got 128MB of flash storage, it takes SD cards, and SD cards are dirt cheap. I’ve got a 2GB one lying around the house I’m not doing much with. I have no problem picking up more.

It’s a mass storage device too. I just have to plug it into a computer and drag files onto it. Supposedly it came with an old version of MusicMatch Jukebox, (now known as Yahoo! Music Jukebox), but I didn’t care about that. For one thing, I’m running Linux. For another, I’m not downloading anybody’s POS music management software just because they tell me to. Ever. I’ve tolerated iTunes with the iPod because it works rather well for podcasts. That doesn’t mean I ever liked it.

Anyway, as I said, this thing looked like it would be really great to use in lieu of my lost iPod, since I could plug it into Linux with a standard MP3 cable, or copy MP3 files directly onto an SD card and play them on this little device. Handy!

Except, of course, it wasn’t that easy.

You see, this is an MP3 player that doesn’t actually play MP3 files. It plays “.mpy” files. I don’t even know what an .mpy file is. The MusicMatch software it originally came with had a conversion plug-in so you could transcode MP3 files before uploading them. Apparently this was some lame-ass attempt to keep people from transferring MP3s between computers with this device. You know, because apparently it’s hardware manufacturers’ responsibility to make piracy difficult by making their hardware as inexplicably crippled as possible.

And I’m guessing that’s why my sister had a hard time getting this thing to play music. She got a new computer last year, and I guess she never thought to dust off the old CD she got with the Lyra and use it to copy music over. Which makes sense to me, since it’s so much easier to just drag and drop.

If this little bit of technological garbage has any saving grace at all, it is that it plays WMA files unmolested. However, I have no use for WMA files and I’d rather not have to go to the hassle of coming up with some way of converting podcasts before copying them over. So this little piece of crap is probably going to collect dust in a box somewhere until I get around to throwing it out.

The case of the missing iPod

I lost my iPod.

This week was strange. Between appointments and other errands, I don’t think I actually walked to work all week. That’s the first time I’ve driven that much in a long time. I know I walked to the university on Sunday for gaming, and I had my iPod then. That’s the last time I’m sure I had it. I have this vague feeling I might have walked to work this week, but looking back, I don’t think I did. This is significant, because if I walked, I would have listened to podcasts.

Monday I had a cranial sacral appointment, so I drove. Or maybe I walked in the morning and came home to pick up the car at lunch. Tuesday I was supposed to meet someone for supper. I *might* have walked, but I’m not sure. Wednesday I had an chiropractic appointment in the morning and an appointment to get my car battery replaced at night, so I drove. Thursday I stayed home in the morning to make chicken soup and drove in for the afternoon. Friday I was going to walk but spent a half-hour looking for my iPod, so I decided to drive in.

Regardless, I don’t have my iPod now. This is kind of sad. I’ve only had it for a year. I got that particular model to put [iPod Linux](http://ipodlinux.org/Main_Page) or [Rockbox](http://www.rockbox.org/) on. Not that I have. But none of the current iPods will run either.

There are two general possibilities regarding what likely happened to my iPod. Either someone stole it, likely from my jacket pocket while I was in the chiropractic appointment (the jacket rack isn’t visible to the receptionist), or it fell out of my pocket somewhere. Or it’ll just turn up somewhere.

What’s really odd is I have my headphones. I’m not sure how that happened.

It’s been a pretty hectic week, so I’m missing a lot of detail.

Working on the “it’ll probably turn up” theory, I decided to go out to get a [cheap, sub-$20 MP3 player](http://factorydirect.ca/catalog/product_spec.php?pcode=SA0130). They didn’t have it, though, despite what their “check stock” thing says. I decided to head home rather than going with one of their other models, but I think I might go back tomorrow. I’ll let you know. I’m now thinking that the “probably turn up” scenario is looking less and less likely, so I’m looking at more of a long-term replacement. That requires some thought.

What’s most disconcerting about all this is the fact that I’m drawing a complete blank on what might have happened to it. My brain isn’t what it used to be (but then whose is?)

A brain full of stuff

Rummaging through my thoughts to come up with something to write about tonight, I started to come to the conclusion that I spend way too much time thinking about products I would like to buy.

A lot of this seems to be stemming from the laptop thing. That’s something I’d been thinking about for well over a year. Realizing that what I’d decided I’d wanted wasn’t actually what I wanted shook the pedestal a bit, and right now my brain, as represented by a metaphorical glass vase, is wobbling, attempting to right itself. In the process of wobbling, I’m questioning why it is I care about this crap as much as I do.

The laptop isn’t the only thing, either. Home theatre setups, server hardware, Doctor Who merchandise, computer monitors, furniture, blinds, gardening tools, outdoor lighting, books, video game hardware and software, kitchen gadgets, Christmas decorations, art, music, toiletries, cat paraphernalia, clothes, MP3 players, gadgets and toys… They all swirl around my subconscious in a maddening whirlwind of debates and comparisons, priorities and time lines.

For example, I noticed in the Radio Shack The Source flyer that they had a sale on GPSes, and that they had [some nice Garmin handhelds](http://www.thesourcecc.com/estore/product.aspx?language=en-CA&product=1917045&category=GPS_Handheld&catalog=Online&tab=1#more) for better prices than I’d seen elsewhere. I love maps and things, and GPSes are fun toys. I chickened out from buying one at the mall today because I wasn’t sure if it could keep track of where you’ve been so you can check out your route in Google Earth afterwards. Because, for some reason, I’d much rather just go out for a walk or a drive somewhere without knowing where I was going and see the map afterwards than use a GPS to figure out where to go in the first place. I checked the manual online, and apparently it can do that. Regardless, even though I could almost certainly live a happy and fulfilling life without one, I really want one of these toys. I’m holding myself back from hitting the “add to cart” button at this very instant.

I am a well-trained consumer, I suppose. The only way I’d be better trained is if I just went out and bought all of it without thinking, so I suppose this obsessiveness is a form of restraint.

I beat myself up a bit for spending so much mental energy on silly, single-minded consumerism, but I get stuck when I try to give myself things I *should* be thinking about.

There was, I think, a [Tapestry](http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/) episode, where a guy was talking about how we spend so much time fixated on collecting stuff and not nearly enough on collecting experiences. And while I couldn’t agree more, it’s hard (for me, anyway) to plot and plan experiences. Fretting about stuff just comes so naturally.

Bullets over Belleville

* I spent the weekend in **Ottawa** for a friend’s wedding. That was pretty wonderful. I’m a big fan of weddings, and this was the first one I’d been to for friends (surprisingly, it’s taken this long). That’s so much cooler than extended family sorts of weddings. Not that I don’t like my family… Weddings are (at their best, anyways) parties, and parties with friends are quantitatively better.

* After the wedding, I spent a couple days in **Belleville** setting up my parents with my sister’s old computer. Old, but still newer and better than theirs. Actually, my parents computer would still be serviceable, except I think the harddrive is toast.

* So I missed the first couple days of the **commuter challenge**. I’m kind of annoyed that the metric they’re using for participation is kilometres. So because I bought a house 2.5km from work, even if I walk every day, I can’t hope to come close to matching the contribution of some dude who decides to take the bus in from his monster house in Cambridge one day (and never again, because that takes like two hours). So I’m a little perturbed. My dedication to the cause is obviously superior and I should be acknowledged and lauded for that fact! Because I’m awesome.

* Dell’s Days of Deals are dangerous. I bought a new **printer** yesterday. My old one sucked, though, and the new one prints duplex and works fine with Linux and Mac OS X. I might give the old one to my sister or something.

* Speaking of walking, I’m debating whether it’s possible to do most of my regular **grocery shopping** between the butcher, the baker and the international grocer which are all on my route home from work. The only problem is the butcher and baker both close around 6. Hm. More on this in a future non-bullet post.

* **Doctor Who** on Sunday. 7pm my place, unless I hear a better idea.