Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

The complete iPod toolbox

The complete iPod toolbox

We tasked Rob Buckley with unearthing the best iPod utilities. But rather than just sending him to cruise the web's download sites, we set him a different kind of challenge altogether...

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Ah, the iPod. How wonderful it is. All our music, whenever we want it, wherever we are, without having to decide in advance what to listen to. But can it change your life?

Paul, the editor of iCreate, has extended me a challenge: to get as much as possible out of an iPod in a week. Listening to music is easy, but with everyone and their computer-programming auntie writing software for the iPod, there’s now a whole load of things to do with it and a whole load of ways to customise it.

Always one for a challenge, no matter what it might be, I have to admit I was still nervous. I’ve had a few iPods, ranging from my very first 5GB refurb model which had the touch and weight of a brick through to my latest, a 512MB iPod Shuffle. Has any of them changed my life? No. They’ve made it more musical, but that’s been it so far. Moreover, spending a week investigating whether a piece of consumer technology has the power to transform my existence might at worst cause me to sacrifice my immortal soul, or at least make me a mere pawn of capitalism.

Nevertheless, a quick look through all the available iPod software showed me I had, perhaps, been asleep to the potential of my lowly iPods and that with a little effort, they could do a lot more for me – and every other iPod owner - than I’d ever thought possible.

MONDAY: DON'T STOP THE MUSIC
9am: I’ve woken up, I’ve had breakfast. It’s time to release the iPods. Clearly, for my “iPod to the max” week, the very first thing to do is turn the volume all the way up to 11.
9.15am: I’ve found what I’m looking for: iPodVolumeBooster (volumeboost.tangerine-soft.de/).
9.17am: Why doesn’t this menubar icon do anything? Wonder if it’s because I’m using Tiger. This slider should be worth trying. “+100%” and off we go.
9.20am: Oh my God, that’s loud.
9.30am: My ears have stopped ringing. Time to try the next program. Maybe baby steps after the “Walls of Jericho” of the last program.
9.40am: I’m rubbish at working out the lyrics of songs; let’s try downloading them onto the iPod so I don’t have to.
9.48am: Who knows what Liam from Oasis is on about? In just a few minutes, I will. I have Yamipod (www.yamipod.com)
9.55am: I’m scrolling through my iPod’s contacts and there are the lyrics, formatted properly and everything. Amazing. Not sure I’ll have the stamina to do that with the other 1,000 songs or so, but all good so far.
1:00pm: Time for the next program. Music+ may be the plan of the day, but I can do spoken word as well.
1.30pm: “Read it to me” (sourceforge.net/projects/readittome/) looks interesting. Supposedly, it can download RSS news articles and then use the Mac’s built in text to speech system to read them out and save them onto my iPod.
1.35pm: What the hell is NetNewsWire and why does my Mac want to find it all the time?
1.42pm: I don’t have NetNewsWire and Read it to me can’t use RSS feeds from Safari. It can read out web pages. I can live with that.
1.50pm: I’ve just had the SAL9000’s inarticulate younger sister read out a web page to me. Think I’ll read a paper instead.
2.30pm: Crap. I’ve just plugged in my iPod photo and my holiday snaps are gone.
3.00pm: PodSalvage (www.subrosasoft.com) says it can save my lost photos. But, my it’s expensive ($39.95). Deep breath, Rob.
3.30pm: I have photos again. Think I’ll step away from the iPods until tomorrow to avoid stretching my luck.

TUESDAY: FASTER, SMARTER, EASIER:
9.00am: After yesterday’s scares, it’s time for backups. Let’s see what’s on my iPod with TinkerTool (www.bresink.de/osx/TinkerTool.html).
9.10am: What a load of stuff there is on my iPod that I never knew about. Since I sync manually, there are things on here that aren’t in iTunes. How should I get them off and keep all the data intact?
9.20am: Turns out that senuti (wbyoung.ambitiouslemon.com/senuti/) can copy all my files off my iPod and into iTunes, while keeping the filenames intact as well as play counts. That’s the boy for me.
9.40am: iPods reverse-synced – senuti rules, even if it’s hard to understand.
9.42am: Time to get over the baby steps and get confident again. Let’s try some “power tools”.
9.50am: PodStat (www.limit-point.com/darkcloud/podstatabout.html) sounds like a power tool. “Access music on your iPod from a system-wide menu”, “allows you download music from your iPod to a selected location on your computer”, “eject your iPod without having to find it on your desktop or open iTunes”. Excellent.
9.59am: It’s installed and it does precisely nothing. A menubar app with no menus. Brilliant. If my confidence is to return, I need to get this working.
10.03am: Ah. Other people have had the same problem. I shouldn’t run it with the iPod plugged in. But how do I quit it?
10.05am: Activity Monitor has killed PodStat.
10.06am: I’ve unplugged the iPod and plugged it back in..
10.07am: It still doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because I’m running Tiger.
10.08am: Maybe it’s because it’s rubbish.
10.09am: Maybe it’s because I’m rubbish.
10.15am: I return from my dark place. Time to get my mojo back with another power utility.
10.45am: The perfect candidate. Rip2iPod (www.malcolmadams.com/itunes/) let’s you rip your CDs directly to your iPod, bypassing iTunes. Sounds good. I have enough stuff in iTunes already, and my iMac’s hard drive is filling up with iPod utilities.
3pm: I rule and my iPods are full up. Time to go out with the iPods to listen to my new music.
3:01pm: Only one iPod. South-East London is not a place to be carrying three iPods around in, plus I’ll look like Nathan Barley. Pick one, Rob.

WEDNESDAY: TRACK IT DOWN
9.00am: Being out and about with my iPod Photo has only made me want to do more. I’ve got the lyrics, I’ve got the music, I’ve got a colour screen. I must be able to do more, surely?
9.03am: That song has an album cover and it showed up on my iPod. That’s cool.
9.06am: That one didn’t.
9.10am: That one didn’t either. This needs fixing.
9.15am: Album Cover Finder (www.amphonicdesigns.com/albumcoverfinder/index.html) can automatically raid Amazon’s CD database for the current iTunes track’s artwork. I just have to listen to my entire iTunes collection to add all these covers. I can do it. I can meet the challenge.
5pm: I’ve spent my whole day adding album covers to my iTunes tracks. Everything looks good now.
5.03pm: Time to get out the house again. Maybe I can take my wife to a restaurant using the power of the iPod!
5.10pm: No can do unless I live in Seattle. I could entertain at home with Podtender (www.enriquequinterodesign.com/podtender.html), which has 900 cocktail recipes, but I’d need some ingredients, including alcohol.
5.15pm: All this technology has made me hungry for more gadgets as well as food. Maybe the Apple Store has something new. Perhaps my iPod can take me there.
5.25pm: I’ve downloaded Apple Store Locations for iPod (http://www.enriquequinterodesign.com/aslforipod.html). It gives travel instructions for all the Apple Stores around the world. Useful if I’m ever on an iPod shopping crawl round the US. Rubbish for London. Seriously. What more do I need than “Leave Oxford Circus tube. Walk down Regent Street 100 yards. Go into Apple Store”?
5.30pm: I must test the iPod’s travel advice capabilities to the limit. PodQuest (www.mibasoft.com/podquest/podquest.html) downloads driving directions off the web. It even has a menubar utility to make it extra friendly. Am worried it might use the execrable MapQuest: don’t fancy travelling down the completely imaginary roads MapQuest thinks exist in the UK.
5.32pm: Woo hoo! It uses Google Maps. Will now download directions to most of Kent for an evening’s drive.

THURSDAY: TOOLS FOR THE NEW WORK
10am: Out late driving last night. Couldn’t wake up this morning. Will have to work hard today. Problem is: I have to go out for a meeting in the afternoon. But I’m going by train. If my iPod could read my emails and documents to me, keep me up to date with the news and store all my work data, I could work on the train.
10.30am: A mammoth download session but everything’s installed now. iPod It (www.zapptek.com/ipod-it/) transfers Entourage (or Apple’s apps’) data to my iPod and stores it in the notes fields. Ear Mail (www.newton-eig.com/jp/earmail.html) will run through my Entourage or Mail emails and read them into iTunes. iSpeak It (www.zapptek.com/ispeak-it/) can read out most documents as well as RSS feeds (if only I’d known on Monday). And Pod2Go (www.kainjow.com/pod2go/) seems to be able to download just about everything known to humankind onto an iPod, including weather reports, horoscopes, lyrics and news, provided you’ve got enough space. I realise now that it can do most of what Monday’s apps could do, although I’m going to avoid its MapQuest map directions.
11.30am: I’m on the way to the station. Time to listen to my emails.
11.32am: It’s SAL’s younger sister again. Apparently, she’d like me to know what’s showing at the Greenwich filmworks this week.
11.34am: It’s SAL’s older Japanese brother. My three evening classes of Japanese are not sufficient to understand him. Curses. If only he’d wanted my business card.
11.40am: It turns out that every second email or so was in Japanese. I would classify that as a bug, myself. So much for that plan.
11.45am: iSpeak It did its job properly. I’m pleased. I’ve realised, however, that I can read faster than SAL, so maybe next time I’ll just take a big pile of paper instead of trying to record all my documents. It might save some effort.
12.00pm: I spend the rest of the journey scrolling through Pod2Go’s data and preparing myself for the meeting using the Entourage notes I’d stored on the iPod using iPod It.
12.30pm: It’s meeting time. Remember to take off your iPod, Rob.

FRIDAY: SWISS ARMY KNIFE
9.00am: I’m flush with success. Yesterday’s brush with meetings has convinced me the iPod can be useful for other types of work. I must find more uses for it.
9.05am: I remember iPresent It from my visits to Zapptek at www.zapptek.com. Apparently, you can create slideshows of your presentations to store on your iPod Photo. This could be good.
9.07am: I’ve got a new album in iPhoto will all my PowerPoint slides in it. I’m happy with that. Let’s sync with the iPod Photo.
9.20am: Display quality looked all right on the TV. Not sure how it’ll work with a projector. But a nice piece of work, all the same.
9.30am: What else can I use this for?
9.35am: Well, the iPod is just a hard drive, so maybe I could use it for that.
9.40am: Apple’s backup software recognises my iPod Photo as a destination for backing up data. Time to preserve my Documents folder then.
10.00am: Now I’ve got all my documents on it, maybe I could use it as an external hard drive for serving files on my network. SharePoints (www.hornware.com/sharepoints/) lets you share any directory on any drive connected to your Mac with any other Mac or PC. I’ll do that.
10.10am: Well, it worked. I don’t have much that I want to share… with myself. Am wondering if I’m running out of work-related ideas.
10.30am: A brainwave strikes! The house iBook doesn’t have a DVD drive so I can’t install Tiger on it without swapping the DVD for CDs. But I can use Disk Utility to create an image of the DVD, use the Restore function to mirror the DVD to the iPod and then plug it into the iBook, boot off it and run the installation.
10.31am: I’m less keen on the idea now I’ve realised I have to wipe the iPod to do this.
10.32am: 5GB iPod to the rescue. I don’t care if I wipe that.
5pm: All done. Tiger on the iBook and the iPod and it’s the weekend, tomorrow. Hooray!

SATURDAY: EDUCATIONAL, EDUCATION, EDUCATION
12pm: It’s the weekend: time to improve myself (like I do every weekend, not just in iPod week. Honest.).
12.01pm: I’m embarrassed about my poor Japanese earlier in the week. Here’s an idea: I should take a refresher course… on my iPod!
12.15pm: Talking Panda’s iLingo (www.talkingpanda.com) actually has Japanese lessons for download. Let’s give it a go.
12.25pm: Hai. Iie. Domo arigato. Cracking. The full download is $39.95: I’m sure there are books with CDs that cost less than that and have more in them.
12.30pm: Something else I should brush up: A-level Chemistry and the Periodic Table with periodicPod (www.synergycreations.com). I’m disappointed to discover that there’s no table for my iPod Photo to display, only a load of ‘useful’ facts, such as the oceanic abundances of all the elements. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll need to know these facts ever, especially when I’m out and about.
1.30pm: Over the week, I’ve lost heart in the various iPod text to speech programs available, so maybe text to text software is the way forward. Book2Pod (www.tomsci.com/book2pod/) can break up text documents into iPod notes so you can read them in handy chunks and makes the 1,000 note limit easier to live with, the site says.
1.45pm: I’ve tried it. A little clunky, but at a push, I could read a book like that. I’d have to be bored though. And maybe deaf after an explosion so I wouldn’t be wanting to listen to music. Maybe some other audio book then. Or even an audio Book. Audio Bible Player for iPod (www.bibleplayer.com) downloads the King James Bible as text and spoken word to the iPod. It’s read by some poor guy who doesn’t understand 17th century English so gets the rhythm all wrong, but if my immortal soul has been sold to Apple via iPod week, maybe I should listen to it for the rest of the day.
2pm: Screw it. I’m going out.

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