I’m Going to Miss the iPod Click Wheel

Fifth generation iPodAs I moved our iTunes library last week, I worried that the new system might not be able to sync with the old iPod, but relaxed when I saw that Apple still sold the click-wheel iPod Classic. They discontinued it a few days later, but fortunately we were able to sync the old devices.

Why do I prefer the older iPods with physical buttons and tiny screens?

Because I listen to music in the car, and a touch screen is a terrible interface for quick actions while driving.

While touch screens are better for menus, searches, finding albums, playlists, artists, and just about anything else, they’re actually dangerous for driving. A physical control of some sort is best for any action you might have to take while behind the wheel of a moving car.

Pause/Play, Skip and Volume. Those are the key things you want to be able to do with music without thinking too much about where you’re reaching, or taking your eyes off the road. (Especially if you have a mix of quiet and loud songs.) Volume’s on the dashboard, but it’s so much easier — and safer — to hit an actual button for pause/play or skip than to jab at the touch screen until you get it right.

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The USS Epinephrine Returns!

USS Epinephrine

The annual Walk for Food Allergy is coming up, and I need your help to raise funds for Food Allergy Research and Education, an organization dedicated to, well, research and education about food allergies.

Food allergies can vary in severity from mild discomfort to immediately life-threatening. We’re still trying to nail down exactly what causes them to develop, why they’re on the rise (current estimates are 15 million people in the US alone), and what can be done to stop allergic reactions from happening.

Until then, the best we can do is:

  • Avoid the foods we’re allergic to as best as we can. (This depends on industry and food preparers labeling properly and trying to avoid cross-contamination.)
  • Always carry epinephrine injectors and always plan for the possibility of a trip to the emergency room.

FARE funds research, provides educational resources for everyone from allergic patients to the food industry, promotes awareness of the problem, and pursues advocacy for people living with food allergies.

I’ll be walking in the September 21 event near Los Angeles. You can help by donating here. Every bit helps. Thank you!

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Did Smartphones Make Watches Obsolete?

Every time someone announces a smart watch (today it’s the Apple Watch), people trot out the idea that the wristwatch is obsolete because look, I already have a smartphone with a clock on it. But phones don’t completely replace wristwatches. They completely replace pocket watches.

pocket watch photo

Why do I need a wristwatch? I have a clock in my pocket!
Photo by France1978

The wristwatch thoroughly replaced the pocket watch for most of the twentieth century because it’s so much more convenient. You don’t have to pull it out of your pocket to look at it. You don’t have to worry about dropping it. You don’t even need free hands to check the time.

The only reason we went back to pocket watches is that the new ones can do so much
more than the old ones did. That and so many of us are spending so much time sitting in front of a glowing rectangle with a clock in the corner. (Note to fellow geeks: not everyone does this, so don’t generalize your experience.) As with cameras, music players, and portable game systems, we abandoned a specialized device in favor of a multitasker that wasn’t quite as good at the job. The difference is that with the wrist watch, its advantage wasn’t something that newer technology could catch up on. It was the form factor.

Smartwatches, in concept, are not a step backward, even if this generation’s specs leave something to be desired (and I’m not just talking about enabling the wearer to “start and stop the flow of time”). They’re a step sideways to a different use case. It’ll take time (no pun intended) and experimentation by real-world users to shake out what it’s best suited for.

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Trouble: Moving Your iTunes Library from Mac to Windows

Fifth generation iPodI finally got around to transferring our music library from an old Macintosh (so old it’s a PowerPC) to our new Windows 8.1 system. It worked, but it wasn’t quite as smooth — or as automatic — as I’d hoped it would be.

In theory it’s easy: Copy the iTunes folder from the old system to the new one, whether over the network or using an external drive. Make sure you include the iTunes Library.itl file to keep your playlists, ratings, etc. And if your library is scattered around the drive, be sure to consolidate it first.

Problem 1: Different folder structure. This probably has more to do with which version of iTunes you started with than which platform, but the old system had all its songs in iTunes/Music and the new system had its small collection in iTunes/iTunes Media/Music. So it couldn’t

Problem 2: Illegal characters. The Mac version of iTunes will (or at least used to) use characters in filenames and directories that aren’t allowed on Windows, like question marks and quotation marks. Even after pointing it to the right folder, it was still missing about 70 songs, which I had to manually locate.

Fortunately, iTunes marked the songs that were missing with an exclamation mark in a circle next to the track number. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t sort or filter on it. That meant I needed to page through the entire library looking for those symbols.

Another complication was with albums and artists that didn’t end up lining up correctly in the filesystem: Spamalot, for instance, had each singer listed per song, and one version of iTunes had split it across about 10 folders.

Problem 3: iPod drivers/resync. You have to wipe and re-sync your old iPod. I was expecting this. The problem I had was that Windows set up the drivers…and then that was it. Neither iTunes nor Windows gave any indication that they knew the iPod was there, even though the iPod was showing its “Do not disconnect” message. Well, no indication until iTunes suddenly stopped responding entirely….

Finally I just unplugged the iPod (which rather upset the three-year-old, because it was telling us not to but we did it anyway!), at which point iTunes closed. But the system started responding again, and iTunes came right back up when I opened it. When I plugged it back in (after rebooting the iPod, just to be on the safe side), iTunes recognized it right away and offered to reformat it. It synced without any further complaints!

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Jack vs the Idiot Ball

Jack the Giant Slayer isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but it’s a fun, escapist adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time. Something that struck me as really unusual, though, is that once the story gets going, the plot never depends on major characters holding the idiot ball. There are complications galore, and there’s the dumb sidekick for the villain (think Pinky and Jafar), but generally speaking, the main characters are competent, at least in terms of their respective specialties and common sense. The complications arise not from people doing stupid things when they should know better, but from unforeseen circumstances and the scheming, strength, or skills of their opponents.

People see through poor disguises, get suspicious about the turncoat, take measures to actually protect the kingdom from invasion when they get wind of the danger, and so on.

Compare this to, for example, Prometheus, in which highly trained scientists take their helmets off on an alien planet and try to pet the unidentified creatures they find while they’re lost in an underground warren even though they have a map. Talk about too stupid to live.

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