2006-02-19 1042 Review: == Turning the iPod into myPod == <b>AKA How to use the iPod Shuffle without iTunes AKA Replacing . . .

Turning the iPod into myPod

AKA How to use the iPod Shuffle without iTunes
AKA Replacing iTunes with 276k of programming excellence

I like iTunes. Really I do. After all, there is a lot to like. It’s got an uncluttered interface, handles Playlists better than any other music app known to man, and is very efficient at what it does. It does have a few minor annoyances (mainly the lack of intelligent updating when mp3s are moved or deleted), but until the Shuffle arrived it was my music player of choice. It’s ironic that one Apple product has meant the death of another for me, especially considering the Shuffle and iTunes are supposed to work so well together.
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In theory at least, iTunes and the Shuffle are a marriage made in heaven, and I can see why marketing types got so frigging wet at the thought of these two working hand in hand. You can plan what you want to hear on the Shuffle in advance, selecting tracks at will then Autofill the rest. Just plug the iPod in and it automatically updates, syncing seamlessly. That’s what is supposed to happen, and it works wonderfully up until the last part.

My computer is pretty old. It’s got USB 1.1 ports which according to Apple just aren’t able to handle high-speed transfers to the iPod. In use with iTunes this is true too. Each file takes around 30 seconds to transfer, and anything up to 5 minutes per file (!!!) if
I choose to convert them to the more efficient AAC format during transfer. That’s a choice of 50 minutes or a shocking 500 minutes to transfer 100 files over. Neither choice is acceptable.

The thing is that the marketing folks at Apple are talking bollocks, and iTunes seems to have been crippled in some way to make reality match their fiction. You don’t need no USB 2 or firewire to get good transfer speeds. Just don’t use iTunes.

Exit iTunes, enter Shuffler and rebuild_db

In essence, iTunes does just two jobs as far as the Shuffle is concerned. It creates random content to fill the minuscule iPod and copies files over. That’s it. All that’s needed to carry out that task is two tiny programs that work hand in hand to make your iPod Shuffle use even more seamless than before.

The first thing needed though is to make your iPod act like a normal USB Mass Storage drive. Do this within iTunes itself. With your iPod in place, go to iPod options and set it to allow your iPod to be used as a drive. That’s it. You can shut iTunes down now, and never use it again (*but see below).

Next, grab iPod shuffle Database Builder and Shuffler. Copy rebuild_db.exe to your iPod (or use rebuild_dy.py and install Python on your computer. Either works) and put shuffler.exe somewhere handy on your computer.

Using just rebuild_db you can copy whatever files you want then run rebuild_db on the iPod to update the internal playlist database on the iPod itself. My iPod structure looks like this:

 \..
    \ipod_control
    \Audiobooks
    \Data
    \Music
         \Shuffled
         ELO - Dont Bring Me Down.mp3
         ...etc
 rebuild_db.py

We’ll come back to that \Music\Shuffled folder soon. Just drop Audiobooks, Data and Music into the correct folder, creating subfolders as needed. Don’t, repeat don’t, touch the ipod_control folder. That’s where the iPod magic lives.

Rebuild_db might well be all you need if what you want to do is copy files over and control your music. Shuffling still works just fine but the ultimate music choice is yours. Copy the files over, run rebuild_db and go. Simple, and very, very fast. Files copy over around 5 times faster than using iTunes, so each file takes around 6 seconds to copy. iTunes is a wicked evil lying whore. Bury it in the back garden where it belongs.

Shuffler adds in the element of randomness for which the Shuffle is famed. Run it, follow the prompts and tell it to run “ i:\rebuild_db.exe -q” (or “C:\Python24\python.exe i:\rebuild_db.py” if you’re using the python version) after it’s copied over random files and you’re done. It’ll automatically run rebuild_db for you after copying over a random playlist of music.

Shuffler has several configuration options that are clearly explained. I’ve set mine to run at startup but not autofill until I tell it to. When I do, it will Purge (delete all) from the /Music/Shuffled and fill the space with random stuff from the Music folder on my computer. All quickly, running in the background taking far, far less memory than iTunes does. The program itself is only 258k in size. Rebuild_db.py takes just 18k on the iPod. Beat that, Apple!

When the Shuffle is plugged into my computer, Shuffler detects it and sit there, waiting to be told to autofill. This gives me time to copy over any music I want and remove stuff I don’t. Then I tell Shuffler to fill the rest. Quick, easy.

There’s just one thing that iTunes is still needed for though. If you use Audible AAC format audiobooks they will need to be copied over using iTunes. That’s no great loss. I use iTunes just for that.

There you have it. 276k of programming excellence that greatly simplifies your Shuffle use and makes it yourPod, not Apple’s.

Resources:
iPod shuffle Database Builder
Shuffler

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