16 Sep 2005

Don't do me like that

I like iTunes, I really do. Hell, I like Apple. My iPod is old school, a first generation 5 gigger. I've had it for years. It's a little scratched, and it may have been dropped once or twice, but it still keeps in there. I was originally purchased for an iBook, but now works quite happily with my Toshiba laptop.

And even before I had the iPod I though iTunes was good. But just recently I've gotten the feeling that iTunes doesn't love me as much as I love it. You know the deal. The phone rings but when you answer, someone hangs up. To quote Elvis Costello: "when you find strange hairs in his sweater". I don't really think that iTunes is seeing someone else on the side, but I do think I'm not the centre of attenton any more.

Perhaps it's because of that fling I had with Doppler. See, at the time iTunes wasn't doing everything I needed. It just couldn't download podcasts. No deception was involved, not really. Once the podcasts were on the computer, I'd load them up into iTunes to get them to my iPod. In fact, my new infatuation with podcasts meant that I was seeing much more of iTunes. Once you have an iPod loaded up with your own music, there's no real reason to go see iTunes very often. But podcasts, those you're getting new ones all the time. And it's pretty rare to listen to the same podcast file more than once or twice.

So I can understand when iTunes went out and bought that new dress, got its hair cut. With version 4.9, there was the podcast support. "You don't need to see that hoochie woman no more," iTunes was saying, "everything you need is right at home, baby".

Sure, the support wasn't quite the same as Doppler. iTunes didn't know what BitTorrent was. Couldn't even launch a separate application to get the podcasts that prefer to distribute that way. A bigger problem for me was that it wouldn't resume a broken download. If you're downloading a podcast and you disconnect from the network before it's complete, next time you connect, the download should continue from where you left off. Not with iTunes. If you can't get your podcast all in one hit, it throws it away and starts again next time. But hey. The podcast support was new. I figured I'd let those problems slide, see how they'd improve over time. I stopped seeing Doppler. In fact, when I reformatted my laptop and reinstalled everything, I didn't even bother setting it up. Things weren't quite how they used to be, but it was OK.

I came home one night and there she was. She'd been in the salon again and she did look good. Insisted I call her "version 5". Still didn't support BitTorrent or broken downloads, but I'd been doing OK without them. But like the ninth beer drunk by a steel worker, after a particularly hard day, who is standing with the fridge door open wearing only his shorts and singlet, trouble was coming.

I'm a manual kind of guy. No auto synchronisation of the iPod for me. I need to know exactly what I copy across. And because I listen to a lot of podcasts, I've evolved a pretty good system for making sure I hear them all.

Start with no podcasts on your ipod. Create a playlist called "new podcasts". Manually copy all the podcasts across, then arrange them in the order you want to hear them. Go ahead and delete the ones in iTunes. If you copied a lot of podcasts, it will take several days or even weeks to listen to them. In the meantime, new podcasts are coming into iTunes and being held there. When you reach the last one on your iPod, wipe them and start again. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds, and it works really well for me.

So last night, I plugged in the iPod. I noticed that now in version 5, iTunes shows the podcasts both under the podcasts section and in your main library. In version 4.9 they were just in the podcasts section, so I went into there. A ninja-like CTRL+A saw me select all the podcasts and I dragged them onto the iPod. No problem. When I'd arranged them in the order I wanted, I went back to the podcasts section, hit CTRL+A again, and delete. iTunes asked me if I wanted to move the files to the recycle bin. No problem, I though and clicked the button indicating that was a capital idea.

The screen went blank.

The files were gone. But more than that, the podcast subscriptions were missing as well. I didn't panic, not at first. I'd accidentally deleted the subscriptions, but iTunes asked to put everything in the recycle bin. So no problem. I'd just find the files that held the subscription information, restore them, and everything would be sweet. It was as I scrolled through the various .mp3 files I had deleted that it dawned on me. There was no "subscription file". OK, I thought, iTunes must keep the URLs of the feeds I've subscribed to somewhere. I'd just have to trawl through the registry. No problems, I thought as my registry search came up empty. The registry isn't really Apple's bag. More likely there'll be a configuration file in the iTunes directory, probably in XML. And there were configuration files. But none of them had anything related to podcasts. There looked to be a couple of binary files as well. It's possible podcast information was in there, but no obvious text showed up.

I didn't talk to iTunes again last night. And I was still angry in the morning, as I went through and manually resubscribed to all my feeds. I know it doesn't sound like much, but when you subscribe to over 20 feeds, it takes a bit of time.

The whole thing inspired me. Apple have provided an API to iTunes, so surely in there I could find a way to back up and restore my podcast feeds. Because it was really easy to accidentally wipe them out, and I know I'll do it again. So I could write the definitive "back up your podcast" utility for iTunes and I'd be a hero. I found a method call to let me subscribe to a podcast. But nothing to let me figure out which podcasts I was currently subscribed to.

So here I sit, crying into my blog. And now I wonder if podcasting support in iTunes was really all an elaborate trap. That I was never forgiven for my dalliance with Doppler and iTunes is finally making me pay. But didn't I say sorry?

It's enough to make you want to lie down and listen to some Tom Petty.

1 comment:

Dan Klass said...

I have to admire anyone who quotes early Costello (wow, apparently so much time has passed, I'm considering that song EARLY Costello. Ouch...)

Thanks for the link!
- dK