Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ipod Shuffle

Just recently, I've started listening to podcasts with an IPod Shuffle. This is a very low end device. I picked mine up for $80. I considered getting an iRiver for $150, that also has a microphone and FM tuner, but funds have been low. The device is tiny. It looks like a pack of gum. It comes with a cord attached to a USB cap, so you can hang it around your neck, but there is also a cap without a chord, making the chord optional.

The Shuffle has no display. Well, there is an led that glows green, yellow or red, showing the current battery state. Green for full charge, red for nearly dead, and yellow for in between. The non-replaceable lithium ion battery is supposed to last 18 hours on a charge. The battery is charged by plugging it into a computer USB port. The Shuffle goes from empty to full charge in three or four hours. The 512 MB should give you about ten hours of high quality mp3 music. I get more audio, because the books I listen to are in mono, and spoken text compresses better than music, probably because silence compresses so well. I've had 28 hours of podcasts on it.

The end of the shuffle comes off, revealing a USB port. Plug the shuffle into your computer, and use the computer to copy data onto it, and delete stuff from it. The shuffle mounts as a disk drive, and arbitrary files can be placed there for data movement. I still carry a USB drive for moving data, but have used the Shuffle for this once or twice. The upshot is that you need a computer for the user interface for putting stuff onto the drive and removing it. There isn't space enough on it to put your entire CD collection, so you'll need to do this fairly frequently. For me, there is something to do every day, as I'm not listening to a daily podcast.

There are some buttons on the Shuffle. There is the off/sequential/shuffle switch. The device is either off, plays tracks sequentially, or plays them in random order. There is a play/pause button. That is, if it is currently playing, this button causes it to pause, and if it is paused, it will play. Of course, you can't tell if it is playing or not if the sound file has silence. Many of the podcasts and audio book tracks start with a few seconds of silence, and therefore, it isn't clear if it is playing or not. You just have to listen longer. It helps if the volume is high enough to hear it.

There is a four switch circular button. Press left to go to the previous track. Press left and hold it for a second or so to rewind in chunks. The Shuffle plays little snippets, each chunk further back in time. Press right to get to the next track. If you are in shuffle mode, it goes to a new random track. Press right and hold for a few seconds, and the Shuffle fast forwards, playing little snippets. Press up and the sound volume increases. Press down and the sound volume decreases.

And that would be it for the pack of gum. But this totally trivial user interface has some hidden unexpected behavior. For example, you can not play audio on the Shuffle while it is connected to a computer. This isn't much of an issue. My Linux computer OS has a utility that can play the mp3 tunes from the Shuffle while it is mounted. So, while the Shuffle can't play, the host computer can play those tunes right where they are.

One typically pauses the audio, then turns the Shuffle off. Since I often listen to books sequentially, it is important that I get back to where I was when I turn it back on. Sometimes, it forgets where I ended up, and it starts at the same place it started the last time. This can be many tracks ago, and I have no idea how many tracks. In particular, if the tracks have no silence at the start or end, there is no break between tracks in playback. There can be no indication at all that you are now on a new track. Also, when it forgets where you were, it also forgets what the volume setting you had was. So, if you had it on loud for the car, it can blast you at your desk. The guess is that one should wait a few seconds between pausing the audio and turning the unit off. That seems to reduce the frequency of this odd behavior to acceptable levels.

Since there is such a limited user interface, it is not a good device if you have more than one thing to listen to. For example, if you have 100 tracks of a book, and three podcasts to listen to, it can be maddening to listen to a podcast, and then try to navigate to track 56. I periodically delete tracks from my current book so that this isn't a problem. I also arrange the tracks so that the book is all the first tracks, and the podcasts are at the end. There are usually only a few.

The fast rewind feature stops at the beginning of the track. It will not proceed to the previous track. This is good if you want to find the beginning of the current track. Finding the beginning of the track can be done by skipping to the previous track, then skipping forward to the beginning of the current track. So this isn't as handy as it sounds. Still, it isn't entirely redundant, especially, if you've never heard the tracks in question. It isn't so hot if what you want to do is get toward the end of the previous track. In fact, you must go to the beginning of the previous track and fast forward to near the end. But there is no way to know that you are near the end if you've never heard it before.

The Shuffle is an odd sort of duck. The user interface is minimalistic, and a computer is required. There is no A/C charger, a computer is required to charge it. It is incredibly small. Even ear bud headphones are bigger. What makes it awesome is that what it does, it does very well. The sound quality is great. You may take this for granted, but for example, typical PC sound cards vary from useless to pretty good, and even sound cards on name brand computers can have erratic quality. From Apple, however, the sound is good or it doesn't go out the door. I suspect that they perform some sort of quality control test. What a concept.

I plug it into my stereo and listen to it over breakfast. Then I plug it into my car stereo's aux port, and continue where i left off. Then I plug headphones into it and walk across parking lots to work. So why didn't I do all this with my Walkman? Well, mainly because it takes a few seconds to fill it with hours of audio, where it takes an hour to record an hour of audio on a tape. Yet, I never spent an hour writing about the Walkman. I did use the Walkman in the car, through the aux port in the car stereo. That let me listen to something other than CDs. And, it was more convenient than ripping the tapes to CD by playing the tapes into my computer's sound card.

The upshot is that I no longer want a CD or tape player in my car. A simple AM/FM radio with an Aux port for my shuffle will do fine. But, you say, what about the round trip from Michigan to Florida? That's 19 hours each way. Well. I guess I'll just have to hook up to a computer when I get there.


FreeThinker said...

A 19-hour road trip? Upgrade to a 60 gigabyte iPod and you can make several round rips and still not hear it all!

I have 15,444 songs on my 60 gig iPod and it would play continuously for 43 days without playing the same thing twice. Sweet!

Anonymous said...

I have been trying to decide whether or not to get an ipod shuffle. The main reason I was warry about getting one is because I wanted to listen to books on CD that I check out of the library. I worried that it would be a problem. Your blog has been very helpful! Thanks! I found your blog through google and when I first began reading I noticing your photo and I thought, this kid is a genius! :) Again Thanks! Aaron

Stephen said...

I have indeed gotten comments on my youthful appearance. My age is in my profile. My story is that eating right and not too much, along with good excersize is my secret.

godlyke said...
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godlyke said...

hey......i got an ipod shuffle n i just got a camry 2007 but i dont know where or how to plug it i need a cord for it?...can u please help me!!?? can u e-mail me bak if u know at you

Stephen said...

2007 Camry? No idea. Most car stereos do not have an Aux input. When my tape deck died in my '88 Mazda 626, i went to Best Buy, and selected a CD player that plays mp3 encoded CDs, has an Aux input, and was cheap. If you do have an Aux input, you'll need a minijack chord that has the male connector on both sides. I picked one up at the grocery store once, but you can certainly get them at Radio Shack.

These days, what i really want is a plain radio with an Aux input. I used to think i wanted a USB port so I could transfer tracks to the car. Nope. I've got the Shuffle at mid track, and i just want to hear it through speakers for a bit. In fact, all i really want is an amplifier. You'd still need power, volume, balance, fade, and EQ like treble, and base controls. No display required. Could be *really cheap*. However, i'd want a good amp, good sound quality, good controls.

I do this with my home stereo, for example, over breakfast, with a minijack/RCA chord. I'm already using the Aux port for something else, so it's a button labeled Tape2.

Anonymous said...

I just got a 2007 Camry and had the same question. It does have an aux input. I think the minijack cord with male connections on both ends sounds like it would work. But I've never figured out what the small (about 3") extra cord that came with the Ipod Shuffle is for. I thought it would be for the car, but it can't be, since it has one male end and one female. Can you enlighten me?

Stephen said...

My Shuffle didn't come with a 3 inch cord. Sounds like an extension cord, but 3 inches doesn't get you far. A quick release so if the cord is yanked, less stuff is damaged?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Blog .I've made up my mind: I'm gonna buy an MP3 player. I just don't know which one. I like the Ipod batteries, but do I really need something that small?

Stephen said...

The original iPod Shuffle is a pack of gum, not nearly as small as the current Shuffle. I also have a MyMusic from Radio Shack. It's also fatter. But because it uses a AAA battery, i can still use rechargables, but i can carry spares. That means it lasts for longer. The MyMusic i have is quite old now, but has twice the memory for sound as my Shuffle. It doesn't run out of stuff. I use it as often as my Shuffle. And it was cheap. And the sound is as good.

dell laptop batteries said...
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Anonymous said...

The predelusional state (PDS) is defined as the set of psychopathologic events preceding the crystallization of delusions, and includes strange cognitions.

Cheap Ipod Shuffle

Stephen said...

As i understand it, the threshold for psychopathological behavior is if it leads to causing harm. So, you can be a liar without being a psychopath, if the lies aren't designed to cause harm, or in fact, don't cause harm. They may, for example, be designed to make you look better. You should also be able to have harmless delusions. Perhaps you think you'd be a very good tennis player, despite never having played the game.

I find that the most trivial statements have absurdly ridiculously far reaching implications. It's turtles, in infinite regression, all the way down.