Today’s “Community Chest” Card

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Creative accounting in your favor.
Collect $3,500 from California.

Accounting is just a big zero-sum game played on multiple columns, isn’t it? After my “oh, fuck” moment the other day with Oregon wanting a big chunk of change above and beyond what I already paid them, talking to my accountant, faxing the letter to her, and hearing absolutely nothing, I just got an email this afternoon. She is going to work some kind of magic in which California gives me most of the money, which I in turn give to Oregon. I still have to pay a little, plus interest, but it looks like everything is going to magically work out.

So, the new iTunes with podcasting support… Have you tried it yet? I love it. I hate it. If I continue using it (which I think I will, given a few of the pro’s), I will have to significantly change my podcast listening workflow. At present, what I do is this: iPodderX (and previously NetNewsWire and previously iPodder) grabs the files, imports them into iTunes, and marks the genre as “Podcast.” I know a ton of people use a smart playlist for listening to new podcasts (“genre is ‘Podcast'” and “playcount is zero”), but that doesn’t work for me because I sometimes start listening to something by accident or decide I want to listen to one later, after I am a minute into it. For me, I have seven playlists set up, all of which sync to the iPod:

  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is < 1 day
  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is between 1 day and 2 days
  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is between 2 day and 3 days
  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is between 3 day and 4 days
  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is between 4 day and 5 days
  • Genre is “Podcast” and Date Added is more than 5 days ago and rating < 5-stars
  • Genre is “Podcast” and rating is 5-stars

They are named, respectively, “Podcast-1 day,” through “Podcast-5 days,” “Podcasts to Delete,” and “Podcasts to Keep.” Because they are smart playlists, new songs show up on the first list, roll to the second, etc. If I really like something (for instance, The Seanachai, The Area 51 Show, or some random Open Podcast), then I will mark it 5-stars. After a show has fallen off the last list, it drops into the “To Keep” or “To Delete” list, where I can take the appropriate action. It took a lot of trial and error, but it works damn well for me.

With this explained up front, here is what I think about the new iTunes. Some of the points are general view of iTunes, some of them are specific to the way that I personally use it.

Pros

  • Speed! Holy crap, is this a lot better than all of the other solutions. Both iPodder and iPodderX are written in Python. Python, while being a great command line and network language really blows chunks when you cobble the wxWindows layer on top of it to give it a user interface. It is slow, even on a 1.6GHz machine, and it eats up entirely too much memory. As an aside, NetNewsWire was good with memory and speed, but would often times download half of a file, mark it as complete, then load it into iTunes. This is an undesirable behavior because it gets discovered when I am away from the computer.
  • Separate Databases This is nice because you do not mix your music and your podcasts. Every once in a while, I would get a mistagged podcast that would then get lost in a sea of music. I also had to make special exceptions when I wanted to play the entire jukebox on random (“all files where genre is not ‘Podcast.'”)
  • Nice Integration Because iTunes is hooked in with the iPodder databases, I can usually find the stuff I am looking for without having to cut and paste a URL. Browsing is a lot easier. Searching is insanely better.
  • Single Episodes I do not have to subscribe to a podcast (or manually pick through the XML feed and run wget) just to grab a single show. This makes sampling new stuff so much easier!Cons
  • Separate Databases As I said above, separate databases is a love/hate thing. Smart playlists do not span from the music database into the podcast database, and there is no way (that I can see) to set up a smart playlist that covers just the podcasts. My smart playlist scheme, above, is blown to hell because they cannot “see” the podcasts. Everything in the podcast database gets filed away in a playlist called “Podcasts,” and that’s all you get. At least, that is all you get with my now-obsolete iPod; more recent ones have a firmware update that gives you more flexibility.
  • Deleting Once a podcast episode has been deleted, it is gone. Really gone. With other podcast clients, there is at least a placeholder and I can re-download the file. In iTunes, both the file and the placeholder disappear. I can find no way to bring it back without deleting the feed, then re-adding it. This is not ideal because you have to re-download all of the episodes you already downloaded. You can’t even Command-Z “undo” the operation. The episode is just gone.
  • Archiving is awkward You know how my scheme above has two buckets into which a podcast can end up in? One is for the things to keep, the other is for the things to delete. I can sort of accomplish this with the new iTunes, but it seems like a bit more manual work than I would like it to be. Plus, the archived stuff is not “out of sight, out of mind,” but right there in the episode lists.
  • No BitTorrent This is not a huge deal right now because I only have one podcast that is distributed through BitTorrent and it has a different feed that I can use for direct downloads. This may become a big deal in the future because Adam Curry is using his weight in the podcasting industry (is it an industry now?) to push for P2P protocols to help save on the bandwidth.So that is my summary. Going back to the “Deleting” con above, does anyone know where your subscription and episode information is stored? I have not done serious amounts of digging, investigation, or reverse engineering, but I cannot find any file on my local system (in ~/Music or ~/Library) that holds that podcast database making me wonder if it might be stored on the iTunes server somehow. I can’t believe this is true because something has to tie an episode entry with a local filesystem location… but stranger things have happened. I will probably try to pick it apart a bit more later this week.
  • Posted in: Dear Diary

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