Friday, February 11, 2005

I bought an iPod.

Update: This post has been up for more than a year now and it continues to get quite a few hits through Google searches. Most of you seem to be looking for a solution to the "itunes does not detect iPod" problem that was one of the issues I had. After I wrote this post, I continued to have these issues - until I ripped out my new USB/Firewire card and threw in a different motherboard that had USB 2.0 ports built-in. All was fine after that. I now have moved all my music over to my laptop and again, no problems there either. The moral of the story is that apparently not all USB ports are created equal - even if they're labeled USB 2.0. I no longer blame Apple for this; this seems more like the kind of issue Apple fans make fun of us PC guys over. Anyway, read on for the original post, but be aware that with my initial frustration overwith, I am now madly in love with my iPod.

So the tax man arrived (in a good way) and I finally bought myself an iPod. Those of you who know me will recall that I have been pining for one for more than two years, and I finally broke down. I have absolutely no allegiance to Apple, but I did want a player that syncs with iTunes, hence my first purchase of an Apple product since my Apple IIc in 1985.

It arrived direct from China today, along with my separately-purchased USB/Firewire combo card, so I figured I was all set to go. Just plop in the USB card and I'm good, right?

You can tell I'm a PC guy. Here's a shot that'll give Mac users the shakes:

Holy crap, it's like, a bunch of circuits, or something! We're all going to die.

The PC it went in:

Yeah, I like to get my hands dirty.

And the same PC back sitting on its shelf:

(Excuse the dust on the keyboard - it's not like I use it much.)

This is my "media server" or "home theater PC" or whatever you want to call it. It's a work in progress and probably always will be. It doesn't look much like a media PC - it looks a lot more like a regular old tower - but there's a good reason for that.

It was cheaper.

I started putting this thing together back before anyone really even knew what a media PC was supposed to be. There was no such thing as Hush, for example - nobody making really slick looking media PC's yet. There were smaller cases than what I went with, but the only reason I really even bothered was that I realized I literally had enough old, used, spare parts lying around to build a whole PC out of. All I was missing was a case. So I picked up this Lian-Li PC-0716S for around $50 and I was all set.

The problem with old parts, though, is that they're old. My hard drive is only an 80 gigger - far too small for timeshifting TV and all the other stuff I expect this thing to do. My CPU is slow by today's standards - it's an Athlon XP 1700+ - and it takes forever to transcode video. My memory is similarly laid back - it's the oldie but goodie PC133 variety. And until today, I was stuck with the excruciatingly painful USB 1.1 for peripheral connections.

I've been updating this machine little by little, and tinkering around with it at the same time. It gets a bit better all the time. I first added a DVD reader, then a digital sound card that supports 7.1 audio, at which point I could legitimately use this PC to watch DVD's on through my TV set and listen to real hi-fi audio (letting my receiver handle the D/A conversion, just as it would with any decent CD player). Next came a TV tuner that doubles as an s-video capture card, so I could both watch TV and digitize my old VHS tapes (though watching TV has never worked right - I have a cable box, which makes it pretty difficult). And finally, just a few weeks ago, I added a DVD burner, which now not only lets me pretty conveniently turn my remaining VHS tapes into DVD's, but along with TiVotoGo, lets me pretty conveniently burn any TV show I watch to DVD as well. (Nevermind how slow it is.)

Anyway, so this thing's really turning into a pretty useful little machine, even as slow and old as some of its parts are. And now it's hosting my iPod.

Or at least, that's the idea. So far, my iPod experience has been pretty frustrating, to say the least. Honestly, I know that Mac people like to talk about how easy their stuff is to use, they plug it in and it "just works", yadda yadda yadda, but really, it's been that way on the PC for at least a decade too. I've grown completely accustomed to just adding a piece of hardware, turning on the machine and there it is - no drivers to install, no software, no nothing - it's just there and working, with absolutely no input from me.

This is not the way it works with the iPod, apparently.

The manual states that you're first supposed to charge the iPod for two hours, then hook it up to the PC with either a USB or Firewire connection using the enclosed cables. I followed these instructions to the letter, and, after verifying that my new USB card was working (again, nothing to install - I just plugged it in and Windows found it), I plugged in my iPod using my front USB ports. Windows saw it, recognized it as an iPod, and up popped a message from iTunes saying an iPod had been inserted but could not be read, and would I kindly install the iPodSetup software that came with my iPod or download an updated version from Apple?

What? Ok, so I go back to read the manual again, and yes, it says you need to install the software there too. Why? Doesn't Apple pre-load the little iPod OS onto these things at the factory, and don't I have this stupid little service called "iPodService" already running on my PC through iTunes? Is this not basically just a portable hard drive? (In fact, Windows recognized it as such in Explorer, and actually asked me if I wanted to format it!) This is not plug and play as I'm used to it.

So I dutifully follow instructions and head to Apple's web site to download this 40 megabyte file (I always download the latest version of anything; I never install from CD). This seems excessive, but whatever - I click the download button and wait. And wait. And wait. Apple's server seems to have crashed, because I can't get past 216k no matter what I do. I try several more times before practically giving up and cracking open the CD - but on a lark, I switch from Firefox to Internet Explorer, and lo and behold, the download works. Wtf? Apple's server only supports IE? Seems a little strange, but I finally manage to get the software install.

So I re-connect my iPod and run the iPodSetup thingy. It doesn't detect my iPod. I try a few more times, and it finally tells me I need to "restore" it. What!? I just bought the stupid thing! I start thinking the damn thing is just plain defective and begin to wonder what my options are for returning it (can I return it to the Apple store in New York if I bought it online?). But before I give up completely, I've got a few more angles to try - like I said, I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty, and this ain't the only PC I've got.

First, I connect it through the USB wire to my laptop. Again, Windows detects it, but iTunes does not. I then try connecting through Firewire on my laptop. Same deal.

Knowing the iPod is not totally dead - Windows sees it fine - I start trying all four USB ports on my media PC. No dice on the first three. I hit up the last one, and manage to finally get the iPod Updater to see it again. I figure I'll just go ahead and restore it, if that's what it really wants. Except...

This is what I got. Now you tell me what's wrong with this picture. It hung like this for about 5 minutes. Now that's a great piece of software!

Eventually, I managed to actually get it to work, seemingly:

Problem is, it seemed to get stuck at this point - it sat there like that for about half an hour. Eventually I tried to close it and got this:

So I wait about another fifteen minutes, and nothing happens. I eventually kill the iPodUpdater process, stop the iPod from the systray, and decide to try Firewire again. I reach around the back of my PC (no front Firewire ports on this case), which is a major pain in the ass, and get it connected. Again, Windows sees it, but iTunes does not. Jesus H. Fricking Christ! Who the hell designed this stupid thing?

So I decide to re-download iTunes, for no good reason, but it's basically my last resort. iTunes has been working fine, mind you, and I like it so much that it's the reason I bought the iPod in the first place. But I download it again, and select the "repair" option, then wait as it restarts automatically.

Success! iTunes now sees my iPod, and four hours after starting, I am now on step three in the iPod manual:


I don't know what to think about this. I'm fairly sure that within a week, I will forget all about it. But there were definitely times during this process when I thought to myself "you know, if I'd just bought a Dell DJ I'd be listening to music right now." iTunes no longer seems like the elegant wunder-app that I thought it was previously. The iPod has similarly lost a bit of its luster in my eyes, at least in the ease-of-use department for which it's so well known. If I'd bought this thing two years ago, I'd probably have said something smarmy like "this does not bode well for Apple in their quest to dominate the portable music industry..." But I'd look like a complete idiot today, of course.

I just can't believe I'm the only one out there that's had an experience like this, and it's hard for me to understand, then, why Apple's got the stranglehold that it does on the portable music market. I no longer feel that the iPod is the player I had to have - a Dell or iRiver or Creative player probably would have been a lot easier to get up and running, and they're cheaper and most of them sound just as good. I guess it really is a cult, and I'm part of it now, for better or worse. And I'll probably keep buying iPods, because I will forget about this and it will never seem worth switching all of my music over to Windows Media Player. So I'm part of the problem now and I admit it freely.

By the way, one last thing - I wanted to comment on the case I got, because I really like it. It's an Agent 18 case, available through the Apple store, and if you ask me, it's pretty sharp:

(If something looks a little strange, it's probably the film I left on over the wheel in order to protect it, since otherwise it's just "out there.")

It's just two cheap pieces of plastic stuck together, for which I had the privilege of paying $24, but it looks fairly nice and will protect against scratches and blemishes. I recommend it for those that are looking for a nice-looking case that lets them see their iPod - though I can confidently say that it will not protect your iPod against drops. It is purely protection against cosmetic damage. On the plus side, it is so small that it seems like you can still use pretty much any soft outer case you'd like to in conjunction with the Agent 18.

See ya for now...


  1. I had similar problems and I deduced that all my problems could have been avoided if I took the following steps:

    (1) Uninstall iTunes through Add/Remove software in Control Panel.

    (2) Insert the CD that comes with iTunes. This will install the iPod software and a (slightly out of date) copy of iTunes.

    The CD will prompt you to plug in your iPod for formatting and everything should work from there.

    The common denominator is that you also had to reinstall iTunes.

    So while your criticisms about the installation are valid that doesn't change the fact that iPod:
    (a) Integrates beautifully with iTunes
    (b) Is incredibly easy to use
    (c) Looks good.

    I think all of these far outway the clumsy installation.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks, but it just seems to me that if I have the latest versions of everything installed already (ok, except the iPod Updater, but that seems like something I shouldn't even need), then I shouldn't need to or even want to be installing anything from CD. Part of the point of my post was to talk about how things should work, not how they really do work. Maybe I hold Apple to a higher standard than other manufacturers, but they do create that ease-of-use reputation for themselves in their marketing.

    I guarantee if I'd bought a Windows Media-based player I'd have just plugged it in and it would have worked.

    I may be glad I didn't, because there may be plenty of other things the iPod has over those other players. I'm just saying, in terms of installation and nothing else, this thing was a real bitch.

  4. Fair enough.

    Good luck with sorting out the USB issues. I haven't had any problems in that department.

  5. Anonymous9:14 PM

    right there with ya jeff! good LORD! i am on day two of the "take a deep breath and dont flush it down the toilet" project also known as loading my ipod. i have erased itunes/ipod, reset my ipod, restored it (erased everything, not happy) and everytime i plug it in itunes tells me it is not there. windows recognizes it...i just can't seem to get it to work! what am i doing wrong here?! i had no problems with it's little brother the shuffle.....


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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