getting iPods and iTunes everywhere

Since we’re very into our music , the 2005 holiday season’s iPod craze brought us some amazing products. My son picked up a 4GB Nano at launch around Thanksgiving, although he had to settle for black since the white ones were all sold out. With the $50 difference between the 2GB and the 4GB, he made a wise choice, given that he has already filled it with 2GB of audio in that short time. For Christmas I decided to get the wife her own Nano. Her music collection is much smaller so the 2GB fit nicely, was available from the Apple online store, and I could get free engraving for a nice Christmas message. I was amazed to find that the free shipping got the Nano delivered to me the next day!

Apple also brought out the 30GB and 60GB video iPods. Compared to my 40GB Creative Zen Xtra, the video iPod is still about half the thickness, and the Nano is at least 1/20 the volume of the Zen Xtra, especially when you take into account that the Zen Xtra has a leather cover to keep the internal hard drive from being bumped too hard. The Nano also has a cover to keep from being scratched, but we found thr nice thin Nano Valet from Difusi which has a magnetic snap to close its cover. Very stylish, and I’m jealous of the interface, which makes the Zen Xtra look like something from 1990. While the video iPod can hold a great amount of music, they are much bigger than the Nano and I don’t really find myself using video as a background as I do with audio. I like the whole idea of portable video, but I just don’t find myself traveling enough where I can view a screen for long periods of time, and viewing videos while driving is not the smartest long-term lifestyle choice. In my home, if I’m going to view video for a long period, I’ll watch it on my big screen TV or maybe even my computer screen.

So, after having sworn for years that Apple products would never grace my doorstep, here we were with iTunes installed on our computers and associated gift cards to match. To compliment the Nano’s beautiful interface, the iTunes player is easy to use. I have a special dislike for the clunky Creative MediaSource interface one must use to sync my Zen Xtra. While I wish it would use a little less memory on my PC, it’s brain-dead easy to rip music into your library and synchronize your player. Well, who wants to rip their collection all over again when you already have a 160GB hard drive full of your CD collection? (Sorry RIAA, these are all mine. I’ve never file-shared to get my music.) It’s easy to drag a bunch of music from a Windows folder into the library to play it, but there has to be a more organized way to listen to the music without those manual steps.

Enter mt-daapd. This piece of software can be aimed at your existing music library and will emulate an iTunes server. Now everyone in the house with iTunes can just click on Oporto’s Tunes on the left side of the iTunes player and bring up the whole library. The conf file uses regex to give you control over playlists by matching Genre (Heavy Metal, Speech), Year (60s, 90s), or Artist. That serves us great a home, but what about taking my music to work? My Zen Xtra only gets me about 8 hours of life on that huge battery these days, so that’s enough to listen for week on the 45 minute commute to and from work – I don’t want to run it down any quicker. Well, it turns out that the mt-daapd iTunes stream can be piped over the Cygwin ssh with something like “c:\cygwin\bin\ssh -N -f -L *:3690:localhost:3689” in a .bat file and the aid of Rendezvous Proxy on my office desktop to display that same Oporto’s Tunes on my PC at work for my own use. Lately I’ve switched to using PuTTY which has a better key handling agent (Pageant). I fire up iTunes while RendezvousProxy and PuTTY are running, and I have instant access to the collection at home over a secure pipe!

Mt-daapd’s web interface:
mt-daapd running
iTunes accessing Mt-daapd:
iTunes accessing mt-daapd

So the work and travel space is covered for music. What about the home itself? I’ve long considered whole house audio, but getting into the walls of my home to run wires doesn’t appeal to me. In this wireless age, there has to be a better way. After having gotten my daughter a Netgear MP101 WiFi player last Christmas for her bedroom, I had jumped at the chance to get another one at $40 over the summer for my own bedroom. Similar to the mt-daapd server, I also have the free Twonkyvision Music Server running on the same file server. This provides individual streams over UPnP to each of these wireless players to access the same music directories. The players have Left and Right audio RCA jacks so they can be plugged into a set of speakers for amplified music. My daughter’s new iDog now runs into her MP101 player for a cute light show in her room while listening. Since I already had a wireless setup in the house for my son’s computer through a Linksys WGA54G, this was a cheap solution. This all complements the exiting Audiotron in the living room which accesses a Samba share of the file server’s music repository for access to those very same files. The music is everywhere!