By Collin Allen

Enhanced Podcasts and RSS

July 20, 2005

Phil Torrone has written a fantastic article on creating iTunes-ready enhanced podcasts, covering everything from recording the audio to adding images and URLs using Apple’s ChapterTool utility.

While I’m on the subject of iTunes and podcasts, I’d like to share my two cents on the whole RSS extension debate. For those who haven’t been following this story, iTunes 4.9 introduced some new tags to the RSS format. Contained within these tags are various podcast related elements such as show duration, description, summary, explicit flag, and others. While I’m far from an RSS expert, I think it’s the right move for Apple and for the community. Some have complained about the added tags, saying that some are redundant or that they don’t follow standards, but the idea is to create a separate chunk of information in the feed which applies only to iTunes (or other “podcatching” utilities, should they choose to). It should be noted that all of the iTunes related tags start with “itunes:”, for easier identification. These tags are there for the sole purpose of enhancing the user experience, and do not exist in the RSS standard. While Apple could have asked the RSS community to consider these additions, that could have taken eons and most certainly delayed the release of the iTunes update. The choice was clear: create a block of tags specific to iTunes, and leave it at that. And despite Apple effectively taking over the podcast arena and “forcing” these changes upon people, having support in one of their flagship programs is the absolute best way to get listeners’ attention. Swift and widespread consumer adoption of a new medium isn’t force; It’s technology done right, folks.

Standards arguments aside, there are still some undeniable bugs in iTunes 4.9. Mark Pilgrim points out that iTunes does not support, among other things, ETags, Last-Modified, gzip or zlib compression. These bandwidth-saving features are extremely common among websites, and their absence from the iTunes update is obviously an oversight on the part of the engineers at Apple. Podcasting is still quite new, and I’m sure bugs will be ironed out. John Gruber has a thorough (as always) article on the update, and I highly recommend reading it.

That said, I love the user experience Apple provides for podcasts. Other services exist, like Odeo and PodcastAlley, but I can’t be convinced to use them regularly because I enjoy the simplicity of keeping the entire process (from searching to subscription) contained within iTunes. This is part of the reason that the iTunes Music Store is so popular, and it’s one that Apple has touted since the release – you don’t have to keep jumping between programs to get your content.

Stylish OLED Keyboard

July 15, 2005

I ran across this little gem on digg, and it’s one of those things ideas you think of but never act on, then kick yourself for later. Years ago, I had the idea of putting small LCD screens inside each key on a keyboard so that when you hold down a modifier key, such as control or option (alt), the entire keyboard pattern changes to show you what symbols are revealed. It’s everything the ridiculous Windows Alt-key combinations could ever hope to be, and what the Mac key combos could have been if the technology was available. Several years ago, though, I had neither the skills nor the technology to create such a keyboard, much less the inclination to patent the idea. Fast forward to today and you’ll find the Optimus keyboard – a brilliantly executed piece of engineering, combing sleek Apple-like style with low-power Organic LED screens in each key. Not only can the tiny displays change to show character mappings, they can also show color graphics such as icons or representations of actions, handy for Photoshop or other such applications. Designed by Art Lebedev (you may know them for their clever and popular bar code posters), the Optimus keyboard is not yet in production. However, I know this much: I want one. See some more photos of it on their site.

Update: Read an interview with the creators.

Xbox Media Center and Flickr: Better Together

July 9, 2005

Jon finally posted his Flickr plugin for Xbox Media Center, and it is awesome. After filling in your email address, the script pulls in your Flickr photo gallery from the net and displays them within the Project Mayhem III theme. You can also browse through your photosets and the public Flickr photos as well. As stated on Jon’s site, this is a natural addition for XBMC – You share your photos with the world via Flickr, and share them in your livingroom via best (and most affordable!) media center available. To install, just drop the Flickr folder into your XBMC “scripts” folder via FTP, and launch it. More info is available in the ReadMe which accompanies the script. Get it here.

iPod Screen Scratch Removal

July 8, 2005

While using a RadTech case for my iPod, a small grain of sand managed to get trapped between the window-cling-like screen cover and the glassy iPod screen itself. I didn’t notice it’s presence until it started to gouge an awful scratch into my beloved audio player’s crystal clear screen. After doing a little research, I wound up back at RadTech, buying their IceCreme scratch removal abrasive.

After shelling out the $21 for the polishing solution from RadTech (which I suspect is some common polishing solution), I started out following their directions, attempting to remove the scratch. They suggest 30 to 45 minutes using one solution, then another 10 to 15 with the second. That’s a rather large chunk of time, and I wasn’t sure I’d be up to that. So, I fired up my standard tool of choice – the Dremel. With the included polishing wheel attached, I put a tiny bit of the “A” abrasive on the iPod screen and set the Dremel to it’s lowest rotation speed. Too high a rotation speed would cause heat to build up because of friction, and possibly melt the iPod screen to an even more unusable point. After only a minute or so of using the polishing wheel, the scratch was nearly gone. The next step was to wash the wheel and clean off the iPod screen, per the instructions. Follow up with another Dremel run, this time using the “B” polishing solution, and the iPod screen was good as new. I wish I had taken before and after photos, because the difference was unbelievable…but that iPod has since been dropped, hacked, and sold for parts. The upshot is that I learned a lot doing all these mods and have become quite proficient at iPod repair. I hope someone can make use of this information for their own hacks or fixes.

And, despite my mishap, I still think that RadTech’s iPod “sleevz” are the best cases out there. They come in plenty of colors and fit iPods of all flavors. Just watch out for that beach sand.

Update: Following comments from readers, I’ve since tried Brasso and found that it works quite well, too.

Google Maps Widget

July 5, 2005

This is the last Google Maps related post for a while, I swear! I just couldn’t resist bringing this widget to others’ attention, as I find it incredibly useful. The Google Maps Widget provides “in-widget” maps of whatever location you specify, as opposed to opening a browser window with your query. It looks and works much like the Dictionary widget provided by Apple. Check out the details at Apple’s widget page.