Jan 21 2009

Aaron Tiptoes Cautiously into the 21st Century

I like to give my nieces and nephews a little grief for all the electronic paraphernalia they have.  They all seem to be packing MP3 players, phones, and various other hand-held gadgets these days.  At Christmas, they were comparing Nintendo D-something-or-others: not only were there several of them floating around, but they seem to be in different colors and styles, so the kids can compete to have the best one on the block.

As a Certified Cantankerous Uncle, I’m required to scoff at all this conspicuous consumption.  “When I was a kid, we listened to scratchy albums on crummy plastic record players, by gum, and we were glad to have them!”  We didn’t get to carry our music and communications platforms with us everywhere we went.  (As Bill Cosby said, we generated our own theme music when we needed it.  I’m not sure letting kids stay in touch with their rugrat school friends 24/7 by texting is such a good idea anyway.)

But lately I’ve been finding podcasts online about all sorts of interesting things, and I don’t really want to spend extra hours sitting here at my desk to listen to them.  I’ve tried listening to them while I work, but that just doesn’t work.  I can’t type and listen to someone talk  at the same time—uses the same part of the brain, I guess.  On the other hand, sitting still at the computer without reading or typing makes me edgy, like I should be doing something useful.

Suddenly it hit me: if I had one of those MP3 thingies, I could listen to these podcasts (and audiobooks, relaxation/hypnosis recordings, etc.) while I’m out walking the dog, cleaning the garage, or relaxing in a recliner.  Then I can actually pay attention and absorb it, instead of constantly rewinding to try to catch what I missed.

So I got out my Grandma Christmas Cash and went shopping.  At first, I thought I’d just get the cheapest one I could find.  After all, podcasts shouldn’t require high quality sound, and I certainly don’t need it to display music videos or anything.  But the cheap ones were too cheap: they used batteries and the reviews said they were hard to control.  So I eased my price range up a little, and things got much more promising.

After quite a bit of research, I ended up going with the 4GB version of the SanDisk Sansa Clip, and I have to say I’m impressed.  The first thing that struck me was the size: it’s tiny!  I saw the dimensions online, but I hadn’t thought about how small that really was.  It’s about the size of a small matchbook, and not much thicker.  (And yet it has twice the memory my computer has!  Amazing.)  Then I started using it, and found that the controls are very comfortable and the sound quality is great (to my amateur ears, anyway).

Dumping MP3s onto it via USB was as simple as with any other flash-drive-type unit, and it recharges via USB, so that’s handy.  You can organize the files into music, audiobooks, and podcasts, and further into subcategories within those.  It picks up the author/title info from the MP3s if they have it, so you can see what you’re playing; and you can organize them into playlists, rate them, and about anything else you can think of.

It also has FM radio, which I wasn’t expecting much from; but it has much better reception than my clock radio, despite not having an external antenna like that does.  It’ll even record the radio, so I could get up at 5am and start recording the First Team, go back to bed, and listen to the show later, fast-forwarding through the commercials!  That’s pretty cool.

It also does voice recording, which was one of the selling points for me.  If I’m out walking and have an idea, I can switch to voice, record the idea, and switch back to whatever I’m listening to.  I should also be able to make my own podcasts with it without having to sit at the computer.  I’d been wanting to try some podcasting for my Latin lessons, but being tied to the computer wasn’t appealing.

All in all, I’m very impressed and pleased with this thing.  For a little over $50, I’ll be able to extend my learning and creative activities away from my desk, and focus better on my actual work when I am sitting here.  Just today, I took Pepper for a walk and learned about a new way to distribute useful information on the net and make a profit from it.  This is gonna be great.

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