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Data hygiene

Started: 2012-11-03 12:40:48

Submitted: 2012-11-03 13:43:25

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator buys a new iPod and has to scramble to actually support it on his hardware

I bought my first iPod in 2003, a bulky ten-gig third-generation unit. When that iPod lost its battery I upgraded to an eight-gig third-generation iPod Nano in 2008. When that iPod, which I named Drusilla, stopped working last Christmas, I borrowed Kiesa's old four-gig third-generation iPod Nano, which she had lost, replaced, and found again. I named this iPod Darla, and it's worked fairly well for the past ten months, except for an occasionally-dodgy hold switch and its tiny storage capacity, which is barely enough to hold the podcasts I care about plus the music I like. I thought about getting a newer iPod, but I wasn't really inspired by the newer form factors of iPod Nanos, and I really wanted something I could use with my Mac Mini. I bought my Mac Mini, Sasami, in 2006, and immediately switched to using iTunes on it. I'm not a big fan of iTunes -- it's fairly bloated and much of the UI needs some usability attention -- but I've figured out how to get what I want out of it, and I have all of my podcasts configured properly and I have six years of playback history and song ratings and other metadata that I don't want to lose. Sasami has an old-school PowerPC processor, and can't run the latest version of MacOS X -- and therefore can't run the latest version of iTunes -- and therefore can't support the latest iPods.

(Syncing my iPod to a stationary computer does have its downsides -- I can't update my podcasts unless I'm actually at home. Most of the time that works fine, but when I'm away for the better part of a week my podcasts tend to get stale and I end up back at home with a big backlog of Marketplace that I need to work through before I feel like I know what's been happening in the world.)

Looking ahead to my forthcoming adventure in Hong Kong, I wanted to pick up a newer iPod with more storage, but I wanted something that would actually work with my hardware. That knocked out the newest generation of iPod Nanos, which required iTunes 10, but my careful research on the Internet seemed to imply that the third-generation iPod Touch would work fine with iTunes 9 on MacOS 10.4. I found a used one on eBay, and it arrived Wednesday evening, unaffected by Hurricane Sandy.

All went well with the new iPod until I plugged it into Sasami, and iTunes complained that it needed iTunes 10.5 to work with the iPod -- which is nigh impossible on my hardware (and I'm not going to buy a new Mac just so I can run iTunes on it). I couldn't find any solid compatibility table but it appeared that, while the third-generation iPod Touch would work just fine with iTunes 9 and MacOS 10.4, the newest iOS 5 update required a newer version of iTunes.

My original plan obviously wasn't going to work, so I briefly investigated the possibility of downgrading to an earlier version of iOS (if, in fact, I could figure out an appropriate version to downgrade to) but my casual research indicated this was quite difficult, so I contemplated the merits of migrating my iTunes library, in its entirety, to the Windows XP virtual machine I run on Portico. I run my VM rarely enough that I had a bunch of updates to VMWare, Windows, and iTunes to install, but I eventually got iTunes on my VM to sync with my still-unnamed iPod Touch -- over USB, through the VM, which worked a lot better than the last time Kiesa tried this stunt.

The whole reason I wanted to keep using iTunes was to keep my library and metadata, so obviously I needed to migrate the data itself. An Apple article I read claimed I could simply copy the entire directory from one computer to another and iTunes ought to magically do the Right Thing. This seemed too good to be true, but I cleaned up my library on Sasami and copied the entire eighteen gigs over the network to my one remaining desktop computer, Hiro, that I use almost exclusively as an expensive, power-hungry NAS, then to Portico, taking advantage of the Ethernet jack I wired into the dining room.

My next challenge was actually getting the eighteen-gigabyte library into my VM so iTunes could digest it. My first attempts at convincing iTunes to split the actual music from the metadata were ineffective, so I had to expand my VM's virtual hard drive (to thirty-two gigs), and rearrange some of the data on my computer in the process (having screwed up, again, the process of partitioning the computer when I set it up the first time). (It was about at this moment that I thought of the xkcd strip Success.) Improbably, I actually managed to rearrange everything without losing any data (despite a tense moment when I wondered if I'd reformatted the wrong logical volume) and, even more improbably, iTunes actually imported the whole library with only a minor hiccup (involving seven files whose filenames had changed in the shuffle).

So I ended up with everything I wanted: a newer iPod with much more capacity, and a portable copy of iTunes. I even managed to perform some data hygiene by cleaning up several gigs of accumulated cruft in my iTunes library and actually backing up my library in my official home backup system. I still need to clean up the various disparate copies of my music library and shrink the space occupied by my VM (and, someday, fix the horribly baroque partition-and-LVM scheme I've backed myself into on Portico), but for now, I actually feel like I've accomplished something more than simply restoring the status quo (and avoiding shark attacks).

I also picked up a sixteen-gig Nexus 7 to take to Hong Kong, but aside from turning it on and discovering that I have to figure out how to use the new, sexy, and not-supported-out-of-the-box-on-my-computer media transfer protocol instead of old-school USB mass storage, I haven't actually done much with it, so that's another story.

The point is that one should never assume that sucky, disgusting software
is written by first year comp sci majors. There are enough professional
programmers out there to cause a far bigger disaster.
- Randseed (132501) on Slashdot, 08 June 2003