Digital World: The sounds of Pessah

Let's face it: Zunes, Sansas, and no-name made in China MP4 players just don't have the afikomen oomph of an iPod.

ipod good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
ipod good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Things were said. Promises were made. Technically speaking, of course, you were a little tipsy when you made those Afikomen promises; four cups of wine and a whole lotta matzah will do that. Nevertheless, a promise is a promise - and now that it's chol hamo'ed, it's time to pay up! And you know what that means - you're off to the electronics store to buy a gift for each one of your children. True, technically only one kid is supposed to be eligible to get the big prize, but you try buying something fancy for one and not the others. The trick is to find something reasonably enough priced, but with enough cool cachet to allow them to hold their heads up in their various social circles. While not exactly old hat, iPods have been around long enough to have come down in price significantly. There are a host of cheaper imitators that may be easier to handle (see below), but let's face it: Zunes, Sansas, and no-name made in China MP4 players just don't have the afikomen oomph of an iPod. If they don't already have one, you could do worse than spending $39 on a refurbished iPod (, on sale at Apple USA. If you've got someone to bring them in for you, iPods at those prices qualify as gifts for the under $50 no import duty rule. You may have to pay VAT if you have them shipped, although the shipping costs would be minimal, because they're so small. Modern generation iPods can play music and video, as can many other modern portable player clones. The difference is that the iPod is a platform, with many extra applications written or produced especially for it. Because the iPod is so popular, many developers have come up with tweaks and programs to help you get more out of it. Sometimes, it seems, it pays to go with the name brand. For example, you can download and install CantoPod (for Mac OSx or Windows), which lets you see the lyrics to the songs on your iPod (all except the Shuffle). The program's database has the words to over 200,000 songs, including many of those that your kids are listening to that you know are they shouldn't be, but can't figure out why, because you can't understand what the performers are saying. There is also a version for cell phones with music players. Check out the free CantoPod at The miniscule iPod is perfect for running around with, whether in the gym or on an outdoor running track. Many people who already exercise buy one to keep them company, while many others buy one as an incentive to get them to exercise. That's where the free iPodGym program comes in handy ( This site has dozens of instructional videos you can download to your iPod (properly formatted, of course) and watch. Even more ambitious (but costing $19.95) is iWorkout ( with 101 videos, nutritional charts, nutrition & dieting essentials, etc. The iPod is great for exercising not only your body - but your mind as well! Any iPod that can display video or song lyrics can also display text and with iPod Notes ( you can turn a text file on your computer, or even a Web page, into an e-book that you can display and read on your iPod. Also available is iPod eBook Creator (, which, in association with, lets you download hundreds of already converted e-books (including many classics, science fiction, etc.) all ready to go. And, if you like the idea of a "walking encyclopedia," you can download the entire Wikidpedia for storage and display on your device. Or, if you need instant access to a dictionary, you can download the 2006 edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary at (all programs are free except the dictionary, which is $9.95). One of the most amazing programs for the iPod is Handbrake ( If you've never tried this all around (and free!) video converter for iPods, get it now before Apple people sue it out of existence. Handbrake will take any DVD (Video-TS folder, DVD image or real DVD) and output it to MP4 (Mpeg4, suitable for iPod display), MKV, AVI or OGM, with all the DVD features including subtitles, chapters, etc. Handbrake can even "do" encrypted videos (using third party components) and the program has a very active user forum with lots of good advice on the site's community page. If you prefer "pre-canned" video in the form of clips you can download from Youtube, check out Ares Tube (, for PC only), which can handle video from not only Youtube, but dozens of other video sites as well. Not all is hunky dory in the world of iPod. The bane of many device users is having to coordinate what's on the player with iTunes, which has its own peculiar (some would say rigid) way of doing things. Fortunately, you can divorce an iPod from its dependence on iTunes; download Floola (, a cross platform iPod manager that does everything iTunes does, and then some, adding support for lyrics, album artwork, converting video files to MP4 format, and downloading Youtube files. It also lets you copy files to and from the iPod without "synchronizing" the whole thing with the computer's music library, as well as, allowing you to connect more than one iPod to a computer - both features that seem beyond the abilities of iTunes to perform in a user friendly manner. In fact, if you try to do either of these things with a Mac, expect to spend several hours at your computer trying to work things out! If you insist on using iTunes and you want to copy songs or video or your device onto the computer independent of the music library, check out Expod ( After being the nice dad who got his kids a bunch of iPods and who wanted to transfer songs from one device to another without having to erase them each time (because of iTunes' limitations), and after trying a bunch of tools that claimed to allow such copying, I found Expod to be the only program that actually worked, letting you run such a basic operation on an iTunes equipped Mac. In the case of multiple accounts and copying songs, the iPod could learn a trick or two from its Chinese no-name clone cousin!