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Shop Different: Accessorizing Your iPod ... for Cheap!
Pages: 1, 2

Audio CDs

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Figure 4. As a rule, dollar store music stinks.

When shopping for music at a Dollar Store, set your sights low. Top 40 hits aren't on offer. Top 500 hits aren't either. Or Top 1,000. (I could go on, but I expect you get the point by now.) You'll find music that never sold very well, packaged into minimalist cardboard envelopes rather than more expensive jewel cases. Their chief attraction? They can be bought in bulk and sold for a buck apiece.

So what do you find for your dollar? In my shopping extravaganza I encountered perhaps a dozen or two titles per store, nearly all of them in the "mood music" category of tinkly, nature-inspired stuff. This is the kind of music you expect to hear playing softly in the background when getting a facial or a massage. (That's the girl-style, pretentious, low-lights-and-aromatherapy massages, mind you. I have no clue what sort of music they play in so-called "massage parlors.")

Think of Yanni on Quaaludes. Or Kenny G having a really bad day. Candlelight Piano, Body & Soul Deep Sleep, and Panpipe Moods didn't last very long on my iPod. There's just so far one can be willing to go in the name of journalism, and I hit my limit within the first tinkling, panpiping hour.

Bottom line: Spend your dollar at the iTunes music store instead and you'll buy something you'll be willing to listen to more than once. You can also pick up some cheap used CDs at Goodwill, flea markets, or garage sales. Skip the dollar store.

Kid Music CDs

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Figure 5. For a dollar, kiddie music can distract your kids and give you some valuable free time.

Not all dollar store music is worthless in iPod terms. Music CDs aimed at kids is a pretty good buy for your dollar. I picked up a few child-themed CDs, loaded them onto my iPod and tested them on my kids. They were a huge hit.

I'm not saying the music was particularly well done, or educational, or even worth listening to on adult terms. The Old MacDonald Nursery Rhymes I bought were sung with strong New Jersey accents. They had a sense of timing that would send music teachers to their graves with tension-induced trauma. The accompaniments made MIDI files sound brilliant by comparison. But my younger kids loved 'em. And listened to them for hours on my iPod, over and over and over. With earphones. So I didn't have to suffer and listen along.

I'm pleased to say that the good Lord does endow children with the ability to appreciate normal music. It seems to kick in around age 7 or 8. Somewhat. My 8-year-old couldn't stand the "baby music" on offer, preferring to listen to her American Idol recordings instead.

Bottom line: Whether these qualify as value for your dollar or not depends on how well you appreciate a 3-year-old demanding full-time access to your iPod.


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Figure 6. You'll find fantastic entertainment with dollar store DVDs.

When it comes to video entertainment, dollar store DVDs shine. Old movies and TV shows are ubiquitous: there are often hundreds to choose from. You can find classic John Wayne movies, old-timey serials like Flash Gordon, and early episodes of your TV faves including The Beverly Hillbillies and the Stooges (love them!).

If your iPod video horizons begin and end with Lost and Desperate Housewives, you are so missing out on excellent classic entertainment. This isn't to say there aren't a lot of crap DVDs at the dollar store. There are. But there are many really, really good classic items there as well.

And the really good part is that practically none of them use any encryption or copy-protection schemes, so you can easily load them onto your video iPod.

Personally, I use HandBrake to rip 'em and convert them to MPEG-4 video and AAC audio. They then transfer easily through iTunes onto the iPod and I'm good to go.

Bottom line: Dollar store DVDs rule. They're a fantastic buy, particularly when you choose a quality show or movie to watch.

Carry Cases

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Figure 7. Inexpensive carry cases offer an indispensable way to keep your iPod paraphernalia organized.

If you do not own a small make-up case, stop reading now and run out immediately to your local dollar store. Cases come in a variety of sizes and colors and you're sure to find one that fits your style as well as your earphones and iPod perfectly. Don't let these float around your briefcase or purse getting tangled in everything and picking up extra scratches.

Bottom line: Keeping a small carry case on-hand makes it much easier to keep your iPod stuff organized when not in use. (And yes, there are times your iPod won't be in use.)

Final Thoughts

People too often get hung up on branding. They forget that no-name items can work as well as high-end specialty choices. And although some name-brand items are worth the extra bucks, buying an iPod shouldn't send you to the poorhouse when trying to accessorize it.

In this article, you've seen a bunch of low-end accessories that can be used right away with your iPod as well as ways to "shop different." I like shiny and white just as much as the next guy or gal, but I like to watch my pennies, while getting the most out of my iPod.

Erica Sadun has written, co-written, and contributed to almost two dozen books about technology, particularly in the areas of programming, digital video, and digital photography.

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