When Tanooki started watching television, he was about 18 months old and introduced to ‘In the Night Garden’ by a friend while we were abroad in Australia. It was a great find, making the return journey home much easier than the outbound one, which we’d foolishly planned like people who didn’t have an infant. For the way back, we loaded up a tablet with as many episodes as we could get our mitts on, threw a couple of Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy plushes in the carry-ons and boarded our return flight home content that he wouldn’t start accidentally watching The Revenant on the in flight entertainment system. Again.
Prior to that, we weren’t ready to introduce him to screens. The last few places we’d lived didn’t have a strong enough signal or AV hookup, so we primarily relied on on-demand services and the in-house media server for entertainment at our convenience. With work and parenting, this was pretty infrequent.
However after the trip down under, a digital entertainment precedent had been set. This sparked many more conversations between Tanooki's mother and I. What would we let him watch? Children’s enter-slash-infotainment has come on leaps and bounds since we were kids, but it’s also become more encompassing and invasive through merchandising and digital channels.
We found an article in The Guardian about kid’s tv shows that were recommended and took some of them for a test drive ourselves. Tanooki was allowed roughly 15 minutes a day, which was about one episode of ‘In the Night Garden’ or two ‘Sarah and Duck’s (the latter which is very charming and whimsical).
Slowly, even though we had set some ground rules, the invasiveness of technology crept in. On a couple of day trips, I brought an old iPad Mini 2 along for the ride with come cached CBeebies programmes in the iPlayer app just in case. But this started to set a precedent of being able to watch whatever, whenever. So we had to come up with an alternative.
Using a couple of software tools (some free, some not), we decided that he could listen to his shows all he wanted with an old iPod and a speaker. I had a 60GB iPod classic sitting in a drawer that was only collecting dust and had a bluetooth speaker with Aux input that I used in the car, so set about finding a solution.
Step One: Downloading Content
One was - how do we get the content? Fortunately there’s a great bit of software called Get iPlayer Automator for macOS. Get iPlayer Automator (and other similar programs) scan the iPlayer website for the content you’re looking for. You can search for a specific show, see what’s currently available on iPlayer and queue it up for download.
Once it does, it can put it into iTunes for you automatically, or you can choose to have it sent somewhere else. I have downloads sent to a different folder on my Mac, which is then monitored iFlicks, the software I use to add TV Show data.
Step Two: Tagging with iFlicks
iFlicks is the program that I use for tagging TV Shows and other media. It monitors the download folder for new content, and launches with the videos ready to convert when shows have been added. It grabs details from the downloaded file name and checks it against a database to provide the right show name, episode title number and series. It also applies the correct media kind (such as TV Show, Movie etc)then converts and ships it off to iTunes.
At this point, if you just want converted videos, you’re in good stead. However if you want to have the episodes as audio only, there’s one extra conversion step to take.
Step Three: Converting to Audio with Permute
Permute is a great little utility that does one thing very well. It converts your media files into various different formats. Even though iFlicks has shipped off the video files to iTunes, the original files are still in my watched folder. So I do a double conversion by dragging and dropping them right into the Permute window, and drop them into a ‘Converted’ folder on my desktop. Once that’s done, I drag them right into my iTunes window.
Step Four: Playlists
In iTunes, Smart Playlists are the way to go. Use them to automatically add new episodes to the shows as they come in - then that makes syncing easier when you attach your iPod to iTunes in the next step.
Step Five: Syncing
Once you’ve got what you need in iTunes, set your iPod up to sync the selected Smart Playlists so that it will be updated every time you plug it in.
We’d previously relied on putting music on CDs then letting Tanooki play them on his own CD player. But if you think syncing old iPods is arduous, ripping and burning discs like it was the late nineties is even worse. With the iPod Nano, he can see the album art and recognise some of the words from the episode titles.
Get ready to hate the things you love
Whatever you put on your MP3 player - get ready to listen to it ad nauseam. Think you’re ready to introduce your kid to Dr Demento or They Might Be Giants? Perhaps think again. The only way out is through.
Kiss your beloved tech goodbye.
Whatever you bestow upon your young one, if you want it to last, put it in a decent case. Fortunately eBay is chock full of cases and things for older model tech, and usually for a price of a cup of coffee. My old Classic? Gone. Dropped hard enough to break something off the circuit board and it wasn’t worth chasing up the parts to replace it vs buying a newer version off eBay if I ever want to go down that direction. Since that bit the dust, we let him use the Nano I had engraved for his mother many years previous and, despite being in a case, it turns out that those tiny screens do not take well to pressure. So I swapped a Nintendo Switch game against a used iPod Nano to get a replacement and put hers back in nostalgia storage.
A friend of mine with older children introduce tablets at a slightly older age, but made sure that the kids didn’t take express ownership of them. “The blue iPad is Papa’s, and you’re allowed to use it.” will serve you well down the line rather than referring it to “Tanooki’s blue iPad”, for example. Your mileage may vary with your own parenting style, of course.
Stock up on battery chargers
The battery life stinks on the most recent iPod Nano 3rd Gen. Fair enough, it’s at least ten years old. At least with the Classic I had the option of replacing the battery, but not so with these wafer thin models (at least not without causing permanent damage to the rear of the case). So we have a couple of Anker Astro power banks kicking around for a quick charge (or a permanent tether in this case).
I was able to limit this on my old iPod Classic and lock it with a passcode, but it’s a different setup on the iPod Nano. He was able to overcome that pretty quickly, which led to conversations about appropriate use.
Prior to this workflow, I’d relied on a combination of Handbrake and shell scripting to convert my content. In the last year or so I’ve discovered SetApp, a subscription-based software service for macOS that includes iFlicks and Permute - two great utilities.
If you’re interested in using SetApp, use this referral link if you like, and I get a free month as a kickback.