With my dad’s health rightfully dominating the web site news (not mention our thoughts) lately, I’ve neglected to mention two important technological purchases. First is a little, white, 60-GB object from Shanghai, China that I’ve named Desiderata. The second is Motorola E815 which I’ve declined to name only because it doesn’t carry with it that Apple-like usability goodness that virtually every product out of Cupertino seems to bring.

The first device I’m talking about is of course an iPod (Video) also known as an iPod 5G. I’m afraid I’ve missed a good deal of the iPod revolution not having one of these babies for the past couple of years, but, aiming to make up for lost time, I’m now in the process of ripping every CD in my 300+ collection. For you technophiles, I’m using 160 kbps AAC encoding since that’s the point at which my over age 35 ears can’t hear the difference between AAC files and CDs themselves. Audiophiles and those under 30 (who can see perceive higher frequencies that us elder miss) might need a higher level of AAC encoding or the Apple Lossless CODEC.

As for Desiderata, it’s a slick (or “sick,” as the kids today have it) little beauty. Strange as it might seem coming from an Apple techie, I’ve not played with iPods much, and don’t have a whole lot of tips to share. Nonetheless, here are my impressions thus far:

1. The music end of things is fantastic. The iTunes-iPod integration represents some of Apple’s finest work to date, and given that, it’s not hard to see why the portable music market consists of the iPod followed (in distance) by everyone else.

2. The iPod handles photos surprisingly well. It syncs up with your iPhoto library (via iTunes, which handles all iPod syncing) and you can easily move whichever libraries you select. The display on the iPod 5G is superb. I’ve not tried any iPod to TV connection, so I have no idea how pictures might looks displayed in that fashion.

3. I wish the Notes function were better implemented. You can add notes to the iPod, but each note has a 1000 character limit and there is no stylized text such as bold or italic available. If Apple would put in a little effort here, I think this could be a whole lot more useful, though even in its rather weak state I’m going to give a go to putting MapQuest directions on the thing. We’ll see how that works out.

4. The iPod games are marginal at best. Solitaire is hard to manipulate with the scroll wheel. Brickout is OK, but nothing to write home about. Parachute in addition to being relatively difficult with a scroll wheel is also a game whose purpose is to violate the Geneva Convention by shooting paratroopers out of the sky. (No, that didn’t stop the Nazis in the World War II, either.) The Music Quiz game provides passable entertainment, but one wishes it would stop at say 20, 50 or 100 questions and provide you some stats on how you’ve done. As far as I can tell, the game just continues until your iPod’s battery dies. In short, then, anyone buying this as a game machine has a screw loose.

5. Except that you can’t update them without resyncing to your host computer, the Contacts and Calendars are fine. They’re both handy to have, though the Contacts information is clearly better stored in a mobile phone where it can do some immediate good.

6. Podcasts, as one might expect, work great. Highly recommended, in fact.

7. The Screen Lock and the Clock functions (stopwatch, lap timer, alarm clock) appear to be nice additions. Screen Lock seems to work, but otherwise I’ve done no testing here.

8. Most surprisingly, getting DVD video onto a iPod (Video) presents major difficulties, Apple’s Knowledge Base articles going so far as to say it can’t be done. In can be done, of course, but it’s unsupported and time-consuming as anything. You use a program like HandBrake to rip the DVD, load it in QuickTime 7.03 (earlier QT versions won’t work), and Export to iPod. After that you drag the resulting file into iTunes and hope to God that the iPod accepts whatever CODEC (MPEG-4 or H.264 are your choices) and settings you’ve selected. Do it wrong and you get to re-encode the whole thing, and since 7 minutes of video takes about 20 minutes in HandBrake and about 30 minutes in QuickTime 7.03, you best not do it wrong.

In fact, Steve Jobs correctly says that people should consider the video stuff a bonus. Since most video media comes on DVDs, that’s what iPod owners want to see, and Apple has made this process neither easy nor quick (nor possible, if you believe their literature). Admittedly, once you get the video on the iPod, it looks and sounds fantastic.

So there be my iPod 5G mini-review. I’ll post my thoughts on my new cell phone, a Motorola E815 next go-round.