Hack the iPod's Notes

The third-generation iPods and the iPod mini include a new Notes area that can hold 1,000 4Kb plain-text files. Packing your iPod with these files is a cinch: just create a plain-text document with Apple’s TextEdit or Microsoft Word, and copy the file into the iPod’s Notes folder.

But there’s more to Notes than individual text documents. Thanks to Notes’ support for basic HTML tags, you can link notes to one another and to audio files stored on your iPod. You can also configure the iPod to lock out everything but the Notes area; that way, viewers must start there. Called NotesOnly mode or Museum mode, it holds potential for museum curators, tour guides, or realtors interested in presenting facts about a painting, a historical center, or an overpriced property. Right now, though, we’re interested in matters of the heart.

The Truth about Tags

First, we must touch upon the iPod’s limited HTML support. When I say that it supports basic tags, I mean basic. The iPod can’t display styled text, so you’ll find no tags for creating italic or boldface type. Instead, the included tags are designed to help the iPod interpret Web pages and to create links.

These tags are limited to line breaks ( <br> ), opening and closing paragraph marks ( <p> and </p> , respectively), and a tag for creating titles ( <TITLE>The Title You Want</TITLE> ). Normal HTML rules don’t apply: a <p> tag, for instance, doesn’t create a space after a paragraph. You need to use a <p> and a <br> tag, as we do here, or use two <p> s or two <br> s.

For example, type this into your text editor:

<TITLE> Ooh, Baby, Baby</TITLE> Ooh, my little snookums!<br><p>I'll never forget the night we met. The moon, the smell of your perfume, the drenching rain.</p><br><p>I'm so happy you're mine!</p>

Then save the file as plain text and mount your iPod as an external drive. (To do that, select the iPod in the iTunes Source window, click on the Display iPod Options button in the right-hand corner of the iTunes window, select Enable Disk Use, and click on OK.) Copy the file to the iPod’s Notes folder. You’ll get a note that looks like this:

Ooh, my little snookums! I’ll never forget the night we met. The moon, the smell of your perfume, the drenching rain. I’m so happy you’re mine!

The Missing Links

You’ve made a good start, but you may find it difficult to really bare your soul in a 4Kb file. You might want to create additional notes and link to them from the original Ooh, Baby, Baby note.

To do so, enter <a href="the note you refer to">the link text</a> .

For example, you may want to include a link to a love letter stored in a file called Letter1.txt, which you’ve placed in the iPod’s Notes folder. Let’s say you want that link to be the words Words of Love—you’d type <a href="Letter1.txt">Words of Love</a> .

On the iPod, the words Words of Love will be underlined. To travel to that note, simply scroll down until the link appears, and then press the Select button. If two links appear on the screen, the active link will be displayed as a solid black line. Other links will be gray. Use the scroll wheel to activate links above or below the currently active link. Use the Menu button to return to the main text when you’re done.

If you’d rather not clutter the top level of the Notes folder with hundreds of notes—and if you want to ensure that your sweetie starts in the right place—you can create subfolders within the Notes folder. To refer to files within one of these subfolders, your link must use this form: <a href="folder name/note name">the link text</a> .

For instance, if you have a file called Our First Kiss.txt inside a folder called Great Dates, you might create a Things I’ll Never Forget link to it: <a href="Great Dates/Our First Kiss.txt"> Things I’ll Never Forget</a> .

File names in links are not case sensitive, but you will need to spell out the full name of the note, including the .txt extension if it has one. And you can’t link to notes stored outside the iPod’s Notes folder.

Keep in mind that a folder can be a destination, so you could create a link that takes you to the Great Dates folder (which, presumably, contains several notes) by typing <a href="Great Dates"> Unforgettable Moments</a> .

Say It with Song

Unless you’re romantically linked with someone who understands geeks and loves gadgets, the object of your affection may wonder why you’ve put a mash note on an iPod. It is, after all, a music player, and you’ll get far more bang for your buck if links in your notes play songs or sound effects that describe your feelings.

For instance, you might add an entry to Ooh, Baby, Baby that reads, “When I see you, my heart sings.” To link the words my heart sings to the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” on the iPod, use this form: <a href="song=Love Rollercoaster">my heart sings</a> .

You could just as easily link to a stored recording of yourself reading a Shakespearean sonnet or of the sound of a gentle, lapping ocean to accompany a recounting of hours spent beneath the boardwalk.

Like other links, the phrase in the note will be underlined. When you highlight the link by scrolling down the page and then press the iPod’s Select button, the song or sound you’ve linked to will play. When it’s done, the iPod returns to the note.

You can also use links to point to a particular playlist, genre, artist, composer, or album. If you wanted to link to the playlist Funky Love Songs, with the phrase “Select me to groove all night!” you’d create this link:  <a href="ipod:music?playlist=Funky Love Songs">Select me to groove all night!</a> .

If your iPod has more than one version of a song—both the studio version and the live recording, for example—you can combine filters to zero in on a specific song. A link that reads “Select me to hear how I feel!” could play the studio version of James Brown’s “Prisoner of Love,” from the album Can Your Heart Stand It!! Just use this form: <a href="ipod:music?album=Can Your Heart Stand It!!&song=Prisoner of Love">Select me to hear how I feel!</a> .

Locking It Down

Your present is nearly complete. But your gift will be far more effective if it launches directly to the Notes screen when your loved one first switches on the iPod.

For this to happen, you must configure the iPod to launch into NotesOnly mode. To do so, create a plain-text document and enter this line of text: <meta name="NotesOnly" content="true"> .

Save the file with the name Preferences, and copy it to the top level of the iPod’s Notes folder. When the iPod next launches, it will display the Notes screen, and it won’t let you navigate outside the Notes area. You can steer to notes with the scroll wheel and the Select button, but you can’t access screens other than those in the Notes area unless you hook the iPod up to your Mac and remove the Preferences file you placed in the Notes folder.

Duly Noted

Your multimedia masterpiece is complete. Give the iPod a final charge, wrap it in a colorful case, and present it on bended knee. Now that will strike the perfect note! 

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