"Here's the larger question--am I ever going to be able to include my own 'homemade' mp3s on this sucker, and if so how? Apparently the Ipod and iTunes are set up for commercial recordings which have artist and track info encoded."
I recorded my brother performing some of his songs for a CD, making aiff files. It was no problem to import them to iTunes and there convert them into mp3s. Also, no problem to import other mp3s.
If you import the songs/CDs and all they say is "Track 01" and there's no info on the CDDB ("Get CD Track Names", under Advanced), you can rename the tracks line by line in the iTunes interface, or from "Get Info".
Track names are unique, but for several items that are the same - say, album title, artist, genre, year, "of 14" for the numbers of tracks - you can fill in the info in a batch. Select all the relevant tracks, and from "Get Info" (under File in the menu bar) and you're presented with a form to fill in all the common information.
Go back to name the individual track numbers 1 of 14, 2 of 14 one by one to get the tracks in the right order.