Archive for Fileophile

The price of experimentation

This week I bought four songs online, and two of them were the same song — specifically, this one, which I’ve mentioned before:

Last time, of course, I posted a live version.

Anyway, my 40-year-old LP sounds better than that. The problem, for those of us with short attention spans who seldom listen to a whole album at once, is that “Hero and Heroine” is crossfaded with “Midnight Sun,” a decidedly lesser track, and picking a good fade point is a tremendous pain in the drain. So I went out looking to purchase the track from a later compilation album, in the hopes of getting a free-standing version.

As it happens, two Strawbs compilation albums are in print: Halcyon Days (1997) and the more generic-sounding 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: The Best of Strawbs (2003). I bought one track from Amazon, the other from iTunes. Neither has the cold ending I wanted — though the 20th Century Masters version runs eight seconds longer for some reason. Both sound pretty decent.

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One o’ them newfangled head units

A decade and a half after Gwendolyn’s birth in Oppama, Japan, Infiniti is still sourcing auto audio from Bose, though things are obviously much different today. With a few days to fiddle about with a G37, I decided to do some exploration.

The first thing I spotted was a succession of weird variations in volume. Since the lowest volume seemed to occur at idle, I concluded that this was an effort to compensate for road and engine noise: crank up the RPMs, and the box cranks up the volume. If this actually worked well, I never would have noticed it. To do this correctly, there’d have to be a sensor located near the listener’s head to feed back sound-pressure level on a realtime basis, and I don’t think Nissan wants to spend that kind of money. Digging down in the audio menu, I found a toggle for the function, and switched it off.

Pushing the AUX button brings up satellite radio, which will tune but will not actually deliver a station unless there’s a proper subscription in effect. Curiously, there’s no formal three-connector AUX jack, just the USB port in the console, at an angle where it’s difficult for either driver or front-seat passenger to access while seated, unless you’re riding with Reed Richards. I attached my little Sansa Clip Zip, and smiled as the song titles rolled up on the screen. Downside: I have yet to figure out how I can get the Sansa’s 32GB microSD card to read; the menu only brings up the stuff from the resident memory. And while the device powered on and off when the car was shut off, which was greatly appreciated, the last restart was met with “Check Device Connections.” I’m thinking that Rockbox, puzzled by the start/stop command sequence, basically locked itself up. After a very long shutdown sequence, it started again normally. I’m thinking that if I had to deal with this on a regular basis — and eventually, I suppose I will — it would be easier just to plug in a 32GB flash drive.

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Now I’ve heard everything

After yesterday’s errands, I retrieved the little Rockbox-equipped Sansa music player from the car, and noticed across the display screen: “4964 of 4979.” Evidently over the preceding weeks I’d gone through the entire playlist, except for 15 songs.

Which, of course, raised a question: “What happens after the playlist runs out?” I strapped on a headset and let the machine run for the next hour. The last five:

  • 4975: The Sound-Offs, “The Angry Desert”
  • 4976: Johnnie Taylor, “Who’s Making Love”
  • 4977: Jon and Robin and the In-Crowd, “Do It Again (A Little Bit Slower)”
  • 4978: Dion, “Abraham, Martin and John”
  • 4979: Smash Mouth, “Walkin’ on the Sun”

As that last song started, the “Next:” callout was ominously blank.

And then it reset to the top of the Main Menu, awaiting further instructions. (Pressing “Resume Playback” was met with “Nothing to resume”.) This was, I decided, the ideal time to rework the playlist. (Basically, I replaced a couple of tracks with better-quality versions.)

To restart was a simple (eventually) matter of going to Files/Playlists and clicking on whatever playlist was named. First song out of the box was “We Belong Together” by Robert and Johnny; I ordered a reshuffle starting at #2, just because.

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Not so quiet on the set

“Sooner or later,” I said, “a strain relief doesn’t,” which was the reason I was shopping for a new cassette adapter to plug my little music player (Sansa Clip Zip, modified by Rockbox) into the big Bose box in the car. I had planned three steps, all of which proved to be unsuccessful: contact the individual manufacturer (the US distributor is dead in the water), consult with other users (most seem to have ripped out the head units by now), and resolder the cursed thing myself (which will require much thicker glasses, I’m afraid).

So I’m buying a book on Amazon this past weekend, which is hardly news, and as always, Amazon remembers everything I’ve bought and everything I ever thought about buying, which is also hardly news. While I’m working on the sale details, they toss up a photograph of a cassette adapter now being offered by one of their myriad of merchants, and except for an obviously glued-on label and a 90°-angle plug, it’s the same one I used to have. I anted up ten bucks plus shipping, and waited a week.

It’s here, it’s a little bit noisy, but it works. (And who’s gonna hear the noise with the stereo cranked up?)

Oh, the book? It’s coming in from Jolly Old, so it probably won’t be here until next week.

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Because you have all day

I have no idea how many Repositories of Downloadable Files there might be out there, but I have to figure that none of them are actually having to compete for anyone’s business. One I’ve just recently seen offers the usual monthly and yearly subscriptions (the latter around $75); but if you’re not a paying customer and just happened on their site because you followed a link, you get to wait a bit more than a minute and then fill out a CAPTCHA form before they start sending you the file at slightly above Commodore 64 speeds. For all I know, subscribers may be getting these faster; but am I willing to spend $12 to find out? (Hint: no.)

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Quiet on the set

As anyone who’s ever worked with anything electric can tell you, sooner or later a strain relief doesn’t.

About three years ago I bought a cassette adapter to play my little MP3 Walkman in the car, and it worked like a charm, though I always thought it looked just a teensy bit fragile. With this in mind, earlier this year I picked up a similar beast that had been sold by XM Radio to its subscribers in ancient vehicles. Backup, right? Backup, wrong: when the original cord finally frayed itself into silence, I duly unpacked the new one, which spun at near-dreidel speeds in the tape slot but never deigned to cough up any sound. Okay, it’s a cheap piece of crap; I addressed myself to Monster Cable, which might be overpriced but which never vends truly cheap crap. Same results.

I dialed around the Web for guidance, and found an Instructable that didn’t quite address the same issue. The author had tamed his device’s bad behavior by pulling the little gearset that contacts the drive pin.

Eventually I figured out the problem, and it stems from Bose’s design for this head unit: if the tape or tape-like object is not making good contact with the drive pin, the mechanism, in the interest of preventing jamming, withdraws completely. (It even disengages when you shut the car off, which should have been a clue.) I am not even considering spending however many dollars it takes to re-stereo this car, which leaves me basically three options:

  • Try to get hold of the manufacturer and see if there are any more of that model to be had anywhere;
  • Whine to a group of owners and see which devices they are using;
  • Buy a new plug, which is easy, and then try to solder all these tiny little wires I can barely see, which is less so.

Step One is already underway.

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Hey, at least they asked

Apple delivered iTunes 11.1.3 this past week, and as usual, the Standard Sources kicked up all manner of information about what’s new in the Mac OS version, most of which doesn’t apply to us poor Windows heathen.

That said, while the install was as tedious as ever, I caught one little bit of phraseology whipping by above the status bar: “Checking to see if system restart is necessary.”

Would that actual Windows applications had that much courtesy.

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That last syllable is “Boo”

Regular readers will recall that I reworked my little Sansa ClipZip with a third-party operating system, for one very good reason:

[I]t patches the Sansa firmware to hand over to the Rockbox OS, which has a much grottier, Unix-y interface, but which can update its database in three minutes rather than three hours.

Automotive systems, you’d think, would have a little more brainpower. Turns out that the Mazda6 doesn’t, and guess what happened to Jack Baruth in his ’13 Chevy Malibu rental?

My admittedly formidable 18,023-song iPod Classic proved to be almost unusable with the MyLink system, requiring up to ten minutes of indexing every time the car was started before any music would be available. A full index never occurred; during three hours of continuous operation, the MyLink climbed to 10,000 songs exactly and quit. When the Malibu was restarted, it locked-up the iPod, requiring a reset of the iPod and another indexing session.

I should note here that I have Rockbox set for a 6000-item database, of which I’m actually using a shade under five thousand; normal start time is about 15-20 seconds.

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This is no mantra

Apparently you can’t always believe the label on a music app:

I was searching for some nice, soothing music to type by, and chose an app that has all kinds of music from all over the world. I searched for “meditation.” I got a list of stations and chose one. Ahhh. Soothing music greeted me.

Then, for no apparent reason, a loud, fuzzed out guitar began to play heavy metal, or thrash metal. Then the drummer joined in. It sounded like he was rolling around metal garbage cans filled with ricocheting bowling balls while simultaneously pounding the cans with a ball peen hammer. My automatic reaction was to scream in anguish while randomly slapping the screen of my iPad, trying desperately to turn it off. What the hell? Is this some new kind of meditation I haven’t heard about, like Masochism Meditation? Yegods! Count me out.

I’m guessing that the idea here is to overcome that old stress with new stress. Sounds counterproductive to me, but hey, I’m not a streaming-music programmer, this notwithstanding.

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Quibbles and bits

There’s a 2013 Audi Allroad 2.0T in the Motor Trend Garage, signed out to Arthur St. Antoine, and his update in the November issue contains this observation:

I giddily loaded up a memory card with lossless audio files (using both FLAC and ALAC codecs), only to discover that the head unit won’t play files with bit rates higher than 320 kbps.

I stared at this, realized I didn’t know what difference bit rates made in FLAC in the first place, and duly hunted down the FAQ:

With FLAC you do not specify a bitrate like with some lossy codecs. It’s more like specifying a quality with Vorbis or MPC, except with FLAC the quality is always “lossless” and the resulting bitrate is roughly proportional to the amount of information in the original signal. You cannot control the bitrate much and the result can be from around 100% of the input rate (if you are encoding noise), down to almost 0 (encoding silence).

So I went to my small folder of FLAC files and played them through Winamp, which has a semi-reliable bit-rate indicator. The absolute lowest bit rate obtained was 807 kbps.

Curious, I pulled out a wav file from the archives and shot it through the FLAC frontend at the default “quality level” of 6. It came back at 910 kbps.

So instead of sniping at St. Antoine for being picky, I get to grouse at Audi for failing to anticipate this sort of thing.

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Which stream can I take?

I continue to fool around with iTunes Radio, and at some point this week I got the idea of putting together a custom station, just to see what I’d get. So I scrolled through the song list, pushed the appropriate buttons, and voilà!

Thus was born Friday Radio, which began its operation, not actually with “Friday,” but with the second Rebecca Black single, “My Moment.” As expected, there’s a heck of a lot of teen pop, and since much of it is vended by Disney, there’s a heck of a lot of Disney-related material coming down the stream.

Here’s the first batch of tunes served up by Friday Radio:

  • Rebecca Black — My Moment
  • Meaghan Jette Martin — Too Cool
  • China Anne McClain — Calling All the Monsters
  • Aaron Carter — I Want Candy
  • Demi Lovato — Can’t Back Down
  • Bridgit Mendler — Turn the Music Up
  • Hannah Montana — Ice Cream Freeze (Let’s Chill)
  • The Chipettes — Hot N Cold (Katy Perry cover)
  • Keke Palmer — Bottoms Up
  • Tim James & Nevermind — Twist My Hips
  • Hannah Montana — I’m Still Good
  • Greyson Chance — Unfriend You
  • Meaghan Jette Martin — 2 Stars
  • Keke Palmer — It’s My Turn Now
  • Nick Jonas — Introducing Me
  • Jonas Bros. & China Anne McClain — Your Biggest Fan

Some observations:

Miley Cyrus was a lot easier to listen to when she was Hannah Montana.

Greyson Chance is that kid from Edmond who became a YouTube star by warbling a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”; he’s working on his third album.

Yes, the Chipettes are the Rule 63 version of the Chipmunks.

And viewed, or listened to, on its own terms, some of this stuff isn’t half bad.

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A little more traveling music

Earlier this week, Jeffro put up a stack of songs which he says make his right foot get heavy. I was at a loss how to respond, since I have never bothered to make up any automotive playlists, although I did once upon a time gather some anecdotal evidence:

“Kick Out the Jams”, MC5: 14 mph over speed limit
“Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”, Yardbirds: 10 mph over
“7 and 7 Is”, Love: 9 mph over
“Get Me to the World on Time”, Electric Prunes: 7 mph over
“Purple Haze”, Jimi Hendrix: 5 mph over
“Sugar and Spice”, Cryan’ Shames (control): 2 mph over

“Next road trip,” I said, “Enya stays home.”

The little Noise Cube, my reworked and jailbroken Sansa ClipZip, contains at this writing 4,907 songs, which are shuffled into no discernible order. I note purely for historical interest that the last two times I decided I was going too damn fast for conditions, I was playing “Any Way You Want It,” the noisiest Dave Clark Five record, and “If I Could Fly,” a Joe Satriani number that has perhaps inspired others.

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Frost in the air

Yesterday I picked up the new version of iTunes and sampled one of Apple’s preset stations on iTunes Radio: the one billed as Chill Out-Ambient. This is not a genre with which I have a great deal of expertise, but it’s one of which I’m growing increasingly fond.

The first time through, I decided I would stick around through the first three commercials. (I am not a subscriber — yet — to iTunes Match, so I get the occasional promotional message. I may yet spend the $30 a year.) The third commercial arrived after one hour, forty-two minutes, so it’s not like Apple is cramming them all together like auto dealers on a Saturday.

The stream sounds pretty darn good; I can’t be sure if it’s the same quality as the actual for-sale tracks (AAC 256), but it’s close. And Apple, of course, gives you a buy button on each track as it goes by, should you be so motivated.

The one advantage of iTunes Radio, apparently, is that anything in the Store can also come down the stream. That’s a whole lot of selection.

I’ll try some other stations, and maybe make up some, later on.

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Wider columns needed

Or something. The following screenshot was taken from the endlessly fluctuating iTunes playlist on the workbox yesterday:

iTunes screenshot

For the, um, record, the albums referenced are Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and The Secret of Association.

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I hear you knocking

You may recall this from Vent #832 last week, about a recently-purchased download of “The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs:

Both versions [45 and LP] open with four drum beats, intended to be a knock at the door. (We know it’s intended to be a knock at the door because the chorus chimes in, “Who’s there?”) For some reason known but to God, or to one or several little pigs, three of those beats have been trimmed away, thus making the whole opening sequence incomprehensible. This is a failure only a massive corporation — say, Universal Music, who owns these tracks of late and presumably provided copies to the download stores — could possibly pull off.

I could either wait for a reissue producer to knock on Universal’s door, or I could fix this myself. And so it was that last night, I ripped just the four beats from the stereo LP, and then pasted them into the purchased file at the appropriate point. I’m sure this violates someone’s perverse idea of current copyright law, which is pretty perverse in its own right, but hey: they messed up.

Incidentally, I didn’t bother to correct the stereo spread, so the knocks appear to be coming from the left side, then the rest of the song shifts to mono. I’d argue that it makes sense that way.

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Discontent providers

The vast quantity of (relatively) low-priced downloadable music available these days is truly a boon to civilization.

Except, of course, when it sucks.

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Play something slow

The new Mazda6 has generally wowed the critics, who seem to enjoy its driving dynamics and its not-entirely-bizarre appearance. However, there’s apparently a drawback in the center stack:

The media interface is incredibly slow. I n c r e d i b l y s l o w. So slow that at first I assumed the head unit had frozen so I plugged, unplugged, plugged, unplugged to no avail. Then I gave up and listened to the radio. (Gasp!) A full 4 minutes later, the system switched to the iDevice and started to play my tunes. (Yes, I tested it with USB sticks and it did the same thing). If you think this is a momentary aberration, think again. The system has to fully index your entire USB/Android/iDevice music library before it starts playing. It does this whenever you unplug/plug or when you stop/start the car. Every. Single. Time. The larger your library, the longer it takes. Users on the Mazda forum reported a 10+ minute delay when playing larger devices while I averaged just over three minutes. Want tunes on a short journey? I hope you enjoy AM Gold.

Reminds me of my Sansa ClipZip, of which I once said:

[G]iven any really ginormous number of files, it chokes on the database refresh, which it never quite finishes. Meanwhile, your battery plummets.

I found a solution for the Sansa. Let’s hope Mazda finds one of their own before I have to start looking for new wheels.

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Pass the Bufferin

Oh, wow! Streaming audio from the iTunes Store! There’s just one iFly in the iOintment:

It seems iTunes may dip into social media like Facebook or Twitter to see what you like and they say it’s to see which artists you like and don’t like so they can build a proper playlist for you, but we all know where it’s going. Selective marketing. You can buy any track you like immediately off iTunes Radio which isn’t a bad thing as long as the money gets to the artist. The problem here lies with the ads. The iTunes software is already resource heavy on machines in comparison to VLC Player or even the XBMC. Now take a resource heavy client and add in a live music stream and ads to follow every second song. It’s like taking a pack mule that is loaded with all your gear and sit on it expecting it to take you up the mountain.

Okay, it’s not a fly, it’s a mule. Either way, it’s bound to be stubbornly annoying — or annoyingly stubborn.

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The further adventures of Rockbox

After living with Rockbox as the alternative operating system for my Sansa Clip Zip for a week, I’m prepared to give it unqualified praise in the wrong sense: I am not at all qualified to pass judgment one way or another on the merits of the system.

The last copy of the manual I downloaded runs 221 pages, approximately eleven times the size of SanDisk’s Quick Start Guide, half of which is safety precautions and EULA. The Rockbox guys, to their credit, assume from the getgo that I am not actually an idiot; then again, they’ve never met me and wouldn’t know me from Yahoo Serious.

My needs are absurdly simple: I want the machine to play my 5000-item playlist in no particular order, with approximately the same volume level on every track. The latter is no problem, since I have affixed ReplayGain tags to every single file; it’s not perfect, but it works reasonably well, and it avoids the alternative: horrid compression.

Still, the options are downright daunting, and while there’s a text editor of sorts on the premises, I am klutzy enough using 12 phone keys to produce text; you don’t want to see me with a machine that has only seven keys, one of which is OFF. In the end, it was easier to connect the little box to the PC with Sansa’s oh-so-generous 9½-inch USB cable, pull over the appropriate files, and tweak as needed.

I crashed it once. It recovered nicely after being allowed to sit with its power off for two minutes. I figure, if that’s the most damage I can do, I’m in like Flynn used to be.

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Groovus maximus

“Wish me luck,” says Bill Quick: he’s ripping vinyl. I am confident that he’ll do just fine: admittedly, it’s not exactly rocket science, but it does require some tech smarts, the ability to pay attention, and a good ear.

The major drawback is the fact that doing a 40-minute LP will take all 40 of those minutes, and probably a few more besides. He’s not, however, as anal as Your Humble Narrator:

You’re supposed to go through and “clean it up,” but my vinyl is already pretty clean, and I sorta like the occasional pop or hiss — that’s what records sounded like when I was a kid, and I find it sort of comforting.

And if you’re used to hearing a pop at a particular place, not hearing it will mess with your head. In the original single of the Troggs’ immortal “Wild Thing”, during the brief break between “You move me” and the return of the guitar riff (about 1:49), there’s an audible board click. I played a declicked version for my brother, and he swore there was something wrong with it, though he wasn’t sure what.

Then again, I once sat down and declicked an actual cracked 45. Took me sixty-two minutes, or sixty minutes longer than the song itself. Why I did this, I’ll never know: I have the darn track on CD, fercryingoutloud.

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Zippier Clip

You’ve already heard about my acquisition of a Sansa/SanDisk (choose one) music player. What you haven’t heard is that it came with a built-in issue: given any really ginormous number of files, it chokes on the database refresh, which it never quite finishes. Meanwhile, your battery plummets.

There being no easy way out of this other than to give up the extra space, I opted for something way out of the ordinary: a third-party operating system called Rockbox, versions of which are available for dozens of players, including the Clip Zip. Basically, it patches the Sansa firmware to hand over to the Rockbox OS, which has a much grottier, Unix-y interface, but which can update its database in three minutes rather than three hours. The trick was getting it to recognize both “drives”: it took a couple of hours of fumble, but I now have a proper 5000-item playlist.

And did I mention it’s now dual-boot? Yep. This experience raises my Techie Rating from “positively awful” to “merely clumsy.”

Addendum: The inevitable YouTube video.

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Zipping by

Amazon’s two-day service served up a box containing a SanDisk Clip Zip (4 GB, black) and a SanDisk microSD card (32 GB, teensy) in a mere 39 hours. (If you pay attention to stuff like that, it was shipped from good old Lost Wages, Nevada.) It may take me that long to load it up.

I’ve decided that it sounds easily as good as the old Sony, though the controls are a tad more inscrutable, a function of the ridiculously small size of the device. (Surface area is barely over three square inches, and half of that is display.)

USB cables are getting shorter and shorter. The one SanDisk sends is less than 10 inches long.

Still, Desideratum #2 — “shuffle routine that will indiscriminately mingle files in base memory and files on the expansion card” — is apparently met. From the manual (for some reason not included, but downloadable): “Selecting Shuffle List will play all content saved on the device in random order.” I dropped a hundred and fifty songs on both base memory and SD card to test this.

And what the heck is the brand name here? It says “SanDisk” on the case, but “Sansa” all through the manual.

(Yes, they did have an 8 GB model. It was almost twenty dollars more, a factor when you’ve allowed $75 for the budget. The difference between 36 and 40 GB total — well, if I copy the whole iTunes work-box install, it’s 42 GB, but I wasn’t planning to load up all seven thousand songs.)

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Hardware bleg

In the summer of ’11, I reported the death at age four of my old MP3 player, a 4 GB Sony that vaguely resembled a cuttlefish. I have not gotten around to finding a proper replacement; I did toss fifteen bucks on a below-Chinese-quality boxlet sold by Woot, which does in fact work, but its controls are utterly inscrutable, despite an uncharacteristically readable manual, and I suspect its internal battery to have been supplied by Mayfly Industries.

Desiderata for proper replacement:

  1. At least 8 GB, expandable via SD or microSD;
  2. A shuffle routine that will indiscriminately mingle files in base memory and files on the expansion card;
  3. A proper drag-and-drop loading system, which eliminates any iGadgets right off the bat.

Nice to have but not mandatory: a plethora of equalization curves; the ability to play un-DRMed AAC files (as vended by Apple); all that Bluetooth stuff. (My car, at its advanced age, is immune to the latter.)

Last one I looked at was this Creative ZEN, which meets 1 and 3 handily, though I’m not sure about 2. (I downloaded the manual, which suggests the shuffle is broad enough, but doesn’t make clear whether it includes all files on the player.)

Your suggestions are welcomed.

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Normal behavior

Someone asked this last Thursday:

Yahoo! Answers screenshot When burning songs from itunes, if there are too many for one CD will it tell you to put in another CD?

I was wondering about this myself, so I assembled a playlist to burn, about 12 minutes too long for a CD. And a dialog box popped up right then, telling me that this would require multiple CDs. I edited the playlist and burned away.

On the off-chance that I might use this CD for something, I had clicked both the CD Text and Sound Check options. What I did not anticipate is that iTunes would assume that I wanted Sound Check applied to all 7000-odd tracks, and would duly sit in the background counting decibels.

For six and a half hours.

It didn’t matter that I’d never checked the Sound Check box in Preferences; it didn’t matter that I shut down iTunes, let it back up its library — a tedious process in itself — and restarted it. Apple, by gum, wanted all those volume levels normalized, and it was going to happen. (It even survived a system power-off and reboot.) I realize that Apple always knows what’s best for you, and has no qualms about telling you so, but geez.

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Never heard it before

From Monday night’s tweetstream:

Tweet by Dan McLaughlin

As it happens, the installation of iTunes 11 reset some of the play counts on some of my purchased tracks, and it appears I’m not alone.

Many of the thread participants blamed the crossfade feature; I’m not using it, so that can’t be the only issue.

And it hasn’t really affected my Randomator playlist, which shuffles the 700 tracks least recently played, because the last-played date is still correct, even if the play count is blacked out. (Regular readers will note that this is yet another increase in the playlist size, which I try to keep at around one-tenth of the total library.)

Curiously, the reset seemed to affect only tracks purchased from iTunes; it did not affect tracks bought elsewhere, or material I ripped at home.

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I certainly can’t argue with this

1/350 of today’s iTunes Shuffle list, sorted by artist:

iTunes screenshot: People Are Strange - The Doors and People Are People - Dope

This is about two-thirds of a philosophy seminar, all by itself.

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Ripping through the past

“Why are they doing this?” I asked myself when I first read about Amazon’s Auto-Rip. It became obvious quickly enough: they want me to sign up for their Cloud Player’s premium service at twenty-five bucks a year. But how much do I, personally, have that’s Auto-Rippable?

While I loaded up the Player to find this out, I found this caution:

Auto-Rip goes back to purchases made in 1998, and the late ’90s and early 2000s are pretty close to the Golden Era of Terrible Musical Decisions. We didn’t just badly photoshop Celine Dion into The Shining because it was funny: 1998 was when “My Heart Will Go On” shattered chart records and somehow drove Celine Dion to stop eating. There are a lot of people who never want to admit that they bought that album, but once it falls to Auto-Rip, they’ll get a reminder when they least expect it.

Think about all the CDs you bought. All the crappy Top 40 bands where you bought the album because you couldn’t get the song out of your head. All the gifts you bought for teenage nieces and loving grandmothers. All the cassette replacements for your dad who just would not stop listening to the f*cking Eagles.

For the curious, the oldest item I have in my new 366-track bounty is Worldes Blysse, the second album by Mediæval Bæbes, acquired in September 1999. I am not the least bit embarrassed by it — or, for that matter, by the Shaggs’ Philosophy of the World.

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Unsheath the Visa

Sonic Charmer doesn’t bother to buy music anymore, because hey, it’s on Spotify for free. How long can this go on? Not very, he suspects:

What’s going to have to happen, at some point in the near future when Spotify/The Powers That Be have determined that Spotify’s market (for lack of a better term) penetration is big enough, is that Spotify is going to slap a fee even onto all of its “free” users.

Yes, X% will revolt and cry foul and curse Spotify and vow to never use it again, but (1-X)%, having gotten the Spotify habit, will acquiesce and pay, and that tradeoff will be worth it to The Music Industry, so they’ll do it.

At which point, you have to wonder about pricing. There already exists a pay service called Rdio, which charges $5 a month for Web streaming, $10 if you also want it to come to your mobile, matching Spotify’s current pricing for “premium” (read: “no ads”) service. Being one of those old mossbacks who still buys stuff, I’m probably not in the target market for either service — but things are changing so quickly that at some point I may have to pay attention, if nothing else.

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A somewhat darker cloud

Of late, Apple has been stashing copies of one’s iTunes Store purchases in the cloud, and then making them available to all one’s authorized devices automagically, once said devices are noticed. This is wonderful when it works.

And then there was this incident. I was playing through the BT album If the Stars Are Eternal So Are You and I (reviewed here), and track four, “Seven-Hundred-Thirty-Nine,” which normally runs nearly eleven minutes, quit after seventeen seconds and didn’t record a play. I halted iTunes and brought up the track in Winamp, which normally doesn’t choke on unprotected AACs. It played for seventeen seconds, after which time the sound muted and the timing bar slid to the right at a prodigious speed.

I wondered, for a moment, if Apple would spaz out if I asked them for another try. But first, I wanted to check my copy at home, inasmuch as I was at home when I bought the album in the first place. And it was just fine.

Ultimately, I suppose, this is a good argument for CDs, which you can always rerip, unless the surface is marred with hoofprints or something.

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Continued, the Format Wars have

Bill Quick finds out something you might want to know before you start loading up your Microsoft Surface tablet:

I backed up all my music files to my SDHC card from the iTunes library. I’d used iTunes to rip my CD collection, and it had automatically created the files in the .M4A format — which, as it turns out, Windows RT-8 doesn’t like at all. After a lot of headbanging, I discovered that Windows RT-8 likes MP3 files. As an experiment I converted a bunch of the M4As to MP3s, copied them to the SDHC chip, stuck it back in to the Surface and, presto! — both the Music Library and the Music App picked them right up. So right now, in the background, I’d converting 15GB or so of M4A files to MP3 — which I figure will take the rest of the day. It’s a one time deal, though, and since I’ll be doing any music buying through Amazon and not the damnable iTunes store, I’ll be getting my stuff in MP3 format anyway.

This is fairly typical of Microsoft. As a test, I hauled out an XPdient copy of Windows Media Player, threw one of Apple’s AAC files — these are the ones with the .m4a extension — at it, and watched it choke for lack of codec. Apple, in turn, doesn’t think much of Microsoft’s .wma format either.

Curiously, while messing with this I found half a dozen files with the .m4a extension which turned out not to be AAC at all; Winamp, which doesn’t flinch at AAC unless it’s DRMed (signaled by the .m4p extension), balked at playing them but would at least let me open the info panel. Turns out that they were actual Apple Lossless files from the How to Destroy Angels EP, which I’d evidently never gotten around to importing into iTunes.

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