Putting It All Together

Popular topics of this blog include:

  • iPods

  • The iTunes Music Store

  • Music

  • New software and features

  • Usability and enhancing the computing experience

Put those all together, and what do you get? The best 5 of the now post ever!

I'm still playing with ChapterTool and all that is has to offer. I confirmed that you can chaptify protected AAC (.m4p), like those purchased from the iTMS. Here's hoping that Apple starts using this tech on continuous mixes you can buy from their store, like the latest Global Underground - Electric Calm (brilliant stuff).

I had 5 more songs for my "5 of the now" series, so I thought, why not just mix these very simply, and toss it cover art and links to the iTMS to complete the package. I'm quite pleased with the result. Album art shows in iTunes (upgrade Jason, upgrade) and if you like what you hear, just click the link and go buy it.

Here's the 5

  • Bloc Party - Tulips

  • UNKLE - What Are You to Me?

  • Nobody - The Coast Is Clear (For Fireworks)

  • Midwest Product - Ohfas

  • Coldplay - Talk (Thin White Duke Mix)




I had amazing functionality within reach since iTunes 4.9 and I didn't even know it. This goodness I speak of is the ability to enhance AAC files.

I'm sure to many of you, this is old news, but this slipped right by me. Earlier this week, I was listening to a podcast from Sasha that I found while browsing the podcasts on iTMS. I happened to look down and noticed a bunch of vertical lines in the time bar for the mix.

I quickly found that I could skip back and forth between tracks within the mix. I was elated. I'm pretty new to the podcasts, so I had never seen this before. After some googling, I found that what I was seeing, was an enhanced podcast. Enhanced podcasts allow you to do all sorts of cool things like set images, make chapters, add text pages, and even embed web links.

The items I found most intriguing were the chapter markers and notes page that could be displayed on my iPod.

I have been wishing for things like this for years. The chapters could allow me to break up long mixes and effectively remove the need for gapless playback. The notes page would allow me to include setlists and other useful information and have it just a couple of button pushes away, instead of in a text file loaded off under the notes menu item as I currently do.

Further googling led me to discover that Apple has released a command line tool for adding enhanced podcast content to AAC files. The tool is called ChapterTool (sorry, Mac only) and you can find a good collection of info about it over at the VoxMedia wiki. I grabbed ChapterTool and it is great. All you have to do is create a simple XML file describing the chapter cuts and specifiying any pictures and links you'd like to embed. Then point ChapterTool at your XML and source AAC and boom, enhanced goodness.

At first, I wasn't sure I could enhance anything but a podcast. Sure, a podcast is no more than a specially wrapped audio file, but I didn't know how iTunes/iPod would handle it. To test it out, I decided to enhance my recent DJ Mix, Hot Winter. Enhancing it allows me to add track infomation and allow skips between tracks, within the set. Here is a tast of the XML that I used.

<chapters version="1">
<chapter starttime="00:00">
<title>James Zabiela - Robophobia</title>
<chapter starttime="07:15">
<title>John Kelley - Force Ten</title>

It worked great. You can enhance "regular" files, they don't have to be podcasts. Apple should be making a big deal about this feature. Do other players on the market support this kind of thing? Apple should commission DJs to mix tracks from the iTMS and make them available at a reduced cost. These would be enhanced with album art for the individual tracks and would include iTMS links to the tracks. As you are listening on your computer, when you hear something you like, you simply click the hot link on the left and you can go buy that track. I guarantee that amateur DJs are going to make use of this. The professionals might as well be doing it too.

Back to the experiment. Within a few minutes, I had all of the enhancements added. I'm going to have to take this further. My next task is to write an app to take an AAC and a CUE file and automagically add the cuts and track info. I desperately need something like this to make the sets I grab from Hybridized.org that much better. As it is now, when I'm listening to one of these, I have to keep a browser open to the setlist. I haven't yet figured out how to add a text page like in the Sasha podcast, but I'm still looking :)

Finally, for your listening (and chapter mark testing) pleasure, I present, enhanced Hot Winter. If you don't have an iPod that can make use of the enhancements, be sure to try it out in iTunes. You'll get an extra button at the top that drops down to show the track info.


Who is Talking?

Another silly screenshot for you. I know who is popping up this messagebox (Adobe Reader 7), but why should I have to play detective? Why don't you just tell me the name of the app you want to upgrade?

Ohh, and software companies if you are listening, we are in the day and age of not rebooting our computers every other day. I will leave a system up for months if it will let me. This means, you need to figure out how to apply patches without rebooting, or at the very least, queue the patches so they all get applied the next time I reboot.

Finally, why does a simple PDF reader require a system reboot?


Amazon: A to B-side

Well looky there, people will buy music on the Internet. Now that Apple is rapidly approaching the sale of the 1 billionth track from the iTMS, it looks like there are going to be some late arrivals to the online music party. It's already a pretty jumpin' get together. Between iTMS, Napster, Rhapsody, some of the smaller players, and some of the dubious players, you'd think all of the angles were covered. Apparently Amazon doesn't think so. Rumor has it that they will launch their own music service this summer.

Amazon has a tough battle ahead. They already have a music store and I already buy a lot of music from them, but it comes on these shiny discs. The stuff that comes in digital form comes from iTMS and Beatport. They can however get some of my digital music dollars, and here is how.

  • Don't make me choose. I don't want to pick between physical and digital. Let me buy the physical disc and instantly get access to the digital files for download.

  • Give me more playback options. Make the music I buy available for playback from the web from any Internet connected computer. You might remember this idea from back in 1999 when MP3.com rose like a rocket and fell just as hard. Here it is, 2006 and we still don't have a stand out solution in this area. People are trying, but no one is winning. Amazon has the marketing power and cash to win.

  • Allow reselling of digital music - Amazon has a well established used sales market. Nearly every product you can buy new, you can buy used. Having the ability to sell back the rights to a digital download would be huge.

  • Better catalog than the rest - I buy a lot of music from Amazon because I can't buy it at my local Best Buy, or on iTMS. If Amazon can make that same catalog available digitally, they might get even more business.

I'll be watching this closely, but I'm not really expecting much. Just take a look at the mess (beta) that is the Google Video Store for my expectations of Amazon's offering.


The Other Multimedia

Like it or not, most of the music and movies we buy still comes on physical media. Whether it be CD, DVD, UMD, Blu-ray, HD-DVD. VHS, Vinyl, whatever, we have lots of choices, and lots of opportunity to buy the same thing twice. In today's world, we take media with us. We consume it in multiple places and multiple sizes. Some of us even spend a lot of time converting from one format to another. The question I have for all (both) of the readers out there, is...

Would you pay more to have multiple formats in a single shrinkwrapped package?

This isn't an original idea, but it is an interesting topic to me. Bandai is already shipping DVD and UMD together. Too bad UMD isn't doing too well. Is this a move to plant a few more UMDs? You can get BT's Monster soundtrack on both DVD and CD in the same package. DJ Shadow has done similar with his releases. This has been fantastic because I can grab the CD when I'm off to the car, or watch it at the computer or from the couch when I'm at home.

As we move to high-def movies, won't we still want to watch those movies on our old DVD players? You can watch DVDs on Blu-ray players, but not the other way around. In this case, I think I would pay an extra $5 to have a fully produced DVD along with my shiny new Blu-ray.

What about digital files? All of the media producers are scared to death that the second a movie is bits, it is shared with everyone with an Internet connection. I really don't think that's true. You'll always have the pirates (arrrrr) that, no matter what the price, will think it is too much and will delight in getting it free on the Internet. Those people are a lost cause. Forget about them. What about folks like myself? I pay for my media, and I am penalized for it. If I want to put a DVD on my iPod, I have to use illegal tools to do so. Even worse, the morons over at the RIAA want us to think the act of ripping tracks to play on our favorite MP3 player is not fair use. Would the world end if pre-shaped digital copies of our media were included with our DVDs and CDs? By pre-shaped, I mean mp3s formatted for DAPs and MPEGs with the appropriate bitrates and dimensions for iPods.

If it really is all about licensing content, rather than owning it, why don't we already get all of these physical formats for free, or at least at a small shipping cost if requested?

Would you buy it?

Dock, Dock, Goose

I started to write a comment on this post about iPod docks, but found I had enough material for a post of my own, so here we go.

The dock in that post looks very nice. I especially like that they included a screen shot of the TV interface on their website. Too often, companies leave out important details like that.

I have a love/hate relationship with iPod docks.

  • I love the looks of an iPod in the dock.

  • I love that Apple's latest universal dock, you can change out the inserts to support multiple iPods.

  • I hate that you have to change the inserts to support multiple iPods. It is harder than I'd like and you still have to keep the inserts sitting around somewhere, waiting to be used. I wish they could make a two sided dock so you could just flip it over to use a different flavor of iPod.

  • I hate that there aren't extra USB or Firewire ports on the docks. Not a big deal for many users, but as a Mac mini owner, my ports are precious. Sure, I can add a hub, but that adds clutter.

  • I love that you can use remotes with the various iPod docks on the market.

  • I hate that they are all IrDA. Bluetooth wouldn't require line of sight, could potentially go farther, would allow for 2 way data, and make it far easier to hack your own solution (Salling clicker anyone?)

I own an iPod and use it often, so I like the idea of a Mac with a built-in iPod dock. Then again, you have the same problem as the universal dock. You still have to keep silly inserts around to accomodate other iPods in your house.

Unconventional docks are another topic. You can dock your iPod in your alarm clock, in your living room stereo, and even your car.

These docks are great, but unless I need to charge, I'd rather just send the sound wirelessly and do away with the dock altogether. I want A2DP in my stereo so I can seamlessly finish the album that I was jammin to during the walk home from the bus. I want A2DP in my truck so I don't need an iTrip, and I don't need cables in my glovebox.


Throttle vs. Availability

I've been a Netflix subscriber since February 2001. I love it and I don't think I'll get rid of it anytime soon. That said, I'm not real happy about the word from Netflix, that they do, in fact, throttle users that burn through discs faster than most. The thing is, I'm less pissed that they artificially slow down the heavy users. I'm more pissed that I purposely stay away from their new releases to ease some of the crush, yet I don't get any preferential treatment.

I'm pretty much caught up on newer releases. The only new releases I need to see are the ones that are coming out week by week. Most of our queue is full of independent films, lesser known documentaries, sports films, and even a few dozen movies from the 80s and early 90s. As near as I can figure, I'm requesting the discs that are sitting around gathering dust. I'm doing Netflix a favor! I stick the available discs at the top and wait for the Short Wait, Long Wait, and Very Long Wait discs to fade in to the mass before putting them at the top.

So what do I want? I don't want to be throttled up. I wish they would ship me discs faster, but what I really want is a +1 modifier for my queue availability. In other words, Short Wait becomes Now. This modifier would stick as long as the majority of my discs (75%?) came from the Now population. This would allow me to see a new release every now and then without keeping discs longer, just to make me rise in the "to receive" pool.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you can't get new releases from Netflix, but you may have to wait a week or two for the popular ones, and maybe a month for discs like Doom. I guess the geeks are all over that one :) It's 104 in my queue. Left at that spot, I'll probably see it in 2007.


Fair Use?

Digital Rights Management is a tricky topic. I can certainly see both sides of the argument. Artists, and more importantly, the owners of the copyright to their works, have an interest in being compensated for their work. On the other hand, consumers of that work expect certain freedoms to use that work. The freedoms may be implicit, or they may be explicit.

Until today, I've never run in to a situation where I found Apple's DRM on music purchased from their iTunes Music Store to be unfair. I can load it on to my iPods (I really don't care if you can't load it on your favorite player). I can play it on computers I use at home, on the go, and at work. I can burn CDs for the car. I can make backups. I'm aware of their rules, and they seem to suit me fine. You could argue that I'm giving up some of the freedoms that purchasing a CD would provide, but this is amicable to me. I get convenient, instant, access to music that I may not otherwise get the opportunity to hear. In fact, in many cases, I am able to purchase the music at a discount compared to other sources.

In DRM discussions this week with my friends, a question arose. Could Apple's own software be used to remove the DRM on iTMS music? The answer to that is of course. You can burn the music to CD and then rip it right back in to iTunes. That part is clear. The thing I wondered, is if GarageBand could be scripted to load a track in and then saved back out, DRM free. It isn't that I want to do this, I was just curious how deep the DRM support in iLife went. If DRM removal was the goal, software like JHymn already does that sort of thing. From my earlier post on ring tones, we saw that GarageBand's media browser provides easy access to the iTunes music library. What I didn't realize, is that I happened to pick some music that was ripped from my own CDs, not a track from the iTMS.

Clicking on the purchased music source in the media browser results in an annoyingly blank window. GarageBand has apparently been told to ignore all DRM'd music. That's not cool. Certainly making a ring tone from a song from the iTMS is no different that making a ring tone from that same song ripped off of a purchased CD. Certainly using a track from the iTMS in a podcast about recently purchased music falls in to the fair use category of for illustration or clarification of the author's observations;. Not so fair, huh?

This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Who decided that DRM'd music can't be used in GarageBand? It doesn't look like a technical problem. It isn't an AAC vs. MP3 thing. My other experiment used an AAC. It's not a playlist issue. Clicking on other playlists that are a mix of DRM'd and non-DRM'd music will show the nons only. Surely they didn't just forget to add in the support for DRM's music, right? So who decided this? Did Apple do it to avoid potential legal issues? Did the deals with the record companies require it? The iTunes Music Store Terms of Service tells me that You shall be entitled to export, burn (if applicable) or copy Products solely for personal, noncommercial use. They've already put it all on me, why are they pulling back once we are outside of the friendly confines of iTunes?

I'm not a DRM is bad kind of guy....yet.


5 More and Alternative Music Stores

I've been on an absolute music binge lately. This happens every so often. I just get to a point where I want to hear stuff I've never heard before for a couple of weeks. Because of this, you are getting to read more music posts than usual. Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad.

I have been so excited to get new music that I bought music from a source that I haven't bought from in nearly a year. Beatport is a great online music store for electronic music heads like myself. I have been very impressed with the electronic and dance selection on the iTMS. It, plus Amazon, are expansive enough to have kept me satisfied for the last year, but they don't even hold a candle to the stuff you can get on Beatport. Beatport is where you get the stuff that you'd find in big city record shops. Beatport is where you get the stuff that has just been recently pressed. Beatport is where you get the stuff that your favorite DJ is playing. Beatport is where you buy tracks that you hear on Progressive Sounds SpinCasts and just have to have!

Beatport is also interesting because it is one of the only online music stores to sell individual tracks, in plain ol' MP3 and even WAV. They don't use DRM and the sound quality is great. I'm not crazy about their silly site, but you should really give them a look.

Now on to the 5

  • Dave Seaman Presents Group Therapy ft. Nat Leonard - Faith Again (Luke Chable Remix) : This is the one that got me back to Beatport. I'm loving this. [Get it on Beatport]

  • Starkillers - Diskoteka (Kobbe & Austin Leeds Mix) : Deep in the Diskoteka, these beats can make you wetta [Get it on Beatport]

  • Mylo - Destroy Rock & Roll Destroy Rock & Roll

    Fantastic album that recently released to the iTMS although import variations have been on Amazon for awhile. I first took notice of Mylo with Drop the Pressure. That track now comes with a little Miami Sound Machine 80s flavor. The album is quite varied and definitely fresh.

  • Freestylers - Push Up (Plump DJs Remix) Push Up (Plump DJs Remix)

  • Beanfield - Tides (C's Movement #1 [Carl Craig Remix]) Tides (C´s Movement #1 [Carl Craig Remix]) I have been listening to my Sasha CDs again this week. Sasha's use of this in Fundacion NYC is tremendous.

Let the music play.


Fast Food Usability - Part 1

I eat a lot of fast food. I wish I ate less, but I must not wish it too badly because I haven't done much to change. Anyway, since I eat out so often, I encounter quite a few things that bother me about fast food. I'm going to note some of those things here over a series of posts. I'll do a lot of complaining. You'll see my pedantic side in full force. However, I will offer some suggestions for improvement as well. You have been warned.

Part 1 - The Receipt

Who decides what goes on a receipt? What is the point of the receipt? Is it to record my purchase for all eternity (at home, in the file, under 'D')? Is it to ensure that I get the proper order when it comes out? Is it to settle disputes when someone says they ordered 12 McFatpads with cheese and only got 11? Is it a legal requirement with some of the details required by the corporate bean counters? They all seem to have differences, so no one really knows.

Let's take a look at a couple of samples, shall we?

Taco Bell. I like the Bell. I eat there quite a bit, usually at least once a week. I enjoy their food. I enjoy their prices. I can't stand their ordering process. I'll save the physical layout for another day. Today we'll just concentrate on the receipt.

Taco Bell uses a "magic number" ordering process. When you order, you get a magic number assigned to you. Don't forget your number. If you lose it, NO SOUP FOR YOU! Thankfully, Taco Bell gives you some paper with your magic number on it, but good luck finding it.

  1. We start with the resturant name. This receipt tells me we are eating at T A C O B E L L. What's with the caps? What happened to all of that corporate branding they spend millions of dollars on each year? This isn't the 70s. There aren't any spinning heads hammering out glyphs on these tickets. Usually, these are modern, thermal printers. I know a thing or two about thermal printers. I know that given the right esc sequences, they can draw some pretty damn good pictures. So why don't the super powers of the fast food world make use of that and draw the Taco Bell logo in its full bell-thunking glory? It probably costs too much to hire someone to figure out the details of that fancy cash register.

  2. In item 2, you can see that they note the store number. It's mentioned twice within one inch, just in case you miss one. Are there times where these might not match? Maybe, but then what use are they to me?

  3. Item 3 is the guy that sparked all of this. Some of the registers at my local Bell used to print the order number in a larger font. That's a giant plus. Too bad they don't do this anymore. Instead, we get the order number positioned way off to the left, far from the identifying text. As I said, I eat there a lot, so I know where the number is, but what about a new customer? Which of these magic numbers are they supposed to figure out as the one? Please remember, these are the same people that wait right by the registers thinking their food is going to come out prior to the nine people waiting behind them. Problem solving skills aren't necessarily their biggest strength. You better find that number. The guy is only going to shout it nicely once.

  4. Register number. Great, I always like to know that. Tell me again why the register is numbered 5 when there are only 3 registers in the whole joint? Hmm, must have come from a bigger store. What does knowing the register number do for me? Is that so they know who to yell at when I call in and complain? Couldn't that be tacked on to the store number to clean it up a bit? 004470:5

  5. The CMBGSB! Crunchy, spicy, CMBGSB! Either tell me what I bought or don't. CMBGSB doesn't tell me jack. BGS-CK means I wanted chicken (ohh crap, he cracked the code). What's wrong with it saying Chicken? Ohh, and PEP must mean Pepsi. Aren't the Bell and Pepsi one in the same? Why not print the whole product name. Say it loud, say it proud!

  6. CASH TEND - I bet they save 12 million dollars a year leaving off that pesky ERED. We don't need to abbreviate anymore guys. The thermal head passes right by. You can let it print more stuff. I guess I can't say for sure, but I highly doubt those extra letters are going to kill their cash register budget. If they want to save letters, how about leaving off the "thanks for being you" crap they put on there. I won't get mad if they don't thank me on the document, trust me.

Ohh, I need a chalupa. Let's direct the hate towards our next victim.

  1. I like Arby's too. They get a lot of business from me and my friends at work. Cleaner, better separation of the restaurant name. That's a good start.

  2. Whoa, useful info. I even have a name to ask for when I'm pissed off. Score. Arby's is looking good.

  3. Questions? Comments? Hmm, I'll have to email them a link to this post. Still not too bad. No, wait, they included the same damn info again at the bottom [3b].

  4. Benjamin, you were great at taking my order, but I don't think you'll remember me, so why do I need to remember you? Also, why is your identity so important to be at the top? I feel left out. This is supposed to be about me! Please note your transeqno. Let go! Nobody listens to transeqno!

  5. Your transeqno may, may, be similar to your Order Number, maybe. Again, we note it twice, just in case one breaks down. It is at this point that we note that Arby's also uses a magic number order system, only there's is built around some sort of subliminal nonsense. You can see your order number on their fancy new flatpanel screens, but then it disappears, never to be seen again. The order number they put onscreen is only a portion of the one noted on the ticket. Great. Ohh, and you don't get to hold your receipt, so you must remember that number. No wait, my bad, they don't call out the number, so I don't know why they bother showing it to you to begin with. Rather than confuse me with a split second display of 195, why not do your "thanks for choosing us" thing on the screen?

  6. The Ckn is almost as good as the CMBGSB at the Bell.

  7. What's this? Did I change my mind on the fries? No, they just default to curly. That's great, but why do I need to know that on the receipt? I didn't order a Jamocha shake either. How come it doesn't say - JamShk?

  8. Why a ':' on some fields and not on the others? Yes, very picky. I blame the "one of these things is not like the other" song!

  9. This one was just weird. I didn't pay cash, I paid Cash $20, and sure enough, it had a value of $20. That Jackson, he's a wacky dude.

Stay tuned for a post unveiling my super-duper-perfect receipt design.


5 of the Now

For this selection, I have 4 laid back and quiet songs, and 1 not :) I'd like to thank my brother for turning me on to LCD Soundsystem. I don't quite like all of their stuff yet, but it is growing on me.

Holmes Ives - Nux (Slumber Song) Nux (Slumber Song)

Telefon Tel Aviv - Sound in a Dark Room Sound In a Dark Room

Morel - Wake-Up Wake-up

S.J. Esau - Fat Cat Fat Cat

LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk Is Playing at My House Daft Punk Is Playing At My House


Create Ringtones in GarageBand

What can you do with a stock Mac? A whole lot of stuff.

Tonight I took a look at GarageBand 3, part of iLife '06. Specifically, I wanted to play with the new podcast studio. I didn't want to just mess around, so I decided I would try to create a ringtone for my home phone. A ringtone? Yeah, a ringtone. The podcast studio has this great media browser which lets you access your iTunes library and it lets you do some very basic editing, so I figured it could do the task.

The whole process was dead easy. 10 mintues and I was done.

  1. Open GarageBand 3 and choose to make a New Podcast Episode

  2. Using the Media Browser, find the song you want to chop in to a ringtone and drag it to your podcast.

    It doesn't really matter where you put it. We aren't going to do anything but edit it and play it back.

  3. Using the Track Editor at the bottom, find the portion of the track you want to use as your ringtone and cut away the rest. To cut, just select with the mouse and hit Command-x. Use can playback and use the looping feature as necessary to make sure you have the chunk you want.

  4. You should now have just the stuff you want in your ringtone. You can drag it clear to the left, or just position the play cursor at the start of it.

  5. My phone, a Uniden CLX 485, requires that I record the ringtone live, so I prepared it to record.

    I then attached the audio cord from the phone to my audio source. I could have jacked directly in to my Mac mini, but my speaker control block has a headphone out, so I used that.

  6. Next, I hit record on the phone and play in GarageBand. Audio plays, I hit stop on the phone, give it a name and I'm done.

That's it. I now get to hear DJ Shadow playing when the phone rings.

This entire post brought to you with stock software from a 10.4 OS X Mac mini. Screen captures done with Command Shift 4, music from iTunes, editing and playback from GarageBand, photo import and resizing from iPhoto, and blogging from Safari. iLife seems to fit my life.