iPod

Doofus Music

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For those of you who know that my favorite group is called Girlyman, you won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t judge a group by their name. 😉

In this post (ironically about Girlyman!) near the bottom, I mentioned that I had lunch with a good friend who I used to work with for years at UBS. I didn’t mention his last name, but unfortunately, I need to out him in this post, whether he likes it or not.

During that lunch, I mentioned that we were going to see Girlyman that night, and we got to talking about the type of music we listen to. He told me that his parents were both musicians, playing a number of genres, but definitely fitting into the Bluegrass/Folk on a broad scale. Of course, I love that kind of music.

So, what’s the name of their group? Currently, Doofus. Doofus consists of four people, two married couples, Neal and Coleen Walters and John and Heidi Cerrigione. Prior to Doofus (and possibly parallel as well, I haven’t checked), Neal and Coleen Walters also produce music under their names, and have also been in the Mill Run Dulcimer Band.

I checked out some of the sample streams and instantly loved the music. Neal and Coleen are the parents of my friend Chris, so now you can guess his last name. 😉

Chris encouraged me to contact his folks to ask about purchasing some of their CDs. After doing that, I decided that I really want to own them all, rather than fall in love with a few and go back to the well again. So I ordered all 13 CDs, one of which is a three CD set of Autoharp music.

The CDs arrived while we were away celebrating the graduations (oh yeah, and working at Zope). I ripped them and loaded them on my iPod the minute I got my sweaty little hands on them. A total of 278 (or 279) tracks on the various CDs (four by Doofus, two by Neal and Coleen Walters, six by Mill Run Dulcimer Band and the three CD set of Autoharp music).

So far, I’ve listened to all four Doofus CDs. I love them all. It’s a mixture of mesmerizing instrumentals and gorgeous vocals always backed by fantastic musicianship. I’ve only listened to two Mill Run Dulcimer tracks so far and they are exceptional as well. I am truly looking forward to enjoying the remaining CDs over the coming week.

I am also very excited that Neal and Coleen (and Doofus too) perform live, mostly on the East Coast (lucky for us), so one of these days, I will definitely be making it our business to go and see them. It will surely be a treat!

Tonight we’re seeing the David Grisman Experience (he’s an incredible mandolin player) at BB King. First concert in three weeks, so we’re salivating. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

A Semi-Vacation

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As is now our annual custom, immediately after enjoying a wonderful Superbowl party with our friends in Richmond, we headed out early this morning on the long drive to Florida, to visit my folks.

We drove for 10.25 hours today and are now in Daytona Beach, immediately across the street from the speedway. More driving tomorrow and then the rest of the week with my parents.

For me, this is as close as it gets to a vacation. I only checked email on my Treo once before we hit the road, and once when we stopped for lunch. Not staring at a computer screen the entire day is partially a vacation to me. Of course, now I’ll be on all evening, but that’s fine, because it also includes playing one online poker tourney. 😉

The reason I call it a semi-vacation is that Lois works straight through, even when we’re in the car. She works the Treo like it’s a laptop, and touches base with the office a number of times a day as well. Even when we’re with my folks, one ear is on our conversation, and the other on her email.

We had a fantastic ride down today, with close to zero traffic. It was 36 degrees in VA, 60 in North Carolina, 78 in southern South Carolina, 81 in northern Georgia, and 78 throughout Florida. A very nice change from the northern weather we’ve been living with lately (it was 27 when we left NY last Sunday).

We typically listen to the iPod in the car most of our trips. I don’t know exactly what was different today, perhaps the daunting task of DJ’ing for 10+ hours, but Lois asked me to put on XM Radio instead, early on, and we ended up never turning it off the entire way (we did change the channels as our moods changed).

We never turned the iPod on, and that was highly unusual.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the decompression, and I hope that Lois finds at least a drop of respite. More importantly, if she doesn’t, I really hope I can avoid being sucked into any of it. 😉

Audio Video Cable Prices

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In this post, I linked to a great cable that solved my PC -> TV problem. That cable was purchased from svideo.com. The link in that article was to the exact cable I purchased, which cost me $24.95, including free parcel post shipping. It works perfectly. Here is another link on their site to a different model number, which otherwise appears to be identical to me, and it’s $2 cheaper at $22.95 (also includes free shipping).

So, why am I writing again? We’re on another of our trips, and I forgot the cable at home (I know, what a dodo). Now that I know what I need/want, and I’m not taking a risk on whether it will work or not, I figured I’d check out the local electronics stores to see what they carried.

While the cable linked above is perfect (in terms of length, that the audio and video is bonded into one cable, value priced, etc.), I figured I could also buy separate (and if necessary shorter) cables to accomplish the same thing for this trip.

I visited the following stores on the same day, in the following order: Walmart, Circuit City, Best Buy, Radio Shack.

Surprise, surprise, the best prices were at Walmart. I could buy a six foot audio only cable, 3.5mm on one end to two RCA jacks on the other, for $3.94. The same cable at Radio Shack was a not-unreasonable $7.95. The same cable, but in a fancier package, from a known consumer electronics company, with touted higher-quality connectors, was between $14.99 and $21.99 at Circuit City and Best Buy, depending on the brand.

Similar disparity for the S-Video cable (both S-Video -> S-Video and S-Video -> RCA). Here, a six foot cable was close to $12 at Walmart (if I recall correctly), and well over $20 at CC and BB.

In the end, I bought nothing, because I didn’t really have an immediate need. But, it made me search the net again when I got back. I was curious to see if I paid up for expedited shipping, would I still be able to save money while getting longer cables (which are much more convenient for my particular needs).

It turns out that svideo.com’s shipping wasn’t that attractive, given that I didn’t really need the cables. Then I found separate cables at mcmcables.com. I bought a 25 foot (yes, four times longer than the Walmart cable!) audio cable for $4.95! In fact, I bought two, just because. Then I bought two 25 foot S-Video -> RCA cables for $8.99 each!

I could have saved $1 each for S-Video -> S-Video, which would work for 95% of the TVs I might connect to, but the RCA jack is a tad more universal, so I went for that instead. Shipping (not expedited) was an additional $7.99.

So, one set of 25 foot cables cost me $14 (I’m rounding up), plus a few bucks for shipping. That’s cheaper than the cable I previously bought from svideo.com, which I have no complaints about either (pricing or quality).

It boggles the mind the markups that these stores have. I realize that they have to stock it on the shelves, but still, even the disparity between Walmart and CC and BB is ridiculous. They make money on this because most people need the cable that day, and have to pay up or wait longer than they want.

This brings me to another outrageous cable pricing issue, and in fact, more than a pricing issue, a change in design.

I’ve reported before that I have both a new generation iPod Nano, and a new iPod Classic (what a horrible name). I also reported here, that I have some video podcasts loaded on them.

So, I thought I’d see whether hooking them up to the TV in the hotel gave a satisfactory viewing experience. Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation) loaned me his cable that connects the headphone jack to three RCA composite jacks for precisely this purpose.

I did a quick search and found this article describing how to do the hookup, and recommending that you don’t pay extra for Apple’s branded cable. Rob had a retractable off-brand cable that he paid $5 for. Apple sells branded cables for $49!

Before I left for the hotel, I found an EBay auction that was selling a bundle: Five foot video cable, car charger for iPod and wall socket charger for iPod, all together, for $0.99 (yes, less than a dollar!). Of course, they make it up on the shipping, which was $6.99! So, for $7.98 delivered, I would get the video cable, the car charger, and an extra wall charger (which I don’t really need). I ordered it.

When I got to the hotel, I couldn’t get the Nano or the Classic to display the video. I was able to get the audio to work.

A search this morning yielded an article on Apple’s site, where they claim that the new Nanos and Classics no longer support video out of the headphone jack. What? This is progress? Of course, they’ll sell you a $49 cable to connect the edge connector to either Composite or Component jacks. They’ll also happily sell you a dock for an additional $49.

A quick EBay search shows that you can pick up a knock-off cable for $0.01 plus $4.95 shipping.

The world is full of rip-offs, and bargains. A little careful shopping, coupled with the patience needed to wait for them to arrive, and you can maintain your sanity a little longer.

I can’t fathom (other than wanting to force upgraders to buy new cables!) why Apple would stop supporting video out of the headphone jack on newer models. Oh well…

Finally, for completeness sake, I’ll add my HDMI cable shopping experience here. I mentioned in the past that it’s amusing (to be kind) that when you buy an HDTV, it’s rare to have any cables included, let alone an HDMI one.

I bought mine (I’m up to four at this point) at MyCableMart.com. My more recent purchase was for two HMDI 1.3 cables, six foot in length. $6.62 each, plus shipping. At Walmart, these cables were in the $25-40 range, and at CC and BB they were in the $49-99 range (though to be fair, I think the $99 ones were HDMI 1.4 spec, which was the first I’d heard of the higher version). Still, the differences are crazy.

Buyer beware, caveat emptor, etc. 🙂

Acoustic Guitar Update

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This is another long post, so bail now, while you can, or grab a cup of coffee (to keep you awake). 😉 Actually, the post itself isn’t insanely long, but if you watch each of the videos that I’ve linked it, the entire trip will take a while…

I’ve gone on and on in a number of posts about my long-time love for acoustic guitar music, and my recent discovery of some masters of the genre. I could link to those posts, but if you have an interest, it’s simple enough to type the word “acoustic” in the search box and see the titles and decide for yourself.

This post has been rattling around in my head for over a week, begging to be set free. I was waiting for one of two things to happen before writing it. Neither has happened, but a third (unexpected) event occurred last night, finally pushing me over the edge to get this on paper. 😉

This new adventure was officially kicked off when I saw Bill Cooley live accompanying Kathy Mattea. I wrote that he might be the best acoustic guitarist I’d ever heard. Eric Sink commented that those were fighting words (not really!) 😉 and pointed me to Phil Keaggy. When I reviewed The Master and The Musician by Phil Keaggy, Eric commented that I should check out Michael Hedges and possibly (only if I dare!) Kaki King.

Like I’ve said before, anyone who doesn’t pay attention when Eric Sink speaks is likely a dummy. I try hard not to be a dummy (not always successful), so I checked both of them out. What, exactly, does that mean?

When I was growing up, one discovered music mostly on the radio. Word of mouth was probably second, but then the circle of mouths was relatively small. Third was TV, with shows like Ed Sullivan showcasing some musical group every week. All of that is different today. I’ve had a specific post about Pandora and Last.fm rattling around in my head for months now, and I’ll birth that sometime in the next few weeks (and therefore ignore it for now).

Today, with the Internet (you’ve heard of it, right?), one can purposely or accidentally discover music to the extent that one cares, with extremely little effort and time invested, with little risk of purchasing music that will eventually disappoint. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of sites to listen to music on, but for me, the two juiciest targets are MySpace and YouTube.

An incredible number of bands have MySpace pages, with the vast majority of those offering at least four songs for immediate streaming. If someone mentions a band to you, see if they are on MySpace, and check out whether you like their music or not. For my personal quintessential example (no surprise to anyone who has visited here before), I learned in 30 seconds that I would love Girlyman from their MySpace page.

All that said, lately, I am much more hooked on YouTube. It has boggled my mind how many clips (many of them of reasonabe quality) are available for an amazing number of artists. Since I love live music, YouTube gives much more of a feel of the performance in addition to just the music. With some of the incredible styles that today’s acoustic guitarists have, the video is much more powerful (to me) than just listening to the music.

So, after watching quite a number of YouTube videos (I’ll link at least one to each artist’s name in the coming paragraphs), I have purchased a bunch of new albums, mostly downloaded on Amazon’s MP3 service, with the rest on real CDs.

Following Eric’s advice, I ordered two Michael Hedges CDs. He’s not available for download on Amazon 🙁 so I have to wait for them to show up. Since his CDs haven’t shown up yet, he was one of the reasons that I was waiting on this post.

Also following Eric’s advice, I checked out Kaki King. He was correct, as some of her stuff is out there. Still, even that stuff, when seen, is amazing. The rest of her music is gorgeous. I downloaded both of her albums that were available on Amazon. I can’t tell you how hard it was to boil her down to two videos for this paragraph. The selection is very broad, and most of them are truly entertaining. Check her out!

Bill Cooley himself (yes, he’s kind enough to respond when I email him!) suggested that I check out Phil Keaggy’s Beyond Nature CD. It wasn’t available for download at Amazon (though many others are, including Acoustic Sketches, which I’ve downloaded and really enjoy). I had intended to purchase Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II from Amazon, but on PhilKeaggy.com they had a special bundle.

Three CD’s, Beyond Nature, Acoustic Sketches, and Free Hand – Acoustic Sketches II, for a very good price. Unfortunately, I already bought Acoustic Sketches. I bought the bundle anyway, since Beyond Nature was only available on that site, and the price was great, and I’ll give Acoustic Sketches as a gift to some lucky person! 🙂 They haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t review Beyond Nature. That was reason number two for holding off on this post…

On Phil’s site, they mentioned that Beyond Nature was ranked #3 on the DigitalDreamDoor list of the 100 Greatest Acoustic Guitar Albums. In addition, Acoustic Sketches and Freehand are both in the top 100 as well (hence, their idea for the bundle!).

On that list, in number one is Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges. Cool, it’s one of the two of his that I ordered. Number two is 6 & 12 String Guitar by Leo Kottke. I remembered at that moment that I had a CD of his that I hadn’t listened to in 20 years, and hadn’t ripped on to my iPod. I ran downstairs and found it immediately (my CDs are filed alphabetically), it’s called Guitar Music from 1981, and it’s fantastic. I also downloaded 6 & 12 String Guitar from Amazon. Also fantastic!

So, while I owned Leo Kottke already, without the list at DigitalDreamDoor, I wouldn’t have looked for it. I then noticed that the guy in number five, Adrian Legg, had three other top 100 albums listed. I bought two of his albums on Amazon Downloads as well.

What prompted me to finally write this post when I’m still waiting for the Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy CDs? Yesterday evening, Rob Page (CEO of Zope Corporation, the portfolio company that I spend the majority of my time with/on) IM’ed me this video of Andy Mckee. It’s the first time he’s recommended any music to me, so, to humor him, I bought all three of Andy Mckee’s albums that were available on Amazon Downloads. 😉

I wasn’t a very careful consumer though. While I think Andy is wonderful, there are four songs that are on both his Art Of Motion and Dreamcatcher albums, so I now own two copies of each of those…

Whew, I think that’s most of what’s been screaming in my head on this topic. One last thing though. I need to contact Bill Cooley one last time in 2007, and ask him (or beg him) to put his music up for sale at Amazon.com, and iTunes as well. It’s very hard to promote him to others when it’s difficult to buy his stuff online. At the very least, his new album (coming sometime in 2008) better be available for download! Now, if I could twist his arm to put up a YouTube video or two… 😉

My iPod Nano Teaches Me New Tricks

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Mostly, I listen to music on my iPod. On occasion, I have listened to an audio book or two, while exercising. One thing I have never done is watch a video. My old iPod 30GB probably could do it as well (it certainly could display photos), but I never even tried (not even a photo).

Up until very recently, I never subscribed to a podcast either. I have listened to a dozen podcasts directly from their authors’ websites, mostly poker podcasts, but never on the iPod, or through iTunes.

Two months ago, Lois sent me a link to a podcast from KCRW’s The Business, where they interviewed the producer of the show Wicked, Marc Platt. She didn’t listen to it, but asked me to check it out. I found it extremely informative, and I ended up subscribing to The Business podcast through iTunes.

I still hadn’t listened to any of the additional six episodes that automatically downloaded to my iTunes and then sync’ed to my iPod, but I knew that one day I would.

For 10 years, Lois and I commuted daily on the Metro-North railroad to NYC. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been on that train, but it has been years, for sure. Last night, a good friend was in town from Minnesota. We agreed to have dinner in Grand Central and I took the train in and back.

At first, I thought I’d bring along my Grado SR80’s and really enjoy some music on the train. Then I realized that the rumble of the train would cut into my enjoyment, since the Grado’s are not noise canceling, and my Sony and Bose NC’s were both in the city.

So, I realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to listen to a podcast or two. I already had episodes of The Business loaded up, but it occurred to me that this was a unique and ideal opportunity to see if there were some interesting video podcasts available. Clearly, I can’t watch video when I’m driving in the car (or can I?). 😉

So, I used iTunes to search for some video podcasts, specifically concentrating on comedy first. I read reviews of the Comedy Central stand-up excerpts, and most people were really disappointed with them. Then I read glowing reviews of a podcast by scantily clad women doing the news. People swore it was hysterical, and pleasing on the eyes as well.

How could I resist? So, I downloaded a dozen episodes (they average roughly three minutes each). I then downloaded 10 episodes of the Onion video podcast (I have read a few of their mock news articles online, and usually enjoyed them thoroughly!).

On to the train, turned on the Nano, and started watching the ladies doing the news. They are indeed easy on the eyes, even on a tiny Nano screen. That said, 95% of their material is mind-numbingly boring. You can see where they are aiming (on occasion), but it’s really tedious. Hard to imagine something three minutes long can get tedious, but they achieve it brilliantly!

So, while they beg (on every episode) for bloggers to link to them, I just can’t bring myself to throw them a link. I’m unsubscribing from them.

Of course, since they are so short, I watched them all…

Then I moved on to the Onion. Way more professional (meaning, superb fakes of real shows, like their spoof of the Today Show). The comedy though is very up and down. All of the ideas are clever, but some of the execution is not only tedious, but feels like watching a train wreck. Others though, are delightful and brilliant. So, I’m not unsubscribing the Onion just yet.

The real point is that the experiment worked. I could use my crappy ear buds, on a raucous train ride, since high fidelity was not necessary. The video made the focus of attention easy, and the ride in both directions quick. That said, I finished the ride with another audio-only episode of The Business. Even though I had no video to keep me entertained, the content was way more interesting, and therefore kept me much more engaged. I am most definitely going to continue listening to future podcasts from them. They average close to 30 minutes in length, so it’s a commitment.

No Longer a Digital Download Virgin

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In this post, which I just published a few minutes ago, I mention that I just purchased Acoustic Sketches by Phil Keaggy. In that post I said that I would write separately about how/where I purchased that “CD”. This is that tale…

I have purposely avoided the seduction of purchasing music for downloading online, even though I buy most things online (including the vast majority of the CD’s that I buy), and even though 99% of the time, I listen to ripped MP3’s of the CD’s that I buy!

Why? By far the biggest reason has been DRM (Digital Rights Management). I am 100% against illegal trading of copyrighted material, in any form. I want to see artists/authors compensated fairly for every user of their works. That said, as a consumer of a legitimate purchase, I want to be able use that work for my own benefit, in any manner that pleases me (short of making it available illegally to others!).

DRM sounds harmless enough. After all, I can certainly listen to the music that I purchased, as many times as I want, right? Sure, to begin with. But, if I buy a DRM-protected song on iTunes, I can play it on my laptop, and only on an iPod (and a specific iPod at that!). Today, I love my iPods, so it sounds like there is no problem. However, in the future (could be soon), I could easily fall in love with a new device (say, the next generation Zune), and the song I’ve already purchased will not run on that device, simply because I chose to buy it from Apple.

Ugh. Further, the CD provides a perfect backup device on two fronts. First, I don’t travel with it, so it sits with all of my other CD’s, patiently waiting to be re-ripped should the need arise. Second, it’s at the highest possible quality, so if in the future I want to rip into a new format (not MP3), or a higher bit rate, I can easily do that. But, since for now, I am happy listening to 96kbps MP3’s, I save space on my laptop and iPod while still owning the master copy on the CD.

If I download a song, even a DRM free one, I have to actively think about a backup strategy for it. Not rocket science, but an extra step at a minimum, plus, it’s not likely to be CD quality (not that I can hear the difference), so I can’t (necessarily) take advantage of future encoders.

The only thing that ever made me feel badly about not downloading was the immediacy and convenience of the process. The impulse nature didn’t hit me as much. Under most circumstances, I’m happy to wait a week to get my delivery from Amazon.com in the mail.

A month or so ago, I looked into the new Amazon.com MP3 download service. Here is the page for Acoustic Sketches. The more I looked into the Amazon service, the more I liked it. DRM free. 256kbps encoding (like I’ve said too many times, I can’t hear the difference, but others can, so the sale should give a reasonably high quality file). I decided that sometime in the next few weeks, I’d take the plunge.

Acoustic Sketches turned out to be the perfect guinea pig, because the price of the downloaded album is $9.49, and the price of the CD is $14.99 (though I can swear that when I looked yesterday, it was $16.98, but perhaps I am just crazy…). That’s a big enough difference to make the plunge obvious. Also, since this was still a bit of a gamble for me, if I hated the result (for any reason), I wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to run out and buy the real CD, which I would if I were buying something from Girlyman (for example).

So, earlier today, I hit the “One Click Purchase” button, and a few minutes later (probably more like one minute on my FiOS connection) 😉 I had the entire CD downloaded. Yes, I used iTunes to “convert” to 96kpbs. I intend to archive the 256kbps version for posterity, but I still prefer the smaller files on my laptop and iPod.

If you read the post before this, you know that I am extremely happy with the album itself, so obviously, the resultant download worked as well as expected (from a sound quality point of view). That said, there are a number of things that I am truly unhappy with (perhaps frustrated with is a better term). None of them will stop me from purchasing more music from Amazon.com, because I definitely will, but nonetheless, the experience is far from what I’d like to see (given my personal preferences!).

So, what’s the problem?

Purchasing the music couldn’t be simpler. On Windows (and I think Mac), there is a small helper application that you can install if you want to purchase entire albums. You don’t need to install anything to download individual songs, though the helper app makes even purchasing a single song easier.

The app can be configured to automatically import (add) the song/album to iTunes or Windows Media Player (WMP). I found it a tad strange that you can’t check off both, but it’s not a big deal to me. After all, I could have a Zune and an iPod, and want each to be sync’ed from their own library, etc.

First, the songs have the most important ID3 tag information already encoded. That’s a good thing. Except, the name of the song also has the name of the album in it, in parens. This is silly, since the album tag is filled in correctly! What’s worse, the filename is taken from the name tag, so the filenames on the system have the parens and the album name in them as well. Ugh.

That might be the only real complaint, since I think the rest has more to do with my personal preference. From that perspective, I recognize that few other people will be annoyed by these nits, since they won’t go through the process that I did, but here it goes just in case anyone cares.

If you say that you want the files automatically imported into iTunes, then you get a copy of the file in iTunes (meaning, a duplicate on the filesystem, not just a pointer to the file in the directory where you download the files). Not a huge deal, but still, something to potentially have to clean up. For me, this becomes necessary (though annoying), because iTunes will only convert files that are already in iTunes. In other words, I can’t pick a file in a directory unknown to iTunes, and tell it to convert that file to MP3 in iTunes (that would be ideal for me for this application). Perhaps there is a way to do it in iTunes, but it’s definitely not obvious.

Next, when I use iTunes to convert the file, there is no option to replace the existing file. So, I end up with two files in the iTunes application. I know, this is an iTunes problem, not an Amazon one, but it still affects the entire pipeline of deciding to purchase music online. One file is the original 256kbps file, and the other is the new 96kbps converted file.

Next, because both files are in the same directory, iTunes had to create the new one (the one I want), with an extra “1” hanging in the filename, since the original has the correct name. So, after I delete the original file (in iTunes, not my canonical Amazon download directory, which I will archive permanently as the original file), I need to change the name of the file on the filesystem. Of course, that means telling iTunes (file by file!) that there is a new location for the file.

Finally, I need to edit each song individually to remove the album name and the parens from the ID3 tags.

When all is said and done, I still end up with the album on my computer a week earlier than waiting for the CD to arrive, and the sound (to me) is identical. But, I had to work a lot harder than I should have, even though I got it sooner, and paid less. When I rip the CD, it goes directly into iTunes, with the correct filenames and the correct bit rates in one motion, and I already have my permanent archive in master format. Oh well…

One last nit. If you looked specifically at the Acoustic Sketches page on Amazon.com MP3 Downloads, you will note that in addition to being able to purchase the entire CD for $9.49, you could purchase individual songs. Note that #7, Looking Back, is only 40 seconds long. It still costs the full freight of $.99. Fair enough. Oh oh, wait a second, now look at #12 “50th, The”, which is 7 minutes and 2 seconds long. It’s $1.94.

What? They want more money for long songs, but no discount for teeny tiny songs? Just seems wrong. If a song is $.99, I can live with that, but then long songs should also be just $.99…

So, am I likely to purchase more CD’s for download? Definitely. But, if it’s a favorite artist, and the price differential is close, I will likely still buy the CD instead. A specific example is the new Little Big Town album A Place To Land. It’s $8.99 to download (cool!), but only $9.99 to purchase the CD. We are nuts about Little Big Town, the difference in price is small, so I will likely purchase the CD.

Experimenting with Bit Rates in Ripping CDs

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In this post, I discussed my new Grado headphones. In that post, as well as this one, I mentioned that I am most definitely not an audiophile.

The new Grados were so far superior to the crappy ear buds included with the iPods that I started to question my choice of ripping all of my CDs at 96kbps. It’s a relatively low bit rate, but, it all sounded reasonably good to me, and it saved a ton on disk space (both on the laptop and the iPod). Still, I was hearing things so much more richly with the Grados, that I wondered if the sound would improve dramatically (for me) if I ripped the CDs with a higher bit rate and used the Grados.

So, it was time to experiment. What better album is there to experiment with than Joyful Sign by Girlyman? None! 😉

I already had it ripped at 96kbps, and I (obvious to anyone who’s ever read anything by me) love it. I re-ripped the CD four more times (yes, a little overkill, I know). I encoded it at 192kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3, Apple Lossless (900-1000kbps), and for good measure, WAV as well (1411kbps, which is the native CD format, I think).

I then created three playlists, one of Hold It All At Bay (all five ripped versions), one of Joyful Sign and one of Through To Sunrise (again, all five versions of each song).

I then listened a number of times to each version in a row. Eventually, I narrowed down the richest parts of each song, and just played those snippets over and over between the versions. For example, I played the last one minute of Hold It All At Bay too many times to count.

To begin with, all of the above was done just with my higher-end Grados, the SR80’s. I really wanted to hear a difference, even a dramatic one, though I would have been in a real quandary about the extra disk space. But, the truth is that I can’t say that I really distinguish any difference whatsoever, even between the 96kpbs version and the WAV version (or the Apple Lossless). For a second, I think that perhaps, the lossless versions sound a teeny tiny bit brighter, but, after another note or two, or switching back quickly to the 96kpbs version, the difference is gone.

So, while I am absolutely sure that audiophiles are snickering at me (probably rightfully so), I’m personally satisfied that 96kpbs is definitely the right setting for my tastes, and, more importantly, for my sonic capabilities!

For yucks, I listened to all of the versions (but only for one song) on both the Sony ear buds and the included iPod ear buds. Hahahahaha. While I praised the Sony’s vs the iPod buds in the Grado post, the truth is that they are barely any better (I just remembered them as being better), and the Grados are so far superior to both, that listening to ear buds (at least the ones I currently own) will continue to disappoint, though there are a number of occasions where I know I’ll use them…

To be clear, there was no difference between the 96kbps and lossless versions on the buds either!

That said, once you get past the tinniness of the buds, and start concentrating on the fact that you’re listening to Girlyman, it all sounds amazing again, since the songs just unfold and explode in your head correctly, regardless of the fidelity that you happen to be listening to them in. 😉

New iPods = New Joy + New Headaches

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I have a good friend (let’s call him Ed, because that’s his real first name) who is perhaps the worlds best gift giver. I am embarrassed to admit how many amazing gifts he has given me over the years. I have reciprocated on rare occasion, and I’m sure that while my gifts pleased him somewhat, they more likely amused him as feeble attempts to give true pleasure.

Ed got me my first Blackberry, my first Sony Voice Recorder, Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Canceling Headphones, my first GPS system (a high-end Garmin) and a few other really cool toys, all over the past eight years.

When he got me the GPS, he bought Lois a 30GB iPod (Video). I had a Creative Zen MP3 player at the time, and I was happy that Lois now had her own device. Lois isn’t much of a techie, so she didn’t really want to manage the iPod (meaning, run iTunes on her laptop, select music, sync, charge, etc.). Since loading iTunes on my laptop didn’t interfere with the Creative software that I was running, I was happy to manage Lois’ iPod for her.

So, I loaded all of our collective MP3’s on to the iPod, and we used it primarily in the car (on our extremely long drives) for both of us, but really, 90% of the time for Lois’ music. Away from the car, I’m the only one that used the iPod, primarily when I was taking my long exercise walks, because it was just a tad sleeker than my Zen.

This has worked out great, for years now, as between us, we only had 18GB filled out of the 30 on the machine, so there was no need to upgrade. Further, the battery is still holding a charge reasonably well.

Then, as I’ve reported twice already, on occasion, the iPod started freezing (nothing too terrible, but annoying nonetheless). When the new iPods became available at Sam’s Club, I started thinking hard about getting a new one. Then a good friend of mine asked me for advice as he was interested in getting his first iPod. Voila! I realized I could kill two birds with one stone. Get us a new iPod, and keep Ed’s karma alive by finding a very happy home for the old iPod.

On our next outing to Sam’s Club, I bought a new iPod Classic, 160GB. I still only have 18GB of music on it, but now I can also back up my hard drive (if necessary or desired), etc. Just more wiggle room. I couldn’t resist, and I bought an 8GB Nano as well. Man, it’s a crazy feat of engineering. Sweet little thing. It could never be my sole iPod, because 8GB just won’t cut it. But, for exercising and just running around, it’s more than enough, and I already love it to pieces.

So far, I’ve covered the New iPods = New Joy part of the title. On to the + New Headaches part now…

When Lois and I were driving to Peekskill on Saturday to see the David Bromberg concert, I took the Nano so that we could gear up in the car. I created a little playlist of Angel Band and Bromberg tunes. We were listening to them in the car, and when Angel Band songs switched to Bromberg, Lois asked me why I haven’t put on One Voice (Angel Band’s best song, where they cover The Wailin’ Jennys song). I knew that I did.

So, I skipped backwards, and sure enough, it was there, but didn’t play. The minute I selected the song, the next song in the playlist started playing. I tried to play the song straight from the album, but it skipped after showing the metadata there as well. OK, no big deal (I figured), it must have copied over weirdly.

The next day we made our usual long trek, and had the Classic in the car for entertainment. We tried to play One Voice on the Classic, and it wouldn’t play either! Seemed too coincidental that the same song didn’t sync correctly to two separate devices. Along the way, Lois tried to play Bring It On Home by Little Big Town, and it too wouldn’t play. So far, those are the only two songs that we’re sure don’t play, out of the 7080 songs on the Classic (no, we haven’t tried them all yet). 😉

So, yesterday, I fired up iTunes on the PC, and sure enough, those two songs play perfectly. Further, if I select those songs on the iPods themselves, but through iTunes on the PC, and play them, they both play. They are definitely playing from the iPod, and not from the PC hard drive (I’ve proven that much to myself). That means that the songs transferred correctly, but something in the library file that contains the metadata on the iPod simply can’t play those songs!

So, the next logical thing to do is to search the net. I was shocked to find so many people claiming to have exactly the same problem. The trouble is that nearly every post was from 2005, and involved iTunes 4.5+. There were many solutions proposed, some temporary, some permanent, each receiving mixed success with those who originally complained.

One semi-common denominator was that the skipped songs were often purchased songs, so they had some form of DRM associated with them. That’s not our case. 100% of our songs are ripped from our own CD collection. They are all ripped at 96kbps (I’m far from an audiophile, and the smaller disk space requirement is a good balance for me).

Anyway, lots more searching and trying unsuccessfully a few of the suggestions, and I decided to try a suggestion that someone claimed worked 100% of the time. Select the song in iTunes, click on the Advanced Menu, and click on Convert to MP3. Yes, it’s already in MP3 format, but hey, I tried it anyway. It made a new copy in the iTunes Music directory (remember, mine were ripped by Creative and stored elsewhere on the disk).

The resultant file was slightly larger than original, but not by much. The only horrible side-effect was that all ID3 tag information was lost. In my case, it was only two songs (so far), but if I end up discovering lots more problems (as many people in 2005 complained about), that fact alone might cause me to search for a better solution. Once converted, I moved the new file over the old file (so that all of my other players would still find it where it was), and resync’ed the iPods. Both songs now play perfectly.

Whew!

I’m holding my breath that it won’t happen to too many more songs. While easy to fix, it’s still a more painful process than it needs to be, given that I have to re-enter all of the ID3 tags by hand, and I don’t look forward to doing that too many times… It also can’t be fixed while on the go, as you have to be at the computer to convert and resync.

Perhaps some poor soul who searches for the same problem will stumble on this post, and save a little time and sanity in the process. My two reasons for writing this post are that (helping someone by chance) and memorializing the fact that Ed is indeed the world’s greatest gift giver!

Sometimes technology lets you down :-(

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I forced myself to take my long walk today. As usual, I am extremely glad that I did, but for one thing. I walk with an iPod, with a Logitech Bluetooth headset. For the first leg of my walk, I was listening to Wicked (I know, huge surprise) 😉 but in the middle of “Wonderful”, it stopped playing.

It could have been any of the three devices running out of their battery charge (the iPod, the BT transmitter, and the headset/receiver). A quick check revealed that all were charged up.

Turns out the iPod was simply on the fritz. This happened once before, nearly a year ago, so it’s probably not something I need to worry about.

I forgot how do the reset. I could have called Lois, and had her Google it, but I didn’t care enough. I walked the rest of the way (another 80 minutes) in a more “walking meditation” state, which was fine too.

I don’t know why I didn’t remember the iPod reset dance:

  1. Slide the hold switch so that it’s on hold.
  2. Slide the hold switch so that it’s off.
  3. Press the Menu and Center buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds.
  4. Wait for the Apple logo.

If you see the logo, you’re done, it’s rebooting. If not, there are deeper tricks to try. Mine worked, and it’s charging back up now, since it continued to drain the battery the entire way home, even though it wouldn’t play a single song…