// Internet Duct Tape

Creating Random Playlists in iTunes 8

Posted in Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on September 09, 2008

Music, MP3, iTunes

I’m one of those cogs who uses Apple mp3 players simply because I feel they do really good job. I tried to fight iTunes for the longest time, but I eventually gave into it because, like Microsoft Outlook, it’s the default music program that everyone uses and every 3rd party application supports.

I’ve been using a couple of 3rd party application to enhance my iTunes experience. I use last.fm to keep track of what songs I’m listening to so that I can display them on my Facebook/FriendFeed profiles. It also does a good job of suggesting new music to me based on my listening habits. What last.fm can’t do is generate random playlists based on the music I already have in my library.

I had been using software from the Filter for generating random playlists. Unfortunately, since I updated their software I can’t find the “create playlist” feature anymore. That made me pretty excited about the announcement today that iTunes 8 will support generating random playlists using a new feature called “iTunes Genius”.

The Power of Random

I’ve been an iTunes_iPod user for four years. In the past month I picked up an iPod Shuffle because I usually leave my 60 GB iPod at the office, and I wanted something more portable and more suitable to an active livestyle. I’ve been really impressed with the batterly life and the portability of my iPod Shuffle.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is the “Zen of Shuffle”. Since the shuffle only selects and plays random lists of music, I’m having more and more occassions of “wow, I love that song! I haven’t heard it in so long!!” instead of listening to the same 10 albums I’ve been listening to for the past month.

The Gotcha

Of course, the big gotcha with Apple’s new iTunes Genius feature is that you have to sign up for an iTunes Music Store account. At first glance, you might think this means you have to give away your credit card information, but click the None button to make that all go away.

Keep reading if you don’t see the “None” button.

How To Unlock the iTunes Music Store

A lot of people don’t bother turning on the iTunes Music Store because it requires a credit card. Actually, there’s a couple of ways of bypassing the credit card requirement. The most common method is:

  1. Find a free iTunes “redeem” code somewhere on the web
  2. Open iTunes and go to the iTunes music store
  3. Click on the “Redeem” link (on the right side, near the top)
  4. You’ll be prompted to create an iTunes music store account, but with the “None” option unlocked so you don’t require a credit card.

I got my free redeem code by following this link. Another option is to pick up a cheap iTunes gift card at a local electronics store.

If that code doesn’t work, then try this search to find a new one:

http://www.google.com/search?q=itunes+free+redeem+code

Starting Genius

The first time you try to use Genius, it’s going to take a while. Especially if, say, you try to use it with a 100 GB music library on the day the Apple iTunes music store opens up for the first time. I’m guessing it’ll take around an hour to scan your library, so you don’t want to try it for the first time while sipping a latte at the local coffee shop.

It took an hour for my library to scan so that I could start using Genius.

Using Genius

Play a song and click on the atom icon at the bottom right hand corner to start using Genius. Unlike TheFilter, you can only use one song to “seed” a random playlist. Playlists can be saved, but they aren’t saved automatically. The playlists are named with the name of the song you used to start the playlist.

Genius playlists are limited to 25, 50 or 100 songs in length. They can be refreshed to get new tracks.

The good news is that you can create even larger smart playlists based off of multiple genius playlists. This could be a great way to build a large constrained random playlists for your iPod Shuffle.

Unfortunately the playlists are stored in your iTunes metadata file, so there is no easy way to access them from your Xbox 360. Sounds like a good idea for a new freeware app. :)

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Mashing Your MP3 Music Collection with Last.FM

Posted in Geeking Out, last.fm, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on March 05, 2008

Music, MP3, iTunes

I’ve often said that one of the qualities of the hardcore geeky is that we have needs that sane normal people don’t have. That’s why there are so many web startups focused on RSS when most people don’t have a clue what RSS is — the geeks don’t realize that their need to have a continuous stream of information and never miss an update from a site they are interested in isn’t the way a lot of people use the internet.

One geek itch I’ve been wanting to scratch is to be able to listen to my MP3 collection using the recommendations from Last.FM. I’ve you’ve never heard of Last.FM, it is a music service that lets you listen music as a radio station over the internet. I’ve been using it for a year and a half and I love it; it’s helped me discover so much good music.

I’ve found two ways to automatically build MP3 playlists using online recommendations. The first way uses iTunes replacement Media Monkey and some extensions to connect to Last.FM (thanks TJOHO!) and the second way uses software by a new startup called The Filter (backed by Peter Gabriel).

(more…)

How to Play Downloaded Videos on Your iPod, Xbox 360, or DVD Player

Posted in Group Writing Projects, How I Use, Software, Technology by engtech on January 27, 2008

Software

I’ve been slumming through the support forums at answers.yahoo.com lately and this is a question I see come up often: how do I download a video and put it on my electronic device? More and more consumer electronics devices that can play videos, but that means we have to learn more about the big, bad scary world of video codecs.

The steps are simple:

  1. Find a video source (source)
    • video from your camera/phone, off the Internet, or from a DVD you own
  2. Get the video on to your computer (source/download)
  3. Convert the format of the video to something your portable media player can play (convert)
  4. Copy the video to your portable media player (destination)

…but the devil is in the details.

What is a Codec?

Codec stands for coder-decoder. It’s a mathematical algorithm that stores the video into a file. It’s like VHS vs beta or HD-DVD vs Blu-ray — different codecs have different formats and they aren’t interchangeable. There are many different video codecs, and that’s where the headache with downloaded content comes from. Your computer can play many more codec formats that your iPod, Xbox 360 or DVD player.

What Codecs Can My iPod, Xbox 360 or DVD Player Play?

This is the hardest part, especially when you aren’t familiar with video codecs. You’re going to have to do some research and find out what your portable media player supports. This is how I find information for any electronic device I’m having problems with:

Once you’ve found the information make sure to save it somewhere you can find it again. I keep a folder on my computer with PDFs of the manuals for all my electronic devices so that I can quickly find the information again later.

Here’s a list of codecs for popular devices to get you started.

Sample of documentation on supported video codecs
From my DVD player manual

How to Copy a DVD to Your Computer

These guides will show you how to copy a DVD to your computer’s hard drive so that you can work on it with other software to change the format to something you can play on your portable media device.

How to Download Videos

I’m not going to go into detail because of the questionable legality. There are videos out there that you can legitimately download but there are even more where you would be breaking the law if you downloaded them. I’ll let my friends at Lifehacker give you the skinny on downloading videos instead:

How to Watch Any Video Format on your Computer

If you’re downloading videos from unknown sources, quite often you’re going to end up with a file that your computer doesn’t know how to play back. The solution is to use the free VLC Media Player that is available for Windows, Mac, Linux and a million other operating systems you’ve never heard of.

Quick tip: always test playing a file with VLC before you do anything else with it. If it doesn’t play in VLC, chances are you won’t be able to convert it to work with your portable media player.

When VLC doesn’t work, there’s the Combined Community Codec Pack to the rescue.

How to Tell Which Codec Format the Video Uses

The best advice I can give anyone who is downloading content from unknown sources is do not trust the file extension. Just because the file says .divx or .mp4 doesn’t mean it’s is. Use the free GSpot software to find out the real details of what codec format the file you downloaded is.

I’m not going to lie to you — GSpot isn’t the most userfriendly application I’ve ever seen. But it gives you the two pieces of essential information you need: the video codec and audio codec the file is using.

Using GSpot to analyze video codec information

How to Convert Codec Formats

The world of video codecs is very confusing, with lots of formats that sound similar but have minor differences that will prevent them with playing on different devices. I use Any Video Converter when I need to change codec formats of a file. It has a very simple interface that requires only three clicks to convert a file:

  1. Add a file
  2. Choose the profile for the output format I want
  3. Encode

Any Video ConverterAny Video Converter also has pay versions with added features like easy converting to iPod, Zune, PSP. But the free version works well for converting if you set up the profile for the output file format correctly. The free version also supports YouTube.

It is often easier to find specialty software that supports the electronic device you want to play videos on. When looking for how to specific software for converting video the first thing I do is go to lifehacker.com and do a search. They often discuss free software for video converting, and the comments are full of excellent information.

Specialty Software for Converting Video

Here are some examples of software that converts specifically to the file formats you need. I haven’t tried all of them, and some of them are pay software with trial versions while others are freeware and available for multiple operating systems.

This was written as part of the Daily Blog Tips tutorials group writing project.

Stupid iTunes Tricks – How to Burn a MP3 CD with Folders

Posted in Music, MP3s and Internet Radio, Technology by engtech on January 24, 2008

Software

You’d be hard pressed these days to buy a CD player that can’t also play MP3 CDs. My stereo, car, DVD player and XBOX 360 all support MP3 CDs as well as regular CDs. Using MP3 CDs in your car instead of the original CDs is a good idea because it saves you from losing the original if your car is broken into. Using MP3 CDs instead of regular CDs can give another big advantage — you can fit between 7-10 albums on to one MP3 CD. It’s like having a CD changer even if you can only play one CD at a time.

An MP3 CD is a regular old data CD like any CD you put in your computer. Any program that burns CDs can create an MP3 CD, but I like to use iTunes because I’m already using it to manage my music library.

How to Burn an MP3 CD in iTunes

  1. Put an empty CD in your CD/DVD burner
  2. In iTunes select File >> New Playlist (or Ctrl-N)
  3. Click on Music and drag the songs/albums to the new playlist you created
  4. Click on the new playlist and then click on the Album column header until it says Album by Artist [1]
    Burn iTunes MP3 CD with Folders
  5. Rick click on the new playlist and select Burn Play List to Disc
    How to Burn an iTunes MP3 CD with Folders

It’s that simple.

[1] If you don’t click on the Album column then the MP3 CD will be created with all of the songs in one folder. It’s better to create it with one folder per album because then you can use the next folder feature in your car / stereo to switch albums on the MP3 CD.

Related Posts

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When is it time to get a new iPod?

Posted in Asides, Contests, Music, MP3s and Internet Radio by engtech on September 28, 2007

Death Clocks use statistical information to let you know when you are going to die based on your habits (with smoking and obesity being the worst factors). The iPod Death Clock (via) is an interesting little web app that figures out how much longer your iPod has to live based on the serial number (how old it is) and how you use it (while running, on the bus). Needless to say my 3rd generation iPod is getting on in years.

I happened upon a blog called Contester the other day that tracks Internet freebies being given away by other bloggers. Blog contests are a great grassroots way to advertise your blog (if you aren’t too spammy about it — some of them are). They’re usually worth entering because you have a 1:20 to 1:50 to 1:200 chance in winning depending on how popular the blog running it is. A few people are giving away iPods, and hope I win one as my iPod is on it’s last legs.

One of the downsides to owning an iPod is the iTunes music store. The music has DRM copying protection measures that are a huge pain in the ass. Enter the new Amazon MP3 store that sells music for cheaper than iTunes without any copying protection — you’re free to do whatever you want with the music you own. Luckily there are also quite few blogs giving away Amazon gift certificates or straight up PayPal.


Becoming a Better Blogger

There’s also a couple of sites offering books for bloggers that I want to read.

There’s also a contests for professional logo design

It’s crazy how this idea of promoting your blog via holding a contest has taken off like hot cakes. It makes me a little sad though that it seems like some people are losing their focus and writing/participating in contests all the time instead of writing blog posts that share information, help people, or at the very least entertain.


And on a slightly different note, someone is finally doing one of these contests for a real cause instead of personal gain:

Ultra-runner Tim Borland is running 63 marathons in 63 days in order to raise funds and awareness for the A-T Children’s Project in their quest for a cure or life-improving therapies for ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T). A-T is a rare, neurodegenerative disease that affects children, giving them the combined symptoms of cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and cancer. Children with A-T — born seemingly healthy — are usually dependent upon wheelchairs by the age of 10 and often do not survive their teens.

To run with Tim, join a tailgate party, or make a donation, please visit the A-T CureTour website. There, you can also view the daily video blog produced by filmmakers who are making an independent documentary on the A-T CureTour and enter a contest to Win a Nintendo Wii.

Hard not to participate for something like that.

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