Archive for December, 2006

Those Swedes sure know how to put in almost everything you need

As you all probably recall, last week I was soliciting opinions about Ikea products, in regards to my desire to purchase a wardrobe. Well, a couple days after I asked this question and got all those responses (thanks!), I saw an old ep of Futurama in which the professor orders some kind of supercollider from them, which is delivered by an Ikea robot, which looks like a TV stand. It delivers the supercollider, but on its way out the door, one of its wheels breaks off, and the shelf inside of its cabinet collapses. And when they put the collider together, Bender exclaims “Ah, there. Finished. And with only six missing pieces!” to which Fry replies: “Those Swedes sure know how to put in almost everything you need.”

Hopefully you guys will be right and Futurama will be wrong when it comes to my wardrobes…

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Annoying iPod/iTunes Quirks

[Note: This post was split off from a post about ripping audiobooks.] Another bone I have to pick with Apple is that we still can’t program our iPod’s buttons to do what we want. See, to me, the rewind function of the back/rewind button is almost completely useless. With the way iPods are currently configured, it makes much more sense to rewind an audiobook using the click wheel to rewind, because trying to do so with the back/rewind button inevitably ends up with you skipping to the track previous more often than not, because to rewind you have to hold down the back button. The click wheel method is easy enough, but not ideal. So what I would like to do is reprogram the back/rewind button. Here’s what I’d do:

  1. I’d flip around the functionality of it: I would make the back function execute when you hold down the button, rather than just tapping it.
  2. I would do away with the standard rewind function and replace it with a “skip back 30 seconds” function. This is for audiobook listeners–sometimes you just miss what happened, or need to hear something again, and this would be the most efficient way of rewinding. (Ideally, you would be able to set the length of time it skips back: 15 seconds, 30, a minute, etc.).
  3. I would allow users to make certain playlists to ignore the shuffle command (so I can keep my music shuffled, but my audiobooks in sequential order); Users can now dictate that certain tracks be skipped during shuffle, but that just means you won’t get stuck listening to an audiobook when you’re shuffling your entire music library. If you have a playlist of all audiobooks, with all of the tracks marked as “skip during shuffle,” when you get to the end of the track, iPod goes back to the “end of playlist” screen (i.e., the main menu).  Ideally, this would just take you to the next sequential track, but it doesn’t.

And while I’m at it, here’s a few other things I’m unhappy about, but don’t necessarily have anything to do with audiobooks:

  • I want to be able to tag tracks, not just sort them into playlists. So if I want to, say, assemble of list of instrumental metal tracks, I could do that easily.
  • I want to be able to tag and/or create playlists on the go. Yes, you can currently create on-the-go playlists, but the functionality of it sucks; you have to find the track in your library, then add it to the on-the-go playlist. What I want to do is listen to my playlist, and when I hear a certain song I want to be able to add it to a new playlist. Again, this is so I can do something like assemble a instrumental metal playlist. I can’t remember all of the tracks I have that are instrumental, but when I hear them come on, it would be very convenient if I could mark them on the go.
  • iPods should come with integrated bluetooth, for users who want to use a wireless headset, or whatever else bluetooth can do
  • On older iPods (15 gb models, say), you could control the backlight in the settings menu (i.e., have it set to be always on or always off, and there may have been a timer option also) and you could toggle the backlight on or off by holding down the Menu button; but with newer iPods, there only seems to be a timer option, or an always on option–and neither option allows you to toggle it on or off by pressing a button (at least not so far as I can tell). See, the thing is, sure I want to conserve battery power, so I don’t want the backlight always on…most of the time. But if I’ve got the thing plugged into my charger, like, say, as I’m driving, I’d like the backlight to be always on, so, you know, I can actually see what the hell is playing without having to take my hands off the wheel.
  • Speaking of backlights, iPods don’t seem to let you adjust the brightness level of the “off” backlight. With the backlight off, my iPod screen is so dim, I can almost never read it. With my old iPod, it was much easier to read the screen when the backlight was off.
  • And, of course, because I’m a big reading geek — come on! I want to be able to read stuff on the iPod. I think there’s a way to do it now, but it’s not easy or anything. I should be able to drag and drop files into iTunes, which it would sync into a reading folder or some such. And of course, you would need to be able to read while music is playing. I think the new iPod video screens would be good for reading. I can now read on my phone, which goes everywhere with me, so this is not much of an issue to me at this point, but still–it should be an option.
  • And while on the subject of reading on my iPod, why don’t the albums I buy on iTunes come with lyrics? There’s a lyrics tab on every track in iTunes where you can enter lyrics, but you have to go hunt them down yourself. I’ve heard tell of third-party apps that hunted down lyrics for you and added them to iTunes, but I believe they all got shutdown (copyright violations somehow?).  But the thing is, I bought my albums on iTunes; if I’d bought the CD, it would have (usually) had the lyrics inside. Why don’t my iTunes albums? It makes even more sense for iTunes tracks to have the lyrics encoded with the track, because then you could effortlessly read along with the lyrics when a song comes on. You can do that now, but, as I said, you have to enter the lyrics yourself, which is pain in the ass. Not to mention the fact that many of the lyrics sites out there (which I think are violating copyright) often have incorrect lyrics. They’re usually mostly right, but not 100%.

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Ripping Audiobooks

For all you audiobook listeners out there, here’s trick I learned about importing audiobooks into iTunes that you might appreciate:

  1. Put in the CD
  2. Select all the tracks
  3. On the top toolbar, click Advanced > Join Tracks
  4. With the tracks still all selected, right-click them and select Get Info
  5. At the bottom, check the box for Remember Position, and change the drop down menu to Yes.
  6. In the Album field, enter the number of the CD you’re importing ( i.e., if you’re importing disc 1, type 01).
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 with each CD

Okay, so what that will do is rip the CD as one long track (about an hour and 15 minutes long or so), instead of ripping the CD into individual tracks (which for audiobooks is not at all useful).  Also, this will make your iPod remember your playback position, so if you stop listening to the audiobook (to, say, listen to music), when you return to your audiobook, it’ll remember where you left off. This way, all you have to remember is which disc you’re on, which shouldn’t be too difficult. Putting the disc number in the album field lets you keep track of which one is which while you’re importing. After you rip all the tracks, you’ll probably have to rename each one with something to identify which audiobook it is (if you have several on your iPod), unless you’re just going to put them all into a separate playlist. In that case, just select all the ripped tracks and open the Get Info box, then enter the title of the audiobook or the author as Artist.

With this system, you’ll still have to switch from track to track every 75 minutes or so, but it’s much better than dealing with 3 minute tracks. I like to keep my iPod on shuffle, so that really messes with audiobook listening if you rip them track by track.

The other option you have is to download a program called Markable; I initally loved this program, but I started to have inexplicable problems with it and gave up in frustration. It handily combines all of your tracks into one big bookmarkable audiobook file (much like an file). If the audiobook is really long, you’ll have to split it into a few large tracks (again, like Audible).  My trouble with it was that it would remember where I was, but when I pressed play, it would play for about 30 seconds, then skip to the next track, losing my place in the process.  This didn’t happen every time, but often enough to be really annoying. So I’ve stopped using it in favor of the method outlined above.  Markable’s other problem is that it’s really slow and uses up a lot of processing power, so you probably wouldn’t want to be using your computer while Markable is working.

I was discussing this sort of thing last night at the post-KGB dinner. The fact that I rip audiobooks in this fashion apparently makes me a “power user.” What, regular people don’t like features that make their products better? It shouldn’t take a power user to figure out a method like this; Apple needs to get with the program and make it easier for audiobook listeners to use their iPod for that purpose.

[Update: I recently discovered, that you can create folders in iTunes, and bundle playlists into said folders. So you can create an audiobooks folder, and then create separate playlists for each audiobook, and keep them all within the audiobooks folder. Genius!]

[Note: This post previously included a rant about the annoying quirks of iPod/iTunes, but I’ve split that part into another post.] 

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