Fixing my assets

It’s time for a big clearout and tidy up. Three things:
* Website
* Music
* Photos

Website

In a bid to cut down on our monthly outgoings, I’m moving FROM Squarespace to WordPress. Yep, totally against the tide. Thankfully I’ve got a licence to some great templates from studiopress

I exported from Squarespace, but the photos did not go with the export, so I’m having to reupload them all to WordPress; a big job.

Music

I had two libraries, one of all my CDs ripped to FLAC and then the mp3s for iTunes. It was messy and unwieldy, but the storage space on the iPod necessitated the mp3s. iCloud solves that problem! For whatever annoying reason, iTunes will not play FLAC, so I had to convert all the FLACs to Apple Lossless. Then all the mp3s were laundered through iTunes Match and now I have one canonical music folder on the Drobo FS. My Squeezebox players can access and play everything, as can my Apple TV and iTunes library. AND I can get whatever I want from the cloud for my iPhone.

Photos

I’ve been a Lightroom user since v1 and was pretty anal about tagging my photos and syncing them to another computer. Since getting my iPhone, my pictures have become a bit of a mess. So I’m doing a similar thing to what I did with my music: consolidating my DSLR images and iPhone images into one folder using Lightroom to do the heavy lifting. And that gets me onto something: how come iTunes can’t do what Lighroom does when a folder has been moved? It’s a real pain in the arse.

Once I’ve got them all consolidated and on the Drobo, I want to set up a sync to an internal drive and to my MacBook Pro. I’m looking at either Live Mesh or Spideroak for that. Spideroak is $100 for 100GB. My photos folder is about 70GB, so it would fit. I dunno though. I used to use FolderSync, one of the previous incarnations of LiveMesh, before I got my first Mac laptop so maybe LiveMesh will suit my needs better. Although I’ve heard rumours that it might be going away.

iTunes upgrade – DRM free at last!

I just got the notification on iTunes that there’s an upgrade available to 7.2. So I hopped over to macrumors.com to see what was new. And there it was, iTunes PLUS, DRM free music available at 256kbps. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time for two reasons:

1. I’m a snob and prefer higher bit-rates (my CD collection is ripped to FLAC for my Squeezebox players);
2. Apple DRMed files don’t play on the Squeezebox

So this week I bought 9 CDs, not something I do every week but I just got paid and I’m filling in holes (all the old Wonder Stuff CDs and the new one, and all the Muse CDs).

For the last year I’ve been ripping everything to FLAC onto a server and it took me pretty much most of the year to get through them all. Then a couple of months ago I got rid of ALL my CD jewel cases and put the disks and inlays into CD ring-binders. The amount of space I got back was incredible.

So, I’m excited that DRM free music is now a feasible option for me, although I would like to see higher bit-rates even than 256 kbps before I declare the CD dead to me. But I can live happily with 256 if it’s DRM free and means instant gratification.

I just bought my first iTunes PLUS album, Genesis — Duke (2007 Remastered) but only two tunes downloaded before the server timed out. Same deal when I hit the upgrade button in the iTunes store to upgrade the few DRMed songs I did buy to non-DRM. I guess Apple’s servers will be getting slammed for the next few weeks while folks upgrade their libraries. It will be interesting to hear the stats about how many people are actually upgrading.

It also means I’m much less likely to use P2P to get instant gratifcation. In fact I just shut Soulseek down to kill my Genesis downloads!

I see this as a milestone in the digital revolution. May you live in exciting times, as the old Chinese proverb allegedly goes. These are certainly those!

Asset management

Lex’s post about photo management software got me thinking about that and I see it as an example of how digital asset management in general is changing.

Take iTunes as an example. It has a feature to allow it to manage your music for you, or you can do it manually. When I installed it for the first time back when I got my first iPod (a 1st gen 20 GB with an engraved message from my loving wife as a gift for our wedding in 2002!) I left the default setting which, at the time, was to allow iTunes to take care of the management side of things.

So, each CD I ripped was placed into a folder of iTunes’ choosing. After a while, I realised that iTunes’ idea of file management was not quite the same as mine, so I quickly disabled that feature and have since been taking care of it myself.

Right, so that’s the file management taken care of in terms of where and how it is stored on the hard disk. Next is the metadata. I can hit Ctrl + I to bring up the Get Info window in iTunes. From there I can adjust the tags as I please and it’s really easy to do. But, and here’s the kicker, this doesn’t amend the metadata of the files, rather it keeps all that info in an xml file. So, the xml file has to accompany the files, otherwise iTunes gets a bit shirty. And watch out if your xml file gets corrupted or you want do something like move your files. It took me a while to realise that the best thing to do was to map a drive letter for iTunes so that whatever changes are made to my system in the future, I know that all I need to do is map the letter I:/ on my system and iTunes is happy.

[update: I just tried amending the title field of an mp3 in iTunes and it seems that I was wrong; it does actually amend the file itself. Who knew?]

I prefer to use mp3tag to edit the metadata of my music files. It’s a fantastic program and is as easy to use as iTunes for editing tags.

And on the photo thing, once again, tagging is the feature that I’m looking for. And, again, it’s down to what takes care of the data management. Picasa is a great tool for managing photos, but is no good for tagging. Adobe Photoshop Album Starter is good for tagging, but is not quite as good as Picasa for photo editing and management. And, once again, from the limited time that I’ve used the Adobe one, it seems clear that it does not edit the files themselves, but probably uses an xml file in the same way that iTunes does.

And that’s what has got me thinking. Is it better to have the information embedded in the files themselves, or to use an iTunes/Adobe style of information management. I had always believed that the former method was the most effective, but I’m beginning to wonder now.

Gmail is a good example of how tagging can work. No longer do I need to have a strict hierarchical structure to store my e-mails to make them easy to find. I just add some tags, hit Archive and I’m done.

Desktop search (I use Copernic, but an old version as the latest would bring my XP system down) pretty much means that I no longer have to keep a tidy hierarchical system of filing. The metaphor of folders and files on the PC is, apparently, becoming obsolete. Rarely now do I hunt through many levels of folders to find content when all I need to is type some text into the Copernic box down on the task bar. I guess Vista will have desktop search integrated into the OS. And this affects bookmarks too: I don’t bookmark sites any more on my local system; I del.icio.us tag them.

But what do I do? Simply abandon my disciplined ways of storing files, emails, etc. and put my faith in tags and desktop search? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s all just 1s and 0s stored on a magnetic platter.

And how about those xml files? As I type, I’m watching iTag go through a directory of photos so I can tag them. It’s taking an unacceptably long time to create the thumbnails, but it might be worth it in the end as any tags I apply with that are actually written to the files (keywords in the IPTC tags). I just don’t know what I will use to take advantage of the tags in terms of filtering.

I’d be keen to hear what others think of tagging and the ways that digital asset management seems to be changing.

Displaying iTunes album art

This has been bothering me for some time now, but it was one of those things that I just learned to live with. I’ve found in the past that it can be difficult to know what search term to enter into Google to find solutions for problems such as these.

So, what is the problem? I have a smart playlist that includes everything from my library, barring podcasts and audiobooks, that has a playcount of 0. As the tracks changed, the album art in the lower left-hand corner did not update. I would have to select iTunes and hit Ctrl L to select the track that was playing and have the album art update.

I decided today to try a quick search and entered this into Google: [itunes play shuffle album art doesn’t display].

That quickly led me to this post at macosxhints, whence I found another related post entitled
See album art for music in a shared iTunes library.

It says:

If you click on the top bar of the little album art window in the corner, and change it from “Selected Item” to “Now Playing”, you’ll be able to see artwork from the shared libraries as it plays. This has been working in iTunes for a few versions already, although it’s a bit hard to expose this functionality.

Here’s a screenshot showing the two options.


It’s just a small thing, but it had been annoying me for such a long time and it’s nice to have it finally resolved. Seemingly it will work with shared libraries too, although I haven’t tested that out yet.