Monthly Archives: December 2011

iTunes Match-maker..

I was quite excited by iTunes Match.  A kind gift of iTunes vouchers from Cat’s parents and I invested – the idea of being able to ‘upgrade’ music matched with the iTunes database to 256kbps versions was appealing – as well as having a centralised store of my music in ‘The Cloud’ so to speak.

It’s not been exactly the kind of easy experience it might’ve been.  I expected some complications.  The legacy of me being eager to save space on devices in the past (including my old laptop) before I centralised my iTunes library was that most of my music, whilst quite well tagged, was encoded to a low bit-rate of just 112kbps.  This is fine for my non-audiophile ears and means I get more music on my iDevices – but the matching process had some issues with it.

Ostensibly the process occurs in three steps – although these steps can take literally days depending on the size of your library (and speed of Internet connection of course).  The first step analyses your music, the second attempts to match with music available in the iTunes store, the third will upload anything not present in the store along with artwork etc.  Given the amount of bootlegs and reasonably obscure music I have there was quite a lot of uploading to do.

After the first attempt around 20% of my library was match or uploaded – the rest was ‘waiting’ or ‘error’ – these seem to be interchangeable at times depending on the mood iTunes is in.  I tested a couple of albums by re-encoding them, using iTunes, to 256kbps AAC files and re-sending them to iTunes Match – it worked.  These examples matched where they’d failed before.  Leaving me with about 12,000 more songs I needed to ‘increase’ the bit-rate for to allow iTunes Match to consider playing with them.  That’s a lot of tracks.

I decided to get a bit brutal with my library – as I suspected, there’s a lot of stuff in there downloaded on a whim that I’ve not really listened to – so I managed to have a good prune.  Then selected all the unmatched/unuploaded songs in my Library and hit the ‘convert to AAC’ option in the menu.  Then waited.  A long time.  It took a little over a full day of churning through for my poor Macbook to get through this process, I decided to leave it to it and switch to my iPad for my computer needs for the duration – that way upon completion I could just tap delete. I checked the ‘remove from iCloud’ box, clicked delete files and then was left with a Library either matched, uploaded or 256kbps.

Then I contemplated how broken my playlists were now! Argh!

Anyway, now I selected all my new tracks and selected the option to add to iCloud, then from the Store option in the menu selected ‘Update iTunes Match’ – and now we wait.  This took ages too.  Proper ages.  Eventually it had matched a further 6,000 or so songs, and dutifully uploaded the remaining 4,000 without issue – so now my whole library is available in iTunes match.  After many hours of faffing, waiting and eventually rebuilding my playlists.

So, if you have low bit-rate files that won’t play with iTunes Match there’s a fairly simple process to go through:

  • Convert them to 256kbps AAC files in iTunes (I deleted the originals, whether you do this is up to you!)
  • Add them to iCloud in iTunes (cmd click whilst they’re selected in iTunes)
  • Store Menu – Update iTunes Match

Such a simple list – such a long time it will take if your library is a fairly hefty size.  Upon picking up my iPad having been at the City Ground enduring Forest’s latest pathetic offering, it seems to be working how it should be – the tracks already on there are supplemented by things it could have on it at the push of a button.  I don’t like the music player app on the iPad as it is, and so far it doesn’t seem to happy with me just selecting ‘download all’ for a particular playlist.

My iPhone meanwhile, which has been out and about with me today of course, seems mightily confused about what it can and can’t do – I’ve decided to, having wiped the music from it before starting for a ‘clean start’ decided to disable Match on the device, sync the music back as it was before and then enable Match.  I think that’s for the best.

All in all, I’d say the process has mostly been a complete and utter ballache – however, my music is now either ‘matched’ with iTunes or backed up to their servers for those tracks that it couldn’t match – and future music I add to my library will undergo this process to, and that’s a good thing for sure, and for £21 a year – pretty bargainous really.  Once they iron out the niggles with iOS devices (I’m most perturbed about the album artwork situation for example!) then it will be excellent.  As is the norm for early adoption of such things though, there is teething trouble.

Hopefully amongst my waffle there’s been some useful nuggets for someone out there trying to get to grips with iTunes Match.

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It was Christmas Eve, babe..

What time is it, Mum?” I’m sure I must have asked with irritating frequency.
About five minutes after the last time you asked?” a patient answer would probably return.
What time are we going?” a change of tack, cunning.
Not for a few hours yet!

It was torture for a young’un still steeped in a level of selfishness and desire for instant gratification perfectly natural for the age.  Coupled with me having a brother probably mithering and hassling to the same degree, unaware of the not inconsiderable preparations underway in terms of preparing the next days dinner, not to mention the shifting of presents (possibly the wrapping of them too), the coaxing of the guinea pigs to nibble on the carrot left out for Rudolph and friends.  No, blissfully unaware, we wanted to go out.

When I look back at it like this, it becomes all too clear why my parents introduced an ‘early present for Christmas Eve’ policy, presumably to try to provide a suitable distraction to us whilst we awaited the moment when we finally got to leave the house.  Remember that as a child particularly time drags sooooo much when you’re looking forward to something, much more so than the sickly John Lewis advert will have you believe.  An hour seemed liked an age – a few? Well it might as well have been days.  A strategically given toy car or similar was probably a genius ploy to at least confine our waiting to some kind of playful productivity.

That was our routine for Christmas Eve – and it’s easy to rose-tintify the past when you look back, but it was magic – and if I try to describe it, it won’t seem it.  We used to go to our friends John and Andrea’s house for a party in their basement bar – we’d eat, listen to music (usually music that Rich and I didn’t like), as children we’d make ‘cocktails’ out of a mixture of different soft drinks, sometimes adorned with miniature umbrellas, novelty stirrers and straws – one year we hit the jackpot by finding a cache of mini sparklers to add some real pizzazz to our creations.

There’d always be a gigantic Christmas Cracker that I can remember Rich and I pulling with Alan, John and Andrea’s son, I can remember John sneaking to the stairs outside adjacent to the bar and simulating sleigh bells (not that we knew it was John at the time, of course!) to ease our departure to make sure we got to bed before Santa arrived at home.  As we advanced to adulthood I spurned developing traditions of going to the pub near our school to be with family and friends – and don’t regret it for a minute.  Naive mixed cocktails would graduate to alcohol, I probably went to some as a smoker, others with a girlfriend – but would never want to miss it.

One year when John and Andrea spent Christmas in South Africa I joined my friends in the pub instead – it was nice, we were into our second or third year of university and it was a nice reunion of sorts – I genuinely enjoyed myself, but it wasn’t quite the same.  It was good to have normal service renewed the following year.

Since John passed away the routine has been understandably broken – Andrea spends Christmas with family in Luton and, in truth, I have generally spent Christmas Eve without any particular plans and feeling rather out of sorts – so it’s quite sad but I’m actually really quite pleased to have something to look forward to this Christmas Eve.  Rich and Em have just moved into their new house and decided to have a couple of casual nights of drinks last night and tonight – I’ve opted for tonight, because whilst perhaps (no offence Rich) it doesn’t give the buzz of those childhood anticipations, it gives something to look forward to.

I’m such a maudlin sod.  However, have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and perhaps be a little more receptive to the inevitable march of time and that in life things will change, and perhaps allow for the fact that sometimes those changes might just be for the better.  And of course, appreciate the good times whilst they’re there, too!

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Greed is for amateurs. Disorder, chaos, anarchy: now that’s fun!

"You'd better hope and pray that you wake one day in your own world..."

Hmm, this intent to blog more often isn’t going so well.  Christmas is very nearly upon us – in truth, I’ve been pretty well prepared for ages anyway – so no last minute stressing for me.  Which is lucky as much of this week was taken out by illness – still feeling drained now, but glad to have had a chance to get into work before the festivities commence to leave the office with a clean slate – and obviously recover sufficiently to enjoy assorted celebrations too.

Speaking of celebrations, our work Christmas party was last week – as ever my esteemed colleagues didn’t let us down with a fine selection of finery on our fancy dress theme of ‘famous dead people’.  I elected to go as Brandon Lee, admittedly because I seem to have developed a penchant for white-and-black make-up based dressing up with Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley and now The Crow in my repertoire.  I was pleased with the result, even if I also looked a bit like the scary one from Shakespeare’s Sister (thanks for that spot, Mike!).  Amusingly one colleague arrived dressed as Bruce Lee, who is, of course, Brandon’s dad.

Forest have been continuing their desperate quest to not only reach the bottom of the barrel, not simply scrape the bottom of it, but to drill right through and strike out for the other side of the planet.  Frustrating, for sure.  That said, the subsequent lack of impetus to invest quite so much time in following the Reds away from home has saved me a bit of cash!  Always a winner.

Probably the highlight of the month so far though (our work party was close, but not close enough!) was seeing Rolf Harris at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham.  Having got a few of his live recordings, it’s amazing that he’s basically been doing a very similar set (including patter and jokes!) for about 40 years, but it’s still an engaging act – indeed, three generations of my family were there on the front row to enjoy a true entertainer strutting his stuff.  Better still my mate Alex, one of the didgeridoodling four from last year, loitered at the stage door and had his instrument (fnar) signed by Rolf.

I’m now off work ’til the 9th January which I’m quite pleased about – I could do with a rest, frankly, so don’t have masses of plans!  So, season’s greetings to all you fine folk, may you have a splendid Christmas and a prosperous new year – and I’ll leave you with this rather tremendous video of Rolf doing what he does best!

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Bully grief and trips (down memory lane)…

I was only thinking about bullying the other day, and pondering a blog post about it, and then that awful news regarding a young girl locally deciding to take her life amidst suggestions that playground abuse might’ve been the cause.  It’s spooky when that happens, and I honestly can’t recall the reason the subject popped into my head prior to hearing the news bulletin.

At our primary school there was a girl in our year who endured a torrid time along these lines, and to my shame when I think of it whilst I wasn’t particularly enamoured by such antics I suppose I was complicit in my negligence to stand up to it from my peers and friends.  Of course, at that age – between 8 and 11 or so – you are incredibly influenced by peer pressure and acceptance – one being singled out by a baying mob ensures negative attention isn’t bestowed upon you.  I suppose in some ways we retain more subtle machinations along these lines into adult life.

So what is the purpose of writing about it?  I’m not sure really.  Catharsis?  Residual guilty feelings from all those years ago?  A reminder that whilst I’m feeling this way now, some twenty-plus years on – imagine how those kids in the class of the girl in the news must be feeling, wondering whether they are responsible or not for the straw that broke the back of the camel.  There will be those who contributed more directly, those that stood by and let it happen – there but for the stronger mental fortitude of the girl in my class at school could go I and my old schoolmates.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?  Well, it makes me think.  I like to think that I like to generally treat people kindly and follow the old adage of doing unto them as you would have them do to you and all that; but perhaps we could all take a little time out to do better.  It is the season of goodwill, after all.  Should it really be confined to a season?

Bonus points if you spot the clumsy pun in the headline!

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