Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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This iPhoneless Life #8 – Full circle

April 13, 2009

iPod Having tried a number of Windows Mobile audio player programs I am back with Windows Media Player Mobile (WMPM), at least for everything apart from audiobooks.  And I am back to AudiblePlayer for the latter.

As I explained in a previous post, I had moved away from AudiblePlayer because it did not support my bluetooth A2DP earphones properly, with the result that the audio (which is mono) was coming out of the left channel only.  I had therefore embarked on a tour of proprietary media player solutions, in the hope of finding one that would play audiobooks properly and (ideally) handle my music and podcasts as well.

I had all but settled on Pocket Tunes, which ticks most of the boxes but is quite expensive. It also offers syncing direct with iTunes, as opposed to my current two-stage solution of  using  iTunes for podcast capture followed by WMP for syncing with the phone. Ironically, it was my attempt to get this iTunes sync functionality working which ultimately did away with the need for Pocket Tunes at all.

To explain how this came about we need to introduce my old nemesis, ActiveSync, into the story. Strictly I should call it WMDC, as Microsoft have rebranded it for Vista in the hope that we’d all be fooled into thinking it really isn’t as bad as we remember it. It turns out that when I installed WMDC on my Vista PC a year ago it was missing certain key drivers.  An updated version was released later but not rolled out automatically. Of course, I had no way of knowing that. But I had noted that some applications for the phone refused to install over WMDC, giving error messages of various descriptions. Where CAB files were provided by the vendor I could use them to get software installed on my phone, but in other cases I was stuck.  For example, I had not been able to get the latest versions of Audible Manager and AudibleAir installed on my PC and phone.  The installs failed and, at the time, I didn’t understand the error messages. It wasn’t stopping me enjoying audiobooks at that point so I didn’t waste time trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

Of course, when I attempted to install the Pocket Tunes iTunes sync software I hit the same issue again, the error message being “Can’t find CE Application Manager“.  This time I was less inclined to give up.  Googling took me to this website. Now being aware that I had an out of date (and incomplete) installation of WMDC I installed the current version.  This had the benefit that I was at last able to install Pocket Tunes iTunes sync and establish that it worked very nicely.

And while about it I also installed the latest Audible software, both to my PC and my phone, now that the path was clear.  This included an upgrade from AudiblePlayer 5.5.0.6 to 5.5.0.7.  And guess what? The new AudiblePlayer supports bluetooth properly so audiobooks play on both channels.  Still mono of course but at least in the middle of my head rather than in one ear only.

Conclusion? I don’t need to spend money on Pocket Tunes. I have gone back to WMPM and am using the latest AudiblePlayer for my audiobooks. Problem solved for an outlay of nil, plus a modicum of perseverance.

Mind you, ActiveSync/WMDC had the last laugh. After I installed the latest WMDC, it wouldn’t sync with my phone unless I removed one of the two established relationships.  I wasn’t sure which one was the one I needed so picked one more or less at random. After the next sync every single appointment had been wiped from my Calendar in Pocket Outlook. Thank you, WMDC. So kind. At least it had the good grace to leave my contacts alone.

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This iPhoneless Life #7 – Simply music

April 13, 2009

iPod Most iPhone users will think of the media capabilities of the device as mainly about music and video. So far, in looking at my Windows Mobile based alternative to the iPhone, I have been focusing on podcasts and audiobooks. That’s partly because they are important to me and partly because they need the most effort to get working smoothly on a WM PDA-phone, whereas music is obviously trivial, right?

Well, maybe if all your music takes the form of CDs you ripped yourself in mp3 format, using say iTunes. Provided it is all sitting in a folder which is “watched” by WMP on your PC it will appear in your WMP Library. If you want to sync a particular album to your phone, you just go the Album view in the Library, find the desired album, right click and select “Add to Sync List”. Next time you synchronise with your phone the album will be copied across. It is then easy to find and play in your phone’s WMP Library, and the album art will be there too if you had added that.

It gets more complicated though if you have bought iTunes music and have songs in say .m4a (AAC) format. Natively, WMP will not recognise them so they will not appear in the Library, whichever folder they are in and WMP will not be able to play them. Thankfully, there are WMP plug-ins available to fix that. As far as DRM’d music is concerned (.m4p) you really can’t use those in the Windows world outside of iTunes. The only option is to remove the DRM encryption so you end up with an m4a. I’ll leave you investigate that for yourself if you wish.

To enable desktop WMP playback of (unprotected) AAC there is a free plug-in from Orban technologies. The plug-in works well but on its own won’t make your m4a files visible to the WMP Library. For that you need a tag extender plug-in. There are several available and generally seem to work well. You can try the Softpointer Tag Support Plugin, or maybe this plugin among others.

With all that in place music is fine on a WM6 phone. The AAC files play fine natively on the phone in WMP. No click wheel but I would have to say that WMP works well enough as a vanilla music player.

Speaking of click-wheels and Apple, did I get this wrong or does the iPhone NOT support bluetooth stereo streaming (A2DP), even in its 3G manifestation? That’s a complete and utter showstopper for me. I had been giving serious thought to getting an iPhone when my WM phone’s contract runs out in December.  But my bluetooth Sennheiser earphones have transformed my mobile audio and no way would I go back to wired. Suddenly, I’m entirely happy with my iPhoneless life.

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2008 and all that

January 1, 2009

Vista busy cursor On 28 December 2007 I published my “Eight for 2008” in response to another blogger’s challenge.  The idea of the aforementioned viral meme was “to list eight things you’d like to see happen in 2008”.

Now that 2008 is over, let’s look back and see how many of my eight came about:

1. A democratic Pakistan

Preferably combined with “Mr.” Pervez Musharraf getting his come-uppance as quickly as possible.

Things are not 100% hunky dory in Pakistan, but democracy has clearly returned and we no longer have Prez Pervez.  That’s 1 out of 1 so far.

2. Global financial meltdown is avoided

I confess to feeling decidedly nervous about how well world financial markets will handle the continuing reverberations sparked off by the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the US. A soft landing can only be achieved if the key institutions follow the right policies. If they get it wrong we could all be in for a very rough ride.

Groan ….   1 out of 2.

3. The Arab world takes a lead by recognising Israel unilaterally

Unlikely, I know, but such a bold move would lead to peace quickly because it would send Hamas and other hard-liners a signal that their campaign to remove Israel in toto no longer had widespread sympathy throughout the arab world. The game would be up for them and a settled peace would quickly follow, including the creation of a Palestinian state.

Well they should have listened to me.  We could well have done with Hamas getting the rug pulled from under them last year.  If that had happened we wouldn’t be seeing what’s happening  in Gaza right now.

It’s not too late, Arab states, disown those Hamas thugs now!  1 out of 3.

4. Either the Blu-ray or HD-DVD camp win the format war.

I don’t mind which, but a winner needs to emerge quickly lest it prove to be a pyrrhic victory and consumers will lose out too.

Blu-ray won, but proceeded to try to milk their hard won monopoly by keeping prices high so market penetration has been very weak.  I think it was a pyrrhic victory.  With increasing broadband speeds, users will be turning to Internet downloads for their HD content.  Still, it’s 2 out of 4.

5. Jesse James snoozie movie misses out at the Oscars

I’m referring to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. It’s hard enough to stay awake through the title, never mind the film.

And indeed after missing out at the Baftas and the Golden Globes, it failed to collect an Academy Award. 3 out of 5.

6. Lewis Hamilton is F1 World Champion 2008

A great guy as well as a great racer. The pressure got to him right at the death this year. But he’s still very young. He’ll toughen up.

Boy, did he leave it late! But heck, it was an exciting way to win and who said F1 was boring! 4 out of 6.

7. Jethro Tull revive “A Passion Play” and take it on tour

The world may just about be ready for it now.

Jethro who? Duh …    4 out of 7.

8. Sheffield Wednesday beat Preston on 1st Jan.

That would be a great start to 2008.

They did, although they made extremely heavy weather of it and the football was unspeakable.  Still, it’s 5 out of 8.  Not bad all told.

A bonus 9th might be Microsoft apologising to the entire world for Vista.

That was never going to happen, but I’d take a well-received Windows 7 in 2009 as a good way to make amends.  As I’ve recently observed, Vista these days works just fine and there are reasons to be optimistic that Windows 7 will be a hit.

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An iPod named Lazarus

October 28, 2007

iPod Dead as an iDodo as it might seem, your old defunct iPod may not have made its way irreversibly to iHeaven after all.

As mentioned in my post about audible.com, I wanted to revive my son’s long discarded, non-functioning 4G iPod so that my wife could listen to audiobooks in the car. We had never had the heart to throw the thing away and it was still kicking around the house, useless and inert, having given every indication that the hard disk had rotated its last.

iPod

I had it in the back of my mind that there was a way of salvaging iPods where the disk appeared to have failed. I was sure I’d seen something on the Internet. I found this set of instructions. I’m not sure if this is the exact same website I’d come across before but it covered the same ground.

The revelation is that the hard disks on older iPods sometimes stop working because the disk cases get misshapen over time, particularly with iPods that get heavy use, due to the temperatures generated. The curvature of the case stops the disks spinning, or something, even though they are otherwise sound. If you can get the back off the iPod and introduce a piece of card or similar to hold the disk casing flat then it can spin up again.

Well it had to be worth a try. The hardest bit by far was getting the silver back off the iPod. You can apparently get special plastic tools to help you, but as I was more concerned about getting the thing working than preserving its dated looks I used a kitchen knife (shame on me). It was still very hard to prise the back off but I managed it without, as it turned out, inflicting any visible damage. I used an old business card between the disk casing and the inside of the back of the iPod to achieve the required flattening effect.

With the iPod case back on and the device connected to my PC via the USB dock connector I was amazed to see the Apple sign appear and then a very long wait for the battery to charge up from flatter than a Des O’Connor joke. After all, the iPod had not been used in around two years, my son having switched to a Creative Zen Vision:M. In due course the iPod made a complete recovery and all the music was still there and playable.

I had thought my efforts had been a waste of time when my wife decided she wasn’t all that interested in listening to audiobooks, but my son was very glad to have his iPod back as he had lost the original source for a lot of the music on there and had thought it lost forever. So there was a happy ending after all. Aaaah!

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A comeback of biblical proportions

August 28, 2007

Music It was reported on 570News last week that mature former supergroup Genesis may try writing some new material.

Now I have in my time been a fan of Genesis, and can see nothing wrong with their tour to cash in on their past glories by playing long-established favourites to their equally ageing fans. But to suggest they might now achieve success with new material?

It’s not impossible, but Genesis were creatively past it decades ago following the Exodus of Peter Gabriel. Maybe at that point they should have renamed themselves Leviticus. Right now they’re well into Old Deuteronomy territory and they should just play the Numbers, count the Prophets, but listen to the verdict of the Judges, accept they’ll never be Kings again and as for writing again, they should give that up as a bad Job.

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