Posts Tagged ‘iTunes’

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This iPhoneless Life #11 – iTunes’ Secret Agent

August 27, 2010

iPod To describe my life as iPhoneless is a slight exaggeration. There is definitely an iPhone in my life, my wife’s iPhone 4, and it robs me of sleep.

My wife is addicted to Angry Birds.  It has not quite taken over completely from reading in bed at night (I can thank the late Stieg Larsson for that) but there seems to be an unwritten rule that we have to get through at least 2 or 3 levels of the aforementioned smash hit game before calling it a night.  I am often called in to help out clearing a level if my wife is stuck on it and wants a break to read another chapter of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I am expected to keep going until every last grunting green pig has been blown to bits.


So I know all about the iPhone 4, it’s beautiful “retina” screen and gorgeous build quality. But for my own use I still have my old, battered Windows Mobile phone – an HTC Tytn II (in O2 “Stellar” livery).  It has done a job for me but now enough is enough and I want a modern phone.

Largely out of sheer bedevilment, I am determined not to become an iPhone user like everyone else in my family. And I’m wary of being a Windows Phone early adopter, much as I believe that platform holds out great promise. How could I forget what it was like to be an early adopter of Vista, when the pain of it is still faithfully documented in this blog? So I will go Android, at least for the foreseeable future, and currently favour the Samsung Galaxy S.

It was while I was checking out what the podcast client options look like in the Android world that I came across a free open source application called iTunes Agent. The idea is very simple. It makes your random non-Apple music device look, to iTunes, like an iPod. That means you can use iTunes directly and seamlessly to synchronise music and podcasts with any mp3 player or phone.  iTunes Agent has been around for quite a while and I can’t think how I missed it, particularly when I was casting around for a podcast solution for my HTC WM6 phone. As explained in an earlier post, I have a more than workable solution using iTunes for podcast capture and WMP for synchronisation, but iTunes Agent looked like a neater fix and I thought I should try it out.

I had no trouble installing and running iTunes Agent on my Windows 7 PC, and it hooked up immediately with iTunes. The difficulty I had was getting iTunes Agent to link up to my phone when the latter was connected to the PC via USB.

The way it is supposed to work is that you specify the folder on your music device where you want your synchronised music to live, in my case a folder on the HTC phone’s micro SD storage card. When you connect your phone, iTunes Agent is supposed to detect that this folder  is available on the Windows file system and therefore knows your phone is ready for synchronisation.  The limitation is that iTunes Agent requires your phone or music player to have been allocated a drive letter by Windows, but Windows was just listing my phone under “Portable Devices”. I could easily navigate through the phone’s folders and files using Windows Explorer but no way could I persuade Windows to allocate a drive letter.  And without a drive letter, iTunes Agent refused to accept any folder on the storage card as synchronisation target.

This stumped me for a while until, by dint of frantic Googling, I discovered the difference between the MTP and UMS protocols for connecting storage devices over USB. My phone naturally connects to my PC using MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) – a technology which is reckoned to offer the widest device compatibility with media players – as opposed to UMS (USB Mass Storage) which is targeted more at USB keys and SD card readers. Unfortunately Windows only allocates a drive letter with UMS devices, not with MTP.

More Googling and I found out about two applications that can be installed on a WM phone to make it emulate a UMS device and thus qualify for a drive letter, W5torage and Softick Card Export.  The former was written by a lone developer and is free whereas Card Export is a commercial product. Both were created so that you can in effect use your WM phone as a card reader.

I tried W5torage first.  It installed fine on my phone and appeared to be running, but in UMS mode my PC was not able to detect my phone at all. A quick uninstall and I tried Card Export, which is free to trial for 21 days. I took an instant dislike to the latter because it automatically added an annoying status display to my Today screen and an icon in the notification tray. It did however work. My phone now appeared as the G: drive and at last I was able to configure my phone in iTunes Agent. My HTC now showed up as a device in iTunes.

This did not though constitute a happy ending. Before going much further I was determined to rid my phone’s Today screen of the unwanted Card Export status display.  I went into the phone settings and unticked the Card Export option from the list of Today items. This resulted in my phone locking up. A reboot later and the Today Screen was free of Card Export status, but now my program icons were missing. There was clearly some clash between Card Export and the application manager software from O2 which came with my phone. Now the O2 software is lot more important to me than use of iTunes Agent – my researches in that direction were more curiosity than need – so it was Card Export that was going to have to go.

It took about 10 reboots before the phone was working normally again, with no trace of Card Export, the Today screen displaying all the right items and no lock-ups when I tried to access the Today settings.  There was a moment when I thought I was going to have to ditch the phone as a write-off, or at least restore factory settings.

That is, unfortunately, one of the most problematical issues with Windows Mobile. Lots of apps but easy access by developers to the deep innards of the operating system, which can readily become unstable as a result. I don’t know why iTunes Agent had remained a secret to me for so long but I could have done with it remaining a secret.

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This iPhoneless Life #2 – Podcasts: Capture & Sync

March 12, 2009

iPod Having decided to try using my Windows Mobile 6 PDA-phone as a combined mobile phone and media player, in the manner of an iPhone, the first challenge was to turn it into a viable podcast player. I listen to 10 hours of podcasts a week (mostly while commuting in the car). If I couldn’t get my WM6 phone (O2’s rebrand of the HTC TyTN II) to work as a practical podcast playing device then the experiment would be over more or less before it started.

The first and not inconsiderable hurdle is that the Windows equivalent of iTunes, Windows Media Player, offers no support at all for podcasts. That is, there is no mechanism in WMP for subscription to and downloading of podcasts, which means there is no choice but to use other software for podcast capture.

I was casting around for suitable podcast software when I came across the idea of simply continuing to use iTunes. It’s obvious really. While you can’t use iTunes to synchronise podcasts with a WM6 device you can still use it to subscribe to and capture episodes of your chosen podcasts. They still end up in a folder on your PC so why switch to a different, unfamiliar and most likely inferior podcast client? All you then need to do is ensure that WMP includes that folder within its library, so each new podcast episode is available from within WMP as soon as iTunes has delivered it. You can then use WMP to synchronise the podcasts with your WM6 phone.

I noted that iTunes downloads all podcasts to the C:\Users\username\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts folder, where “username” refers to your chosen Windows user account name. Accordingly, that folder needs to be “watched” for new content (and deletion of content) by WMP.

This is simple to arrange. In WMP, select the “Add to Library…” option from the Library drop-down menu. This brings up the Add To Library dialog box. Click the “Add…” button then select the iTunes podcast folder.  In fact, you may as well go up a level and select the “iTunes Music” folder, which includes the Podcasts folder, so that all your iTunes music files are available within WMP as well.

The next step is to create an Auto Playlist, which is the WMP equivalent of the iTunes Smart Playlist. Click File > Create Auto Playlist. You then proceed to name the playlist “podcasts” and add filter criteria to select the relevant file locations and file types as shown below:

I first added a set of criteria to pick out all mp3 files whose pathname contained “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Podcasts” so that only audio podcasts would be included in my playlist.  This involves clicking on the topmost green plus sign.  From the drop-down select “More…” then “File Name”, then on “click to set” to enter the partial folder path as shown. Click on the green plus below the filter criterion you have just created, select “File Type” then “click to set” to bring up a drop-down of available file types. Choose mp3.

I recommend also including files from the path “Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\Downloads\Podcasts” because some podcasts end up stuck there, at least temporarily. To do this click on the “And also include” option and choose “Music in my library”.  This allows you to specify a further set of criteria for inclusion of media files.  Proceed as above but specifying the partial folder path including “Downloads”.

All that is left is to set up the device synchronisation to include the podcasts playlist.  The device itself and the storage card appear on WMP as separate devices.  I synchronise with the “storage card” device.

With the phone connected to the PC via the USB cable, bring up the Sync drop-down menu, click on “storage card” and select “Set Up Sync…”. The following dialog box appears:

You need to ensure that “podcasts” is added to the list of playlists to sync, as shown. You should also use Sync > Storage Card > Advanced Options to arrange that syncing takes place automatically when your phone is connected.

So far as this goes, it works perfectly well. In part #3 of this mini-series I’m going to look at how to get the podcasts to play in the right order on the phone and other practical issues.

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This iPhoneless Life #1

February 27, 2009

iPod If you want a single device to be both your mobile phone and media player, why look any further than the iPhone? But if you don’t have one – how far would you get using say a WM6 phone to do the same things?

Well, I have been a Windows Mobile PDA-phone user for years and still have the best part of a year to run on my latest WM6 phone (O2’s XDA Stellar which is the HTC TyTN II under a different name). I might very well switch to the iPhone when the contract runs out, but for now I’m stuck with the HTC.

I had become used to going everywhere with both my WM6 phone and my ageing iPod mini, using the latter extensively for podcasts and audiobooks as well as music. When the battery on the iPod mini finally gave out around a month ago my first thought was to replace it with a current iPod nano. But then I got to wondering whether the HTC could be persuaded to play iPhone stand-in. I had always dismissed that as impractical, if only because I could not imagine how it might cope with all my podcasts. But I can now buy a big memory card, the HTC can play music and video and has a big screen. And I would only have one device to carry around, just like the iPhone.

That’s how the experiment began.

Memory

Step one was to buy a suitably capacious memory card. The HTC supports SDHC micro cards and it cost around £16 to get a top brand 8GB card, that’s more memory than I had with the dead iPod.

First (minor) drawback – the display on the Today screen of the HTC misreports the spare capacity on the memory card. It is currently telling me I have only used 1% of the total whereas I have filled over 2GB. I think this is a problem with the WM6 OS and the newer SDHC cards. I previously used a standard density 256MB microSD card with the HTC and the capacity was reported correctly. In any case, the device certainly reads/writes fine with SDHC.

What next?

I assumed music wouldn’t be too difficult.  I was more worried about podcasts.  With iPod and iTunes working in tandem, podcasts are a breeze and I had everything set up with a smart playlist to get the podcasts in the right order. If I couldn’t get something similar working on WM6 with Windows Media Player 11 that would come  as a complete showstopper.

How did I get on?  That will be #2 in this short series of posts.

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Dear Steve Gibson (and reply)

September 20, 2007

Vista busy cursor Wow! My recent posting about wifi security looks set to be the subject of a future episode of “Security Now!

Steve Gibson Security Now!

This is the text of a message I sent to Gibson Research Corporation‘s Steve Gibson, following up on my experience trying to let a visitor to my home have casual access to my (heavily secured) wifi on his laptop to check his emails.

Steve Gibson, creator of Spinrite, is co-host of the award winning technology podcast “Security Now!”, part of Leo Laporte‘s popular This Week in Tech network of podcasts.

Steve

I have 3 things for Security Now!

(1) The main question is about what to do if an acquaintance pops round and wants to access the Internet using your home wifi, when you have followed good practices – WPA PSK with perfect Gibson password, MAC filtering, non-broadcast SSID etc etc. It can be a pain to let one PC onto the ultra-secure wifi for short term use (and he wanted to use his Mac not any Windows laptop I could loan him). Why is there no simple facility built into routers to give guests easy Internet-only access temporarily? I wrote about my predicament here. Your name comes up in the comments, suggesting you’d have the answer. I’ve been listening to Security Now! since episode 1 and am sure there’s no-one better to ask.

(2) I was listening to the fascinating episode on your e-commerce system and I think I may have beaten you to the session management scheme. As you were talking I could see where you were heading because I’d been there myself. I’m an actuary by profession but have IT interests, and some years ago I created an interactive on-line retirement modelling system for the consulting firm where I work. I had the same issues – can’t assume cookies or javascript are available and didn’t want an overcooked database solution, so I had the data items (which were few and not needed on permanent record) shuttling back and forth between client and server using the query string and hidden form fields. I skipped the encryption because the whole thing was running under SSL. No doubt you’ll tell me that was a mistake.

(3) I sent a work colleague a link to Security Now! a couple of weeks back as I thought it would be useful for his line of work. He’s just popped his head into my office beaming. He’s started with episode 1, got to 20 and he’s hooked!

This was Steve’s reply:

Hi Dennis,

>I have 3 things for Security Now!
>
>(1) The main question is about what to do if an acquaintance pops round
>and wants to access the Internet using your home wifi, when you have
>followed good practices – WPA PSK with perfect Gibson password, MAC
>filtering, non-broadcast SSID etc etc. It can be a pain to let one PC
>onto the ultra-secure wifi for short term use (and he wanted to use his
>Mac not any Windows laptop I could loan him). Why is there no simple
>facility built into routers to give guests easy Internet-only access
>temporarily? I wrote about my predicament here
>(http://denniswright.newsvine.com/_news/2007/09/17/967189-why-oh-wifi).
>Your name comes up in the comments, suggesting you’d have the
>answer. I’ve been listening to Security Now! since episode 1 and am sure
>there’s no-one better to ask.

I’ve read your blog posting, and I think this is SUCH a great question that I’m going to make an entire episode out of it. So … stay tuned! 🙂


>(2) I was listening to the fascinating episode on your e-commerce system
>and I think I may have beaten you to the session management scheme. As
>you were talking I could see where you were heading because I’d been there
>myself. I’m an actuary by profession but have IT interests, and some
>years ago I created an interactive on-line retirement modelling system for
>the consulting firm where I work. I had the same issues – can’t assume
>cookies or javascript are available and didn’t want an overcooked database
>solution, so I had the data items (which were few and not needed on
>permanent record) shuttling back and forth between client and server using
>the query string and hidden form fields. I skipped the encryption because
>the whole thing was running under SSL. No doubt you’ll tell me that was a
>mistake.

THIS one, being so timely, I’ll address in today’s (airing tomorrow)
Listener Feedback episode. 🙂

>(3) I sent a work colleague a link to Security Now! a couple of weeks back
>as I thought it would be useful for his line of work. He’s just popped
>his head into my office beaming. He’s started with episode 1, got to 20
>and he’s hooked!

Yay! I’m glad these are useful to him, and to you.

Thanks for your note.

And my reply back:

Steve

Wow! What can I say?

Thanks and I’ll be tuned in as ever. (Maybe that should be iTuned in?)

Regards

Dennis

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How real people are getting on with Vista

June 12, 2007

Vista busy cursor Here are some examples of actual search strings which have brought visitors to this site over the past 7 days:

  • why does my new Vista machine run so slow
  • vistas unresponsive
  • vista chugs
  • vista does DEP slow my computer
  • windows vista thrashing disk
  • windows vista disable superfetch
  • REMOVING DEP FOR WINDOWS MAIL
  • itunes vista sync freeze
  • cure for vista freeze
  • vista 1gb worth it
  • vista windows mail slow respond
  • why does my nero 7 load up slow in vista
  • windows defender taking ages to complete
  • slow imageready on vista
  • windows defender makes my pc start too slow
  • vista overnight frozen

This is hardly a scientific survey but it does show that there are real people out there mystified as to why their shiny new Vista PCs are pigging slow, unresponsive, given to freezing after being on standby overnight, given to freezing when accessing mail, why mail is so slow, why the hard disk sometimes thrashes seemingly interminably, why programs take ages to load.

The reality is not what you expect after the hype. Expect a slow growing wave of serious disgruntlement. “vista chugs” just about says it all.

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Dear Paul Thurrott

June 11, 2007

Vista busy cursor This is the text of an email I sent to technology journalist Paul Thurrott today:

Paul Thurrott

Paul

I’m a regular listener to your Windows Weekly podcast with Leo Laporte and my ears pricked up when you mentioned the problem with files downloaded by iTunes (running on Vista) mysteriously vanishing and not present when you try to sync with your iPod. I came across this quite some time ago and mentioned it here:

In that blogpost I speculated whether there might be any link with the tendency for large files not to download properly. It may be a Firefox thing because I almost exclusively use Firefox with Vista, but at the end of a long download I’ll get a message that the download failed. However the file is still downloaded albeit with the extension “.part” appended to the filename. If you rename it to remove the extension, the file is generally found to be complete and work perfectly.

Have you encountered this or heard of anyone else coming across this?

Incidentally, I have been true to my blogname (hastalavistavista) and upgraded to XP. XP is installed on a separate drive so I can always go back to Vista, but my experience with XP is so much better that I can’t imagine downgrading back to Vista any time soon.

I firmly believe history will look back on Vista as one of Microsoft’s biggest turkeys.

Regards

Dennis

I don’t suppose I’ll get a reply. Paul must get a lot of email. Still, at least I know I’m not the only person to have this problem with iTunes, and I’m (probably) not going mad.

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iTunes 7 and the runaway song files

April 10, 2007

Vista busy cursor iTunes 7 has the annoying habit of losing downloaded files. I’ve only noticed this with podcast files but then I download a helluva lot more podcasts than I buy song files off the iTunes store.

This annoying behaviour has been in evidence from the off. It could be an iTunes thing. That would not be a complete surprise given that iTunes 7 is known to still be buggy on Vista even after some recent fixes.

It could equally be a Vista thing, or an unholy combination, but it really is starting to get up my nose.

File missing dialog

I will occasionally sync my iPod to pick up the latest podcasts only to be told that some podcast or other (and sometimes several) could not be synced because iTunes could not find the file. This seems odd because iTunes had appeared to be doing some downloading, and the podcast appears in the podcast view. But a check of the iTunes folder shows that the file is, as claimed, startlingly absent.

So what is going on? Either the file was downloaded or it wasn’t. Or maybe it was but then Vista decided it had not downloaded properly and deleted it.

I strongly suspect the latter. It seems to tie in with Vista’s general bad networking behaviour. For a while I was having trouble downloading larger files under Firefox. The download would appear to complete then I’d get a message that the download had failed, but the file would still appear on the desktop with a “.part” extension tagged on at the end. If I removed the “.part” from the filename the file would then work perfectly. Weird or what?

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