Star Trek on iTunes update: Enhanced or no?

UPDATE March 26: After nearly a two month stint of being offline at the iTunes Store, the Star Trek TOS is back. The complete first season is available in its original broadcast form. Additionally, newly remastered episodes from the first season are available in their own section. At this time, iTunes is still the only source for them in their uncut form.

Remastered First Season Episodes on iTunes

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Since the first season of the original Star Trek was unleashed unto iTunes a couple weeks ago, there’s been some controversy as to whether the episodes are the original cuts or the new “remastered” versions that started broadcasting last year. Having not purchased any episodes, my original supposition was that the iTunes version were the same as the DVDs, since the new ones haven’t even finished broadcasting.

In fact, as of Jan 19, only 16 new versions have been aired, and of those only 11 have been from the first season (of the total 29 episodes).

But after partaking in this conversation at OneDigitalLife, I reexamined my assumptions and did some research and it looks like some of the episodes are indeed remastered. Space Seed for example.


iTunes Store preview. Click for full-size image.

If Paramount/CBS/Apple are adding enhanced episodes after they air, that’s an interesting strategy. The iTunes Store is currently the only way, if you don’t record them on a DVR, to get a copies of the remastered episodes. It’s much like being able to download the recently broadcast episodes of Lost or CSI. Plus, iTunes is the only place to get full-length (not cut for commercials) versions of the enhanced episodes (for now)

There are some pitfalls to this approach however.

The store doesn’t indicate which episodes are new and which are not. Can we assume that every remastered episode that has aired can be found on iTunes after the airdate? Nope, some of the new broadcast episodes are on the store, some are not. Space Seed on iTunes is enhanced, as is Balance of Terror, while reviews say City of the Edge of Forever is not, even though all three broadcast months ago and all three broadcast before the show debuted on iTunes.

Also, if I were to buy Where No Man Has Gone Before today (the 19th) and a remastered version airs tomorrow (it’s on the schedule), would I then have to buy it again to get the new one? Probably yes. Same goes for any future remastered versions. My guess is that if I bought the whole season now, and the episodes were refreshed, I’d have to buy the remastered ones again.

Then there’s always the possibility that someone doesn’t want the remastered versions. That person would be stuck shelling out for the DVDs and just have to encode them themselves.

Update: CBS announced today that episodes of Trek remastered will be released on HD-DVD some time during the fourth quarter of 2007. Until then, iTunes is the only way to go.

Initial reactions to Apple’s iPhone: Mixed

So the mythical iPhone was unveiled yesterday and by all accounts, it is a revolutionary communications and portable computer device. The user interface alone is light years ahead of anything else on the market. And the technology behind it really looks phenomenal… for a phone.

But even with all that legendary RDF action in effect, my own reaction is surprisingly lukewarm. Bias Alert!: I abhor the telephone in general and mostly use a cell phone for short calls to my wife. On most days, I don’t use the phone at all. So that aspect of the device is rather immaterial to me at this time. If I didn’t already have a cell phone, that feature would be a nice perk.

As a portable computing and communication device, the thing looks awesome. When I think of it as a portable computer the $499 price tag doesn’t seem as bad just a little bad, even though it’s not a “full computer,” being currently limited to the apps provided.

Constant web connectivity would be great for looking up info at any given moment, whether it’s looking up traffic while already on the road, settling disputes at the bar, or checking the Scrabble database of words.

The ability to live-blog an event with pictures is revolutionary.

Some questions though. Can it print? Will the device detect a bluetooth printer and allow me to print an email, text message, map or photo? Can I network with computers and other iPhones on the same LAN via WiFi? I know I can text message and send email, but can I type up quick reminders and notes and transfer them between computers. Can I copy files to it directly without having to email?

A GPS receiver plugged into the dock connector would be a killer app. And a PDF reader for ebooks would be, quote, da bomb.

Ironically though, the thing that bothers me about the iPhone, is its branding as an iPod successor. With its current storage capacity, the device takes us back five years, while trying to perform many more functions.

The iPod’s ability to hold mass quantities of songs (and now videos) while also being usable as a portable hard drive are the two greatest features of the iPod line (the full size models anyway). The iPhone minimizes those functions. The argument can be made that it’s impractical to listen to 30GB of music, but that’s not the point. The point is choice. I like being able to keep a large number of playlists synced up and ready to go, depending on my mood, at the push of a button. Alternately, it’s fun to press play and not know what I’m going to get.

Then there’s the fact that I use my iPod to cart large files between home and the office as well as store copies of projects I’m working on so I can pick up from whatever computer I may be near.

And 4GB is laughably small when thinking about full-length movies and TV shows.

So that aspect of the iPhone leaves me non-plussed.

However, I tend to agree that the concept of the iPod proper maybe near the end of its evolution. The form factor seems to be at the limit of what it can do with the only potential improvements being increases in hard drive size.

Now if the iPhone can stream music to an Airport Express, then we might talk. Which leads to another thought: an iPod HiFi with built-in 802.11 wireless, WiFiHiFi anyone?, to receive music from an iPhone or any wireless equipped computer with iTunes. That would be rad.

Until then, I think the 80 gigs in my pocket will do just fine.

Cue hard drive failure… Now

Like clockwork, each January means the end of Christmas decorations, the onset of the full desolation of winter, learning the motor-memory of writing a new year and, of course, a sudden, massive hard drive failure. Every year since 2001 it has happened to me, always to my external music drive and always in January.

It’s quite comical, if you have the right sense of humor.

Then it should not have been a surprise to me that, once again, right on schedule, my music drive crashed last night. I was politely updating my iPod, having devised a new experimental listening scheme for the new year. As it would take several minutes to copy the several thousand songs, I decided to have a quick shower.

When I returned, I found my desktop in an unusual state. iTunes was no longer running. Mail and Safari were quit as well. The three FireWire volumes that I normally have mounted (including the music one) were missing and LaunchBar’s command area was active, as if the computer had been restarted.

I had no idea what caused that state of affairs, and still don’t. But I sensed danger, so I decided to do my own restart, which went smoothly enough. Until it was time for the external drives to mount. Two of them did; one of them didn’t and I’ll let you guess which one.

Disk Utility was of no help, failing immediately. It could see the drive, but attempting repair resulted in a message similar to “The underlying task failed on exit.” Whatever the problem was, the drive’s directory looked like it was in bad shape. Fortunately there is a god whose name is DiskWarrior. This diagnostic deity has raised many drives from the dead and after a few minutes, he had raised one more, rescuing my music from binary oblivion.

From there, the iPod update went well, other than about 40 songs that did not make it back from Hades. However, having gotten accustomed to these failures, I’ve become the king of backups. Twice nightly, Synk, the handiest little backup program I know, copies my music volume and other important data to a dedicated backup disk. Some quick drags-and-drops and even those handfuls of missing files were replaced.

Though I still don’t have a clue what caused the malfunction, I gotta say that the experience really wasn’t that bad. Much better than past years. However, despite all my preparations, this is one New Year’s tradition I would rather not repeat.

And even though I didn’t have to make full use of mine, remember that lesson kids: Backup Backup Backup.

iPod security note: Owner Info.txt

owner info on ipod

Hopefully your day-that-happened-to-be-Christmas was full of family togetherness, holiday cheer, and of course, lucrative acquisitions. And once again Apple’s iPod dominated the retail scene. While sales figures aren’t out yet, I think there’s a strong possiblity that a new iPod was among those acquisitions ilounge claims more ipods sold in 2006 than 2001-2005 combined.

So, in the interest to providing security for all those iPods newly given and received, as well as those that have been hanging around, here’s a quick tip that will help to ensure the safety of your mp3 player in the event it becomes separated from you. It makes use of the iPod’s Notes feature and is something I’ve done with each iPod I’ve owned since I got my first one nearly five years ago has it really been five years?.

This procedure works for all iPods with a screen and the principle is simple. Drop a text file with the name Owner Info.txt into the Notes folder on your iPod. To do this, the iPod must be mounted as a drive on your desktop, which you can do by selecting Enable Disk Use from iTunes.

On Windows, use Notepad to create the file. By default, it saves a text file format, which is required for the note to work. On Mac OS X, use TextEdit, but make sure you must select Make Plain Text from the Format menu before saving.

Inside this text file, type a short message about to whom the iPod belongs and ways to contact you: email, phone, website, instant messenger, etc. You can even include a physical address in hopes that some kind soul will mail it back to you or drop it off in person. In this case, it may be wiser to use a work address or P.O. box if you have one; you probably don’t want any nefarious types knowing where you live.


click to see full size.

When you’re finished with your message, save it with the filename Owner Info.txt into the Notes folder. On your iPod, browse to Extra > Notes > Owner Info.txt and you’ll see your message displayed on screen. Should you lose your iPod, the person who finds it can read your message and contact you to return it.

If you ever sell or give your iPod away, make sure you change or remove the file.

Weaknesses

Of course, this isn’t a fool-proof suggestion. It’s primarily designed to help honest people return a lost iPod and, to a certain extent, help buyers of second-hand iPods identify stolen property. If any would-be thieves are savvy enough, they can easily delete or change the Owner Info.txt. Though, once you save your file, you can always turn off Enable Disk Use to set up a roadblock. Even if someone resets the iPod by linking it to a new iTunes library, your owner message will remain intact.

Additionally, if you use a case with your iPod, drop a small slip of paper behind it with the same contact info. Then you’ll have one more avenue of protection in the event of loss or theft.

Hopefully though, the more people who do this, the more standard it will become. If this practice reaches a critical mass, like luggage tags on a suitcase, people will automatically know where to look to contact an iPod that’s lost its owner.

The Future of Tunequest


Early tunequest page

So I was in the middle of putting together a little write up about a couple pieces of Star Trek music, when two notable events occurred here at tunequest. In progress news, I crossed the sub-1000 songs remaining threshold yesterday while listening to Joe Hisaishi’s score to Spirited Away. Hisaishi has composed music for nearly all of master Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpieces. The beauty and grandeur of those films is matched, if not exceeded by, their music. Always melodious, mysterious, sweeping and haunting, it gives me chills.

Meanwhile, aside from that milestone, tunequest was apparently accepted into the 9rules blogging network, whose stated mission is to advocate and promote top-shelf content and talent. I’ve only recently become familiar with it and, honestly, submitted my entry on a purely “what-the-hell” basis. So to be accepted is a freakin’ huge compliment. To which I simply say, “Aw shucks.” 🙂 and I look forward to contributing.

The thing is, the actual tunequest was always going to be a time-limited endeavor. My goal was to listen to every song in my iTunes library before the end of the year. That’s it. It started as simply a personal journey to acquaint (and re-acquaint) myself with the myriad of tunes that I had collected, but had gone neglected since the advent of the iTunes+iPod paradigm.

Early on, I decided to chronicle this quest, choosing to tell myself and others what all this music means to me. I figured that by this time of the year it would be neat to look back at all I had done and be like, “Yeah, that was cool” and just share some of my thoughts and experiences.

When I started this, I literally had thousands of songs that I’d never played or hadn’t listened to in years. Part of the goal was to really evaluate the music in my possession. Going in, I knew that the ease of digital distribution had led to my acquiring music simply because it was possible. The problem was that the pack rat in me wouldn’t let me get rid of things, particularly the obscure and under-rated things. (I’m a sucker for an underdog).

And you know, under this evaluation, I discovered that most of my music was worth keeping. It turns out I had originally liked it for a reason. Sure, not everything aged well. My affinity for drum-n-bass has waned significantly and there were multiple film scores that I just never got into. Bjork’s Medulla, gone. Kid Koala, gone, as are a handful of “glitch/noise” records whose indie cred of being “difficult but rewarding” wasn’t enough to justify keeping them around. In total, only about 7% of my library has been cut.

But the real surprises came when an album or artist defied my expectations. More often than I would have guessed, the albums that I had pegged as potentials for deletion were actually quite compelling. I was frankly astonished that Franz Waxman’s 1935 score for Bride of Frankenstein perfectly blends my love of both film and classical music. Nobukazu Takemura’s Child’s View and For Tomorrow re-affirmed that the man is a genius. Heck, even The Offspring, who I continue to like against my better judgement, managed to con me into keeping Conspiracy of One around.

But that’s all past and this is supposed to be about the future.

Even though the original tunequest will be drawing to a close soon, music will be around for a long time. Hopefully, I’ll be around a long time to listen to it. I’m sure I’ll have opinions, thoughts and an intensive desire to share.

So, moving forward, I don’t expect much to change around here. Content will take a looser form I suspect, since it won’t be tied to the rigorous listening pattern of my library. And I’ll possibly branch out into other subjects from time to time. I am also toying with the idea of initiating “mini-tunequests,” that is, finding a particular niche of music and exploring it in detail, like all the James Bond scores or something similar.

Format-wise, I plan to continue posting insights and observations about the music in my life, the song of the day though probably not every day and tips and ideas for getting the most out of iTunes and iPods. I’m also hoping to resurrect my long-defunct “Records that time forgot” series.

But if this experience has taught me anything, it is that a tunequest is a life-long journey.

Oh, and feed subscribers will continue to get curated links to free music downloads.

Clean up your Composer tags already!

Update: The revised sorting feature/problem in iTunes 7.3 and later renders portions of this advice useless. Some of it still applies for Smart Playlist building, but the segregated sorting no longer works. If you’re using a version prior to 7.3, go nuts. If you’re using 7.3 or later, be warned.

In striving for zen-like simplicity while maintaining and extending the usability of iTunes, please follow me as I introduce you to the technique I use to keep my Composer tags orderly and navigable particularly when using an iPod. The idea is to streamline the presentation of the tags while adding meaning to them.

In my library there are three types of songs that require use of the composer tag:

  1. Classical and other so-called “serious music”
    Principally includes all works by traditionally-recognized composers and performed by orchestras, quartets, etc. Also includes film and television recordings that are not the originals, such as when the Royal Philharmonic plays Star Trek or Trotter Trio’s jazz CD Sketches on Star Wars.
  2. Cover songs
    Whether live or in studio, remakes or performances of songs that were originally recorded and released by another artist or group.
  3. Remix Albums
    Collections of remixes of other artists’ songs released under the marquee of the remixer. For example: Fila Brazillia’s Brazilification.

If a song in my library doesn’t belong to one of those categories, the composer tag is left empty, completely blank. There’s no need to use the tag in the pop/rock idiom; all the relevant info is contained in the song-artist-album structure.

The same goes for movie scores and other “Original Motion Picture Soundtracks.” It’s redundant to put “John Williams” in both the artist and composer when it’s his recording of the original release of the album that you’re tagging.

Some people are tempted to put the songwriter in the Composer space and CDDB/Gracenote often includes it when retrieving a CD.

Well, don’t. And if you already have, delete it.

How likely are you to go to the Composer field and select “Cobain, Kurt” when you want to hear Heart-shaped Box? Not very, I’m sure. You are much more likely to select “Nirvana” from the Artist field. If you must obsessively keep that info, put it in the Comments field. That way you can still find it in your Encyclopedia iTunica if you need it, but it won’t get in the way of using your iPod.

So how do we keep these styles from intermingling, so that you don’t end up with Guns n’ Roses next to Gustav Mahler?

It’s rather easy; just add leading character to the beginning of your composer text based on the type of file it is, particularly if a song does not fall into the Classical category.

In my scheme, classical music takes priority, as it is the format that best benefits from using the field. In these cases, the composer is, well, the composer. Syntax is up to you: Mahler; Gustav Mahler; Mahler, Gustav; however you see fit to do it.

Likewise for film and tv music that’s not from the original release. I treat those recordings the same as classical. The Artist tag goes to the ensemble performing the work while the original composer gets credit in the Composer tag.

ipod plays composer tags with brackets for cover tunes

Cover Tunes

With cover tunes, the original performer’s name is surrounded by brackets [ ]. So when The Cardigans play a Black Sabbath song Iron Man, the Composer tag looks like this [Black Sabbath]. Now all the cover songs are sorted alphabetically together on the iPod. Plus, I can create a Smart Playlist with condition Composer starts with [ and have all of them gathered in a single spot. If new cover tunes get added in the future, they’re automatically included in the Smart Playlist.


Cover tunes smart playlist. Click to see larger version.

Finally, there’s remix albums. There’s a long discussion to be had about how to treat those with iTunes.

Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful and will assist in taking full advantage of iTunes’/iPod’s power.

iTunes 7 sync problems and large libraries on external drives

Update: This problem seems to have been addressed in a recent update to iTunes. The program now stops looking around 100 missing files before giving the warning dialogue. So if you’re having this problem, make sure you’re using the latest version.

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One of iTunes 7 handy new features is the “sync problems” warning. The screen pops up whenever you try to sync your iPod with your iTunes library and song/video/podcast files cannot be found. Previous versions of iTunes only let you know there was a problem; iTunes 7, however, helpfully tells you which particular files are missing.

It’s a nifty function for tracking down errant files that iTunes has somehow lost or forgotten about. or which you may have accidently deleted. But that helpfulness can cause problems in certain instances.

You see, I have a rather large iTunes library: 14,000+ songs that take up ~78GB of hard disk space. So I keep all my song files on a dedicated external hard drive, a hard drive that isn’t always turned on.

In previous versions of iTunes, if song files could not be found when attempting to sync your iPod, you would just get a warning about a single missing file, but all your recent play stats (play count, star ratings, last played) would still be updated from the iPod into the main iTunes library.

However, when doing the same thing in iTunes 7, the program begins to compile its detailed report. In my case, if the external library is not mounted on the desktop and i try to sync my iPod, iTunes then starts trying to find all 14,000+ missing song files.

The program seemingly freezes (the dreaded beachball) while it is processing all those missing files. The only options are to wait for it to finish (which takes more than an hour on my Intel iMac) or force quit (and lose any stored play count and last played data from the iPod). I found this out the hard way, twice, before I realized what was going on.

So, just a quick word of advice: if you’ve got an external library, make sure it is powered on and mounted before opening iTunes.

Migrate Your iTunes Library from Windows to Mac (and keep your ratings, play counts and date added)

Note: This article was written with iTunes 7 in mind. However, the principle holds for moving comparable versions (ie iTunes 6 Win to iTunes 6 mac) or for moving upstream (iTunes 6 to iTunes 7). Also, the procedure should work for moving your iTunes library from one computer to another, Mac-to-Mac, PC-to-PC, or any combination of the two. You can even use this method to clone an iTunes library from one computer to many others.

windows iTunes migration
Apple’s market share has been growing dramatically. Many observers attribute that growth to the introduction of the Intel-based Macintosh as well as the so-called “halo effect” of the iTunes-iPod phenomenon. If you’re one of those users who have made the switch from Windows to Mac OS X because of said halo then you probably have already established an iTunes Library (with valuable hours spent creating playlists, rating songs and increasing play counts).

It would be a shame to lose all that hard work and data when switching platforms. Fortunately, it is a rather simple* procedure to move all your music to your new Mac while preserving all that precious, gooey metadata. Some guides say to export your existing library to XML and re-import it one the new machine. But that’s a bit complicated and it doesn’t really work. Since both the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes use the same file format for the library file, all you need to do is copy the library files from one computer to the other, while making sure iTunes doesn’t forget where the songs are located.

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Happy Birthday iPod

Well, today is the 5th birthday of the iPod. Hooray! Time to pack the little guy a lunch and send him to kindergarten. Seems like only yesterday he was a mere 5 gigabytes tall. Now look at him: about 80!

And he’s much more talented now. I remember being smilingly proud the day he shuffled his first playlist, lo those years ago. And now he’s out there playing games and showing off his pictures and movies to people and making new friends everyday. Brings a tear to my eye.

Yep. iPod is all grow’d up. Happy Birthday iPod.