FlasshePoint

Life, Minutiae, Toys, Irrational Phobias, Peeves, Fiber

CD Archiving 5: Milestone A

Posted on | November 12, 2009 at 7:00 pm | 5 Comments

I’ve just reached a milestone in my CD Archiving project. You didn’t think I was still doing that, did you? Actually, with everything else going on, that kind of got put by the wayside. I’ve been starting it back up again lately. And guess what… I just finished archiving all the CDs from bands whose names start with the letter “A”! ABC through Aztec Camera. Actually, it’s even better than that, since I’ve also done the ones from bands names that start with a number, like 13 Engines, 22 Brides, and 54-40. I used to file those under the spelled-out numbers (example: “13 Engines” was filed under “T” for “Thirteen”), but when I got partway into this project, I decided that was pretty hokey. It just caused too many sorting/archiving issues. So I had to rearrange my CD collection a bit.

So… where does that put me on the progress bar? That’s 158 titles out of 4128. Note I say “titles” instead of “CDs” or “albums” because some of those are actually double CDs, so in reality I’ve ripped more than 158 discs. Anyway, that’s 3.8% of my collection. In a little over three months.

The A's(Note that my CDs are stored in plastic sleeves instead of jewel boxes, so there are many more in the picture above than it would appear.)

My original plan was to try to average around 6 discs a day, which would take me around two years to complete. My real average has been about 1.6 discs a day, but like I said, there were extenuating circumstances. I think I went probably a whole month or so without ripping a single disc. If I keep that lower rate, it will take me 7 years, and FLAC, MP3, and probably PCs, will all be obsolete by then.

Also, remember that I’m not buying any new CDs, just buying new albums in digital format only, so I don’t have to worry about never catching up with the physical collection. Once I’m done, I’m done!

One interesting statistic is that there was only one CD that I could not get a perfect copy of (Aztec Camera’s Dreamland). On every other CD that I had problems with, I was always able to switch to a different drive (I have a CD and a DVD drive on the PC) and it would work. But that one disc had issues in both drives. Nevertheless, the archive it made from the disc is perfectly listenable. It only had problems with the first track, and I can’t distinguish any actual sound problems with it using my tired old ears. So even though EAC took an incredibly long time to rip the track and kept getting read/sync errors, it was still able to error correct it enough for me to not tell the difference. Most excellent. I don’t expect that to always be the case though. I’m sure at some point I’ll run into some discs that are so degraded they won’t rip.

Latre.

Pet Peeve of the Day: The fact that downloaded digital songs are always so much louder than files made from ripped CDs. Thankfully we have ReplyGain (or iTunes Soundcheck) to even things out!

Poignant Search Term Of The Day That Led To This Blog: “unbearable on coke”.

Videogame(s) Played Since Last Blog Update: None.

Fielding The Sound

Posted on | November 4, 2009 at 7:05 pm | 8 Comments

Yeah, I know. I thought I was getting back into this whole blogging thing when I started in with the CD Archiving posts. But then there was a family crisis (ask me for the password), and the aftermath of that has been taking up a lot of my time, and will continue to do so for awhile. It’s been hard to get back into a regular routine.

And at the same time, I’ve had to deal with another life change. The company I work for closed the office I was working at. Since they closed the previous office in April, I had been going into the further-away office two days a week and working from home the rest of the time. Now I’m working from home 100% of the time. I don’t like it. I need the occasional social interaction, plus I like having at least a semblance of a separation between work and home. But there’s no real choice.

Those of you who work at home know how important it is to have a comfortable work environment. There’s a lot of problems with mine, but until I get a new house or get the basement finished, I have to deal with what I have.

One thing that helps me get through the day is listening to music while I work. Not only does it help to block out other sounds and distractions (the neighborhood kids can be pretty noisy), but listening to music I like just makes for a more pleasant work environment in general.

I’ve also found that I’ve been really getting into music lately, like I haven’t for a long time. I think that’s partly because there’s just so much good new music out there these days – I’ve been downloading like crazy from eMusic, AmieStreet and Amazon lately. More on that in future posts. It’s easy to do, almost too easy, when you’ve given up physical media and are going all digital – which I’ve talked about in recent entries. And the CD archiving project has renewed my interest in music I already own. It’s a kick to hear something cool I haven’t listened to in years.

I’m sure there’s a fad aspect to this. I tend to go in cycles with my interests: music, video games, comics, blogging, movies/TV, etc. At any one time, I’ll be bored with all but one those. And right now, that one thing is music.

It’s important for me to listen to the music in the best possible way. I’ve got my music library (downloads plus ripped CDs) in iTunes on the PC, and that’s my primary listening venue these days. I also still listen on my iPod nano when I work out at the gym 3-4 days a week, but I no longer have the all-important car listening experience, since I don’t have a commute any more. My iTunes library is over 23,000 songs and growing quickly. When I’m working, I alternate between playing the entire library on shuffle play and listening to whole individual albums at a time – usually ones I’ve recently downloaded or ripped.

The problem is that iTunes is on my home PC and not my work one. The two computers are at a 90 degree orientation from each other in my computer room. My home office stereo was setup to optimize the listening experience at the home computer. I tried playing around with the stereo balance when at my work computer, but the experience was just not optimal. Headphones work okay, but I can only wear them for so long, the cord gets in the way, and I’m not crazy about the sound quality with comfortable phones.

Then I had the brilliant idea to hook up another set of speakers to the stereo. Because of the work space limitations, I would need some pretty small ones. I have a couple of pairs of small computer speakers that I could’ve just hooked up to the headphone/speaker jack of the home computer, but I don’t really like the sound of any of them, and the cabling for that presented some obstacles.

So I looked around in my basement and found an old pair of Realistic (i.e. Radio Shack) speakers that I had bought a long, long time ago for some long forgotten reason. I probably used them for rear speakers or something back in the dawn of surround sound. I did however remember that I liked the sound of them, even though they were small 4-inch cubes. So I strung some speaker wire and placed a speaker on each side of the work monitor.

Tiny Powerhouse

Wow – I was blown away. I don’t know if they’re actually good or if my hearing is just really going in my old age, but I’m extremely satisfied with the sound these tiny things pump out. Yeah, I do have to crank the bass a bit on the amplifier, but no big whoop. What really gets me is the sound field. The stereo separation is fantastic, and I feel totally enveloped in the sound. Maybe that’s just because of where the speakers are placed in relation to where I’m sitting, and I would get the same effect with any speakers that fit in the space. But I don’t know – there’s just something about the sound of these things that I really like. Perfect for digital music.

I can’t believe how much this has improved my work situation in general. I feel more energized and productive having these things surround me with my tunes all day. Thank you, Radio Shack of old!

Latre.

Note: I’ve joined last.fm and have installed their Scrobbler, so you can see what I’ve been listening to by going to my profile. The most recently listened-to tunes are also displayed on this blog over to the side.

Pet Peeve of the Day: Brokers, lawyers, accountants, and plumbers.

Poignant Search Term Of The Day That Led To This Blog: “why do contact lenses for distance mess up my close up vision”.

Videogame(s) Played Since Last Blog Update: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

CD Archiving 4: Adventures In Modern Mass Storage

Posted on | September 16, 2009 at 8:45 pm | 2 Comments

An essential part of my CD archiving adventure is not only having sufficient disk space to store the FLAC and MP3 files, but also enough space on a separate drive to store backups of them. Heaven forbid I should lose all the files in a hard drive crash and have to start all over again. Right before I embarked on this latest re-imagining of the project, one of the two USB 2.0 500GB external drives attached to my PC died. It was the one I was storing my backups on, so no big deal. Strangely, it was the newer of the two drives. (Note: My internal drive is 250GB and is nearly full.)

So I ditched that drive, a Fantom, and upgraded to a new Western Digital 1TB external USB drive. In fact, it was the 1TB version of the 500GB drive that was still working. I immediately started having problems with it. It came formatted FAT32, so I reformatted it to NTFS. After I did that, then my PC refused to boot while the new drive was attached. It wouldn’t even make it into Windows – it would stall at the boot screen. That didn’t make any sense to me that the drive would be the problem, since I didn’t have that issue when the old Fantom drive was attached, and this was just replacing that one. I researched the problem and there was a lot of info on the WD site and elsewhere about USB 2.0 legacy support in the PC BIOS causing the USB drive to look like the boot drive and stuff like that, but none of the applicable setting were in my BIOS. So I just learned to unplug the drive whenever I wanted to reboot the PC.

But then it started acting even weirder. One day, Windows kept losing connection with it and then getting it back, which was highly annoying. And then once, it looked like Windows actually tried to install a Windows update to that drive instead of to the internal drive. I had enough. It was still within the 30 day return period so I sent it back to the online retailer for replacement. However, they were all out of that model so they refunded my money and I ended up getting a 1.5TB Iomega drive from a different retailer, for not much more money than the 1TB drive.

The Iomega drive already came formatted NTFS. I hooked it up and then tried to reboot the computer. It wouldn’t boot. I had to turn the drive off (this one actually has a power switch, which helps) and then boot the PC again. That worked. So I’m thinking “WTF?”. It can’t be the drive if the same thing happened with two different sized drives from two different manufacturers. (Although for all I know, the actual drive inside the cases could’ve made by the same company.) So I’m thinking the problem is with the PC after all.

At least the manual that came with the Iomega actually addressed the issue in its Troubleshooting section under “What can I do if my computer will not boot with an Iomega USB drive attached?” Answer: “If the capacity of your Iomega drive is larger than 500GB, the BIOS on the computer probably has a conflict with large capacity removable drives. To work around this problem, power off the drive before starting the computer. Power on the drive after the computer finishes starting up. Or, if your drive and computer supports it, you can connect the drive to the computer’s FireWire port.”

(Too bad I didn’t get a drive with FireWire support. Although I used to have one (another WD), but it died.)

Well, that explanation kind of makes sense. It would explain why the 500GB Fantom drive worked okay and the 1TB and 1.5TB drives don’t. But I love how the solution is “Power off the drive before starting the computer.” Sheesh. You can’t come up with anything better than that? Guess I better check and see if there’s a BIOS update for my PC…

I guess I’m not surprised that it’s the computer’s problem. The PC is Pentium 4 HP Pavilion desktop that’s over four years old. I really do need a new PC to properly attend to this archiving business. I’m definitely pushing the limit of its resources with this project. So, add “new PC” to my list of things I need to upgrade.

Oh, and even the whopping 1.5TB is going to be cutting it awfully close with the amount of FLAC and MP3 files I’ll end up with. My estimates put it right around 1.3 to 1.4TB. Which means I’ll need another drive the same size or bigger for backups. But at the rate this project is going, I figure I have plenty of time to buy bigger drives (and a faster PC). Those 2TB drives are getting cheaper all the time…

Latre.

Pet Peeve of the Day: We bought a bag of pistachios on sale, and there seem to be a lot of empty shells in there with no nut inside. I don’t like paying for shells, even if they’re on sale.

Odd Search Term Of The Day That Led To This Blog: “do you feel taller with progressive lens”.

Videogame(s) Played Since Last Blog Update: None, though I just got Batman: Arkham Aslyum (PS3 version) for my birthday and am looking forward to starting it.

CD Archiving 3: The Write Tools

Posted on | September 13, 2009 at 9:29 am | 5 Comments

This series could go on forever, so I figure I should list up front the process and tools I’m using. That way, if anyone wants to jump in and emulate what I’m doing, this can be used as the go-to guide. I’ll go into the details in subsequent entries. And boy, there are a lot of details. Note that unless otherwise specified, the tools mentioned are freeware. One of my goals was to not spend money on this endeavor.

So in a semi-nutshell (emphasis on the nut), here’s what I go through to archive a CD:

  1. Update the CD in my music catalog (Music Collector, $29.95 or free). This includes getting the track info, release year, and label/catalog number, scanning the cover art, and even inputting the producer and musician credits. Actually, I do some of this during the next step, since the ripping takes some time and multitasking is possible during this process. But I at least have to scan the cover before doing the ripping, because I copy the cover art file to the ripping working area directory so it can be embedded in the archive. I utilize the allmusic guide to acquire or recheck data (especially release dates and musician credits) that may not exist or may not be accurate from the sources that MuC uses for its automatic updating.
  2. Rip the CD as both a single FLAC image and multiple MP3 files (one per track) using Exact Audio Copy 0.99 with REACT2 (and Akkurat’s mod). (The MP3 ripping uses the LAME encoder, included with REACT2.) I use a FLAC compression level of 5 and a LAME VBR compression setting of 1. Sometimes I will have to adjust the name of the FLAC file to match my sorting scheme. (I could write thousands of blog entries on sorting issues alone.) I usually also copy off the .jpg and .cue files to a different directory than the one where I keep the FLAC archives.
  3. Re-rip the CD using my second drive if the EAC log reports errors or the AccurateRip data does not match for one or more tracks. So far, I’ve never had a case where neither drive could accurately rip a CD, though I’m sure I’ll encounter some.
  4. Play parts of the FLAC file to see if it’s okay using foobar2000 player, which can also be used to play the MP3 files. This is also good for verifying that the FLAC metadata is correctly embedded (cuesheet, cover art).
  5. If the CD has a long track at the end, I play the MP3 of it to see if there is a hidden song or two in the single track (i.e. the main song followed by a long silence, followed by another song). I don’t like having long tracks with lots of silence in my iTunes library – it’s wasteful and messes up playlists. If the CD has one, then I use Direct WAV MP3 Splitter ($19.95) to split the track into multiple tracks and discard the silent bits. I like this particular tool because it has a decent, simple user interface (including showing the waveform), a good silence detector, and it splits the track without recompressing it. (It’s important to me to preserve the encoding and gain applied during the original ripping process.) There are some free tools that work almost as well, but I liked the way this one worked well enough to actually pay for it.
    • After splitting the MP3 track, the VBR header is destroyed. This is the bad thing about the splitter not recompressing the track. You can tell because the track duration and bit rate are listed wrong in players – usually the track time is listed as being a lot longer than the actual duration. I use the VBR Header Repair utility in foobar2000 to fix it, though there are many other free utilities that will do the same thing.
    • Use Mp3tag to copy the tags from the original track to the two (or more) extracted tracks. I also use it to change the track names, track numbers, and filenames on the extracted tracks. I usually give the hidden songs titles like “[Untitled Track 14]“, though sometimes the lyrics of the song will suggest a better title. Note: Mp3tag is also very useful for viewing and changing the metadeta in the FLAC archives if necessary. Good free tool.
  6. Run Mixmeister BPM Analyzer to set the Beats Per Minute on all MP3 tracks. This is necessary for making my “fast tempo” smart playlist in iTunes that I use for my workout iPod.
  7. Import the MP3 files into iTunes.
  8. Sometimes I will use EvilLyrics to scour the Internet for the song lyrics and embed them into the track in iTunes.
  9. If I have problems with any of the above, I check out what the good folks at the HydrogenAudio Forums have to say.

That’s it! Simple, eh? As I said, I’ll be going into greater detail about the individual steps in future entries. Assuming I don’t drop off the face of the blogosphere again.

Now everyone go forth and archive! Become obsessed, like me, and then report back! Thanks!

Latre.

Pet Peeve of the Day: A new Max├»mo Park album has been out for months and I didn’t even know about it!

Poignant Search Term Of The Day That Led To This Blog: “love like a battlefield stupid”.

CD Archiving 2: Flac Racket

Posted on | September 12, 2009 at 9:59 am | 1 Comment

In part 1 of this series, I posed the question of what to do about archiving my CD collection to my PC if I wasn’t going to use the MP3 format? That wasn’t strictly the right question, since my desired target solution still involved MP3s as part of the equation. There’s two issues really: listening and archiving. For listening, it’s still easiest to use MP3s files, because they’re small and portable and are easily transferable to the iPod. But they don’t resemble the source material closely enough. So when ripping my collection for archival purposes, I still wanted to be able to produce both MP3s and something more… real.

The most accurate representation of a CD as stored on a file on the computer is traditionally the WAV format. But those take up so much space, that even with the cheapness of hard drives these days, we’re still talking a heckuva lot of moolah for a drive big enough to hold my entire collection. Plus, WAV files are so unwieldy.

I’d heard of FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) for awhile, and have even downloaded some songs in that format. Since it’s a lossless compression scheme, it preserves all the original data from the CD. MP3 is lossy compression scheme, so it’s essentially throwing away part of the data. The lower the encoding bit rate, the more it throws away, and less like the original recording it sounds. Even at higher bit rates, I can sometimes hear compression artifacts on MP3 files, like the flanging effect it adds to cymbals, which drives me crazy.

Besides the space savings (a typical FLAC file will be around 60% of the size of the corresponding WAV file), the FLAC format has other advantages over WAV as well. You can embed metadata into the FLAC file, which is kind of like tags in an MP3 file. You can identify the artist and album name, etc. I make one FLAC file for an entire album, and it has the cuesheet embedded into it. The cuesheet contains the list of songs on the album and where they start and stop. That can be used to play individual songs from the file on players that support FLAC and cuesheets (such as foobar2000), and it can also be used to split out the FLAC file into individual track FLAC or MP3 or other files, and to write the FLAC archive back to a CD-R, replicating the original CD exactly. The cover art can also be embedded into the file, as well as “ReplayGain” information, which tells ReplayGain-equipped players to play the album at a lower or higher relative volume level than it was written with. I’ve really just scratched the surface here, there’s more you can do with FLAC files.

One thing that is confusing about FLAC is that there is a compression level parameter consisting of 0-8 levels. I wondered why there are different compression levels if FLAC is a lossless compression scheme? Wouldn’t the resulting file always be the same? It turns out that the compression level affects the speed of encoding and also the resulting size of the file, but does not actually affect the sound quality. Regardless of the compression level, all of the original data is still there on decoding, and decoding speed is always fast regardless of the encoding compression level. Yeah, it doesn’t make much intuitive sense, but just go with it. So level 0 is the fastest compression with the largest file size, and 8 is the slowest compression with the smallest file size. Level 5 is the default. I’ve found that the file sizes aren’t dramatically reduced by a higher compression level, so I just stick with the default.

Keep in mind I’m not a sound engineer or compression expert, so take everything I say with a healthy dose of skepticism…

Anyway, my goal became to produce a single FLAC archive for every CD, and also MP3 files of every track that I could import into iTunes. Sounds like a hassle? Not really. Actually, it’s pretty easy.

But I’ll get to that
Latre.

Pet Peeve of the Day: Why is it impossible to get an intact Butterfinger fun size bar and not one that’s crumbled into pieces?

Channeling Inappropriate Content

Posted on | September 11, 2009 at 7:07 am | 4 Comments

I’m taking a break from my very exciting CD Archiving series to bring you this special Pet Peeve of the Day: The television sets at the local fitness center that I frequent.

First of all, on any given day, a few of them will be off/out of order. Currently 2 of out 10 are completely dead. One TV is working, but has blotchy black edges around the picture, like Shadow Creatures are attempting to possess it. Every day, they devour a little more of the screen from the outside-in. It totally freaks me out.

Some of the sets have closed captioning on and some don’t. I’m assuming very few people actually plug their headphones into the jacks on the treadmills, ellipticals, cycles, etc and listen to the TVs. I think most people are like me and they listen to their MP3 players while occasionally glancing at the sets. Therefore, CC should be on for most, if not all, of the sets. With my luck, CC is on only for the sets furthest away, which I can’t read very well when on the treadmills without my glasses. I prefer not to wear my progressive lens glasses at the gym, since they get covered with sweat and I can’t see through them anyway. (BTW, I’ve totally grown used to the glasses and wear them at all other times, even when on the computer.)

Then there’s the content. Lately, some of the TVs at the gym have been set to the Food Network. This seems overly sadistic to me. Are they thinking that by getting people to crave food after a workout, they’re more likely to keep coming to the gym and pay those membership fees? Like I really want to see someone rolling dough while I’m huffing along at 7mph on the treadmill.

Sometimes some TVs are set to infomercial channels. Or at least to channels that show infomercials during the time I go to the gym (the Food Network does this sometimes in the early morning). That is unacceptable. Even if I were interested in the product, how am I going to remember the phone number or URL by the time I get home? Man, I could really use that weed whacker that uses the special double helix fishing line.

What’s especially weird is when the infomercials showing are for fitness products that could conceivably cause someone to stop going to the gym. When I see one of those, then I know the gym doesn’t have a plan like I thought with the Food Network thing. If I go home and send for the Become Totally Ripped At Home In 90 Days With No Exercise Equipment And Eat All You Want DVD, then what use would I have for the gym?

Also, they almost always seem to have a couple of the televisions set to the NFL Network, even when it’s not football season. Does 24-Hour Fitness have some sort of arrangement with the NFL Network that requires them to constantly show it? Do I really need to see some Titans/Ravens game from last year while I’m sweating it out?

At least they’ve stopped setting the TVs to channels that show scripted dramas such as Law & Order reruns. Those are pretty useless when working out, since chances are you’re not going to see the whole thing and won’t know how it turns out.

Ideally, the channels should be set to “small digestive bites” networks. I like when some are set to a local station for the local news and some are set to a national news channel like CNN. I am also willing to put up with ESPN, since that seems logical for people working out. And some days, they do have the televisions set up that way, like this morning. But that’s becoming increasingly rare.

Of course, the best bet would be setting them all to The Erotic Network. That I could go for.

Latre.

Poignant Search Term Of The Day That Led To This Blog: “i’m not the one you were looking for home and away”.

Videogame(s) Played Since Last Blog Update: None

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