Tech

Doug's AppleScripts: Preserve a Genius Shuffle Playlist

My Apple Music app 1 has 12,000+ tracks, many of which I’ll bet I’ve not heard in a long time. To help reacquaint me with my own collection, I use the Genius Shuffle feature.

Doug Adams, maestro of the essential Doug’s Applescripts for Music, TV, and iTunes, also likes the Genius Shuffle feature in the iTunes and Music apps. If you like Shuffle’s on-the-fly assortment of tracks, his AppleScript code lets you save the tracks to a playlist.

Doug explains how to copy the code into the Script Editor and where to save the script so you can use it.

IMPORTANT: In macOS 10.15 and later, you will need to replace “iTunes” in the code with “Music”.

His code automatically names the playlist “Genius Shuffle.” Doug prefaces that name with the music style or genre – “70’s Funk - Genius Shuffle”, for example. I prefer to preface mine with the playlist’s first track, so “Kathy’s Waltz - Genius Shuffle.” And then I move it to a Genius Playlists folder.

If you spend way too much time lovingly curating your collection of ripped and downloaded music, then get to know Doug’s scripts.

Related links:

  • Apple Support page on Genius Playlists and Genius Shuffle
  • Doug has a great page of Missing Menu Commands: “…a list (a very subjective list) of scripts that perform tasks you may wish were actual iTunes, Music or TV Menu commands”. The “Preserve a Genius Shuffle Playlist” is not among them and deserves to be. Of that list, I use “Open iTunes Script Folder” as a quick way to open a Finder window to the Script folder. “Toggle Checkmarks of Selected” is what I use to deselect all my Christmas tracks so they don’t appear in Genius Shuffle or other non-holiday playlists.

  1. Why, oh why did they get rid of the perfectly good “iTunes” name to go with the blander “Music”? When I’m Googling to troubleshoot issues with the app, I get too many false positives with Apple’s music-streaming service. Infuriating. [return]

Update on my Libib.com graphic novels library

I have been using Libib.com intensively the last several weeks to scan in my graphic novels. I have gone full-nerd on ensuring better cover images are in place, even for books I know I will be shedding.

My Libib.com graphic novel library totals 210 books right now – didn’t know I had that many! The bar-code scanning goes well most of the time, but direct market or older books (25 years+) don’t scan in well, so I manually enter the ISBN and that usually works a treat.

As with many collectors, when I processed a pile of books I was surprised to see things I’d bought and intended to read one day but never did. The classic rubric for getting rid of something is forgetting you had it, yes? It is ruthlessly efficient. But it is not as strong in me as the delight in discovering a book that is ripe for rediscovery.

There are some other graphic novels/comics lovers in our community who would like to plunder the collection; we’re talking about maybe having a lending library bookshelf or three stationed on the various floors of our building. We’ll see.

I’ll likely go through and keep the stuff I really want to tend, find digital equivalents if they exist, and then export a CSV of the rest and shop it around to local comics shops to see if anyone is interested. I’m discovering old editions of things that are listed for rather high prices on Amazon and Ebay, though whether they see for those amounts is a data point for another day. I know that I don’t want to get into the business of being an online bookseller; I’d rather find a good home for the collection where others can enjoy them.

Replacing Otter transcription with Word 365 Online

When I was a reporter, one of the most tedious jobs I had was transcribing my interviews from a handheld cassette recorder. The only way to make the chore a little easier was to use a Radio Shack foot pedal to start and stop the recording. Still, transcribing a 2-hour interview would take at least twice as many hours.

I find that I still have a use for transcribing audio, whether for the interviews I do for the Bull City Commons newsletter or for random podcasts and recordings where I want to keep a specific quote or passage in Evernote.

Thank the Lord for automatic transcription, surely one of the good things that AI has wrought. No more foot pedals!

I was quite happy using Otter.ai, but I maxed out the free tier recently and needed an alternative. I did not want to pay a large subscription fee for an occasional service.

In searching for alternatives I was surprised to discover an automated transcription feature in Microsoft Word 365 online, which I already subscribe to. If you have an Office 365 subscription, then you have access to this really neat feature. (The transcribe feature is for the online version of Word only, not the desktop app. You can dictate into the desktop app, but it cannot transcribe an audio file.)

As the Microsoft support page says:

The transcribe feature converts speech to a text transcript with each speaker individually separated. After your conversation, interview, or meeting, you can revisit parts of the recording by playing back the timestamped audio and edit the transcription to make corrections. You can save the full transcript as a Word document or insert snippets of it into existing documents.

I used Word’s transcription feature recently to transcribe the audio from a Zoom interview with two other people, and also a 90-minute online conference with about six different speakers. The transcription was excellent, certainly on a par with Otter if not a little better. Highly recommended if you need this niche service.

Using DVD Player to play ripped .dvdmedia contents

I use RipIt to rip DVDs to my hard drive. Depending on the DVD, I will tell RipIt to create an MP4 of the movie or contents or I’ll use Handbrake to process the ripped contents. 1

Ripping a DVD to the Mac creates a .dvdmedia file, which is actually a set of subdirectories packaged to look like a file.

DVD Player, though, does not like to play a .dvdmedia file. My usual workaround was to use VLC Player, an open-source video viewing utility that is serviceable, but crashes at the least provocation.

Lots of searching on this issue uncovered the following interesting facts:

  • Although the DVD Player app is not in the Applications folder, it is still on the Mac, albeit well-hidden in System/Library/CoreServices/Applications. (Other apps in this folder include Archive Utility, Wireless Diagnostics, Network Utility, and a few others.)
  • You can make an alias of the DVD Player app and put it in your Applications folder or – more convenient – use Spotlight to call it up.
  • There is, in fact, a way to make DVD Player open and play ripped media.

Thanks to a comment on a years-old Apple discussion thread, here’s the procedure:

  1. In Finder, right-click on the .dvdmedia file and select Show Package Contents.
  2. Select and copy the VIDEO_TS folder.
  3. Elsewhere on your drive, create a new folder with the same name as the .dvdmedia file. (Not necessary, but may help lessen confusion.)
  4. In the new folder, paste the VIDEO_TS folder.
  5. Open DVD Player.
  6. Within DVD Player, navigate to and open the VIDEO_TS folder you just pasted.

The video should play just fine in DVD Player. You can delete the original .dvdmedia file.


  1. In RipIt, select the Compress button to create both a compressed playable file and a .dvdmedia file. [return]

Update Microsoft apps using the Mac App Store

I have been using Microsoft Word since the early ‘90s when it was a DOS-based application. There are areas of the application I never use – mail merge, drawing tools, creating bibliographies.

But there are others I’ve used so heavily I dare call myself expert with them: styles, templates, macros. I’ve been using Word for literally decades to draft large user guides and documents of all kinds, and I continue to collect macro code snippets to help me create products in my $DAYJOB where Microsoft Office is the standard.

In my Bull City Commons Cohousing work, most everyone has used the Microsoft Office products in their previous work lives, so Word, Excel, and PowerPoint still have a place in my toolkit.

As a result, I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365. For a long time, I purchased the products directly from Microsoft and Office’s updater application would check for updates and download them. But the app had the eerie habit of interrupting me with an update notification when I was most busy and its operation became quite erratic: it would tell me there was an update but wouldn’t download it!

I can’t remember where I saw this tip – I think a MacMost video – but the workaround was to delete the Office apps from my hard drive and instead install them through the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store now handles all the updating chores for me. It works more quietly and efficiently than Office’s own updater app, and it’s a more Mac-like experience. The Mac App Store shows me which apps need updating, their sizes, and I can easily start the update before I go to bed, since they tend to be huge files that clog my bandwidth.

Libib for cataloging books, DVDs, and CDs

As part of my downsizing, I’ve looked at the shelves of graphic novels and wondered how I could quickly create a list of them. In case I want to sell them or even give them away, I’d like to be able to hand over a list of what I have so people know what they’re getting, or so a buyer can tell me what they’re most interested in.

Of course, I thought, “There’s an app for that.”

I’m not sure why I spent hours today searching for and trying out apps to scan a book or DVD’s barcode to generate a list quickly and easily. But my intuition said to do it, so I did.

All I wanted was…

All I wanted was an app that I could use to scan the barcodes of books and DVDs, match those barcodes to book and DVD names, and then export the list. And ideally, they’d be easy to use without me puzzling over settings or help pages. (No fear there: only one or two of these apps even had support pages or FAQs, however skimpy.)

My first path was incorrect: I searched for iOS-based barcode scanners and this created a whole morning and afternoon spent reading app reviews, downloading and testing a few apps, and generally just being displeased with the whole exercise. These tend to be consumer-level price-finding apps. The apps tend to be adware, or buggy, or just generally difficult to work with.

After stepping away for a bit, I hit on the second path: look for book cataloging apps, or cataloging apps that could do books and DVDs – and why not CDs, while I’m at it.

After more Googling, I found Libib, which was the answer to my dreams.

Libib did all I wanted…

Libib has two components: 1) a mobile app that can scan barcodes and 2) a website where those entries can be tagged, metadata entered or edited, etc. For personal use, the app and site are free at Standard level; if you’re a small library, there is a Pro level with more admin features.

Libib can show you the entire contents of all the libraries you have created, or only the library you select. Libib offers four types of libraries you can create: Books, Movies, Video Games, and Music. I assume that each library type is associated with its own set of catalogs or custom searches, which improves the speed of the barcode matching.

On the web site, I created two libraries: Graphic Novels and DVDs. I downloaded and logged in to the iOS app on my iPhone. And then I picked a few DVDs for testing.

My tests worked great. The iOS app read barcodes and returned product info as fast as the camera took the picture – and MUCH faster than any of the barcode-scanning apps. Refreshing the web site showed those entries on my DVDs Library page. (That may not sound like a big deal to you, but so many of the apps I tried today lacked such basic competence in design and function that I almost cried with joy to find something simple that simply WORKED AS EXPECTED.)

I eventually found the Export capability: from your account page, select Settings, select the Libraries tab, select Export Library (.csv), and then the library you want to export. I was impressed by the amount of metadata included with the DVDs; and it’s probably possible to customize the metadata further.

What’s to love?

What I love about Libib – the site and the app – is the speed, the cleanness of design, proper Support pages so I can troubleshoot problems myself, and its own general soundness and sanity.

There are social functions that I don’t care at all about and don’t see myself using, but that’s fine. Libib does what I want, as I expect it to, and I am now – at long last – looking forward to cleaning out those shelves of graphic novels.

Libib One of the nice touches of the Libib interface is the ability to view your library’s items in a plain list view, as large icons, or a hybrid view, as shown here, with full description and metadata on the DVDs.

Clone wars

While spending a few evenings this week diagnosing the problem with Disk Utility not erasing my external hard disk, I also searched the Carbon Copy Cloner site for clues.

During those latter searches, I found this MacMost video on why cloning is a poor choice as a backup strategy.

Gary’s point is a valid one: cloning your disk should not be one’s sole backup strategy. Although CCC can certainly do incremental backups, that is not its strength. He outlines three cases where a cloned drive can be helpful, but by and large he is against the use of cloned drives. He prefers a mix of Time Machine backups and cloud backups.

Gary fields lots of offended comments on that page from folks who don’t share his faith in Time Machine backups (they do fail and act capriciously; it’s happened to me). Anecdotes are shared on how a cloned hard drive enabled folks to recover from disk failures in less time than using Time Machine.

I’ve always tried to be a good little boy when it comes to computer backups. I have:

  • Time Capsule backing up the whole drive
  • Backblaze backing up our individual user directories
  • Carbon Copy Cloner’s weekly incremental backup in case of disk failure
  • Dropbox backing up my user directory, photos, music, etc.

Up to now, I’ve not thought of this as overkill. My iMac is the center of my computing universe; I sync my iPad and iPhone regularly. Although my wife has an iPad, she only syncs it to the iMac twice a year: to put on or take off her Christmas music.

Still, Gary’s strong statements in the comments that cloned drives really aren’t needed made me review my choices. I can only think of two times when I’ve needed backups:

  1. I upgraded the hard drive on my old MacBook. I used Time Machine to basically restore my old files and setups to the new disk.
  2. My MacBook and Liz’s laptop were stolen in a burglary. At the time, we used Crashplan and Dropbox to restore our key documents. When I bought the iMac a little while later, I can’t remember if I restored the old Time Machine backups or just started fresh; probably the latter.

A cloned drive would have been nice, I suppose, but wasn’t really necessary in these cases, I think. Time Machine worked just fine, as I recall.

As of now, I’m OK with my backup strategy. I do have things backed up to CCC, such as iMovie projects, that I have not bothered to upload to Dropbox or Backblaze; they’re simply too huge to push through our tiny internet connection. I view my cloned hard drive as insurance, something I carry while hoping I never need it. I am happy now to go back to ignoring my automated backups as they chatter in the background.

Fixing Disk Utility error -69877

Carbon Copy Cloner’s weekly backup task broke after my iMac’s upgrade to Catalina recently. I followed these instructions from CCC to reformat the external drive as APFS but Disk Utility kept crapping out with error “-69877: couldn’t open device.”

I tried different compatible formats but Disk Utility resolutely refused to reformat the disk.

Many searches for -69877 solutions yielded people who recorded numerous reformats, reinstalls, etc. I held off taking the complicated solutions seriously, though; I particularly ignored the worst-case solution: junk the disk. I figured if I kept looking, some stray sentence somewhere would ring my bell.

And it did. In one of many forum discussions about -69877 on the Apple site, I found this gem:

Sometimes when Disk Utility gets stuck like this for me, I choose a PC format to initialize the HDD then reformat with the Mac settings. So after you give it a name, click the first pull-down menu and select MS-DOS (FAT), then click the second pull-down menu and select Master Boot Record. Go ahead with the reformat. When it completes, just re-format again with the Mac settings.

I reformatted the drive as MS-DOS (FAT) and Disk Utility erased the entire drive. Success!

I was then able to follow the CCC directions to select APFS and create the CCC partition and an extra partition I want to use for storing large files.

Syncing third-party calendars from Google to iOS

I center my email and calendar activities around Gmail and Google Calendar. They feed the Mail and Calendar programs and apps I use on my iMac, iPhone, and iPad.

I’ve encountered the following issue a few times: a new calendar I’ve added or imported into Google Calendar does not appear on my iOS/iPadOS calendars.

Most recently, it was importing the ICS link from my workplace’s Outlook Web app into GCal. I could see my workplace schedule on my Google Calendar but not on my other devices.

Troubleshooting this was maddening. I’ve selected the right calendars in Google, the calendar connections to my iMac and iDevices look fine – why am I not seeing what I KNOW should be there?

I found the answer in this 2015 blog post from Online Tech Tips. The writer correctly pinpoints the problem to third-party calendars that show up under Other calendars.

And he identifies the solution – a specific link that “for some ridiculous reason…does not appear anywhere on any page while in Google Calendar…However, this page is key to getting those other calendars to show up in the Apple calendar app.”:

https://calendar.google.com/calendar/syncselect

Google calendar sync

And indeed – my workplace calendar was unselected in the list. Ticking the box, clicking Save, and checking my iPhone later showed that the new calendar was now there.

File this under “yet another 20-second solution that took two hours to find.”

I needed a keyboard shortcut in Evernote to duplicate a note. I was about to load Keyboard Maestro to do that when I remembered the Keyboard System Preference panel. Presto! So easy to forget the built-in tools sometimes.

Forbes's "Should You Upgrade iOS" column

If one lesson can be learnt by all this it is to stop blindly leaping to every new iOS release.

Gordon Kelly is a frequent critic of Apple so I have always taken his iOS update reports with a grain or three of salt. But with the recent 13.x releases, I now wish I’d listened to him and held fast to iOS 12.

My SE, which usually held a good battery charge all day, drains down to 5% within an hour simply sitting on my desk.

My SE is 2+ years old so, on the off-chance, I’m having a new battery installed this week. If I still see a drain, I’ll know it’s iOS.

I have turned off automatic updates and am holding fast, for better and worse, at 13.2.1.

Update, 2019-11-13: Took my iPhone to an Apple certified service shop. The repair guy hooked my phone up to his diagnostic computer and it said the battery had gone through 600 recharge cycles; Apple says the battery has a lifetime of 500 cycles. So yeah, the battery was shot. The Battery Health setting is an OK criteria (mine was at 88%) but not the decisive one; it’s the number of cycles that is decisive. But the user cannot see the number of recharge cycles a battery has gone through, only a technician. Charging the phone up now; hoping for good times ahead.

From Overcast to Castro

Overcast’s Upload Files function was removed with the most recent update to iOS 13, I think; the option is disabled in its settings and the uploads page is gone from the website. I could not find any info about this change online. What annoyed me was that this capability was removed while I was in the middle of listening to an uploaded audiobook file.

So am reluctantly moving my podcast listening to Castro, which has most of the functionality I use plus lets me add audio files more easily.

I will miss the custom playlists feature of Overcast; I divvy all my Sleep With Me and ambient music podcasts into their own playlists, for example.

I was so comfortable in my technological rut! But am making the best of it. I’ve stopped most all the feeds in Overcast and am starting fresh in Castro. I have a huge backlog of audiofiles in Overcast anyway, so maybe I can whittle them down while keeping up with my current diet of audio snack foods.

BLOGTROTTR

Ever since the death of Google Reader, I have avoided finding another RSS reader.

I already have Pocket, which as of today reminds me that I have 1,459 unread web pages. Isn’t that enough? Apparently not for me.

Still, I also am not a tech reporter who needs (or feels he needs) to stay on top of a raft of news sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, and the like.

Perhaps the best advice I got on maanging RSS feeds was from Michael Leddy, who suggested dropping them all. Instead, when you want to or have the time, simply open up the sites in your browser and read as much as you want until you feel caught up. There are only so many inboxes one needs to check in life.

Still, there are a few sites I follow (some belonging to friends) that post infrequently and I do not want to miss them. I wanted to avoid investing time and effort in learning an RSS reader that worked across my Mac and iDevices for only a few feeds.

What works best for me is Blogtrottr, a web service that lets me receive RSS content via email.

I assume we know how to manage our email. Why learn a new app? Skim or read the emailed posts as I have time and then delete or archive them in Gmail, as needed.

Blogtrottr has paid tiers of service, but I find the ad-supported free tier works fine for me.

My New iPad

New and first iPad ever, actually, only a few weeks old. It's the 10.5-inch iPad Pro and it is a beaut of a machine. Remarkably light and thin, beautiful screen. It's a luxury that is not yet a necessity.

Liz has had an iPad Mini for 4-5 years now and absolutely adores it. She reads the digital version of our local newspaper on it, surfs the web, listens to music, researches our trips, and generally does not need a traditional old-fashioned PC or desktop computer at all. Her iPad Mini is a constant companion for her: the perfect size for carrying and using anywhere. 

My friend MikeU bought the 9.7-inch iPad about 5-6 years ago and it became his laptop replacement at work. His aim was for the iPad to pay for itself. With the addition of a Logitech case/keyboard and Evernote, the iPad became his note-taking device at meetings and led him to eschew paper-based Day-Timers after nearly 20 years. But he rarely used his iPad for entertainment; for him, it was primarily a work machine.

I bought my iPad as I thought about our upcoming trips. For the last several years, when we've traveled, I've packed an Acer Chromebook laptop with its ungodly and ungainly AC adapter and cord. I liked the full-size keyboard for writing emails, I could use my Bluetooth headset, and the screen was adequate for watching the Doctor Who Christmas specials. I did not want to use Liz's iPad to check my email or type messages on; iPads are personal devices and I didn't want to mess anything up on her True Love. Besides, what if I wanted to surf the web too? Better for us to each have our own devices.

The appeal of the iPad Pro for me was primarily to make traveling easier: it's lighter than the Chromebook, the AC adapter is very low-profile (in a pinch, Liz and I could share one), I could use the iPad while squished into an airplane seat, and I could customize its display as I liked. The attraction of the bigger screen means I can now read comics via Comixology and get something like the experience of having the pamphlet in my hand, with the extra advantage of zooming into a panel when I want to study finer details. And there are Kindle ebooks that are meant for use on color devices, so I can now enjoy them on my new toy.

So why am I not more excited? I am a little skeptical of this expensive device. Expensive not just in terms of money, but in the time I feel I need to take to get it set up and to learn its ways.

My Kindle Paperwhite is still fine for reading and has its own advantages: smaller even than the iPad Mini, longer battery life, cheaper and thus more easily replaceable, it doesn't push light into my face, and -- crucially -- I can't do anything else with it. It's built for distraction-free reading, while the iPad encourages distraction. 

My iMac is my principal home computer and I already tend to do most everything I need to do on it: writing, YouTube, file management, even Comixology though it's not terribly pleasurable. The iMac is my everything-device; I am used to the power of the full-fledged Mac OS and desktop apps.

My iPhone SE (my first smartphone ever, bought in September) replaced my trusty and beloved iPod and it quickly filled a key niche in my digital ecosystem. The iPhone hosts my iTunes music library, email, camera, podcasts I listen to in the car, Evernote, and my budget app. Its smaller screen prohibits me from reading on it for long periods (which is a good thing). It's my general purpose pocket computer and it has become as necessary to me as Liz's iPad Mini is to her.

So while I look forward to using the iPad on our upcoming travels, I remain skeptical of its value to me when I'm at home. Where does it fit in my media consumption diet? Where does it fit when I want to write emails or a blog post? These are things I'll find out over time, while I work out how necessary this luxury item is to me.

 

My quixotic smart Christmas playlist

In iTunes, I have assigned the genre “Christmas” to all my Yuletide music, albums and singletons alike. This makes it relatively easy to add them to my iPod or remove them at once with the click of a button. (Some sequester their Christmas music to a different iTunes library, but I haven’t gone that far yet.)

I have a few static playlists that group a series of albums together, for example, all of the Windham Hill Winter Solstice albums. My friend Bob has a static playlist containing only instrumental songs, for when he just wants background music.

My own quixotic contribution to the world of Christmas playlists is a smart playlist that collects and sorts all of my Christmas songs in alphabetical order.

Liz prefers hearing her Christmas music by album; each album has its own personality, sound, and emotion that she enjoys. For myself, I rather like the randomness and juxtaposition of so many different songs one after another or so many differently styled versions of the same song in one place.

I get a kick out of hearing nine different arrangements of “Joy to the World” – community chorale, solo vocal, piano instrumental, surf guitar – one after another. Or picking a letter of the alphabet and starting my listening there, just to see what comes next.

The settings for this playlist are in the screenshot, but here’s the recipe:

  • Match "music" for "all" of the following rules:
    • Genre contains "Christmas"
    • Rating is not [one star]
    • Live updating is enabled

As you can surmise, all the songs are tagged with the genre “Christmas.” I flag songs I want to delete from my library with a single star. I periodically display all one-star songs in a smart playlist and delete them.

When iTunes creates the playlist, click the Name column header so the songs are sorted alphabetically. Then sync the playlist to your iDevice. This will preserve the song order on your iDevice.

Xmas smart playlist

Client begins first meeting by making a big show of telling you that you are the expert. You are in charge, he says: he will defer to you in all things, because you understand the web and he does not. (Trust your uncle Jeffrey: this man will micromanage every hair on the project’s head.)