Culling and ripping stacks of old CDs is turning out to be – along with reacquainting myself with my long-neglected bookshelves – one of the more pleasurable aspects of downsizing. I wonder a bit whether I’m spending too much time tending old stuff rather than getting to know new stuff – do I even care about this old stuff anymore? I’m finding very few CDs that I want to keep in physical form for the long term. Maybe I’m just clearing out the old to make way for the new.

Alan Moore on who will never be elected

I understand that it may not be considered good form to suggest that class issues are as important as issues of race, gender or sexuality, despite the fact that from my own perspective they seem perhaps even more fundamental and crucially relevant. After all, while in the West after many years of arduous struggle we are now allowed to elect women, non-white people and even, surely at least in theory, people of openly alternative sexualities, I am relatively certain that we will never be allowed to elect a man or woman of any race or persuasion who is poor.

Alan Moore

The Symphonies of the Planets | Daniel Karo

The Symphonies of the Planets | Daniel Karo:

While on their missions Voyager 1 and 2 recorded the electromagnetic vibrations of the planets and moons of our solar system.  Even though space is a virtual vacuum it doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t sound in space.  Although you can’t hear sound in space sound still exists as electronic vibrations.  The scientific instruments on the spacecraft ran experiments to record these vibrations and send them back to Earth through the Deep Space Network.  All of these recordings had vibrations within the human range of hearing and were put together in a five track album by NASA entitles Symphonies of the Planets.  Each track is around 30 minutes long and consists of recordings from the Voyager spacecrafts. Each recording is the sounds from a different planet or moon.  The sounds in the recordings come from a few different sound environments.  Here is a list of them from NASA.

Found via the BandCamp article “Lost in Space Music: Records That Explore the Outer Limits

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 graphic novels library

I have been using 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 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, 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.

Rethinking Your Personal Library: An Introduction To Quantum And Antilibrary

A fun post by Mumbai-based writer Phorum Dalal.

The Quantum library holds the books you love rereading, while the Antilibrary holds the unread books that you know hold something in store for you – even if you never get around to reading them.

I have far more unread books, and I seem not to reread books as time goes by. So much wonderful new treasure floating my way all the time, I rarely go back, though I do hold on to books that evoke a sharp memory of joy or a time and place. My personal time capsules.

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.

Johnny Decimal

For you file management and organization nerds, a decimal-based categorization system for projects and files.

My first thoughts: admirably complete, high-setup cost, high-maintenance, and unsustainable in the long-term without dedication and understanding of why you’re doing it.

I’ve tried similar systems in the past, when I was younger and wanted to categorize the world, and they collapse under their own weight.

I can see this working in places like design or photo studios, or similar workplaces where the types of jobs, processes, workflows, and handoffs are well-known and routine.

But for my personal digital garden, I prefer to optimize fast filing over fast finding. Text-searching – by filename or file contents or both – via Spotlight or Evernote or Windows Explorer tends to find what I want faster than any system I could cook up.

I just added my name to Duke Health’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution waiting list. Hurry up and wait.

Update 2021-04-07: Got my first Moderna jab last week via Walgreen’s. My second is due at the end of April. I’d added myself to several lists, so am now in the process of removing my name from them.

On downsizing our DVD collection

In our house, we have embraced streaming video. It’s convenient and mostly reliable.

So, as part of our downsizing, I took a lazy Saturday to sort our DVD collection into three piles:

  • Yes (keep)
  • No (discard)
  • Maybe

I thought, with so much content available via streaming, I would be able to discard a good number of those DVD titles. This shows my naiveté, I expect. I was surprised at how many of our favorite and precious movies and shows are not easily accessed via the streaming services.

We live in the future, where you can watch a movie from a small plate of glass in your hand, but the future is not evenly streamed.

As I pondered whether or not to keep a title, I used the JustWatch site/app. Enter a title and JustWatch tells me which services offer the title for subscription, rent, or purchase. 1

For example

Mrs. Dalloway and Topsy-Turvy are two movies that we like trotting out every few years to enjoy the stories’ now-familiar contours and textures.

Mrs. Dalloway is viewable only on odd platforms like Hoopla 2, Tubi, PlutoTV, and Filmrise, or on Amazon Prime Video via its IMDb TV channel (ad-supported, which for me is a hard no).

Topsy-Turvy cannot be streamed at all, on any platform.

And there other favorites from our – ahem – curated collection that are not easily available online:

  • The BBC’s 1967 series The Forsyte Saga, which is cozy wintertime viewing, at least up till Old Jolyon’s death. Only the 2002 BCC update is available on BritBox.
  • 1978’s The Norman Conquests plays with Tom Conti. Available on Amazon via a subscription to something called BroadwayHD. I could sign up for the free 7-day trial, but, no.
  • John Cleese and Connie Booth’s 1975 comic and touching short film Romance with a Double Bass. The DVD is long out of print.
  • The charming Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows is available via Acorn TV, a service available via our public library. That’s OK, but there is a bit of overhead involved to log in to Acorn TV. Slipping the DVD into the drive is more convenient in this case.
  • BritBox does not even carry the classic Leonard Rossiter series “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin,” though there are fugitive episodes on YouTube. I have a Region 2 DVD of the series that I ripped to my Mac long ago (the Superdrive will let you play a non-Region 1 DVD up to five times, I think, and then no more).

And so on. I have some DVDs I’m keeping because they are really good, out of print, and available nowhere else. Others I’m keeping because they have special features that cannot be accessed via streaming, like the Criterion Collection’s edition of F for Fake and Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

It’s not a large list of DVD titles – about 25 or so – but still, I was surprised that they aren’t ALL online in a more easily accessible way. Their absence from the streaming services means I will be holding them close for some time yet.

The Maybe pile

The Maybe pile is for the 20 or so DVDs I’ve either never seen and want to see at least once, or they have some interviews or behind-the-scenes feature I’m curious about, or I want just one more look before making a final decision.

Some of those DVDs are the very arty or obscure foreign movies I picked up for cheap when the late lamented Visart Video chain went out of business over a decade ago. I always think I have a more refined taste for the esoteric than I really do.

Still, before I decide whether to keep or discard, I’d like to see Chekhovian Motifs and Decasia: The State of Decay. But right alongside those worthies I also want to see the dance numbers from Follow the Fleet and The Barkleys of Broadway 3, plus the featurettes for Top Hat and Batman: The Movie (Adam West is my Batman).

The future comes with a price tag

I remember one of Ramit Sethi’s rules being to pay as you go rather than subscribe to services you pay for and don’t use. Most streaming movies are rentable for $4 or $5 from the major platforms, and not much more to purchase. So if I have a hankering to see The Dark Knight Rises again (um, doubt it), then I don’t mind paying a few dollars to see it. And so The Dark Knight Rises Blu-Ray goes into the discard pile.

Despite Ramit’s advice, though, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and AppleTV 4. We also have access to PBS Video, Hoopla, and Acorn TV. The chances of finding a streamable movie from one of those platforms is pretty good. So I’m not worried about meeting our entertainment and distraction needs.

  1. Back in the day, we re-purchased favorite titles to upgrade to better technology: from vinyl to CD or from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. And we owned them; they were ours. Now, we pay for the right to view or listen, and who owns what is murky. [return]
  2. Hoopla is available via our local public library and has its own AppleTV app. But Hoopla imposes a daily cap on the number of items – ebooks, video, music – that Durham Library patrons can check out. So, if you decide to check out a movie at 7 pm, you may find that the daily limit has been reached and you’re locked out. [return]
  3. DVDs have this very much in their favor: scene selection. Scene selection makes it dead easy to jump to the song-and-dance numbers in musicals, whereas I cannot hop around with that amount of precision while streaming. [return]
  4. Good thing I don’t pay for cable too, huh? ‘Cause that could get expensive! [return]

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.

Puzzle Montage Art by Tim Klein

Puzzle Montage Art by Tim Klein

A typical jigsaw puzzle manufacturer uses the same die-cut pattern for many different puzzles. This makes the pieces interchangeable, so I sometimes find that I can combine portions from two or more puzzles to make a surreal “puzzle montage” that the manufacturer never imagined. I take great pleasure in discovering such strange images lying shattered, sometimes for decades, within the cardboard boxes of ordinary mass-produced puzzles.

Great gallery of surreal montages to scroll through!

INTJ catchphrase

I remember once reading through descriptions of MBTI personality types. For each type, they included a short catchphrase characteristic of that personality. I identify as INTJ, and the catchphrase for that type was “Well…what did you think would happen?”

I shared this with a friend, also an INTJ, and we both marveled at how this expressed our often unspoken reactions when we would hear other people complain or wonder about this or that event happening to them. For us, what happened to them sounded extremely logical based on the starting point, and why couldn’t you have worked that out for yourself beforehand??

Since discovering this catchphrase, I try to notice when I think it and stop myself saying it out loud. There’s such an “I told you so” superiority vibe to it; even if I don’t say it, I’m sure people can feel it.

Now, when it’s appropriate, I will lay out my expectations for something (a movie, a project, a meeting) before the event starts. Because, anyway, who’s to say I’m right? But at least I’ve said out loud what my personal and emotional logic is laying out before me, imaginary though it may be.

I also try to notice when I am starting a sentence with “At least…” and stop it from passing my lips.