Archive for September, 2007

An alternative to iTunes/Windows Media Player

Three posts in two days? What’s going on?!

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve started re-ripping all my music. The long term goal is to get a Squeezbox from SlimDevices (which is a network attached media player) but given the shortage of funds at present I’m content in the knowledge that my music collection will simply be more accessible when this task is complete.

Although I can play my music from iTunes on my computer, I’ve been playing around with some media streaming software called SlimServer. “Playing around” is perhaps an exaggeration — I’ve enabled the service on my NAS (and upgraded the software) — and installed some client software on my PC called SoftSqueeze, which looks like this:


There are lots of nifty things with this setup. First and foremost, the server software is Open Source. Around it are lots of third-party plugins, and because the API/Client Protocol is also open and fairly well documented there are quite a few client applications around too (SoftSqueeze being one of them).

SlimServer has a web front-end to it, so I can control what’s playing on the media player from any computer on my network. This is perhaps of limited use given my current set-up, but when (and if) I get a Squeezebox, then I can see this being quite useful.

If you’re looking at a solution to get music from your PC or network storage to your Hi-Fi, then I’d recommend you take a look at SlimServer and the Squeezebox. It’s significantly cheaper than the Sonos products, and will fill most normal needs. (How many people really need to break their home into 32 zones and play different music in each??) If you want to try it out, then you can install the SlimServer software for free on Windows, Linux and Apple OSX (it’s written in Perl so just needs that to run), and you can download the SoftSqueeze client to try out the setup on your PC. SoftSqueeze is written in Java, so should run on most platforms too.

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Blackberry Pearl 8100 v. Orange SPV M5000

A few days ago my work replaced my aging (and ailing) Orange SPV M5000 with a sparkley new BlackBerry Pearl 8100. The M5000 (also called an XDA I think) is a behemoth in comparison to the BlackBerry Pearl, and this is probably going to be the most significant difference for me now that I’ve got the Pearl.


Update 27/09/07: OK, I started writing this post a few days ago and was planning on doing a detailed comparison of the two devices. It’s been sitting in my drafts as I’ve been a bit busy, but using the Pearl every day I’m finding it hard to come up with any real problems.

The battery life on the Pearl is brilliant compared to the SPV, as is the performance of the device (switching applications etc.). I guess you could say the keyboard is a bit small, but then everything is compared to a full size keyboard, so it’s not something to really moan about (it is a pocket telephone at the end of the day). Talking of size, it’s great to be able to slip this into your pocket without looking too pleased to see someone, and it’s remarkably light too (even given its size). I guess you could say that as a telephone it lets itself down a bit — the sound of the person you’re talking to is a bit poor.

So is that a good review? No, probably not, but in my opinion there is no competition: the Pearl kicks the SPV’s bottom!

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The problem with Genres

So here’s the deal: I’ve got myself a swanky new NAS (an Infrant ReadyNAS NV+), and I’ve started re-ripping all my CDs. (For those that are interested, I’m ripping them as AIFF files, at a sample rate of 44.1 KHz (the same sample rate used for creating audio CDs), in 16-bit stereo. This seems to be the most future-proof format, and should give me an exact CD-quality copy.)

But then it comes to classifying the music. I’m using iTunes to rip my music because it’s convenient; one of the useful features being that it downloads the track names and album info from CDDB (or some such site). It also downloads the genre information, but the problem I’m having is that very little music is a perfect fit in any specific genre.

Take for example the last CD I’ve just ripped: The Best of Donald Byrd. This has been described as R&B, Jazz, Funk, Jazz Funk and Fusion amongst other things, but iTunes (and all media players that I’m aware of) only lets me select one genre. It’s only just dawned on me (though I’ve never given it any thought until now), but this is so short sighted of the developers (or the people that wrote the spec.). How do you classify music that spans genres? If you label an album or track as “Jazz-Funk” then it won’t be played when you select your Jazz tracks, and that’s not what I want.

Is there a point to this post? Perhaps not a big one - it was something to do while my tea brews - but if we can’t add multiple genres to our music catalogue, is there really any point in doing it? We can’t even limit the genre selection to a handful because there is still going to be a crossover with some music. Perhaps there is only one genre that is applicable: Music.

So what we need is a music player that supports genre tagging. Anyone know of any?

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Go go gadget…. Overkill?

Nah, you can never have gadget overkill! Long time no blog. So what’s been going on? Well, not a huge amount hence the lack of content, but today was a bit of a gadget frenzy. I got a Blackberry Perl to replace my work phone (a brick of a phone in the shape of an Orange SPV M5000), and so far I’m fairly impressed with it. I guess most notably it’s a lot smaller than the SPV. It’s too early to write a long review on the thing, but the sound (when using it as a telephone) was a bit poor. Other than that it seems OK. It’s small and I can get my email on it nice and easily.

But a new mobile phone doesn’t make a gadget frenzy, does it?! So what other goodies did I get then?! Well, seeing as you asked, my Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ (or Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ since they got bought out) arrived today. This is a networked attached storage (NAS) device, and I’ve got it to store all my RAW images from my camera. It has four disk bays, and my version came with 2 x 500GB drives. This gives me a total storage of 500GB, but with disk mirroring for redundancy. As I run out of space I can add more hard disks to the two spare bays to increase the storage space.

So far I’m extremely impressed with it. Performance-wise it seems much quicker at both read/write activities than my older Lacie single-disc NAS, and the configuration interface is very good. I also picked up a cheap APC UPS. The ReadyNAS detects the presence of the UPC (via a USB lead), and it improves the buffering/writing speed to the NAS because it knows it has a more reliable power source (so can rely on the RAM in the NAS for buffering more). My UPS is still charging up, so I’ll find out tomorrow if this all works as expected.

So that’s the gadgets done. In other news, I had a short ‘break’ in Marrakech a few weeks ago. My one tip from that trip would be to never fly Royal Air Maroc! They seem to be the most disorganised airline on the planet — or at least that I’ve encountered. I took some photos but they’re not that great. I’m sure if I hadn’t been delayed for 7 hours in Casablanca airport I wouldn’t have been so tired for the next few days, which would have meant I could get up early to take some photos in the best light. Instead I mainly snapped around midday!

Ho hum.

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