iWant: A “Music Videos” Library in iTunes

iTunes’ library contains a number of sub-libraries for the different files it contains: there’s Music, Movies, TV Shows, Books, and others. (There are also libraries for non-media content, such as apps, and ringtones, which are only meant to be used on an iPhone.) But one thing that’s missing is a Music Videos library. Music videos get mixed in with your Music library, under the genre, artist and album (if any) they are tagged with.

You can set any type of content to reside in a specific library. For audio content, you can choose Music, Podcast, iTunes U, Audiobook or Voice Memo. For video, you can choose Music Video, Movie, TV Show, Podcast or iTunes U. You can do this for any track by selecting it, pressing Command-I (or Control-I on Windows), then clicking on the Options tab. Choose the library where you want to store the file from the Media Kind menu.



I can understand the idea behind having music videos mixed in with music; they are often part of an album, or if they are pop songs, most iTunes users probably want to play them when they’re listening to music. But it would make more sense if they were in their own library, especially if you have a lot of them.

I have a number of music DVDs that I have ripped, along with some music videos that I’ve gotten with iTunes Store purchases, and I have them as Movies, because it’s just more logical. But they’re not movies; they may actually be TV shows (technically), or simply videos of concerts, operas or other performances. I put many of them as TV Shows, because they have multiple discs, such as the Barenboim on Beethoven set in the screen shot below. Organizing this with each disc as its own movie wouldn’t make sense. The same would be the case for, say, a long opera that is on two discs, or the Grateful Dead’s Closing of Winterland, which is on three discs.



I would like to see a Music Videos library, and give users the options, somewhere in iTunes’ preferences, to either store music videos there or in their Music library. For those who have a lot of videos, it makes sense.

(Note: you can create a Music Videos genre if you wish, and still keep these files in your Music library. Instead of being sorted with the albums they come from, or the artists on them, they’d be in their own genre and easier to spot. But having a separate library is still one step easier.)

Grateful Dead to Release Sunshine Daydream, 8/27/72 Film and CD Set

Sunshine day dream bluray 1200 exclusive

Deadheads, get out your credit cards! This September will finally see an official release of 8/27/72 and Sunshine Daydream. After more than 40 years, we’ll finally get a crystal-clear recording of this iconic show, and a DVD or Blu-Ray of the Sunshine Daydream movie, shot that day.

Most Deadheads know that this show, from Veneta, Oregon, is one of the best the band ever played. Performed as a benefit for Ken Kesey’s family creamery, The Field Trip, as it was advertised, was played in a field in front of 20,000 sunburned Deadheads, as temperatures passed 100 degrees, and water was scarce. There was magic in the air, that day, though; or at least good acid. Because the Dead played one of their best, tightest shows, with amazing renditions of Playin’ in the Band, China > Rider, and one of the best versions of Dark Star ever.

You may have seen footage of the Sunshine Daydream movie, filmed by John Norris, Phil DeGuere, and Sam Field, who caught the music and the vibes, but never had the money to get the footage edited correctly. Mediocre quality transfers have circulated for years, but finally, the Dead have restored the film, and the 16-track soundboard tapes, to create what looks and sounds amazing. Here’s a clip:

After the amazing Europe ’72 and May ’77 sets, this amazing show is yet another wonderful release from the Dead. Now, if they can only find a tape of 5/8/77 and release that…

It’s Time to Get Rid of DRM on Ebooks

If you read ebooks as I do, you probably know that you are limited in the way you use them. If you buy an ebook from Apple, you can only read it on an Apple device. If you buy a Kindle, you can read it on a Kindle, or an Apple device (because of the Kindle app for iOS, and for OS X), but you’re still limited in what you do with the book. You can’t sell it or lend it, and you’re locked into a specific platform.

My latest Macworld article looks at this. I think that Apple should lead the way in getting rid of DRM on ebooks, the way the company spearheaded the drive to remove DRM from music.

It’s worth noting that my Take Control ebooks – including the just-out Take Control of LaunchBar – have no DRM, so you can read them on whatever device you want.

Theater Review: Henry VI, by the Globe Theatre, in York

If you saw my recent review of the RSC’s Titus Andronicus, you’ve figured out that I’m a Shakespeare fan. Since I moved to the UK, just under three months ago, I’ve seen four Shakespeare plays, and have tickets to see a few more. This is part of my project to see every Shakespeare play live at least once, as soon as possible.

But you will also have seen, in the Titus review, that I said that “Henry VI Part I was an insipid performance, with wooden actors and uninteresting staging.” Last night, I went to see Henry VI Part II, at York’s Theatre Royal. It was as bad is the first part, so much so that my girlfriend and I left at the interval (intermission). What’s going on here? Why are these performances so bad?

I haven’t ruled out the possibility that I’m missing something. Being aware of early music performance practice, I wonder if the Globe company isn’t trying to do some sort of “authentic” performance. While this is possible, it still doesn’t jibe with what they’re doing on stage. The actors are, for the most part, stiff and wooden, except when one of them turns on the ham amplifier. Some of the actors are simply bad – I won’t mention names – and sound as if they are simply declaiming their lines. Others show emotion, enough to invalidate the hypothesis of some sort of original performance style.

To be fair, these early history plays are not the most interesting. Yet Henry VI was written around the same time as Titus Andronicus, and the RSC production of that play was unforgettable. (It’s so good, I’m planning to see it again in September.) There is little scintillating language in Henry VI, the plots are tangled and confusing, and at both performances, it was hard to follow what was going on. This was compounded in Part I, where several actors played two roles, one of an English character, the other of a Frenchman.

Another thing I wonder is whether the Globe company can play on a normal stage. The Globe Theatre in London has a thrust stage – where the stage reaches out into the audience, so the actors are playing in the middle of the spectators – as does the RSC’s two theaters in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Perhaps being forced to use a standard stage limits them in their movements and actions. It was almost painful to see, at times, a dozen characters standing stock-still on the stage as one or two characters were speaking.

henry-vi

One element that was particularly poor was when, in Act II, Scene I, four falconers stood on stage, holding their arms up with invisible hawks, going, “Caw, caw.” But the shark-jumping moment came at the end of the first part of the play, just before the interval. In Act IV, Scene I, Suffolk is executed. In this production, he is led up to the top of one of two metallic scaffolds on the stage which represent towers. His head is lopped off, and a rubber head is dropped onto the stage just before the lights on stage are extinguished. But the dropping of this head is funny, and, at what should be a very serious moment in the play, the audience laughed quite loudly. Doing something like this to provoke laughter, at this point in the play, makes no sense.

I found little in this play to be enjoyable. Even assuming that the Henry VI plays are among Shakespeare’s weakest, I feel the Globe should have done much more to try to make these plays interesting. I note that the York performances were the first on a tour of these plays. I wonder if things will change as they go on, and especially whether they’d be better when they play in their home theater. But it’s more than just the stage. Most of the actors don’t seem invested in their parts, and the ones who are stand in stark contrast to the blandness of the rest of the troupe.

This all surprises me, as I have seen several DVDs of the Globe performing in their own theater, all of which have been very well done. There’s a real disconnect here between what the Globe can do, and what they’ve done with the Henry VI plays.

I won’t be going to see Part III, and hope to be able to get a refund for my unused tickets. There were plenty of empty seats at Part I; there seemed to be more at Part II; I wonder how many people will stick it out and see Part III.

(An aside: the York Theatre Royal is extremely uncomfortable. I’m six feet tall, and I felt, sitting in the theatre, like being on an airplane. Even my girlfriend, who is about six inches shorter than me, found the legroom too limited. I may not go back to that theatre.)

Kirk’s Eight Rules of Effective Podcasting

Note: I originally posted this in March, 2006, and it continues to be a popular article on my site. I’m re-posting it now, because podcasting hasn’t changed very much, and these rules can still apply to podcasts, even though the “genre” has matured greatly in the past seven years. I’ve updated this in 2017 to mention my own podcast.


The buzz has been around podcasting since Apple’s embracing of the medium in iTunes, which provides easy access to thousands of podcasts. Since Apple added podcast features to iTunes, podcasts have become almost mainstream, and the first for-cash podcasts have recently arisen. But not everyone listens to podcasts, and many people check out a few and leave them behind. Some podcasts do things very wrong, and, after listening for a few minutes, listeners simply switch to something else. Here are a few rules that should help podcasters get people to tune into their shows.

  1. Have something to say. You can certainly just ramble for a half-hour, but unless you have a unique voice (or are really funny) people won’t come back. If you make a podcast just to provide the drivel that’s on your blog, don’t bother; stick to text. It’ll save you time, and it’s easier to find out what you have to say.

  2. Be prepared. Make notes before you start talking; only a rare few can improvise for a half-hour or an hour. In fact, few people can really improvise for more than a few minutes. Make detailed notes, and, if you’re interviewing someone, prepare questions in advance. However, don’t let notes or questions keep you from diverging if you find something better to say.

  3. Be short and simple. Too many podcasts try to fill an hour with whatever it takes to fill that time. You will be much more likely to get listeners to try out your podcasts if they are short. This does not mean that one-hour podcasts won’t work; but you may want to have occasional shorter podcasts – say 20 to 30 minutes – to attract listeners who might be turned off by the idea of devoting one hour of their lives to an unknown program. If listeners like the shortcasts, then they’ll stick around for the longcasts.

  4. Be clear. Use good recording equipment; listeners are used the radio-quality broadcasts, and if it sounds like you recorded your podcast in the bathroom, they won’t stay long. Learn how to record, edit, and produce your podcast. Also, if you’re interviewing someone, don’t interrupt. Learn when to talk and when to let the guest speak. You can edit later.

  5. Be yourself. Unless you’re a professional journalist or radio broadcaster, you won’t make people think you are. Don’t try using that “radio voice”, and don’t try to talk about things you don’t know about. Do talk about what turns you on: even if it’s a hobby, such as beekeeping, an impassioned delivery by someone who knows the subject can be interesting.

  6. Be unique. The best podcasts are the ones that are unique or original. People won’t listen in just because you copy Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken (update: or Marc Maron); but if you are unique, you’ll find an audience. Don’t copy in style or content. Podcasting, like writing, is creative.

  7. Provide detailed program notes. On my podcast The Next Track, I’m careful to include links to everything we discuss on the show. Since we cover both music and audio equipment, it’s a help to listeners to have links to the hardware and records we talk about. This also allows me to use Amazon affiliate links, to monetize the show (a bit).

  8. Don’t stick in music just to fill time, or to punctuate your show. If you have music in the show, use it as music, not filler. And choose good music, not the cheezy royalty-free muzak that floats around. (Though be aware of the copyright implications of using commercial music. In short, you can’t.) For example, Magnatune lets you use any of their music for free in non-commercial podcasts. Their FAQ says, “If your podcast is non-commercial (most are) then you can use Magnatune’s music for free in your podcasts. Choose the license type “non-commercial” and agree to the terms of the Creative Commons license.”

To sum up, creating a good podcast is like creating any type of quality content, be it music, words or audio. With a fair amount of intention, originality and creativity, you can share your thoughts with others through podcasts. But only the good survive; so if you want to reach an audience, do your best to make sure that people come back for more.

Theater Review: Titus Andronicus, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

Strictly by chance, I ended up seeing two Shakespeare plays on two consecutive days this week. The first was Henry VI, Part I, here in York, performed by Shakespeare’s Globe. This is the first of three plays, and I’ll be seeing the next two on the two coming Wednesdays.

Then on Thursday, I attended an event for bloggers at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre (the smaller of two RSC theatres) in Stratford-upon-Avon, seeing their current production of Titus Andronicus, and attending a question and answer session after the performance with director Michael Fentiman, and actors Rose Reynolds (Lavinia), Katy Stephens (Tamora) and Stephen Boxer (Titus). It has been an interesting week.

titus-qa
Rose Reynolds and Stephen Boxer at a question and answer session after the performance.

While Henry VI Part I was an insipid performance, with wooden actors and uninteresting staging, Titus Andronicus was a revelation. Both of these plays are among Shakespeare’s earliest, and Shakespeare may have collaborated with other authors when writing them. Henry VI was probably written in 1591, and Titus Andronicus between 1590 and 1593. Both are considered to be among Shakespeare’s weaker plays, as well, and Harold Bloom, in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, is very critical of Titus Andronicus. Bloom says that “Everything and everyone on stage is very remote from us, the rigid Titus most of all,” and, “I don’t think I’d see the play again unless Mel Brooks directed it, with his company of zanies, or perhaps it could be made into a musical.”

My experience with Titus Andronicus was limited to the 1985 BBC version, which greatly tones down the blood and gore which is at the heart of the story, and is also devoid of any humor. I also have the 1999 film Titus, directed by Julie Taymore, with Anthony Hopkins as Titus. I watched a half-hour of it a few days before going to Stratford, but didn’t get around to watching the entire movie; it didn’t grab me.

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Visual Skeuomorphism is Dead; What About Audio Skeuomorphism?

Apple has proudly ditched skeuomorphism in its forthcoming OS X Mavericks and iOS 7; that’s the use of interface elements that look like items in the real world. In OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, this includes things like the fake leather in Calendar; the green felt in Game Center; and the faux hardcover binding in Contacts. iOS has some of these too: Game Center has the same green felt; Voice Memos shows an old-timey microphone; and Find Friends has stitched leather. Both OSs have horrid yellow, lined paper in Notes, and other elements of skeuomorphism can be seen here and there.

IMG_0645So if Apple’s ditched visual skeuomorphism, why not get rid of the audio version as well. On iOS, this includes keyboard clicks, lock sounds, and the whoosh you hear when sending emails. OS X has a number of “user interface sound effects,” which you can turn off en masse in the Sound preference pane. (On iOS, you can turn them off individually.)

But if we’re agreeing that showing a faux leather-bound book in an app’s interface is outdated, how long before we get rid of the sounds? While it’s useful to have some sort of feedback when your email gets sent, does it have to be a “whoosh,” the sound of something flying? And does the iOS camera – or any camera – need to have a shutter sound when you take a photo?

I think it’s time to go beyond these quaint, old-fashioned sounds and come up with some new forms of beeps to alert a user when something has happened. Personally, I’ve turned off most sounds on my iPhone, other than a ringtone and voice mail and text message alerts, and I only have a system beep on my Macs.

Playlist Assist Replicates Old iTunes Playlist Window

One of the things that irked many users when iTunes 11 was released was the inability to open more than one window. Some users kept an iTunes Store window open all the time; others liked to open playlists in their own windows, to make it easier to drag tracks to them and edit their contents.

AppleScript maestro Doug Adams has released the $5 Playlist Assist, a new tool which replicates some of the old iTunes playlist window features. Playlist Assist gives you a floating window that you can use to create and edit playlists. But you can also get track info, change tags, play tracks using Quick Look, and export playlists.


playlist-assist

I’ve been using this for a while in beta, and I’m quite impressed by its flexibility. If you want a great tool for creating and editing playlists, you need Playlist Assist.

Why Apple Should Pay Income Tax on Overseas Earnings: Because Other Americans Do

The recent hullabaloo over Apple not paying income tax is almost surreal. The company has so much money overseas – currently some $100 billion in cash – that it has issued bonds to proceed with a share buy-back plan. The interest on the bonds is much less than the amount of tax the company would pay if they repatriated some of their income.

In addition, it turns out that Apple negotiated a “secret deal” with the Irish government back in the 1980s, so they only pay 2% income tax on the money they park in that country, though they actually only paid about 0.5%.

My question here is not whether it is moral for Apple to do this (the law allows them to do so), but why Apple or any other major corporation is not treated like other US citizens?

Expatriate US citizens – whether they are permanent residents of other countries or not – are taxed by the US on their foreign income. There is an earned income exclusion, which increases from time to time, and which does not take into account exchange rates. A US citizen could be well under the threshold for paying taxes one year, but if on the date that the exchange rate is calculated, the rate is unfavorable, they could owe taxes the following year on the same amount of income. (The current earned income exclusion is $95,100 for an individual, and $190,200 for a couple.) This exclusion also does not take into account the relative cost of living of a country. If the cost of living is higher, salaries will be higher. I experienced this 25 years ago when I lived in Norway for a year; everything cost nearly twice as much as France (where I was living before that), but salaries were higher to compensate.

In addition, the paperwork for Americans overseas filing taxes is substantial, complicated, and in many cases requires the use of a tax attorney or accountant. (See this Boston Globe article for more about this issue.)

What’s even more unfair is that Americans abroad are taxed twice. Once in the country they live in, and another time, if they earn more than the earned income exclusion, by the US. It’s interesting to note that the only other country in the entire world that does this is Eritrea.

Yet Apple isn’t even a resident of another country. Their subsidiaries are, but those subsidiaries only make money for the US company; Apple doesn’t have separate business entities for different countries or territories. (Though they manage to avoid paying VAT in all EU countries but one by “locating” their iTunes Store activities in Luxembourg, where VAT is only 3%, thereby denying VAT income to other countries where digital content is purchased.)

It’s obvious that expatriate Americans get little or nothing in exchange for their taxes. Other than the low-probability events requiring getting bailed out by the US Consulate, Americans abroad get no Social Security benefits, no unemployment, no health care, or anything else for their tax dollars. Apple, however, and other global corporations, get huge benefits from the US legal system, research infrastructure, publicly-subsidized education system, and the many international treaties and agreements governing such key factors to their success as intellectual property and trade regulations. So all of Apple’s sales overseas benefit from the broader fact that it is a US company.

So let’s treat Apple – and Google, Amazon, Yahoo! and all the others – like American citizens. Tax their overseas income, don’t let them set up a web of tax shelters, but make them pay their share.

When Good Customer Service Turns Out to Be Really Bad

We’re all used to bad customer service; too much so, in fact, that we’ve come to accept it as the norm. So when customer service is good, it can be surprising; when it’s really good, it can put a smile on my face.

But sometimes, what seems like good customer service may actually be the contrary. Here’s a tale about a recent experience I had with what seemed to be good customer service, but turned out to be crappy.

I recently decided to try to go paperless. I have to keep ten years of accounting documents, which is a couple of big boxes worth, and I’m planning a move in the coming months; it seemed like a good time to scan all those documents and shred them.

Using information from two books – my fellow Take Control author Joe Kissel’s Take Control of your Paperless Office and David Sparks’ Paperless – I decided to acquire a Fujitsu S1500M scanner. This is a wonderful device, which has a paper-feed, scans both sides of paper you place in it, OCRs it and creates searchable PDFs. I got this last Wednesday, and started using it on Thursday, scanning hundreds of pages of invoices and bank statements. At the end of the day, some of the pages had colored vertical lines on them; nothing too serious, but annoying.

Friday morning, I started scanning more, and the vertical lines showed up after about 30 pages, and were increasingly visible. I called Fujitsu’s tech support number, and spoke with a very helpful woman who asked me to send samples of the bad scans. She got back to me quickly, said that it was a hardware problem, and that Fujitsu would replace the scanner; the next day! This was a good thing, because I had been planning to scan all weekend, and get this project out of the way before Christmas.

Well, the next day came, and no scanner arrived. Monday came, and still nothing. Tuesday was Christmas, and Wednesday there was nothing either. I tried calling Fujitsu a few times on Wednesday, and there was no answer; only a message in German. (I’m in France, and their support center is in Germany.) I sent an email, and got no reply (whereas the week before, I got replies in less than a half hour.) Thursday morning – today – I tried calling again, and there was still no answer.

I had bought this scanner from Apple’s online store*, and I called them and explained what happened. They immediately set up a replacement, though, unfortunately, it may take a week for it to come. But the person was very helpful and understanding, and I frankly feel a lot more comfortable working with the Apple Store than with a vendor directly; they have a lot more interest in keeping customers happy (especially since I buy most of my Apple products from them directly).

So what happened? What seemed to be top-notch customer service was just pretend? Did they really intend to send me the scanner the next day? I did get an email from DHL confirming that it was sent, but with no tracking number, I have no idea when it was sent, or when the delivery was scheduled. The fact that Fujitsu’s tech support team seems to be on vacation for the holidays is inadmissible; I don’t expect them to work on Christmas day, of course, but taking a week off – if that’s indeed the case – seems to suggest they only care about their customers when it’s convenient for them.

I like the scanner; it’s very efficient, and it’s going to save me a lot of time. And I’m sure the problem I have is not a common one. But I’ll think twice before buying anything else from Fujitsu, because of what they put me through.

  • I would have bought the scanner from Amazon, and gotten next-day delivery, but it’s about €30 more expensive there. I guess I should have paid more, because Amazon is very efficient regarding returns and replacements.