A great treasure: The Internet Archive

One of the great treasures out there in the cloud is the Internet Archive.  It contains terabytes of music, movies that have fallen into the public domain, rare voice recordings, and the Wayback Machine.   It’s a great place to explore on a rainy day.  

I’ve downloaded a lot of music from the Archive and offer this tip:

  • When viewing music on the Internet Archive, look for the “VBR ZIP” link on the left side of the page. It’s a single .zip file that contains the entire live music presentation as variable bit rate MP3 files. Download, unzip, and you’ve got the entire show.

  • Some recordings are marked “stream only”, which might lead you to think they cannot be downloaded. But they can, and here’s how.

  • On the left, where it says “listen to audio”, RIGHT CLICK one of the M3U file links. The VBR link will have the best sound.

  • Save the M3U file to your computer.

A M3U file is a list of sound files that audio players read as a playlist. WGET, a common utility, can read M3U files and download the contents.     WGET is included with Mac OS/X and most Linux distributions. Windows users can download a free copy from http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages/wget.htm

  • Windows users:

  • To use WGET, open a command window:

  • create a folder into which you want to download the files (e.g., “mkdir downloads”)

  • go into the folder (e.g., “cd downloads”)

  • type “wget -i thefilename.m3u”, where thefilename.m3u is the file you just downloaded.

  • when the downloads finish, copy the mp3 files into your music folder.

Living in an Amazon World, Part I (last.fm)

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small_matrix_inWhat sort of world is it when you see only what you want to see and hear only what you want to hear?  I’m calling it the Amazon world. When you visit Amazon.com, it knows what you’ve bought in the past and, combining that with millions of similar data points, predicts what you might want to buy today.  If you give it access to Facebook, it can even correlate prefernces to your social network, because you’re more likely to buy what your friends buy. This can be sinister or it can be a boon.

My focus today is  one of the boons of social recommendation data mining, last.fm.  Last.fm, like Pandora, recommends music you might like. Unlike Pandora, last.fm knows what you’re really listening to through a process called scrobbling. Through a plugin for your media player, you send information about your music, as you listen to it, to last.fm.  They build a set of recommendations for you based on what people who listen to similar music listen to and expose it to you as an online “radio station”.

I’m stuck in San Francisco in the the 70’s. At worst, my musical prejudices will be confirmed and reinforced. At best, I might discover some new songs and artists that might broaden my tastes a bit.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping for.

Easing into the smart house

When you first drop a wireless router into your house, you create a local area network (LAN).  For most folks, the purpose of the LAN is to give each device in the house access to the Internet via your wide area network (WAN) provider.  The LAN device talks to your cable modem, DSL device, or other hardware that connects you to the WAN and then the 'net itself.  Facilitating traffic among the devices within the house is generally not considered.

That's been pretty much the case in our house. Sure, I have a server in the basement that backs up my desktop and hosts my website.  We also use the LAN to move files from computer to computer.  But, until about a week ago, there was nothing that really spoke to the potential of a networked house.  It started with the simple thought:  I have over 5000 high-quality music tracks on my Mac.  Instead of playing them through headphones, how can I play them on the home theater system?  It's got to sound better with Bose speakers and a couple hundred watts per channel.  The second thought was: There are jacks I can use, but I don't want the computer in the family room.  Here's where it starts to get cool.

About six years ago, I bought a first generation Apple Airport Express to use as a portable wireless base station in hotel meeting rooms where there was a wired connection but no wireless.  When wireless became common, the base station went into a drawer. Apple built a couple of interesting features into the device. It can function as a wireless access point, or it can join an existing wireless network and function as either a print server or a music output device.  Yes, it has both a USB port for connecting printers and a standard audio jack for connecting speakers.  I reset it from access point mode to music mode and plugged it into one of the unused inputs on the theater system.  The next time I started iTunes, I selected "look for AirPlay devices".  As soon as I clicked "apply", the Airport appeared on the list of speakers.  Check.  And my music was playing in the family room. And then it got cooler!

The last thing I want to do is run upstairs to change playlists, pause the music, or hunt for a particular song.  Enter the Remote Control App for the iPhone.  This app uses connects iTunes and iPhones on the LAN.  After a few setup steps, I have full control of iTunes, through the usual iPod look and feel, from the family room.

Circling back to the topic at hand, there's nothing involved in this that uses the LAN's connectivity to the Internet.  The LAN connects our iPhones, our computers (both Windows and Mac), and our stereo system.  It's not the smart house of the future or the flying car that the Jetsons promised, but it's a pleasurable step in that direction. 

Music and the Internet Archive

A collection of links to interesting live music

When viewing music on the Internet Archive, look for the “VBR ZIP” link on the left side of the page. It’s a single .zip file that contains the entire live music presentation as variable bit rate MP3 files. Download, unzip, and you’ve got the entire show.

Some recordings are marked “stream only”, which might lead you to think they cannot be downloaded. But they can, and here’s how.

  1. On the left, where it says “listen to audo”, RIGHT CLICK one of the M3U file links. The VBR link will have the best sound.
  2. Save the M3U file to your computer.
  3. A M3U file is a list of sound files that audio players read as a playlist. WGET, a common utility, can read M3U files and download the contents.
    WGET is included with Mac OS/X and most Linux distributions. Windows users can download a free copy from http://gnuwin32.sourceforge.net/packages/wget.htm
    Usage: wget -i thefilename.m3u

When done, move the mp3 files into your music directory.

 

Here’s something really cool from the Internet Archive, Geroge Gershwin playing Rhapsody in Blue (side 1, side 2), recorded in 1924 at Thomas Edison’s studio in Meno Park, N.J.

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

 

 

Cleaning up iTunes

It should have been easy. I cleaned up some longstanding music organization issues on my notebook and started iTunes to let it catch up. It wound up creating duplicate entries for several hundred songs — marked as unavailable, but duplicates nonetheless. It turns out there's no easy way to tell iTunes to remove deleted files from the library. This guy has it figured out.