iTunes Match Saved My Music

As of late, I haven’t been keeping up with Apple and their software services. After all, I have no devices that can actually run iOS 7, and I recently purchased a Nexus 7 and a Nexus 5. Furthermore, I have discontinued my Hackintosh project for the time being as my desktop tower was too slow to run Mavericks quick enough for my liking, and while I miss the whims of Mac OS X, Windows 8 is smooth and effective enough to get stuff done if need be. BUT, what I would actually like to discuss today is a fantastic saviour by Apple, and that is iTunes Match.

As I’ve written here before, iTunes Match is a service that matches all your songs in an iTunes library with those in the iTunes Store, allowing you to effectively access all your music from any Mac, Windows PC, iPod, iPhone or iPad.

This comes in at a relatively cheap $AU35 a year, and considering you can upload your music that isn’t even purchased from Apple, which can then be matched with music from iTunes’ servers (and potentially upgraded in quality), it is fantastic value.
I love the service, mainly because it allows me to use multiple computers and not really bother with the actual syncing process between them, as iTunes just does it all for you. I also liked it at the time of purchase (and am now in my second year of the subscription), as it gives me peace of mind in the event that my main computer crashes or a serious calamity occurs in which all my local data storage and backups are destroyed, because I will still have all my music, in exactly the same state it was before the crash occurred. It was this feature that saved my bacon yesterday.

As aforementioned, my desktop tower is getting a bit long in the tooth, being purchased in 2009, it is now crashing on a near-daily basis, and suffers incredible slowdowns whenever I do anything more than have a few tabs open. Up until now, these system crashes (which existed under OS X, and of which I am still unable to ascertain the source) haven’t really caused me to lose any data. Until yesterday.
Imagine this: Chilling with my music, browsing the web, then my desktop blue screens. I restart it and open iTunes again, upon which I am greeted with a lovely message: “Your iTunes Library file (.itl) is corrupted. iTunes has created a new library file.” After much aggravation and face-palming, I click OK and examine the damage. The damage is very clear: I have no music files. Hooray.
I consulted the Apple Support forums, and found a post that reminded me of the existence of the “Previous iTunes Libraries” folder. Unfortunately, my latest automatic backup was created 6th February, and as I am very passionate about my music, a lot had happened since then in terms of new music, play counts, etc. So I had an idea. Simply use the library backup, and enable iTunes Match, allowing the two to sync up with the latest data from iTunes Match, redownload the songs that I lost in the process, and generally make everything back to normal.
So, now I have a basically-identical library to the one that got corrupted yesterday, without much effort, all thanks to iTunes Match!

It’s worth noting, however, that the music files that I lost are still actually in the folder, but merely that the links in the iTunes Library File don’t exist. So, when I redownloaded the songs, the originals still existed and the redownloaded tracks exist as My Song 1.m4a, My Song 2 1.m4a, etc. which could be seen as inefficient and potentially data-expensive in the long run, but for now I am pleased with the compromise between effort and efficiency.

It’s certainly something worth considering the next time my subscription needs renewing…

Foolish Software

Today, I write because I have a gripe with a certain piece of software that I installed the other day. Namely, the Facebook Messenger app for iOS, in it’s updated incarnation that matches the UI design of iOS 7.
Now, the design itself is pretty good, I like the flat elements and the paring down of the coloration, but there is one massive thing that I hate about it: the removal of user choice and further intrusion into your privacy and mindspace. This massive thing is actually further carved up to little changes that I will proceed to list.

1. Whenever you open a chat with anyone, it has an ‘Invite’ button in the upper-right corner of the screen that sends a message to the person with a link to use the Facebook Messenger app. This feels useless and tacky, as it not only pushes Facebook’s services onto everyone, but it also appears for people who are talking to you THROUGH the official Facebook app (the one that allows you to browse the entirety of Facebook). What gives, Facebook?

2. It is impossible to disable notifications permanently through the application itself. There’s an option to disable messages but it only works for either an hour or until 8am the next day, which feels like a ridiculously arbitrary limitation to options. Whatever, it’s not like I want options anyway.

3. Facebook nags you to give it access to your actual phone contacts, which it will then scan to find people you can message even if you aren’t friends with them. This really isn’t necessary. If I wanted to message someone, I would be their friend, either by searching for them or using Facebook’s handy Friend Finder service. It’s literally *that* simple.

4. It also has two ways to ‘Add a phone number’ to your account in the app’s settings, either via the edit button or the ‘Add a phone number’ link that is below your profile in the app settings. Desperate, much?

5. The most annoying of them all is Facebook’s absolute insistence that you are notified of every single message you get on Facebook regardless of whether you want them or not. With iOS 5, Apple introduced a unified notification system that all notifications would redirect to. They also included the option to disable app notifications at an OS level, an important freedom of choice that ultimately liberates the user from having to receive notifications for apps. Because maybe they don’t need to see them all the time. Apparently, though, Facebook has decided that this OS level function is only a silly feature, and includes a check and splash screen EVERY TIME YOU OPEN THE APPLICATION to see if you’ve disabled OS-level notifications for Messenger, imploring you to enable the notifications. This benefits Facebook, because having a notification makes it more likely the user will open the app there and then, and thus spend more time in the app, giving Facebook even more data and so on and so forth.

Nagging notifications splashscreen

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like the Messenger app, because it’s faster and uses less RAM than the Facebook app, and is less intrusive for simple messages. But these little niggles really aggravate me and are an obvious ploy to pull you even more into the Facebook ecosystem.

Mavericks & Files

Hey, just here to let you know that I have upgraded to Mavericks, and although it was a little rocky at first, I’m now up to speed – the multimonitor display is a massive productivity boost, although I haven’t figured to come up with a practical use for tags…

Anyway, the purpose of this post was to share with you all a little thing that I only just found out. With Mavericks, Apple changed the mechanism to edit the setting that allows you to show all files (including hidden) in the Finder. It took me awhile to find a resolution, but I found one in the end. Here’s how to do it:

1. Open a Terminal prompt.

2. Enter the following:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles -boolean false

and then enter

killall Finder

3. Enjoy being able to see all your stuff!

Screenshot 2013-11-05 15.35.14

‘Back in Time’

Did you like that pun? I thought it was quite witty.

Recently I purchased a 2TB external hard drive to store my photos and my large music and video collection along with the games, as 500GB isn’t enough to fit all that stuff. Additionally (and the rationale behind my purchase), it is vitally important to back up your computers! If you don’t, you risk losing not only your programs and settings, but plethoras of digital content.
All my important documents are backed up using Dropbox, but since I have more data than is reasonable to upload, it was necessary to invest in an onsite backup system.
I did some research and found that the inbuilt Time Machine that comes with every copy of Mac OS X suited my needs. I also played around with the Windows backup utility, and I must say Apple’s solution beats the pants off Microsoft’s, even with their latest Windows 8.
All you do is open the Time Machine app, allocate some space to your backups, and let it go indexing and backing up your stuff. It is literally that simple. When you plug in your HD, OS X will automatically begin backing up hourly, daily and weekly revisions to your various files.
It is literally THAT simple.
To retrieve your data, Time Machine has two different access methodologies:

1. You can do it on a filesystem-browsing basis, cherry-picking data items from a simplified filesystem explorer, seamlessly able to look at revisions of a file through time. This requires you to run Time Machine from the Mac you have backed up, and is relatively restricted in what it can do apart from what I’ve already stated. But hey, it has a slick interface.

2. You can migrate all data from a Time Machine backup when you reinstall the operating system, a perfect way to live up to Apple’s promise that “it just works”, and restore all your personal settings.

A comparison of time machine snapshots

A comparison of time machine snapshots – you could save documents that you deleted back when you didn’t think you needed them!

Why is it better than Windows’ backup utility, you may ask?

Well, for one it’s a very simple interface that doesn’t require much configuring after clicking “On”.
Secondly, it happens seamlessly in the background, and has a method of accessing what appears to be a bare-metal filesystem.
Thirdly, it backups far more frequently than Microsoft’s system.
Finally, and perhaps most worrying for Windows purists, the utility bundled with Microsoft’s operating system freaks out with any form of removable storage, and will refuse to backup in the future to the drive once it’s been removed, making the idea of a portable or USB backup drive completely useless in the context of Windows. How absurd is that? This frustrated me to no end; after all, how hard is it to implement a simple piece of code that polls whether the device is in fact inserted or not?

Nonwithstanding my rant and frustration, regardless of what platform you use, it is vitally important to backup your data, and Apple and Microsoft both make robust tools to do this.

Small Update

Hey, just quickly updated my “Applications I Can’t Live Without” feature; it hasn’t had an update in around a year, and even longer than that since I’ve properly sorted through the content and set a new order based on how much I actually use these apps!
Anyway, thought it might be good to check in with how things are going; unfortunately I haven’t had much time to write, what with my HSC, but I’d like to do a little more on the blog, maybe even start a new Apps I Can’t Live Without, divided by operating system, and include an iOS & Android section!
Stay tuned.

Don’t Touch Those Drive Permissions!

So I had an unexpected shock in the form of a permissions error in Mac OS X, and I felt it highly necessary to share it with anyone and everyone. Also, in case I forget what to do if it happens again…lest that eventuates.

In any case, we recently bought and set up a new WiFi N router in our house to replace the ageing 2007 Wireless G router that we used since 2011. The speeds on the thing far outpace that of any equivalent copy method especially given the convenience.

So, it got me playing around with Windows and Mac OS X networking, which was a great deal easier for some unknown reason. It is much simpler now to interplay between them assuming several settings are in place in order to allow sharing to occur (this is a standard feature in Windows 7 and onwards).

For some reason, I had also shared my Mac OS X root drive, which I didn’t appreciate as it meant that anyone with access to the network could view files on the root drive (and hence EVERYTHING on the drive) which makes me a tad uncomfortable security-wise. Regardless of who it is, I don’t want people to access my stuff without my permission, a notion I feel warranted.

So I clicked the “Get Info” button on the Mac OS X drive and had a look at the sharing and permissions section. Unfortunately, I had the dubious oversight of failing to see that “Mitchell Busby”, the user, was not in the list of users that were allowed to view it, and only were three tiers:

  • System
  • Wheel
  • Everyone

Everyone was set to Read-only, and I changed this to “No one”.

Don't click this!

Immediately my PC began to come to a halt and I was unable to edit system preferences, nor could I view many files from the root drive OR my documents. Naturally, this caused a large amount of worry for me and I was afraid to restart my PC. Despite my reluctance, several sites seemed to think m drive was hosed until I found someone offering a solution: enter in Single-User Mode. To do this in Chameleon, one has to add the ‘-s’ flag at boot-time, and it will open a Terminal-like prompt. On a regular Mac, one must hold down the ‘S’ key at boot-time to enter the same mode. Once in this setting, all is needed to do is the instructions set in the following website:

https://discussions.apple.com/message/21326964#21326964#21326964

To paraphrase, all one needs to do is type the following:

mount -uw /

chmod 1755 / 

exit

These three commands simply reset all permissions to their default settings, allowing the admin user to access everything like normal again. This was a great relief to me, and now I can get on with what I was doing before – relaxing after exams!

iTunes Match, A Year On…

So it’s been a year since iTunes Match was officially launched in the US, and Apple has had a year to tweak their newest addition to iTunes, dare I say the future of music. Simply put, I love iTunes Match. I’m hooked on how it works, how easy it is to set up, and the general idea that you can have your music easily available anywhere, but still store locally in your original files, and this is where I see the real advantage of iTunes Match lies.
You may be asking the question: What is iTunes Match? This is actually a perfectly reasonable question, as Apple really hasn’t explained it properly, or as well as they could have. It is an extension of iCloud, costs AU$35 per year (USD$25), that stores all of your music from iTunes into Apple’s servers, uploads any of them that you haven’t bought through iTunes, and that cannot be ‘matched’. In theory, once you’ve ‘Matched’ all your music, you will never need to have a single monolithic iTunes library, because you’ve got one in the cloud, looked after by Apple, and all you need to do to access all your tracks, is enter your Apple ID into iTunes/iOS, and then bam you’ve got yourself access to your entire library.
Sounds good, you might say, but what exactly is the difference between this and other streaming services? It’s more of a hybrid of different models, being able to stream your library from Spotify, and being able to upload all your OWN tracks, a la Amazon Web Storage, and also its own unique spin that it uses your existing library, so your files all stay there, and you can edit them and they will be updated on all your devices.
How does it work?
iTunes Match collates all your songs, uploads the track listings, checks if you have purchased any of the songs THROUGH iTunes, and doesn’t bother uploading any of their music content, but forwards a link to them, so to speak. The next step is where the ‘Match’ part of iTunes Match comes into play; it uploads a short clip of the song, which is used as a ‘fingerprint’, and is matched against the iTunes Store’s songs, which are all high-quality 256kb/s tracks. By doing this, the need to upload ALL of every single song (which is what Amazon’s service does, and will take an age), is negligated, and results in less time spent in the initial setup. This method is used similarly to identify songs in Shazam. Songs that cannot be matched are then uploaded in full, however. It took me around 12 hours to fully get my iTunes Library matched and uploaded, which is pretty decent considering my library is around 14GB, and I had to have around 150 songs actually uploaded in full.

iTunes Match won’t upload any songs that are under 96kb/s in sound quality, anything marked as a voice memo. Whilst your  tracks are being synced to Apple’s servers, it’ll have a little status label next to each song, saying whether it has been purchased, uploaded, matched or skipped.

So that is how it works. How it is in action, is a little interesting. You enter your Apple ID details into another PC for instance, and it will match that library with Apple’s servers, and put in placeholders for all your songs already stored in iTunes Match. You can then stream tracks, track by track, or you can click the little iCloud icon next to each song to actually download the track. You can do this per track, or by an artist, album or playlist. So you could for instance make a playlist called “Offline” that could store your favourite tracks, so you could listen to them regardless of if you have an internet connection, and then download that entire playlist.

image

Songs download fairly quickly, about the same speed as you’d get when purchasing songs from the iTunes Store and then downloading them, which I’m very happy with. Streaming is near instantaneous.

I have a few niggles about iTunes Match however…

Firstly, and one of the things that annoys me the most, is that you cannot simultaneously have iTunes Match enabled on iOS and also ‘sideload’ music onto it through iTunes. Now, this may be okay for iPhones, since they always have a data connection and can easily download any song on a whim. However, my iPod is a lot harder, and I would appreciate if I could just copy all my music over and also have iTunes Match enabled. After all, space isn’t a premium on my iPod – I have a 32GB iPod Touch. A workaround is to copy all your music over, then enable iTunes Match. All your songs that you’ve copied over that are the same as the ones stored in Match will just consolidate into one. The only conceivable downsides that I’ve noticed in practise of doing this are that all the album artwork is lost (for some weird reason; I have yet to come up with a possible valid explanation for this), and once you’ve copied those songs over and enabled Match, you CANNOT simply copy any more over, you will have to download them through the internet connection.
Not all your album artwork will appear, and when you enable iTunes Match on computers other than your original computer, some iTunes artwork will just fail to load, even after playing a song (as seen below)

image

There are a few other little quirks that annoy me, but the simple fact is that for the most part, iTunes Match ‘just works’. I love being able to access my entire library from my laptop which has just been reimaged with Windows, and the semi-cross platform nature of it is also really great. I love not having to worry about losing my entire library with a single ship, and for such a low price relatively; its way cheaper than Spotify’s premium memberships.

Who is it good for?

iTunes Match is for most people, as Apple products mostly are. If you rely on an iPod or iPhone that runs lower than iOS 5, forget about it – iTunes Match support is only integrated into iOS 5. Also if you hate iTunes, its definitely not for you either, because you are definitely locking yourself into the Apple ecosystem by using this product. Keep in mind that it is only for iTunes Windows/Mac, and iOS – there is no Android version. But this is a relatively benign problem, as you most likely have all your iTunes music stored on your computer, and all the files you have uploaded can be easily retrieved, so you can easily jump ship to another ecosystem, something you can’t do with Spotify’s propietary file formats.

It is for people that like Apple, like iTunes, own at least two computers and an iDevice, and have a good internet connection. As such, I’d definitely recommend it. 4/5

Apple’s Lovely Closed Ecosystem

Tablet and touch devices are challenging the way we think about games, see games, and interact with them, and for one, I am definitely afraid of this eventuating.
The iDevice model which has become very successful for Apple is an extremely closed marketplace, which means that a select few will gain priority over others, regardless of merit.
The closed marketplace I am referring to here, of course, is the App Store. A store that you must pay $100 each year to submit apps, a store that imposes draconian infringements
on other companies who dare to ‘think outside the box’ and the permanent lockout if you don’t comply with their rules. Hardly a fair and positive place for the future of our lives,
and you can bet that these technologies will be at the pinnacle of our future – they already are.
Good examples of Apple’s harsh, tough and biased rejections can be found everywhere across the internet, from Apple hate sites, to even sites like Cult of Mac, who’s blogs are
dedicated to this stuff. A few below:
- Google’s radical Google Voice app, which redirects phone calls to your internet connection, posed a threat to Apple’s cosy relationship with telcos and
AT&T. This raised the ire of the FCCC, who questioned the favouritised practises of Apple towards these companies.
- Charity apps that don’t allow Apple to take a 30% cut from every donation that is made using them are automatically kicked out of the developer program
- All apps that don’t comply with any new Apple App Store rules, regardless of whether they were created before the new rules, are banned and kicked out of the program.
This is definitely Apple at its greediest. Any publishing-based company or app must offer any product they provide or sell THROUGH the app, as well as their own online ecosystem
for the same price or less as they would going through their own ecosystem. This is a clear cut case of an unscrupulous business practise, and barely possible, since again Apple
takes their 30% cut from that product through the App Store in store purchase.
And once you’ve been kicked out and banned from the App Store dev program, that’s it. There is no recourse, you will never write for an iOS product again regardless.
So next time you look at a new shiny tablet or iPad that uses a closed market ecosystem, take a step back and think: Is closed really superior?

Why my next operating system probably won’t be Apple

I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about the whole Windows vs Mac OS X battle that has been raging ever since both operating systems were released. Whilst it is true that Windows is more open and freely customisable than Mac OS X, this comes at a great cost to me. You see, when I use Windows I spent so much time and effort customising it to my liking that I never got to actually do any real work in it. Hence, why Mac with its arguably more intuitive user interface out of the box is the one for me, as it just works pretty much perfectly for me with a few exceptions, those having to do with any graphics intensive gaming (blame Microsoft for a closed DirectX system) and Mission Control’s dual screen functionality, or lack thereof.
I actually get things done without so many distractions, plus the window management system is way better in Mac, Mission Control being the Aero UI and Flip3D done right and actually useful.
What is worrying however is this new feature in Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Gatekeeper, which is ironically a trojan horse for Apples Xcode and App Store ecosystem.
Basically, it has three settings that control what happens when a .app is opened:
- Only from App Store – is what it says, only applications from the app store will be allowed to run, and anything else will cause OS X to literally scream “VIRUS!!!”.

- Only from authorised sources – this is the default setting on all new installations and is kind of what worries me. With this setting, only applications that have been signed by an Apple-registered developer, who pays Apple $99 per year, every yea, will be allowed to run. This is good in a way but nonetheless still draconian and ensures apple gets a nice income from all developers of Mac software regardless of whether they’re distributing through the Mac App Store or not. It also will mean that most FOSS will not be able to fall under this category, because it isn’t compiled from the same developer/development team every time, locking out average users who want to take advantage of the security offered by Gatekeeper, as well as the wide range of software that is open source or free like Adium, VLC media player, Firefox, Google Chrome, AppleScripts, and any software developed on Google code and without Xcode. It could potentially kill the open source scene on the Mac, which would be incredibly sad and ironic, since one of the reason I moved to Mac was because of the quality of free software on the platform.
We might also see a similar thing to when Microsoft thought it’d be a good idea to quality control windows hardware drivers, and get vendors to sign their drivers. Unfortunately this didn’t work well, with many of them including Toshiba refusing to sign a whole host of device drivers, and it didn’t take into account end users hacking drivers to support similar devices. What if popular software vendors refuse to sign up with Apple?
Whilst this is unlikely to happen, it may still occur and is worth thinking about, especially since Mac OS X is a growing marketshare.

At the same time, Microsoft is making revolutionary changes to its platform, an open one at that, with the metro interface becoming the predominant way we are going to use Windows from now on. With the massive paradigm shift, I might need to switch to windows permanently to keep up with the mass PC market. Others could be in the same boat.
All this could happen, assuming that Apple’s slowly closing ecosystem doesn’t catch on like wildfire as it has in the past few years. Things like iCloud, iTunes, and iOS are essential to this.

Python. Apps. & Stuff.

Hey, today I’ve decided I’ll be writing not too much, and keep it fairly short and simple.
Firstly, for all of those that live in the wonderful state of Australia, NSW, daylight saving begins on the 1st April 2012, so make sure your alarms are changed the night before, or you might be in a bit of trouble. Then again, it’s a Sunday, so it doesn’t really matter that much!

Secondly, I wanted to talk about a few awesome apps that I’ve found in the past two weeks that I’ve enjoyed playing round with, and are just plain ingenious.
One of these such apps is iA Writer, stylised as Writer, which is a Mac/iOS universal app that is basically distraction free writing, in a similar vein to Q10. It’s so excellent for just getting that essay, story or other piece of writing done, and out of the way.
It’s a stellar app on iPad/iPhone, and it’s even better with its seamless syncing with iCloud, or Dropbox, which I prefer for its openness and the fact that I can use it on non-PCs.
So back to the main point of the app. It is incredibly efficient at getting stuff done, and I’d recommend anyone interested in that sort of thing to take a look at Q10, even though its Windows only.

Another app of interest is this neat little thing called CodeUp. Created by a 16-year-old, CodeUp is an app that will make you wonder why you survived without it before – available on the Mac App Store – all it does is put a little icon in your task bar. Click on the icon, and it’ll come up with a prompt to paste some code, whether it be Python, Actionscript or whatnot, and click “Paste!”. it’ll send the code to your preferred site (Gist, Pastie or Pastebin), and fetch you a link to the code, put it in your clipboard ready for you to send to someone else to review your code.

CodeUp on Mac App Store

It’s so simple, yet so invaluable that I just HAD to buy it, and it’s much better than having to open up yet another tab in our already-overcrowded web browsers. Coding, which brings me to my third topic of the day.

That is, my organism simulator of excitement! It’s pretty basic, but it’s theoretically extensible to the power of fifty, because it uses Python! (yay python!).
It implements DNA functions, naming conventions and lifespan, as well as reproduction. Enjoy!

Organism Generator on Gist