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itunes

Useful site: iTunes Artwork Finder finds more than artwork

Ever want to grab the cover art for some album? Or have you ever wanted the full-size icon from an iOS app? Or the cover image from a movie or TV show? A podcast’s icon? Ben Dodson hosts an excellent web-based tool that lets you do all that and more: The iTunes Artwork Finder.

Usage is about as simple as it gets: Pick a category, enter your search term, set the geographical region, and click Get the artwork.

Note that this only works for things available from the iTunes Store in the specified region, so you can’t use it to find cover art for that digitized copy of some obscure record you found at an underground music store in New York City back in 1973.

Also note that if you have your own web site, you can host your own artwork finder, as Ben has made the code available for all. I wouldn’t recommend making it publicly available, though, unless you have bandwidth to spare—a single search for “Friends,” for instance, returned about 25 high-resolution images.

Here’s how I set it up on our family’s web site; it’s really easy to do, and it works great:

  1. Download the zipped archive from GitHub.
  2. Create a new folder on your server. I called mine getart.
  3. Upload the two files (php, js) from the archive into the folder.
  4. Add basic HTML tags (html, head, body) to the stub of HTML shown on the GitHub page, and save it as index.html in the same folder. If you like fancy and have time to spend, go ahead and pretty it up with CSS and layout. I just left it bare.

That’s all there is to it; you can now look up artwork by loading http://yourdomain/getart (or whatever you called it) in your fave browser.

Create an iTunes song info window using Keyboard Maestro

For those who aren’t aware, Keyboard Maestro is a macro-creation tool, designed to help you automate routine tasks. But its powers let you do some really cool stuff, not all of which could be classified as automation. Such is the case with this project: Creating an iTunes song info pop-up window.

There are lots of apps out there—including Many Tricks own Butler—that can do this for you, and my Keyboard Maestro version is worse than most of those in many respects. However, I wanted to teach myself more about Keyboard Maestro, and this seemed like a good project with which to do so.

I use Buter’s iTunes pop-up info window, which looks like this:

I wasn’t really interested in the rating or volume controls (though they should be doable), but I wanted to see if I could get the album art and song info in a window via Keyboard Maestro. After some struggles, here’s what I came up with in Keyboard Maestro:

My window is larger by design, so I can have somewhat more visible album art (aging eyes). And I can’t decide on a background color or gradient, so it keeps changing—this was the look when I snapped the screenshot, but it’s since changed again.

Read on if you’d like to know more about Keyboard Maestro, and how I used it to create this iTunes info window. (Note that this write-up assume some familiarity with Keyboard Maestro, though I try to explain each step in the process.)

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Plex and I do not get along

After hearing my The Committed podcast cohosts rave about Plex (a free media server), I thought I’d give it another shot: I’d tried a few months back, but because of the way I store my personal videos (using our own Usher app), it was going to be a big migration project, and I just never got into it. So today, I resolved to try again.

And today, I’m giving up again. I’ve spent the last few hours fighting Plex, and despite the awesomeness of the streaming (it *is* awesome), it’s just not worth the aggravation in configuration and setup—to me, of course. Plenty of others find it works just fine.

But for me, it doesn’t work at all, basically. Here’s a short list of some of the things that bother me about Plex…

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Replace the departed free iTunes Radio with free iTunes radio

In case you missed the news, Apple has now officially ended the free streaming of iTunes Radio. To listen to these stations now, you have to subscribe to Apple Music, which isn’t something I want to use. (If they offered a “use but don’t integrate into library,” I’d subscribe in a heartbeat…but they don’t.)

There are any number of other radio services out there – Pandora, Spotify, etc. But I wanted something that existed in iTunes, as I didn’t want to have to run another app, nor (shudder) use my browser as a radio station front end. Then I remembered that iTunes has a huge—as in tens of thousands—assortment of Internet Radio stations.

I hadn’t looked at internet radio in a long time, as I’d been quite happy with my selection of iTunes Radio stations. But Apple’s move inspired me to take another look, and so far, I like what I’ve found. If you’d like to explore the world of Internet Radio in iTunes, here are a few tips to ease the exploration.

  • Make sure Internet Radio is enabled—open iTunes Preferences, go to Restrictions, and make sure that Internet Radio is not checked in the Disable section.
  • To view the station list, you’ll probably have to click the three dots in the iTunes icon bar and choose Internet Radio from the pop-up menu.
  • To make it simpler to access Internet Radio, select Edit from the three dots’ pop-up menu, and then check Internet Radio:

    From now on, Internet Radio will appear in the iTunes icon bar, alongside Music and Movies, etc.

  • You can add any station to a playlist by dragging it to the left edge of the iTunes window; when you do this, the iTunes sidebar will slide out, and you can drop the station on an existing playlist, or into a clear area to create a new playlist. (Can I just mention how much I hate hidden UI like this? It’s horrid!)

    You can then access these playlists while viewing your Music, where the sidebar can be set to be permanently visible.

  • The audio quality of a station’s stream depends on its bit rate, but by default, that information isn’t displayed. To remedy that, right-click on the header bar (where it says Stream and Comments), and select Bit Rate from the pop-up menu. Once visible, click on that column, and you can sort by bit rate to find the highest-quality streams:

    I find anything down to 128kbps sounds OK on my desktop speakers; below that, things take on a decidedly “AM radio” quality.

I’ve only been playing with Internet Radio for about a day, but I’ve already found a number of stations that are working well to replace those I used in iTunes Radio…and that play more music with less idiotic blathering than Beats 1.

For want of a Play All button in Apple Music

As has probably most everyone else, I’ve started my three-month Apple Music trial. I listened to about an hour’s worth of Beats 1 Radio on the first day, and found it basically forgettable. (All the “Beats 1 worldwide!” voiceovers during songs certainly didn’t help—but I figure they’re doing that to prevent people from recording the high quality stream.)

Anyway, I was most interested in the For You feature, as I wanted to discover music similar to what I liked, but that I may not have heard before. Using my iPhone, I went through the “tell us about your tastes” feature in Apple Music, then switched back to my Mac to look at the For You section in iTunes. There I found an assortment of playlists:

Some I wouldn’t like, some I would, and (most interesting to me), there were some that had stuff I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, this is where Apple lost me…

What I wanted to do, as I looked at this wide assortment of music, was just hit the Play button, and let iTunes navigate the entire selection. But I couldn’t, because iTunes’ playback buttons are all grayed out. Argh!

The only way to listen to these selections is one playlist at a time. But that’s not how I listen to music. I enjoy a broad selection of music across many genres, and very rarely do I listen solely to one artist, one album, or even one genre. Why? Because when I do, I wind up getting burned out on that artist, album, or genre, such that I don’t want to hear it again for a while.

Instead, I just play music, paying no attention to genre, artist, or album. And once I start iTunes playing, it’s typically playing all day without any interaction from me. But if I want to use Apple Music’s For Me, I’ll have to return to iTunes to pick new selections as each selection finishes. Honestly, for something that’s background as I work, that’s too much effort.

In the end, as much as I’d like to use the For Me feature in Apple Music, I just can’t see myself doing it unless Apple adds a Play All (random, of course) button. Please?

Fun with iTunes’ new math

Unlike my previous incidents with iTunes and iOS devices, today’s report isn’t on a sync problem per se.

It’s more like a math problem which then leads to a sync problem. Here’s the tl;dr version: I have an iPad with 5GB of free space, and I cannot add a 1.8GB movie to it, as iTunes eventually tells me it needs another 526MB of space in order to do so.

During the attempted sync of this movie, iTunes displays some horridly bad math skills; just watch the video to see.


Here’s the video at its full size (1164×1056).

I have no idea how to resolve this, short of restoring the iPad, which I’d rather not do. (I’ve already unsynced and resynced everything, in an attempt to straighten out the math, but to no avail.)

Revisiting iTunes/iOS sync issues

After getting my iPhone 6 in early October, I was initially excited by all the cool tech in my new phone. Until I tried to sync it, that is. I eventually got so frustrated that I emailed Tim Cook for help. From that email, I wound up talking to Apple’s engineers, who eventually solved my sync issues—it turns out they were related to duplicates of long-ago-purchased songs.

Welcome to
Sync Hell

And for a while, things were great in iPhone 6 land. Then I ripped a few new CDs, and noticed that they didn’t show up on the phone. Uh oh. Even worse, when I looked at my iPhone in iTunes, the Music section contained hundreds, if not thousands, of the dreaded gray dotted circles.

This seemingly innocent symbol means that the indicated song did not sync—the information about the song made the journey to the phone, but the song itself did not. Argh! Read on to see how I muddled through this issue, with some advice that may, or may not, help you with your own sync issues.

If you don’t want to read everything, here’s a tl;dr version:

  • My iPhone sync issues returned, along with a huge-fake-but-limiting amount of data shown in Other.
  • There’s a known-to-Apple “very slow performance” issue in iOS/iTunes that can make some iPhones sync very slowly (fixes have been made, but not yet released).
  • A factory restore failed to complete until I rebooted the iMac.
  • After the restore, the sync worked, but I still had a huge Other category.
  • After the iOS 8.1.1 update, the huge Other category vanished.
  • I had to manually unsync/resync a number of songs to clear their gray dotted circles.
  • It may help to do a voodoo dance, sacrifice three Nokia phones, and rub your stomach while patting your head before syncing.

Read on for the gory details…except maybe for that last item, which I totally made up.

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Use two CD drives to import multiple CDs into iTunes

I happen to have two external drives connected to my iMac—one that reads and writes the usual mix of CDs, DVDs, etc., and another that includes Blu-Ray playback (but not writing). Today I discovered that you can use both drives at once (sort of) to speed up multiple CD rips. Here’s how it works.

When you have two drives in iTunes, you’ll see one CD icon in the iTunes 12 bozo bar—that’s my name for the row of device controller buttons seen at right.

Click on the CD icon, though, and you’ll see both inserted discs are available:

There really isn’t a trick to using two drives at once in iTunes, other than saying “Yes” when this dialog appears onscreen:

iTunes won’t actually rip both CDs at once, but it will queue the second CD up, and start ripping it automatically when the first one finishes. As soon as you see that changeover, click on the CD icon and switch to the just-imported CD.

Eject the just-imported CD, insert the next CD to rip, and say “Yes” again when iTunes asks if you’d like to import it. Repeat as necessary, until you’re done. I imagine that if you had three CD drives, this would work just as well—I can’t test that assumption, though.

While not fully automated batch ripping, this process does let you make relatively quick work of a stack of CDs—for those of you who (like me) still prefer such relics of a prior age.

A nasty little iTunes/iOS bug may be causing media sync issues

November 18th update: My sync issues returned, but due to a different cause this time. Details in this post.

After complaining to Tim Cook, and separately starting a (now closed) support ticket, it appears that my iOS/iTunes sync nightmare has finally come to an end!

I have not seen a progress bar that busy since the day I brought my iPhone 6 back home. Whatever I tried, iTunes simply would not sync everything in my library. In the end, the problem turned out to be as simple—but as deadly—as this:

In the current version of iTunes/iOS, there’s a bug that only appears when you have duplicates of purchased songs. When encountered, a duplicate of a purchased song will (almost always) cause iTunes to silently stop syncing.

This is a known-to-Apple issue, and it will be fixed in a forthcoming update. I’m fairly certain it’s an iTunes bug, but as Apple didn’t clearly state which it was, I’m calling it iTunes/iOS. Either way, until it’s fixed, it’s a really bad bug.

Here’s what happens: If you have duplicates of purchased songs, iTunes simply silently stops syncing when it hits one of those duplicates. From your perspective, it will look like everything is working—iTunes never throws an error, and it proceeds through all six (or seven or whatever) steps of the sync process, as seen in the status window of iTunes.

But behind the scenes, nothing is happening—at least, nothing relative to syncing your files. As seen by my troubles, this can be incredibly frustrating and hard to fix.

Continue reading to see how I was able to finally (with Apple’s help) get my devices syncing again—the tricky part is finding all the duplicates, because they’re not all obvious. Also note that if you are not having sync issues, I wouldn’t worry about duplicates—no need to endanger what’s already working well!

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An iPhone 6, (no) movies, and me

On Friday, I received my new iPhone 6, which I really like—a lot, in fact. Over the weekend, however, I discovered that my new iPhone does not like iTunes—at least not syncing my movies via iTunes.

Things started great, with the arrival of the new iPhone 6 on Friday afternoon:

From there, though, things didn’t go exactly according to plan…and I documented my progress (or lack thereof) via Twitter over the weekend. Read on for the full story, as told in 140 character increments.

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