I hate ID3 Tags

(A Post for the musically disaffected)

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but for those meager few who don’t, this should be useful. I detest ID3 tags and library interfaces that use them. I spent hours googling for alternatives and turned up virtually nothing, except for a few people voicing their anti-ID3 tag thoughts and getting forum flamed. So I will attempt to put together some lifestyle alternatives for the ID3-hating minority.  This article is skewed towards a Windows audience, as less freedom is usually present amongst proprietary software.

Reasons Why I Have ID3 Angst

1. I’m a minorly-disorganized person who owns way too many CDs. As a result, I can rarely find the CD I want when I want it. I find it’s quicker to just download the CD than to go find the actual physical disc (In my office, in storage, in my car, etc.)

Why is this a problem? No one seems to ever be able to agree – despite internet databases – on how to spell a band’s name. If I load up my music library via ID3 tags, take a look at a few examples of what I get:

Pennywise
PennyWise
pennywise
Penny_wise
etc, etc, etc,

Don’t even get me started on bands with “The” in their name.  If all I want to do is listen to a random play-list of Pennywise’s discography I need to select 5-8 different bands. In what world is this organized? Now if I go into my music folder on my computer I find a file tree like this:

Pennywise
—Full Circle (Album)
——Songs
—Straight Ahead (Album)
——Songs.

So my computer realizes that these albums belong to pennywise and that the songs within each album folder belong to that album, so why can’t my music software recognize (I’m looking at you iTunes).

2. I have CDs I ripped in 2001. This is a problem, I also ripped them with a variety of software, and relied on file tree. ID3-guessing software – ones that use the file name to deduce – get very confused by:

-Track Number, Artist Name, Song Title, Album.mp3
-Track Number, Song title, Artist Name, Album.mp3
-etc.

Now, I could go through and fix these tags and have no complaints, but how long would that take with 105 gigs of music (Maybe 50 gigs is properly labeled).

3. Players that think they are the lord and savior of my music collection. I had heard a lot of great talk about iTunes when it first arrived on the scene. I decided to try it. Now my box sets and compilations are irreparably ruined. Example: My Queen Discography Box Set (I believe it was 15 CDs). The songs were labeled by who was in the band, featured guests, etc. This is useful meta-information when you want to know who’s involved. They were also arranged in folders by year. iTunes decided to help me out, by giving every single song its own folder as a different band. “Queen featuring (Anyone)” is apparently a different band than “Queen” or “Queen Live.” So, needless to say, my perfect chronology became 41 different bands in iTunes. Thanks.

I can actually tell which music predates my installation of the first version of iTunes, because it had the amazing task of helping me out by re-labeling every track with a track number – even if it had one already – sometimes multiple times arbitrarily. My favorite: 06_06_06_Broken_Pennywise_Fullcircle.mp3…sweet.

4. Tiny MP3 players. If I can only fit 18 tracks (usually in the form of a compilation I made) on my MP3 player, why would I want it listed as 18 separate bands in order for me to select the song I want?

Enough Complaining, now some solutions.

I’m not going to list all the wonderful software that exists (as proof of a problem) for repairing and organizing your music library – that’s a topic for another posting. Instead I’m going to tell you some work around for an ID3-tag-free lifestyle.

1. Music Player Software that support file tree interface (this is by no means a complete survey, please let me know your solution.)

  • Amarok (Linux Based)- It has a file browser, but I would not call it elegant. If you’re in linux, however, it is probably your best bet. There is sketchy and buggy implementation of Amarok in Windows via the KDE4windows project. I, personally, cannot wait for this project to reach maturity.
  • Winamp (Windows Based)- Not vanilla support however. Out of the box, it only supports “Media Library,” but there is a wonderful plugin: Dynamic Library. It isn’t free, or OSS, but it is cheap. $10 and you can be eternally freed from ID3 tags on your PC. It functions in a free mode, limiting you to only one watched directory, but if your music is in one directory only it works just fine. I don’t condone this, however, as this man is doing glorious work to free us from the confines of disorder. $10 dollars is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Dynamic Library allows you to move files within their directory, display the live-editable file tree, drag and drop into Winamp’s playlist (you can drag any directory level, album, song, etc.), display tracks in a full directory or sub directory, etc.

I know Winamp isn’t free, either. The only major things they lock, however, are ripping and burning functions. Anyone ripping a CD, in Windows should be using something like CDex anyway. It gives you absolute freedom in your ripping options. As for burning, InfraRecorder is king.

Are there other options? Probably. None that I have managed to find, short of dragging from explorer into a play list in Quintessential player.

2. MP3 Players. Now when I’m out and about, how do I avoid ID3 tag confinement? Rockbox. Free Open Source Firmware. It functions as a file tree, and interfaces with the PC as a removable flash media.

The Good:

-Customizable. Themes, fonts, programs, icons, etc. The play screen can be customized to display/or not display album art. If you don’t like one of the numerous themes available, you can make your own. The instructions are easy to follow and provided on the website.

-File Tree. Yes.

-Sometimes increased usability. Some mp3 players that were not designed to display images can gain the ability to. Other ones, that merely have awful controls and gui for image display, gain a customizable interface.

-Open Source.

The Bad:

-Yes, you have to re-flash the firmware. I’ve installed it 3 or 4 times, if you follow the instructions you won’t brick it. At least, the odds are slim….

-It does not work on every mp3 player. It currently only works on 28 different models. This isn’t really a situation where it will probably work on your mp3 player. More like, you buy an mp3 player off their list when you break your old one by throwing it against the wall in disgust at your chaotic and nonsensical ID3 tag management.

-It doesn’t support DRM content:

No. It is highly unlikely that Rockbox will ever support playback of DRM encrypted audio files.

-Rockbox.com

Some Screens from Rockbox’s site, you can see the potential variation. (My model is not capable of screencapture, all images are (c) their owners [the theme designers and Rockbox.org] ):

So, that’s my rant.  Again, please post your own solutions or workarounds you have found.  This method is not for everyone, but hopefully this will help those who have googled repeatedly for “Music player software file tree” to no avail.

Free Zune Theme for XP – Come to the Dark Side

This has been out for a while, but it’s still worth a mention if you don’t know about it. Microsoft released a black theme for Windows XP last year to help celebrate the launch of their Zune music player. I’m not sure I’ve ever spotted a Zune out in the wild (my university is dominated by iPods), but this theme is pretty slick.

Download link (free):

http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=75078

Installation is simple, and requires no hacking of the uxtheme file (like with most 3rd-party themes). Here’s how it looks:

Lower-Left Corner:

With Start Menu Open:

My Computer:

And the Full Screen:

I didn’t care much for the default background, so I changed it. Here’s my current background-of-the-hour:

I really like this theme. I wish I had known about it earlier. It’s a welcome change from the default XP themes, and I appreciate the simplicity of install.

Have fun.

Note Taking Software for Linux (A Review of NoteCase)

**UPDATE**  This review is of the current build in the Ubuntu Repos, which the author of the software has notified me is out of date, for the most recent release (With several of these issues addressed), download one of the precompiled binaries (available for most any systems) from their website.**UPDATE** (Thanks again for this information).

I believe many people choose to use Linux on their laptops for the simple reason that it works, and works well on low-powered machines. As a student, a low-power machine is the only viable option. Also, as a student, good note-taking software is a must. Before I switched over to Linux, I was an MS OneNote guy. Let me begin by saying that there is no direct equivalent…yet.

The most viable solution currently is NoteCase. While OneNote is like a Nasa-Grade Swiss Army Knife, NoteCase is the scalpel. It does one thing real well, but you wouldn’t want to open a bottle of wine with it. It takes notes, organized in a hierarchical tree and saves them as a single file.

**Edit** This review applies only to the Non-commercial version of the software.  The author of the software has informed me that the program is substantially more robust and powerful in the commercial version.  **Edit**

Let’s Talk Strengths

  1. The interface is very intuitive. You have seen these buttons before. It only takes a minute to figure out how to insert images, or bold text.

  2. Multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. Adding new child nodes can be done by right-clicking in the tree column, or by a pull down for those who like to keyboard and use ALT. I rarely touch the mouse while taking notes.

  3. Very customizable interface. You can set a default text color, size, background, etc. and it will be persistent. You can even set it to open the same file automatically when the program opens. For a student who only needs their single NoteCase file that has a parent node for each course and a child node for each day’s notes, the immediacy of opening the program and being greeted by the last document you used is highly efficient.

  4. Autosave. This is priceless, especially if you are on cruddy battery power that could fail on you at any time. You can set how often it saves.

  5. Autobackup. You choose how many different backup files it saves and where it saves them.

  6. Links. You can add links directly into the document with the push of a button.

  7. Very Low Resource Requirements. This program runs like a champion on a 512 meg, 1.7ghz processor. You could probably open 50 windows at once (Haven’t tried this, but you know what I mean).

  8. Solid Code. I have not had a single crash in over 3 weeks of avid daily use. I’ve inserted Images, Links, and a variety of lengths of text.

  9. Export Function. HTML, TXT, or a stand alone Executable.

Let’s Talk Weakness

  1. Weak font features.

    -Features you have: Bold, Italic, Underline, Strike-through, Text color, Background color.

    -Features it lacks: FONT SIZE. This is a major weakness, but not a deal breaker.

  2. Weak image control features on inserted images.

    -Features you have: Insert PNG or JPG. Resize them at moment of import.

    -Features you lack: Ability to resize post import. Anchor Points (The image is inserted as a giant letter, displacing all text around it.) No option for “Text Surround” of the image. No support for GIF.

**Edit**  Thank you to the author of the software for informing me that this program supports import for any GTK supported Images formats. **Edit**

3. Not enough Export Features. HTML and TXT are great, but I would love a direct to PDF for the sake of universality.

User Options

The User Options are very informative about the limited but powerful potential of the program.

Summary

This program does exactly what it claims to do: Let you take an almost unlimited number of notes, organize them in a tree, and keep them in a single file, or “Case.” It never claims to be a powerhouse, and I think when we meet its limitations we should be asking ourselves if we really want it to be bogged down and bloated by a solution to every situation. Most importantly, it is a rock solid program. I’ve tried to crash it and failed. I would like a few of the smaller features that lacks to be added at a later date, but I don’t feel it needs much more. The font size issue is a big deal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time (as you can change the font size program wide, just not a single word).

If you find yourself with a few too many TXT files of varying types and sizes you should look into this program for precise, near surgical organization.

For installation, I can attest that it is in the Ubuntu Repos. This means that if you run any *Buntu derivative you have access to it (Gos, Mint, etc.). If you use a non-Ubuntu distro please let us know if it is in your Repo.

Sorry Windows and Mac users, this program is only available for Linux. Correction: packages are available for Windows (may require GTK), Mac OS X, and even Open Solaris (thanks Michael!). For non-OSS alternatives to those on Windows and Mac, check out OneNote one Windows, or OMNIoutliner for Mac. I’ve used both and they are startlingly, almost frustratingly bulging with features (and will leave your wallet startlingly not bulging with money).

Dropbox Goes Live – Free 2GB of Synchronized Storage for All!

Dropbox logo

I am pleased to report that Dropbox has fully opened to the public, no more invitations needed! A few weeks ago I reviewed Dropbox (see review) and concluded that it was the online storage service of my dreams. I still hold to that claim.

Everyone who signs up receives 2 GB of storage space. Not only that, you can easily link multiple computers to your Dropbox account and effortlessly keep your files in sync. It’s like FolderShare, but with an online backup element. Yes, it’s a dream come true. 🙂

Clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (beta). There’s even an iPhone client. Here I am installing the Dropbox client on Ubuntu 8.04.

Freshly Installed

As of now, Dropbox is the free storage service that I recommend most to others. If they rollout a “Pro” version with more features and storage, I’d be tempted to upgrade. Still, the free service is excellent.

If you only use one online storage service, I heartily recommend Dropbox.

iPhone 3G

iPhone 3G
iPhone 3G

I just upgraded from a Motorola Razor and bought an iPhone G3. You’ve probably seen your friends playing with their phones, and wow, it is really that cool. I never sucked it up to buy an iPod, so I enjoy the ability to have some music, a calendar, a camera, and a phone all in one little device. Some cynics may quickly point out that it isn’t a good iPod, or the phone sucks, or whatever; they are missing the point. This is an all-in-one thing. That can opener and cork screw on your Swiss Army Knife suck, but THEY WORK. The iPhone is the Swiss Army Knife of technology.

The only “problem” I’ve had so far is that when I bought the phone, it was activated within minutes. My Razor went dead before I had left the store, so I ran home as quickly as I could so I could hook up my phone to my computer. You setup your phone by launching iTunes (weird, I know). It only took a couple clicks and the thing was working. Some co-workers have had trouble with the sensors on the phone and have had to get the phone replaced. I’m wary, but unworried.

When you get an iPhone G3, you can surf the web all day without paying any extra money because you are tapping into the “public” G3 network… sometimes slow, but are you kidding? It’s frickin’ great. I took the subway home today and a gentleman asked me which stop he needed to get off at, and poof, I hit up Safari and Google maps and I told him exactly which bus to take and when he’d arrive within a couple minutes.

I have to stick it to the man and say “AT&T you suck”… seriously… they are getting enough of my money each month between DSL, landline, and a mobile plan. Some places, I could pay rent for less than what I pay AT&T each month. Da–yam!

You can now purchase an iPhone at any Apple Store, AT&T Store, or Best Buy.

File Savr – Another Free 250 GB Storage Account?

If you missed the offer last May for 250 GB of free storage from FileDropper, you may have a second chance. A company called File Savr now has the exact same offer (free premium accounts), valid until September 15.

Signup

If you wish to grab your free 250 GB online storage, use their special link. Though they claim that the offer is for bloggers and Digg users, anyone can register.

FileSavr.com was created as a fresh alternative to sites like MegaUpload and RapidShare. Unlike those sites, we do not reel the user in and make them wait for annoying countdown timers. We do not hide the download link with aggressively placed ads. Our goal is simple, to offer the most basic file hosting and image hosting service so you can share your stuff quickly.

As a thank you to the community we are offering free accounts on FileSavr.com to bloggers as well as members of Digg, Stumble, Reddit, Mixx, Del.icio.us. To get your free account fill out the form below to receive to get $10 monthly account (250 GB) absolutely free. Accounts created before September 15th will have lifetime membership for free. If you like the service we hope you will help us with small donations via paypal.

Offer expires September 15th. WARNING: The service is very slow due to extreme demand right now.

Signing up only requires a username, password, and e-mail address. Painless.

Usage

For all intents and purposes, File Savr is EXACTLY the same as File Dropper. The offer is the same. The interface is the same. The prices are the same. Heck, the only different between the two sites is the logo. It makes me wonder why the people behind File Dropper felt the need to create a re-badged version of their existing site. Let me show you what I mean:

FileSavr Manager

File Dropper Manager

Other than logo, there is no difference. Well, I should mention that File Savr supposedly offers an upload limit of 10 GB, whereas File Dropper limits upload size to 5 GB. So, yes, there is a slight difference.

Admittedly, I’ve had trouble with File Dropper. Every time I try to upload a file larger than 500 MB or so, I receive an error and the upload fails. Perhaps it’s my Internet connection? Perhaps it’s File Dropper? Nevertheless, the result is that I’ve hardly been able to use my account.

Still, between the two, I now have 500 GB of online storage at my disposal. I only hope I’ll be able to take advantage of it.

Act now, and you too can claim 250 GB of space. Just be sure to use their special link. I only hope you’ll have better luck with uploading than I’ve had.

Get Access to Box.net Storage from Ubuntu in Seconds

I’ve had a Box.net online storage account for a few years now. While they only offer 1 GB for free, it’s handy for quickly backing up small important files, such as handouts I create for the classes I teach.

While anyone can log into the web interface at any time, it’s also possible to access your storage space through WebDAV. Here’s how to do it on Ubuntu Linux, though any GNOME-based distro should work the same way.

First, go to the Places menu → click Connect to Server. In the window that spawns, change the Service Type to WebDAV (HTTP).

Enter the following information:

  • Server: box.net
  • Folder: /dav
  • Check the Add bookmark box (so you don’t have to go through this process later)
  • User Name: (optional) enter your Box.net e-mail address
  • Bookmark name: anything you prefer

Click the Connect button, then enter your login credentials in the next window.

I suggest choosing the Remember forever option, unless you are on a shared computer. Voila! You should now have read/write access to your Box.net storage space from within Nautilus. Go ahead and try adding or deleting files.

Quick tip: You can also directly edit files on the Box.net server. In the screenshot below, I’m using OpenOffice on Ubuntu to open a document stored in my Box account.

The only quirk is that OpenOffice spawned a window asking me to provide login credentials again, but after that, it’s just like editing a document directly on your computer (albeit slower).

Tested on Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron.”

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