Tag Archives: Software

Snowtape Rocks Version 2

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Vemedio has recently released a new version of Snowtape, taking it to version 2.0. This is a significant upgrade and, in my opinion, pushes Snowtape further ahead of Radio Gaga. In my original look at the two apps, I gave Snowtape the edge but it wasn’t a huge edge. By adding functionality that was in Radio Gaga and extending it, Snowtape now sits alone for me.

Contrary to the announcement e-mail, I found that the upgrade costs USD $16.50 (a mere 0.50 difference, but…). The installation was quick and did not destroy the previous version. So, what have they added?

  • Support for editing in whatever format you choose to record (no reencoding). The editor has been seriously enhanced to make it more full featured.
  • Scheduled recordings
  • Multiple recording streams
  • Last.fm support, including scrobbling
  • Smart channel lists and playlists
  • Streaming to Airport Express and Apple TV

Interface

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The interface has been cleaned up a little. I like that the details window along the right now shows the options available if the stations has multiple streams. It’s a bit cleaner and easy to quickly choose your preferred format/bit rate.

Setup

Preferences have changed quite a bit, to accommodate the new functionality.

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The recording preferences are greatly enhanced. The three new filters are just what I had been hoping for. The ability to filter commercials, partial recordings, and dupes?? I am totally in!

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Here you can select your preferred streaming format now, as well as putting a limit on your simultaneous recordings, if you would like.

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And if you’re a Last.fm fan, they’ve got you covered. It enables scrobbling and also provides access to a Snowtape scrobbler’s group.

Scheduling

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A new feature for Snowtape, is the ability to schedule recordings. Pick a station and then select the menu option “New Recording Schedule from Selection.” You can select a specific date, Everyday, or Weekdays. Set a time and a duration. You can do this for as many stations as you wish and they will record simultaneously in the background, bandwidth permitting.

Lists

Snowtape now supports Channels and Playlists. Each supports standard (manual) and Smart versions. Of course, the manual versions mean that you will create the list and then drag contents to it. The smart channel will find stations based on filter criteria.

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The first selection criterion allows you to decide whether the other criteria are an ALL or ANY filter. The next options allow you to select based on:

  • Name
  • Genre
  • Best Bitrate
  • Country
  • Language

Depending on the option, you’ll have different comparison operators from which to choose. In the case of bitrate, you have several hardcoded comparisons.

  • 32
  • 64
  • 96
  • 128
  • 160
  • 256

The Smart Playlist is similar. Playlists operate on songs that have been recorded and are currently in your Snowtape database.

This gives you a flavor of the enhancements made to Snowtape. I like the new functionality. The app seems a bit faster, the interface is better, and the new stuff brings much of what you can get in Radio Gaga. The one thing that Radio Gaga provides that I haven’t found in Snowtape 2 is the ability to filter recordings (meaning, the ability to record only certain songs or artists). This is nice functionality but it’s a bit like hunting for a needle in a haystack; my results have been less than spectacular…

I haven’t looked at the “professional editing” now provided in Snowtape because I haven’t had a need for it. Please feel free to post your opinion for others!

If you’re in the market to enhance your music library, it’s my opinion that Snowtape 2 is an excellent tool.


I Needs Me Some Focus

The Internet is an ocean teaming with distraction after distraction, as is the computer you’re sitting near right now. You can easily lose sight of your daily goals when the siren songs of diversion begin. Today we look at two different apps aimed at keeping your inattentive mind on task. To be honest, it might not be fair to call this a showdown because they have different philosophies and approaches aimed at keeping you out of the swamp.

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The two products are Concentrate by Rocket and Vitamin-R by Frank Reiff.

Sameness

First, the similarities. Both apps encourage you to work in short bursts of time, similar to the Pomodoro Technique (which Vitamin-R adheres to more closely). You set a work interval and can attach sounds or voice to the interval (for example, an encouraging statement or a reminder to stay on task that repeats regularly throughout the time block). Both allow you to hide distractions, while you’re supposed to be focused. Both provide a countdown clock so you can see where you are in your time interval. Once you get past these similarities, the two apps begin to diverge.

Differentness



To cut to the chase, Concentrate is the nun with the ruler, hovering over you and keeping you honest. Vitamin-R is the motivational speaker, providing tools for you to set goals and helping you to break those goals into bite-sized chunks.

Concentrate

Concentrate is all about controlling your environment because you don’t have the willpower to to avoid the distractions yourself. When you start it, you’ll see the main activity screen.

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From here, you can begin a concentration session, edit an existing activity, or create a new activity. Basically, an activity is a set of applications and actions combined for a specific task or project.

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From this window, you begin to shape the environment in which you want to work. Along the left side are the different actions that you can link to this activity. For example, you can see that I have created an activity called “Blogging” which, when initiated, opens the three apps I use most while working on this site. Once those apps are launched, you tell Concentrate what to do with the other apps. You can:

  • Hide all other apps
  • Quite all other apps
  • Do nothing

For the purpose of testing, I took advantage of several other options. I told Concentrate to close the DVD Player, block any social networking or video sites, set my Adium status to “Away”, and give myself friendly little reminder:

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As you can see from the edit window, there are other actions that I could have taken advantage of but did not. You then set the size of the time interval along the bottom of the window.

In my testing, Concentrate worked as advertised. Applications were properly opened and closed, statuses were properly set, and distracting websites were successfully blocked. When the session ended, everything was set back to the pre-session conditions.

To simplify setup, there are two group types that you can define.

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You define domain groups to limit your access to the Internet. Since the blocking is based on IP address, you may or may not have success blocking sub-domains (depending on how those sub-domains are defined). You define application groups to link together those applications most commonly used for one or more activities.

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When a session is activated, Concentrate becomes your little gatekeeper, keeping you out of applications or websites that might otherwise keep you from your duties. Once the session is ended, it lets you out of the headlock and you are free to go about your business. If you struggle with staying focused and need a little tough love, Concentrate serves that purpose well.

Vitamin-R

Vitamin-R is a whole different animal. It trusts you to stay focused because it believes you are a goal-centered machine. It will hide apps from view but that’s about it. You can activate any program you want, hidden or not, and no website is off limits. Instead, it provides the tools you need to (in GTD fashion) clear your mind of all those tasks that can be distracting you, focus on one of those tasks, and, if necessary, break that task down further into actionable steps.

One of the tools that Vitamin-R provides is the Now & Later Board. The board can be activated via hot keys, with each of its four boards having its own specific keys. The intent of the board is to provide a space for getting everything recorded so that you can stop worrying about things you might forget and instead focus on small, precise, achievable tasks.

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Now — This is the repository for your current “working memory.” Put those thoughts here that are related to the active task.

Later — This is the place for all of those other things you keep thinking about; those things that need to get done but don’t need to get done right now.

Scratch — As you would expect, this is a place for you to type anything else crossing your mind; anything unrelated to the other categories.

Objective — Your current objective goes here. It serves as a reminder of where your focus should be.

When it’s time to activate a time slice (the Vitamin-R term for your work interval), Vitamin-R will lead you through the process of defining your objective, hiding distractions, and setting the time limit.

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Your objective is text but you can have Vitamin-R read it to you. When you are ready to eliminate distractions, pay attention to the buttons along the right side; they are what will determine what happens to the active applications. Hiding the apps does nothing more than that. You could ⌘-Tab and bring them right back. Finally, you establish the length of the time slice and start your session. Since Vitamin-R keeps a log of all your time slice events, you can also set your motivation and resistance levels before starting the session. When the session ends, you are asked to evaluate your time slice.

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This information also goes into the log. You can then look at the relationship between motivation, resistance, focus and success. When the session is over, you have the option to take a fixed time break or an open ended break. In the Vitamin-R philosophy, the breaks are just as important as the time slice sessions. Make sure you take a few minutes to refresh, clear your mind, and look off in the distance.

Finally, Vitamin-R provides two additional concepts: Breadcrumbs and priming. Breadcrumbs are little tidbits of information that you need to record as a session is ending. They are meant to act as seeds/reminders for the next session, so you don’t spend too much time trying to remember what you need to do next. Priming is a means for dealing with potential obstacles in future tasks. The idea is that you record information about these obstacles and then let your subconscious mind work on ways to overcome those obstacles.

Which to Use?

If you’re a left-brained, type-A personality, Vitamin-R is probably your tool. If, however, you are more right-brained and are easily distracted by shiny things (like me), Concentrate will help you stay focused. An app that combined the features of both of these programs would be ideal for me. Given the rate at which updates are pushed out for Vitamin-R, perhaps that is a possibility.


Snag-bagging Songs on the Sly

Having a large music selection is a great thing. If you’re looking to evoke a certain mood, nothing works as well as music. With apps like iTunes, that allow you to generate Smart Playlists, you have a very flexible means for matching almost any mood…assuming you have the collection to back it up. You can build up your collection with the iTunes store or Amazon, but even at $1/song or $5/album, the costs build up quickly. This brings us to two programs that seek to help you build your music collection using Internet radio.

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Radio Gaga and Snowtape are two apps that help you build your music library from a wide variety of internet based radio stations. Each has its strengths and each would serve the purpose for a different group of people.

Interface

When it comes to the interface, neither program screams sexy but both are clean and relatively intuitive.

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Radio Gaga has an interface that is a little more attractive. By using buttons or frames, you get a graphic representation of the genres available. Double click on a genre frame to see a listing of the stations. The lower left corner has a controller and there is also a mini-controller available.

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Snowtape is a bit more utilitarian. It also allows you to select based on genre, but without the pretty icons. It provides an additional link that allows you to buy a song that you are listening to in iTunes. This can be handy if you’re trying to support a specific artist or you have found a song that you want to get in pristine condition.

Radio Stations

Both apps provide a large collection of stations. They both will allow you to add stations via a URL or by dragging it from iTunes. Snowtape can go a bit further and can also load based on a playlist. Below is a listing of the genres available, as well as the number of stations/genre at the time that I was gathering the data.

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In terms of station volume, Radio Gaga is the clear winner. However, bear in mind that many of the Radio Gaga stations that make up this huge selection are operating below 128 kbp. Those stations are great if you’re running with limited bandwidth. If you have a high-speed connection, the stations below 128 kbp sound like crap. If you’re using the app as a radio, it might be ok. If you’re trying to capture songs, forget it. The recordings will sound like an AM radio playing in a big metal cabinet.

As internet radios, the apps are pretty evenly matched to me. You may find a genre more readily in one app over the other (if you want Metal or Disco, you’ll have an easier time with Radio Gaga) but the both allow you to play and add stations.

It’s at this point, though, that the apps head down different evolutionary paths, which we’ll get to soon.

Setup

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Here you can see the setup options for Radio Gaga. Pretty straighforward stuff. It does let you limit recording based on available hard drive space, which makes a lot of sense for Radio Gaga, as we’ll see.

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Snowtape is more integrated with iTunes (allowing recommendations), has hot keys, permits you to set the format for recordings (AAC or MP3–various quality levels), limit bandwidth, and will let you use your Touch or iPhone as a remote (another point we’ll get to soon).

Recording

Both apps will let you record to your heart’s content and both will export the songs to iTunes with whatever tagging info is provided by the station. Radio Gaga does not provide the option to set the format (it saves to MP3) while Snowtape allows you to choose from four levels of AAC or three levels of MP3.

Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga provides more flexibility in recording. It allows you to set a schedule for recording (as long as the app is running). It allows you to filter for specific words in an artist name or song title. It also allows you to record multiple streams at once.
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This screen shows that Radio Gaga organizes recordings by day. You can play the songs from here and you can export to iTunes from here. As mentioned, it only exports MP3 to iTunes.

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Here you can see how the scheduling works. You select one or more stations and then pick a menu option to “Record On Schedule.” You control the date, the length of time for recording, and on which days it repeats. This can be very handy if you have a particular radio show you want to catch.

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The limitation here is to an artist name or song name. As a test, I selected several rock stations and filtered on the band “The Kinks.” I selected several comedy stations and filtered on “Hedberg” to see if I could get Mitch Hedberg recordings. In fourteen hours of recording, I got one Kinks song and no Mitch Hedberg. Your mileage may vary. To be honest, I’m ambivalent about this capability. If I had a song that I desperately wanted, and I felt like having the app running all the time, I might use this functionality. I’m typically not that patient and I’ll have to think about any songs I might want that could be hard to find. Since I don’t know of any compelling Internet radio shows, the scheduling doesn’t do much for me either. For the right person, this seems like an excellent set of options that Snowtape does not provide.

Snowtape

Snowtape provides no scheduling or filtering capabilities. It cannot record multiple streams. What it does differently is: it finds artwork for the song and it allows “overlap recording.” Why is this important? Both programs do a decent job of getting the songs. The problem is that they key off the tagging information provided by the station. If there is a lag between the beginning/end of the music and the sending of the tag info, you may lose part of a song or may get extra. With the overlap feature, Snowtape will add 5 seconds to the beginning and end of recordings. You should be less likely to lose part of a song if you enable this option.

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This screen shows a selection of songs that have been recorded, along with the artwork that was captured. Don’t like the artwork? Pick a song, then hit the “Change Album Artwork” button. You’ll get this window:

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From here, you can select something else that suits your fancy. Of course, if you’ve picked up Pollux or TuneUp (Song Scrubber Showdown, Song Scrubber Showdown Updated, Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp, Pollux vs. TuneUp Update), this isn’t terribly useful or relevant.

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In recognition of the fact that this recording ability is not perfect, Snowtape provides an editor. When used in conjunction with the overlap function mentioned above, this provides your best bet of getting a full song by letting you record the extra and then delete if before exporting to iTunes.

Final Thoughts

I can’t really pick a winner on this one. Both apps provide an excellent means of beefing up your song library. Snowtape gets you the artwork and gives you a better shot of getting the whole song. Radio Gaga provides much better tools if you have radio shows you want to grab or if you want to go on hunting trips for specific artists or songs. Which product you choose will depend on your needs. Both will meet your needs but in different ways. If you want to stream to an Airport Express, Snowtape is your choice. And, if you do so, it will allow you to use your iPhone or Touch as the control, much like iTunes does. Here is a final matrix for your consideration.

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In researching this, I saw that Snowtape is on sale “this week” for 50% off. Since it says “this week” and doesn’t actually set an end date, I don’t know how long the offer will last. To me, Snowtape has a slight edge in this contest. At $14.95, it looks even more attractive.


MetaX — Video Tagging

After going through the music tagging showdown, my iTunes library looks fantastic. Cover flow seems so much better when the real art work is presented and smart lists are certainly much more effective with proper tags. Then, one day, I looked at the movies section of my iTunes library and realized that I hated seeing random shots from the movie as the display.

This reminded me that I had gotten a product called Multiplex in a Mac software bundle.

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It’s a nice app. The interface is very clean and it integrates well with Amazon to get covers and supporting movie info. The problem for me is that there is no integration with iTunes, so updates made in Multiplex do not find their way to iTunes. Multiplex wants to be your front end for tracking and viewing your movie collection. This is great if your Mac is your primary means of watching your movies. For me, I want to stream the movies to a TV or put them on my Touch for travel. Although streaming is on the road map for version 1.2 of Multiplex, it isn’t there yet. Version 1.1 came out in September 2009, so I don’t know how active development continues to be on the 1.2 version. So, nice as it is, Multiplex does not meet my needs.

This lead me on a search for something else. That search led to MetaX. A huge selling point for MetaX is that there is no selling price! Free is good if the product works and, after some time spent in SERIOUS frustration, I can confirm that it does indeed work–and it works well once you get the hang of it.

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When you drag or add a file to MetaX, it begins to do a search of TagChimp. The contents of the search box will be the “Name” tag. If your name includes extra data, like the track number, season information, etc., you may need to clean it out to get results. The first entry under the search box will contain the existing tag data for the file you’ve added to MetaX. Below that, you’ll find the search results. Look at each one. When you find one with the artwork and tag information you like, double-click it or hit the “Toggle” button in the menu. Click the “Write” button and MetaX will write the updated tag and artwork to your iTunes library.

If the search doesn’t find artwork you like, you can click the “Movie Posters” button. A drawer will slide out with any movie posters related to your movie.

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Pick the poster you like by clicking it and it will update the artwork in the MetaX main window. If you still don’t find anything, you have several more options. You can use “Frame Grabber” to snag a shot from the video to serve as your artwork. You can use “Scan” to scan the barcode on the DVD case and then MetaX will use the barcode to find the tag details. Personally, I was not able to get a scan, even if I pulled the cover sheet out of the glossy plastic case. Finally, you can activate the IMDB browser to find information. This gives you the most thorough collection (TagChimp seems to cover new movies and classics well but is less effective with older movies). Unfortunately, with this option, you have to copy/paste or select/drag on a field by field basis.

Note that it also allows you to process multiple files, to add the movie to iTunes when it is done tagging, and permits the use of preset data (useful if you’re tagging multiple episodes of a TV series). If your video library needs cleanup, MetaX is a useful tool.


Song Scrubber Showdown Updated

I have added a few more screen shots and additional comments to the original showdown posting. You can find it here:

https://mgrego2.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/song-scrubber-showdown/


Pollux vs. TuneUp Update

So, you’ve been sitting there on pins and needles, checking the site on breaks, gnashing your teeth when you weren’t on break…

I know this because my web page views have spiked at eight and how many breaks can the two of you possibly have?

The refrain that pounded in your brain was, “I wonder where mgrego2 is with his comparison of the song scrubbers? Oh, yeah, and what about global warming/non-warming/rain/not-rain/snow/not-snow?”

Did your brain see the end of that last sentence as snot-now?

Anyway, the work continues and I’ll share some thoughts.

I have continued to work with CoverScout, Pollux, and TuneUp. SongGenie? Nope. SongGenie can kiss me in places no mortal has ever seen. It is dead to me.

I bit the bullet and picked up TuneUp while I could get the discount. Then, I started comparing TuneUp and Pollux some more. No tables or charts this time.

My process was to switch iTunes to the mode where you view albums in a grid. I would select an album and then have Pollux identify it. If I didn’t like the results, I would undo them and then drag the album to TuneUp. If I thought they were OK, I would still drag the album to TuneUp and compare. The result is that none of these programs are flawless. It is clear that TuneUp remains more accurate than Pollux and, based on my limited experience with SongGenie, more accurate than SongGenie. My confidence in TuneUp has gotten to the point that I use it as my baseline for the other programs; It continues to pull up results that are more accurate than Pollux. And, it gives multiple cover art options, as opposed to the one cover you get with Pollux. However, to the credit of Pollux, TuneUp doesn’t provide an “Oh Shit” button and Pollux does. Of course, there is the possibility to save the results one at a time, rather than all at once, so maybe you should have been more careful before hitting the “Save All” button in TuneUp. The bottom line is that TuneUp isn’t perfect either. Software is written by peeps and peeps ain’t perfect.

My experience was that Pollux is generally correct. However, it was wrong often enough to make me a little uncomfortable. TuneUp pulled up better art work, provided better genre tagging, and was much faster. CoverScout? It actually has turned out to be useful as a means of finding BETTER cover art. When you select an album in CoverScout, it tells you the current size in pixels and shows what it looks like. It then finds other art work. I found that I could, based on the star rating that CoverScout provides, grab better art work than any covers that are at 150×200, 200×240, or whatever. So, it has actually served its purpose. Would I spend the asking price for that functionality? Hell no. And, it should be noted that I cleaned out the CoverScout directory after generating the chart. It’s now back up to 663 MB. There IS something that grows faster than my gut.

So far, TuneUp is maintaining its edge. I could live with Pollux but the genre tagging sucks and I would never feel fully confident in the results I’m getting. If it were my money, and it was, I would go for TuneUp. Since I own them all, I’ll probably continue to pull up CoverScout whenever I’m not happy with the cover art (but then, only when I’m confident that the cover art I currently have is correct but suboptimal). I will use TuneUp for the heavy lifting and then switch to Pollux to snag my lyrics. I mean, really, for years I was singing things for “Blinded by the Light” that were just plain WRONG!!!!!!!!

I’d be very interested in seeing the opinions of others.


Genre Tagging — Pollux vs. TuneUp

Maybe I’m more anal than I thought. Since putting the song scrubber comparison together, the genre tagging has begun to eat at me more. I mean, if you ever want to take advantage of Smart Playlists, it would be helpful to have decent genre tagging, right? Trying to evoke a certain mood is going to fail miserably if the bulk of your tags are the same general value! With that in mind, I decided to put together a table that compares the tagging produced by Pollux and TuneUp. What you’ll see is that Pollux is, for the most part, very generic. TuneUp, on the other hand might be too granular.

Below is the table. I tried to cross a variety of genres to give a representative sampling of the tagging that takes place. My process was:

  1. If the song already has a genre, clear it.
  2. Use Pollux to update the tags.
  3. Record the value from Pollux.
  4. Undo the tag update in Pollux.
  5. Drag the song into TuneUp.
  6. Record the value from TuneUp.

You can be the judge for yourself. For me, erring on the side of too granular seems more useful.

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Update

Apparently, the EYES of TuneUp is everywhere! Tiffany from TuneUp Media posted a comment that linked to a method for controlling the level of genre tagging in TuneUp. I have looked for similar functionality in Pollux but don’t find it. For the record, it is under preferences.

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If you right-click on the TuneUp window, you get a pop-up that allows you to set preferences. Under the “Clean” tag you’ll see that there are three levels of genre assignment. Although it isn’t clear how the levels are determined, you can certainly loosen up (or tighten down) the number of genres available from Level 2 (the level at which the above table was generated). Thanks, Tiffany!


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