Avoiding the Chasm

March 30, 2008

MusicBrainz

Filed under: Media, Software — Tags: , — vextasy @ 10:45 pm

MusicBrainz is a community-driven music meta-database. It is almost a Wikipedia of the music world. Content is maintained by a community in which changes have to be approved by a vote before they become permanently accepted into the database and a team of dedicated moderators oversee the whole thing. The words orderly and consistent spring to mind; emphasis is placed on consistency of style (by that I mean, for example, capitalisation and abbreviation conventions) and correctness. In return for their input, community members are rewarded with a great tool for maintaining their own music databases – the tags in their own music collection. The tool is called Picard and is free to download. In acknowledgement of the quality of the database MusicBrainz has now been licenced by an impressive list of customers including MusicIP, The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Last.fm.
MusicBrainz Logo
At some point during the Christmas holiday of 2005 I began the process of ripping my CD collection to allow it to be recalled and replayed in a more controlled manner and to reduce the amount of space that it occupied. I opted to make it visible on my home LAN using a combination of a Linksys NSLU2 (affectionately known as a SLUG) and a 250GB Buffalo DriveStation. The DriveStation is a USB hard drive and the Linksys bridges such a USB drive to an ethernet network. The Linksys will support two drives, although I’ve not needed to use both here.
The nice thing about the Linksys is that it runs Linux and can be customised to perform a number of task in addition to file serving. Both devices sit quietly tucked out of the way in an upstairs room and are directly connected to my wireless broadband router. The Linksys runs the ubiquitous (at least in the Unix world) Samba SMB file server which allows it to look just like a networked PC to other PCs on the home network. Files can be accessed from its drive(s), given the appropriate permission, as if they were on a PC but, of course, there is no fan noise or hot processor or display and so power consumption is at a minimum. The beauty of this arrangement is that they can be left running and so are always available.

I used Windows Media Player to rip the, roughly, 5,700 tracks from CD to mp3 format. Media Player makes a great attempt to tag the mp3 files correctly but for an irritatingly large number of tracks the information is either incorrect or inconsistent. This is where MusicBrainz comes to the rescue. Specifically, MusicBrainz Picard, their free and open source, cross-platform music file tagger.

Picard uses the MusicBrainz database to correctly and consistently tag mp3, wav, vorbis, flac, mpc, mp4 and wma format files. If asked to identify a music CD it will recognise the artist and release based on an analysis of the content of the CD which it uses to construct a unique disc-id which can be compared to known disc-ids in the MusicBrains database (at the time of writing there are approximately 228,000 such known disc-ids). Alternatively, Picard can recognise individual music files by a form of audio fingerprinting and makes a special effort to associate clusters of music files with a particular release or album. If neither of these techniques succeed the GUI allows manual associations to be made with the correct titles from the database.

Once associations have been made, Picard displays the tag information currently stored in the music file alongside the suggested information (from the MusicBrainz database) together with an indication of closeness of fit and allows (selective) correcting of the tags in the music file. Plugins to Picard allow you to pull down cover art of incorporate genre information from Last.fm but I haven’t tried either of these.

Reading Ian Dixon and Ed Bott’s postings on how they organise their music collections made me realise just how many different ways there are to achieve the same outcome. Where I think the MusicBrainz tools score is in the quality of the database that sits behind them.

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March 29, 2008

BBC iPlayer Installation Woes and Success

Filed under: Media — Tags: — vextasy @ 12:02 am

I’ve seen several postings about issues people have had with BBC iPlayer installations and many more posts containing descriptions of attempts to solve these issues. In general, I found that installation on three machines (two Vista and one XP) in the house was very straightforward but did have a problem on one of the three machines, a Vista machine.

I believe my problem may have been caused by running the installation program as administrator but, whatever the cause, the symptoms were that I could download programs with the download manager but when I attempted to play any program by clicking on “Watch Now” the iPlayer would simply silently refuse to do anything. If I modified the iPlayer settings to allow me to use “my default media player” (in my case Windows Media Player) it would also fail to play the video and (if I recall correctly) display a message about being unable to open or find the media.

The solution in my case was entirely related to file and folder permissions and the following steps resolved everything:

  1. Find the folder where the iPlayer stores the downloaded media files. In my case, C:\Users\Public\Videos\My Deliveries\iplayer_live
    This information may be determined from the iPlayer settings page.
  2. Look at the permissions on one of the media files in the folder. The files will have names like 8780437_74568151_Selection_DOWNLOAD.wmv.
    Right click on a file and choose properties->security and check that your username (or everyone) has at least “read & execute” and “read” permission on the file.
    If it doesn’t then it is quite likely that this will be your problem and so continue with the steps below.
  3. On a Vista machine for which the installation worked first time I find that the files have “read & execute” and “read” permission
    for my username and “full control”, “modify”, “read & execute”, “read”, and “write” permissions for my group (Administrators).
    You will need to manually add sufficient permissions to allow you to at least read the file. I think I took the heavy handed approach that
    we all take in times of desperation and applied “full control” to the .wmv and its accompanying .smi file (the file with the same name
    but different file suffix).
  4. Test the file, by either right clicking the .wmv file and choosing “play”, or by clicking the corresponding “Watch Now” link
    in the iPlayer “My Downloads” window.
  5. If the file doesn’t play (allow a suitable startup time) then this isn’t the solution to your problem.
  6. If the file does play, then you will most likely need to perform a similar fix for all of your downloaded programs.

In my case, the real problem lay in the permissions associated with the folder C:\Users\Public\Videos\My Deliveries\iplayer_live.
My solution was to change the permissions on the folder to allow “full control” to “Everyone” and to ensure that such permissions were subsequently inherited by all new files that the iPlayer download manager created in the future.

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