U2 Mastered, Remastered, Deluxe, Confused

Since I got interested in U2 again recently, I’ve started looking into their history of remastering and reissuing their older albums over the last decade. It looks like they remastered and reissued a few old albums in 2008. And they’ve continued to remaster and reissue a handful of other old albums over the years, generally including a “deluxe” format release, usually a 2 CD version with bonus tracks. The most recent reissue is this year’s Joshua Tree. There are four different versions of that: single disc, 2 CD, 4 CD, and 7 LP. (So they maybe overdid that one…) For the older reissues, the deluxe versions are sometimes still available on CD and sometimes not.

Looking at Amazon’s U2 page is a little frustrating. They’re clearly pushing the digital side of things. The deluxe two-disc versions of their first three albums (Boy, October, and War) are all available to stream, which is cool, but I don’t see them available on CD, though I may not be looking hard enough. (The single-disc versions are definitely still available on CD.)

In iTunes, they have a nicely organized U2 page. All (or most) of their studio albums are available in Mastered for iTunes versions. I looked into that a bit, and they seem to have been released earlier this year. And all of the deluxe versions are in there too, though those ones don’t have the “Mastered for iTunes” badge on them. So I’m wondering if those versions use the MFiT files for disc 1 and the older files for disc 2, or if they just didn’t update those at all.

I went down a bit of a hole this morning, reading up on the whole Mastered for iTunes thing. I’d read about it a bit when they first announced it, but haven’t paid much attention to it. Ars Technica has a couple of good articles on it, from 2012, one on the general concept, and one evaluating the end result. I’ve wondered if there’s any advantage to buying MFiT albums from iTunes vs buying the CDs from Amazon and ripping them myself, and I guess I’m still not sure. I probably don’t have fancy enough equipment (or good enough ears) to tell the difference, so I probably shouldn’t worry about it.

But I have noticed that I don’t like the sound quality on some of the older CDs that I’ve ripped recently, including U2’s October and War. I can’t quite figure out if I should buy new versions of those albums, re-rip my CDs with different settings, or just give up and live with it. I definitely don’t want to go too far down an audiophile rabbit hole that ends with me buying a bunch of new stereo equipment! I don’t currently own a working component CD player though, and that makes it a bit harder for me to narrow things down. I keep forgetting that I can play CDs through my PlayStation 3, though, and that’s routed through my main stereo system, so maybe I should give that a try, and compare the sound to MP3s played through my Volumio box.

Memory Playlist

Every time I read one of Warren Ellis’ newsletters, I find myself going down a bunch of paths off into weird music and blogs and stuff. Today, I found myself at Hannah Peel’s Memory Playlist page:

Like a time capsule or even an insurance policy for music… from the present day right back to my earliest memories of my fondest songs and music… so if I was to ever fall into dementia these lasting first songs, embedded into the auditory cortex of the brain, would be a way to reach out and still connect to family.

I like that idea. Tie it together with this essay, and now I’m thinking about how I’m using this blog, and Day One, and my ongoing project to organize my music collection, to organize my own memories.

My recent rekindled interest in Paul McCartney and U2 is, in large part, an indulgence in nostalgia, which isn’t a bad thing (if you don’t overdo it). I’ve also become interested in trying to put together playlists that allow me to listen to artists like McCartney and U2 in a new context, that let me appreciate familiar music in new ways, and that maybe spark some new connections. The Pure McCartney collection that I recently bought does that, a bit. For U2, I’ve been listening to a playlist on Amazon called 50 Great U2 Songs, which is pretty good. (Both of them contain some songs I’d never heard before, and many that I hadn’t heard in a long time.) But I think there’s probably something more interesting that I could put together, maybe mixing in other artists.

I don’t want to fall too far down the “assembling playlists” hole. That can turn into a pointless time sink, if you let it. And it’s really nice out today, so I should probably stop here, and go outside.

Rediscovering U2

I’ve been screwing around with my music library a lot lately, ripping old CDs, copying stuff to my Volumio box, and so on. This has led me to a few points where I’ve gone back to bands I haven’t listened to in years, and rediscovering them. My most recent rediscovery is an old favorite: U2.

I was a huge U2 fan back in the 80s. I even remember when and where I heard my first U2 song. It was on WNEW, on Scott Muni’s “Things from England” segment. The song was their first big single, I Will Follow, from Boy. I specifically remember hearing it on my old “boom box” while sitting in my backyard.

Anyway, that was the start of my U2 fandom, which lasted from Boy (1980) up through Rattle and Hum (1988), with only increasing admiration. Things tapered off a bit with Achtung Baby (1991). I still kept buying most of their albums through the 90s, but my interest waned quite a bit. At some point I guess I lost interest entirely, and it seemed like Bono (in particular) had turned into a parody of himself.

But, as part of my ongoing efforts to consolidate and organize my music collection, I had listed U2 as an obvious candidate for a bit of cleanup. Well, I decided to do that a couple of weeks ago. I looked in iTunes, and saw that I didn’t really have much U2 in there. I had, at some point, ripped the two “best of” collections (80s and 90s). And, of course, I had Songs of Innocence, the infamous free U2 album that everybody got via iTunes, whether they wanted it or not. And a few singles and random songs, but not much else. So I found all my U2 CDs and ripped them all. In total, I have about 18 albums in iTunes now. (Some of them are really EPs or CD singles, but it’s still quite a lot.)

Just picking songs from that collection at random and listening to them, I’m reminded of what I liked about U2 in the first place. And I recently read a couple of pieces from The New Yorker that have made me think about them a bit more deeply. One is about their relationship to Christianity, and the other is about a lapsed U2 fan who rediscovers them (so I’m identifying with that one a bit). Now I kind of wish I’d figured this out earlier, so I could have gone to see them on their current Joshua Tree tour. I’ve never actually seen them live. (Hmm, there are still tickets available for tomorrow night’s show in San Diego, so technically I could still see them on this tour. If I wanted to call in sick tomorrow, and book a last-minute flight to San Diego…)

Somewhere in all this organization, the “completist” bug hit me, and I realized that I’m missing exactly three of their studio albums (Boy, Pop, and No Line on the Horizon). (I probably owned Boy on cassette or vinyl at some point, but never on CD.) So I thought about buying them. But I see that they’re all available on Amazon Prime Music, so I guess I can just listen to them that way and save myself $30. (Though, of course the completist/collector in me won’t be satisfied with that. I must OWN my music!)

Meanwhile, I’m getting interested in their next album Songs of Experience, which should be coming out before the end of the year (probably).

iTunes vs Swinsian

My nit-picking complaints about iTunes 12.7 (see here and here) have led me to start experimenting with Swinsian (on my Mac) and MediaMonkey (on my PC). I’ll get to MediaMonkey in a later post, but I thought I’d write up some notes on Swinsian.

As you can see in the screenshots below, Swinsian does fix my current gripe with iTunes: the browser at the top of the window shows a perfectly reasonable number of rows, by default (vs. iTunes: 3 rows). That browser is also very customizable in Swinsian: you can have between 1 and 3 columns, and you have several options as to what you display in them. The screenshot below shows two columns, for artist and album. You can easily change that to show genre, artist, and album, similar to iTunes.

Another thing I appreciate is that Swinsian has a “large text” option. The default text size was a little too small for my tired old eyes, so I turned that on right away.

Pulling in my music from iTunes to Swinsian was easy. It imported everything, including play counts and playlists. There are a few ways you can set things up, but (for now) I’m leaving my music in the iTunes library and folder structure, and letting Swinsian re-scan the library on startup. This allows me to add music in iTunes, which should then show up in Swinsian the next time I start it up. That arrangement probably makes the most sense for someone like me, since I still want to be able to sync music to my phone from iTunes. (Swinsian can sync to older iPods, but not to iOS devices.)

I only have a few issues with Swinsian, and they’re mostly related to the necessity to keep iTunes going. (If I could abandon iTunes and let Swinsian manage all my music, things would be smoother.) Probably the biggest one right now is that Swinsian doesn’t really distinguish audiobooks as a separate category, the way iTunes does. So all of my audiobooks are intermixed with my music. I’m not sure how to get around that one, or if it’s really that big a deal. If I was fully committing to Swinsian, I’d just leave the audiobooks in iTunes and move the music to Swinsian, and everything would be fine.

I’m also not sure that I like the way it handles “album artists” vs “artists”. It’s got some flexibility on that, but it’s not completely consistent. You can see the issue on the McCartney box set shown in the screenshots below. In iTunes, the track list correctly shows the track artist (sometimes McCartney, sometimes Wings), while in Swinsian, it’s always showing the album artist in the track list (though it does show the correct artist in the detail pane on the right). That’s not really a big deal, but it would be nice if they fixed that.

Going back to my gripe about the top browser view in iTunes, I found a discussion thread related to it on the Apple site today. It kind of sounds like they might recognize it as a bug and fix it in the next release. Here’s hoping!

Making the best of it

I decided to take the train into NYC today to see the new Rodin exhibit at the Met. But I hit a couple of snags with that. (This post probably won’t be interesting to too many people, but it was interesting enough to me that I thought I’d write it all down. Feel free to skip it if you don’t want to read a narrative of “my day in New York”.)

The trip in was not smooth. First, there was track work between Union and Newark, so we all had to get off the train in Union and switch to a bus. I made the best of that by enjoying the scenic drive through Union. We went down Morris Ave, and passed the building where I used to work, a long time ago. The building is still there, surprisingly. And the Mark Twain Diner is still there too, where I ate many cheeseburgers in my youth! (I hadn’t been through Union in a long time, so that was actually fun.)

Then, in Newark, there were no trains running to NY Penn, due to a switching problem. So I took the PATH to WTC. I hadn’t been to the WTC since they opened the Oculus, and had been meaning to take a trip in to check it out, so this was a good excuse to do that. It’s pretty cool; I should try to get in again and spend some more time exploring it.

From there, I took the 4 train up to 86th and walked the rest of the way to the Met. (Of course, the 4 train got held at the Grand Central stop for 15 minutes for no discernible reason.) I didn’t make it to the Met until about 11:30, so the total delay came to just over an hour.

The Rodin exhibit was pretty cool, though maybe not worth a three hour trip, in and of itself. From there, I walked down to the Met Breuer, to see the Delirious exhibit.

On the walk down, I listened to the John Luther Adams Soundwalk 9:09 piece that he wrote for the opening of the Breuer last year. I’d been meaning to listen to that on the walk from the main Met to the Breuer, since the Breuer first opened, but I never got around to it until now. It’s definitely an interesting experience. (I listened to the “downtown” piece today. Now I need to take the walk in the opposite direction, and listen to the “uptown” piece.)

From the Breuer, I was initially planning on going down to MoMA. There’s not much going on there right now, but I figured it was a good spot to grab lunch and maybe sit outside in the sculpture garden for a bit. I didn’t want to walk all the way down, so I hopped on the M4 bus. When we got near MoMA, though, there was a big police presence for some reason, and a lot of barricades up, so I decided I didn’t need to deal with that and stayed on the bus.

I got off the bus in front of the NY Public Library on 42nd St, and decided to pop in. It’s only open from 1 to 5pm on Sunday, and it was around 2pm when I got there, so my timing was pretty good. I’ve never been in that “main branch” building before, and I’ve always meant to check it out, so I did. It’s a really cool building, and there’s some nifty stuff in there. I wish I’d come on a day when the gift shop had been open though. I saw a few things through the window there that looked cool.

The trip back home from there was relatively uneventful. I walked from the NYPL back to Penn Station with a brief stop at Midtown Comics.

The trains between NY Penn and Newark were running on-time again, so that was OK. I had to do the bus from Newark to Union, but it wasn’t a big inconvenience. Overall, I got home a bit later than I’d intended to, but still reasonably early.

So, as trips go, it didn’t go quite as planned, but I got to do some interesting stuff that I’d been meaning to do, and had a pretty good time.

Equifax, iTunes, and some alternatives

There are a number of links I could post as follow-ups to my post on Equifax, but I’ll stick with just one: You Can’t Protect Yourself from the Equifax Breach, from TidBITS. The headline pretty much sums things up.

And an unrelated article from TidBITS on iTunes 12.7. Everybody is talking about removing support for apps and ringtones, but nobody is talking about the annoying change to the genre/artist/album browser in the “songs” view, which I mentioned in a previous post. Since then, I’ve found that it’s happening in both the Windows and Mac versions of iTunes, so that pretty much confirms that it’s intentional, rather than a bug. (And I guess it doesn’t bother everyone else as much as it bothers me…)

This one little thing is finally pushing me to seriously consider iTunes alternatives. Which got me thinking about what my use case is for iTunes these days anyway, and how I could maybe rethink and rearrange things.

First, I do rely on iTunes on my Mac to sync my iPhone and iPad. It’s still useful to backup those devices, and to sync down a subset of my music library, some audiobooks, and other stuff. So I’ll definitely keep it around for that. I use it occasionally to listen to music or watch videos, but not that often really. I could consider installing a secondary app for playing music and managing my music library, like Swinsian, but it’s not really necessary.

On the PC, I keep what I consider my “master” music library in iTunes. It’s around 67 GB right now. (And the “TV Shows” folder in iTunes is 340 GB, while the Movies folder is 21 GB.) The Windows version of iTunes, for me, is slow to start up and a bit sluggish in general. Aside from using it to keep my music library organized, I also use it to play music (but only occasionally), rip CDs, and burn CDs. I rarely use it to watch video content; I generally use the Apple TV for that.

So I’m thinking about a few things on the PC side. First, I can probably just delete all the TV shows and movies in my iTunes library, if I want to clear up some disk space. In the old days, you needed to have a local copy of a video file to watch it. Now (for iTunes content) you can just stream it from the cloud to your Apple TV, and it’s fine. Second, I could probably remove some of the music from my iTunes library if I wanted to get that down to a more manageable size. I have a bunch of old tracks from these giant SXSW torrents that they used to do (about 3 GB from 2005 and 6 GB from 2009). It’s cool to have all those random tracks in my library, but it does make it a little harder to find the music that I’ve actually bought and paid for. So maybe cleaning up TV, movies, and some old music would help speed up iTunes.

Beyond that, if I want to try a different software program to manage my music on Windows, I could look at MediaMonkey, which comes in free and paid versions. It handles a lot of the stuff I need to do, like ripping and burning CDs, in addition to the main task of organizing and playing music. Or there’s MusicBee, which is free, and handles many of the same things as MediaMonkey (with the exception of CD burning). Or Clementine, which is free and cross-platform (but doesn’t have CD ripping or burning, as far as I can tell).

So MediaMonkey is probably my best bet. From what I’ve read, I can try that out without screwing up my iTunes setup at all, so maybe I’ll do that and see how it goes.


Today’s Apple Complaint

Yesterday’s big announcement about the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X and all that stuff was very impressive, but my main Apple concern right now is, yet again, annoying iTunes changes. (See also here.) Every time Apple changes iTunes, they make it worse.

This version’s main annoyance is the removal of the iOS app store and iOS app management from iTunes. Yep, you can’t buy or browse apps from within iTunes anymore, and you can’t sync app updates down to your iPhone or iPad the old-fashioned way anymore. This bugs me a lot because I’ve recently had to sync app updates to my iPad via iTunes, due to some over-the-air updates getting stuck. So I guess I’ll have to figure out why those updates were getting stuck now, instead of just working around it. Oh well.

As to removing the ability to browse the app store within iTunes, that wouldn’t bother me too much if they replaced it with a decent web-based app store. (But they’re probably not going to do that.) Right now, you can view web pages for iOS apps (like this one), but you can’t really do anything with them. You can’t log in to your iTunes account and buy an app, or write an app review, or manage in-app subscriptions, or anything even vaguely useful.

This other big issue is that, in the “songs” view, the top part, where you can browse by genre, artist, and album, is now sized so it only shows three rows. You can drag it down so it’s a more useful size, but the resizing doesn’t stick, so you have to do it every time you go back into iTunes. (Heck, I just checked, and it doesn’t even stick if you just switch to another view, then back to “songs.”) Really, why would they do that?

So that’s my cranky-old-man complaint for the day. Hope you enjoyed it!

Paul McCartney, one more time

I went to see Paul McCartney last night at the Prudential Center in Newark. This was the fifth time I’ve seen him live (see here for a list of previous concerts). I bailed out early, so I could make the 11pm train back home. I guess there was a time when I would have stayed through the whole thing, taken the 12:30am train, and still made it to work the next day, but that’s not how my body works these days. (In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in some pain at work today…)

Looking at this set list, I see that I bailed out near the very end of the main set. Staying for the encore would have been cool, but I don’t see anything there that I haven’t heard live before.

The last time I saw McCartney (just last year), I assumed it was probably the last time I’d see him live. So I don’t want to say that this was the last time I’ll see him live. But it probably was. He’s got to stop touring at some point, right? I mean, Sgt Pepper came out fifty years ago! Honestly though, I think I’ll be too old to get out and see him before he’s too old to get on stage and play for three straight hours.

Len Wein RIP

As reported by Mark Evanier, and many others, Len Wein has passed away. I wasn’t going to write a post about this, since I didn’t think I had much to add, but then Kurt Busiek posted a few pages from various Len Wein stories to Facebook, including the one below. It’s from “Never Say Die!”, a 12 page story from Adventure Comics 466. I bought that issue off the newsstand when it came out, in 1979. At that time, DC was publishing Adventure as one of their Dollar Comics. Basically, it was a 64-page anthology title, with stories featuring Flash, Aquaman, Deadman, and the JSA.

I remember enjoying all of the stories in that issue, but the Deadman story really stuck with me. In it, Deadman sees an old man preparing to commit suicide, and intervenes. (There’s a good synopsis of the plot on the wiki page I linked above.) It’s the kind of story that (at the time) probably couldn’t have been published outside of an anthology title. It was a little too weird and a little too dark. (The story can be found in Deadman Book 4, by the way, which includes his other Deadman stories from Adventure Comics.)

I’d forgotten that it was written by Wein, but I never forgot that story. I don’t remember any details about the other stories in that issue, or really in very many other comics that I bought around that time. This was probably one of the first comic book stories I read that broke the mold of the typical Marvel/DC 70s superhero story, which was the only thing I’d been exposed to, up to that point. (In a few years, of course, I’d be reading Cerebus and Love & Rockets, and I’d have a much more expansive view of the kind of stories that could be told in comics. But I digress.)

I’ve never really thought about Len Wein as being one of my favorite writers, but when I look at some of the comics I was reading and enjoying as a kid, some of the best of them were written by him, including this one. His Batman writing was also really good, including the Untold Legend of the Batman mini-series with John Byrne, and other stories that can be found in his Tales of the Batman volume.

RIP Jerry Pournelle

I just noticed the news that Jerry Pournelle has passed away. I was a big fan of his old BYTE column. Since BYTE went away, I’ve been an occasional reader of his blog, where he continued the same kind of writing that he did for BYTE. (Plus a lot of random stuff that wouldn’t have made sense in BYTE, much of which was interesting.) I haven’t read too much of his SF, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read, and I’ve always meant to read more of it.

The kind of writing I do here on my blog, when I’m writing about computing, has definitely been influenced by the way Pournelle wrote, both in his BYTE column and his blog. (Just to be clear, while my writing style might be influenced by Pournelle’s, I’m not nearly as good a writer, of course.) I often write from what I might call the “power-user” point of view, writing about my own experiences using a particular software package or piece of hardware. I’m not writing a review or anything even vaguely formal. I’m just writing an account of my own experience, with the benefit of applying some useful perspective, hopefully, and an informed opinion, honed over many years of messing with computers.

I don’t see too much of that kind of writing on the web anymore. (And I don’t see it in magazines, since there aren’t any magazines left covering general computing the way BYTE did.) There are SF authors with great blogs, like John Scalzi and Charles Stross, and of course plenty of hardware/software/gadget blogs, but nobody quite like Jerry Pournelle.