audiobook management madness

Since I recently finished listening to Invisible Man, I thought I’d look into starting a new audiobook. I blogged about my issues with Invisible Man here. In a nutshell: it’s an Audible book, but I couldn’t get the Audible iOS app to work. I wound up listening to it through the Kindle iOS app, which was workable, but not great.

I have a pretty random collection of audiobooks. Some are from Audible, some are from Apple, and some are DRM-free books that I’ve gotten from Humble Bundles, or ripped from CD, or whatever. In trying to organize things a bit today, I wound up stumbling across a number of different issues, so I thought I’d write up some notes.

I started out by trying to get a handle on which audiobooks I have, which I’ve already read, and where they are. I have some notes about that in Evernote, but they were a little out of date. So I pulled up the Books app on my Mac to see what was in there.

I already vaguely knew that, in Catalina, books and audiobooks had been moved out of iTunes (obviously, since iTunes is no more), and into Books, but I guess I hadn’t looked at it too closely and realized how clunky that was and how much functionality has gone missing. First of all, the books are now stored in “~/Library/Containers/”. And there’s no right-click “Show in Finder” option like there used to be in iTunes. So finding the actual book files isn’t easy. And the folder doesn’t retain user-friendly names for the books; it just uses numbered folders. So that’s all a bit annoying. And, beyond that, there’s no ability to edit metadata for your books in the Books app the way there was in iTunes. So, overall, I guess Books is OK if you’re only using it to manage books/audiobooks bought from Apple. But if you’re trying to use it to manage random DRM-free files, it’s not optimal. So I spent some time puzzling through that, and realizing that there really isn’t a better alternative for managing audiobooks on the Mac.

I was also wondering if, now that I’m in Apple Music, there was a way to sync my audiobooks up to the cloud the way it works with Music. If I could do that, I’d be pretty close to having no further need to sync my iPhone to my Mac. But there’s really no way to do that. You still need to sync books to your iPhone the old-fashioned way. (That doesn’t really bother me too much, but if you’re going to push everybody to the cloud, maybe add that functionality to the Books app too?)

So, overall, Books on macOS was a bit of a disappointment, but I cleaned things up a little, updated my Evernote notes, and removed a few completed books from my iPhone.

Then, I went over to my PC to see what my iTunes audiobook library looked like over there. Apple hasn’t done much with iTunes on the PC lately, so the audiobook stuff still works fine. I did find one book that somehow accidentally migrated into my music collection, but I got it back into the audiobook section, and everything else seems fine.

Next, I decided to try installing the Audible app on my iPhone again, and see if the issue I was having back in July had sorted itself out yet. And the answer is: nope. I can get as far as launching the app and signing in, but then it just spins for a few seconds and crashes. It’s actually even worse that it was back in July. I tried a few hints and tips I saw online, like trying to launch it with wi-fi turned off, but nothing helped. The app just crashes, no matter what I do. The whole thing is kind of puzzling. There have been a bunch of updates to the Audible app between July and now, so if it was a common bug, they’d have fixed it. And I’ve updated from iOS 13 to iOS 14 since then, so if it was an iOS bug, you’d think that would have been fixed too.

I’ve got some stuff bookmarked related to the idea of keeping audiobooks in Plex and listening to them with an app called Prologue. It sounds promising, but I’m not ready to start messing with Plex again. It would only be useful for the DRM-free stuff, and not for stuff bought through Apple or Audible (unless I stripped the DRM, which is yet another step to go through).

So, around two hours after I started, I still haven’t picked out a new audiobook to start, and I’m more annoyed and depressed about the state of audiobook management and playback on the Mac and iOS that I was to begin with. Oh well.


Afternoon Walk

I’ve been going out for walks nearly every day since the pandemic began, and taking photos. I haven’t posted any of the photos to Flickr since May, though. So here are a few photos from a walk I went on this afternoon. It was a nice autumn afternoon walk. (I’m trying an embedded album below, which might or might not look OK here. If it isn’t working, try this link.)

I had my Airpods in, and was listening to Invisible Man, which I started in May, and still haven’t finished yet. (I’m just at the part where he realizes that he can be invisible, so I’m getting near the end.) I don’t usually listen to audiobooks while I’m walking. Usually I go with music or podcasts. But I really felt like making some progress with Invisible Man today, so I gave it a try. It worked out OK. I managed to give enough attention to the book, and also managed to not get hit by a truck while crossing any streets.

afternoon walk 10/24/2020

Audible adventures

I’ve been trying to get through the audiobook of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I bought a copy from Audible several years ago, with Joe Morton narrating. (I don’t remember why I bought it. It might have been free, or on sale for 99 cents or something.) I started listening to it in June, as part of my Great American Read Goodreads group. It was going fine, but some time in mid-June the Audible iOS app started crashing on me. It would work for maybe 30 seconds, then crash. I contacted Audible support about it on Twitter, and they said it was a known issue and they were working on it. A month later, though, the app is still crashing on me. The Audible app on my iPad still works, though, so I’ve been using that to listen to it. It’s a little inconvenient, but not really a problem.

So the point of this blog post isn’t to complain about Audible, but rather to discuss some of the alternative ways of listening to Audible books that I found while trying to work around my little problem. I thought a few of them were interesting, and the whole topic ties back to my post on iOS audiobook players from 2015. That post was mostly about DRM-free audiobooks. For Audible, I assumed that their files would be DRM’d and not really usable outside of the official app, but it turns out that there are a lot of options.

First, there’s a page on the Audible web site listing most of the ways you can listen to their books. One thing I noticed right away is that it’s still possible to link iTunes and Audible and listen to your Audible books in the Apple Books app. (A long time ago, this was the main official way of listening to Audible books. You’d link your iTunes account to Audible, download the books, and then sync them to your iPod. This was before Apple started selling audiobooks themselves, and before iOS apps were a thing.) So I went ahead and did that, but, as you can see in my screenshot, the version that comes down to iTunes is broken up into chapters differently from the Audible version, and the chapters aren’t labelled in any way that would let me figure out where I left off in the official Audible app. (I also brought up the iTunes version in Undulib on my iPhone, and that worked and at least showed the chapter numbers. But there are about 150 “chapters” in the iTunes version and 25 chapters in the actual book, so having those numbers doesn’t really help.) So, anyway, pulling Audible books into iTunes is probably a reasonable thing to do if you haven’t already started the book and need to figure out where you left off. But the Apple Books app is also probably less user-friendly than the Audible app, so there’s no real reason to do that, unless you’re unable to use the Audible app for some reason.

Another possibility I stumbled across is OpenAudible. This is a shareware product that lets you download books from Audible and convert them to MP3 or M4A. I initially thought that this meant that they were working around DRM somehow, but, going back to the Audible site, I see that they do apparently support downloading their books in MP3 format and transferring them to a generic MP3 player, via an app called AudibleSync. So I guess that OpenAudible is probably just taking advantage of whatever mechanism AudibleSync uses. So maybe it’s not doing anything too shady. (I haven’t tried it.)

Finally, I realized today that I also own a Kindle version of Invisible Man, so downloading that to the Kindle app on my iPhone would let me also download the Audible version and listen to it that way, with the Audible Narration feature. I will probably give that a shot, as the Kindle app seems to know where I left off, and I guess that would let me go back to listening to it on my iPhone.

I don’t have an Audible subscription, but I do own about a dozen Audible books, most of which were either free or bought on sale for a buck or two. (And I haven’t listened to most of them.) So if I can’t ever get the Audible app working on my phone again, at least I now have some other options!

War and Peace

This morning, I stumbled across a quote that I’d highlighted in War and Peace, when I was reading it last year. It seems kind of relevant to our current situation, so I thought I’d share it here.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is, therefore, better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.

(Make of it what you will. I’m not going to editorialize, though its application to current events should be fairly obvious.)

New Year’s Day 2020

It’s almost 8 AM on New Year’s Day, so it’s time for my annual New Year’s self-review post. This has become a tradition for me; here’s a link to last year’s post, which includes links to a few previous years. This year is also the start of a new decade. I had a few thoughts on the past decade that I posted on Christmas, so I won’t rehash all of that here.

Health, Weight, and Sleep

I’ve got a bit of a headache this morning, and I’ve been fighting a cold (or something) since Thanksgiving. So I don’t feel very healthy. I have an appointment with my doctor on Friday, so hopefully he can let me know if I’ve got a big problem or just a stubborn cold. Looking back at last year’s post, I see that very little has changed. My average weight may have gone up by a pound or two. I’m usually coming in at 136 or 137 now, rather than 135, but that’s fine. My doctor would actually like to see me put on a few more pounds.

I’m continuing to track my weight and diet with Lose It every day. And I’m continuing to use my Apple Watch to track my exercise. I manage to fill my exercise ring on most days, and I generally fill my move ring about five days per week, on average. My move goal is currently at 500.

I’m still using Sleep Cycle to track my sleep. I guess I’m doing OK with sleep, but I do have some rough nights. I bought a bottle of melatonin gummies on Amazon a year ago, and I take two before bed occasionally. I think it helps. I don’t use it too often. Taking melatonin is probably safe, in moderation. I thought about getting a new mattress last year, but I’ve held off. I might go ahead with that this year.

I mentioned last year that I’d gotten a prescription for progressive lenses from my eye doctor. I did get that filled and I’ve been wearing those new glasses all year. Honestly, they haven’t helped much. I had my yearly checkup a few weeks back, and he suggested maybe trying computer bifocals, but I didn’t want to have to pay for another pair of glasses so soon, so we decided to wait and maybe try that next year.

I also mentioned last year that I should go get my hearing checked, and I never did that, so that should probably be near the top of my to-do list for this year.

Work and Professional Development

There’s not much to report on this. I’m doing fine at work. I got a very good performance review for 2019. I did a fair bit of work in Azure over the last year, so that was interesting.

Here’s a list of tech books that I read last year, from my Goodreads history:

  • ASP.NET Web API Security Essentials
  • Beginning Azure Functions: Building Scalable and Serverless Apps
  • C# and XML Primer
  • Instant Nancy Web Development
  • Learn Azure in a Month of Lunches
  • Take Control of Catalina
  • Take Control of Photos
  • Take Control of Upgrading to Catalina
  • Take Control of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13
  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master

That’s a pretty random list, but there were a few good ones in there. I think that I read all of those via my O’Reilly subscription that I get through my ACM membership, so I’m getting some value out of that.

I’m also still paying for a Pluralsight subscription. Checking my history there, it looks like I’m getting some value out of that too. Here’s the list of courses I watched in 2019:

  • IIS Administration Fundamentals
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Create Serverless Functions
  • Getting Started with OAuth 2.0
  • Implementing and Managing Microsoft Azure Multi-factor Authentication
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Securing Data
  • Fiddler
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Implementing Application Logging with Diagnostic Logs
  • Instrument Application with Azure Monitor Application Insights
  • Microsoft Azure Developer: Monitoring Performance
  • Play by Play: Care and Maintenance of Development VMs
  • Beginning PowerShell Scripting for Developers
  • Managing Azure AD
  • Play by Play: Azure Beyond Websites
  • Play By Play: Azure Deployment with Scott Hanselman

Again, kind of a random list, but I learned some stuff.

For 2020, I’d like to learn a new programming language, but I’m not sure about which one. I’ve considered trying to learn Rust, but I’m not too enthusiastic about it. Maybe I should try to learn Swift? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.


I did a year-end financial review last weekend, and I’m in pretty good shape. I still kind of want to do a one-time sanity check with a good financial advisor, but I didn’t get around to that in 2019, so I should really try again in 2020. I also see in last year’s post that I wanted to read this book last year, and didn’t get around to it. So I should probably do that.


I wrote up a post just a few days ago on my reading plans for 2020, so I won’t rehash that. But I’ll go ahead and post a few book lists that I culled from my Goodreads year in books. I read 115 books this year, according to that. Most of them were comics / graphic novels.

Here’s a list of the stuff I read from The Great American Read list last year:

  • Catch-22
  • Gilead
  • Looking for Alaska
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Help
  • The Intuitionist
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • War and Peace

War and Peace took a lot of time to get through, so that was really my main reading accomplishment for 2019. I only read a few fiction books that weren’t related to my TGAR group:

  • Angels and Visitations
  • Pump Six and Other Stories
  • Zoo City

Of those, only Zoo City is actually a novel. So War and Peace, and the other TGAR books, really swallowed up a lot of my reading time. For non-fiction, I did get around to reading 10% Happier and Search Inside Yourself, both of which I’d mentioned in last year’s post as wanting to read. (I can’t say that I really stuck with my meditation practice in 2019 though. That’s something I may want to try again in 2020.)


I got an iPhone XR about a year ago, along with a new Apple Watch. And my MacBook Air is only about a year and a half old. I bought a pair of AirPods in November, and they’re working fine. So I’m pretty well set for Apple gear. I’m not planning on giving Apple any more money in 2020, at least for hardware.

And I talked myself into buying an Xbox One back in May. At this point, I’m mostly just using it as a DVD and Blu-ray player. When I bought it, I kind of knew that I was going to be playing games on it for a couple of months, then lose interest, and that’s pretty much what happened. But it’s a decent Blu-ray player, so it’s not like it’s just gathering dust; it’s getting some use.

A friend bought me a new TV for Christmas, so I now have a new 43″ LG TV. That spurred a couple of related purchases, including a stand and a DAC so that I can route the digital audio output to my old analog receiver. It might spur one more purchase: a 4K Apple TV box. My current Apple TV box is the older one, that only outputs 1080p. (It looks like they still sell that one, as the Apple TV HD.) So maybe my earlier statement about not giving Apple any more money for hardware this year isn’t quite correct.


I have a bunch more stuff I’m thinking about, and that I could include here, but it’s now almost 10 AM. So I should wrap this up and maybe go out for a walk and get a cappuccino and a croissant from Starbucks or something like that.


Reading plans for 2020

I’ve been thinking about changes I could make in my life and habits for 2020 lately. Nothing major, though. I’m mostly thinking about what I want to read, watch, and listen to next year. I briefly thought about designating 2020 as a “catch-up year,” where I resolve not to buy any new books, comics, or DVDs and just try to catch up on stuff I already own. My Goodreads want to read list currently has 348 books on it. The way I use Goodreads, this is a list of books that I already own but haven’t read yet. They’re mostly ebooks, and a bunch of them were free ebooks, so many of those may never actually get read, which is fine. But a lot of them are books that I actually paid money for, and really do want to read.

And, on the comic book side, I have almost 200 comics in my Comixology account that I haven’t read yet. Some of those are individual issues, but many are graphic novels. And I’ve got about a two-foot high stack of physical comic book issues, mostly from my Westfield orders. I had pretty much made up my mind to at least stop ordering new books from Westfield in 2020, but there’s still a bunch of good stuff coming out that I want to read. I’m not going crazy with Westfield; I only have 11 items in my January order and I may drop a few. (I’m starting to feel a little burnt out on Batman-related books, so I may drop those.) But if I start ordering less than a dozen books a month, then Westfield isn’t really a good deal, since the shipping costs outweigh the discounts. So I guess I still haven’t made up my mind on Westfield.

Getting back to “regular” books: I’m still the main moderator for a Goodreads group related to The Great American Read, a series that aired on PBS back in 2018. I had been planning to put the group in “maintenance mode” in 2020, discontinuing group reads and just leaving it open for miscellaneous discussion. But another member volunteered to be a co-moderator with me, and I ran a poll to see if people wanted to keep the group reads going, and of course they did, so I’m going to be doing that in 2020 too. We just did our polls for January, and we’ll be reading The Handmaid’s Tale as our standalone group read for January, and Ken Follet’s Kingsbridge series as our series read. The Follett books are all very long, so I’m allocating two months for each of those, so that’ll stretch out from January to June, for the three books.

I’ve already read The Handmaid’s Tale, back in college, so I don’t think I’ll try to read it again. (The Kindle ebook is available for free under the Prime Reading program right now, by the way.) I may read the graphic novel version though. And I’d really like to read The Pillars of the Earth, the first book in the Kingsbridge series. The Kindle version was available for $1.99 last week, as a “deal of the day”, so I went ahead and bought it. (Those $1.99 deals are how a bunch of Kindle ebooks got on my “want to read” list. It’s hard to resist those…) Meanwhile, I’m only about 25% of the way through Gone with the Wind. And 5% through The Stand, which I want to get back to after I finish Gone with the Wind. Sigh. I need to keep reminding myself that having too many good books to read is a good thing!

Paperback Writers

I just noticed that the Paperback Writers series on BBC Radio 6 features Warren Ellis, today at 1 PM, in whatever time zone the BBC uses. So that might be in ten minutes, or possibly an hour and ten minutes. I’m not sure. Either way, I’m going to try to listen to it live. (I also need to go back and listen to Neil Gaiman’s episode before it disappears.)

Saturday reading

It’s another way-too-hot day in NJ, so, after I got my usual Saturday chores done this morning, I proceeded to spend the rest of the day re-reading the first twelve issues of Warren Ellis’ The Wild Storm series. The final issue (#24) was in my last Westfield order, so now I’m ready to read 13-24 and finish the series. I may do that tomorrow. I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I’m hoping the last 12 issues are as good as the first 12.

Meanwhile, I’m about 60% of the way through War and Peace. I started reading that in June, for my Great American Read group. We’ve normally been reading one standalone novel each month, but this one has stretched through June, July, and now August. I’m kind of hoping to get done with it by Labor Day, but I’m not sure I will. (I’ve actually really been enjoying it, and it’s a much easier read than I thought it would be. But, yes, it is a long one.)

My GAR group has also been doing a series read concurrent with the standalone read. I skipped the most recent one, the Dollanganger series, which just didn’t interest me. But that just finished up, so I ran a new poll, and now we’re going to read the Gilead series by Marilynne Robinson. I’m actually interested in that one, so I should try to read the first book in that series this month too.

Back on the subject of Warren Ellis, he’s been very busy lately. He’s got a new Batman series coming out soon, and a new WildCATs series (which has been delayed, but hopefully not for too long). And a new Trees series from Image. And he’s working on Castlevania season 3. So I don’t think I’ll run out of Ellis material to read/watch any time soon.


Xbox follow-up

Now that I’ve had my Xbox for a few weeks, I thought I should post a follow-up. I’m mostly using it to play Bejeweled, to be honest. I played Mass Effect for about a half-hour, and haven’t gotten back to it. Ditto for Stardew Valley. I want to get back to both of those, but right now, War and Peace is more of a draw for me. It helps that I can read War and Peace outside, or at work, or on the train. It’s been nice out the last few weekends, so I’ve been sitting outside on Division Street and reading a lot. (Can’t do that with an Xbox.) I’m about 25% of the way through War and Peace.

It’s funny, if you look at a site like How Long To Beat, a lot of modern video games take about as long to complete as it takes to read War and Peace. (According to my Kindle, it’s maybe a 40-50 hour book.) I won’t look down on or argue with anyone who chooses to play the Mass Effect trilogy over reading War and Peace, but I think I’ve turned into more of a War and Peace kind of guy as I’ve gotten older.

And since E3 is done, maybe I should take a moment to review the Xbox news out of that show.

  • Everybody continues to push into subscriptions, including Microsoft, with the new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, for $15/month. I guess that’s great if you play a ton of games, but it’s definitely not for me.
  • The next gen Xbox looks interesting, and should be out near the end of 2020. Given that I seem to gravitate towards games like Bejeweled and Stardew Valley, that don’t exactly push the current gen hardware, I’m not likely to jump on the next gen bandwagon any time soon.
  • I’m glad to see that the next gen Xbox will continue to support backwards compatibility with older games, from the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The headline in the linked article says “Microsoft ends Xbox backward compatibility,”  but that’s a little misleading. The article itself says that “Microsoft is winding down new additions to its Xbox backward compatibility catalog,” and “Microsoft is now committing to get every Xbox One game running on Scarlett, alongside games from all four generations of Xbox.” So that should be cool, and a good reason to (eventually) buy a next gen Xbox.

On a somewhat related topic, I enjoyed this article on the “slow death of the strategy guide”. It’s an excerpt from this book, which is currently just $3.82 for the Kindle version, so might be worth picking up. I’ve got strategy guides for a bunch of games, including several that I never got around to playing. Some of them are pretty cool, with lots of art and screenshots. Some people consider using strategy guides as cheating, but I always found that they added to my enjoyment of a game, making it easier for me to keep track of where I was, how the game worked, and whether or not I was on the right track. Generally, they helped me manage the more annoying stuff without getting in the way of the fun stuff. Since most games don’t even come with an instruction manual anymore, I wish more of them had good official (or unofficial) hard-copy strategy guides available. But I guess there’s not much of a market for that anymore.

War and Peace

I started reading War and Peace this month, as a group read for the Great American Read Goodreads group I’m in. I’ve also been running the group for the last month or two, since the original moderator took a break. So I’ve done a bit of internet research on the book, in preparation for reading it, and so I could share it with the group. So I might as well also share it here, and mark the point where I started reading. Then, assuming I finish, I can write another blog post at the end.

I’ve allocated two months for reading it (June and July), which is probably a bit optimistic. But that’s more about not tying up the Goodreads group for three or four months on one book than it is about how long it takes to read War and Peace. I imagine we’ll start a new group read in August, but I expect I’ll still be working on War and Peace through to Labor Day, at least.

I’m reading this Kindle version, which was free when I bought it, but now seems to be 99¢. It includes an excerpt from a book called Give War And Peace A Chance, which might be worth reading also. The translation is by Aylmer and Louise Maude, done in the 1920’s, I think. Comparing it to bits of other translations that I’ve looked at, I think it may be the most accessible to a casual American reader. And it’s apparently in the public domain, since it’s the version available at Project Gutenberg.

When I get into something like this, I often overdo the research, and sometimes go into a weird mode where I also start buying related stuff. In this case, I’ve also bought the BBC radio dramatization of the book from 2014 and the BBC TV miniseries, from 2016, both from Apple/iTunes. I thought that seeing/hearing the characters might help me keep them straight. I’ve started listening to the radio version, and it’s pretty good. The TV mini-series inspired a few good articles at The Guardian, such as this 10 things you need to know article and this could you read War and Peace in a week bit.