Fixed Already

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I received my new iPod touch last Monday and was almost immediately disappointed by what I saw – or rather, what I didn’t see! No chapter images for Audiobooks! This morning I let iTunes check to see if there were any updates for the touch and there was one. Don’t know how long this update’s been out, but it fixed my problem. Here’s a picture of the Audiobook file I’ve been testing with as I work on SSA.

Nice!

The text on the image is from entries in the POD file (it changes on a chapter basis) which is overlade on the Earth/Mars image at the time the Audiobook is created and placed into the file.

The weirdness on the bottom the of iPod is the protective film which I haven’t removed yet.

 

New Upload

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SSAFront is a hacked together HTML Application that I created so that I could quickly convert M4V (video) files into (much much) smaller M4A audio files. The impetus for this was that I wanted to put a collection of Yahoo YUI Theater and Apple Developer videos onto my iPod and listen to them while I was in the waiting room at the hospital when my wife was having an operation.

The “why” for this is that I would be there for many hours and I wanted to save on battery consumption. Since video is a major drain of power and the video content on these developer videos is of minimal value I decided to make audio only copies and turn them into Podcasts so that I could group them together.

I already had Slideshow Assembler (SSA) which was capable of doing what I needed but it only does one file at a time and I still had to build a POD file for each conversion. Hence SSAFront which is a batch processing front end for SSA. What it does is take any .m4v, .mp4, .m4a or .m4b (that SSA can read) and copy only the audio to a new .m4a file and add enough Metadata to it so that iTunes and iPods will recognize it as a Podcast – there are a number of editable fields.

On the downside this program does not allow you to create chapters, only a single chapter is created at the start of the file. On the upside you can include artwork (.png or .jpg files) and set an output folder.

To allow this front end to work with the current release of SSA (1.0.5a) there is a little funkiness in the methodology used for adding files to the file list. I will “fix” this when SSA and its helper functions get updated.

A couple points:

  • SSAFront does not remember the video (or other) files that you’ve selected between invocations. You have to select the files, set the options and then do the conversion before closing the program.
  • The “Defaults” and “Global” sections do have their data saved when the program is terminated – but ONLY if you use the (Exit) button, not saved if you close the application from the title bar.
  • What does (Updated All Entries) do? It applies all of the entries listed under “Defaults” to the podcast data of each (and every) file you’ve loaded the name of. Why? Example: if you’ve loaded six videos from Yahoo and you want to set the artist to “Yahoo YUI” you can just enter it in this one place and apply to all.
  • This has been developed and executed on a single machine and will very likely not run on some, many or all configurations other than mine. As an HTML application is uses the components of Internet Explorer; if you have not installed at least IE 7.0 install it now – if nothing else it will make your computer safer (yes, I know you only use Firefox or Opera – install it anyway).

Enhanced Podcasting on Windows

Podcasting

I’ve gotten interested in creating podcasts, this all started one night early last Month.

My wife was upstairs sleeping, the whole house fan was making noises like a jet engine and I was on the phone talking with George. George was asking about podcasts and if they difficult they were to make – he’d been listening to Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte’s “Security Now” podcast and was thinking that he (and even I) had wisdom that we could impart to the world. In fact we’d chatted about this before and as I stood there watching image of the Mendocino Botanical Gardens scroll by on the television monitor across the room (driven by Apple TV) it occurred to me that what we needed to make was not just a podcast, but an “Enhanced Podcast“! Chapter markers and still images seemed just the thing to help enliven whatever it was that George and I decided to record for posterity.

Well, seven weeks later I can finally create an Enhanced Podcast on a Windows PC, albeit with a couple issues still outstanding. How I got to this point is one long frustrating quest that was actually kind of fun (this being the sort of problem that I’m pretty good at solving). How I got started on this quest was quite simple, I went to Google and entered “create enhanced podcast window xp” and … just did it again and I got 445,000 hits. In that result set there might be a reference to an actual program that runs on Windows that will allow you to create an enhanced podcast for iPod/iTunes, but if there is I could not locate it.

Long story short, it appeared you could not do what I wanted to do; Enhanced Podcasts first arived in 2005 and in May 2007 I was unable to find software that could create one on Windows. I was not encouraged when I ran across this blog entry that talked about a failed attempt to create an enhanced podcast program on the Mac. The only consistent advice I ran into during my search was “buy a real computer”, which was advice to buy a Macintosh and use the command line “chapter tool” program (link on this page somewhere) that apple released back in 2005 to create these files. Note: there ar

Audio Books

In addition to playing around with a GUI front end for SSA I’ve been adding support for adding multiple audio files to allow the creation of chaptered audio books. Basically you add a new key in each chapter (audiofile=somefile.m4b) and SSA will add it to the output file; you add the chapters (images, hrefs or whatever) and SSA will figure out the length of each audio file and set the chapter locations automatically.

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Now, there are a couple limitations: chapter’s can only start on audio file boundaries, all of the audio files must have the same format and you can lose up to one second of audio at the end of each file (because SSA does not deal in fractions of a second – this applies to audio imported for Enhanced Podcasts as well). This feature – sparsely documented – will be in the 1.0.1b version of SSA which should be uploaded this weekend.

Remoteless

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Color me dumb but I’ve been using an Apple TV for what, a year or more? I got one from the first batch that shipped in overnight from China (sorry, no frying eggs here, mine is cool to the touch) and I just love it for playing back Podcast’s, my video’s and an occasional TV download from iTunes. What I hate about it is the hideous remote control that it (and apparently some number of other Apple products) comes with. This remote needs a pounding with “big red hammer”. Why I am dumb is because I never did more than think about getting another remote.

Remote:

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The good news is that my wife bought me a new remote control for my birthday – actually I expect it was more for her than me – she hates the remote control clutter that fills the end of the couch. This remote allows the Apple TV to be controlled with the proper buttons! Yea.

 

Big red hammer:

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New Remote:

Now if only I could get Podcast’s to play back using the video controller layout …