Anachostic

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Tag Archives: zune

Rabbit Hole To Finality

A few days ago I found my ZuneHD.  I thought I lost it over a year ago and I was so happy to have found it again.  I charged it back up and went to sync some of my newer music so I could take it to work.  The sync failed with cryptic errors.  I thought maybe there was an issue with the device, so I erased and tried again.  Still, nothing would copy.

A little bit of internet research indicated it was due to the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.  Since that update, the Zune software would no longer downsample music for the players.  That change effectively made my devices unsyncable and thus unusable.  At first, I wasn’t ready to concede defeat.  I installed Windows 7 in VirtualBox, but wasn’t able to get it to see the Zune device.  Then I figured I would try using Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtual machine for once.

While I was setting up that machine, I gave some consideration to how I would access my music files.  In VirtualBox, I would map a network drive to the host machine.  With my hyper-V machine, I didn’t see any simple way to set up networking and if I remember correctly from previous attempts to use Hyper-V, it was generally a PIA. 

That gave me the idea to have a separate virtual hard drive with my music on it.  That could be pretty interesting, I leave it attached on my main machine until I need to sync something, then I detach it from the main machine and attach it to the virtual machine.  All the files still remain in one place.

So that was a big project, copying 300GB of music to a VHD.  And at this point, I still don’t know if the VM is going to see the Zune.  I spent all day yesterday cleaning up album art in my VirtualBox VM and it was all for nothing since VirtualBox wouldn’t see the Zune.  I definitely have little problem with wasted effort.  however, I think the compartmentalized VHD of music will be a nice modern advancement.  I am praying that VHD files are resilient.  You know, that’s a single file containing 14k files.  The digital equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket.

The Windows 7 virtual machine was a bust.  I guess Hyper-V is optimized for Windows 8 and better, so… reinstallation time.  The Windows 8 install appeared hung up, so I restarted the VM.  That resulted in an endless loop where Windows said the computer restarted unexpectedly and to click OK to restart and continue the install.  It was all for naught anyway.  Reading up on this solution, I learned that Hyper-V has even less support for USB devices than VirtualBox.  Pretty un-fucking-believable. 

What are my remaining options?  I have to have a physical machine that is running a Windows version less than 10.  What good does that really do me?  I’ll have to access my entire music library over the network – inefficient.  The move of all my music to a VHD file has turned out to be pointless as well, since I have nothing to share it with now.  And, since my music files are now moved the a new drive, Zune had to rescan everything again, wiping out over half my album art.  I literally spent hours yesterday cleaning up the album art in my VirtualBox install and now I have to do it again??

It looks like my time with Zune is at an end, with both devices and software.  It’s a real shame considering how much Zune equipment I have and how it still works so well.  I don’t know where to go from here.  Using Groove on a phone isn’t as pleasant of an experience as the Zune was.

I guess this is where I’ve been slowly headed for a little while now, back to physical media and good old stereo systems.  Maybe in a few months I’ll be saying how great it is to not have all my music at my fingertips and being less distracted by the massive amount of choices available to me at any time.  Time will tell.

Everything’s A Phone Now

A recent post on a blog I follow informed me that there was a great deal happening on an entry-level, budget Windows Phone – the Lumia 435.  I could pick one up for $30.  That made me pause for a moment.

A brand new smartphone, capable of running Windows 10 Mobile, with expandable memory that can take an SD card up to 128GB.  What if I bought it, never put a cellular SIM in it, maxed out the memory and just used it as an MP3 player?  Huh? What’s stopping me?

Let’s look at some current MP3 players.  They are really dwindling in numbers, because, well, smartphones do everything now.  16GB Sony Walkman – $80.  8GB Sandisk Clip – $35.  160GB iPod – $399.  32GB Zune HD – $275.  This phone – $30.  128GB MicroSD card – $50.  And I don’t even need the 128GB card now.  I have a 32GB card from my old phone.  Consider this a done deal.

So now I have another Windows phone.  It’s going to be my new MP3 player.  And better than other MP3 players, it will do Internet and Bluetooth audio, and games, and whatever else I want (except phone calls).

I began setting it up by installing the 32GB SD card I had around and upgrading the phone to Windows 10.  Boy, what a drawn-out process that upgrade was.  When I was done upgrading, I then uninstalled every app except for the ones I needed – primarily Groove Music.

Ok.  Now, how do I get my music on there?  I keep the music on my computer in WMA Lossless.  That format works with Zune.  But you can’t sync to anything other than a Zune device using the Zune software.  And although I can copy the files right to the phone, I don’t want to use my lossless files since they’re around 25MB per song.  I was dreading the idea of manually transcoding my entire library just to copy it and delete it.  Surely there has to be some software that would automate that.

Enter the old stalwart, Windows Media Player.  This software will not die, nor should it ever die.  Windows Media Player can sync files to another device that is nothing more than a memory card.  And in the process of doing so, it can transcode the files to a different bit rate – Exactly what I need.

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Then you choose what you want to put on your device, and drag it to the Sync pane.  Then Windows Media Player just does its thing.

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So, with my test using the 32GB card, I got about 40-odd percent of my music on there. There’s some stuff I can take off because it’s not really mobile audio stuff.  I also discovered that Windows Media Player encodes to WMA format, so I probably don’t need a high bitrate of 192k.  192k in MP3 is moderate quality, 192k in WMA is very high quality.  Bringing that down a notch to 160k should reduce the space usage.  And I see I also need to get cracking on cleaning up my album art.

But!  Once that’s all done, I will have a pretty sweet MP3 player, that isn’t a phone, but really is a phone, just not being used as a phone.

A Troubleshooting Challenge

You have to love troubleshooting.

As a mentioned earlier, I’m doing a hard drive update on my Zune to bring it up to 120gb.  In the first chapter of this crazy process, I simply bought a 120gb 1.8” drive that was supposed to be IPod and Zune compatible.  I got the drive and prior to installing it, I erased the Zune completely, firmware and all.

After installation, the Zune wanted to be connected to the PC to install the new firmware.  After doing so, the Zune software registered a hard drive problem – not enough space on drive.  Hmmmmmmmm.  After thinking about it for a while, I considered that the base level of firmware back when the Zune 30gb came out might not support a 120gb drive, since they didn’t exist at that time.  So I thought I should bring the firmware up to the most recent, then install the new hard drive.

I put the old drive back in, upgraded the firmware, then put the new drive in and restarted.  Then I get a obscure (and yet common) error code.  So I think some more.  The new hard drive is a different brand – Samsung instead of Toshiba, and it uses more power – 4v instead of 3.3v.  Maybe it’s the drive that’s just incompatible?

So, I order a second drive, a Toshiba this time.  Without erasing the firmware, I install the drive.  The Zune boots to a “Please Wait” screen.  I wait for a few minutes and decide it’s not doing anything.  I power the Zune down, check the drive connections and start it up again.  Same screen.  I look online and the Internet says that that screen is shown during drive format and initialization (Do not disconnect or turn off the device).  Oops.  So I leave the Zune plugged in overnight.  The next morning, I left without remembering to check the status, so it ran all day while I worked.  When I get home, no progress.

I put the old drive back in and everything works just fine.  I put the new Toshiba in again and it doesn’t.  I put the old drive in, wipe out the firmware, put the new drive in and I get stuck at the “Please Wait” screen. Hmmm. The Samsung got past that screen but failed when writing the firmware.  The Toshiba doesn’t get past the drive initialization.  It’s actually a worse situation.

The next step of my troubleshooting is going to be at a lower level – the drives themselves.  One possible theory is that the drives can’t be formatted because they are not partitioned.  The company that sold me the drives may have run a diagnostic test that erased the drive’s file system.  So, I’ve ordered a ZIF to USB adapter so I can connect the drives to my computer and verify for myself.  Maybe I will need to create a partition and/or format the drives myself before installation.  As a side project, the adapter would let me see what kind of files are saved on the Zune itself.  That could be interesting information, too.

Running cost for this project: $70 for the two drives, $10 for the adapter.

Again, Not Thinking Ahead

A post from 6.5 years ago (holy crap!) has come back to haunt me.  In the post, I was lamenting how I had taken a week to rip my entire CD collection to a lossless format, but then I didn’t have enough space to store it on my Zune.  I faintly remember the day I took the drastic step and deleted it all, keeping my standard-quality MP3 rips.

I’ve had a renewed interest in music again, and I was thinking about re-ripping my CDs.  Some of my rips have to be ancient, using imperfect encoding algorithms.  I’ve read a lot of advice lately and some of it I initially ignored, but now it’s starting to sink in.  I realize that I wasn’t thinking ahead before I started that forever-ago ripping process, and I wasn’t thinking ahead after the ripping either.

The first piece of advice that I shrugged off as dumb is proving to be the most important: Always rip to a lossless format.  Yeah, I did that.  It gave me a library too large to sync.  Dumbass, you transcode lower-bitrate versions for your portable devices from the lossless versions.  Well, that’s stupid, then I have two copies on my hard drive taking up space.  No you don’t.  The low-bitrate versions only exist on your portable device. 

(Insert lightbulb moment here)

In fact, the Zune software will do this for me completely automatically.  I just never gave it any consideration.  My thoughts were that I should have the highest resolution copies that the Zune could support on my hard drive.  Why would I ever need more if the device couldn’t handle it?  It’s a damn computer.  That’s the device that will.  Why, for any reason, should I limit my desktop to anything but the highest possible quality?  Now most people will rip lossless copies, then store or dispose of the physical media, but for many reasons, I won’t be doing that.

I’ve always told myself: I always have the physical versions, so I can re-rip them whenever I need a higher-quality version.  But, not thinking ahead, if I rip them at the highest quality possible, then make lower-quality versions as needed, I never have to rip again.

So, it looks like I’m going to have to start another round of lossless ripping, including a full round of metadata cleanup.  But it’s not so bad.  Encoding has become way more accurate, drive space has become plentiful, and CPU power has gotten insanely fast.  Over six years ago!

Oh, and also, I did decide to get a new hard drive for my old Zune 30.  It will be getting a 120gb replacement drive, so I should be able to hold my full collection at a better bitrate than what I currently have, even if it turns out to not be lossless.

The Big, Happy Family

It was just a couple of days ago that I was thinking about the Zune players and I wondered if I would ever see one for sale again.  I wasn’t sure if they were just being thrown away or if people just kept them and never did anything with them.  Maybe a year ago, I stopped at a pawn shop and saw a Zune flash player in the display case.  It was being sold for something ridiculous like $150, so I never even bothered looking closer at it.

Today, I stopped at a local pawn shop and saw another Zune flash player marked down from $99, to $59, to $29.  I asked to see it and it was an 8GB model.  Yes, I’ll take that.  And it’s probably best that I took it because the charger that they provided with the player was for an iPhone – doesn’t even fit.  Anyone else wouldn’t have the extensive accessories for Zune as I do, including cables and chargers.

So, I’ve added a new member to my family, which now consists of:

  • 1st gen, 30gb white (over 6 years old and still kicking every day)
  • 3rd gen, 32gb blue ZuneHD Originals
  • 1st gen, 30gb brown
  • 2nd gen, 8gb black

For accessories, I have two Altec Lansing speaker docks and a PC dock, and spare charging cables.  I also have 3 car audio integration kits.  If you want to stretch it a bit further, I have a Dell Venue Pro with Windows Phone 7, and a Nokia Lumina 810 with Windows Phone 8.1.  So really, I am the most qualified person to purchase that Zune.

I only have one more model to go before I have the entire Zune model collection: a 2nd gen 80/120gb.  When and if I find one, it will probably become my primary player in the car, since it can hold my entire MP3 collection.  Speaking of car integrations, I recently decided my next car stereo is probably going to be a CarPC, running a stripped-down install of Windows with the Zune software installed.

I’m sure a lot of people would like to ask, “What is this obsession with Zune?”  And there’s only really one thing that does it for me.  After all, the hardware is commodity – anyone can create an MP3 player.  And with so many choices of media player software, why Zune?

For me, the UI is unmatched in any other software program.  When you look at a now-playing screen of a player, there’s only so many ways you can lay out the screen, then you have to consider what elements will be shown.

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A large thumbnail of the album art, progress bar, song title, album name, and artist name.  Then a few icons for repeat, battery, and play/pause.  Simple and elegant.

I can imagine a lot of people say that every player has those elements and many have a similar layout and those people might be right.  It’s only extremely subtle differences that make Zune stand out.  The fonts, the size of the elements, the little glow on the current point in the progress bar.  To me, it is a perfect mix.  When I get the CarPC with the full desktop Zune software, the UI will be radically different, but no less unique and well-designed. 

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Family Portrait, 2014.

Zune Is Anything But A Failure

News today in the tech blogs: Zune devices are no longer being sold.  To the more cynical and sarcastic, the running joke is “They never were.”  But in the famous words of movie lore: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”  And that is proven through the rise of the Metro UI.

To think way back to the first generation Zune, some tiny team in Microsoft came up with a completely different user interface design for browsing media files.  With the second generation of Zune, this design language was expanded upon: made bolder and more consistent.  With the ZuneHD, the UI added excitement and motion along with touch gestures.  Windows Phone 7 took that design concept and extended it way beyond media, applying its design guidelines to applications.  Finally, the upcoming Windows 8 takes the extensions of Windows Phone 7 and applies them to the desktop.

I think that bears repeating.  Windows 8 is based on Zune.  The Zune UI – Metro – has inspired a complete redesign of the smartphone UI and even the desktop UI.

To everyone who bought in to the Zune family, there must be some pride to see the evolution of the concepts started so many years ago.  Surely Apple devotees feel the same way when they bought in at the time Apple went monochromatic and all future products carried that look at feel.  Early iPod users must feel the same as each new “i” product comes out, strengthening the brand cohesion through a familiar prefix (despite all the products trying to capitalize on that identifying letter).

Say what you will about the Zune and its failed marketing, from the brown color that was supposed to be bold and fashionable, but was ridiculed as “looking like poop”, to the “Zune Guy” who was a poor representation of the target demographic.  The best element of the Zune devices – not the colors, not the styling, not the features,  the user interface – has survived and will continue evolving as a unique and permanent design style of Microsoft’s flagship product.

Playlisting With Your Emotions

I’ve been doing MP3 for quite a while, but I guess I started to take it seriously when I bought my first Zune in early 2007.  Never before have I used playlists.  I’ve always been a fan of the album – a collection of songs that captures a moment in time in a band’s progression.  I’ve been kind of disappointed in the slow death of the album format, but I’ve done that topic to death.

So anyway, with recently increasing frequency, I’ve found myself playing a song or two then moving on to another album and playing a few more and so on.  In my typical analytical nature, I studied why I was doing this and I determined I was picking songs that fit my mood at the time.  An album can set a mood on its own, which is usually fine with me, but sometimes the mood defines the songs.  This meant I had to consider creating playlists to consolidate these songs.

Being someone with a psychological bent and a touch of organizational perfectionism, I’m finding this becoming a nightmare very quickly.  My first idea was to have playlists named for the mood or feeling.  I still think this is a good idea.  I came up with four:  “Closer”, “Driving”, ”Reflective”, and “Upbeat”.  Then I started going through and choosing the songs for the playlists.  I have 8000 songs in 670 albums by 246 artists.  This is no small feat.  Two days of attempts have got me to the “S” artists.

Somewhere in the process, I realized how difficult this truly is.  Some songs were obvious where they go – they make me feel the same every time. But others I have to pause and think of the song, then try and remember how I feel when I hear it.  It may not be healthy to make myself feel a different emotion over and over and over.  And I started to feel worn out as I did this.

And then I realized I was putting lots of songs into a couple of playlists and thought maybe my playlists need to be more specific, like “Driving-Hard” and “Driving-Smooth”, because these are distinct driving moods to me.  Trying to define your emotions isn’t easy and trying to draw the line between some is hard.  Right off the bat, “Driving” and “Upbeat” had a foggy delineation.  I found myself justifying which song goes where, like there some rules that define my mood and emotion.  That was when I realized it wasn’t really working out.

I am pretty sure the ZuneHD allows adding to playlists on the fly, so I need to make some simple playlists and do a lot of listening on the ZuneHD.  As songs play and affect me, I can add them to the proper playlist right then and there.  Trying to do this emotional evaluation offline is no good.

Trip Log 11/22/09

Today was a beach trip.  To a different beach, on a different route.  That meant (oh boy) Interstate travel: 60 minutes at 70+ mph in chaotic conditions with a good wind.  I could see that there were storms to the north and south, but I seemed pretty safe in my path.

An uneventful trip to the beach and a fairly empty parking lot.  I had just gotten off the bike and gotten to the walkway when the parking authority vehicle pulled in.  I walk back to his truck and asked if he could break a $20 for the meters.  He told me not to worry and kept right on going.  Slow day, I guess.

So I got my pictures and took a leisurely ride up and down the local roads.  Not much traffic and what was there was casual.  Stopped at a local place to have a lunch.  The sandwich was not as I would have expected.  What is the deal with sticking a huge pile of meat between slices of bread?  You can’t get your mouth around it and all you taste is meat.  There’s a balance when making a sandwich: the meat-to-bread ratio (or meat-to-bun as I originally termed it for fast food).  You don’t want the flavor of the meat to be lost in the bread, nor do you want excess in the other direction.  Some places just don’t get it.

I did bring along the Zune HD, but I didn’t get to do any Internet surfing.  All the available networks were secured, insulting, or both.

So, I guess I won’t be going back there.  I should have had the burger.

This Place Sucks, So Let Me Help

I’m nearing the end of watching a George Carlin DVD box set and I have to say I’m pretty pessimistic on our culture.  The whole idea of "gotta have it now" is becoming pretty offensive to me.  TVs, cell phones, computers, iPods… the behavior of Zune users during the 24 hours the Zune was inoperable was outrageous.  People can’t live without a music player for 24 hours, or more realistically 12 hours, since you can’t be awake listening to a MP3 player for 24 hours.

Carlin will do that to you after a while.  So you have a couple of choices: accept it or battle it.  I’m going to make the most of it.

To that end, I’m going to convert this to my “eating out” blog.  They say you should blog about something you’re passionate about and I do enjoy fast food (see previous post on state of food).  I had planned on developing a web site that would allow anyone to rate fast food places, but I just don’t have the energy for that right now, so this will have to do.

Not thinking ahead

I was disappointed in the quality of my MP3s (128/192k), so I decided to re-rip everything into WMA lossless. It’s taken a full week, but now I’m done. But now my collection is 130 gigs. I knew I’d have to swap out the hard drive in my Zune, but I was planning on a 100 gig replacement.

I am not going through the ripping process again. I guess I’m going to have to be satisfied with a partial library on the Zune until 200 gig drives become available.