Tag Archives: iTunes

Why Should We Embrace New Media?

One of the questions some of the attendees at the Christian New Media conference on Saturday from more traditional churches were asking, was why should their church be embracing new media?

If you look at the web presence of our two churches in the Finchampstead and California parish, we have pretty traditional web sites – the site for St James being more developed than St Mary and St John. Both are feeding to twitter (@stjfinch and @smsjcalifornia) and both also have Facebook fan pages, but I had to push quite hard to get the social media links on the front page of the St James site. At St James we do record and video occasional services and events copies of which are posted onto a resources page and also come through on iTunes, whilst St Mary and St John record their sermons onto CD to distribute on an ad hoc basis within the congregation, but not online. Therefore it was pretty interesting to hear what other churches were doing and why.

Certainly from our experience the reason for recording sermons and services is primarily for existing members who maybe wanted to hear a sermon again, or who perhaps were unable to attend an event. Whilst there maybe is a thought that other people outside the church might listen or watch, the general expectation is that people outside wouldn’t really be that interested. That idea seemed to be mirrored by some of the examples given in sessions at the conference, but then in a couple of cases churches have discovered that their videos and audio recordings have found a much larger audience. One church found that their sermons were being downloaded a lot in China, whilst another heard from a church in one of the former Soviet republics that were downloading their weekly sermons and then showing them to the entire church. Certainly that shows that embracing new media gives a church an opportunity to reach many more people than it could otherwise – although if you’re a small church community struggling to make ends meet in the physical world, you’ll certainly get questions over how you convert hundreds of views on YouTube into money in the collection plate!

However Dave Roberts of Partakers presented a different idea. He offered a model of using new media to include the excluded – rather than just using new media to take the church out, using the new media to bring the housebound into the church community. For example if you have someone housebound who is good at reading, have them read for videos and audio recordings that are shared with others in the church. Dave has posted the content of his session onto his website, and it is certainly worth a look.

Apple TV – Steve What Have You Done?

Today was the September Apple Event, when Steve Jobs stood up in front of the worlds media and showed them what Apple will be selling this festive season.

This year, as expected we got a revamped iPod range, with a touchscreen iPod Nano, an iPod Touch that picks up features from the iPhone 4, and a revamped version of iTunes. To support all of that we also have iOS 4.1 on the way, which hopefully will work a lot better on my iPhone 3G, and a preview of iOS 4.2.

But the big news was the demise of the original Apple TV.

The Apple TV was always a bit of a Marmite product, loved by some, loathed by many.

Many people bemoan it’s limited functionality, in particular the limited number of media formats it supports, and the fact that the only device that can play media from the built in 40Gb or 160Gb hard drive is the Apple TV itself. However within it’s limited parameters it does exactly what it says on the tin, and does it very well.

I have to say here that we have one of the 160Gb models, and it gets a good deal of use. It holds a large proportion of our main iTunes database including hours and hours of music, several TV series for the children, a number of digital copies of movies, plus quite a few video and audio podcasts. We’ve also on a number of occasions rented movies and watched them using the device.

The new Apple TV is a bit different. It is a massively smaller device – about 80% according to the Apple website – and they’ve done this by leaving out the hard drive totally. Essentially this is now a media extender. As now it can stream content off a networked Mac, and as a new party piece can stream content off an iPhone or iPad. You can still rent movies, and now TV shows on it, but rather than download and watch, Apple seem to think that you can watch them streaming straight off the Internet.

Now I don’t know what the broadband connection is like in Palo Alto, but my first response sat in semi-rural England is you must be joking.

We’re fairly lucky, we’re pretty close to the telephone exchange, but thanks to the lousy BT infrastructure we can get between 5 and 7.5Mbps. Our ISP is pretty good but still, watching the current HD trailers is a bit of a struggle on our connection. The idea that watching a HD movie in the same way will be in any way a pleasurable experience is laughable. Plus with the limited broadband deals that many people use the idea of “watching as many times in 48 hours as you like” rapidly wears off when you realise that it’s download the file over and over again every time you watch it – the current Apple TV downloads the file ONCE and then deletes itself at the end of 48 hours.

Granted if you live in a cable equipped urban area or are lucky enough to be in a 20Mbps ADSL area you might be better off, but still the idea of “All Streaming, No Hassle” is anything but for large numbers of people in the UK, and I suspect similar numbers of people who live outside urban areas in the USA as well.

For us, the only realistic option is to stream from another device on a local network – in our case that will be the main Mac hosting the iTunes database. That’s all very well, but it’s a total pain – the Mac has to be booted up and logged on so that the new Apple TV can access it – the new Apple TV may have wonderfully low power consumption, but it’s worth nothing if you’re having to run a Mac or PC to provide the content.

And just one final little annoyance – the new box is now so small that the connectivity choice is HDMI or HDMI – I’m using composite cables…

So, yes Steve Jobs, I’m terribly impressed by how small it is, but it’s really a retrograde step for existing Apple TV users like me. Having said that, if you’d announce a media server that could host up a central iTunes database…

iPod/iPhone Cannot Be Synced, Required File Not found

This one is definitely a post in the category of primarily being a reminder for future me in case an annoying problem reoccurs, but I guess it may be useful for anyone else struggling with a similar issue.

A couple of days ago I plugged my iPhone into the Mac to synchronise it using iTunes, and after what seemed like a normal process, the process came to a sudden halt during the photo synchronisation stage with a pretty useless error stating that the iPhone could not be synced because a “required file” was not found. Needless to say it didn’t actually tell me what the required file was, nor where it was looking.

My first port of call was to have a trawl through the log files, which is where I made another annoying discovery, iTunes doesn’t seem to log details of it’s synchronisation operations anywhere.

The Mac has for a while had a nice suite of synchronisation technologies based around an application called iSync. Certainly the iPhone synchronisation uses at least part of this as if you have iSync set up it will activate during an iPhone or iPod synchronisation with iTunes. If you ran into any problems with iSync there was always a handy menu option to take a look at the log file and try and track down where it went wrong. No such luck with an iPhone as according to that log file the last time I synchronised anything was the last time I did my old phone.

Okay, what about the main system log? Although this has some messages from iTunes, there is nothing to even indicate that a synchronisation operation has taken place.

Having not come up with anything I then reverted to the usual source of information for weird errors, and googled the error message. That produced plenty of people with the problem, but nobody with much of a clue as to how to solve it.

I figured that since iTunes was drawing the pictures from iPhoto, that might be the source of the problem. Certainly that had changed in between the last successful synchronisation and this attempt in that Beth had loaded all of her pictures from our recent trip into the application, but looking through those there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary amongst those. I used the iPhoto maintenance mode (hold down the command and option keys when you start the application) to rebuild the iPhoto database, but again that produced the same problem. A friend suggested that the presence of movie files in the albums being transferred might be an issue, so I tried removing those, but again no joy. The only way I could get anything to properly transfer was to remove the albums that contained Beth’s newly uploaded pictures.

Last night I finally got to a solution. In all my removing and replacing pictures, and even after I had rebuilt the iPhoto database iTunes had never been through the long and rather tedious “Optimizing pictures” stage. Digging around I found that these were stored in a folder within the iPhoto database called iPod Photo Cache – the key thing being that the contents of this folder are not regenerated by an iPhoto database rebuild. So last night I tried deleting the folder as advised in this Apple Support Document (which incidentally is nowhere to be seen when you search for the actual error), and then left the iPhone synchronising overnight. Based on the speed it was going the optimisation phase would have taken about five hours – certainly the computer had not yet reached it’s inactivity timeout, however all the photographs had successfully transferred.

So for future reference, if iTunes starts throwing useless error messages whilst synchronising photographs, take a look at the iPod Photo Cache, and if necessary delete it. One last thing, can Apple Inc please consider adding some sort of logging functionality to the iTunes synchronisation function as we have for regular iSync, then at least we have a vague hope of tracking down errors rather than playing vague guessing games!

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Airwolf Themes Finally on iTunes

Over two years ago, I blogged about the Airwolf Themes album, the soundtrack CD that holds the record for the most expensive soundtrack album ever – and indeed regularly breaks it’s own record whenever a copy comes up on eBay.

I said back then that as the only soundtrack album related to the series, indeed the only recording of the theme actually conducted by the original composer, Sylvester Levay, it deserved a wider distribution. The people making money off the soar-away prices on eBay weren’t the original producers of the album, and with the crazy prices copies of the music were available on the file sharing networks however much the producers tried to get them removed.

When you went to the Airwolf Themes site the most commonly asked question on the forums seemed to be whether there would ever be a re-release of the album.

Eventually last year, Mark J Cairns, the person behind the album relented and started taking opinions about a release online. After multiple delays, today the album finally appeared on iTunes, at a cost of £15.99 – somewhat less than the cost of an original CD.

The majority of the tracks are Mark’s recreations of the original episode soundtracks and some of the variations of the themes, all done on synths. However the real stand out tracks from my point of view are the last three, which are a new arrangement of the main theme, and two medleys conducted by Sylvester Levay himself, along with a full orchestra, streaks ahead of any of the other arrangements of the theme that are available. One point to note when listening to the music that is worth mentioning is that if you’re only ever used to seeing the show on reruns in the UK, the tempo of the main theme especially will seem a bit slow, this is what it is supposed to be, but thanks to the conversion process that the episodes go through to be shown in the UK, we’re all used to hearing it slightly differently!

You can read more about how the original Airwolf Themes project came about here.

Can iTunes Rentals Bring iPlayer Downloads to the Mac?

One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC iPlayer has been that the download service is Windows only – and limited to specific versions at that – ruling out licence payers using other platforms such as the Mac. Indeed I’ve blogged previously about the pressure that the BBC is under by the BBC Trust to get such a cross-platform solution.

The basic problem has always been that there wasn’t a solution that met the requirements – the ability to have programmes downloadable, but then only able to be watched for a week after the original showing, but was cross-platform. Windows Media DRM provided the functionality, but not the cross-platform support.

That all changed this week, with the Macworld Keynote. As part of that, Apple announced iTunes Movie Rentals. Although the lengths of time are different, the fundamental principle that the BBC required, that the programmes only be able to be watched for a limited period are there. When I was watching the keynote, the thought did cross my mind as to whether we’d find the BBC amongst the big film studios come the UK launch.

It hasn’t taken long for the BBC to start making positive noises, with Ashley Highfield, the director of Future Media and Technology stating on a BBC blog:

The announcement from Macworld about the effective relaunch of the AppleTV (Jobs: “we tried with AppleTV, but its not what people wanted. So we’re back with AppleTV take two – no computer is required”) is encouraging.

This, coupled with Apple’s (long anticipated) move to a rental model, means that we can look to getting BBC iPlayer onto this platform too, as we should be able to use the rental functionality to allow our programmes to be downloaded, free, but retained for a time window, and then erased, as our rightsholders currently insist.

Whilst it won’t reach Linux users, using iTunes would reach more users than the current solution – more than that, the programmes would be transferable from a computer, to an iPod, and could even be watched back on a TV using the Apple TV – giving an option for people without a suitable computer at all.

I also can’t imagine that Steve Jobs isn’t going to jump at this – just think of the media coverage if the BBC boots out a Microsoft based solution in favour of iTunes

Macworld Keynote 2008

It has to be said, I’ve not been massively excited by the past couple of Macworld Keynotes – either they’ve been things I’ve not really been interested in buying, or things that weren’t available outside the USA, or both.

It’s a bit different this year. The keynote included for key announcements, all of which were interesting to some extent or another.

First off there was Time Capsule, which is effectively the Apple take on Network Attached Storage, and is closely tied in to the Time Machine backup utility that shipped as part of Leopard.

Now it has to be said, that I couldn’t see a pressing reason to upgrade to Leopard, despite all the glowing reviews that were quoted (even from a PC magazine). Although Time Machine was a nice idea, I wasn’t looking to supplant my current backup solution which uses SuperDuper! to produce a fully bootable clone of my main drives. What I wanted to do was use a network attached storage, but although my current solution, a Buffalo Terastation worked fine for a PC, the claimed Apple support was absolutely lousy – and no amount of hacking around has seemed to improve it.

In typical Apple fashion, the Time Capsule is a plug-in and go solution, just turn it on, tell Time Machine, and off it goes, automatically backing up the drives over the network.

I suspect of all the new kit that was on show today, this will probably be the top of the list – the Terastation will remain for the PC backups, but an upgrade to Leopard and a Time Capsule will almost certainly be on the shopping list pretty soon.

Next up is the iPhone updates. Now however fantastic the user experience is with the iPhone, from my point of view it still needs to be 3G. Having said that, keeping a regular phone and having an iPod Touch as a PDA seemed to be a possibility – more so now, as alongside the new toys on the iPhone, Apple have released some of the extra applications onto the iPod Touch. Chief amongst those is the mail client – which will make a big difference, but they’ve also included the new iPhone version of Google Maps. The main feature that doesn’t work is the my location – but that is pretty ropey even on my regular mobile, but in terms of usability with the multi-touch gestures that the iPod Touch supports it is streets ahead of the client on any other mobile device. Suffice to say that when iTunes offered me the upgrade to my iPod Touch tonight, it wasn’t really much of a choice to install it, and I have to say as well, having played with the other applications, a 3G iPhone is looking a really attractive proposition compared to the current competition.

After that we had Apple taking a second stab at the Apple TV. Now it’s fair to say that this is one product that hasn’t been a massive success up to now. Certainly when I first saw it I wasn’t enthused. For take two, Apple are taking on the movie rental market. The requirement to have a computer is gone, effectively all you need is a TV, the Apple TV, and a broadband connection, and then you can rent movies, get TV shows, music, pictures from Flickr and videos from YouTube. If you’ve got a computer, the box will also sync up media with that as before. The real boon though is that they are renting high definition copies of the movies, and again, it’s all just point and click – compared to current solutions where it seems to score is the ease of use. Of course in UK terms, it will really come down to the quality of the available content, so it’s a definite wait and see on this one.

The last big announcement was not the much predicted touch-screen MacBook, however it was a new laptop, and one designed to slot in between the consumer MacBook line and the professional MacBook Pro, filling the gap left by the missing ultra portable pro laptop that was the 12“ Powerbook. What was shown was the Macbook Air, the worlds thinnest laptop. On a purely technological level it is impressive how thin the laptop actually is – amazing compared to most of the laptops people lug around. However screen wise it’s a reasonable size – 13â€?, the same as the MacBook, it also has a decent sized keyboard, and comes with an 80gb hard drive and 2gb RAM. What is amazing is quite how thin it is – a wedge shape 4mm at the front, and 19.4mm at the back, and it weighs in at just over 1Kg. With the same graphics as the MacBook it’s not going to be great games wise, but as an easy to carry laptop it’s great. Price wise it’s not too bad, at just under £1200 for the basic model – although that shoots up to over £2000 if you want the solid state disk option. Alongside this, the laptop introduces a lot of the gestures that appeared on the iPhone and iPod Touch – so it definitely would be a tempting package if I were in the market for a laptop – especially as just like all the other Apple machines you can dual boot into Windows too.

So in terms of the coolest thing announced, it’s certainly the new laptop, but from a personal practical point of view it’s the iPod Touch update and the Time Capsule that are probably what I’m going to end up using… Having said that, it certainly was a great keynote. The whole show is now up on the Apple site so you can ooh and aah along with the Apple faithful, and also proof that in even the best prepared presentations things don’t always quite go according to plan.

Alternatively, if you haven’t got ninety minutes to spend – this is the whole thing compressed into sixty seconds:

Apple Time Capsule originally uploaded by rustybrick

MacBook AIR-04 originally uploaded by Bogdan….

Is Europe a Country?

TechCrunch UK posted this clip alongside an article talking about Apple’s announcement that they are going to try and standardise the cost of downloads across Europe by getting the record companies to standardise their charges. Possibly a little optimistic – but then they did manage to have the clout to get their own way with the phone networks…

Anyway, the clip is worth posting just for the entertainment value…