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After seeing the satisfaction Don has had with his Canon camera, I didn’t shy away from the brand when finding a replacement for my 4-year-old Sony DSC-P50. I’m certainly not a power user, so I was looking for a camera with modest resolution (by current standards), 3x or greater optical zoom, and easy-to-use point-and-shoot capabilities with the ability to learn how to tweak later. The Canon PowerShot A530, recommended by Steve’s Digicams, was an excellent value and I chose to purchase it. I’ve played around with some of the different resolutions in various shooting situations and have been quite pleased. It came with a 16MB SD card, paltry by today’s standards, but enough to try the camera out. I’ve ordered a 512MB SD card from NewEgg; once I get it I’ll be able to fully utilize the A530.

I’m no iTMS fan, but the new features included in iTunes 7 make me want to consider using it as a librarian more seriously. Right now I use iTunes 6.x for podcast subscriptions (synched to my iPod Nano) and occasionally for streaming to my Airport Express. I prefer to use Winamp with the excellent Remote Speakers plugin to stream to the AX, though. I use Foobar 2000 for everything else. iTunes 7′s gapless playback and Cover Flow features are the most compelling to me. However, my workflow might still be convoluted in this scenario: rip/encode/tag with FB2K/Lame/FreeDB, load into iTunes library to index & get cover art, and hope that FB2K and iTunes don’t mutually destroy ID3 tags. We’ll see.

Albert Faber, the developer behind CDex (my favorite CD ripper) is active again; he’s started releasing beta builds of version 1.70. Thanks to my friends at Hydrogenaudio for the heads-up.

Ross turned me on to Rogue Amoeba’s beta release of Airfoil for Windows yesterday and I tried the software on three different machines: a WinXP laptop, a WinXP tower, and a Win2003 Server. I haven’t gotten it to work yet. I need to try a few more things before I fire off a message to RA.

Update: I’ve gotten it to work on the laptop by redirecting the audio device’s WaveOut to the Airport, as opposed to focusing on redirecting individual apps. It seems good. I will probably purchase it, even though it won’t help with my primary goal, which is redirecting the audio stream from my ICYG source: a Foobar2000 instance running in a RDP session, set to null output. That’s a bit outside of the scope of Airfoil, which is why I’d love a FB2K DSP or output plugin that supports AirTunes.

From what I’ve seen, Airfoil will probably have problems working with my WinXP tower, which has its onboard soundcard, an M-Audio Audiophile 2496, and an M-Audio Revolution 5.1 installed. Need I remind you I’m an audio nerd?

OK, I’m definitely interested in Sony’s news that they will begin supporting AAC in their SonicStage application, which is the software I use to transfer audio from my computer to my Hi-MD Walkman. They already support MP3, WAV, and WMA in addition to their own ATRAC; if they would support Vorbis, they would please me even more.

However, this news combined with Ahead‘s (makers of Nero) release of a free, feature-filled, command-line AAC encoder for Windows (which mates nicely with FB2K) probably spells the end of Vorbis in my music library. I’d already made the decision to do new encodes with MP3 instead of Vorbis. I will continue to prefer to stream using Vorbis, but the format just isn’t supported in enough of the tools I use currently to do otherwise with it. The main tools I use to enjoy my music are FB2K, iTunes, and to a more limited extent, SonicStage and WinAMP. Discussion about the new AAC encoder is going on at Hydrogenaudio.

I’ve started a slow cull through my digital music morass to try to reorganize (especially through superior tagging), trash, and also delete & re-encode the inferior-sounding stuff that I want to keep online. Some of my Vorbis Q3 & Q4 encodes really sound like crap, but so did 128kbps MP3 at the time I made those decisions. The stuff I re-encode will not be Vorbis, but now I want to decide if Nero’s AAC encoder is superior in quality, flexibility, and compatibility as they pertain to my tastes and use versus LAME MP3.

As I’m approaching this I’m realizing that it’s nicer to have a smaller amount of nicer-sounding music that I actually listen to versus a bunch of badly-encoded stuff that I don’t like or never listen to. My collection will be higher-quality as a result, and will be more fun to jack into and play with in the various ways I do.

Last night I moved my router so that I could put the Airport Express into “Access Point” mode and try to decommission my old 802.11B AP. It’s working great, but I haven’t fully tested the range yet. The AE is on the first floor of the house, but is near a far side wall. My old AP was in my upstairs office, which is in the center-front of the house.

The AE has lots of settings when it’s in AP mode as opposed to client mode. Now that its Ethernet port is active, I can now stream from my wired machines directly to the AE.

Now I’m going to start playing with Justeport.

On Christmas Day I set up the Apple Airport Express I received from Melissa successfully with my existing network and wanted to document what I did since I may change things.

The Airport Express software has a Wizard that helps you initially configure the unit. It’s good because it looks at your computer’s current wireless network configuration in an attempt to help you pick the right way to run the AE. I have a network that at its wired core is homed to my Linksys BEFSR41 router. The Linksys has my cable modem plugged into it, as well as a separate 5-port 100Base-TX Netgear switch and my SMC2655W 802.11B access point. Computers are attached to either free ports on the Linksys or the Netgear.

Since I’d read reports that the AE could integrate with non-Apple wireless nets, I decided to try to get it talking to my network through my access point. I’ve been running my wireless network with 64-bit WEP and MAC address filtering for the longest time with success, and didn’t want to compromise my existing config. I found that the AE didn’t support 64-bit WEP; it supported 40-bit, 128-bit, and WPA2 encryption schemes. However, the Orinoco silver PC card I use on my laptop while at home maxes out at 64-bit WEP. For purposes of this project, I went ahead and disabled WEP for the time being. However, my access point still has MAC address filtering on, with only the addresses of my NIC and the AE (which was printed on it) present. Since I don’t do anything critical on my wireless network that isn’t already taking place in a secured session, it’s not that big of a deal.

After reconfiguring my access point and laptop and verifying connectivity, I used the AE configurator to tell the AE to join my existing wireless net (dubbed “CYGNET”, of course!). It connected up fine and told me that the AE was assigned an address through DHCP. It’s nice to know the address of the AE, but it’s not essential since iTunes appears to broadcast to the local network to find AEs to connect to. However, I may try to use Justeport to pipe content to my AE, so having the address is good. The Airport Express’s management software can be used to find out the address if I forget it or it gets assigned a new one since it broadcasts out to look for AEs like iTunes does.

The AE has an audio minijack (1/8″) that accepts analog or digital (optical) connections. On my receiver I’ve used up the digital optical connections, so I used an analog patch cable to the AUX input to connect the AE up. I haven’t used the Ethernet or USB ports at this point.

Once online, a new button appeared to the left of the EQ button in iTunes and let me direct the output to “My Computer” or “Alex’s Airport” (the name I gave it). Once I selected the AE, the audio played through my stereo without much of a delay. I then reconfigured ICYG to output a 320kbps MP3 stream and connected to it through iTunes. The stream sounded quite good on the stereo, but iTunes disconnected from the stream after a few minutes for an unknown reason. I figured the bandwidth might have been too high, so I set it to 256kbps and it’s been more stable.

At this point, I’m considering moving my Linksys router to the family room with my cable modem and the AE, so I can use the AE’s Ethernet port and reconfigure it as a full-fledged wireless access point. Assuming its range is good from that location, I could then decommission my old SMC access point and set up encryption on my network once again. We’ll see.

The AE is a fun toy. Definitely recommended as a way to pump music from your computer to your stereo in a wireless fashion, if you can deal with not having remote control of the music source. If you want a solution that includes source control capabilities, I recommend the Squeezebox, although I haven’t personally used it.

I’ve been impressed by iTunes‘ usability since I started using it with the Nano. It’s got a slick, functional interface. I’ve been considering making it my music librarian, but have decided not to. iTunes doesn’t natively support all the formats I use, most notably Ogg Vorbis and FLAC. I don’t think Apple will ever add support for codecs that aren’t natively supported by iPods. So it will remain a niche player for me.

I’ll continue to use Foobar2000 for the majority of my computer-based music stuff. In fact, once version 0.9 comes out, I plan on trying out plugins new to me, like the Columns UI, to increase its efficiency for me. I also want to delve into its playlist generation and scheduling capabilities, to see if I can’t move more of ICYG’s functionality into FB2K itself.

DSC03438

The iPod Nano arrived today. It’s working as advertised. My only hands-on experience with an iPod was a few minutes fiddling with Don‘s in the car the last time I was out. It’s got a great interface and is very easy to use. Now I’m finally setting up iTunes for real use, as opposed to just being installed for podcast and stream testing!

Thanks again to the people who used my link and completed an offer: Keith, Scott, Ray, and two other people I’m not sure that I know personally. The site isn’t showing me the list of people who arrived through my link, so if I missed you, sorry!

I posted a few other photos out to Flickr if you want to see the packaging and swag that arrived with the Nano.

FreeiPods.com now has the 4GB nano as one of their choices. I’m waiting for just one more completed referral to qualify for mine. I was going for the 20GB color iPod but the nano is just too cool.

If you are considering signing up, please use my link. Thanks.

about.me

Alex Harden

Alex Harden

Musician & IT Pro

alex harden is: aged 43 years · married to melissa · ryan’s and zachary’s dad · a computer geek · a prog & hard rock music fan · an audio nerd · a bass player · a cyclist · a football enthusiast · a/k/a cygnus · thinking local and acting global · hard to categorize

@aharden

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