Database goodness

I now have my iTunes library copied into a MySQL database. Thank goodness for tools that automate such processes. I have added a “Label” column (for entering the record label name) to my database and plan to add columns for individual instruments. I wish iTunes supported these things by default, or had an extensible interface for adding addition meta-data. I’d love to be able to make a smart playlist such as:

“All Lee Morgan compositions recorded on Blue Note albums between 1962-1967, engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.”

While this level of specification is definitely not needed by most, it is great for those who want to study an artist’s output in detail. It is also good for those who are obsessive about organizing their music. I’m not obsessive about my music collection being organized. I’m anal.

Note to self:

Learn how to:

  1. Program in Objective-C (once Panther is out).
  2. Write simple Java?
  3. Use MySQL/PostgreSQL and SQL in general.
  4. Wrangle text with the command line tools.

Furthermore . . .

Why does iTunes not remember the position of playlists that are opened as separate windows?

Also, Excel would benefit from cursor coordinate highlighting – the column and row which the mouse cursor was in should highlight slightly to make it easier to determine precisely what cell you are in.

It's blue, it's an address . . .

But it’s not a link! I am rather tired of Read Me and help files under OS X that have Web and e-mail address links colored with the default browser link colors, but do not function as actual links. If you are writing a help file in which addresses will be displayed, write it in HTML. I don’t know if the situation has changed any in 10.3, but Apple really ought to make it possible for documents authors to include working URL links in RTF files.

Safari, Camino, and OmniWeb’s “Open URL” services are handy, but not nearly as simple as clicking on a text link.

Attack of the filename dependency!

A friend was having trouble installing the OS X version of Mozilla Firebird. This process is usually extremely simple: double-click the compressed file (assuming your browser or compression utility doesn’t handle such things automatically), mount the disk image, then drag the application to wherever you would like it to reside.

I was perplexed as to what the problem could be until he pasted the text of an error message into an IM: “the document “mozillafirebird-0.6.1-mac.dmg.g is an unknown format.” The .tgz file extension had somehow been screwed up. Adding the t z to the opposing sides of the g fixed the problem and made the file usable.

The moral of the story is that file extensions are an archaic, oftentimes perplexing way to determine file types. MIME types or T/C codes are much more transparent to end users. No user should have to guess as to a file’s type in order to access it. While there is no perfect typing system, filename extensions are certainly one of the worst.

Wonderfully ironic

Here’s a somewhat amusing quote from Robert Scoble (while he was still at UserLand):

every PC today is really a macintosh | Acts of Volition

Virginia Howlett at Microsoft told me she designed Windows using a Macintosh (she was lead interface designer on Windows 3x). I have a feeling that she moved over to Windows 95 shortly after she told me this, but it still is an interesting piece of trivia.

Steve Wozniak is one of the nicest and most genuine people I know. He still answers his email, by the way, and if you call him on his phone number (you can find it on the Internet — it’s the same number he’s had for more than 10 years) he’ll pick up the phone and talk with you.

I owe my career to Woz and will always have a soft spot in my heart for him.

iTunes stream browsing, nested playlists

An interface for Internet audio streams more like the Library and Music Store browsing interfaces is one of the few things I would change about iTunes.

Two panes spanning the full height of the window – genre in the left, station in the right. This would allow for easier categorical browsing.

The downside would be that you couldn’t view multiple stream categories at once. That capability doesn’t seem all that useful, so I don’t think it would be missed.

Also among my few feature requests is nested playlists. Having a sizable collection of music , I have several playlists of one genre, divided based on year. I’d like to be able to shove them into a top-level container labeled with the genre name, allowing me to keep them together without being constantly displayed. I understand the desire to keep things simple, but we don’t all have the luxury of monitors running at 1600×1200.

Smart Bookmarks?

This idea came to me as I was both using iTunes’s Smart Playlists and managing my bookmarks in Safari. Since both Safari and Camino‘s bookmarks are stored in an XML format, I’m sure it is possible to add several useful meta-data types to them. A rating option and a comment field (already available in Camino) would be nice. XBEL does not appear to immediately support a rating system, but it could probably be added to the standard.

With an ever expanding collection of bookmarks, I find that there are quite a few sites that are worth bookmarking, but are not necessarily great or frequently updated/visited. OmniWeb allows you to set a custom site-update checking interval for every bookmark, but this is not very useful as an organizational metric. An “out of five stars” rating system would be easily understood by users and useful as a possible organizer. Ratings could be used to sort your bookmarks, allowing you to put your frequent visited sites at the tops of menus without having to manually arrange them.

If you have four sites with a five-star rating, how could you specify what order you wanted those four to appear in? iTunes handles this by simply ordering them alphabetically, but this takes a bit of control out of the user’s hands.

The type of list building and sorting that is available in iTunes playlists would be useful in many other applications, but it is dependent on there being a meta-data infrastructure. You can’t build a list based on nothing! Bookmarks themselves have very little meta-data by default – the name of the site is about it. If Apple would adopt and get involved in the expansion of XBEL as a cross-browser bookmark format, things might improve.

Another drag

I would like to be able to drag the address bar link/icon from Safari to the Mail Dock icon to open a new message with that URL in the body. This sounds reasonable to me. Some of my other ideas may be wacky or impractical, but I don’t think that is the case with this one.