Civilian Tech Support

Two incidents yesterday consumed lots of investigation and research time. Then, with the right trick, dissolved into nothing. It's finding that "right trick" that's tricky.

Importing Audible Downloads to iTunes

Scott wanted to burn his Audible purchases to CD so he could listen to the books both in his car and on the CD player in his office. He's on Windows 7.

Trying to download purchases from his Audible library page only took us to a generic "how to listen to your audiobooks" page. I poked around the support pages and downloaded the Audible Download Manager (ADM) application--nothing. I authorized his computer to download Audible files--nothing. I installed iTunes because it was clear from the support docs that burning Audible books to CD is really only supported via iTunes. I specified to ADM that we were using iTunes. But again, nothing.

At this point, I contacted tech support via chat and it was escalated up to someone with more divine knowledge. 

She pointed me to an obscure setting on the Accounts page.

  1. Go to Audible.com in your web browser and log in to your account.
  2. Hover your mouse over where it says, "Hi, Firstname!" at the top of the page and select Account Details.
  3. Log in again.
  4. Click Update Settings in the left column. 
  5. At the bottom of the settings page is a section titled Software Verification with a single checkbox. That setting controls whether Audible will check to see if the Audible Download Manager (ADM) is on the user's computer. Clear that checkbox (that is, turn it OFF -- we did not want Audible to check if ADM was installed).

After clearing that setting, clicking the Download button downloaded a file called "admhelper." I double-clicked the admhelper file and the download instantly started in ADM. It even loaded the file into iTunes' Audiobooks section. (If everything were working as expected, ADM would intercept and run that file.)

I would never have found that setting nor would I have known what to do with it had I found it.

Troubleshooting time: about 90 minutes.

The Case of the Rogue MP3 Tags

I had a 2GB collection of 299 short spoken-word audio files. I'd run them through Audio Book Builder to create a multi-part audio book I could listen to using iBooks on my iPhone.

The files were reasonably named in CamelCase format, like "AMomentIWillNeverForget.mp3," and sorted alphabetically in the Finder.

But when I looked at the audiobook "chapters" (that is, the individual MP3 files) in the iBooks interface, there were no filename titles. Only names like "Recording 413" or "Recording 56." It wasn't a sad sad sad thing, but I would have preferred seeing the filenames instead. 

Looking at a sample file with Get Info, I could see that the Title metadata was "Recording 56." 

OK, so the person's recording software automatically assigned a title to the recording. The original recording may even have been automatically titled "Recording 56." So he renamed the file in the Finder or Windows Explorer rather than using audio-editing software. So while the file had his intended name, the file's metadata carried the original "Recording 56."

Which in the real world may not be an issue, but when you want to play that file in iTunes or on any MP3 device, the software will look at the Title tag and ignore the filename. I tried using Doug Adams' Join Together application and got the same result: it read the Title tag, not the filename.

What to do, what to do. I started searching for "mac application mp3 tag editor" and even added "automator." I did not want to individually edit 299 files; it needed to be a batch operation. And I could tell that even Doug's Applescripts could not help me here; they depended on well-tagged files and would not, I think, scoop up the filename for use as a variable.

I skimmed the various offerings using my "zero grief policy" criteria and passed by those that looked old, too fiddly, or required compiling a command-line app (though a command-line app in a script might have been able to do the job). 

I considered Metadatics and looked at the other projects the guy offers. Where there's one audio program available, there are usually 3 or 4. 

And lo, I found it: a freeware app called Tag Stripper. Its purpose in life was simple: to remove all of a file's metadata.

Tag Stripper will eliminate any non-audio data from an audio file. Some examples of tags that are removed are: ID3v1, ID3v2, Logic Metadata, Garage Band Metadata, and Pro Tools Metadata.

Better: all you needed to do was drop one or many files on the application and it would either output the stripped files to a new directory or overwrite the old files.

So maybe I didn't need to be a cleverboots and find a way to switch a tag with a filename. Maybe clearing the tags was all I needed to do.

I tested Tag Stripper on copies of five files, choosing to overwrite the old ones. The Finder showed that the Title metadata was gone. I dragged the new files into Audio Book Builder and lo! The filenames now appeared.

Success! Heady with excitement, I dragged all 299 files onto the Tag Stripper application and watched in awe and delight as it chewed through all the files, one by one, leaving clean files in their place.

I regenerated the audiobook files with the stripped files and I can now scan the filenames in iBooks. My OCD is satisfied.

Time spent: maybe an hour or two, off and on.

Conclusion?

I don't know that there was a method to my troubleshooting beyond: 

  • Know that I can solve the problem, or at least get a result close to what I want.
  • Try stuff. 
  • Ask for help when I don't know what to do next. 
  • Be open to the solution being different from what I expected or wanted.
  • Improvise, dance, adapt to circumstances.

Thing is, I've been futzing with computers since the mid-80s and so this is all a bit of a pastime for me. How do normal people deal with this mess?