52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, October 13, 2008

like a monkey with a minature cymbal...

Want to know what I learned this weekend? Well let me tell you: I learned that I've got precisely 10,171 songs on my iPod.

This number is now burned indelibly onto the back of my brain after spending most of the weekend attempting to reconstruct my iTunes library and watching the slow tick-tick-tick of each track being processed in repeated library consolidations and reloads. After a while, I realised that it processed the songs in the same order: the order I ripped them. So I watched the long sequence of files from "Candy Says" by the Velvet Underground through to "Kicked in the Teeth" by AC/DC. Again and again and again over the whole weekend.


Well it's ultimately not a very interesting story, so if this is likely to bore you, I suggest you look away now. Seriously. There were times over the last couple of days when I just could have skipped to the end too.

Anyone still here?

OK, well.... this whole sorry story began when, at some point on Friday night, I realised there was a disconnection between iTunes and the music files on my external hard drive. I synced my iPod and watched as my library turned into a sea of exclamation marks as iTunes tried to tell me that it couldn't locate the tracks.

Obviously, when you've spent literally weeks and weeks of your life over the last four years ripping CDs and acquiring MP3s, and when your iPod is an increasingly central part of your day-to-day life, this is probably the last thing that you want to see. The immediate fear is that the underlying tracks themselves have somehow gone and that you'll have to start all over again. Can you imagine that? Ripping all those CDs? And what about all that other stuff you've somehow got your hands on over the years? What about that? I held my breath and did a quick search in my time capsule drive. Hmm. The source music files all still seem to be there (and anyway, I had only done a full backup onto a completely separate hard drive last weekend, so it wouldn't have been a total catastrophe if they had all gone, as I would be literally one song and 79p poorer. "Handlebars" by Flobots, actually).

Knowing my source material was intact was some comfort, but there then followed hours and hours and hours of fiddling about, trying to work out why the hell iTunes was so confused in the first place and then trying to fix it. iTunes is really a fairly simple beast: you tell it where the music is kept, and it builds a music library based upon that location, but without touching the music files at all. As long as you keep it in the know where your library is stored, then everything should be okay. When I had originally moved my library off my laptop and onto the networked external, wirelessly accessible hard drive, I had been careful to delete all of the residual music on my laptop so that my library was only ever in one place. This was the first thing that I checked, and I was a little troubled to see that a big pile of my library, as well as still being sat on my external drive, appeared to have magically moved back onto the laptop. The tracks that iTunes could actually see were the ones residing in here. No wonder iTunes was confused.


I checked the library settings in iTunes. It had changed back, apparently of its own accord to point at the laptop, and at that point must have copied back a big chunk of the library. I changed the setting, kicked off the magic consolidation process in iTunes that is supposed to make sure that all music files are sat in your specified library location, and I waited as it processed. This took several hours, and I watched as 10,171 files slowly processed. When that consolidation finished, I deleted all of the music remaining on the laptop. My intention was clear: to have only one place that iTunes should look to find my music library... my external drive. Sadly, upon deletion, the songs in iTunes that didn't have exclamation marks against them suddenly now did. All my songs were in one place, and one place only, but iTunes was trying to tell me that it didn't know where any of them were.


All my music was still safe, but how could I sleep until I worked out what was wrong?

By 2am, and several consolidations later (and several more happy hours watching 10,171 files process over and over again), things were no better. I wondered if having the music library in a folder called "My iTunes Music1" was somehow making a difference, and copied the whole lot into "My iTunes Music" on the same drive instead, and then sat and watched as it consolidated the whole lot again. 10,171 files.

No improvement.

At some point on Saturday morning, I managed to do something that duplicated the tracks - at least within iTunes - and I now had the missing tracks, together with all the playcounts and things, and a new set of tracks entirely, all freshly added today and with no playcounts or anything. I still only had the one set of music on the hard drive, which was comforting to some extent, but now iTunes was beginning to really piss me off.

In the end, I took the iTunes library xml file from my laptop and moved it somewhere safe. I reopened iTunes, and because it now had no concept of my library, it was completely (and mercifully) blank. This was definitely an improvement. Through the file menu in iTunes, I then reimported the library xml file, and then left the computer for most of the rest of the day as it processed through all 10,171 files. Again.

When it had finished, there was a message on the screen saying that it hadn't been able to import some files because it couldn't find them.... but as I looked through the library, I could have wept for joy when I saw that there were only 10,171 files present and not a single damn exclamation mark.

I'd done it.

Of course, every playlist and playcount that referenced one of the files that iTunes hadn't been able to find was now gone. I therefore spent most of Sunday afternoon reconstructing the most useful playlists from my iPod and telling myself I didn't care about the playcounts. Finally though, it was the moment of truth: I synced my iPods. My 6gb nano took a couple of hours, so it was no surprise that my 60gb iPod with everything on it took a little longer. So I watched as all 10,171 files transferred slowly -- again -- over the course of the next 12 hours or so.

Well, I didn't sit and watch it all. I read "Snuff" by Chuck Palahniuk too.

All of it.

So curious to know what I did this weekend? Well, for massive chunks of it, I watched a computer processing 10,171 media files over and over and over and over again because a piece of software was a touch confused about where to find them, even though throughout the whole damn process all 10,171 of them had never moved from where they started the weekend in the first place: on my external hard drive.


Now I think of it, I actually started this process with 10,169 music files.

Where the hell did the other two come from?


Stupid computers.

I trust your weekends were more relaxing?

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  • At 6:39 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    I just realized I forgot to mention all the time taken up with gapless playback analysis and album cover stuff. It's all kind of blurred into one horrible, endless memory....

  • At 7:25 pm, Blogger Michael said…

    I think I know what might have happened.

    In the edit menu, under preferances, advanced tab, there is a check box for keeping the iTunes folder organized, and copying files.

    The program will re-arrange folders on the computer, delete empty ones, and rename them to fit the organizational scheme.

    its one of those situations where the program has a mind of its own on how it wants things. Something novice computer users won't notice, but the more you know... the more aggravating it gets. (I've had several run ins like yours that made me figure out this interesting feature.)

    I also think when you click "consolidate library" it organizes and deletes files, depending on where your base folder is. I could be wrong there, as I never mess with that one, as I'm not big on waiting for my 9,230 songs to process.

  • At 8:07 pm, Blogger swisslet said…

    yeah - I'm familiar with those settings and have generally always left them well alone. I think what's more likely to happen is that -- for some reason -- the networked, wireless hard drive wasn't available when I opened iTunes, so it defaulted back to the original setting and I never noticed. One wonky consolidation and several months later, I notice and start fiddling, which probably only made things worse. At one point it was working fine with files in two distinct locations - it recognised half on the laptop and the rest from the external drive.... but I saw that as a fudge and risked screwing it up more (which I did, in the short term), knowing the actual files were safe, in order to get it set up properly. I had a complete "ground zero" option up my sleeve if the "remove XML file and reimport" thing failed, too..... but luckily didn't need to go there.

    When I think about it, what with Last FM and everything, the playcounts are interesting but hardly essential. Knowing what I've been listening to over the last few months is much more interesting, and Last FM does that fine.

    My playlists needed a weed out too.

  • At 12:26 pm, Blogger Rol said…

    Just one more reason why I don't use iTunes and why I back up my library onto DVD at least once a year.

    Snuff is a great novel though.

  • At 2:16 pm, Blogger Paul said…

    On a related subject, are you running a Shuffleathon this year?


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