Listen to Your Home iTunes Collection from Work

It’s a well-known bummer that the iTunes “Share” feature only works over your local LAN. You may have no intention of sharing your music collection with the world, or of running your own little public radio station from home, but you simply can’t connect to an iTunes library from another network. It’s a feature, not a bug.


Of course, iTunes Match is meant to solve exactly this problem, but Match has a fatal flaw that makes it unusable by the people who need it the most – its 25,000 song limit. For those of us with legit collections of 50k or 75k tracks, Match isn’t an option. Shame, too – I’d happily pay 2x or 3x the subscription price to get Match working. It’s the answer to my prayers, but off-limits. Apple won’t take my money to solve this problem.

So what if you just want to be able to listen to music on a Mac at home from work? It is possible, but it’ll take some setup work, and 60 bucks (which is one-time fee, and money you won’t have to pay to Apple, Pandora, rdio, MOG or Spotify). And, in my experience, those streaming services only have about half the music in my collection – if I want to listen to my music from work, this is the only option.

The setup works like this:

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Lion’s Broken Color Picker

One of two mystifying downgrades that come with OS X Lion / Mountain Lion* is the fact that all traces of hex values have been removed from the Digital Colorimeter. For hundreds of thousands of web developers, obtaining hex values is the only purpose of Colorimeter, and I suspect that web developers are the bundled app’s main users. This one is a total head-scratcher. Hopefully the change is a bug, not a feature, and it’ll be back someday.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a workable free replacement, check out this simple Colors app. Not quite as elegant, but gets the job done just fine.


* The other mystifying downgrade in Mountain Lion is the “snooze” feature in iCal alerts. You used to be able to set a snooze to be re-reminded a few hours later, or the day before, or whatever you like. Now your only option is to acknowledge the alert and dismiss it, so the daily GTD workflow for bazillions of users is completely broken. What went through the heads of the designers removing this critical feature is anyone’s guess.

Best Mac Upgrade Ever

A couple months ago, upgraded my wife’s old Mac Mini to a 13″ MacBook Air with SSD, and was stunned at how it blew my 3-yr-old MacBook Pro out of the water, performance-wise. Having 8GB rather than 4GB was part of it, but the real clincher was the fact that it shipped with an SSD drive rather spinning platters. I had read about the huge performance gains that solid state gets you, but was unprepared for just how great it feels to work in all-RAM environment. No more waiting 45 seconds for Photoshop to launch (four seconds, anyone?). No more feeling the crunch as you’re trying to start that Skype conference while both Backblaze and Spotlight indexing are competing for swap space.

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Full-Screen Album Art in iTunes

If there’s one thing that bums me out, it’s an MP3 without big beautiful cover art. Like all y’all old-school LP guys, having high-quality album cover art on full display is part of the listening experience.  I’ve just spent the past couple years digitizing my entire LP and CD collections, then tracking down the best-possible cover art for every single one of the 5,000+ albums I ended up with — even if it meant photographing or scanning covers by hand.

With all that work done, I wanted to find a good way to display cover art on the Mac as cleanly as possible, without the clutter of other app windows in the way, and ideally without turning to 3rd-party software.

At first, I thought CoverFlow would be the One True Way, but  in practice, CoverFlow can’t be trusted. I find it constantly gets stuck on a cover, and no amount of toggling the “Now Playing / Selected” widget or switching between List View and CoverFlow view will coax it out of its rut.

Here’s the recipe I came up with – let me know if you have a better one:

0) Make sure all of your music has the highest-quality album art possible :) CoverScout is an awesome tool if you want to automate/simplify the process somewhat.

1) Make sure the Now Playing / Selected preview window is showing by clicking the disclosure triangle at the bottom left.

2) Double-click on the album cover to open it in a new, detached window (never knew you could do that, amiright?)

3) Use Mission Control to move that window to a new desktop. If you’re not already using multiple desktops, just drag the detached cover art window to a blank space near the top of Mission Control.

4) Switch to the new desktop and maximize the Now Playing window.

Now, to see your full-screen album art quickly, just switch to the other desktop. There are several ways to do this quickly in OS X, but I prefer either the three-finger sideswipe (if you have a laptop or trackpad) or Ctrl+Arrow[Left/Right].

Yes, there’s a small bit of setup, but since Mountain Lion restores all windows to their previous state after a reboot, you never have to do it again.

BTW, the cover art display isn’t just pretty – it’s functional too. Hover over the art and a controller will appear, giving you full scrub / skip / pause control, and letting you see the name of the current track and album.

Bonus: Remote Control
The really bad-ass thing is that you don’t have to do this from the Mac where the iTunes library lives – if you have a media server Mac that’s separate from the one you do your work on, you can run it all on a  by remote control, via iTunes Home Sharing.  I do my work on a MacBook Pro from the living room, which talks to iTunes on a Mac Mini server in the office which houses the music collection. The MacBook’s instance of iTunes in turn sends its output via AirPlay to an AirPort Express connected to the stereo across the living room from me. It’s a big crazy triangle, but the experience is completely smooth and user friendly (much nicer than the old VNC solution I used to use). If you would prefer to use a VNC client, I can’t recommend Jolly’s highly enough – the elastic screen feature is trippy, but does an amazing job of compensating for the fact that you might be controlling a huge monitor from a small one.


One Lion/iCloud feature I didn't really pay much attention to but that I'm starting to really love is the PhotoStream. I regularly work on four different Macs (two at work, two at home). Having all my recent photos, taken with any device – available everywhere always without ever having to sync – is turning out to be super useful.

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Blocked from App Store? (What’s In a Name)

Yesterday I got to spend some quality time with an Apple iPad, and quickly discovered that I could not log into the App Store to purchase software. The message I got was “This Apple ID has been disabled for security reasons.” But I purchase content through iTunes regularly on the desktop and iPhone. What’s up? Googling for the error message revealed mixed results. Apple’s official knowledge base article suggested that this can happen if you enter the wrong password too many times. I knew that wasn’t the problem. Then I discovered an article at Redmond Pie talking about how people were being banned from access to the App Store when their usernames included certain “suspicious-looking” strings. My real last name is “Hacker” and I’ve occasionally had trouble signing up for certain services because of it (my poor Dad can’t get a Facebook account to this day – they just ignore his signup attempts). I put two and two together and concluded that I was being banned on account of my name.

Spent half an hour on the phone with Apple, getting bounced from rep to rep, trying to get to the bottom of it. They re-set my account, but the problem remained. Then I realized what I had been doing wrong. Back in the day, Apple services took single-word usernames, like “shacker,” which I had long used to log into the Apple developer center, support forums, and other services. At a certain point, Apple converted these IDs to require a login in the form of an email address. I had simply forgotten this and was trying to use my old Apple ID rather than the email address associated with my Apple account.

The fact that Apple threw this confusing dialog, combined with the blog post I had found referencing hackers being locked out, combined with my previous experience being unable to sign up for certain services, all conspired to make me think I was being blocked because of my name. The truth turned out to be much simpler.

All is well.

iTunes Remote Control

bragg.jpg Update, April 2016: Since iTunes 12 and Apple Music, I now store my entire collection in the cloud and am able to access/control it from anywhere, easily, and to redirect the output to any AirPlay device. So the notes below are no longer relevant.

Scenario: Music collection on an iMac in the office on one end of the house, pumping music over Airport Express to stereo in the living room on the other. Need to be able to remotely navigate collection and control playback from a laptop in the living room.

Seemingly perfect solution: iTunes Remote app for iPhone, connecting to the office Mac via wi-fi. Close, but not quite. At first, iTunes Remote app seems like the perfect remote control, complete with album covers. But a real remote you can pick up and operate on a moment’s notice, no strings attached. The iTunes Remote app, on the other hand, takes around 10 seconds to re-connect to the remote library every time you want to use it. You wouldn’t accept that kind of delay from any other remote control, so iTunes Remote gets annoying fast.

Alternative 1: Enable iTunes Sharing on the office Mac, then launch a copy of iTunes on the living room laptop and access the shared library. Configure iTunes to send music from the laptop directly to the AEX. Problem solved? Not quite. I rely heavily on the ability to rate tracks as they roll through. 1 or 2 stars for the tracks I can live without, then periodically cull duds from the collection based on ratings. Tracks with 4 or 5 stars form the basis for my best playlists. Unfortunately, when connecting to a remote library in this way, you have read-only access, and no way to rate tracks on the remote box. Bzzzzzt, deal-breaker.

Remote_iTunes_Logo_1.jpg Alternative 2: Third-party software. There are a few shareware packages available in this niche, but the only one I found that worked reliably was Jonathan Beebe’s open source Remote iTunes. The interface is a stripped down clone of iTunes itself, but its remoting ability includes something iTunes does not – the ability to authenticate as an admin user. Enter the IP of the office Mac, a username and pass, and give it a few seconds to pull across the music library index. Once connected, it stays connected, and you get the ability to rate tunes on the remote system. It’s not perfect, but close enough for jazz.

I’d love for iTunes itself to grow this ability so I’d have access to all iTunes features. Alternatively, I’d kill (not literally) for a desktop version of the iPhone Remote app. But Remote iTunes gets the job done with less pain than anything else I’ve tried.

Could You Work in Windows?

How much is your Mac – or rather your Mac lifestyle – worth to you?

Just so we have some standard of reference as to what constitutes a “killer” job offer, we’re defining it here as making 25% more than you make now, all other factors being equal (same commute, same quality of co-workers, same boss, etc.)

Obviously, people who already work all day in Windows shouldn’t vote (but feel free to comment).

If you got a killer job offer but found out you'd have to use Windows all day every day, would you take it?

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iTunes and Network Attached Storage

Deets on recent iTunes weirdness and attempted solutions, mostly for people asking about it on Twitter.

I’ve been storing my music collection on an Infrant ReadyNAS RAID system for more than a year. Aside from slow write speeds over a lame 10 megabit connection, it’s worked really well, and it’s comforting to know that, even though I’m not backing up the collection, at least I’m reasonably well-protected from disk failure.

But over the past month or so, I’ve been noticing more and more of those little exclamation marks in iTunes indicating that a track could not be found. Ah… turned out I had accidentally run iTunes for a while with the NAS unmounted, and iTunes had re-set the base dir to my home (thank you, how nice!), so now the collection was partially split across volumes.

I could re-navigate to find missing tracks individually, but there were too many to catch them all, and because the files weren’t on a local volume, the process per-file was agonizingly slow. Tried the Advanced | Consolidate menu option to try and force iTunes to put everything back on the NAS, but no dice – still a sea of exclamation points.
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ARD Lite

The screen sharing feature in Leopard and in the new version of iChat already partially mitigates the need for Apple Remote Desktop in some environments, but this hack turns screen sharing into something very close to ARD by adding a bunch of additional features and controls. In other words, the screen sharing feature apparently is ARD with features stripped out – this hack lets you pop ’em back in. I can imagine this hack being disabled in the next software update….

Music: Henry Threadgill :: Grief