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Rid Yourself of Digital Media Annoyances

by Preston Gralla, author of Internet Annoyances
02/22/2005

Once upon a time, the living room was the entertainment center of any household. It's where the stereo and radio lived, and where the TV resided. Seated in big, cushy La-Z- Boys or lounging along the floor, people stared or listened while the entertainment washed over them.

Then the PC and the internet hit, and entertainment has never been the same. The computer has become the new entertainment center, and the internet the means of delivering music and video. You can find and share music and video files, burn your own CDs, record songs to your PC from CDs. Never has entertainment been so much in the hands of people.

And never has it been so annoying.

But you needn't stay annoyed--just follow these fixes, sit back in your virtual La-Z- Boy, and enjoy the show.

Unleash a BitTorrent of Music

THE ANNOYANCE: It seems as if every time I try to download a song, I end up with a phony file uploaded by the music industry to put off music sharers. I'm also tired of looking for individual songs--I'd like to download an entire album. Can you solve both problems?

THE FIX: One piece of software will solve both problems for you: BitTorrent. It's peer-to-peer file-sharing software built mainly to download large files, and so typically when you download via BitTorrent, you download an entire album, or even a collection of albums, rather than a single song. When you use it, you actually download bits of the file from a number of people, not a single person, and dividing up the download like this makes the process go faster than a download from a single person.

Figure 1
Figure 1. Download entire albums, or groups of albums, using BitTorrent.

To use BitTorrent, download the BitTorrent software. That page has the "official" BitTorrent software, but there are other BitTorrent-compatible pieces of software you can download as well. In fact, many people think that BitTornado, from http://bittornado.com, is faster and more stable than the original BitTorrent software. Either will do.

Once you have the software, you download music by clicking on a link to a BitTorrent file. Various web sites have links, as well as ways to search for BitTorrent files. A good place to start is bt.etree.org.

Typically, when you download an entire album, you'll download a folder full of MP3 files, which you can use in the same way you can use any other MP3 files.

Open Your Firewalls for BitTorrent

If you use a firewall like ZoneAlarm, or a home router that includes a firewall, you'll have problems using BitTorrent. Either your downloads will go painfully slow, or they won't go at all.

You can solve the problem, though, by opening up specific ports in your firewall, or forwarding them in your router. Open or forward ports 6881 to 6889.

Fix MP3 Tags Automatically

THE ANNOYANCE: I downloaded several hundred MP3 files in the last two days, but their MP3 tags are all screwed up. Most don't have track numbers, or the right artists or categories. I figure I could spend my whole life getting them tagged correctly. Isn't there an automated way of doing it?

THE FIX: The tags you're talking about are called ID3 tags, and they contain information about MP3 songs: title, artist name, album name, genre, and so on. That's how you're able to view information about each track in programs such as MusicMatch Jukebox and Windows Media Player--they use that tag information. When you rip music from a CD, your ripping software automatically creates those tags as well.

Problems come in when you download music from the internet. The music has been ripped from CDs by many different people using many different programs. That means that the tagging for each song will be very different. So even though you may have downloaded all the songs from a particular CD, the tagging may vary, and so there's no way to organize them easily. And the tagging may be incorrect as well.

Any MP3 or digital music player, or music ripper or burner, lets you change the tags manually. For example, in Windows Media Player, right-click on a file, choose Advanced Tag Editor, and you'll be able to edit the tags for the file. But doing that by hand for a large collection can take a long time.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Editing tag information in Windows Media Player can be a laborious process.

If you want to automate the process, get MusicMatch Jukebox. MusicMatch Jukebox has a feature called Super Tagging that automates the process and lets you batch-tag many files at a time. Not only that, but it will also examine files you identify, look into an internet database to check what the real tags should be, and then put the tags on the file for you. Not only does this save time, but it also makes sure that your tags are accurate. To use the feature, highlight the files that you want to tag. Then right-click on them and choose Super Tagging -> Lookup Tag. MusicMatch checks an internet database, then pops up the correct tags for the tracks. Check the tracks for which you want to use the tags, click on Accept Selected Tags, and you're done.

Figure 3
Figure 3. Super Tagging automates the process of tagging music files and checks to make sure that the tags are accurate.

Get a Stand-Alone MP3 Tagger

What if you have a music player besides MusicMatch Jukebox, and you want to solve the problem of bad MP3 tags? After all, it can be a lengthy, time-consuming process to download and install MusicMatch Jukebox and then use the Super Tagging feature if all you want to do is fix tags.

The solution: MP3 Book Helper, freeware available from http://mp3bookhelper.sourceforge.net. As with the MusicMatch Jukebox Super Tagging, it will check a database to find the correct ID3 tags for your files, and let you apply the tags to batches of files, not just to individual ones.

Stop MP3 Files from Throwing a Hissy Fit

THE ANNOYANCE: The MP3s I download pop, skip, and hiss. Am I stuck with digital music that sounds as if it were recorded by Thomas Edison?

THE FIX: If you're willing to do a little bit of work, you can clean up the files so that they don't sound as if they were recorded 90 years ago in someone's kitchen. You'll have to convert them from MP3 to WAV format, clean up the files, and then convert them back to MP3s.

There are a variety of tools for converting files between formats, but I suggest sticking with MusicMatch Jukebox, which is an all-around music player, ripper, burner, and more, as well as a format converter. Get it for free from http://www.musicmatch.com. To convert files from MP3 to WAV, select the files in your library you want to convert, choose File -> Convert Files, select the files you want to convert, specify where you want the converted files stored, select WAV as the format that you want to convert them, to, and then click on Start. They'll all be converted.

Now that you have them in WAV format, you can clean them up. You're not a sound engineer, so your best bet is to get software that will automate the cleanup for you. WaveCorrector, available from http://www.wavecor.co.uk, and WAVClean, available from http://www.excla.com/WAVclean/English, will both eliminate pops, skips, crackles, hisses, and similar annoying noises.

Which program to use depends on whether you want to automate the cleanup or take a hands-on approach, and on how bad the problems are that you want to correct. WAVClean is the more automated of the two: load the WAV file, select Scrub, and choose from the basic settings, and it eliminates hisses and crackles. With WaveCorrector, on the other hand, you see an actual oscilloscope view of the music files, with pops and similar problems highlighted in blue. You can either have the program make the edits to the file itself, or you can preview the edits and do the correcting yourself.

Both programs are shareware and are free to try, but you are expected to pay if you continue using them. WaveCorrector costs $45 to register, and WAVClean costs $30.

Listen to Your Music Collection from Anywhere

THE ANNOYANCE: They frown on storing MP3s on my PC at work, but I can't live without my music collection. Is there a way I can listen to music from my home PC when I'm at work?

THE FIX: You'll need to install software to do it. If you're looking for a simple, bare-bones program, get PIPL, which is an MP3 player that also lets you get access to, and play, your MP3 collection remotely. It's donationware, which means that you can use it for free, but if you feel it's useful, the author asks that you send him what you think it's worth. Go to http://www.programmedintegration.com, click on Products, and then scroll down to the PIPL link, where you can download it.

Move iTunes Collection to a New PC

THE ANNOYANCE: I have several gigabytes of music files in iTunes, and I just bought a new PC. For the life of me, I can't figure out how to get them from my old PC to my new one.

THE FIX: Don't fret; it's easy:

  1. Copy the files to several CDs or a single DVD. Make sure that you copy them, and don't burn them as audio CDs. You'll find your iTunes files in your My Music folder.

  2. Start iTunes on your new PC. Choose Edit -> Preferences -> Advanced. Check the box next to "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library," if it's not already checked.

  3. Put the CD or DVD into the drive of your new PC. Drag the song folders from the CD or DVD window to the Library icon in the iTunes window. The folders and all the songs in them will be copied into iTunes. (From iTunes, you can also choose File -> Add to Library to copy them.)

Figure 4
Figure 4. When importing music from another PC into iTunes, make sure to check the box next to "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library."

NOTE: If you've bought any of the music from the iTunes Music store (www.apple.com/itunes/store), you'll have to type in your iTunes account password if you want to play the copy-protected files. Also, if you're selling, scrapping, or giving away your old computer, make sure to deauthorize it using the option under the Advanced menu of the main iTunes menu bar. If you don't, it will still count as one of the three to five computers you can use to play the files that you've bought. To deauthorize your computer, run iTunes and choose Advanced -> Deauthorize Computer, select Deauthorize Computer for Apple Account, and enter your Apple ID and password.

Stop iTune Popping and Clicking

THE ANNOYANCE: I just imported more than a dozen music files to iTunes by copying them from an audio CD, and every one of them has pops and clicks. Is this iTunes' way of trying to get me to buy music online rather than importing it from CDs?

What's a Missing Codec?

When you try to play an audio or video file, you may sometimes encounter a bizarre-looking error telling you that you're missing the right codec. So what's a codec, and how do you get the right one? A codec (which stands for compressor/decompressor) is a piece of software that compresses an audio or video file so that it's not so giant a download. Codecs are used to compress the file, and you need one to decompress the file as well. MPEG is a codec, as is QuickTime. So if you come across a codec error, it means you don't have the right piece of software to decompress and play the file.

Where to find a missing codec? Head to Codec Central at http://www.dbpoweramp.com/codec-central.htm for all you want to know about codecs, how to get them, and more.

THE FIX: iTunes isn't trying to get you to buy more music; it's just doing a very poor job of copying your audio CDs. Delete all the music files you've imported, because you won't be able to fix them. Select iTunes -> Preferences -> Importing and select the check box next to "Use error correction when reading Audio CDs." The problem should go away, although you'll find that it takes longer to import music than it did previously.

Scrambled iTunes Song Titles

THE ANNOYANCE: I've used several different programs for ripping music before getting iTunes, and now I've imported all the music into iTunes. But all of the titles are scrambled. Now my music collection looks as if it's in Swahili, but my music isn't world music.

THE FIX: The problem is that the programs you used to rip your music stores your music identification tags (ID3) in a different way than iTunes does. To fix the problem, open your music library and select all the songs with scrambled titles. (To select multiple adjacent songs, press the Shift key while clicking on the song titles. To select multiple songs that aren't adjacent, press the Control key and click on them individually.) Then choose Advanced -> Convert ID3 Tags. In the dialog box that appears, check the Reverse Unicode box and click on OK. The song titles should now be fixed.

Figure 5
Figure 5. Don't want your song titles to read like Swahili? Use this dialog box to fix them.

Related Reading

Internet Annoyances
How to Fix the Most Annoying Things about Going Online
By Preston Gralla

Kill the QuickTime Icon

THE ANNOYANCE: Every time I start my PC, a small Q-shaped QuickTime icon appears in my system tray. No matter what I do, it keeps reappearing. Can't I get rid of the godblarned thing?

THE FIX: Right-click on the icon and select QuickTime Preferences -> Browser Plugin. Clear the check box next to "QuickTime system tray icon," and then close the settings box. The icon won't appear anymore.

However, even though the icon doesn't appear any longer, QuickTime still stealthily loads a small applet every time you reboot; this allows the icon to show up, even though you've specifically said you don't want it there. So the icon may be gone, but the applet lives on. The applet is called qttask.exe, and it rates way up on the annoyance meter. You can try to stop it from loading by using the System Configuration Utility. Type msconfig at a command prompt or in the Run box, and choose the Startup tab, then uncheck the box next to qttask and click on OK. In theory, that will stop the persistent sucker from loading on startup. But when you run QuickTime again, the program stealthily undoes your change, and qttask.exe loads on startup. Some people have tried deleting the Registry key that loads qttask (the item with the value qttask.exe under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Run). But you'll run into the same problem--after QuickTime runs again, it re-creates that key.

The solution? Rename or delete the file qttask.exe. QuickTime works perfectly well without it. Find it in the C:\Program Files\quicktime directory, unless you've installed QuickTime somewhere else.

Nonstop QuickTime Error Message

THE ANNOYANCE: Whenever I open QuickTime, I get the error message No Disk, Please Insert Disk In Drive D, and it continually shows up no matter what I do. Make it go away!

THE FIX: The problem may be that you've recently viewed a QuickTime movie from a CD or DVD, and QuickTime is looking for it when it starts. To get rid of the error message, launch QuickTime and choose File -> Open Recent -> Clear Menu.

QuickTime Gets Too Pushy

THE ANNOYANCE: What is it with QuickTime--it's not enough that it plays all my videos, but now it wants to handle all my downloads as well. Whenever I try to download anything, I get a broken QuickTime film icon and the message "The QuickTime plugin requires the QuickTime system extension version 4.1 or later." Help me stop it popping up every time I download anything.

THE FIX: The problem is that QuickTime has grabbed many of your file associations, and so it thinks it should be handling many different file types that it has no business handling. To get its grubby hands off your downloads, run QuickTime and choose Edit -> Preferences -> QuickTime Preferences -> File Type Associations. Uncheck the boxes next to Windows File Types and Internet File Types. From now on, it'll be well- behaved.

Figure 6
Figure 6. To tell QuickTime to keep its hands off many files you download, check only the box for Macintosh file types.

NOTE: Your version of QuickTime may display a different box than the one you see here. Instead of a list of file types like this, there may be a File Types button. Click on that, and you'll be able to select and deselect the types of files you want QuickTime to handle.

Kill QuickTime, but Still Play QuickTime Movies

THE ANNOYANCE: I've finally had it with QuickTime. Nonstop error messages, applets that load in the background without telling me. I don't need all this tsuris. Isn't there a way I can view QuickTime movies without actually using QuickTime?

THE FIX: Yes, you can get a free plugin for Windows Media Player that will play QuickTime movies, and you won't need QuickTime on your system any longer. Remove QuickTime using Add/Remove Programs. Then get QuickTime Alternative from http://www.free-codecs.com/download/QuickTime_Alternative.htm. With it, you'll be able to view QuickTime movies using Windows Media Player.

QuickTime Uninstallation Woes

When you uninstall QuickTime, you may get an error message saying that a QuickTime file is in use and so the program can't be removed. If that happens, it's because you have a Control Panel window open. Close the Control Panel window, then uninstall QuickTime, and it should go off without a hitch.

Stop RealPlayer From Autostarting

THE ANNOYANCE: RealPlayer constantly starts itself up and places itself in my system tray when I boot up Windows, even when I tell it not to. How can I keep this unwanted guest away?

THE FIX: The problem is much bigger than the icon's remaining in your system tray. Even if you manage to get rid of the software that launches that icon, RealPlayer will pop up, unannounced, with messages that you have no interest in receiving.

There are several culprits here. One is a small piece of software that constantly watches the Real site, checking for any software updates. The other is a feature called Message Center, which constantly checks the Real site for messages--often marketing-related, which you generally have no interest in--and then pops those messages up whether you like it or not.

To kill the Message Center annoyance, choose Tools -> Preferences -> Automatic Services -> Configure Message Center. From the screen that appears, uncheck the box next to Check for new messages. Then click on OK, and close the Message Center screen that appears for no humanly understandable reason. Click on OK again when the Preferences screen appears.

Figure 7
Figure 7. Kill RealPlayer's most annoying annoyance by telling it not to check for new messages in the Message Center.

To tell RealPlayer to stop checking for automatic updates, choose Tools -> Preferences -> Automatic Services -> Auto Update, uncheck the box next to "Automatically download and install important updates," and click on OK.

RealPlayer Hijacked My File Types

THE ANNOYANCE: I've installed RealPlayer and it's hijacked all my file types. No matter what kind of media file I want to play, this pushy visitor pops up and starts playing. How can I get my PC back?

THE FIX: When you installed RealPlayer, it asked what kinds of files you wanted it to play. By default, it chose quite a few of them. Like most people, you didn't pay much attention. And then RealPlayer proceeded to, in essence, hijack your PC.

To fix the problem, select Tools -> Preferences -> Content -> Media Types. You'll see a list of file types that RealPlayer has the capability of playing. All those that are checked are associated with RealPlayer. To stop RealPlayer from playing any types, uncheck their boxes and click on OK.

Figure 8
Figure 8. Tell RealPlayer to mind its own business--don't play any file types except its own.

When you do this, the file won't have an association any longer--in other words, Windows doesn't know how to handle it. That's simple to fix, though. The next time you click on a file of that type and try to open it, you'll get a message that Windows can't open that type of file. Click on the button next to "Select the program from a list." A list of programs will pop up. If the program doesn't appear on the list that pops up, click on the Browse button, browse to the program you want to use, and click on Open. Choose the one you want to use to play the file, and check the box that read "Always use the selected program to open this kind of file." Then click on OK. The file will play using the program you specify, and from now on, that program will always be used to play it.

Preston Gralla is the author of Windows Vista in a Nutshell, the Windows Vista Pocket Reference, and is the editor of WindowsDevCenter.com. He is also the author of Internet Annoyances, PC Pest Control, Windows XP Power Hound, and Windows XP Hacks, Second Edition, and co-author of Windows XP Cookbook. He has written more than 30 other books.


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