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Entries in iTunes (2)

Friday
Jun102011

More Thoughts and Questions on iCloud

We now know there will be an option in iOS 5 to purchase more space in iCloud above our free 5 GB allotment. However, there's no indication yet as to how accessible space will be. What if I want to post a video to iCloud and password protect it for only my family to see (something I can do now with MobileMe Gallery). Will that be possible? Could I purchase extra space and move significant portions of files and folders from the current Documents folder on my MacBook Pro to space on my iCloud—something that I can do right now with the MobileMe iDisk? We don't know the answers to these questions yet or the original questions I asked on Tuesday.

Perhaps I simply want iCloud to be more than Apple wants it to be, and I'll need to look elsewhere for other, less integrative solutions.But that makes me go back to a more fundamental question: Is iCloud just about syncing content? So, it will sync calendar, contacts, email, and Safari bookmarks like MobileMe currently does. It will let me access any song I've ever bought from iTunes (already implemented this week) as well as songs that it can match or I can upload for an extra yearly fee. But do I really gain all that much from that over what I already have now?

Why stop there? I notice that while iTunes on my iPad and iPhone show listings for songs I've purchased and can now be downloaded as needed, why can I not also download movies and television shows I've bought through iTunes? Some have suggested that video is not included because of bandwidth—that AT&T and Verizon don't want heavy video downloads on these devices over their networks. And yet I can buy videos on them now and download them, assuming they're under 20 MB, and when they aren't, I have to use WiFi. Again, why can't I keep my video in iCloud, too?

And put entertainment aside for a moment. Do you know what would be really helpful to me? I would find it extremely advantageous if I could sync my entire documents folder to iCloud. Imagine being able to use any mobile device, to sit down at any computer—Mac or Windows—and have access to all your stuff. Why can't I simply keep everything there?

I currently have two hard drives in my MacBook Pro, after removing the optical drive (which I rarely need) and replacing it with a second hard drive using a Data Doubler kit from OWC. There are 142 GB of files in my Documents folder and 298 GB in my itunes folder alone. Why can't I just upload ALL of this to iCloud?

I don't plan to buy a new Mac this year, but one day when I do upgrade, do you know what Mac I'd really like to get? I'd love to get an 11" MacBook Air and use it as my only Mac. I'm totally mesmerized by its small size. The diminutive screen is not an issue. Already, whether I'm at my desk in my office or at my desk at home, I plug my 15" MBP into an external monitor. I've been doing this for a couple of years now. Yes, I sometimes use my Mac by itself, but I really don't need a 15" laptop screen anymore. I could get by just fine with an Air...

Except for one thing: hard drive space. There simply aren't flash memory cards for the MacBook Air—from Apple or third parties—large enough for the data I carry around on a regular basis. Therefore, Apple's iCloud isn't offering me a whole lot of new solutions based on what we've seen so far. It's still going to sync my PIM-type data, and while the easy access to purchased music on any device is nice, that wasn't really a pressing issue for me. I've been given a solution to something that wasn't an immediate problem.

But who knows? Maybe the iCloud will also work like an iDisk. Maybe I'll be able to access it directly just like any other drive mounted on my desktop. Since I'm already used to paying $100 a year for MobileMe, maybe I could pay the same amount for 200 or 300 gigabytes of space and upload everything. This would offer a solution to a real problem and let me upgrade to a computer with a much smaller hard drive requirement next time.

What about you? Does iCloud solve your problems or does it not go far enough? As always, your questions, thoughts, comments and rebuttals are welcome below.

Wednesday
Oct212009

Create Your Own Audio Books

If I hit traffic at the wrong time, I can be in the car up to an hour each day traveling from home to my office and back. Sure, I like music, but just not that much. It seems a bit mindless after awhile. Talk radio? Even more mindless.

So I listen to a lot of audiobooks, podcasts, lectures from iTunesU and other sources—you get the idea. I import them into iTunes and then I transfer them to my iPhone.

You've heard the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Well, for me this afternoon, it was the mother of discovery. See, I'm teaching a six-week Wednesday night class at my Baptist church on understanding and dialoguing with Jehovah's Witnesses. Just as I do with my Sunday morning Bible study, I like to over-prepare. Certainly, I don't mind saying, "I don't know the answer to that; I'll get back to you," but I'd prefer not to if I don't have to.

So this afternoon, as I was packing up to drive home, I thought to myself, I wish I had an audio book about Jehovah's Witnesses to listen to on my commute home. I wondered if there was something cheap at christianaudio.com. There wasn't. I also looked at a couple of other places.

Then, from the far recesses of my mind, I had this vague memory of reading about Mac OS X Snow Leopard's ability to convert text to iTunes spoken audio. See, I knew I had content because I knew I had Zondervan's Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult in Accordance. The question was how to convert it to audio.

First I found the article in Accordance. After highlighting all the text, I right-clicked on it. Nothing in the contextual menu. Accordance has been able to "read" text verbally for a long time. Most Mac applications can, but that wasn't what I was after. I wanted to make an automatic recording. Then, I remembered—it was part of Mac OS X's Services menu. But looking there, I saw nothing related to converting speech to text. However, I did see Services Preferences. Clicking that, I got this dialogue box:

Screen shot 2009-10-21 at 4.19.04 PMNoticing the fourth option in the right pane above (it was technically under the "Text" section), "Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track," all I had to do was check the box.

 

Going back to Accordance with my text selected, I went to the Services menu and chose that option. A little gear showed up in my menu bar and began turning. Then iTunes came to the front and displayed a message that it was converting the text into audio. Then, it was through. Of course, I had no idea where it was. I finally found it under Music with the title "Text to Speech." I looked at the length. I had an a 1 hour and 17 minute audio track! I changed the name to "Jehovah's Witnesses."

 

How long did it take to create it? I went back and created it again, this time using the timer on my iPhone to keep track of how long the process took. It took approximately two minutes! To gain some perspective, I copied the text of the article from Accordance to my clipboard and then pasted it into Word. That produced a 30 page, single-spaced document (with a space between each paragraph).

 

So think about this—a thirty page document converts to an hour and 17 minute audio track, and it only took two minutes to create!

 

Of course, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Yeah, but you have to listen to that mechanized computer voice. You're right, but so what? I've got my speech voice in Mac OS X set to "Alex," and while professional audiobook readers have nothing to worry about, the voice itself has very much improved over the years. Plus, I've spent countless hours of my life listening to people drone on in academic settings using lesser-sounding voices (that's meant as humor).

 

Regardless, the possibilities here are endless. This opens up whole new doors. In Accordance alone, I have more material than I could probably ever read in my life anyway: books, theological journals, reference works, Bibles and more. Further, the ability to convert any text to an iTunes audio track works with any text on my computer, regardless of the source. So, if it's an article from the internet, PDF, word processing document—they can all be converted to audio tracks which can be transferred to my iPhone.

 

What great technology! I also assume that with time, the speech synthesis quality will improve, too. In the meantime, Alex will have to do.