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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sometimes a project turns out great

We all do projects around our homes, whatever those homes are… painting, plumbing repairs, replacing light fixtures, etc. Some of these projects turn out poorly, some have a so-so outcome, and some turn out great.

Here's a great one.

Gail and I had accumulated about 150 CDs. For the most part they sat on a shelf, although collectively they represent several thousand dollars of "music inventory". After years of procrastinating, during 2015 I managed to digitize them all. (I used a Linux ripper to avoid any complications from despicable DRM.) Now the music exists on a family file server upstairs as well as an old Windows laptop downstairs in a former TV cabinet now serving as the stereo cabinet. The rest of the configuration is a good external sound card, a stereo amplifier that's a holdover from my bachelor days, a pair of Pioneer bookshelf speakers, and freeware called MusicBee on the laptop. You want the external sound card if you have a laptop; most laptops have crappy internal sound cards. Why MusicBee? I dislike Windows Media Player.

Right now, the configuration is working its way through a shuffled playlist of 10 hours of Christmas music. Many of the CDs in our Christmas collection had been played only a few times. Now we will finally extract value from the music inventory.

Having the entire collection on a hard drive also makes it easier to keep smartphones and MP3 players loaded with good stuff. Yes, I still have a vanilla MP3 player. It's my go-to device on transoceanic flights; using it doesn't deplete the battery on my iPhones.

As for the CDs themselves, I kept them. They are backup, and in case copyright law ever takes a different turn, I am almost certain that my rights to use the ripped MP3s will be preserved so long as I keep the physical CDs. More importantly, the MP3 format will not last forever. Someday it will be superceded, and because the conversion to MP3 is "lossy", you will want to re-rip the CDs when that day comes.

However, I threw away all the jewel boxes and inserted the CDs in simple paper sleeves. Now the CDs easily fit into a single CD cabinet that we bought years ago. Before, the CDs were scattered in several storage locations because the jewel boxes were so bulky.

Problems during this project? It required a lot of time. There are services that will digitize CDs and other media such as DVDs or VHS tapes for a fee, but I didn't want to spend money on that. Some of the CDs had been scratched over the years, and I wasn't always able to recover them. I'd say about 1 in 25 CDs had too many read errors to mess with; those went into the trash. About 1 in 10 CDs had a bad spot or two, but most of the tracks on those were recoverable. I had to make adjustments to the equipment lineup to prevent 60 hertz hum from DC ground loops. And all those jewel boxes took several plastic trash bags to hold. But overall, the project was a success.

If you are sitting on top of a mostly idle CD horde, think about a project like this for 2016.