Monday, 24 December 2012

Tips to improve your iTunes library's artists view.

Written for iTunes users who are passionate about organizing their music library.

Out of iTunes 11's four library music views ('songs', 'albums', 'artists' and 'genres'), I now enjoy using artists the most. It wasn't always like that; an erratic collection of compilations had resulted in a long scrolling view that was irritating to navigate. Tired of the genre view and wanting a fresh way to select my music-of-the-moment, I decided to spend time improving my artists view.

Tagging album and song information more appropriately (as described in the tips below) was a good choice as I now have a much better iTunes-user experience: I not only have a speedy way to select an artist's songs and benefit from a more varied listening-experience (than my past reliance on playlists or Genius Mixes), but now also can quickly use the linked 'iTunes Store', 'Listeners Also Bought' and 'Related' options views to find pre-releases, live and cover versions, novelties and remixes that I ordinarily would not have been aware of.

Follow these steps below and you can also have a better iTunes experience using your artists view:

1. Find and change your compilations' album artist titles
The highest selling albums in South Africa have tended to be compilations, which may pose a challenge for local iTunes users' artists view as iTunes prioritizes the 'album artist' field when displaying an artist's albums and singles. This may result in some of your favorite artists, DJs and tunes being hidden in this view, particularly if they are labelled 'Various Artists', 'Various' et al. in the album artist field and their album is also ticked as a compilation type. It's easy enough to check the extent of this challenge in your library, by opening the 'compilations' and 'various artists' "artists" in your artist view and seeing their size (you should also check that there are no namesakes (like 'Various'). It is easy enough to fix, select the songs of your 'best of' albums and change the album artist name to his or her name. (N.B. If you tire of being automatically redirected to the start of your artist view, remember to use the shift and letter shortcut to get back to where you were making changes).

2. Hide artists best viewed under genre
Your library may feature artists who's oeuvre is not large or interesting enough to merit your focus in the artists view. Simply change their album artist field to 'Various Artists' and they will be hidden in the artists view.

3. Change individual album artist names to their more famous band's (or vice-versa)
To ease selection, you may want to move an individual artist under their band's name (say Agnetha Fältskog under ABBA). Simply change their album artist field to their band's name. Of course, this may be reversed, where relevant (i.e. by placing Cream under Eric Clapton). Although nitpicking purists may frown at this, it's your music collection to label and the resulting streamlined view is likely to take priority over complete accuracy.

4. Order tunes and the best remixes under your favorite DJs and producers
In those cases where DJ mixes, re-mixes or producer work are so distinctive that they merit being featured under artists, you should enter the DJ or producer's name in the 'album artist' field. I suggest you also append all DJ's names with DJ (i.e. 'DJ Tonka' or 'DJ Armin Van Buuren'), which makes it easy to select and see the DJs you follow under the artists view's DJ section (just press 'shift' key, followed by 'd' then 'j'). Unfortunately,  iTunes only supports one artist entry under its 'artist' and 'album artist' fields, so you may be forced to choose which DJ to highlight a seminal collaboration (such as DJs Sasha and John Digweed) or to label the duo as a distinctive artist.

5. Group soundtrack albums by their composer or director
Following on from DJs, there are also some composers (such as Angelo Badalamenti) or directors (like David Lynch) whose soundtracks are so distinctive that you want to group them under the composer's or director's name. Again specify the 'album artist' field to arrange it.

6. Collate an artist's pseudonyms under one artist's name
Electronic music artists in particular are well-known for using multiple aliases and it is helpful to use the 'album artist' field to group work that would otherwise be listed under distinct artists (i.e. AFX, Blue Calx, Bradley Strider, Caustic Window, DJ Smojphace, GAK, Martin Tressider, Polygon Window, Power-Pill, Q-Chastic, Tahnaiya Russell, The Dice Man, Soit-P.P., and speculatively The Tuss, for the Aphex Twin).

7. Get rid of multiple titles for an artist
iTunes does not support attribution to multiple artists, which I have found particularly problematic with classical music; where the conductor, composer and orchestra have all been attributed under the 'artist' field. To address this, I have decided to only use the artist field for the most important performer and to cut-and-paste the composer's information into the 'composer' field. How you address it depends on your priorities; you are most welcome to label Mozart under "artist", for example!

8. Get rid of 'one hit wonders'
To reduce the artists present in your view, you can also remove any one hit wonders {who only play for a short time when selected, anyway}. However, before doing this, check the artist's 'In The Store' view, just in case the 'one hit wonder' describes your library's content, not the artist's output :) !

If you have any other helpful tips, please share them in the comments box below.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Online portfolio users new to computers must get familiar with these new terms and processes.

Written for Visual Arts or Design learners new to online portfolio page creation and computers.

As a learner who wants to create one online portfolio (or more), but has not been taught computer courses and may have limited access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in school and home, you need to learn about the new terms and processes involved in working digitally. This post was written to help you better prepare for these:

1. Getting familiar with new words, acronyms, symbols and signs in online portfolio creation.
If you are used to working on paper and canvas, the move to working on a computer screen involves learning new words (such as 'screen resolution'), acronyms (like DPI), symbols (i.e. ©) and signs (e.g. @) and new processes (such as 'file editing and saving'). It is useful to ask your educator to provide definitions if you do not understand what he or she is talking about to avoid misunderstanding what is being taught. You can also research almost any word, acronym, symbol or sign's definition using Google and other search engines:

1.1 New words
It is important to understand the words used for online portfolio page design elements (such as uniform resource locator, title, header, body, footer, et al.) as your educator is likely to provide you with guidelines for each choice. If you don't know the terms he or she refers to in lessons, you may struggle to understand the reasoning behind the guidelines. Please ask your educator if you need further help or you can find out what new words mean by using a search engine; simply type in the word you want to know, a plus (+) sign, then the word definition straight after (i.e. type 'uniform+resource+locator definition' into www.google.co.za). If you can spare the time, it's best to read through several results to gain a broader understanding of the word's definitions and usage. {You should also read my post on 'Online portfolio page design element questions to help you in creating a better one', as it lists these elements with important questions on your use of them}.

1.2 New acronyms
Acronyms are heavily used in ICT and those you will encounter when creating your online portfolio will fall under the categories including: imagery digitization (DPI, OCR); file format selection (JPG, GIF, PNG); internet-use (WWW, HTTP, .COM) and screen display sizes (W, H). Please ask your educator to explain the acronyms you do not know, or search for them (for example, type 'JPG+definition into google.com and click to its top results).

1.3 New symbols
The symbols you are most likely to encounter in online portfolio use are © for copyright,   for trademark and ® for registered trademark. If you encounter others, ask your teacher for help. It is also useful to get help with sourcing special symbols when typing in your computer's word processing software and via your browser. You can then also ask to be shown how to cut-and-paste these into your  online portfolio.

1.4 New signs
A sign you will definitely use is the at sign (@) in creating your email address (i.e. @gmail.com). You may want to experiment with signs for emoticon creation {i.e. listening to music d(-_-)b}, too}!

2 New processes
If you are new to working with a computer, you should sit close to a more knowledgeable peer or your teacher to get help with; using its keyboard, editing and saving files, using relevant software, accessing your lab's network and installing drivers for your own device(s):

2.1 Working with a keyboard
Be sure you get help if you are struggling to type what you intended to. Pressing a "wrong" button just once on your keyboard can create very irritating results: 'Caps lock' will capitalize all your text; 'Num lock' can prevent you entering numbers; and 'Ins' can lead to you typing over content you didn't intend to. You may also need to be shown by your educator or peers how to select alternate keys (such as the symbols above your numeric keyboard) using the relevant key combinations for your operating system and its software.

2.2 Editing and saving files
You probably have already used a mobile phone to edit and save pictures and search through these. But on moving to a shared computer in a lab, saving, editing and accessing these files often becomes more complicated, because your lab's computer is setup for many users with more complicated file paths. Your educator should show you how to setup and access a folder on the desktop where you can save your online portfolio-related work securely.

2.3 Using your computer's relevant software
In digitizing imagery, you may need to edit its size, colour balance and resolution. Ask your educator or computer lab's manager to show you which software is available for this; your computer may have a basic image editing and management software (like Microsoft Picture Manager) pre-installed or more advanced software like Graphic Image Manipulation Program, Corel Photo Paint or Adobe Photoshop.

2.4 Accessing your lab's computer network
If you are scanning imagery at a different computer from the one you normally use and wish to copy it across, you should ask your educator or lab manager to show you how to access the lab's network and copy your scanned image(s) across. This is also useful if you have to use a different computer from the one you normally have access to.
  
2.5 Installing drivers for your own devices
If you bringing your own device to class, you should bring the device's software drivers and a storage device (like a USB flash drive), too. Hopefully, your school lab's computers are up-to-date enough to install the driver and link to your device. If not, you should ask to be given access to the lastest  computer at your school, so that you can install the relevant driver, download your files, save them to your storage device and transfer them to your personal folder.

Online portfolio page design element questions to help you in creating a better one.

Written for learners new to online portfolio page design choices, plus their educators.

You are already familiar with writing on paper. As you begin to work onscreen as well, it is important to understand the important differences between the analog environment of paper and the screen's digital one. The key aspects to consider whilst designing your online portfolio pages are categorized below, with related questions to answer in helping you design a better portfolio:

1. Understand the terms that define your online portfolio page's layout
Your online portfolio page is constructed using a digital page template that is constructed from a database of entries. Each webpage is constructed inside your web browser and, in Carbonmade's case, has a 'header bar' (featuring the portfolio title and 'Work' and 'About' navigation buttons), a 'page title' (either the artwork project folder's or the name you chose for your about page), a 'body section' (on your homepage this includes your project artwork folders and their titles; in your project's pages an artwork with its labels and tags and in your about page, your description, profile picture and related entries) and a 'footer' (typically used for a statement protecting your artwork's copyright). In reviewing each portfolio page, have you thoroughly defined entries for your; header bar, page title, body section and footer? If not, your page is likely to appear incomplete!

2. Use a spell-checker for your profile description
Are you sure that there are no spelling mistakes in your portfolio? While you may have to rely on your memory or a dictionary when hand-writing your profile, you should write your profile up in a word processing program (like Microsoft Word or Google Documents) to ensure that its spelling is correct. Once you're done, you can 'cut' the text content and 'paste' it into your profile description.

3. Check your digitized artworks' orientation matches your screen's
Paper is commonly used in portrait format, while all screens are made in landscape format. Before uploading digitised artwork, ask yourself if it is formatted for optimal display in the new format? If not, you should experiment with rotating, rescaling and different image resolutions to achieve the desired effect.

4. Check that all the elements of your online portfolio page's structure are present and work well with each other
The designers of Carbonmade's featured portfolios tend to take advantage of all the design options it provides. In particular, their choices for each of these webpage design elements must work together to create a thoroughly-professional impression. Check yours does too, by asking:

4.1 Online browser elements

4.1.1 Does your web address reflect the identity you're aiming to create?
4.1.2 Does your website title save well as a bookmark (see browser- and social bookmarking)?

4.2 Page title elements
4.2.1 Does your portfolio's title link well to your web address and portfolio's content?
4.2.2 Do your homepage navigation buttons link to complete pages?
 
4.3 Page body elements
4.3.1 Does the background colour you selected for your online portfolio resonate with the overall exhibition space effect you are trying to create (i.e. if your portfolio features mostly sketches, you may want to choose a white background to suggest a sketchbook)?
4.3.2 Does your page's heading tie in well with the page body content?
4.3.3 Do the text options you chose with your font's type, size and colour enhance the page's overall look-and-feel?
4.3.4 Have you titled your artwork project folder categories appropriately and chosen cover imagery for them that best highlights their content?
4.3.5 Does the format of the thumbnails you chose (one, two or three per row) create the effect you wanted (for example, choosing one thumbnail per row creates a landscaped cinematic effect for each image)?
4.3.6 Does the labels you chose for your artwork folders look best inside the folder, below it or
should you rather design folder covers that include custom text?
4.3.7 Have you chosen an appropriate style of artwork navigation (either flipbook, flipbook with thumbnails or list) in each folder and is it beneficial to stick to a common style across all folders?
4.3.8 Have your titled your digitised artwork imagery well enough for any viewer to attribute your artwork appropriately?
4.3.9 Have you added sufficient meta-information for your artwork folders and the digitised images they include? (For example, did you enter; an artwork description, a folder description, the relevant tags and a client description?)
4.3.10 Have you linked to your other web presences that relate to your online portfolio?
4.3.11 If you have chosen that you are 'Available for freelance', have you provided appropriate contact details that still protect your privacy from undesirable audiences?

5.  Check that your copyright is protected
5.1 Have you added appropriate copyright statements in each artwork's description or your folder labels and your page footer to assert your moral rights as the artworks creator and protect them?

Hope answering these questions helps you create a better, more coherent online portfolio.

Monday, 17 December 2012

11 points to improve iTunes (versions 11.2 and beyond)

Written for Apple iTune's developers and their future users. 

iTunes 11 featured many improvements from version 10. Coming soon after a version 11.1 update, here's my eleven points worth on improving aspects of the user's experience (which I just submitted to the iTunes team on http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html):

1. Add functionality to import wishlists from one's previous iTunes Store.
For those customers moving from one country's iTunes Store to a newly-opened one, consider providing them with the ability to copy their wish-list from their original Store to the new. In the ideal world, these could even be cross-linked; highlighting which content is only available in a particular iTunes Store.

2. Make artist labeling more idiot-proof.
What is the difference between 'Fleetwood Mac' and 'Fleetwood Mac '? Well, one hard to spot space at the end of the name, that's what. And these are then considered "different artists". There are more easy to spot variations, such as; 'The Jacksons', 'The Jackson 5' and 'Jackson 5', but which is the best option to replace all names with? It would be useful if iTunes could help prevent duplicate artists popping up by flagging commonly misnamed ones and suggesting the 'official spelling'. {Also, where names are duplicated, how about a 'country' tag to differentiate them?}

3. Multiple lines for artist names.
In cutting-and-pasting, I noticed by mistake that one can enter a paragraph-long entry for an artist's name? Not sure who uses this, but if it's as useless as it looks like, please remove the multiple lines option for an artist's name. Or let me know what it's for, ta?

4. Provide an override for auto-corrects to artist album or names 
While iPhone auto-corrects can be hilarious (as proved on http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com/), it's not so funny when every time you try and correct an incorrectly-named-album-or-artist and it just keeps defaulting to the prior, incorrect name. The work-around of typing the correct entry in another field and copying-and-pasting it into the correct field is a bit of a schlep. So, please give users like me an override option, thanks.

5. One step forward, two scrolls back.
I'm unusually detailed (yes, that's the nice way of saying it) in wanting accurately-defined iTunes song labels and recently spent a few hours ensuring my artist list didn't feature 'one hit wonders', et al., so that I could readily select the more prolific using the 'Music > Artists' view. However, this was a time-consuming process; after changing a song or multiple songs' information, I was bumped back to the start of my Music Library and returning back to where I was could take a few scrolls or keystrokes. So, kindly give the user an option to stay where they are, after making changes to song information, too.

6. Suggest a shortcut.
The shortcut to quickly move through the 'Music > Artists' view is to 1. select an Artist's name, 2. Press down the shift key, immediately followed by the artist's name's letter(s) i.e. TKZ. It would be very helpful to highlight shortcut tips where I selected the same style of operation via the long keyboard way round! {And while you're at it, how about a shortcut function to quickly navigate through album titles?}

7. Please can I hide that artist, song, album or whatever?
In going through my iTunes song list, I was shocked and amazed to discover that it featured a remix of a Paris Hilton tune and some song by that woman-beating Chris Brown… or other. And then there was even Blondie's "Greatest Hits". Who added that; it could't possibly have been me :) ! As an alternative to deleting them, how can I prevent my (few) hipster, synth-playing friends spotting those trashy tunes and ridiculing my terrible taste? Well, I can't until iTunes gives me an option to hide them…

8. Where is that playing from?
While iTunes gives you great access to a range of media, the flipside is that it's sometimes hard to remember where you've been and to easily get back to what you're currently playing. Especially if it was viewed via the 'Music > Artists > In the Store' route and one's subsequently moved into the deep recesses of your Music Library. It'd be neat to have a show 'Currently playing in the iTunes Store' shortcut.

9. A best-practice user guide
In adding new music to iTunes from non-iTunes Store sources, it'd be useful to have an online reference showcasing the best ways to: title a single versus an album; assign a song to multiple artists, etc.

10. A 'request that song' function
I was searching for Qkumba Zoo's 'Cloud Eyes' under the South African iTunes Store and it wasn't available. It would be useful if I could add items that aren't currently in the store to my wish list, as a variety of 'back-order'.

11. More user-friendly network error messaging
Coming from a bandwidth-constrained, developing-world country, I'd appreciate better error-messaging around network issues. While 'Can't access the iTunes store' is accurate, it doesn't give the user much to act on. For example, warning the user not to 'simultaneously stream music, download songs and order new ones' would be more so...

N.B. Apple's iTunes team don't normally provide individuals with feedback, but I'll add it as a comment to this post, if they do.

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