Breathing New Life into Old Hardware

If it still works, why not use it?

Since moving into my home, I’ve been looking for a speaker solution that would allow me to play music or podcasts throughout my home and garage. I did all the wiring for my home, but I (sadly) did not think of wiring it for audio. Repeated Googling and Amazon shopping did not give me the kind of system I wanted: a wifi-based speaker setup that would work with my phone. All I could find was Bluetooth solutions, which were a real pain in the ass — every time I moved out of range, the sound would cut out, sometimes requiring a manual reconnect.

I was on Apple’s website this morning looking for a Homekit-compatible light switch. That’s a whole other story and I’ll try to tell it briefly: I have high ceilings in my living space and my heating ducts are pretty high on the wall. Two of them are actually up on my loft. Heat rises so, in the winter, it gets pretty warm up on the loft (and high up in the living room and bedroom). I have a temperature sensor in the loft that works with a smart plug to turn on a fan there when the loft temperature exceeds 74°F and shut off the fan when it drops back down below 71°F. (It also stays off at night since it isn’t exactly quiet and I don’t want to listen to it when I’m trying to sleep.) The fan pushes the air out into the living room where two standard ceiling fans push the warm air down into the room. It works great and keeps the furnace from running all day long, but I have to manually turn on those two ceiling fans. I want smart switches that’ll use the temperature sensor in the loft to turn them on and off automatically. So that’s why I was at Apple’s website: to see what smart switches they offered.

While I was there, I reacquainted myself with Airplay, which I actually blogged about way back in 2005 when it was called AirTunes. Back in those days, I was writing books about using Mac OS and had to buy all kinds of hardware to write about it. I’d bought an AirPort Express base station and later bought another one. I think I used them for music or printers or both. I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.

Well, I still have both of those old AirPort Express base stations. For a while, I was using one of them for remote printing from my color laser printer, which I kept in my loft. My office is up there now and the printer is directly connected to my iMac so I don’t need the AirPort Express. I started wondering whether I could still use it for speakers.

The short answer: Yes.

Of course, it wasn’t easy to set up. Even though my desktop Mac is now about 6 years old and is running an old version of Mac OS — 10.10.5 Yosemite — the version of the AirPort Utility I needed to configure a 12-year-old AirPort Express would not run on my computer. I even fired up my old MacBook Pro, which is running Mac OS 10.9, and it wouldn’t run on that, either. I knew I’d configured it just a few years ago for the printer and had to do some Googling to remember how I’d done it. That’s when I found the ZCS AirPort Utility Launcher. This free utility fools AirPort Utility v5.6.1 into thinking it’s getting launched on an old version of Mac OS. That gets it running so it can configure the old base station.

An Old Version of AirPort Utility
Here’s AirPort Utility 5.6.1 running on a Mac with the Yosemite OS installed. Both of my old AirPort Express base stations are configured for speaker duty.

Even then I had trouble getting it to see the base station. I had to use an Ethernet cable to connect the damn thing directly to my ACUS router. And reset the base station by pressing in the tiny button with a pen point.

But once the software could see the base station, it configured it without any problems. I had it connect to my 2.4 G network. Then I hooked up a pair of cheap powered speakers that I used to use with my Mac, and got it playing music from my iMac and, later, from my iPhone. Success!

I went down into the garage and tracked down the other AirPort Express. I set it up the same way. I hooked that up to a stereo clock radio in the bedroom that I rarely use. I might even put it by the bed.

I still have an old Time Capsule somewhere; if I can find it, I’ll set it up for the living room and move the Express down into the garage. I’ve got an old boom box down there with great speakers; it should work fine with AirPlay.

Of course, the next hurdle to jump was being able to play music on multiple AirPlay speakers at the same time. After all, I wanted my music all over the house and garage when I was playing it. My phone could only stream to one device at a time.

More Googling. This time, I learned about an Apple iOS app called Remote. I could install it on my iPhone, pair the phone to my computer’s copy of iTunes, and be able to access my computer’s music from my phone. It works. And it sounds pretty damn good coming from speakers all over the house.

I know this blog post makes me sound super geeky. Deep down inside, I am. I especially love taking old computer hardware that most people would have thrown away by now and use it for a new purpose. Sure — I could go out and buy new AirPort Express base stations at a cost of $99 each. But why should I when the old ones I have still work?

Dancing in the Moonlight

Triggering memories with just a song title.

This morning, at 3 AM, a mouse walked into the humane mousetrap I’d set at the bottom of Alex the Bird’s cage. As it struggled to get out, the rattling of the little plastic trap woke me up. At 3 AM.

I’m not sleeping well these days and once I was up and had silenced the trap I couldn’t get back to sleep. I reached for my iPad and checked out Twitter and Facebook. My U.K. friends are always up in the middle of my night and I thought they might have something interesting to say or some interesting link to follow. Something to keep my mind off the personal problems that are making sleep so tough these days.

I found a Facebook update from a pilot friend who’d just returned from an overseas contract. I’m assuming he won’t mind if I reproduce it here:

I have not used Pandora on my phone for about a month.This morning before I select Pandora to plug into the jeep I am singing “Dancin’ in the Moonlight”! It was the last song I had on A month ago! I did not remember that, but my subconscious did!

Ball and Chain Ad
Image from killingtime2 on Flickr.

And that triggered a memory from forty years ago…sitting on my bed in the attic bedroom I shared with my sister, listening to “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest on a Panasonic “Ball and Chain” AM radio. My radio was dark blue, my bedspread and the wallpaper were pink. It was 1972, the year the song came out, and I was about 11 years old. I was just beginning my “music enlightenment” — discovering that there was more music than the Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole my parents listened to on their console stereo downstairs. I tuned into WWDJ in those days, a Hackensack, NJ-based pop radio station.

I remember fiddling with the tuning dial on that radio, picking up weak signals from faraway places like Chicago and Philadelphia and Boston.

I clearly remember listening to other Top 40 pop songs on that silly little radio: Precious and Few (Climax), Also Sprach Zarathustra (theme from 2001; Deodado), Crocodile Rock and Bennie and the Jets (Elton John), Your Mama Don’t Dance (Loggins and Messina), My Maria (B.W. Stevenson), Ain’t No Sunshine and Lean on Me (Bill Withers), American Pie (Don McLean), An Old Fashioned Love Song and Shambala (Three Dog Night), Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is? (Chicago), Oye Como Va (Santana), Angie (Rolling Stones), Pick Up the Pieces (Average White Band), I Shot the Sheriff (Eric Clapton), Killing Me Softly with His Song (Roberta Flack), My Love (Paul McCartney and Wings), Alone Again (Naturally) (Gilbert O’Sulllivan), Brandy (Looking Glass), A Horse with No Name (America), Without You (Nilsson), I can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash), The Candy Man (Sammy Davis, Jr.), I Am Woman (Helen Reddy), Nights in White Satin (The Moody Blues), Song Sung Blue (Neil Diamond), Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (Tony Orlando & Dawn), You’re So Vain (Carly Simon), Superstition (Stevie Wonder), Let’s Get It On (Marvin Gaye), Photograph (Ringo Starr), Half-Breed (Cher), Brother Louie (Stories), Love Train (The O’Jays), Will It Go Round in Circles (Billy Preston), Kodachrome (Paul Simon), Give Me Love (George Harrison), and Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce). With a little help from Top 40 songs lists, I can go on and on. What kids today call “oldies” is what I listened to on that silly little radio in the early 1970s.

I was listening to that radio in my bedroom when Jim Croce‘s death in a plane crash was announced in 1973.

In 1973, I began buying record albums and playing them on a portable turntable set up in a corner of our room. I still have those albums, many of which have the year of purchase written in the upper corner of the album jacket.

In 1974, WWDJ suddenly switched to an all-religion broadcast. By then, I’d begun exploring FM radio with WNEW-FM, a real rock station, on the same console that played Sinatra for my parents downstairs.

All those memories, triggered by a Facebook update.

This morning, when I sat down at my computer, I decided to play Dancing In the Moonlight. I was very surprised to find that it wasn’t on my Mac in iTunes. Easily remedied: I went to, did a search, and had the MP3 playing within minutes. 99¢ wasn’t much of a financial burden for a music-based flashback.

For a moment, in my mind, I was back in that old attic bedroom with that silly little radio on my bedside table, listening to its tinny sound. Back then, could I ever imagine that I’d be listening to the song from my computer, plugged into a surround-sound system in an RV in the middle of Washington State? I don’t think so.

And to my Facebook friend: thanks for triggering the memory.

The iBooks Author Gamble

Taking a chance and not liking what I see so far.

iBooks IconIn late February and early March, I spent about 2 weeks porting my existing 242-page iBooks Author book to iBooks Author software for publication as an iBooks 2-compatible interactive (or “enhanced”) ebook.

Moving over the text wasn’t a huge deal — mostly copy and paste, followed by the application of styles I’d created or modified for my custom iBooks Author template. But rather than simply copy and paste the 100+ screenshots that are part of the print, epub, and Kindle format books, I decided to rely on videos to tell the story. So I spent most of that time recording a total of 3 hours of original video content based on the numbered step-by-step instructions in the book. I also used the Gallery widget and created an illustrated Glossary.

The final book turned out to be 150 pages and 1.3 GB in size. And it looked awesome (if I do say so myself) — the perfect example of how a iBooks Author could be used to create how-to content.

The Waiting Begins

Final Count
It took 55 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I submitted the files to Apple via iTunes Connect on Sunday and began waiting for approval.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — I spent the week waiting. It’s now Friday and I’m still waiting.

In iTunes Connect, the book’s status remains:

Book In Review. This book is currently being reviewed for quality assurance.

A New Week brings New Developments

Final Count
It took 75 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I’d already committed to converting my Making Movies book to iBooks Author format. Because the video for that book already existed — I used video clips taken from the example movie — the creation process was much quicker. I figure I put a total of 10 hours into the conversion process. I submitted it today.

And that’s when I discovered two things:

  • Apple no longer allows submissions of books created with iBooks Author 1.0 (or 1.0.1). It requires the latest version, released the other day, iBooks Author 1.1, which includes support for the new iPad. My iBooks Author book was created with the previous version. Is that what’s holding up approval?
  • A warning appeared on screen when I attempted to upload my 233 MB book, telling me that Apple recommends that books be no larger than 200 MB because some users might have trouble downloading a larger book file. My iBooks Author book was considerably larger than this. Is that what’s holding up approval?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing. Apple’s iTunes Connect/iBookstore support is absolutely dismal. If you ask a question, you’re lucky to get a response in less than a week — if you get any response at all. And that response is likely to be “canned” — in other words, boilerplate text possibly chosen at random by the support person who handled your request.

Rejection Could Be Painful

And nagging away at the back of my mind is a blog post by Seth Godin where he reported that his book had been rejected from the iBookstore because it contained links to printed books on

While my book doesn’t contain any offensive links — at least I don’t think it does — what if Apple decides to reject it because it’s too big? In the wrong format? They don’t like my videos?

All I can think of is the hours and hours of work I put into that edition, possibly wasted on the whim of some reviewer at Apple.

Apple Needs to Get Serious

Today I read a blog post on TUAW about the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice is apparently mounting against Apple. In it was this line:

Apple says that it wants to sell as many ebooks as possible, which is totally believable since the company is still a relative bit player in the ebook market.

From where I sit, I don’t see Apple being very serious about this at all. If Apple were serious, it would have a much better process in place to review and approve iBookstore submissions. After all, you can’t “sell as many ebooks as possible” if dozens or hundreds of them are stalled in the approval process day after day for a week or more. It wouldn’t be rejecting ebooks because it doesn’t like the links they include. And it certainly wouldn’t generate frustration and dissatisfaction among content creators — the people actually creating the books they supposedly want to sell.

Call Me an Idiot

I’ll beat a few of you to the punchline by admitting that I look like an idiot.

Back in January, when everyone was voicing outrage over the iBooks Author EULA, I wrote a blog post that told people they were basically worrying about nothing. In response to concerns about the approval process, I said:

I see Apple’s approval process as a GOOD thing. Right now, there’s nothing stopping anyone from publishing any crap they want as an ebook and distributing through services like Amazon Kindle. This is a far cry from publishing as we’ve known it, where only authors and works approved and edited by an experienced, professional publishing company team would be published. Apple’s review process helps weed out the crap and make its library of content more valuable to iBookstore shoppers. While some folks might be fearful that Apple will not approve their work, I’m not — and you shouldn’t be either. People who can turn out quality work should have nothing to worry about as far as the approval process goes.

Now there is some concern over Apple using this power to censor content. For example, perhaps they refuse to publish a book that says negative things about Apple or its founders. (Remember how they pulled all of a certain publisher’s books out of the Apple Store after they published an unflattering biography of Steve Jobs some years back?) I’m not terribly worried about that, but I do admit that it is a possibility. Obviously, if there are documented examples of Apple not approving something that should be approved, I’d be willing to revisit this point. For now, however, I don’t think it’s an issue.

Yes, I’m an idiot.

I didn’t realize that Apple’s approval process had the potential to be slow and unfair.

I naively assumed that Apple was concerned with quality — after all, isn’t that what’s holding up my book: a quality review? And quality didn’t worry me because I know I can create quality work.

But what if it’s some other criteria that Apple’s reviewers are concerned with? Something other than links to File size, file format. Or, worse yet, something I can’t fix? And how will I know? When will I know?

Every day that book isn’t in the iBookstore is a day that I — and my partner, Apple — don’t sell any copies.

What to Do?

What’s the right answer? The right approach?

Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: I’m not going to waste another second of my time assembling yet another title in iBooks Author and submitting it to the void via iTunes Connect.

Instead, I’ll wait — as if I have any other option — and see approach. And I’ll use this experience to guide me for future submissions created with iBooks Author.

Got any iBook Author/iBookstore stories you want to share? Comment on this post.

March 19. 2012 Update: It has now been more than two weeks since I submitted my first iBooks Author-created book for approval to the iBookstore. I am still waiting for approval. This is not a good sign, folks. If you’ve already gone through the approval process, please take a moment to tell us how long it took. And if you’re waiting, please let us know how long you’ve been waiting. I’ll update this when (or if?) my book is approved.

March 28, 2012 Update: I finally heard from Apple about the first book I submitted. It had a number of trademark-related issues that needed to be resolved. I wrote about them here.

May 1, 2012 Update: While I was traveling, my iBooks Author book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approval was about 55. I removed the count up timer. My Making Movies book has still not been approved. I feel completely idiotic that I actually believed my books would be reviewed within a week.

May 23, 2012 Update: My Making Movies book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approved was 75. The last 3 weeks was spent nagging Apple to explain why it was holding back the book for metadata issues without putting a “ticket” on it.