I’m writing this post on a brand new MacBook Air, because this Spring our 10-year-old MacBook was STOLEN along with a bunch of other stuff. I’m not going to dwell on all that was taken from the lighthouse, and how that affected us psychologically. Instead I’m going to focus on what was saved.
The two most precious things lost to us on our computer were our photos and our music. They were saved on an external drive (instead of the computer), but the drive was taken too. That hard drive represented close to a decade of memories and music. My wife was more shattered by the loss of the pictures, but for me it was the music library. Sure, I could log into iTunes and download any purchased music again, but that made up a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall library. That library was made up of personal CDs that I ripped and then smugly got rid of, rare bootlegs (mostly of U2 concerts, but oddly enough it included one bootleg of the Dave Matthews Band. Maybe I was moved by his acting in Because of Winn Dixie and I wanted more? Who can say what I was thinking all those years ago? Some of were gifts from friends, and yes: some were LIBRARY COPIES, (borrowed for personal use only, you guys). I don’t think that’s against the librarian’s code. I mean, come on.
The photos held way more sentimental value for my wife, as they began back in 2008 and included our daughter’s birth and growth up to this past Spring. I can hear you muttering about “the cloud” and yes, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see the value of saving stuff on “the cloud” for easy retrieval, but I was backing stuff up on hard drives, so there were back ups, I just didn’t conceive of a break in and a major theft.
Our old MacBook was getting sluggish in its old age, and we knew we would have to replace it one of these days. It really didn’t surf the Internet very well, and I only really used it to add music to my iTunes and synch with my iPods. Even then, it was a kind of “cross your fingers and hope for the best” kind of situation every time I ripped a CD. It even changed the standard for adding stuff. I had to be really damn sure that I wanted it in my permanent collection because it was becoming more and more of a pain. For example, the new Beck album, Colours, made it on there, but I drew the line at the new Killers album. I liked it, but it didn’t reach the threshold of “iTunes worthy” in my mind. I know: that “Don’t Give Up on Me” song is really great, but does the album as a whole quality? Reader, I decided not. i regret that now.
This all sounds hopeless, but I am happy to report that ALL WAS NOT LOST. A day or two after the theft, my wife remembered that she had BACKED UP MANY MANY PHOTOS on a couple of thumb drives AND HIDDEN THEM IN A SECRET SPOT IN OUR LIGHTHOUSE and they were still there, untouched and unstolen. Now, these weren’t ALL of our photos, obviously, but a good number of the best of the best, because she spent a lot of time going through and saving only the keepers. So: all I need to do is upload those pictures into our iPhoto library and we are back in business. We took some solace in the fact that when we were kids, we only had one album each dedicated to us from birth up to early teenage years. A generous estimate would be somewhere between 150-200 photos per album. I looked at that album (and the one for my younger brother) over and over again as a kid and never once did I think, “I wish there were more pictures”. There were as many pictures as there were, and that seemed just fine. We actually have a physical album for our daughter, carefully curated by my wife and our daughter mere days before the theft, AS IF SOMEHOW THEY KNEW A BAD THING WAS ON THE HORIZON, and I’d say that album is close in size to the one I had as a kid AND I THINK I HAD A GREAT CHILDHOOD WITH THE APPROPRIATE NUMBER OF PHOTOS TO LOOK AT. My daughter took a scattered approach in her selection and placement of pictures, so it doesn’t follow chronologically, but rather it is a haphazard collection of her with different people at all ages and stages between 0-8. It makes it a bit difficult to place pictures in a particular time or place, but it makes for a more interesting viewing experience. So, our pictures are somewhat saved.
It was a different story for my music library. As mentioned, I had amassed a large collection of music over the last decade, and now it was all gone.
Well, maybe not ALL gone. I had a iPod touch and an iPod Classic, which, even though they were in plain view, neither one was taken in the theft and that was the one glimmer of hope I had in the weeks leading up to getting a new MacBook. The iPod touch was 32 GB, so although it had my most favourite albums and artists on there it was nowhere near a complete library. The iPod classic, however, boasts a storage space of 160 GB, and I was nowhere near filling that. (I think it was hovering around the 60 GB neighbourhood). And while I can’t say for sure if every song on my iTunes was also on my iPod Classic, I’d say it was so close that whatever wasn’t didn’t matter. I made a point of adding every new album to the iPod Classic and only adding some to the iPod touch. I actually had a really needlessly complicated file system for my music on my old computer. Imagine that: a librarian coming up with a new classification system. Who could have predicted that? I actually had two completely separate (but virtually identical) libraries for my Touch and Classic, and would only sync the right pod with the right library. I know it doubled my storage space (hence the saving to external drives) but I liked having that kind of control. Another x-factor in all this was the computer itself.
MacBooks have changed quite a lot in the past ten years. For one, they don’t make the same model as our old one, but talking with an Apple employee, he was really sympathetic regarding our loss and listened to us explain exactly what we wanted to use the computer for and what we needed it to do. It helped that we had a price range in mind, thanks to our excellent insurance adjuster who has been nothing but helpful throughout the process. Shoutout to Jean, if you’re reading this! Working with our budget, we decided that a MacBook Air was the best machine for us for a number of reasons. It is considered the “workhorse” MacBook that doesn’t have the highest resolution or processor speed (although both are miles better than our old 10 year old machine) but it reliable and is the only laptop that still has regular USB ports. I wasn’t really keen on getting an adapter for these new mini USB ports that come on the other MacBook models, and it even comes with a camera memory card reader so when you are uploading photos you don’t have to plug the whole camera in. (I mean you still can if you want to, but you can also just take out the camera card and cut out the middle man). This sounded like the machine for us. And we were able to customize it by maxing out the memory on it, which was a nice feature. The one downside was that to make it so slim, Apple eliminated the disc drive, which I still use a fair amount (even though I guess the world is going wireless). It would mean I would need to attach an external drive every time I wanted to use a disc, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker.
I know Apple calls their employees “Geniuses” in the same eyerolly way that Subway refers to their employees as “Sandwich Artists”, but in this case the salesperson had a really genius solution to a problem that has dogged us for almost ten years. On our old MacBook my wife and I had separate log ins and profiles, which was great. I had all of my weird stuff on my side, and she had all of her weird stuff on her side and we weren’t in each other’s way. The problem soon came up when she wanted to add photos to the computer. At the time, I was the only one who had an Apple ID, so the photos and music were at home on my profile. Whenever my wife needed to add photos, or edit them, or print them or whatever, I had to log in as myself and let her in on my side, which was fine but a little bit of a nuisance. I tried to see if there was a way to create a “shared folder” and there probably is but I could never really figure it out and I was afraid of messing around with iPhoto in case I did a “mass erase” or some terrible thing. We just lived with it. (The music wasn’t a problem because up until last year I was the only one who had an iPod).
So, I asked this helpful salesperson about creating a shared folder for music and photos. Is it possible to do that now on the new OS? (I assumed it was). The scrunched up his face and said that there wasn’t really an easy way to share access to photos and music since the music at least is tied to a person’s Apple ID, he DID suggest (and this is the genius part) that we should just created a shared profile, along with our own personal profiles, and use that shared profile for music and photos. So simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. We even created a login for our daughter, with parental controls (filtering which sites she can get on, and limiting how much computer time she can have in a day, and when her profile shuts down at night. It’s really quite great).
So, that shared profile solves the problem of my wife and I accessing the same iPhoto and iTunes libraries, but it doesn’t do anything for my music retrieval. I asked our insurance lady whether data files were covered, knowing what the answer probably already was, (and I was right. They weren’t. covered). If I had physical CDs stolen, then those would have been covered, but who uses CDs these days?
From there I turned my attention to my iPods. They were dead ducks unless I could somehow transfer the songs BACK onto a new computer. I knew iTunes wasn’t set up for that, and that iPods would normally “synch” with an iTunes library when you plugged it in, and if I plugged either of my iPods in without changing some settings, the computer would helpfully sync the iPods to an EMPTY LIBRARY ON THE COMPUTER, thus effectively erasing them. I did NOT want that outcome at any cost.
I turned first to a couple of friends who were sort of techy and sort of into Macs. My first friend was upfront about not knowing how to save the music, but kindly offered for me to come over and “replenish” my library with stuff from his own. I really appreciated his honesty regarding his ability to retrieve my music, rather than pretending to know how and ending up with nothing. Another friend had a convoluted plan to synch it to an old MacBook that he owned and then transferring it to an external drive which I could use as the restoring drive whenever I bought my new computer. I appreciated his ingenuity but I didn’t fully understand his rube goldbergesque route to restoring the music, and then somehow I would be trapped in some outdated technology loop for ever? It was unclear whether he was offering the use of his old MacBook for this purpose only, or whether he was willing to sell it to us, or even give it to us. We never got that far into the conversation before I contacted a “data recovery” service. I explained my problem, and they gave me a lot of hope. They said the songs were definitely salvageable and they generously offered to take a launch to the lighthouse and do it in person whenever I had my new computer. They even sent me a $25 off coupon. I didn’t ask how much this service cost, but if they were going to knock off $25 without me even asking, they much be charging at LEAST $100, right? Maybe $200. This was money I was willing to pay to save. library of over 12,000 songs, but I kept looking for other solutions.
This is where my buzz marketing comes in. SENUTI! (Or iTunes spelled backwards, you guys). It’s a third-party program that claims to be able to transfer songs from iPods back into iTunes. There is a free trial for up to 1000 songs, and a $18.99 license for unlimited transfers. At this point I knew I had to “go big or go home” so I bought the license without even trying the demo. What did I have to lose? Just 10 years of my musical life. No pressure, right?
Well, let me be the poster boy for the success of this excellent little program. I downloaded it, installed it, and carefully prepped my iTunes so that it would not sync automatically as soon as I plugged something in. Senuti is powerful but even IT would be stymied if you told your computer go synch up without giving it a second thought. So, with my iTunes prepped, I opened senuTi. It simply said, “Connect iPod to begin”, and while holding my breath and a saying a “here goes nothing” in my head, I connected the iPod Classic.
Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I must have set iTunes up correctly because instead of erasing my iPod, I saw a window open with all my music files listed. I could sort by album, artist, title, genre, you name it. The interface was easy to figure out. You just highlighted the tracks I wanted, and hit the “transfer button” and they were instantaneously transferred back into my new empty iTunes library. I had a moment of fear where an error message popped up saying seunTi couldn’t transfer the music because it couldn’t find the iTunes library folder. I fiddled a bit with the settings (meaning I can’t remember now exactly how I fixed that) but whatever I did worked because the songs showed up in iTunes. Home again! I suppose I could have done a “select all” and pushed “transfer” and walked away, but I thought this was a perfect opportunity to weed the library a little bit. A moment ago I was lamenting the loss of everything, and now here I was taking a critical eye to what I had accumulated. But just like moving house, why pack up stuff that you don’t really need anymore? There were albums and artists on there that I don’t think I even listened to once in the past ten years, or artists that I wanted to get familiar with because they were openers for a headliner I really cared about. Some of those openers I came to love and kept (Snow Patrol, for example) and some were quite forgettable (The Fray and The Arctic Monkeys to name a couple. Don’t @ me). I also had a weirdly high number of audiobooks on there that I didn’t transfer back over. Audiobooks that I never even listened to. I think I loaded up the Classic when it was looking like we were going on strike a few years ago, and I thought I could use my time on the picket line to catch up on some books I had always meant to read. No need for them now, as we are safely renewed for another 4 years, and if it comes to that again, I think I’ll rely on Overdrive for my audiobook needs.
To make sure I didn’t miss anything hiding on the Classic, I went through by artist first, then by album. I think I’ll still do a run-through on “genre” to catch oddities like “holiday” and “soundtracks” that might not fit nicely into the artist or album lists. I did the same thing with the iPod touch, and was surprised to find a handful of albums on there that WEREN’T on the Classic. I guess nobody’s perfect and I must have added the odd album directly to the Touch without syncing the Classic, which means that there are probably a few outliers that were in my iTunes but not on either my Classic or Touch, and those ones are well and truly lost. But like I said, that’s okay. I retrieved 95% to 98% of my music library, and to quote U2, “what you don’t have, you don’t need it anyway”.
The one weird little glitch or anomaly with senuTi is that only SOME of the album artwork transferred over. I could see if none of the artwork transferred. That might mean that I didn’t have one of the metadata boxes checked or something (I checked on all that), but it’s weird that SOME transferred over and others didn’t. Not a big deal in the scheme of things. I much rather have the music file without the album artwork than have the artwork without the music file. And it’s pretty easy, albeit a big time-consuming, to manually import album art myself. Maybe a project for a rainy day.
So consider this the longest Yelp! review for a piece of software. I give it full marks, or 4 stars, or 10 hearts or whatever they use on Yelp! (I’ve never been on Yelp! you guys).
And if this blog post helps even one other person who has lost their iTunes library but has an echo of it on a portable device, then it was worth me writing it.
And if the good people at senuTi read this, thank you SO MUCH again for making this thing. I will be spreading the good word. I will even wear a senuTi t-shirt or button or whatever and recommend your app to the customers I encounter on a daily basis a public librarian.
senuTi everybody! They go both ways! (New Slogan?)
p.s. I made that “Innocence and Experience” playlist that I mentioned in the last blog post, thanks to senuTi, and it’s PRETTY GOOD, although I think I’ll move Cedarwood Road to further down in the list and swallow my pride (no pun intended) and add The Showman early on just for funners.
That’s all from me. I’m off to listen to some music, y’all!