Stream Planet Rock radio in MusicBee on your PC

Pure Evoke-1XT Marshall edition
Pure Evoke-1XT Marshall edition

I wake up most mornings to Planet Rock radio on my beloved Pure Evoke-1XT Marshall DAB radio. But that’s in my bedroom, I don’t currently have a DAB radio in my study and Screamer Radio no longer works for Planet Rock.

Which got me thinking: could I somehow convince my digital music player of choice, MusicBee, to stream Planet Rock? It seems to handle pretty much everything else I throw at it.

The answer is yes; this is how in three easy steps.

1. Find the Stream URL

The first thing to find out was obviously the URL to stream Planet Rock. Thankfully that is displayed very prominently on their listening online page. This is what they currently are (although I guess, they may be subject to change):

  • http://www.planetrock.com/planetrock.m3u
  • http://tx.sharp-stream.com/icecast.php?i=planetrock.mp3

Both work, depending on the player you use, e.g. iTunes, Windows Media Player, MusicBee, etc; I use the first one.

2. Play the stream in MusicBee

Next, we need to tell MusicBee to use that stream.

Screenshot of MusicBee menu
File > Open Stream

That’s as simple as opening the menu and selecting:

  1. File > Open Stream.
  2. Then paste in the URL and click OK.
Screenshot of dialog to enter URL
Paste the URL then click OK

This may take a few seconds while MusicBee connects to the streaming audio feed and then BINGO! you’ll suddenly be listening to Planet Rock on your PC.

Don’t go setting your watch, though, to the streamed version. It can have a few seconds delay between broadcast and it emerging from your PC’s speakers. (My PC stream is currently 1 minute 25 seconds behind my DAB radio broadcast.) This is due to the software buffering enough data to ensure continuous playback, so that if some data goes missing and has to be re-requested from the server or if there is a local data bottleneck the audio doesn’t suddenly drop out.

What’s nice is if you use the first URL (the one ending /planetrock.m3u) then MusicBee will also display the name of the track currently playing:

Screenshot showing the name of the track currently playing: Iron Maiden—Wrathchild
Now playing…

3. Save the stream as a playlist

The final thing we need to do is tell MusicBee to remember this station. It would be a bit of a hassle to have to find, copy and paste that URL every time you want to listen to the radio.

Again, that’s simple.

  1. Right-click the name of the track
  2. From the context-menu select: Send To… > Playlist > <New Playlist>.
  3. A new playlist will be created in the Playlists panel, with the edit caret waiting for you to give it a name.
  4. Enter a meaningful name, mine says Planet Rock DAB.
  5. Then press Enter to save it.
Screenshot showing how to save the playlist
Send to > Playlist >

Conclusion

That’s all there is to it.

While I usually listen to MusicBee using the compact player view, when listening to streamed radio I prefer the mini player view which also pulls in the current track’s artwork.

Screenshot of mini player view
MusicBee mini player view

Software removal tool fixed my problem with Chrome running slowly

Progress cursor shows an egg-timer next to a pointer
They call this progress…?

Me and Google Chrome had another falling out this week. This time it wasn’t about bookmarks but speed.

For some reason, over the last couple of days Google Chrome suddenly felt very sluggish. Whenever I opened a new tab it would take a few seconds to open and a few more to load the page—notably longer than usual.

And a similar experience after closing a tab: the cursor would change to the ‘progress’ cursor (arrow with egg-timer) for a few seconds.

Having put up with it for a couple of days I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Things I tried that didn’t fix it

  1. Running system file checker (sfc /scannow) from an elevated command prompt.
  2. Disable all extensions (chrome://extensions/).
  3. Disable all plugins (chrome://plugins).
  4. Disable hardware acceleration in settings.
  5. Uninstall Chrome, reinstall dev channel version.
  6. Uninstall other recently-installed applications.
  7. Run Malwarebytes scan (0 threats found).

One forum suggested installing the latest NVIDIA graphics card drivers. Another pondered whether it was related to the recent Windows update. Plenty of people advised switching off hardware acceleration (I’d tried that, it didn’t help).

What I tried that did

The Chrome software removal tool — still currently in beta — is a clever application that scans and removes any software that may cause problems with Google Chrome.

This application will scan and remove software that may cause problems with Chrome, such as crashes, unusual startup pages or toolbars, unexpected ads you can't get rid of, or otherwise changing your browsing experience.
This application will scan and remove software that may cause problems with Chrome, such as crashes, unusual startup pages or toolbars, unexpected ads you can’t get rid of, or otherwise changing your browsing experience.

I ran it. I waited, and hoped, and it worked! I have my whizzy Chrome back. I guess that something was corrupted.

As well as scanning for typical malware that can corrupt your installation of Google Chrome it also kindly offers to perform a ‘factory reset’ and return your browser settings to defaults.

In a way I find it curious that Google are only now offering this as a currently beta standalone application when Microsoft Internet Explorer (for all its criticism) has had this built-in for years.

I ran the software removal tool which quickly returned this dialog:

No programs found
No programs found

Nothing suspicious found. I clicked Continue and was invited to reset my browser.

Reset Chrome settings — that's what fixed things for me
Reset Chrome settings — that’s what fixed things for me

That’s what fixed it.

This is definitely another useful tool in my diagnostics toolkit. Thanks Google.

It’s a relief to have had this fixed. That said, I’ve said it before that if there were the same Trello plugins available I would move to Opera tomorrow.

Write! (beta) — a distraction-free text editor for Windows

Write! A distraction-free text editor for Windows. Here it is showing the navigation bar.
Write! A distraction-free text editor for Windows. Here it is showing the navigation bar.

A few months ago, while I was editing some documents in Markdown, I came across Write! — a new text editor (still in beta) that is being marketed as “writing instrument for digital age [sic]” and a “distraction-free text editor that does not suck”. So I downloaded it and took it out for a spin.

I like it, but…

For the most part I like Write! It’s clean, it’s fast, and it has a minimal set of usable features that don’t get in the way.

It’s like a prettier Notepad but with a spell checker, a navigation bar on the right-hand side (like Sublime Text), and a basic understanding of Markdown (so you can make text bold, for example, by typing **example**).

I have a couple of issues, though, which prevents me from using this as my text editor of choice for writing.

Proprietary format

My main niggle is that by default Write! saves to its own proprietary format. This is a zipped, XML-based file format (.wtt), and as far as I can tell this isn’t compatible with the OpenDocument text (.odt) format. The simple document above (showing the first chapter of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) contains the following files:

  • document.xml — the actual document, plus some meta data such as word count.
  • history.xml — an undo history.
  • package.xml — this seems to define the package format and encoding (UTF-8).

You can export to PDF, OpenDocument, plain text, and three flavours of Markdown (Textile, Markdown, and Wiki) but that has more of a disruptive workflow than simply tapping Ctrl+S every few minutes.

Similarly, it would be great to be able to associate Write! to open certain file types, such as text (.txt) or Markdown (.md, .mdown) files.

Not full Markdown support

By default I tend to use basic, vanilla Markdown rather than Textile or Wiki). By default Write! is configured to support a mixture of the other two. That’s not a problem as a quick visit to the settings will put that right.

Write! settings dialog
Write! settings dialog

But Write! only supports a small subset of Markdown:

Supports

  • Headers prefixed with hash (# for H1, ## for H2, etc.).
  • Unordered lists using minus (-) and plus (+).
  • Numbered lists.
  • Links (but you cannot easily edit the link, text or title).
  • Emphasis (italics and bold) using asterisks (*) or underscores (_).
  • Automatic links in the format <http://example.com/>.
  • Backslash escapes, e.g. \*literal asterisks\*.

Does not support

  • Setext style headers (underlined using equal signs or dashes).
  • Blockquotes.
  • Unordered lists using asterisk (*).
  • Code blocks — 1 tab, 4 spaces or three backticks (“`).
  • Inline code using single backticks (`.example {}`).
  • Horizontal rule.
  • Images.
  • Automatic links for email addresses, e.g. <[email protected]>.

Cannot type with help window open

This seems to be a basic requirement that has been overlooked: if I tap F1 to bring up the help text (shortcuts and markup) I cannot keep the help window open while typing into Write! If I start to type I get an irritated ‘bong!’ sound from my PC.

Surely I should be able to refer to the help text while typing.

Conclusion

If Write! supported at least:

  1. The ability to select which format to save to by default (even on a document-by-document basis); (MUST)
  2. The ability to open certain file types in Write! (MUST)
  3. Full support for Markdown. (MUST)
  4. Ability to type while referring to the help text. (SHOULD)

then I would without a doubt use this text editor for all sorts of small writing tasks, such as writing documentation, journalling, text editing, etc. Until then, I’ll just keep updating the beta and see what gets added in the future.

For me this is definitely one application to keep an eye on but it isn’t for production use quite yet.

Bonus

What is nice is that you can vote for future features from the website’s Feedback link. One of those suggestions is to save in plain text format; I’ve just submitted an idea to fully support Markdown.

f.lux: stop your computer monitor keeping you awake at night!

f.lux makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
f.lux makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

f.lux is a genius piece of software (available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Linux) that I’ve been using for a few months now, that has genuinely helped me get to sleep quicker at night.

What it does

It does one job, and it does it brilliantly: f.lux adjusts your computer display according to the time of day.

Generally monitors are set very bright with a blue-y colour temperature, that makes them look great during the day. As the f.lux website puts it:

During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

f.lux fixes that. Once you’ve told the program where in the world you live (so that it can work out when the sun will rise and set) and what kind of lighting you have it gets to work.

For me, the application runs when Windows starts, and I quite enjoy watching my monitor at sunset slowly change as f.lux kicks in; I’ve set mine to fast transition (over 20 seconds).

Flux settings: adjust your lighting, set your location, and transition speed.
Settings in f.lux are very straight-forward.

When the sun sets f.lux adjusts your monitor to look like your indoor lights (for me that means that that whites take on a warmer hue similar to the colour of paper the Financial Times use). And then when the sun rises again, the blues return and it looks like sunlight once again.

Effect on sleep

I noticed a while ago that if I had been using my computer a lot in the evening it was taking me longer to get to sleep.

It turns out that blue light affects sleep patterns and as monitors are back-lit—effectively firing a lot of blue light straight at you—you end up with a lot of exposure to excessive light at night.

A couple of hours looking at a tablet or PC screen in the evening can knock off your sleep by about an hour, researchers have found.

The f.lux developers have taken this into account and so “f.lux adjusts colours in a way that greatly reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night.”

I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first, and the first time I tried it I hated it. Everything went slightly peachy. But I stuck with it and within a couple of days I was a convert.

And while I used to lie awake in bed for half an hour or more, since using f.lux on my Windows 8.1 PC I now drop off to sleep within minutes.

Conclusion

If you do a lot of work on your computer or iOS device after sunset then I thoroughly recommend f.lux.

Download f.lux today. (Windows, Mac, Linux, or iOS)

I’ve found my perfect music player: MusicBee

Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth "In my time of need" from Damnation (2003).
Screenshot of MusicBee, playing Opeth “In my time of need” from Damnation (2003). Click for full-size screenshot.

For as long as I can remember that I’ve had an internet-enabled PC (I got a Windows 98 machine in late 1999) I’ve been using WinAmp for listening to music. Last week I moved to the lesser-known MusicBee and it is perfect for my requirements. I can’t believe just how good MusicBee is.

Your mileage may vary

I had a long conversation with a friend of mine on Facebook the other day about how everybody’s music player requirements are different. A lot of factors influence your decision about a digital music player, e.g.

  • How much music you have.
  • How/if you tag your music.
  • When you listen.
  • Where you listen.
  • On which device(s) you listen.
  • Whether you need to share your collection with other devices on the network.
  • Whether you prefer visuals (e.g. album art) or text-based interfaces.
  • etc.

How I used WinAmp

I used WinAmp primarily for two things:

  1. Listen to music.
  2. Rip CDs to MP3 format.

I used WinAmp like a CD player (I’d load one album and listen to it) or a radio (I’d load it all 23,000+ files and listen to them on shuffle). I used very few other features to be honest.

A while ago WinAmp switched off its access to the Gracenote database. That’s a service that allows you to query the names of the album title and tracks of a CD you are ripping to MP3 (other formats are available). For my 195 metal CDs project that’s pretty important to me.

It was time to try to find something else that might let me make the most of my music collection: find stuff that I’d not listened to in a long time, better make use of my tagging of albums (I use the excellent mp3tag).

The contenders

Despite how popular it is to listen to music on a computer, there are surprisingly few mainstream players:

I opened Windows Media Player… and promptly shut it down again. I then reached for foobar2000, which a number of friends had warmly recommended to me. “I think you’ll love it,” said one. I didn’t last much more than an hour with it.

Tomahawk was installed, and then uninstalled within an hour too. I liked the idea but I don’t share music playlists with friends, I don’t need to find out what other artists sound like the one I’m listening to. I didn’t need all the connected stuff, I just wanted to better manage what I had.

I then tried Apple iTunes for a few days. I’d used iTunes as my main player at work for a while but I found it too bloated and quite unintuitive in places and so returned to WinAmp. What I liked about iTunes this time was the albums view.

Grid of album covers. Selected album shows a list of tracks beneath it.
I like how iTunes lists albums in a very visual way.

But what I found frustrating was how it handled metadata and artwork.

MusicBee

Which was when I found MusicBee and it is perfect for me. Within an hour I had customised the user interface to just the way I would like it:

  • I’m using the beautifully clean DarkGREEN Metro skin, which I find highlights the artwork.
  • I have lists of genre, artist and album on the left-hand side.
  • In the middle I have a grid of album artwork (very similar to how iTunes handles it).
  • On the right I have playlist and other metadata displayed.

Having pulled in my entire music collection, I discovered errors in the way that I had tagged some of the music, and how few tracks had album artwork embedded.

A few hours later, staying within MusicBee, I had a lot of the tagging sorted out, and MusicBee even pulled in the missing album artwork for the rest of my collection.

This would have taken me weeks to sort out using WinAmp and mp3tag, or iTunes on its own.

Android remote

My last PC had an infrared remote control for my Creative soundcard; I’ve kind of missed that with this PC. I discovered that some kind chap has written MusicBee Remote for Android which is also clean and simple.

MusicBee Remote for Android.
MusicBee Remote for Android. (Click for full size)

Conclusion

This hasn’t been a full review, just an immediate ‘gush’ about how wonderful this music player is.

I really couldn’t imagine going back to WinAmp now. Already this has helped me discover a number of CD box sets that I ripped to MP3 and then completely forgot to listen to all the way through.

If you fancy a rediscovering your music collection and are a Windows user then I wholeheartedly recommend MusicBee.