AudioBook Builder

I have learned that there is something about the mac that makes for really nice, easy software. It’s sort of a cross between a Unix ethos (that is, programs that do just one thing and do them really well) and an Apple ethos (it just works). One fairly simple task that, in practice, is a huge pain is concatenating .mp3 files together to create an audiobook (typically an .m4b file1). I had found a few scripts and such to do this sort of thing, but all were multi-step processes and often didn’t produce the results I wanted (at least not for the effort I had put into them).

Enter Audiobook Builder by Splasm Software. In a nutshell, it simply collects audio files together and then puts them in a single, compressed .m4b file. Now, it does have a few more bells and whistles available along the process, but the standard process is as easy as:

  1. Name and optional cover art.
  2. Add the audio files, likely from .mp3 or from ripping a CD right into Audiobook Builder.
  3. Click Build Audiobook.

Which are the steps laid out on the three main buttons along the bottom of the window. Once the program is finished (and it might take a while), the finished audiobook is added into iTunes for you.

Creating an audiobook of Wicked using Audiobook Builder

One of the first uses I had for the software was to put the 13 CDs of Gregory Maguire’s "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" for Angela. She had purchased this to listen to on our move down from Richmond. Fortunately, the audiobook being nearly 20 hours, she didn’t have time to finish during that drive (long as it was). Plus, with 13 CDs to fool with, having it all on an iPod seemed like a better way to have the content, anyway.

As I described above, there’s not much to it. Inserting 13 discs for the ripping process wasn’t much fun, but all of that is done right within Audiobook Builder, so there’s no program switching or hunting for files. The only task that I did outside of the program was go to to get the cover art and meta-tag information.

I do have a couple of complaints about Audiobook Builder. First, I’d like to be able to add more meta-data than what is currently possible. I would recommend some sort of Add more info… button on the first screen. Secondly, you control the individual file length2 by means of a slider in the Preferences dialog. I find myself fiddling with this a lot as I want to balance file length number of files. I think that there could be two options, within the third screen, for either limiting length of files or number of files. I change this for every single audiobook I create, and try different lengths for each, as well. Having to go to the Preferences dialog each time is fairly cumbersome.

Ever wanted to read some classics? Well, go get the volunteer-read files from Librivox and put them together in Audiobook Builder (I’ve got the first half of Don Quixote already done, even with chapter artwork added within Audiobook Builder). For $9.95, this program is a steal even if you have even a couple of CD audiobooks laying around. Rip ’em, and then donate them to your public library. Then you don’t have to worry about them taking up space and someone else can get to listen to them.

  1. The .m4b is a relatively common format associated with audiobooks. Most players know to remember the last stopping point on these files, which alone is important enough to merit using on a 6-hour long file. []
  2. It would be nice if you had exact control over the length of files, but basically it is really setting an upper limit. Audiobook builder won’t split individual files that you have added or ripped into it, as it has no way of knowing if the split is in an appropriate spot or not – mostly likely not. []

Much More Fun Than You Might Think

So, you might have picked up that I’ve been on something of a fantasy kick lately. One thing that I’ve considered doing off and on for several years now (Okay, ever since I got out grad. school – whatever) was picking up role-playing games again. I played them a lot as a kid and loved every minute of it. They appealed to me on so many levels: tons of maps, loads of math & tables, and open ended stories.

I ended up find a group on who run some 4 hour games, once a month; most of which were aimed at beginners and people getting back into the game. This sounded like a perfect fit. Saturday evening, I broke out an old Player’s Handbook and created1 a pretty basic character for myself. I was never very good at coming up with fantasy character names (I once named a rogue character Robin Stealer. Subtle, no?), but I know of a group that is great at it: Ikea. So, I named my first level, dwarf fighter after a very tasteful and modern coffee table (Ramvik, if you’re curious).

Sunday, we all drove down to Murfreesboro to the comic and games shop. I got a seat at the D&D table while Angela and Ainsley looked around briefly at some comics. They then took off to tool around the mall while my game got underway.

Now, I suppose on some level, the seven people around the table fit exactly the description of D&D players you likely have in mind right now: white males sitting indoors on a perfectly nice sunny day. However, despite that general stereotype, these were a fairly diverse lot: a grad. student, a downtown lawyer, a high school math teacher, a father and his son – who had recently gotten his dad back into gaming, and the father of a 1 1/2 year old (who seemed happy to get out of the house and play a game with adults). What’s more, they were all outgoing and fun personalities. While the game ran a bit long (even at five hours, we didn’t quite finish); a good bit of the time was spent joking around. Instead of dice and pencils, we could have just as easily had poker cards and chips in our hands.

Other than the fact that I ended up losing my voice by the end of it (as much from all the laughing as anything else), I had a really great time. So much so, I plan to make it a monthly event. Angela said she might even join in for a game in the future (by the way, there are females in the MeetUp group, just none happened to be playing this past weekend).

Oh, and the game itself? It was a fairly tough module, actually. Fortunately, we had a decent mix of a 7th level barbarian, a 3rd level cleric, a 3rd level rogue, a 1st level ranger, and two 1st level fighters (including my Swedish furniture namesake). I ended up dying at the end, but the DM allowed for the NPC cleric whom we were helping to resurrect my character out of gratitude after the fact. I think the DM felt bad since my character died on my first game and that I might not have enjoyed it. Quite to the contrary, I had had a great time and I was actually kind of glad that it wasn’t a cakewalk. I got to feel like I was working on a team trying to figure out a mystery.

As I said, I can’t wait until next time.

  1. I would have formerly said "rolled" instead of created, but there’s no rolling involved in character creation anymore – at least not in the method employed by this group. []

NBC: We’ve Pretty Much Given Up

The Peacock Network was once a bastion for drama and comedy. Those days are long gone, with only a few bright spots in an otherwise abysmal line-up (Scrubs, My Name is Earl, and The Office being most of those highlights). Recently, they announced that Universal (NBC and USA Networks parent company) were moving Monk and Psych from USA to NBC, as if that was going be a good thing for those shows. Why find new shows or talent when you can just bring some up from the minor leagues? Just the other evening, we saw some commercials for four new shows this summer on NBC: all were reality/contest shows (including American Gladiator, which pretty much sucked the first go around). Now, comes an announcement that they are going to start crafting shows around sponsor’s products. Of course, that’s assuming any advertisers are even considering spending money at NBC.

Five Fun Things Friday – Mid-April Edition

Oh, to have blogged in so long and only to come back with a measly list of fluff. Well, something’s better than nothing, right?

I’ve been on a rather rampant fantasy kick as of late:

  1. "Dungeons & Dragons" – That venerable fantasy RPG lost one of it’s founders last month. However, not to be stopped, a new 4th edition of the rules are being published in June. D&D has definitely come up out of Mom’s basement, showered, and decided that hanging out with some of the cool kids isn’t so bad, after all. This, along with the fact that nerds are now cool, might just make for a renaissance of table-top gaming.
  2. "Dragonlance" – When I was a kid, "Dragonlance" was the coolest D&D setting (at least to my pal, TJ, and I – he even had the campaign book). An animated film was released to DVD in January of the first of the original trilogy of novels. You know, the sort of the thing that every kid dreams about as they read fantasy novels at age 12? Ah, even at that age, I’d have understood just how bad this adaptation was. I was depressed but happened upon a fantastic graphic novel by Devil’s Due Publishing of the same series of novels made me almost completely forget what an awful film Dragons of Autumn Twilight was. I even picked up a new novel by the same authors, which so far has been quite enjoyable.
  3. Krull – Speaking of D&D and my childhood (the two of which are pretty closely linked), I learned from IMDb that the 80’s fantasy film Krull was originally to be the first official "Dungeons & Dragons" movie. I went back and watched it and too things struck me: A) it doesn’t really resemble D&D at all and B) it wasn’t nearly as good a movie as I remembered it being (Great way to start a career, there, Liam Neeson!). Then I realized that pretty much all movies based on D&D have been awful: Krull, Dungeons & Dragons, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. When a movie by the SciFi channel is the best of the back, that’s just plain sad. I think Wizards of the Coast should encourage a TV series, instead. Better yet: more graphic novels.
  4. Graphic Novels – Having read the graphic novel of Dragons of Winter Night, I went in search of more graphic novels to feed my endless need for scifi and fantasy. Oh boy, did I find them: Aliens, Predators, Aliens vs. Predators, Conan the Barbarian, G.I. Joe… okay that last one isn’t really scifi, but did I mention childhood nostalgia? Maybe that’s a better theme here. Anyway, I’ve been on a graphic novel kick and, despite it being a rather pricey habit, it has been very rewarding. A lot of these really represent some great comic book artform and I’ve determined are often my best hope for amazing fantasy visuals, gripping plotlines, and epic characters. They sure as hell aren’t to be found in any of the movies.
my fantasy audiobook collection in iTunes
  1. Audiobooks – Lastly, I’ve also been on something of an audiobook habit (more posts to follow on this subject). I was able to find some really great audiobooks by R. A. Salvatore and Michael Moorcock; two men who write about troubled anti-heroes with long, white hair. I even found audiobooks for that original Dragonlance trilogy I mentioned. There’s just one drawback to the audiobooks: I used to listen to these (along with podcasts) on my commute. Now that I hardly drive at all, it’s going to me forever to listen to them all!

Well, before you give me a wedgie and shove inside my locker along side my Player’s Manual, I should also say that I’ve been enjoying Season Two of The Wire, as well as all this fantasy stuff. Perhaps that explains it: I needed something whimsical and out-of-this-world to balance out the dark, gritty nature of a show like the The Wire. At least, that’s why I keep telling myself.