Thursday, January 24, 2008

Distortion in Windows Media Player

I'm moving the content of this post over to:

Have you ever listened to songs in Windows Media Player and found them to be distorted in places, so the sound quality is terrible? The same files may play perfectly in all other programs - I've had files that worked in WinAmp, RealPlayer, Quicktime, Nero, and a host of other programs with no problems, yet Windows Media Player would not handle them properly.

As it turns out, MicroSoft has a Creative PlayCenter MP3 decoder resident in the operating system which (in many but not all cases) is what causes the problem. Certain versions of Windows Media Player use this decoder, but there are compatibility problems. If you're not using that decoder file for whatever reason, you probably won't run into the distortion problems.

The simplest way to fix the problem, assuming that you're running on a Windows operating system, is to go down to your start menu on the bottom left side of the screen, click on it, then go into "search." You need to search your C: drive (or whatever drive your O/S resides on) and look for a file called "Ctmp3.acm" - if you can find that file, don't delete it, just rename it to "Ctmp3.bak" instead.

If you can't see the file extensions when you're doing searches (the default option on Windows, but one which I detest and disable immediately whenever I set up a new computer), I'll show you how to make your file extensions visible. Go to Windows Explorer, either through your Start menu or by holding down the "flying window" key (left of your left side alt key) and then pressing the letter "E" at the same time. Next, go into the Tools menu, and chose Folder Options in the drop-down Tools menu. In Folder options, click on the "View" tab. The seventh or eight option in that list usually says "hide extensions for known file types" and has a check beside it. Uncheck this, then click OK. Now you'll always be able to see file extensions in Windows Explorer and associated panels. If you're quite computer savvy, you might also want to set the other three options above and below that let you show hidden files, show O/S files, and display the full path name in the Title Bar (although this is only applicable if you're trying to conserve system resources by switching to Classic View, such as for intensive audio or video processing).

Anyway, now you know how to show file extensions, and how to fix the distortion problem on Windows Media Player. This may not be a problem on newer versions of Vista, but it certainly was on certain versions of WMP running on XP.

If you want a different approach to disabling the problem codec, here's another set of instructions:

The Creative Playcenter software rudely blocks the Windows MP3 codec. The following instructions show how to unblock it on Windows XP system. The instructions for other Windows versions are the same except the steps to get to the audio codec area from the control panel varies. Note that this will disable the MP3 capability of the Playcenter software. You can re-enable using the same steps or replace the Playcenter software.

1. Go to the Control Panel
2. Double click on "Sounds & Audio Devices"
3. Select the "Hardware" tab
4. Double-click on "Audio Codecs"
5. Select the "Properties" tab
6. Double-click on ctmp3.acm
7. Select "Do Not Use this Audio Codec"
8. Then click on the "Apply" button

Edit, a few years later:

Please note that there are a few posts online now from MicroSoft that might give you additional insight into this problem. Here are the links: suggestion (June 2010) suggestion (September 2011)

Hopefully, between my own suggested solutions, and the comments that MicroSoft has brought forward, you'll be able to fix any issues that you might have.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hitchhiking Safety

I haven't posted on my regular blog for a while. Since the middle of November, I've been pretty involved with moving my restaurant, (see here for more details) which takes up almost every hour that I'm not at work at my job at the university. It's been pretty time-consuming, so my email-answering and other communication has been minimal during these past two months. However, right now I'm sitting in Seattle and waiting to fly home (I played a show here last night), so before I get back to work on some paperwork for the Pub, I thought I'd take a few minutes to write something here.

I get a lot of random ideas. When it comes to "problem solving," I've been told that I excel at lateral thinking. Sometimes these ideas are pretty crazy, sometimes they are fairly intelligent or creative (this is my own assessment). My blog has been a bit boring lately, so over the next few months, when I have time, I'm going to share a few of these ideas and let people reading here make their own opinions.

Today's idea came to me because I was thinking about the "Highway Of Tears." This is the name that some people use to refer to a section of highway in British Columbia, in particular, the section of the Yellowhead (Route 16) which runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George and eastward. Over the past decade, a number of women have disappeared from this highway - so far there are about ten documented cases which are assumed to relate to the highway, and of course, there may be more unreported cases. The theory is that someone is preying on hitch-hikers along that highway, targeting mostly women with Native backgrounds. However, one victim in particular (Nicole Hoar) raised the awareness surrounding this subject, at least for myself. Nicole was a tree-planter, and her disappearance brought national attention to the area. If you do a search on Google, you'll find more information about this situation.

Hitch-hiking is a fairly common practice for some people. It's an inexpensive way to get from place to place for people on a low budget, and you can meet some interesting people when doing it. I used to hitch-hike regularly between university and home before I got a car, and I also did it fairly often the first several years that I was tree-planting, when I had to deliver vehicles to a different town or city and then return to Prince George. However, in the past few decades, I think it has become less common, as people become aware of the danger of getting picked up by a psychopath. Who knows, it's probably safer than some other things that people do regularly, but "safer" doesn't mean "safe."

My idea is something that would make hitch-hiking "safer" than it is currently. I think someone (a not-for-profit institution of some sort, or maybe one of the big auto-makers) should set up a toll-free hotline for hitch-hikers, something like 1-800-HITCHHIKE, although of course the exact number would have to be picked carefully (that one has too many digits). The concept would be that if someone is hitch-hiking, as they are walking to the vehicle that picks them up, they call the toll-free number and leave a message on the hotline saying, "My name is XXX, I'm calling from about 10 miles east of Prince George on route 16, and I'm getting picked up by a red truck with BC license plate KC 7839. I'm heading East to Jasper."

That's it, that's all there is to my idea. There wouldn't have to be a detailed conversation. The hitch-hiker wouldn't have to call once they arrived at their destination to say, "I've made it safely" - that way, there is far less work for the operator, and many hitch-hikers would be too lazy to call once they had arrived at their destination. However, if the hitch-hiker goes missing, at least there would be a record somewhere of what might have happened. Now of course, this still doesn't prevent all problems. For instance, hitch-hikers are often low on money, which means that they probably are less likely to have a cell phone than many other people. However, so many people have cell phones these days that this is becoming less of an issue.

Anyway, if you happen to get into a car and the person turns to you and says, "Hi, I'm an axe murderer, and you're in deep trouble now," then you could turn to them and say, "So are you - I've just left a message with the Hitch-Hiker Hotline to tell them your license plate number, and if I don't make it to Jasper safely, they'll know where to start looking." Now of course, this still may not deter the axe murderer from cutting you up into tiny pieces and feeding you into a woodchipper, but if it DOES happen, at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that he or she is more likely to be caught.

That's my idea for the day. In the meantime, be safe and take the bus.