Camtasia: Speech to Text not available

July 31, 2021

I’m testing out Camtasia. I used to use it for creating training videos years ago, but haven’t used it in a long while, so the new version is a just a little bit different… Anyhow, one of the features of Camtasia 2021 is that you can convert your audio narration to caption text, using their Speech to Text function (open the Captions option and click the cog wheel settings icon for it). But there was a problem — the Speech to Text option was grayed out and unavailable. Off to the internet…

Something someone said on a forum about Windows language settings led me to find the solution, but as I tried a couple of things, I’m not sure exactly which one was the critical one. My Windows language settings were set to both English Australian and English US, but when I looked a bit further (click on the language name and select Options), I didn’t have the language pack for Australian English installed and the speech ‘pack’ for US English wasn’t installed either. I downloaded and installed both, then check the Speech to Text settings in Camtasia. No change. So I shut down Camtasia and restarted it and the Speech to Text option was now available. Hopefully this will help someone else.

(Aside: Despite training my voice for speech recognition as Camtasia suggests, my experiments using their Speech to Text function were abysmal. The words in the captions that Camtasia created bore NO resemblance to anything I’d said!! I’ll try again tomorrow with a different microphone [I was using earbuds with a built-in mic, so next I’ll try a plug-in headset microphone to see if that makes any difference.] Meantime, I wondered if it was Windows speech recognition that was at fault or Camtasia, and in my minimal testing I can say that it was Camtasia. I exported the narration to an MP3 file, then used the online version of Word to transcribe it to text and it was perfect, whereas the Camtasia version was unintelligible.)

Further to the audio issue: Yes, my headset microphone made the world of difference to the audio, but despite that, the speech to text conversion in Camtasia for the captioning was still awful. Here’s what the transcription function in online Word had, followed by what Camtasia thought I’d said. The Word one needed a little editing; the Camtasia one needed to be rewritten from scratch. And when I imported the transcription as an SRT file (using the same time stamps as the Camtasia SRT file), it left out all by about 5 seconds of audio, so that wasn’t a good option.

Here’s what Word transcribed it as:


In this simple find and replace, we’re going to find a particular word, change it to another word, but we’re going to add a twist to that, and we’re going to make the second word in italics.


So what we’re going to find is the company name in this case here XYZ, and we’re going to replace it with another name and make that name.


Italics first thing we’ll do is we open the find replace window. We do need extra functions, so we need the one that’s under control H, so I press control H, just move it up a little out of the way here. Going to search for XYZ.

And here’s the SAME audio converted from speech to text within Camtasia:

00:00:00,100 –> 00:00:10,433

If in the civil fine to replace dead to find a particular word tragic to another live within 11 twisted left with kind Q of the 82nd would be

00:00:10,433 –> 00:00:20,766

the targets so if we could find if the company name and face. It’s like C wood and replaced with another nine can make it nine attempts to

00:00:20,766 –> 00:00:31,132

sink as we often find replacement that we do need if function so we need the one that under control page to press control H

00:00:31,133 –> 00:00:37,999

move it up and-white hit did a search for its YC

Just amazingly BAD.






Windows: Customize file/folder view in Explorer by customizing the template used

July 25, 2021

A recent major Windows update on my PC totally screwed with the settings I had for folder/file views in Windows Explorer (which I’ll call Explorer in this post). This post is not about changing the file attributes displayed for one or two files/folders—there are plenty of other sites that will tell you how to that. No, this post is on how to change the displayed attributes for a file type template and thus ALL files/folders that use that template. Microsoft rarely calls these templates, but that’s what they behave like, so I’ll call them templates here.

What am I talking about? Well, when you create a new folder in Explorer and add files to it, by default the attributes shown for that folder and its files in the Details view use the General Items template (you can see the template used by right-clicking on a folder, selecting Properties, and checking what is set on the Customize tab under Optimize this folder for). If Windows detects that all the files are image files or music files or document files, it might default to the attributes of those templates instead. The template used dictates what attribute columns you see in Details view in Explorer (View > Details).

Below is a folder with Documents set as the template—in Details view you can see that the file name, date modified, file type, and file size attributes are shown.

Explorer properties for Document include Name, Date Modified, file Type, and file Size

This one has Videos set as the template—its Details view has similar attribute columns, with the addition of the length of the videos in hours, minutes, and seconds.

Explorer properties for Videos include Name, Date (created), file Type, file Size, and Length of the video in hours, minutes and seconds

You might ask why this is important. For most people, this is of no consequence and they can live with the default settings, or perhaps change them every so often if they want to see other attributes. Many others have no idea that these attributes shown can be changed, or have no need to change them. But for some people the attributes shown in Explorer are hugely important—for example, photographers or anyone who needs to curate their photos; musicians or those who have an extensive music collection on their computers; movie buffs with thousands of videos etc. These people work with their files every day and need to see at a glance the attributes that interest them. So when Microsoft stuffs up the attributes displayed, this can anger these users because they likely have many thousands of files in many hundreds or thousands of folders that get reset to the default values. Changing the attributes one folder at a time is NOT what you want to do!

But if you change the underlying template’s attributes, you can then apply that template to a high-level folder containing files with that type of content, and the changes you make cascade to all subfolders and to other folders that have the same template applied to them. Unfortunately, this is NOT an intuitive process and requires going into two places—one to set it up how you want, then another to save it to that ‘template’. It took some Google sleuthing and trial and error based on some of the clues I found before I could test and then document these steps. Hopefully they will help others who are equally frustrated by this.

Part 1: Pick the template suitable for the types of files

  1. Open Windows Explorer and go to a folder that contains files of the type you want to amend. In this example, I’ll use a folder containing music subfolders and files.
  2. Right-click on the folder’s name in the left panel, and select Properties.
  3. Select the Customize tab.
  4. Select one of the drop-down options for Optimize folder for. In this example, I’ll select Music.
  5. Check the Also apply this template to all subfolders checkbox.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Go to the next set of steps.

On the Folder Properties window, select the type of files (Music is selected) and check the box for Also Apply this Template to all Subfolders, then click OK

Part 2: Set up the attributes you want to see in Detail view

  1. Change the Explorer view to Details—click the View tab, then click Details in the Layout group.
    View tab in Explorer showing Details in the Layout group selected
  2. At the top of the right panel are column headers, named with file attributes (e.g. Name, Size). Right-click anywhere in this column header area.
  3. The current attributes for the template are checked. You can click on any (except Name) to show or hide them (if already selected, clicking will deselect them; if not selected, clicking will select them). Yours will likely look different to this example, which is set for what I was testing with Music.
    Right-clicking on a column header shows the attributes selected to display in Details view
  4. Click More at the bottom of the list to see the full list of attributes you can choose from, arrange the order shown across the screen (Move Up moves the column closer to the left; Move Down moves it to the right), and adjust the column widths (all optional). Once you’ve made any changes here, click OK to close the Choose Details window.
  5. Adjust the column widths and positions, if required.
  6. Go to the next set of steps.

Part 3: Save those attributes to the template

  1. Once you have your folder set up with the attributes you want to display for the template you selected in Part 1, step 4, you need to ‘save’ it to the template. Go to the View tab in Explorer, if you aren’t already there.
  2. Click Options (far right on the View tab).
  3. On the Folder Options window, go to the View tab.
    Folder Options window where you click the Apply to Folders button
  4. Click Apply to Folders.
  5. You will be asked if ‘you want all folders of this type to match this folder’s view settings’. This message is a little confusing—what it’s really asking you is do you want to apply these settings to the TEMPLATE you selected for this folder. Click Yes if you do. Then click OK to close the Folder Options window.
  6. ALL folders on your PC that use the template you choose when you changed this one should now update their Details view to reflect the attributes you chose.

Details view for a folder using the Music template now shows Bit Rate, Size, Year, and Length (time)

NOTE: This isn’t an exact science! You may find that some folders/subfolders don’t change as you expect, and others you didn’t think would change, do. With luck there shouldn’t be too many of these and you can reapply the correct template to them (e.g. if the attributes for some General Items folders changed to reflect the Music attributes, then change those folders back to General Items.)

Part 4: Optional: Apply those attributes to other folders

If you have, say, music files stored in folders that use another template (e.g. the default General Items), then you can change the attributes shown just by changing the template for those folders. To do this, follow steps 1 to 6 in Part 1 above.

Tip: If you have LOTS of folders/subfolders containing a particular type of file, change a top-level folder and make sure you select the checkbox to apply to all subfolders.


Amazon pricing sucks

July 9, 2021

After the issues with an Amazon gift card earlier this week, I thought I’d try to buy a book for one of my nephews. The link from the author’s page went to Amazon’s US site, where the price of the book was about US$14. According to xe.com, at today’s exchange rate, that’s AU$18.85. Amazon.com's price for Whole Whale hardbaok book is US$13.59

But I couldn’t buy it! Instead of a ‘buy now’ button, there was a message to buy it from the Australian site:

Message reads: Shipping to Australia? Get FREE delivery on eligible international orders with AU Prime (Membership fee applied) and pay in AUD, with a button to buy it on Amazon's Australian site So I clicked on that button and found the same book available on Amazon .com.au at a price that was nearly DOUBLE the price on the US site—AU$31.98:

Amazon.com.au's webpage for Whole Whale, shwoing a price of $31.98 for the hardcover book And free shipping? Nope. You only get free shipping if you spend more than AU$49 in your order.

Message: Free delivery by [date] on Prie International orders over $49.00

Bottom line: I can’t buy this book from the US site even when logged into it using my Amazon .com credentials—they force me to the Australian site, where the price is nearly double (AU$32 compared to AU$18.85 on the US site, converted from USD). And then I can’t get free shipping unless I buy something else that takes my order over AU$49.

When I added it to my cart on the Australian site, the shipping was surprisingly low for an Amazon book at just AU$5, but that now takes the total price to AU$37, TWICE the price that US customers pay.

So, even with credentials to Amazon’s US site, I can’t buy something from there—instead, they force me to the Australian site where they then try to charge me double the US price!


Just for giggles, I looked at some Australian booksellers’ websites, where I found the same book for $27.99 (no idea of postage as they wanted all my details before they’ll tell me this); $33.75 (+$7.95 postage); and $36.17 (free shipping; they state the Australian RRP is $46.18). I also found it on a UK bookseller’s site for AU$41.98 (+free shipping).



Windows 10: Lost your taskbar or desktop icons?

July 8, 2021

Way back when, I discovered how to restore a missing taskbar/desktop when Windows Explorer had closed incorrectly and taken them out (see https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/lost-your-vista-taskbar-and-desktop-icons/). Those instructions still work, as I discovered when this happened on my DH’s computer earlier today, but they’re a little different for Windows 10. In his case, he’d lost his taskbar and his desktop had gone black with just the mouse cursor showing. He could move the mouse, so that was a good sign that the computer hadn’t completely frozen. Before doing a hard reboot, I suggested he try getting his desktop back by restarting the Explorer process. And it worked!

Here’s how to do this in Windows 10:

  1. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del.
    • If everything is still working behind the scenes, you should get a list of options—go to Step 2.
    • If you don’t see a list of options, don’t continue with these steps. You’ll likely have to turn off the computer, wait 30 seconds, then turn it back on—with luck all should be well on rebooting the computer.
  2. Click Task Manager.
  3. On the Processes tab, check that no Explorer.exe processes are still running. If they are, end them (select each one then click End Process in the bottom right corner of the Task Manager window).
  4. Go to File > Run new task.
  5. In the pop-up window, type Explorer.exe, then click OK.
  6. With luck everything should start to display again within a few seconds. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to reboot your computer:
    • Try the ‘soft’ way first, which is to press Ctrl+Alt+Del again, then click the power icon in the lower right of the window and choose either Restart or Shut down, if offered those options.
    • If you don’t see any of those options, then you’ll have to do a hard reboot, which means pressing the power button on your computer to turn it off, wait 30 seconds, then turn it on again.

[Link last check July 2021]



Amazon gift cards are account- and/or country-specific

July 7, 2021

I had an interesting situation today that I wasn’t aware of and no doubt many others aren’t either. So here’s some info for future reference in case you ever give an Amazon gift card to someone in another country that also has a local Amazon site, though I’m not sure it would’ve helped me as I have the same credentials for both the Australian and US sites. NOTE: The terms listed in the gift card email clearly state that “Your gift card balance can’t be transferred to other accounts”, so that isn’t a way to get around this situation either.

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook, and a couple of the comments I got from those who’ve been in a similar situation:


The things you learn the hard way. I recently helped someone in another country and they sent me an Amazon gift card as thanks. Nice! I applied it to my account (I only have ONE account with ONE set of login credentials, an account I set up in the mid-90s and that I rarely use). Today, I had a couple of things to order from the US via Amazon, and thought I’d apply the gift card to the order, but its details were nowhere to be found under my account info. I still had the original email for the gift card so tried to reapply the gift card but it said it had already been redeemed. What?

I emailed Amazon to see what was going on, and they said the gift card didn’t apply to amazon .com.au orders, only to amazon .com. NOTHING in the info email that came with the gift card told me this, and when I applied it to my account I used the only login details I have for Amazon and wasn’t given the option to apply it to .com or com.au purchases. I assumed Amazon is Amazon, but apparently not! Had I known this earlier, I’d have ordered those items from the .com site, not the .com.au site.

Who knows when I’ll get to use that gift card — as I said I rarely order from Amazon, and even more rarely from the US site. And in the process of doing all this, I discovered that my Prime membership only applies to orders from the .com.au site. So if I order something from the US site that I can’t get from the Australian site (the Australian site has a limited range), I can’t get free shipping via Prime. <grrr>


Some of the comments:

Another Australian: Yup, it sucks, I’ve ended up with .com and .com.au accounts.

Me: Well, it seems I have two accounts too, but the same credentials!

Aussie: I think I have the same login but different passwords. So confusing!


American: I think when I was gifting Amazon cards for India, I did so on the Amazon.com.in site. For about a year after, I’d occasionally default not that site. I think the same thing happened in 2019 when I gifted someone who worked for me in the UK. I went to the UK site. But I did it because I knew about the different sites.


Another American: I give folks on my team Amazon cards and have to go through .ca and .uk

Me: Never thought about it from the donee’s end! That sucks too — do you have to have separate accounts/logins for each country? or can you specify that at the time you give the card?

Response: Same credentials, I just have to go through the different interfaces. The authentication is the same, the billing is different, though, so I have to manage credit card data for each interface.


Seems a ‘global’ company like Amazon isn’t really global at all!

Update: I thought I’d be able to use the gift card on the US site to buy ebooks, but nope! They’ve blocked that avenue off as well—I get this message if I click on a Kindle edition: ‘Kindle titles are available for AU customers on Amazon .com.au.’ If I click on a printed edition, I get a price plus the exorbitant shipping charge, which is often more than the book!! I’ll look into seeing if I can re-gift the card to a US friend, but I don’t think that will be an option. If I can’t do that, then Amazon has the money paid to it, I can’t buy anything with it, and they rake in yet more $$$$s!!!! It’s possible the donor could request a refund, but I won’t go down that path yet.

Also, on the US site, they have this at the bottom of the page on gift cards: “Amazon .com Gift Cards can only be used to purchase eligible goods and services on Amazon .com and certain related sites as provided in the Amazon .com Gift Card Terms and Conditions. To purchase a gift card for Amazon’s website in another country, please visit: Amazon .ca, Amazon .cn, Amazon .fr, Amazon .de, Amazon .in, Amazon .it, Amazon .jp, Amazon. uk, or Amazon .es.” [I’ve added spaces in the URLs so they don’t become clickable links]

But the gift card page for the Australian site doesn’t have ANY of this info at all. Note: The Australian site is NOT listed above.


Searching photo metadata using Windows Explorer

June 30, 2021

You’ve meticulously added metadata to your photos, detailing when and where taken, and using keywords to tag the people in the photos (Tip: the free AnalogExif program is good for adding metadata quickly; https://sourceforge.net/projects/analogexif/).

Now you try to search for specific photos in your collection using Explorer, but when you search for a word you know is in the keywords or is part of the title, you get nothing, and you wonder why you did all that work!

Well, you can search the metadata using Explorer but there’s a trick to it—you have to tell Explorer the metadata property to search.

So instead of typing John Smith as your search criteria in Explorer, you need to enter tag: John Smith or keyword: John Smith to find all photos tagged with his name as a keyword. If you want to find more than one person, you need to enter tag: John Smith; tag: Michelle Martin to only get photos with BOTH those people in them.

To find words in a title, enter title: Adelaide to find all photos with Adelaide in the title. Similarly, copyright: jones to find all photos with that copyright designation.

Not all photo metadata is searchable, however. I found that Camera maker: EPSON and maker weren’t searchable, but authors and subject were. I didn’t test all possible metadata properties, but those mentioned above should be sufficient for most wanting a quick way to search their photos. For more in-depth searches, you may need to use specialised software, such as photo editing software.

Note: You must enter a colon after the metadata property’s word, and a semicolon to separate others you add to the same search string. You can use two different properties in one search; for example subject: adelaide; tag: michelle would find all photos matching both criteria.

[Links last checked June 2021]


Use Calibre to get a word frequency list

June 30, 2021

A decade ago I investigated some software for getting a concordance or word frequency list (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/word-concordanceword-list-creators/). The tools listed in that post are still available and TextSTAT is quick and easy to download and use. But you can also get a word frequency list from the free ebook publishing software, Calibre (https://calibre-ebook.com/download_windows), as noted in some of the comments on that original post. Today it was time to figure out how to do that, because it’s not easily found.

  1. Open Calibre and add your document to it.
  2. Click Edit Book (NOTE: you may get a message saying you can only edit in a particular format, such as EPUB, in which case you’ll need to convert your document to that format first—use Convert Books > Convert Individually, then select the EPUB output option and wait for it to convert, then click on the converted format in the left pane, then click Edit Book.)
  3. In the new window that opens, select Tools > Reports, then Words from the left column.
  4. You’ll get a list of all words used in the document and their frequency of use. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see how many words are in the document, how many unique words, and the languages used.
  5. Optional: Click on a column heading to sort the list in ascending or descending order by word, language (handy for finding any words using different language settings), or number of times used.
  6. Optional: If you want to save your list as a CSV file for use in Excel, then click Save.

Screen shot of the Edit Book report in Calibre for word frequency

[Links last checked June 2021]


Word has errors and won’t open

June 29, 2021

In a comment on another post, Matt asked:

I’m sure you’ve written about this but I’m too lazy to look for it. What can I do with a Word file that will not open? I guess it’s corrupted somehow. I was working for several hours on it and saving periodically, but then had some issues with Windows Explorer not working so I had to fix that and when I got it fixed and rebooted the system, the Word file will not open now. I get this error message: “Word experienced an error trying to open the file. Try these suggestions. * Check the file permissions for the document or drive. * Make sure there is sufficient free memory and disk space. * Open the file with the Text Recovery converter.” I checked and I have this: File permissions are: Full Control; Free Memory: ?; Disk Space: 745GB free; and What is the “Text Recovery Converter”?

My response:

You could try some of these (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/microsoft-word-crashes-recovery-options/), but it looks like the doc won’t even open. I suggest you make a copy of it, then try to open the copy in Wordpad (which should be on your Windows PC by default; in Explorer, right click on the file and select Open With, then select Wordpad). Another suggestion is to upload the doc to Google Docs and try to open from there. Or download the free Open Office and try that. Your aim at the moment is to preserve the text you have in the doc — you can reapply formatting later if some of it goes wonky. If you can get it open in one of these apps, you can try saving as a new DOCX file and trying to reopen in Word. If that doesn’t work, you can try saving as an RTF file and then try opening in Word.

And at that point, I was out of suggestions. However, I did a quick search and found this article from Microsoft that offers all sorts of other options: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/troubleshoot/word/damaged-documents-in-word

I also found these clear instructions for using the Text Recovery Converter: https://www.howtogeek.com/263319/how-to-recover-a-lost-or-corrupt-document-in-microsoft-word-2016/

[Link last checked June 2021]


Testing Antidote 10

June 28, 2021

A fellow editor mentioned that they use Antidote as one of their editing tools. I hadn’t heard of it, but the website looked promising (https://www.antidote.info/en/antidote-10). It’s classed as a ‘writing assistance tool, and at first glance appears to have similar functions to StyleWriter (https://www.editorsoftware.com/stylewriter/), which I have used in the past, though not recently.

A wet and rainy Sunday was the perfect time to test it out on my laptop (not my main computer, in case anything went wrong).

Let me start by saying that my initial experiences with the website and the download were NOT good, and most people would’ve given up long before I did (I used to work in the software industry, doing installations, testing, writing procedures etc., so probably have more patience than most for persevering with software). The first issue I encountered was that it didn’t seem to recognise my email address/password on the initial try and I didn’t get the account verification email. I then had to go into the account portal to download the software. However, despite installing it, it kept displaying the account login screen and then throwing me out and not sending me a reset password, and/or wanting me to enter my registration number (I didn’t have one for the 30-day trial) or to buy the software—there was no option for the trial. Finally, I uninstalled everything, created a new account with a new password and tried again—this time I was able to download the software and run it in trial mode, but I spent a frustrating couple of hours getting to that point. I’d also like to add that I HATE having to create an account with an unknown company just to download and install trial software. And the download was HUGE too—almost 1 GB, which would hurt anyone on a low-speed or limited data internet connection. However, the trial version seems to be fully functional, just limited to 30 days and a maximum of 10,000 words that it will assess. One other thing about the installation—it auto installs its Connectix software and asks you to turn off any connections with other programs you don’t want (I turned off everything except Word); however, it showed the Office 2016 suite of programs in this list, yet I’ve only got Office 365 on the laptop, so that was strange (Update: When I clicked File > Account > About Word, the version in brackets on the first line says 16.0.13…. so I’m pretty sure that’s where the ‘Word 2016’ comes from. Thanks to Amber for alerting me.)). It also asks if you want to install or extract the installation files—I’m not sure how many non-tech people would know which to chose, or why; this message could be worded better with an explanation as to what will happen with each choice.

So let’s get past that horrible initial experience and focus on what it can do to a Word document.

I loaded up one of my main client’s documents—54 pages, 13,300 words. The Antidote functions are added to their own tab on Word’s toolbar. I clicked Connector and off it went and analysed the document for all sorts of errors. It opens an interface showing the text in its own window; the Word doc is still accessible from the toolbar and if you make any direct changes in Word, those changes are auto synced when you return to the Antidote window. In my case, I wanted to test how it worked on a doc with plenty of track changes (TC) and so I made sure they remained visible and that TC remained turned on. The Antidote interface only shows the text as it would be with TC not showing (i.e. as though they were all accepted). Any change you make in the Antidote interface is immediately applied to the Word doc, and the changes are tracked if you have TC turned on in Word. However, and this was a showstopper for me, at some point the TC in the doc were ALL accepted by Antidote!!! I’m not sure when this happened—while I was making changes, everything seemed fine. It could have been after I did things with the personal dictionary, but I’m not sure. Losing all the TC is a deal breaker for me as I HAVE to preserve them (I work on regulatory docs, for the most part).

As far as I could tell, you also can’t tell Antidote to ignore certain parts of the doc, so it picked up number errors in the table of contents (TOC), for example, when these were actually page numbers in the autogenerated TOC. Likewise, I couldn’t see a way to tell Antidote to ignore front matter, glossaries, reference lists, appendices, fields, etc. or to ignore punctuation such as a hyphen in an autogenerated caption (e.g. for Figure 4-1 it suggested I add spaces around the hyphen).

You also can’t use any of Word’s autocorrect functions when making changes, or in the description of a term in the personal dictionary (I did like how they offered different categories for proper names you add to the dictionary). However, my PhraseExpress text expansion codes seemed to work fine. While on dictionaries, you can add you own dictionaries to Antidote (must be a TXT or HTML file, but you can save a DIC file as TXT and import it as a personal dictionary); however, I’m pretty sure anything you add to your personal dictionary in Antidote does NOT get added to your Word DIC file, so you may need to double up on that.

No formatting marks are shown (it’s billed as a writing assistant, after all, not a formatting checker), so it’s very hard to see things like double spaces, where tabs have been used for indenting etc. You will have to use other tools for this. ALL text is rendered as plain text (manually applied bold and italics seem to be retained), so headings (using styles), captions, table cells etc. are lines in the wall of text. Fields are also rendered as plain text, so if you change any of those from within Antidote, you will likely break the field in the Word doc.

In my couple of hours of testing, I was very impressed with the analysis done, the suggestions made, the comprehensiveness of the internal guides and dictionaries, the fact that you can add you own dictionaries to Antidote, and many other things. The interface was fairly easy to use and to understand too. However, I won’t be buying it because the unexplained and automatic acceptance of all TC is a deal breaker for me.


Add random numbers to media file names

June 28, 2021

The entertainment system in our Mazda CX-5 (purchased in 2017) doesn’t understand the meaning of ‘random play’. Too many times we’ll only get tracks from artist A and H, with the occasional track from artist P thrown in. Next time we start the car, we might get artists C, G, and W, but no-one else for ages or at all. It certainly isn’t ‘random’ when there are thousands of tracks and artists to choose from, yet you get similar patterns of not-very-random rotation.

A while back I searched for a reason why and how to get it to be properly random, but to no avail. On a recent long drive, it annoyed the hell out of me, so I mentioned it at lunch with a techie friend and he said there could be a limit to the number of files the system treats as random (in his car, it was 999). He solved the problem by writing a program that allocated random numbers to all the file names, then set up playlists of no more than 999 tracks. Because the numbers were random, his playlists were all random tracks, which is what he wanted. In his car’s entertainment system, he sets it to play playlists, not random, and he said that’s the key to getting a truly random order.

Armed with that knowledge I went searching again to find out if there was a limit in the Mazda’s system. I found several mentions on forums of limits of 199, 255, and others who said no limits to the number of files. However, this webpage (http://www.mcx5.org/operating_tips_for_audio_system-107.html) suggests that there’s a limit of 255 files in a folder that the system will take notice of (for indexing purposes?) and will ignore the rest. And possibly a limit of 512 folders. And on one forum, someone mentioned that they used the free MediaMonkey for Windows software (https://www.mediamonkey.com/) to randomise the files then saved them to playlists, as my friend has done. One added that you can also use MediaMonkey to permanently add a random number to the file names for each track. That looked promising!

I downloaded MediaMonkey and checked out some different ways you can use it to organise your music (yes, I used a laptop to test on, and a bundle of some 1560 music files, totally about 13 GB—I certainly didn’t want to test it on the USB stick of music files we use in the car, just in case something went wrong). You can use MediaMonkey for all sorts of things, including as a substitute for Windows Media Player etc., but my main purpose was to test out the randomisation and file renaming. NOTE: I only spent a couple of hours testing a specific thing, so I am NOT an expert on MediaMonkey by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.

Once you’ve told MediaMonkey where your music files are, it will load them into its library. All tracks loaded will be listed under Music > All Tracks and also under Playlists > Accessible tracks. From there you can one or many, or select them all (click on one track, then press Ctrl+A), and then re-organise them into smaller subsets, randomise them, and/or apply random numbers to each track. You can do lots lots more, but these are what I focused on and what I discuss below.

Before you start, I strongly suggest that you create new folders/subfolders for the randomly numbered tracks and/or playlists you’ll create. I couldn’t see any way of adding new folders while I was in the move/copy mode. The subfolders I created had names like Random01, Random02, etc. For playlists by genre, I created Country01, Country02, Classical01, Rock01, Rock02, 60s70s, etc. You do what suits you.

Note: You can use one or both methods below, depending on how you want to organise your music. Click on the screenshots to see them in a larger format.

Add a random number to each track

  1. Select all the tracks you want to randomise.
  2. Go to Tools > Auto-organise Files.
  3. Select either Move or Copy (Copy leaves your original files intact, so I chose that).
  4. Click Configure to open the Destination window.
  5. Click Browse and select the drive, folder, subfolder where you want to copy the files to. Click OK.
  6. In the Filenames field, type the order of the ‘masks’ you want to apply. By default, the order is <Title> – <Artist>, but I wanted a 5-digit random number added before the title, so I typed <Random:5> then a space and left the remainder. (If you wanted a 4-digit number, you’d type 4, or leave off the colon and number for a number of any size, presumably limited by the maximum number of files you have, though I can’t confirm that)
  7. Click OK to return to the Auto organise window, where the old path and new file paths are shown for each selected track, including the new random numbers; in my case, I added these before the title and artist. Check these paths are correct, that the destination is correct, and that you’ve selected either Move (the default) or Copy.
  8. If all is correct, click OK. Depending on the number of files you have, this could take seconds to minutes, perhaps hours if you have a HUGE music library. For my 13 GB of 1560 files, it took a few minutes.
  9. Go to the folder you moved or copied the newly named files to and check that you got the result you were hoping for.

Put a defined number of randomised tracks into a playlist for the car

There are two methods for doing this—one is to copy/paste the required number from the randomised numbered list of tracks in the folder (as above), as many times as you need, into other subfolders. I won’t describe how to do this.

The other uses MediaMonkey, where you can define the maximum number of tracks per playlist, set genres etc. Again, my advice is to create your folders/subfolders first.

  1. Go to Playlists > Accessible tracks. Select as many (or all) tracks you want to randomise and to allocate to a defined set of tracks. You can select far more than you need (I selected all 1560 to create playlists of 255 tracks).
  2. Go to Edit > New Auto Playlist.
  3. Set the parameters for your playlist:
    • By default the name is New AutoPlaylist – click in that name to change it to what you want (I changed mine to 60s 70s)
    • Limit the search, as required (I didn’t)
    • Match the specified criteria – click the + sign to add criteria. In the screenshot below, you can see I added Date as a criteria and changed the value to be before or equal to 1 Jan 1980. (Note: these criteria work on the metadata of the files, so you need to have that metadata before the criteria limits will work; I won’t address that in this post)
    • Check the box for Limit, and enter the number of tracks to limit the playlist too. You can see I’ve limited mine to 255 tracks.
    • For Selected By, I clicked the drop-down arrow and selected Random track (auto refresh).
  4. Each time you limit the criteria in the section near the top of the screen, the list automatically refreshes to match those criteria. In my case, of the 1560 tracks I had only 243 meet my criteria, so even though I had a 255 maximum limit, only those 243 tracks would go into this 60s and 70s playlist. Bonus: You get told how much space these tracks will take (handy if you have a size limit on an older USB stick), and how long the combined play time will be (in this case, nearly 17 hours)
  5. Once you have your playlist, you can right-click on the playlist title in the left panel, then select Send To and navigate to the folder where you want to store the files (locally, USB stick for the car, etc.).  NOTE: If you used the random number function detailed earlier, AND randomised this playlist, you may end up with the same playlist with double entries—some with numbers at the beginning of the file, some without. Using Windows Explorer, just delete those you don’t need from the subfolder.

[Links last checked June 2021]