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The mp3 collection on my computer - written years ago when this was new - 2002

If you are going to haul a laptop around on a bicycle you might as well turn it into a juke box with thousands of mp3 songs.

Before I left home, it was a bit scary to think of riding south of the Mexican border and losing the last American FM rock station.  From my experience Mexican radio stations usually play their own local music.  Now, I like and respect all ethnic music as much as the next guy but I regularly need to rock out to what I am used to.  Latin Americans love their music and not a day goes by that I don't hear it voluntarily from my own radio or involuntarily blaring from countless stores, cars, or television sets.  Classic Rock and Heavy Metal are what I grew up with and I could never leave my music behind completely.  I believe that immersing yourself into a foreign culture does need to involve turning your back on your own.  The problem was where do I find a source of music from home that I could carry on a bicycle and listen to while sitting next to a campfire.

I have been into computers since before the first IBM hard drive but the first time I  learned about mp3 was when  I was a substitute Teacher at Chino Valley High School in Arizona.  A kid in the class had a player and since we were just doing work sheets so I asked her a hundred questions about this technology and literally ran her batteries down.  A lot of the kids in class knew about mp3 files.  I had  heard of Napster but the sound system on my computer had been broken for months and I never downloaded a song or heard an mp3 file.  High school kids are used to their teacher confiscating their electronic devises which are usually not allowed in school.  When they saw that I instead was interested in learning from them they went into great detail about the subject.  

Mp3s are basically a way of taking a song or entire album and compressing it into a file that is small enough to be emailed or downloaded from the internet.  It is similar to a Zip file except that when a file is Zipped (compressed) it is unusable until it is un-zipped (un-compressed)  A mp3 file never needs to be uncompressed to be played.  It is played straight from this compressed format.  A long album, say the Rolling Stones album "Exile on Main Street" that originally came on two vinyl records, would easily fill a 750 MB blank disk.  The same album compressed to mp3 format consumes only 31 MB.  Most albums, that originally came on one vinyl record compress to about 10 MB. 


THE OLD WAY = Copying a music CD.  Let's say that you have your favorite Rolling Stones album and you want to give a copy to a friend. You would first have to buy a blank CD.   You use your CD that you bought at the music store as the master.  You copy from the master to the blank disk and your friend can now play it in their home stereo or portable CD player.  Okay this is illegal and purely hypothetical.  The disadvantage is that you must already own the master or at least have a copied version.   You have to buy a blank disk for each album copied.  This does not cost much per disk but it does add up.  Another disadvantage is that if you want the entire Stones studio album collection you would need at least 38 disks which is not practical to carry on a bicycle.

THE mp3 WAY = With the mp3 format you have more options on where the original album comes from.  You can still use a regular music CD provided by a friend.  This is the fastest and most reliable way.  If you copy from a music CD while on the internet you will not only get the music but also the song titles and even cover art. 

You can also receive your music through email.  An Mp3 file is just like any other file and can be sent as an attachment from a friend with the music that you want.  This is described in much more detail in the books mentioned below. 

With an mp3 you do not even need the original CD or even know anyone with the music that you want.  You can get it straight off the internet.  This is what the famous Napster did (or helped people do) before they were shut down.  Do not think that just because Napster is shut down that there are not other sites that do the same thing.   There are dozens or more to choose from.  You can even take your new mp3 file and copy it to a CD to be played in your Diskman or home stereo.  The books mentioned below can direct you to these music sharing sites and explain how they work and dodge the law.

Another advantage to mp3 compactness is that you can now fit more than one album on a writeable CD.   Instead of needing 38 blank disks to buy and carry around you can fit the entire Rolling Stones collection on one disk.  This compactness is what makes it possible to email or download songs.  Instead of putting your music on a CD you can just put the music on your hard drive.  This is what I do.  I have at least 3,000 songs on our laptop and I am always looking for more. 

Now because I'm mobile with a laptop it is logical to put as much music on it and turn in into a jukebox.  The problem is that I was not able to download mp3s until a few months before I left.  I barely figured out how to get the music from the net and then immediately downloaded as much as possible.  I had a 100 yard phone cord, made from a lifetime of playing with such stuff, running to the RV while I was moving out of the house.  Once I moved out I was cut off from the net and shifted over to selecting favorite songs and transferring them from some 300 CDs to my 10 pound juke box. 

A good book describing how mp3s work and where to find the free downloads on the internet is essential.  I found several good books on Amazon but really like just a few.  The Mp3 and Internet Audio Handbook :Your Guide to the Digital Music Revolution was perfect for me.  Its information ranges from beginner to expert.  It is very practical and I still wish I had room in my panniers to bring it along.  If you can only buy one book to get you started or build on what you already know this should be it.   How to Do Everything With MP3 and Digital Music is a bit more technical but that is why I liked it.  It really goes into the nuts and bolts of everything to do with mp3.  This book makes a good companion to the previous book and other books listed on this page.   Mp3 for Dummies is from the popular Dummies series and many people are already familiar with the format of these books.  If the Dummies series has worked for you previously for other subjects then this book should be for you.  Finally there is a book that is more concerned with the interesting history of mp3 than the "how to" aspect.  Sonic Boom: Napster, MP3, and the New Pioneers of Music is about the best that I found.  I thought that technical history would be dull but mp3 is considered a major threat by the music industry and their reaction was intense and even surprising. 

The correct software is another key to the whole mp3 thing.  Good software can make your downloads much easier and organize your ever growing collection of music.  This is how an ordinary computer becomes a jukebox.  I have used several but highly recommend Cakewalk PC Music Pack. 

I understand and acknowledge that I am in no way an expert in this technology but I feel that when you learn something from scratch that you are often better at getting someone else started.


DSC00002.JPG (562601 bytes)
Our laptop the night before we left connected to the internet via a network cable in a mad dash to copy the last of my CD collection.

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