Book Club - George MacDonald Fraser

In recognition of the 40th anniversary of the publication of the first novel in the Flashman series, BBC Radio 7 recently rebroadcast an edition of ‘Book Club’ from 2006 featuring the author, George MacDonald Fraser (1925-2008). In the 30-minute show a group of readers, guided by Radio 4 presenter James Naughtie, ask the author questions about the book, the characters and himself.
The content is fairly insubstantial but for anyone who has even a passing interest in the very wonderful and very funny Flashman series this is an enjoyable diversion.

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“Education… has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”

G. M. Trevelyan

I’ve added a reading list page which I will update frequently.
The link is at the bottom right of every page.

“The future belongs to the few of us willing to get our hands dirty.”

Joseph Tommasi

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Audible unlimited

August 9, 2006

Audible.com offer an incredible collection of audiobooks at great prices but with one major flaw – the Audible DRM (Digital Rights Management) severely limits the portability (and hence, usefulness) of the files. Over the last few years there have been various solutions offered to convert the Audible .aa format files (Goldwave and River Past Audio Converter being two of the most popular). Most of these haven’t lasted long as Audible are not keen to allow you to use their content how you see fit. What follows is a method that, as of right now, works.

Before I begin, let me point out that one option that will always be open to you is to use a tool such as Total Audio Recorder. This will produce a great sounding copy of any Audible audiobook (in fact anything that can be played through your soundcard) regardless of what pointless ‘copy protection’ is used. Its single weakness is that recording is done in real-time – an 11-hour audiobook will take 11 hours to convert. If you don’t have that amount of time to spare then you may prefer the following method.

What you need

1. Windows Media Player (microsoft.com)
2. Windows Media Player Filter (audible.com)
3. Total Audio Converter (coolutils.com)

What to do

When you have all of the above software installed:

1. Test that the Audible Media Player Filter is working by starting Media Player and opening the Audible (.aa) file you want to convert. Press ‘Play’. A small popup will open showing the Audible chapter navigation buttons and the audiobook will start playing.
2. Press ‘Stop’, then press the ‘Previous Chapter’ button on the Audible popup. This part is vital as the conversion will begin from the position from which you left off.
3. Start Total Audio Converter and use the file browser on the left-hand side to navigate to the folder containing your Audible files. In the file list, on the right hand side, select the file you just opened in step (1).
4. Click on ‘Convert to: MP3′ below the menu bar and a wizard will prompt you for details about the .mp3 file you want to create. The highest quality Audible files are recorded at 32kb/s so I find that the following options work best:

Sample rate: 44100 Mz
Channels: Mono (I have never heard a stereo .aa file but there may be some)
Minimum bitrate: 32 kbps
VBR enabled: Checked
Maximum bitrate: 256 kbps (won’t happen but gives it plenty of leeway)
Quality: 9

Press Finish and wait… your file is converted from nice but inflexible .aa to much more portable .mp3 at high speed and without any loss of quality.

What about the chapter stops?

The single disadvantage of converting .aa files to another format is that the Audible chapter navigation is then lost. For very long books this can be quite inconvenient. The only solution I have is to split the single file created by Total Audio Recorder into seperate chapters manually, with each chapter getting it’s own .mp3 file. A great tool for this is MP3 Direct Cut. This process is a bit labour intensive, and the first couple of times can be time-consuming, but after a few tries you can easily complete the process of splitting a lengthy audiobook in less than 10 minutes.

*** UPDATE: 11th August, 2006 ***
It looks like Audible have removed the Windows Media Player Filter from their site for the time being. You can still download it here: http://www.coolutils.com/Downloads/AudibleMediaPlayerFilter.exe

If, like me, you love both audiobooks and “noir” then Aural Noir is a good starting point. Despite their determination to use the word “podcast” in every review (when describing any MP3 file) and their update schedule being a little infrequent (as I write this, it’s almost three weeks since their last update) they are still well worth a visit.

Aural Noir (auralnoir.com) Now defunct.

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  • Noir Cast (noircast.net)
    Noir related “podcasts”
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