chris barr

Photo/Dev/Design

Lyric Converter V2!

If you just want to go use it: LyricConverter.com

But first…

The Backstory…

A few years ago my church used some lyric presentation software called SongShowPlus, and it worked… but we didn’t love it.  It only ran on Windows, it had some UI issues that made it hard to use and add/change songs before services. We wanted to get a Mac and run ProPresenter instead.  Friends in the same industry were telling us how they had switched and how much they loved it.  ProPresenter had a lot going for it, especially in the ease-of-use department and scalability for things we wanted to do in the future.

We were hesitant to make the change because there was no way to move all of our song files over. Neither program had a decent way to import or export song files, and there was certainly no way to convert between formats. A good friend of mine at a different church told me they were in the same position; they wanted to move from SongShowPlus to ProPresenter but they were holding off due to the inability to convert their songs. Honestly  I’m still surprised that to this day neither program provides a standard import/export for other file types.

The day finally came when our Windows machine died. We either had to buy a new one, or just go ahead and get a Mac with ProPresenter. We chose the latter option and manually converted the few songs we needed each week, or just downloaded them from a service called SongSelect. In the end this process wasn’t the best, but we got through it.  However, everything would have been much easier and less intimidating if there was just a simple way to import and export songs.

Version 1

This is the point when I decided to take a crack at it. I put our entire SongShowPlus library on my thumb drive and opened up the files in a text editor to see if it would be possible to get the text out.  The SongShowPlus file format is crazy, it appears to be a binary file with lots and lots of invisible control characters, but there is plain readable lyrics in there as well. Overall it seemed possible. Ok, so what about ProPresenter? Luckily the ProPresenter file format is a nicely formatted XML data, very easy to read and write from.  No problem!

At the time I was pretty comfortable programming in PHP, and I knew it’s file read/write capabilities so I decided to start there. I wrote a few complicated regular expressions to get the raw lyrics into an array, and it pretty much worked for most song files (with some tweaking)! This process took quite a while to get right because understanding the SongSHowPlus file format was fairly difficult. After that it wasn’t too much work to get it to generate the proper XML needed for a ProPresenter file. All that needed to be made now was a web UI for people to upload and download the songs! I put something together and I was pretty happy with it, and a few people used it. Yay! I even found out that the support staff at Renewed Vision (the company that makes ProPresenter) was actually recommending my site to customers making the switch, and that was pretty exciting news!

Oh and the name, LyricConverter… it just seemed obvious. (Also the domain was available.)

Problems

While what I wrote worked, it was a bit of a pain to use. If someone tried to upload too many songs at once the website would choke due to PHP’s upload file-size limit. Sure I could increase that, but someone could always upload more.  To solve this I had to impose restrictions of no more than 30 files at a time. This solved the problem, but if you had several hundred files to convert you were going to be here all day.

Another big problem was downloading the converted files. Each file was converted individually and stored on my server, but that meant after conversion you had to click on each file to download it.  So again, if you had several hundred files you were going to be here all day. That combined with the upload limit of 30 made this quite a pain to use. My eventual goal was to be able to have it produce a single .zip file with all the converted files in it, but that seemed a daunting task for PHP at the time.

One more problem I had, that was compounded by the above problems, was the amount of disk space and bandwidth used up on my server each month! I wrote a cron job that should have run once a day and deleted any files left on the server that were more than 12 hours old, but I found out that this did not run reliably on schedule and I often had to trigger it manually after I would get a “disk space exceeded” email form my hosting company. I also kept having to increase my monthly bandwidth because I was getting “bandwidth limit exceeded” emails. It was not uncommon for the site to blow through 1 or 2 Gigs of bandwidth in a month… and that’s for text files! (Although, it was a few hundred of them all transferred up once and then again back down)

Version 2

In my day job I’m a front-end web developer/designer, so I try to keep up with what the current browser technology supports and I’m quite honestly stunned at how many amazing things can be done all in the browser now.  Once I learned that there was a way to generate files in-browser with JavaScript to save to your desktop, I began to think about how re-writing LyricConverter could be a 100% in-browser process would solve all of the current problems I had.

Reading files dragged onto the browser was no problem, I was already doing that in the previous version.  Now I just had to take some of the regular expressions I had written in PHP and re-use or find a better way to achieve the same outcome in JavaScript. After some trial and error, I finally got this working how I wanted.  It will read SongShowPlus files and ProPresenter files, the output from either of those can be made to display in-browser as slides, convert to plain text files, or convert to ProPresenter files. Yes, you can convert ProPresenter files to ProPresenter files. Why? Well, why not. I doubt this is needed, but this does prove how flexible it is.

Since this is all in-browser there are no more “upload” limits, and there are no bandwidth restrictions. The only bandwidth used is just initially serving the page up to the browser. In fact since it’s all JavaScript now, it’s just being hosted on GitHub for free and none of my server resources are even needed any more.

Since files could be auto-downloaded (thanks to a library called FileSaver.js), that was great and it solved a huge problem of having to click individual links. A user could drag 1000 files into the browser, and then immediately click a button to download 1000 converted files… that is if you want 1000 files on your desktop… hmmm, that’s not appealing.  After some quick searching around I was amazed to find that someone has written a JavaScript library called jsZip that can actually generate .zip files with JavaScript! This was my ultimate goal, and it was to each to achieve with this library. Now when you convert songs you have the option to download all N number of files individually, or just download a .zip file containing them all.

I’m also extremely happy with how the code is structured now. Previously it was a huge mess and half of that was due to my unfamiliarity with PHP. Now it’s all written in JavaScript and it’s very modular. It should be easy to add on new file types that it could read from or output to.  It’s also all on GitHub, so anyone can feel free to improve the existing code or add new functionality like new input/output formats!

Use It & Improve It!

Like I said, all the code is on GitHub and I would just absolutely love it if people would contribute to this project to make it better.  Right now it works, but it certainly could be made better.  Occasionally I do get some strange conversion errors or random incorrect characters that slip through into the converted files.  I’d love to squash these bugs, but they aren’t deal-breakers at the moment.

So, please use it, let me know how it could be made better, and please contribute if you can.

New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year, and a new decade. I know 2010 will be a great year for me, and I’m going to do my best to make sure of that by setting a few new years resolutions for myself.

  • Take 1 photo a day and blog it to force myself to get more creative – I’m keeping it in a tumblr blog you can follow here: http://2010photos.tumblr.com
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Make a short film about my trip to Togo, Africa in July
  • Try to get a photo published somewhere or in a local gallery

So most of these are photography related, but I think these all revolve around my trip to Africa later this year. This is more than likely a once in a lifetime trip, and I really want to make sure that I take some amazing photos and videos to remember it by.

Five Words That Will Rock Your World

My church asked me to make a quick video intro for a new 5 week sermon series titled “Five Words That Will Rock Your World.” The graphics were already made, I just had to animate it somehow. It’s been a while since I last touched Adobe After Effects, but I think I came up with something pretty decent.

I originally made this as a standard 4:3 video at 720×480 to fit on the projector screens at church, but I decided to re-render this in 16:9 720p HD so I can have a good archival copy for my portfolio and just so it looks great online. The original 4:3 video took roughly 5 hours to render out on my MacBook Pro (which I had to do 3 times due to various mistakes and errors!) and the larger 720p version took 10 hours!

The music is “Life Inside You” by Matthew West from his album Something To Say (Amazon MP3 download page)

Five Words That Will Rock Your World from Chris Barr on Vimeo.

MIXed up in Las Vegas

Once a year my company, AppRiver, allows me to attend one work related conference and my for first year working here I’ll be attending MIX ‘09 in Las Vegas!  Until recently, this wasn’t even a conference I’ve heard of, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before either.  Mix is an annual conference for web designers and developers with a heavy focus on Microsoft technologies (also sponsored by Microsoft).

So, I’m headed out to Vegas on Monday the 16th and expect to learn a lot and have a blast doing so for about a week.  I’m scheduled for a few different sessions that I’m excited about attending, and there’s tons and tons of sessions to attend. Need I even mention this all takes place in Las Vegas?  I took a trip out there about 3 years ago with my dad and had a blast, so I fully expect to have a great time when I’m not doing web related stuff.  I know the grand canyon and the Hoover Dam are fairly close, and it would just be a dream come true to see either one of these (or both!).

I’ll hopefully be fully armed with my laptop and camera where ever I go, and a goal I’m going to try and set for myself is to do a daily photo-blog of what’s going on at the conference and anything else I can take pictures of.  It’s my first conference and I’m usually pretty trigger happy, so expect lots of photos.

More info about Mix here: http://2009.visitmix.com