How to get pretty buttons on your Google CSE results

How to get pretty buttons on the bottom of your Google CSE results.

1. You want this…

Instead of this…

Ok, so not that much prettier, but bigger. You can work on the styling once you know how to do the basics.

2. First set button and letter/edge colours to match your site/page. You do that here in the CSE Dashboard…


3. Then add this CSS code into your HTML page header, or your blog theme’s ‘custom CSS’ panel.

4. Save, refresh the page, test. Tell your users they don’t have to squint any more.

Snazzy map images

Snazzy offers a library of customisable live Google Maps interfaces, such as Google Maps without Labels. The service has now added a new feature, which appears to enhance a 1000px screenshot with 3x AI upscaling.

You could do the same with a screenshot utility and Gigapixel AI, but I’d guess that Snazzy is training its AI on map screenshots and small text. Gigapixel AI gives rather poor results on small text.

VLC Playlist Edit Maker 1.0

I’ve made an Excel spreadsheet that automatically does the calculations required for making a VLC player ‘playlist edit’ of an .MP3 file. By inputting timings and then copying out the columns in light blue, one gets a nearly-made playlist that uses the required ‘elapsed seconds’ format and will only play specific sections of the target media file. See my earlier post for a full discussion on this unique feature of VLC.

Download: timecode_to_seconds_for_vlc_playlist_edit.xls

I’ve assumed here that you have an 80 minute podcast you want to listen to repeatedly. You want to cut the first eight minutes of intro, and also cut two later sections and the final outro. Theoretically it should also work for the ‘virtual editing’ of a video file. No hefty video-editing workstation required!

Useful extra tip: On the keyboard, Ctrl + T gets you the current time on the VLC playback, in the format: 00H:38m:27s. This can be easily copied to the clipboard, and (with a little trimming) into my spreadsheet. So far as I can tell it can’t be made into a paste-friendlier: 00:38:27.

How to ‘edit’ an audio file using only timecodes and playlist

I’m amazed that there’s no easy way to skip across precise multiple sections of an audio file, when playing back in a laptop/desktop audio player. And to then have one’s choices of sections ‘stick’.

For example, I have a 56 minute audio track, downloaded as an .MP3. I am going to listen to this repeatedly, on a loop, and on playback I wish to always skip minutes 0:00 to 9:30, and then 15:30 to 26:00. The player should save my choices and then ‘always skip these sections, whenever I play this file’ locally.

As far as I can see the only options for doing this on a Windows desktop are…

a) actual editing of the audio file in a good audio editor such as Audacity or similar. But an MP3 can take an age to load and then to save out, when dealing with a 50-60 minute track. At a half-hour to laboriously load and process each one, that’s a whole day wasted if you have an album or long audiobook to to process. And if you’re not savvy about export settings, you can also compromise audio quality on export. The clumsy may also risk overwriting the original file.

b) it can be done via a hand-coded workaround that makes a VLC Player playlist. Not ideal, but it seems to be the best current solution and VLC is safe and well supported. It’s relatively quick and wholly non-destructive of the original files.

The simplest form of use for this is…

1. First preview your audio file and make a note of the various ‘in’ and ‘out’ points, giving you a list of just the segments you want played. For example…

PLAY 09:31 – 15:29
PLAY 26:01 – 56:30

2. Then open Windows Notepad and copy the starter template…

#EXTVLCOPT:stop-time= 2611
Acquired Ears.mp3

Acquired Ears.mp3

The numbers here are the time in seconds elapsed since the start of the audio file. start-time and stop-time should be self-explanatory.

3. Now use the Time Code to Seconds Web page to translate your own noted times to seconds, seconds being the only measure that VLC Player can handle. Most crude online converters only deal in pure seconds. The one linked above can cope with proper audio-player values, such as 26:33. There appears to be no way to do this inside VLC.* A local desktop option for this is the simple Windows freeware Time Converter 1.0. It gives you milliseconds and to get seconds from that you just lop off three zeros…

Update: I made a better solution, a VLC Playlist Edit Maker 1.0 Excel spreadsheet.

Obviously you also paste in your own file name(s). Blank spaces in the filename don’t phase VLC player.

As you can see you can have multiple sections of the file listed for playback. It appears that each selection/section/segment must follow after the last such, though it might be possible to skip back and forth across the file. It also appears you can also skip between audio files and generally create quite a complex playback mix. Try such things and see. But for the purposes of this tutorial, all that’s needed is a stepped sequence of playback across one file.

4. Once done, you save it out as a .txt file. Then rename this file so it’s a .m3u playlist. The playlist must then be located in the same folder as the audio file(s).

VLC can loop the playback of such a playlist. Video subtitles are said to play nicely with the ‘playlist edited’ playback.

This saved .m3u playlist only seems to work as intended in VLC Player, not in AIMP or other players that also know about .m3u playlists.

Apparently this also works for video, thus potentially easily enabling the lightweight distribution of ‘edited’ or ‘abridged’ versions of video/audio files, along with the actual files themselves. This relieves a potential editor of the need to wrestle with actual editing and re-encoding of the raw file, in a video editor or audio editor. Which, as anyone who has tried it knows, is a pain is the arts.

Now… if only VLC could also fix its broken “Continue playback” feature, which has never worked for me on a desktop across multiple versions — despite all the right switches being set in Preferences | Interface. The only solution I know of is to specifically call the target playlist from the Windows shortcut, by editing it thus…

“C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe” C:\Users\Music\playlist.m3u

Then, clicking on the resulting shortcut to launch VLC also automatically launches the target playlist. If it’s a playlist configured as above, it will play as it should and loop as normal. It still won’t automatically start at the point you left off listening when you closed VLC, but it’s better than nothing. AIMP, in contrast, handles such things perfectly and with no problem or setup at all.

Anyway, one can see the uses of such special playlists, for instance for reducing fiddliness when using video in the classroom. Or for offering just the ‘edited highlights’ of a long three-hour podcast without actually going to the trouble of editing it in Audacity. Or for creating a quick ‘cleaned’ version of media for viewing with young children. There may be some paid ‘subscriber value’ in offering such ‘playist edits’ to Patreon patrons etc, or as a ‘mailing-list special feature’.

Indeed, there’s potential for a desktop freeware / Web site combo which makes the above process as easy as possible, and then allows the social sharing of ‘playlist edit’ .m3u files, in much the same way as subtitles are already shared. Perhaps the ability to upload the user’s final edit would be contingent on summarising what was in the excluded bits, and having labelled the file correctly (e.g. ‘this section of the music appears to feature a yodelling camel’, and ‘music edit, to skip unwanted singing’).

* VLC Player also has the addons ‘Jump to Time’ (doesn’t appear to show seconds in any useful way for this purpose), and ‘Time 3.2’ (impenetrable interface, and even when finally wrestled into supposedly working it shows no seconds count anywhere in the UI). There appears to be no other ways of showing elapsed seconds / milliseconds inside VLC 3 via a plugin, though “Crtl + T” will grab it during playback. One final option is the VLC 4.0.0 alpha (most people are on the 3.0.1 stable version). This has SMPTE timestamps, SMPTE being industry-standard timecodes apparently including milliseconds. But the 4.0 .MSI and .EXE refused to install for me, and the .ZIP install just gave a black UI. You may have better luck with it in future.

Added to JURN

Ancient Pakistan

Central Asia (Area Studies, University of Peshawar)

Pakistan Journal (University of Peshawar)

Journal of Media Studies (University of the Punjab)

Pakistan Journal of Information Management and Libraries (University of the Punjab)

Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (University of Karachi)

Inklings Forever (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and their circles) (was lost, now found again)

Rotunda (magazine of the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium)

MycoPath (fungi and rots in Pakistan and region)

Linked to prison

Japan will make it a crime to download… “academic texts from the Internet. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2021.” Two years in prison and an $18k fine, for public “pasting hyperlinks of illegal websites”. The Japanese parliament passed the new law on Friday.

One imagines there will be mass civil disobedience over such a disproportionate law. Doing things like posting links to the most obscure Elsevier textbook freely available on, all over official government websites, and then publicly daring the authorities to prosecute.

How to auto-correct curved book pages in 2020

What you found pictured by an eBay seller:

What you want from it:

Ah, if only there were software that can do that… automatically. As a first step, what software can auto-correct curved book pages, of the sort one might be allowed to hastily photograph from a rare book page in a library, or perhaps in the form of a seller’s preview picture on eBay? Of course, I imagine there are now abundant mobile-phone solutions for naughty page-grabbers in book-stores, but what about for scholars on desktop Windows?

It used to be that Snapster 2.0, aka Snapster ICE, could do this via manually placing control-points along the curvature of the pages edges. But that software is now utterly unavailable except as an old 15 day trial which can no longer be unlocked. There’s also an equally finickerty free script for the free Paint.NET, which involves manually laying down two curves — and which I could not get to work at all. Tests show that neither the fine £45 DxO Viewpoint (mostly for architectural photographers) nor its free equivalent ShiftN can do exactly this (though if you have the page fairly straight, they’ll help get everything on it exactly straight). Nor can Photoshop do such auto-correct, rather amazingly, or at least there’s no mention of the capability or any tutorial in how to find and use the relevant tools.

But… there is a solution, and it’s free and relatively easy. You can have it done automatically by a special edition of the Windows freeware called Scan Tailor. No, not the normal/current Scan Tailor, but rather Scan Tailor Experimental 2015, which was a ‘special edition’ produced as a farewell present just before the original maker of Scan Tailor left the project for paid work. His experimental version includes automatic de-curving of book pages, of the sort found in some dedicated software that ships with scanners.

It seems best to first place your target picture(s) in a separate folder and then load up and output one a time, unless they all have the same orientation and distortion. Scan Tailor is obviously meant to run in batch across a lot of nearly-identical book pages. But it works fine and quickly on single images in Windows 8, and even auto-saves the results as a .TIF file.

Automatic isn’t totally perfect, as you can see in the lower-right. It’s a bit ‘off’ there. But even accepting automatic, the results are quite usable…

Automatic does need some edge-contrast to work with. A low-light eBay photo of a book page against a beige carpet will prevent auto from working, and you’ll have to place control-points manually.

As for the colourisation… still not quite automatic as yet, but there are tools that will help you halfway. Then you need to break out the desat and colourising brushes. Good up-rezing can also be done now, but with a fuzzed antique picture like this at 800px the results are not going to be worth having. What can be had from the eBay picture is good enough for a local history website or blog.

If your boss needs current supported software for photographing books on a tight budget, then the $33 Booksorber appears to do much the same thing, with automatic thumb/finger removal.