Converting Audio Files to MP3 in Nautilus

If you’re like me, you didn’t always make good decision growing up when choosing what tools you used to rip music onto you computer. I have a lot of music, much of which is a smattering of mp3, ogg, flac, wav, m4a, wma, etc. formats. Unfortunately, the stereo in my car only understands a small subset of these, so I needed an easy way to convert to mp3. It actually is pretty simple, but took some research, so here’s the steps I took using Ubuntu 12.04:

1) Install the script you need (note, all these commands should be typed into a terminal — to open this, open the launcher and type terminal, then open it):

sudo apt-get install nautilus-script-audio-convert

2) Activate it in Nautilus:

nautilus-scripts-manager enable ConvertAudioFile

Doing this will open a window, click the checkbox then close the window.

 

3) Install some extra codecs (including lame which is mp3)

sudo apt-get install lame vorbis-tools flac faac faad mplayer

That’s it, restart nautilus, then right click on an audio file (or files) and select the script:

Script Runner

 

Following this, you’ll be prompted to answer some questions, they’re pretty simple. For the second one, I selected the following:

Select items from the list_012

After that, wait for it to finish, then you can keep or remove the files you don’t want and move on with you life. Enjoy!

 

Books That Changed My Life

I’ve recently finished a book recommended to me and realized that it belonged in a small handful of books that I’ve read which have changed my life and the way I see the world. I recommend everything on this list wholeheartedly. I plan on keeping this list up-to-date as I remember things that I’ve left off or as I discover new and awesome books.

Business:

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – This book succinctly describes how to approach and execute the building of a business. Starting a business is venturing into the unknown, this book admits that and describes methods of thinking for best approaching the process.

Good to Great by Jim Collins – I read this for a class on leadership in school back around 2007. I still find myself referencing concepts from it on a fairly regular basis.

The 4-Hour Workweek (See notes below under Self-Improvement)

Nutrition:

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes – This book traces the whole history of why the US (and the world) are facing obesity problems. It covers the bad science and the bad politics that started and perpetuate the situation.

The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf – The easiest starting place for learning about the Paleo Diet. I recommend giving it a read even if you aren’t going to try the diet. You’ll learn a lot about how your body works and how food is used by it.

Self-Improvement and Making Your Life Meaningful:

Linchpin by Seth Godin – The book meanders through a number of topics surrounding how to be a valuable and fulfilled human. He discusses the big picture of what makes use fulfilled and at the same time looks at a lot of implementation details for creating value in your life.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris – I had to stop reading this book at one point because if was making me want to quit my job so badly. I then picked it up again a few months later, quit my job, and founded a company. It’s worth reading if you plan on doing anything with your life that’s not the usual 9-5 zombie approach. (Also, as a side note, read Linchpin to hear why that approach to life isn’t going to work in our modern environment.)

Summary: Getting things done original by David Allen – I recommend the summary here because I feel like any reasonably organized person can probably impliment the important parts of this process without needing to read the entire book. That said, if you’re not at all organized and looking to become more so, read the full version.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – This  book, despite all of Rand’s flaws, holds some powerful thoughts. It inspired me to start thinking differently about they whys of life.

Understanding People:

What Every BODY is Saying by Joe Navarro – Written by an ex FBI interrogator, this book lays out a great basic level of knowledge into reading people’s body language. We do a huge amount of communication non-verbally, and most of us miss a lot of it. I especially recommend reading this if you’re a male. We tend to be worse at reading body language, and not doing so means you miss out on a lot of what people are saying.

The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley – This book is fun to read, despite being pretty technical. Ridley breaks down human sexual behaviors and provides lots of examples of animals that exhibit similar behaviors. This has made me a lot more understanding of the pitfalls of myself and others when it comes to the highly complicated subject of human dating and sexual interactions. (Also increasing shoulder-to-waist ratio is important.)

The Moral Animal by Robert Wright – Also on the subject of evolutionary psychology, this book takes a wider angle view of it. He discusses why basic human behaviors like family bonding, monogamy, competition, and others are actually a product of our evolutionary past. This is a dense book, but it provides lots of insight into why we are the way we are.

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson – The book unexpectedly changed my views on learning and has make me a lot more patient with myself. It presents a number of studies and research attempting to model the workings our unconscious minds. I gave me great insight into how our brains learn, make decision, and why we stumble into logical fallacies from time to time.

Venturing Into the Unknown and Getting Things Done There

I’m a big fan of checking off boxes. There’s something satisfying about marching my way through a series of checkboxes and knowing I’m accomplishing some larger task. If you don’t already, I highly recommend using to-do lists as part of your daily routine of getting things done. (As a side note, the book Getting Things Done is great for how to organize these and generally how to be someone who gets shit done. If you’re already pretty good at this, I recommend just reading this summary of GTD.)

However, I noticed recently that I’ve been running into problems that I couldn’t seem to fit into a to-do list. Not that they were abstract things that couldn’t be broken down into tasks, but rather they were things I didn’t know how to do. For example, how to develop a product to sell in an online store or learn how to build a desk from scratch. I would sit down and start writing out my list and maybe get as far as, “Buy wood” then suddenly I’d be staring into the abyss of questions… what kind of wood? how much do I need? where do I buy it? do I really want to build a desk? what if I buy the wrong supplies and have to start over again? where can I find the space to build this? etc.?

What I realized though is that I’m trying to go from 0-60 without passing through 0-20 first. So what I did was took a step back, threw out my list, and started again with a simple entry: “Research building a desk.” The internet is an amazing place and a simple search turns up more information than I could ever possibly digest on this subject. In starting at a more logical beginning point, I can drastically reduce the number of show stopping questions I run into. This, in and of itself, presents a set of problems.

Many people, when faced with an near-infinite amount of information can become paralyzed by it, spending hours upon hours researching and never actually reach the task they’re researching. To quote Steve Jobs (and for those of you who know me well: yes it does hurt me a bit inside to do so.): “Real artists ship.” So let’s not let fear of imperfection stop us from completing the task we were previously driven to do. Let’s modify that original to-do list item to, “Spend 1 hour researching building a desk.”

This doesn’t mean you have to spend only one hour researching then go galavanting off to buy wood and screws and never ask any more questions. This means you have given yourself 1 hour to read up on generalities and use this knowledge to inform the next points. Maybe you’ll come up with the following:

  1. Find a space I can use to build a desk.
  2. Spend 30 minutes deciding what kind of woods to use.
  3. Draw up general plans and measure the space I plan on using it.
  4. Make a list of various pieces I need: screws, hinges, rails, handles, tools, etc.
  5. Decide on dark or light stain or paint.
  6. Head to the store and see what woods and materials are available.
  7. Revise plans based on new information — go back to researching if needed.

From here I can start working my way forward. It’s natural that the list will expand and contract as I proceed forward and ask and answer more questions. As I run into the unknown, I can add more notes to research, using time limits, and trying to be as specific as possible (but remembering that it’s ok if I don’t know exactly what it is I don’t know — I’m just learning).

Ok, I’m off to research building things… as a last note, remember to embrace the investment in loss that comes with learning a new skill and adventuring off into the unknown. It’s a journey, enjoy it.

The Cost of Continuation


I have often wondered why I don’t feel the same pull towards activities that I’ve noticed in others. Have you ever met someone that you were convinced couldn’t survive without partaking in a hobby of theirs? (be it music, dancing, biking, running, etc.) I have, and I always envied those people. It felt as if they were being pointed by their heart in the direction of happiness. I want that, and I would guess many of you share that same thought. Yet we come up with subtle ways of blocking our impulses and feelings which guide these realizations.

I recently came to a realization about some maladaptive habits I’ve been carrying around with me which do exactly that. The summary version is: I pursue things which I’m attracted to, yet ignore possible downsides and sacrifice my own ideals in order to avoid the loss of stopping an activity or loss of connection with a person or group. Now that I’ve realized this, I can see that I do it in business, romance, and my hobbies. So why is this important?

Let’s take singing opera as an example. I’ve been having twinges of realization that maybe I’m not connecting with opera or the people I’m singing with. The above mentioned habit’s response to that was to bury those feelings and continue trying to make things work. Keep singing, keep studying, keep performing. Now, it’s not that I hate singing opera. If that were the case I would have quit years ago. However, because I really enjoy large parts of the process, I chose to ignore reality and continue on as if it were really what I was passionately driven to do. The problem is though, I’m only getting maybe 60% out of the activity. I look at it as if that 60% is better than the 0% I would have if I stopped, but this takes time, money, and energy that I could be using to pursue something that makes me jump out of be in the morning. The cost of continuation of an activity or behavior is not zero.

I’ve since stopped pursuing opera for the time being and I started piano lessons and will probably do guitar as well. I want to be a singer/songwriter. I can feel it. I had my first lesson yesterday and got home and practiced for an hour. I couldn’t break myself away despite needing to get to sleep. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I can’t argue with that kind of impulse. Maybe it will last, maybe it won’t, but it’s here right now. It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve realized this, but I’ve noticed that it’s a lot easier to find happiness when you listen to your feelings and let them guide you towards it.

Harvesting the Unconscious and Hacking Your Brain

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who believes that they have full, conscious control over their decisions is either hopelessly naïve or lacking in self-observation faculties. While we have conscious thought and the ability to make some decisions, research has shown the power of our subconscious in driving us towards certain behaviors and actions. Here’s a simple thought experiment. Imagine you’re trying to lean out for the summer, so you’re eating a low-carb diet. You’re sitting at home and think to yourself: “Wow, I could really go for some nachos right now” (or ice cream, or chocolate, or whatever it is for you). Unfortunately for you, suddenly a knock comes on that door and your neighbor comes in with some fresh, warm nachos. How likely do you think it is that your conscious self, which has decided to eat healthy for a bit, could resist that? I’d give it about 20% on a good day, if I’m generous.

Our brains are incredibly complex and powerful, but the high-level human part composes a very small fraction of the overall mass. So what’s the rest of our brain doing? Well, it’s keeping us alive, making habit or instinct-driven choices that would have been beneficial to keeping our ancestors alive and producing offspring (things like: don’t eat bad smelling meat or don’t try to take down that mammoth unarmed.). When we put all these parts of our brains into a modern world and we start to have trouble. We have more (and more highly palatable) food than we could ever need, instant access to adrenaline spiking entertainment, and amazingly comfortable couches, just to name a few temptations of modern living.

Given these set of issues, what can we do about it? Admitting that we don’t have full conscious control over our decisions opens up a path of action: use the conscious brain to guide the subconscious. This is what I like to refer to as harvesting the subconscious. You plant a seed of change with the conscious brain and then let the subconscious behave as it will. Trying to fight the subconscious with the conscious is like driving around with the hand brake on. When we stop trying to fight it and decide to work within the realities of our brains, we stop wasting a lot of energy. Hard habit changes will still require will-power and energy, but this can help guide the process of building new habits.

Some examples of this could be:

  • You want to start following the Paleo diet: use your conscious decision making to remove all the non-paleo food from your house. This forces your hungry, habit driven subconscious to choose from a subset of foods to eat when it gets ravenous. You’re going to make better decisions more often than if you still had cupcakes on the counter.
  • You want to start working out regularly: find a workout partner. This conscious hack gives your subconscious multiple signals. Most people have a very strong desire to socialize and another strong desire not to disappoint a social connection.

This same set of principles can be set up for any desired habit change. Consider how to set up systems which will:

  • Reward success
  • Discourage failure
  • Limit choices to the desired set

When you stop fighting how your biology works and build an accurate model of your mind, you can use that knowledge to do powerful things. If anyone is looking to improve their understanding of their subconscious mind, I recommend checking out Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious.

Please play around with the concept and let me know in the comments if it works or doesn’t for you or any creative mind-hacks you come up with using it. Please share the post if you enjoyed it. Good luck and have fun!