Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Record Vinyl on Your Mac

In this age of Spotify streaming and mp3s and flacs, only a true luddite would have CDs still burning the midnight laser. So what does that say for people who have vinyl? I probably have to trot out words like Mezozoic or Paleozoic to describe you freaks of nature. Luckily there are ways to bring you into the modern age and digitize your old record collection so you can play them on your iPods, iPhones, and iClouds.

There are several ways to go about this. You could get a USB turntable to hook up to your Mac, but their quality can be dodgy. You can get an iMic, made for laptops with no microphone-in jack, and use it in conjunction with Final Vinyl, but you're not likely to get the best sound quality out of that method either. If you have RCA cables, you could get an RCA to USB adapter, or probably best of all, you could get a PCI card with RCA jacks for analog I/O. As far as software goes, in addition to the above mentioned Final Vinyl, there's also Audacity which is a great freeware solution, and there's also Roxio's CD Spin Doctor which requires Toast.

But if you're like me, you don't do any of that. Because if you're like me, you have a spare Power Mac 7600 in your closet with built-in RCA ports that you can fire up to bring back a whiff of the good old days when hearts were young, skies were blue, and your Mac greeted you with a smiley face. All of which brings me to talking about probably my favorite utility ever made for the Mac. It's called Coaster and, though purely a Mac program, it exemplifies that old Unix credo, "one thing well." Simply put, it records audio to disk as aiff files. And it's intuitive enough to split tracks into separate files. It runs exclusively on Mac OS 8-9 and is as good an excuse as any to make that old Power Mac useful and rip your ancient vinyl collection that's been gathering dust. And for symmetry's sake, a 7500 or 7600 can probably be found for about the same price as a PCI card.

The only downside to all of this is there's no way around the having-to-play-it-to-record-it problem, so if you're ripping a large collection, bring snacks.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Browser Round Up

After installing TenFourFox 10 and seeing it was an Extended Support Release, I decided to give myself a break from the constant upgrading and skipped the betas for 11, 12, and 13. Now 14 has come around, and as the internet keeps getting slower, I wanted to see if the new version offered any speed improvements.

The UI differences from 10 and 14 are probably too trivial to mention, but I did see a speed improvement. 14 seems a bit faster on javascript-heavy pages. I say "seems" because I didn't actually benchmark it, so I have to use touchy-feely words like "seems," "feels like," and "makes me all warm and fuzzy inside." On some pages the difference is more noticeable than others. Safeway's coupon pages show a definite improvement, whereas Gawker and their crime-against-humanity new commenting system showed not much. As with all TenFourFox releases, even betas, stability is excellent.

However, if you're using Leopard, TenFourFox is not your only option. There have been a few newer browsers to join the fight and continue to support PowerPC:

The first is Leopard-Webkit. It's a build of the current Webkit sources, basically an updated Safari, and also supports h.264 video.

More recently there's AuroraFox (Firefox alpha channel), which is like a bleeding-edge version of TenFourFox. Though on their website they announced they'll reach "Judgment Day" with the release of version 17 since that's when Mozilla drops Leopard support.

Finally there's a new kid on the block, Seamonkey-PPC. Also Leopard-only, it's Mozilla's all-in-one browser suite with email, IRC, and more. It's goal " to maintain a working version of SeaMonkey for PPC based Macs." So check it out!

Some of you may also add Stainless to the list, but I'm not sure how active the project is (only one update in the last year).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

E-Book Tools for PowerPC

If you've been here before, you may have noticed I've added an e-book ad on the right for a science fiction novel called "Timejump." Normally I don't run ads on this site, but it's my book and cue all the sticking-out-your-tongue emoticons :p >:P :-P x-p :b :-b!

To make this post slightly less insufferable, I'm going to give you a run down of some e-book tools for PowerPC. At first I didn't think I'd need any of this stuff because one site I published on, Smashwords, requires a doc file for upload, and the other, Amazon, takes a variety of file types including doc and html. I thought I was gonna be all badass and submit an html file and make whatever adjustments needed to be made in the raw code. But after using an Intel system for the Intel-only KindleGen and Kindle Previewer, I had major problems. The generated file displayed fine in Kindle Previewer but was completely fouled up when viewed on an actual Kindle. The font size was microscopic and extra spaces were inserted between paragraphs. To make matters worse, when I looked in the html I couldn't find the sources of the tiny fonts and unwanted spaces. So I retired my badass persona and rued the day I ever turned to Intel and went looking for some tools on PowerPC.

For simple epub reading, there's Adobe Digital Editions. As a reader it leaves a lot to be desired (it is Adobe, after all), but it's useful for checking your formatting before submitting epub files for publication. This isn't only good for submitting to epub sites like Barnes & Noble's PubIt!, but also for Amazon as they accept the epub format for uploads, too. The Digital Editions download link didn't work for me because it apparently requires a newer version of flash than I have (Oh, Adobe, you still kill me), but there's a PPC download link at the bottom of this page (new download link here).

For converting files bewtween formats, there's calibre. It takes odt as an input format, so you can use OpenOffice/LibreOffice to convert a doc file to odt and then convert to epub or Amazon's mobi format in calibre. If you're just interested in converting your existing library between more convenient formats, calibre is great, too. The last version that supports OS X PowerPC is 0.7.28, but Linux PowerPC users can install newer versions.

For editing the html in epub files, there's Sigil. Unfortunately they stopped PowerPC support as well, but downloads for the last versions to support Leopard and Tiger (0.30 and 0.24 respectively) are here using the "All downloads" search filter. Sigil is great if you need to make adjustments in the code but aren't expert in html. You can make edits in rich text and then switch to html view to view the changes in code, and vice versa.

There's also an AppleScript utility called epubcheck that checks your epub files for errors before publishing. You can download it from this thread. The first post seems to be updated with new versions. The latest version as of this date is 1.2 and works on Tiger.

Back to my adventures, at first I used calibre to convert to mobi, but Amazon gave me a technical error warning on upload. So then I used calibre to convert to epub, uploaded successfully, but I got a really strange issue on the Kindle where some of the text above italicized lines was smudged out. I almost didn't catch this. So finally I downloaded the epub file generated at Smashwords (they output to a variety of different formats) as a base, did some editing in Sigil, and then uploaded without a hitch to Amazon. Adventure concluded.

And finally, I'm making "Timejump" available as a free download for the next five days. Just take the code WL36Q (expires 7/20/12) to Smashwords, and you can download it for your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or other devices. If you like noir and science fiction and like them even better combined, you should like my book.

Also, I noticed MacPowerPC recently put out an e-book of their entire blog for an easy reference guide. It must be e-book season:)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Power Consumption on Power Macs


In this day and age with most longtime Mac users moving to Intel systems but still having perfectly good PowerPC hardware in the closet, many ask, "What can I do with those old computers? I'm not really a modder and don't need a fish tank. Is there anything close to their original purpose I can use them for?" The answer most people come up with, if it isn't eBay, is some sort of server: a file server, music/media, or even a web server. And given Power Macs have multiple drive bays, they'd seem ideal for this task. There's just the one issue of power consumption. Since these computers will generally always be on, it's a good idea to look at their wattage efficiency to see which models would be best served being servers of the served.

I think everybody knows that G5 Power Macs suck a lot of power. They give off enough heat, so much that they're sometimes referred to as space heaters. In fact, most G5s idle (on but no processor activity) at around 150 watts. As a comparison, most laptops and minis idle at around 20-30 watts and even iMac G5s can idle at less than half the Power Mac's wattage with the screen asleep. So G5s aren't ideal as servers, especially since they're limited to two drive bays.

So let's go back a generation. I assumed the MDD Power Macs would be much more efficient, at least in a processor idle state, since they're equipped with G4s rather that G5s. But this article at Apple's website was a real eye-popper, and not in a good way. The MDDs are practically just as power hungry as G5s. The single processor 1.25 GHz G4 which was the last Mac to boot OS 9 wasn't so bad. It idled at 80 watts, but the others, particularly the dualies, all idled at 130-150 watts. That's asking for a pretty big hit in the wallet when the power bill comes.

You have to go back to the Quicksilvers and Sawtooths to find Power Macs that idle in the 50-75 watt range, and it also so happens that those models are much more reliable than what followed. So if you're looking to utilize a server with multiple drive bays, those might be your best options.

One last note, as a way to conserve power you can run G5 processors as "reduced" in the Energy Saver preferences pane. That might save you a little electricity. Also, G4s can utilize Nap Mode in CHUD Tools. I'm not intimately familiar with this, but googling it will give you plenty of links.

*Dan Knight in comments points out the "big drive" disadvantage pre-Quicksilver Power Macs have with not supporting drives greater than 128 GB without a third party card. Also, in this xlr8yourmac page users report that Nap Mode reduces watt usage in MDDs up to 35% to 40% at idle. Interesting.