Archive for the 'software' Category

Great Free Apple Mac Audio Converter

So I had a .flac file (lossless, and therefore very large) audio file. Apple iTunes wouldn’t touch the thing with a bargepole. Needed to convert into something it could read and then transfer to my shiny new 3rd Gen iPod Nano.

Mother Google had a thread listed discussing this very thing. Couple of people mentioned Max from Downloaded the Universal binary, set it up to export to the first MPEG-4 listed with High quality at 256kbits/sec. Converted the file in less than 30 seconds (2.4Ghz Macbook Pro) and the result was happily imported into iTunes.

Best bit? Max converts to/from many, many formats, and is completely free (GPL)!

Best Bug Report. Ever.

Not to be read with little-uns reading!

There are times when it is prudent to self-censor.

Then there’s this chap’s bug report.

Edit: Now links to the https web site as the non-ssl version now redirects to home page probably due to traffic.

Secure File Delete on Mac OS X

Under Linux I always used wipe within a terminal to securely delete my files, and I was about to purchase “ShredIt X” to essentially perform the same thing under Mac OS X when I came across a comment on a software download forum mentioning srm.

srm is a Unix command-line tool to securely delete a file. It is installed by default for us Mac OS X users too, just open up a Terminal and type the following:

srm my-file.doc

Quick, right? You did type srm, not just rm, right? srm is designed to operate just like rm so it takes the same command line switches or options, but rather than just deleting the file (or the link between what is essentially an index of files and the actual location of the data on the physical disk which in reality is exactly what a normal delete does (hence it’s lightning quick)) it looks at the data on the physical disk and overwrites it.

Now, the US Department of Defence specifies certain requirements about the overwriting process to ensure the chances of recovery are limited. Basically hard disks are like magnets and file data is stored as magnetic fingerprints (yes, this is highly simplified) on those disks. Consider a fridge door with magnetic letters spelling out a message. Same difference. However, remove those letters and although the information cannot be read by the naked eye specialist data recovery firms (and law enforcement agencies) have methods and tools to retrieve the fingerprints just like they were ghosts or shadows of the original data. Very clever, very scary.

Anyway, the DoD specification reads quite simple compared with a data overwriting algorithm specified by a guy called Guttman which basically entails random data repeatedly written over the data thirty six times. The DoD I think specifies six.

There is a disadvantage to using Guttman’s method: The process is a whole lot slower than the DoD’s method and obviously orders of magnitude slower than a standard delete. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.

I prefer the more secure route. And srm uses the Guttman method by default. So that .doc file above really did go, unless you forgot the s.

Now, if you think you have already removed via Trash or rm files that you wish you’d securely deleted, there is a get out clause. You can ask Disk Utility to securely delete your free disk space. When a file is removed the normal (non-secure) way, the physical space on disk although not overwritten is now available for other files to be written to. Otherwise when you deleted a 1 gigabyte file you’re disk free space wouldn’t go up by the same amount! However, once it has been overwritten (in whole or in part) by future files like videos, emails, documents or resources used by your operating system, the physical area on the disk may or may not right now be in use. Areas not in use will be securely erased, areas in use obviously not.

Thank you Apple and open source software developers.

MacOffice Pro Just Re-Badged OpenOffice Suite?

So I spotted this post about MacOffice Pro, claiming to be a superior software suite for Mac cloning most of Microsoft Office including comptibility with Open XML, Microsoft’s new XML based file format for it’s Office applications as off 2007.

Ars Technica reviews the new kid on the block finding particular similarities with another application: OpenOffice. Can a DVD with 1 Gb of clipart and free technical support be worth almost $50 (discounted rate)?

The body text of OpenOffice’s Writer application appears to have been copy & pasted into MacOffice Pro’s details page on word processing – I can only see minor grammatical adjustments. There appears to be no accreditation to on MacOffice Pro’s web site although I may have missed it, and without the software itself I cannot check the documentation that shops with it.

Usually re-brands of open source material credit the original source somewhere and happily add value to it, generating own-brand revenues. This instance may generate the frown of the open source community, however.

“They” (assuming MacOffice Pro isn’t some bloke operating out of his bedroom) appear quite anonymous with no personal names listed. The whois record only reveils a street address in New York. Not sure where the added value is here.

mencoder examples and converting from Intel Indeo 5

MPlayer for Linux (other platforms supported) ships with an awesome (free) audio/video encoder called mencoder.

It can accept a stream from say a TV tuner card or an existing audio/video file like an AVI or MPG. You can also use a DVD as a source.

It spits out another file, this time using any specified codec / formatting / special effects it supports.

So I have this .avi file and it cannot play back within anything I’ve got under Mac OS X. I fire up VMWare Fusion and a copy of Ubuntu within. Here I run ‘file myvideo.avi’ within a terminal and am told it’s actually Intel Indeo v5.

For those who don’t know, Intel produced their own audio/video codecs (like DivX but early days essentially) years ago before Windows supported many. Indeo was the product name. Unfortunately the specification is held privately by Intel and binaries are only available for past Windows OSs. Thankfully mplayer has a load of these old binaries and can play them under Windows. And most if not all can be used by mencoder to at least decode the files.

Time to update my video file by converting it to a newer, better supported format.

Now unfortunately the people behind MPlayer are far too busy programming to make great looking simple documentation. This means wading through piles of documentation and wondering which of the bewildering options should you be choosing. Google & Gentoo Wiki to the rescue! How about this for a wicked guide to using mencoder with examples!

Even after trying a few of the examples the converter still complained about things such as invalid audio bitrates. So I had to choose pcm for the audio codec which is uncompressed and thus not great.

Results time. Original file size is 390MB.

So here goes the first attempt:
mencoder movie.wmv -o movie.avi -ovc lavc -oac pcm
perfectly correct video under both Linux and Mac OS X with a file size of 323.5MB. But it’s DivX, how about we use xvid which is less restrictive.

mencoder -ovc xvid -oac mp3lame -xvidencopts bitrate=687 -o
Once again perfectly acceptable but this time the file size is 212MB with no perceptable degredation in quality (but the original is obviously old and hardly DVD or HD quality).

You could even add -lavcopts vcodec=mpeg4:mbd=2:trell -vf scale=640:480 to double the video resolution from 320×240 if you desired but this adds considerable time to encoding so I didn’t bother.

Oh, and for those of you interested in real geeky hardware stats, iStat Pro reckons the CPU (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4Ghz Santa Rosa) reached 78C in the middle of conversion. It even reckons 35% idle CPU which given the hammering is quite remarkable. 2GB RAM MacBook Pro.