Tuesday, August 23, 2011

GNAC, or GNOME Audio Converter

Ever since I discovered the medium, I have been addicted to podcasts. I love listening to people discuss ideas, and podcasting allows me to enjoy such pleasure while on the go. Some have enhanced the medium by adding video to it. This may double the pleasure for some because it allows them to see what the hosts do in addition to hearing the dialogue, but not me. I am a verbal/linguistic learner, which means that I learn best by listening and speaking; the visual addition to a podcast is just extra strain on my brain. Furthermore, I do not have the patience to sit still and watch virtually any sort of video. This is too bad because there are plenty of great video podcasts in existence, many that I wish I had the wherewithal to watch. I figured that if there were a way to get only the sound from them, I could listen to them like traditional podcasts. Thanks be to the open-source community, there is a simple program that can do that...with heaps of customizable options!

The main interface

GNAC, which is short for GNOME Audio Converter, is a Linux program that converts audio from one format to another. It consists of a minimalist user interface, and the procedure for using it is just as simple. To convert a file, one must simply click a button labeled Add, browse for the source file, choose an audio format for the conversion from a drop-down list and click a final button labeled Convert. The new audio file will be sitting there, waiting to be listened to, in the location specified in the Preferences menu. For a more detailed tutorial on GNAC’s use, please read this article at MakeUseOf.com: http://b1t.it/xkd

Conversion in process

Earlier, I hinted at the amazing ability of this program to extract audio from video files. I have to admit that such a task just seems like it would be complicated, regardless of the tool employed. With GNAC, it could not be easier. All one must do is repeat the procedure detailed above with a video file as the source. In the end, the user will get the audio in a file format of their choice. Available for Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Arch, Fedora and Gentoo, GNAC is designed to work best with the GNOME desktop environment. It comes with customizable preferences such as output file naming conventions and destination folder creation. It supports popular output formats such as MP3, WAV and M4A. For picky audiophiles with predilections towards open standards (like myself), it can convert to the OGA and FLAC formats too! Visit the GNAC website for further information, as well as download and installation instructions: http://b1t.it/xkg

The preferences menu: GeneralThe preferences menu, Audio tab

I have been wanting to watch the Kevin Pollak Chat Show video podcast since I first heard about it. Alas, that would require me to sit still and watch it, and the length of the average episode is one hundred and fifty minutes! Thanks to GNAC, I can download an episode, extract the audio to a format of my choice, put it on my music player and listen to it on demand. If there is a scenario in which the ability to strip the sound from a video would benefit you, I encourage you to try GNAC for free.

Please ask questions and leave replies in the Comments section below.
This has been The Tech Eccentric.

BleachBit

Most people know that web browsers create “temp files.” Short for “temporary,” these files get created to store information about the current task, are used only once and left on the hard drive to take up space. The more one browses the web, these temp files multiply like rabbits. Though the size of an individual temp file is minuscule, they can add up. Some people know that it is good practice to periodically get rid of these files using the browser’s built-in tool. However, they remain ignorant to the fact that this phenomenon occurs not only with web browsers but virtually all programs. They may routinely clean up the cache of temporary Internet files, but said files of many other programs remain. Authors of other programs do not typically simplify the task of cleaning the temp files to the degree that web browser authors do, so it has traditionally been difficult to address the aforementioned problem. Microsoft attempted to be proactive about this threat with the Windows Disk Cleanup tool. However, the effectiveness of such a tool is only as broad as the view of the manufacturer.

I just mentioned that the scope of a computer maintenance utility varies directly with the size and general paradigm of its creating party. If a self-contained, autonomous company produces a tool, the tool will only do what the company wants. Suppose the production of a tool was initiated by one person, but that person encourages contribution from the public. Almost instantly, the scope increases at an exponential rate. What if I told you that such a tool exists? Enter BleachBit.







BleachBit is a free, open-source utility for cleaning up the clutter on a hard drive. Modular in design, it consists of many different sub-programs that specialize in cleaning a particular application. These sub-programs are called “cleaners,” and they can specialize in cleaning up after programs such as Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash and Mozilla Firefox. Upon launch, BleachBit scans the hard drive to detect what programs are installed. Then, it displays the appropriate cleaners along with each cleanup task it can perform. The user can select the tasks to be performed based on preference, comfort or time constraints (there are certain tasks which innately take longer than others, and BleachBit informs the user thusly via a pop-up window when he/she selects one). Once all tasks are selected, the user presses the Preview button, and BleachBit does a test-cleaning to show the user what would have been cleaned, how much hard drive space would have been freed up and so on. Also, it displays any errors that occurred in the process. When the user is ready to perform the actual cleaning, he/she clicks Delete, and the cleaning begins.

Two things about BleachBit make it truly fantastic among other disk cleaning programs. First, it works on both the Windows and Linux operating systems. As great as Linux is, it can still get cluttered with temp files. BleachBit reminds us of this and fixes it. The second reason BleachBit stands out is the way in which it is developed. Like most open-source software, the author allows the general community of programmers to contribute, but he does so in a unique manner. Rather than contributors merely helping with coding, the author advises them to contribute entire cleaners. Below is an example of dialogue that the author might employ to communicate this concept:

“I would like you to help me with my program, but I would like more than anything for you to make a cleaner that we can use. The most useful thing would be for you to make one for a program you are especially familiar with. Do you know a lot about Microsoft Excel? Make a cleaner for it! Do you know a lot about the TurboTax? Make a cleaner for it!”

It is impractical, inefficient and improbable that one person know so much about so many different programs that he/she be responsible for writing all of the cleaners. Hence, the author of BleachBit encourages input from individual experts. This is similar to the concept that a department head at a business, while perhaps being the most experienced and knowledgeable, cannot do everything alone and so delegates tasks to the employees.

Please visit BleachBit’s website by clicking here and read more about it. If you like what you learn, I advise you to download it, give it a try and write your thoughts in the Comments section of this post. Also, if you would like further clarification of what I have written, feel free to ask about it in the Comments section as well.

This has been Throckmorton. I bid you farewell!

Recommended listening: "Why I Won't Be Your Friend on Facebook"


What with social networks being all the rage these days, and with the controversy surrounding Facebook in regards to its respect to privacy, I would like to suggest that my readers listen to a discussion for which I have provided a link at the end of this post.
This is an episode of a podcast to which I have been listening to for nearly two years now, called Two True Freaks. To describe this podcast in brief, it is two best friends talking about subjects that gravitate towards nerd hobbies. While they focus their discussions on comics, movies and other media forms, they foray into different subjects on occasion. In this episode, titled “Why I Won’t Be Your Friend on Facebook,” one of the hosts tells a true story of his involvement in the early days of social networking. He was a central figure in some drama with a particular site and its creator; he and many other subscribers were being unfairly discriminated against, and when they tried to stand up for themselves, they witnessed the ironic unprofessionalism and immaturity of the site’s administration. This gave the host a great deal of perspective and insight into the way social networks operate. When Facebook rose to prominence several years later, he saw it and was reminded of the trauma he experienced in the past. Though he subscribes to the site, he uses it with a high degree of caution.
Why do I recommend this to my readers? This is a blog about technology, and a key subject in technology is privacy. There are many useful websites whose benefits come with signing up and creating an account with your personal details. Most sites are legitimate, but there will always be a few crooked ones. Also, it is important to know that, though some people are clever enough to create a hip website that is useful and neat, they are still people like you and me with their respective quirks.
To listen to this podcast, do one of two things: 1) click here and it will open a new webpage and play it immediately, or 2) right-click the link and select “Save Link As” (actual dialogue varies per browser), save it as an MP3 file to your hard drive and listen to it with your media player of choice.
If you take the time to listen to this podcast, let me know what you think in the comments below. If you like what you heard and want to hear more of the Two True Freaks, visit their website at twotruefreaks.libsyn.com.

SumatraPDF


The PDF file format has become omnipresent in our computing lives. It is the de facto standard for finished copies of electronic documents. The giant software company Adobe allows Windows users to view these files with ease, thanks to its program Reader (formerly known as Acrobat Reader). Though Adobe Reader can be downloaded for free and installed without difficulty, it will always be governed by the large corporation that is Adobe, and…well…they may not always consider the best interests of EVERYONE.


And then, along comes SumatraPDF. This program comes close to being identical to Adobe Reader in functionality yet aims to be simpler and faster. It is so small and simple that it can launched and run off of a USB flash drive alone; it is not necessary to install it to your hard drive. There is little else to say about this program; it opens PDF documents in a readable format and, save for some customizable settings, nothing more.



SumatraPDF was created by an independent programmer, who continues to maintain it. It is free to download and use, and it is open-source, which means that, if you know how to program, you are welcome to rewrite it so as to change it to your liking. In most cases, open-source also allows you take the source code and use it to write a completely different program.

Visit here to read more and decide if SumatraPDF is right for you. Feel free to leave a comment below with your two cents.

Greetings, Earth creatures.

Well, hello. I see that you have arrived at the first post. I suppose I owe you some reading material. While I cannot fulfill that request in this inaugural update, please rest assured that a more fruitful one will soon follow!