Computing in 2012 is full of more fluff and BS than at any point in the past. It’s all so pathetic that it sometimes makes me physically cringe. Not only is most of it silly, but it’s also very constricting and limiting. Too many technologies today force you to be locked into certain OS or hardware. The only reason the industry gets away with all this is because regardless of people’s displeasure with things, they still continue using them. This is a habit that too many practice, and the only way any of us can change this is to change our habits, and the devices and/or software we grow attached to.
Hardware, Software and other things
The only thing that I have attached myself to is the PowerPC architecture, and this is for no reason other than reliability and longevity. When you have used something for 18 years, and it has never failed you, there is no reason to stop using it as long as it can still achieve all you need it to. In terms of OS X, everything after Snow Leopard is covered in horrible. Since 10.5 is so similar to 10.6, I find it a capable OS option for PowerPC while still not needing Intel hardware. As a Mac tech I have no faith in 95% of the Intel hardware Apple has produced. The early stuff in 2006-07 is still to this day the most reliable. I am seeing a lot of 2009-10 model MacBook and iMac the last few months. I have seen SATA controllers on unibody MBP just up and die about 4 times so far. One failed intermittently and the others worked one moment then died the next. The Mac Pro and Mini are the only current Macs I can recommend to people in good conscience, and those are easily the two least purchased.
Not only is much of the newer Intel hardware lacking in quality, but Apple has turned MacBook screens into glossy overdone iPad look-alikes. It’s as if the cast of Jersey Shore helps design things at Apple now. Everything is covered in a horrible, tacky, dithered mess. Anyone with any computing needs beyond basic consumer stuff should be repelled by a dithered glossy screen. I find them unusable personally, and the style is now well saturated in the desktop LCD market also.
This deals with some of the things I mentioned in my “Why the Sawtooth is the greatest Mac ever” post. I am referring to choosing a device based on its usability rather than its aesthetics. No matter how pretty you find something like a computer or tablet; it needs to be a tool before anything else if you ever hope to get any practical use out of it. If you’re really that obsessed over the look of something, then it would be far more practical to have a high res photo printed for your wall above your computer, and buy a device that will give you all the computing ability you actually need.
People need OS and software selection whether they realize it or not. You never know what needs will come along over the years, so having hardware that lasts and offers software flexibility is ideal looking forward.
All the people still running PowerPC hardware would all be very wise to start adopting Linux into their computing world. This is the best thing for all of us looking forward, because the more of us that use Linux, the more the OS will grow on the platform. Apple dumped the architecture 7 years ago now so it's time for those of us still using it to pave our own computing path, at least in regard to achieving new abilities we don't get from old Mac software. There is no reason to abandon the Mac OS versions our systems can run, but in terms of modern secure software Linux is the most logical choice. BSD is an option also, but it is in no way user friendly, so anyone cutting their teeth on *nix for the first time is better off on Linux.
Clinging onto Mac OS and its associated devices at this point is a bit of a fools game for PowerPC users. You're just inevitably going to sink further into the New World Order Apple trash can. More on this in a moment.
I can understand the need some have for an iPhone, but an iPad is really obnoxiously bad and limited in so many ways. It may be more capable than an iPhone, but as a portable computing option an iPad is one of the most limited and incapable devices that exist in the portable market. Exactly how much capability are people willing to give up to own a certain device? Apparently quite a lot.
A 10 year old PowerBook is actually far more capable than any tablet, other than web or h.264 video. If all someone wants to do on a tablet is video and web then go for it. You will still be limited to what browsers and technology is available to you. For those that want to do more than waste time on YouTube, and actually need some real computing ability, a PowerBook (or any portable that allows multiple computer OS) is a better option. iOS is not a legitimate OS, and I will argue that to the grave. It’s really Apple's attempt at stroking the lowest common denominator that is the general market trend now, and they started it.
Apple has turned people into apes that are so caught up in dragging their fingers around, and using the motion sensor, that they don’t realize how much they're getting screwed. When I say screwed, I mean by the price they pay; combined with the limitations that come with it. Is embracing a gimmick or social status symbol worth all you give up? Is a true computing device like a PowerBook really so much bigger, and is flipping a screen up (that you cannot drag your fingers across) really so bad for all the extra ability it gives you? You could buy 2-3 quality used laptops for the price of an iPad. This allows you to shape what OS and software you want working together, which puts you in the drivers seat of your computing journey; where you belong. Even the best tablet OS cannot touch a full computer OS in any regard, other than touch access. The truth is that the whole touch technology craze is as much a gimmick as anything else. Small things amusing small minds.
I compute so much at home, that when I go out I use that as a break from technology. This is why I don't need portability at all. For those that truly do need portability, you're far better off with a full blown computer like a laptop. A netbook is also far more capable than a tablet.
The problem with some PowerPC resources online
It's obvious that anyone who writes PowerPC related content in 2012 does indeed care about the architecture, but most of them deal with things in a way which is influencing the reader to stick to this dead end Apple path. The MacRumors PowerPC board, Low End Mac, and My Mac Collection are good examples of this. All are done with good intent, but they are really just pushing people further down the dead end one way street. I say that because all they do is point their readers to solutions for making their way in a dwindling market; rather than point them to liberating and forward thinking options such as Linux.
The other aspect of this is that many of these sites and blogs only point people to things, and offer little practical knowledge or thinking outside the box in how to get things done, other than limited on their way out for PowerPC technologies. In 2012 you need to offer people practical know how, and different ways of thinking and using things, because that is what is required these days.
With rapidly dwindling PowerPC support on OS X, people can no longer just get by playing follow the leader any longer, by using whatever the industry spits out for them. If you intend on continuing to use your old Macs, you need to think outside the box, and learn how to adapt without giving up capability. We all need to stop adapting methods to keep being a slave to something no longer supported, and focus that energy on true alternatives which often use different technologies, but produce the same end result.
I have even seen some of them point people to the modified flash pluggin, which made me cringe. This is still the very insecure Flash 10, but with a modification to the version it reports so that sites that need 11 or higher will work. It is still Flash 10 in every way, and to recommend this to people is just ignorant and shameful. The key is to look for flash alternatives, and if some day there are none, then we should all just stop trying to watch flash online on PowerPC.
Apple started leaving us in the dust in 2005, and these days even an iPod shuffle needs an Intel Mac for goodness sake. Apple left us for dead, so I really don't get the PowerPC users who are Apple fanboys to this day. Stop loving your PowerPC because it's made by Apple, and love it instead because it has the best computer architecture ever inside, and Apple had very little to do with its creation compared to the actual hardware manufacturers (Motorola/Freescale and IBM).
All of us in the PowerPC community need to focus on what can move our hardware forward, and Open Source OS is the best way to do that while still keeping Mac OS around for other needs where security isn’t a concern. Linux and BSD are the only OS still developed for our platform, and the more of us that embrace it the more it will grow. Simple cause and effect.
There is a learning curve involved, but once you learn Linux or BSD then you have truly empowering computer skills that will give you a clear road directly around any limitations the industry throws at you. The expression “knowledge is power” is particularly apt for computers. Gain the knowledge, and you have the power to compute the way you want, rather than how the industry tells you.
I’ve got a fever and the only cure is Linux growth on PowerPC. I think Dan at PPC Luddite is going about things perfectly with his Linux content, and we should all look to his amazing example.
The Linux content here will only grow over time, as I am totally dedicated to getting all I can out of it, and helping others do so.
Published on Saturday, September 29, 2012
I recently discovered a great Quicksilver alternative for Linux thanks to this post by Dan at PPC Luddite.
Kupfer is very similar to Quicksilver on Mac OS X, in both look and behaviour. For the readers that have installed Linux, I highly recommend giving it a try. My experience with it so far is limited, as I just started using it, but as a long time Quicksilver user I find it an almost seamless transition.
For me this makes the Openbox window manager so much more usable, because I am not a fan of the menu dominant access. Kupfer allows me to keep my hands on the keyboard, which I prefer in that environment.
Install in Debian or MintPPC as root (root terminal) with:
apt-get install kupfer
Or use Synaptic, or whatever GUI package manager you prefer, and search for 'kupfer'.
Kupfer site: http://engla.github.com/kupfer/
Kupfer manual: http://engla.github.io/kupfer/help/
Published on Sunday, September 23, 2012
If you’re like me, then you have several systems because of how affordable PowerPC Macs are these days. The issue many PowerPC users have in 2012 is not having enough power to do something with heavy CPU use, and still be able to multitask effectively. These CPU hungry tasks could be anything from a script heavy site to playing video, and it's nice to be able to do other things without holding back something that needs to use a good chunk of the resources.
It’s nice to be able to browse the web or do whatever while you wait for some heavy lifting to finish up. Whether you have a G3 or a Quad G5; having spare CPU cycles at your disposal is what will really make any computing experience all it can be. If you have another system you can use it to take excess load and tasks off your main system.
The easiest way to do this is with two screens, but one is enough thanks to VNC/Remote Desktop technology. I use a combination of two screens and the built in “ScreenSharing” app in Leopard, and I do this on a daily basis with my two main Sawtooth systems. This allows me to offload anything I want onto my 1.0 GHz system, which keeps my 1.8 GHz open for business.
In certain ways, the VNC option is actually more efficient because it keeps everything on one screen while still offloading work to other systems. The ScreenSharing window gives you a Mac within a Mac; somewhat similar to virtualization, but better. What makes this method better is the other OS isn’t running on the same computer like it is in a virtual machine, so the two are not slowing each other down besides a tiny bit of resources to keep drawing the remote window.
Rather than tell you how you should do things, I will explain my methods; which can then inspire you to shape these concepts to your own personal needs. The ideology is to spread load over systems that are not clustered, and therefore not limited to cluster software.
An average computing session for me starts with checking my email, which is run on my secondary Sawtooth. I keep it on a desk which is close to my main system. Although it has it’s own LCD, I normally prefer to access it through ScreenSharing. The main thinking behind this is that all the tasks I run on the 1.0 GHz are background 24/7 type things, and none of them need a lot of attention.
The things I run on it are:
- Apple Mail
- Transmission (bit torrent)
- Disk Drill (data recovery and SMART utility)
- MS Word
- Noise (white/pink noise utility)
- iTunes (music server)
- Alarm Clock
- Frogblast (intranet client)
- Media Converter
- Occasional web browsing
When not using the system via the attached 24” LCD (which is most of the time), I keep the second Sawtooth at 1024x768, which doesn’t take up too much room as a remote window. None of the apps listed above really need higher than 1024x768, and that size window fits well into 1920x1200, while not hogging too much space. I use command + tab rather than the dock to get to the app I want. I also run Quicksilver on the remote system.
With all those things running on the 1.0 GHz, it allows my 1.8 GHz to be devoted to whatever I am actively doing. I generally leave it for video playback, and web; along with the daily image editing I do in Pixelmator. If I am watching 1080p in CorePlayer, it will use most of the CPU, so this is an occasion where anything else I want to do is done in the remote window. If I am watching 720p or higher I use the remote window to browse the web, so it doesn’t hold back the 1.8 GHz. If I am watching 600p or lower video, then my main system can play that fine while I browse without dropping frames.
Think of it as balancing load over multiple systems with your tasks and computing habits rather than within the code. The remote window within a preexisting system can give you an immense ability beyond what just one can do. As I mentioned already, the only resources the remote window uses are a very small bit of CPU and GPU to draw the window contents. ScreenSharing never uses more than 3-4% CPU on my 1.8 GHz, and less than 2% most of the time.
Having gigabit ethernet really helps a lot, but I have gotten by fine on 100BT and .11b wifi in the past. The advantage of gigabit is that the flow of the remote window will be much smoother.
Not on Leopard?
If you're running Tiger then you don’t have the built in ScreenSharing app, and will need a third party alternative. When I’m running Tiger I prefer an app called “Chicken” which is a side project from “Chicken of the VNC”. Chicken is better, and was last updated in 2011, but Chicken of the VNC is the only 10.3 Panther option from these developers. It has not been updated since 2006.
I use Chicken myself when I have my Storm Trooper B&W G3 running (10.4.11), and I use it to control the 1.0 GHz Sawtooth running Leopard just as I normally would from my 1.8 GHz.
I have done this on and off for a long time now, but for the last three or more years I do this 100% of the time, and find it very productive. Two single CPU systems working together is the ultimate dual CPU setup; since what you do on one doesn’t hold the other back. No matter how powerful one computer is, you still cannot avoid slowing it down with every task you add to its resources. I normally just do this with two systems, but there is no limit to how many Macs you can use this way. If the other system is in another room, then VNC is the perfect way to utilize it.
Chicken (10.4.11+) – Chicken of the VNC (10.3.9+)
Published on Thursday, September 20, 2012
Having things just the way you want them is a rare thing in life. Video ripping is one of those rare have it just the way you want things. The only limitations are in the software you rip with, and the capability of the hardware the video is intended to be played on. The software you will use for playback should also be taken into consideration so that what you rip will play flawlessly.
In my opinion, there are two PowerPC compatible apps on OS X worthy of keeping in your ripping toolbox; Handbrake and Media Converter. The Handbrake team ceased PowerPC development during the 0.9.4 - 0.9.5 transition, but Media Converter continues to have G4/G5 support. Both are very capable, and allow fine tuning of rips beyond what anyone would ever really need. Many will find Media Converter a little more user friendly, because once you have all the presets fine tuned just the way you want it’s simply a matter of drag and drop. Handbrake is a bit more high maintenance in terms of usability, but it’s more capable in terms of video filters like deblocking and deinterlacing.
In regard to audio, both have different strengths. Media Converter has a wider codec range, while Handbrake is better at properly dealing with audio channels. You obviously need to setup how you deal with audio channels based on the audio setup your playback hardware has. These normally range from 2:1 to 5:1, so be sure you set things according to your needs. Once you find your preferred settings in either app, make a preset so that you only have to do that fine tune once.
Versions to use
With Handbrake you shouldn't go past version 0.9.3 on Leopard, because 0.9.4 and up drop XviD codec and avi wrapper support so they are not nearly as flexible. 0.9.3 was the last build to still offer full FFmpeg and XviD (avi) options alongside h.264. It also is much more MP3 and AC3 friendly. Tiger users cannot go past 0.9.1, which is a very solid build also.
For Media Converter, just use the most recent build or any version you tend to prefer. I use the current 1.2 version, and other than a few small tweaks I needed to make, the built in presets are quite good out of the box. Once it’s all setup the way you want, all you have to do is open it and drag whatever you have to rip onto the window. Easy as pie. Not that I can bake a pie, but that’s beside the point.
A practical approach, and the hardware in question
No matter if you're ripping DVD's or re-ripping compressed video, there is a sweet spot for all G4 and G5 hardware. Anyone on a slower G4, with the will and patience to watch something their hardware can't handle, can down-rip videos to a codec and resolution more fitting their hardware playback capability.
Before doing any large quantity of ripping, it’s best to first figure out the codec/resolution sweet spots for your playback hardware. As noted in the playback articles, you need to work within the capability of your hardware. It would be quite a waste to spend days, or even weeks, ripping stuff that won’t even play well on your Mac.
In terms of what hardware is suitable for ripping, it would be wise to only use G4/G5 on OS X. A G3 could take over a week to rip what a slower G4 could rip in a day or two. Just as with playback, Altivec has a big part in the performance of ripping. It’s just the kind of operation that Altivec excels at, as well as L3 cache. I use my secondary Sawtooth to do all my ripping, and it’s equipped with a G4 1.0 GHz 7455B which has 2 MB DDR L3 and it rips video at least 10-20% faster than the G4 1.25 GHz 7447A in my old PowerPC mini did. There are many tasks a computer does that L3 doesn’t help at all with, but anything that deals with heavy lifting a large file is where it really earns it’s keep on the CPU card.
The G4’s which will struggle most with ripping are actually more in the mid range in regard to clock speed. The early eMacs and iMac G4 are somewhat crippled with a 7450 chip that has only 256 KB L2, and no L3.
A laptop is not the best piece of hardware to use because they are simply not built for running at 100% CPU consumption for the hours, or even days, it takes to rip a big que of video. Towers can do this with ease for months/years if needed. If all you have is a portable, then simply use it in moderation for ripping for it's own sake, but a nice cheap dual 450-500 MHz Gigabit G4 would do an admirable job for well under $100, and could also be used for file serving, torrents or whatever else you think of.
Ripping quality and time
Once you know the codec and resolution sweet spots for your hardware, the thing to consider with each thing you rip is what bitrate is the best all round for the video and audio. Things like animation can get by with a low video bitrate, and video with a large amount of dialogue can get by with lower audio quality.
If your hardware deals with h.264 playback well enough, then you can get by with lower bitrates because it’s inherently less blocky than DivX. It also takes 2-3x longer to rip, and 60%+ more CPU to playback. My fastest hardware is my 1.8 GHz Sawtooth, which can rip DivX (FFmpeg) faster than real time, vs. about 2x real time on h.264.
I have ripped h.264 animation as low as 300kb video and 64kb audio, which actually looked very good considering. The key was keeping a decent resolution such as 480p or higher. This ripped in real time or faster, and the video only used about 150 MB per hour. Keep in mind that this low quality would look horrible with anything but animation, or if I used DivX rather than h.264.
For typical video like films or television shows, h.264 can be kept under 1000kb/sec and look amazing. The 700-1000 kb range is perfect all round for quality and low file sizes.
With DivX/XviD the advantages are many. They rip faster, play back with less CPU and there are a few great tricks to make up for the slight increase in blocks and artifacts. I encode all my DivX/XviD to be at least 400-600p, which when combined with using the deblocking filter and 1000-1500 kb makes for very nice looking video. I use either MP3 or AAC audio at 128 kb minimum which I push to 160-256 kb for video that has a lot of music in it. You can go as low as 64 kb for pure dialogue content, but I only do that with animation.
People with G4’s under 1.0 GHz would be wise to stick with the FFmpeg option in Handbrake. It rips the fastest and looks almost as good as XviD, which takes about 30% longer to rip. FFmpeg in Handbrake is DX50 (DivX 5), and I am a big fan of it. It’s not only the fastest codec in Hanbrake, but it also performs better than Media Converter's DivX preset, even after several attempts to make it faster. Handbrake also allows you to put an iOS compatible mp4/m4v wrapper on FFmpeg, which brings DivX efficiency to iPod/iPad/iPhone.
The moral of the quality story is that it’s a combination of hardware playback capability and personal preference. Find your own niche that makes both you and your hardware happy, and stick to it.
The best setting ranges for different hardware
G4 single 350–933 MHz
DivX: 200–500p (vertical pixels) @ 800-1500 kb/sec with 64 – 256 kb audio
h.264: 180–360p @ 500-1000 kb/sec with 64 – 256 kb audio
G4 single 1.0 GHz+ - Any dual G4 - Single G5
DivX: 400–720p @ 800-1500 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio
h.264: 360–600p @ 800-1200 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio
DivX: 720-1080p @ 1200-2000 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio
h.264: 600–1080p @ 1200-1500 kb/sec with 128 – 256 kb audio
As I already mentioned, you need to find your own niche in the video settings, but the above guidelines reflect good overall results. They are all based on leaving some CPU free for other tasks when playing these rips back. If you want to go a bit higher then feel it out and see how it goes. Trial and error is a great way to learn.
Media Converter 1.2 (10.4.11 or higher)
Published on Monday, September 10, 2012