DVD Audio Extraction Perfected

Over the years I’ve tried several different methods for extracting the audio from my collection of concert DVDs. I’ve never been completely satisfied with the results. I’ve tried makeshift copies in the past by hooking wires from my TV to my computer input to capture the sound. These days, that is definitely not the way to go.

More recently, I’ve used the Mac software Audio Hijack Pro, which captures audio directly from the computer sound card and creates an output file. That method works pretty well, but you have to time the DVD playback in conjunction with Audio Hijack correctly to get a the best results. Another problem with capturing from the sound card is that you need close programs with notifications because any system sound will be recorded on top of the music playback.

This weekend I found myself tinkering with audio ripping again. I discovered a solid method for ripping DVD audio. It isn’t a one-click solution by any means, but it’s the best approach I’ve found to date.

Instructions:

Put the concert DVD in your computer. Use Handbrake and capture the song(s) you want, one by one. Don’t capture a spread of chapters at once or you’ll end up with more than one song in a single output file. Choose the file format MP4. Under the “audio” tab, use the codec “AAC (CoreAudio)” with a bitrate of 320. If you have multiple options for the audio source, choose PCM Stereo or AC3. If later find that the sound on the source DVD isn’t mixed loud enough, you can come back and increase the gain and rip it a second time.

Once you have captured the video, you should have a collection of MP4 video files. On the Mac, use the free program Extract Movie Soundtrack. Select the WAV format and process your video files.

Once that is complete, you should have a collection of WAV files. On the Mac, use the free program xACT to convert the WAV files to MP3. I usually use the highest quality bitrate of 320 when making the final MP3 output, but you can select the quality that fits your needs.

After all three steps above are completed, you will finally have your songs in MP3 format. Sure, the process is a bit tedious, but the result is a pure audio extraction, and it’s as good as you’re going to get. I think it’s worth the effort for capturing a song here and there, but it would obviously take quite a long time if you were trying to capture every track on the disc.

Chronicle Mini for Mac

I’ve been looking for a solution for keeping track of when my bills are due. I’ve used Quicken and Excel, but those are complex systems, and I have to remember to go check and update them. I want something to simply remind me of when bills are coming due. For a long time I’ve kept a simple notebook on my desk, writing down due dates and amounts by hand, then glancing over it every week or so.

This morning I found the perfect solution. If you’re a Mac user, fire up the Mac App Store and download Chronicle Mini for free. This is a super lightweight app that sits in the menu bar and reminds you of when your bills are due. Add your bills and their due dates and you’ll never miss one again. It’s a simple as that.

Chronicle Mini is designed to work with the full version of Chronicle, but the full version is not necessary to use the Mini app. I don’t use the full version and don’t really intend to. The Mini app is simple and does exactly what I need it to. Best of all, it’s free.

Moom for Mac

Moom is a cool window management program that runs in the background on OS X. I first heard about it on the MacBreak Weekly podcast a few months ago. Since that time, Moom become a must-have application on my computer. Moom has many uses and features, but I mainly use it to expand the functionality of the green “plus” button on all open windows on my Mac. I love OS X, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with how it handles the resizing and maximizing of open windows. Moom completes the experience. I think its capabilities should be integrated directly into future versions of the OS. It’s that good!

Visit the Moom website for more information, demos, and a free trial. Moom is only $5 to buy, and is well worth it for something I use every day. You can download the program directly from the developer, but it is also available on the Mac App Store.

Moom Screenshot

Apple Releases A New Mac Mini

This week, Apple quietly refreshed the Mac Mini line. I use a Mac Mini that I bought in 2007. I absolutely love my computer! The new one released this week looks better than ever.

The new Mini is now encased in aluminum, matching the design of the iMac. It has access to the computer memory underneath the machine. The power supply is now inside the machine, unlike older models which carry a power brick. An HDMI port is now included! The new computer also sports a faster processor, graphics card, and more.

I like what I see. I’d love to have one!

Mac Mini 2010

Frustrating Money Management Software

Over the years, I have jumped from program to program for managing my checkbook and finances. Back in the day, I used Quicken exclusively. When I bought my Mac in 2007, I immediately bought Quicken 2007 for Mac. That particular program turned out to be an ugly beast. It wasn’t made for the Intel chipset, it was slow, and not intuitive at all.

Since dumping Quicken 2007 in search for a better alternative, I have experimented with numerous other programs. Those include Moneydance, Moneywell, iBank, Cha-Ching and others. I have never been completely satisfied with my experience with any of them. I believe Moneywell is the best program I’ve used, but lately I’ve grown frustrated with a few issues that I believe must be software bugs.

A wider question is whether to use money management software at all these days. A lot of people don’t bother. I can think of three alternatives to not using said software: 1) Not keep track of your money at all, 2) Use an online solution like Mint. I am not interested in using an online service to house my banking information, so that option can be tossed out immediately. 3) Track your finances using a spreadsheet.

Quicken has been promising a new Mac version for a couple of years now. It has been delayed time and time again. In fact, some in the tech press have called it vaporware. However, it seems that they are finally about to release it. I received an email from Intuit saying that the new version will be released by the end of this month. It is called Quicken Essentials for Mac. The screenshots look attractive, but is it worth it for me to spend any more money on software to help manage my money? After all, I find something that I dislike in all of them.

My needs in money management are pretty simple. I manually enter the data and I just want to know the bottom line to avoid possible overdrafts. With that in mind, I’m now trying a new approach to managing my checkbook. I’ve created an Excel spreadsheet that will house my transaction data. I tried a few iterations of my own, but I’ve taken a liking to the attractive Excel 2008 checkbook template that Microsoft offers for download on their Mactopia website.

So far, I like the complete control over the fields and information that I can store using Excel over a money application. Over time, I’ll see if tweaking the spreadsheet will be enough to satisfy my needs. If not, perhaps I’ll test drive Quicken’s new offering. Maybe they’ll get it right this time.

Snow Leopard Crashed My Mac Mini

Tonight, for the first time in the 2.5+ years that I’ve owned my Mac Mini, my entire OS X 10.6 crashed top-to-bottom. WTF? I’m awe struck.

The above text was my post to Twitter this evening. It’s true. I woke up my Mac Mini tonight and in the middle of writing an email on Gmail.com in Safari, the entire OS failed, resulting in a dimmed, dark screen saying to power off my computer and restart. I’d never seen that before in my life. A report was sent to Apple. What in the world could have happened? I only had three open programs at the time. Let’s hope I never see that message again.

I snapped a photo of my screen with my camera for evidence, but I’m not going to include that photo in this post because the screen showed information in my Gmail account with too much personal data.

Taco HTML Editor for Mac

I’ve been searching far and wide for a great free text HTML editor for the Mac. After several attempts, I have been unable to find one. So many of the programs I found were either discontinued or vastly underpowered.

On my Linux laptop, I’ve taken a strong liking to Bluefish. Bluefish is a great free, open-source text editor for programmers of all types. Unfortunately, the latest version of Bluefish that can be installed on Snow Leopard involves jumping through several hoops to get it on the system. Totally unacceptable.

My favorite Mac text editor for HTML and CSS is Taco. I used the 30-day trial and really enjoyed using it. In the end, I purchased the full version at a cost of $25. I believe that is a reasonable asking price for such a useful and well written piece of software. If you use a Mac and don’t want to fork out the money for far more expensive programs such as Dreamweaver or BBEdit, then Taco is the answer.

Mac Cinch Tool

I just learned of a very handy tool for the Mac called Cinch. What Cinch does is replicate the function in Windows 7 called Snap, which allows the user to drag a window to the side of the screen, and the window automatically snaps to that side of the screen. In addition to that, dragging a window to the top of the screen automatically maximizes that window to fill the entire screen. The maximize ability alone is worth the $7 price of the Cinch tool.

In my opinion, the number one most glaring omission on Mac OS X is the lack of a true maximize button. As a former Windows user, I’ve always found this puzzling and odd. Fortunately, that issue is eliminated with Cinch. Try it now. I absolutely love it.

Vibealicious Notify for Mac

I use Gmail almost exclusively for my email. I’ve always longed for a good Gmail notifier on my Mac that wasn’t either a Dashboard widget, or the official Gmail notifier. Dashboard widgets are kept too out of sight to be practical, and the official Gmail notifier from Google is quite outdated and simplistic. It’s as if Google has decided to neglect their own program.

I’ve recently been trying the incredible Notify 2 for Mac from Vibealicious. It’s an awesome product that works not only with Gmail, but many more services as well. When it comes to Google services, not only is Gmail supported, but also Calendar and Docs! The Notify’s slick integration with the Mac OS is fantastic. If you’re looking for a great notifier on your Mac, then look no further!