First Impressions

I've now been using my "new" (i.e., second-hand and thus old!) Mac Mini for about a week, and it has been very much an enjoyable learning experience! There is much about it (and macOS) that I like a lot; there has also been much that has been mystifying or infuriating 🙂 I thought I would keep a sort-of 'diary' of things I've come across, as I came across them, so that any other Windows or Linux users out there even considering moving to the world of Apple will have at least a taste of what might be in store for them. I should emphasise that what follows is what a complete Mac neophyte (with about 40 years of Windows, Linux and Unix familiarity) is experiencing: I did once touch a G4 Mac back in about 2009, for around 20 minutes. I also once ran a drawing program for about an hour on the original Apple Mac back in 1985. Apart from those two brief brushes with the world of Apple, however, I had precisely zero familiarity with or understanding of macOS... so I came to this completely and utterly 'blind'. Long-term Mac users are probably, therefore, going to be tearing their hair out in despair at my clutzy approach to things, for which I apologise in advance: hold on to those hair follicles!

I should also perhaps explain that I have a very functional Linux PC at hand: my goal was, as far as possible, to match that experience on the Mac Mini, program for program. There may well be better programs available for the Mac than for either Windows or Linux -but learning what they are and how they work is a problem for another day. My present purposes simply require that what I do on my Linux PC I should be able to do equivalently on the Mac. Spoiler alert, however: there are already Mac-specific programs I prefer using to the open source options I've been using for years on Linux and Windows. For example, Apple Mail seems a perfectly decent alternative to Thunderbird; and Safari is a nice-enough browser that I've really cut back on the occasions when I'm running Firefox. There are probably other instances of the same sort of thing that will become apparent as I ramble on... [...] 

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PC Change... One More Time!

Four months in, and for some unknown reason, my Minisforum UM250 running Kubuntu decided to go all graphical-glitchy on me, as it had previously done in Manjaro and Arch. It then seemed to get better after a while, before going all wonky once more. Currently, it's in an 'OK' phase, but who knows how long that will last! I assume some software got updated somewhere along the line -maybe a driver of some sort- and this introduced instabilities where there were none before. But, frankly, at this point I don't care any more: the Minisforum is destined to be retired from desktop duties and instead will be translated to the loft, where it can run something 'server-like' that doesn't require a GUI nor day-to-day interaction with it. I haven't thought what, precisely, it might end up doing, but I'm sure I'll think of something before too long!

It's a shame (not least, because it wasn't cheap!), but I can't be having my daily driver desktop doing random things at random times. [...] 

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Minisforum UM250 Thermals

Stock picture of a Minisforum UM250 small form factor PC

About a month ago, as I wrote at the time, I stopped using my 2012-vintage PC and once again started using the Minisforum UM250 small form factor PC you see at the left as my main PC. I had tried once before (back in May), but had been put off by the tendency of the Minisforum to crash or have strange graphical glitches. Second time was mostly a charm, however: the use of Kubuntu, rather than Arch or Manjaro, seems to have calmed the beast down to the point where it didn't crash and didn't do weird things with screen drawing.

I've accordingly been using the Minisforum UM250 very happily for a month or so. It doesn't have the memory heft of my old PC (that had 96GB of ECC RAM; this only has 16GB of ordinary stuff!) and its CPU, though a shiny (but not-so-new) AMD Ryzen 5 PRO 2500U, doesn't seem to have the raw power of my former Intel Xeon CPU E5-2680 v2: despite dating from 2013, its 20 threads seem to easily outpace the Minisforum's mere 8. [...] 

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CPU Shenannigans

Fresh from my war with a new mini PC (which I lost, you'll recall), I remained determined to do something to upgrade my old workstation-class desktop PC. I bought it second-hand a few years ago: it's a Dell Precision T3610, which is a bit of a monster, and was originally constructed (I think) in around 2012 or 2013: its warranty says it started in February 2014 and expired in February 2017, so it's somewhere in that ball-park.

It shipped with a Xeon E5-1620 v2 CPU CPU, which was launched in the third quarter of 2013, so that also helps date the machine. That CPU has (inevitably, as far as Intel was concerned back then!) 4 cores and thus 8 threads when hyperthreading was enabled. Nothing too remarkable, but not exactly shabby, either. I think when I bought it, it came with 16GB of RAM: I soon bumped that up to 96GB. So, it's not memory constrained either! It also shipped with an Nvidia Quadro K4000, which was cutting edge at the time, but has long since been eclipsed by newer graphics cards: since I don't play games beyond Solitaire, however, I don't particularly care how out-of-date my graphics capabilities are! [...] 

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SACD ISO: Knifing a Fork!

The world of open source software can sometimes be confusing, because if someone likes your code, they can take it and 'fork' it -that is, essentially, copy it and declare it to be a new piece of software altogether. As a mere user, it can then be difficult to know if you're supposed to use the original, or the copy (which, potentially, might be better than the original).

This is precisely what has happened to me and the utility needed to unpack/convert SACD ISO music files. [...] 

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A correspondent from the west coast of the USA recently got in touch to say that whilst he enjoyed using some of my music-related software, he regretted having to point out that the code didn't run properly on his Raspberry Pi running the Raspbian Linux distro ...but that he'd hacked a way to get it to work anyway.

A couple of thoughts came to mind when I read that. First, the grumpy-me thought that it was no wonder that the software didn't work on Raspbian, because I go to the effort of listing the distros I've actually tested my stuff on... and Raspbian isn't listed there! [...] 

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AMP Doing Its Job

It's been a little over a fortnight since I modified my AMP player to work with a database -and, when it does so, to record every 'play' it decides on in a database table of its own.

So now, 15 days later, I can analyze that 'plays' table to determine if AMP has been doing the job I designed it for: picking a wide variety of composers and music genres, at random, and thus not creating any 'favourites'! [...] 

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Birthday Presents

It soon being my birthday (and Christmas having just been and gone), it seemed appropriate to buy myself some presents.

The results are as you see them on the left (which you can click on, to make bigger), which encapsulates the current state of my study's approach to things audio-visual. [...] 

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The Absolutely Minimal Media Player...

I suppose it had to come sooner or later: since all my media manipulation is done by scripts I've written myself (and which are freely available to download for anyone capable of installing ffmpeg and one or two other packages), it seemed appropriate to consider creating a scripted, minimally-functional media player.

The Absolutely Baching Media Player (AMP, to its friends) is the result. [...] 

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Distinguishing Artists

In the post-pudding Christmas after-glow, I have come to the conclusion that if I am going to put the recording year into the ALBUM tag (because only by including it there do we properly and completely use recorded classical music's primary key), we might as well not fear duplicating data in another important matter: namely, the business of declaring who is the "distinguishing artist" for a recording.

It should already be common practice to have this data already present in the ALBUM tag (it's why I own Symphony No. 5 (Karajan - 1970) for example). [...] 

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Turning up the volume...

Before I accidentally wiped the web server that runs this site, I had been blogging about the problem of SACDs and the fact that they are often mastered with absolute peak volumes set to about 6dB quieter than they really should be (for technical reasons). I thus modified by AUAC audio converter program to automatically boost SACD rips by whatever it took to get the loudest track on a CD to be as loud as it could reasonably go without becoming distorted.

Which is fine for SACDs... but there are times you think to yourself (especially with some recordings on really old CDs) that the volume levels on even ordinary CDs aren't entirely what they should be. Whilst incorporating a volume boost into an SACD extraction tool is a good idea, a standalone volume boosting utility sounded like it might be quite useful, too! [...] 

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