I rediscover the cool things I can do with my Mac.
One of the reasons I got into the business of writing about computers is because I thought that the things you could do with computers were very…well, cool.
I got my start with Macs back in 1989 with a Mac II cx. My previous computer had been an Apple //c and the Mac was a huge step up for me. One of the reasons I wanted it was so that I could start a BBS. I needed a hard disk and a bit more processing power than the Apple //c offered. Back in those days, the Mac IIcx was hot. It was one of the first Macs to offer a color monitor option and it ran at whopping 16 MHz. I taught myself everything I needed to know about that machine and had a BBS up and running within a month. I also learned enough to get a per diem job as a computer applications instructor, so I quit my “day job” to pursue a writing career. I like to say that that computer changed my life. It did. If I hadn’t bought it and learned my way around it so quickly, I would never have developed the expertise to change careers.
Anyway, back in those days, shareware was a big thing. There was all kinds of shareware out there and much of it was pretty cool stuff. I distinctly remember the sound editing software I used — I believe it was called SoundEdit — which enabled me to record sounds and edit sound waves. Macs had “sound cards” built in from Day 1, so sound was always part of the Macintosh experience. Everyone had their own custom sound effects and used MacInTalk to get their Macs to read.
I did other cool stuff, too. For a while, I thought I wanted to learn how to program, but I soon realized that it wasn’t worth the bother with so much good shareware and freeware out there. But somewhere along the line, I got pressed for time just trying to make a living. The time between books got shorter and shorter and I developed new interests such as motorcycling and photography, and when we moved out west, horseback riding and flying. Although I still spent the same amount of time sitting in front of my computer, that was mostly work time. I didn’t get to play around as much as I used to. The “cool factor” of the computer seemed to fade away. It was a tool for getting a job done and that job happened to be to write about using this tool. It didn’t help that I somehow became an “expert” on productivity software like Word and Excel. I’d hopped on the Web publishing wagon early on and had a book about PageMill Web authoring software that did very well. But when Adobe killed PageMill, they also killed my book. So the path back toward a cool aspect of computing was removed and I didn’t have time to cut another one.
Things haven’t changed much. I’m sill busy writing books — I think I did six or seven last year — and still interested in other things — primarily flying. But I’ve managed to crack open a door to start writing about cool things again. An eBook I’ve got lined up should be very interesting. And it has me thinking about other topics, other cool things I can do with my computer.
That’s how I stumbled upon Nicecast. Nicecast, published by a company named Rogue Amoeba, is software that enables you to broadcast from your Macintosh onto the Web and it’s very cool. To be honest, I’d seen Nicecast at MacWorld Expo last January and had thought about it as a way for the local radio station to get started in Web broadcasting. KBSZ-AM is a low budget station that isn’t particularly high tech. They have a wonderful studio with a computerized broadcasting setup, but their knowledge of computing is limited and some of their equipment is very old. In fact, Pete’s wife Jo still uses a Mac IIci (the next model after my old IIcx) to do word processing and other stuff! But Pete does surf the Web via modern PC in search of information to include on-air and to keep abreast of what’s going on in the world. Anyway, I’d seen Nicecast at Macworld and had brought back a brochure for Pete. But it didn’t seem like they’d make the hardware investment to get it all up and running. You’d have to sell a lot of ads at $2 each to get started.
A few weeks ago, I discovered a Web site that has live broadcasts from various air traffic control (ATC) locations throughout the world. It’s called LiveATC.net. You click a link for an airport and a small file is downloaded to your computer. A moment later, iTunes launches (if you’re on a Mac; I don’t know what it does on a Windows machine) and the live ATC feed plays through your speakers. You can listen to ground control at JFK directing 474s around the airport or the tower at Boston clearing AirBuses to land. Live. How cool is that?The Home page at LiveATC.net mentioned that they were looking for feeder sites. All you needed was a computer running Windows or Unix, a scanner, some relatively inexpensive software, and a connection from the scanner to the computer. Although I have a Windows PC, I don’t usually turn it on unless I’m writing about Windows software. But my Mac OS X Macintosh runs Unix “under the hood.” Perhaps I could get it to work on my Mac. Wouldn’t that be a hoot! So I e-mailed the Webmaster and told him about my setup. He responded within an hour with a friendly message that told me it could indeed work. Some more e-mail crossed between us and I had a list of possible hardware and software to get the job done. I put the hardware on my Christmas Wish List and started looking into the software.
That’s when I stumbled onto Nicecast again. And this time, I downloaded it to give it a try. I figured that if I could get it to work with my weird network setup, I could get it to work anywhere. I had to reconfigure it to use a different network port than the default 8000 (which was in use by my Web server software) and then had to reconfigure my Airport wireless station to send requests to the new port to that computer (my production machine). Then I began broadcasting directly from my iTunes playlist. About 15 minutes of setup and it works flawlessly. Not bad for $40 worth of software. I shouldn’t have any trouble at all getting it to work with the scanner.
Then I thought about recording things that I could play on my radio station. I went in search of additional software that would enable me to use my PowerBook’s built-in microphone to record voices and sounds. I wound up with two packages that seem to complement each other nicely: Audio Hijack Pro, which is a $32 product by Rogue Amoeba, and Audacity, which is a freeware product distributed by SourceForge.net. Audio Hijack is cool because it can “hijack” other programs and record their sounds. This makes it possible to record a soundtrack from a game or a video presentation, as well as from the Mac’s built-in sound sources. Although you can apply special effects, you can’t edit the sounds. That’s where Audacity comes in. Although it can’t hijack sounds from other programs, it can record from Mac sound sources and it has editing capabilities. In fact, it reminds me a lot of SoundEdit, the shareware program I used years ago on my first Mac.
I played with all this last night. I recorded my bird, Alex, saying some of his usual things
So that’s where I stand now. I have the tools to record and broadcast. But I don’t have the time to set anything up. (What else is new?) But maybe one of these days, you’ll tune into Flying M Radio and be able to hear these blog pages.