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Convert Audible Files to mp3 — aa2mp3.sh (and, on the way, some comments about Mageia Linux)

I have a particular thing I want to do:

I want to use aa2mp3.sh to convert my audible content. It needs to use Audible Manager — this is not a method to convert Audible (.aa) files if you do not have an Audible log in! I have a Linux box but the wine installation of the Audible Manager is not working properly. It might be the rather old version of wine in Debian stable, it might be something else; I don’t know. So rather than mess with a nicely working installation, I am trying to set it up in VirtualBox.  This also means that, if it works, I have a solution that will work for people using Windows.

I’m looking at Mageia (v5) as the Linux – why?  Just because I haven’t played with it before.  This is what I did:

(1) Went to http://mirror.aarnet.edu.au/pub/mageia/iso/5/Mageia-5-LiveCD-KDE4-en-i586-CD/ and got the KDE CD.

(2) Created a default Linux 32-bit VM in VirtualBox, though went up to 512MB RAM.  Here is my Fedora walk-through.

(3) Put the iso in the virtual CD drive (in ‘Storage’ menu).

(4) Booted.

(5) Selected ‘Install’.

(6) Waited…chose language…

(7) Accepted licence…

(8) Set time zone (Mageia really holds your hand…)

(9) US Keyboard.

(10) Entered install wizard…

(11) Accepted defaults…

(12) Let it remove unrequired packages due to my hardware configuration…

(13) Waited while there was nothing to see but a splash screen…

(14) Just clicked accept or next or whatever until it asked me to halt machine and remove install media. Did so. Restarted.

(15) It booted … threw some errors but then I was able to add root password and create a user.

(16) Logged in as the user.

(17) Start button -> Tools -> System Tools -> enter root password.

(18) Clicked on ‘Update Your System’.

Mageia Control Center, with 'centre' spelled incorrectly.

Mageia Control Center, with ‘centre’ spelled incorrectly.

(19) Clicked my way through and let it update.

(20) Inside the guest, fired up browser, went to https://github.com/itayperl/aa2mp3.

(21) Clicked ‘Download zip’ and unpacked in ~/installs (after making ~/installs).

(22) In Mageia, went to ‘Start button -> Tools -> System Tools -> entered root password -> Configure Media Sources’ and added aarnet mirror…File -> Specific media mirror -> select aarnet (wow, easy!) except did not work… oh well, go ahead with existing config…

(23) Used ‘Install & Remove Software’ to install wine, mingw32-gcc, libav, ffmpeg.

Mageia Add/Remove Software interface.

Mageia Add/Remove Software interface — note the green circles; make sure ‘All’ is selected in both menus or the search will not look at all possible packages.

(24) Inside Mageia, went to audible.com, logged in and  and downloaded Audible Manager.

(25) Double-clicked on the installer and let Mageia’s version of wine install it. NOTE added later: Please see my reply to a comment on this post for more instructions on how to download Audible Manager; it is not obvious! Also, I can’t say whether a particular version of Manager will work on not, I just used the one that was current at the time…

(26) OK, good. Started Audible Download manager — how?  Well, opened a terminal window and typed:

dolphin ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Audible/Bin

Then double clicked AudibleDownloadHelper.exe.

(27) No, I don’t want to activate a device. Then I got the menu and selected podcasts.

(28) Logged in with my Audible credentials, but it did not work… tried a reboot and tried again, after confirming by logging in to my Audible account that my password for Audible was correct.  Still no luck.  But…

(29) Audible sent me a passkey and that worked — probably this was necessary because I use an old Audible rather than an Amazon login.

(30) Ok, installed guest additions on Mageia… This turned out to be unnecessary, but I’ve left the steps in.

(31) Installed kernel headers and dkms.

(32) Went to the VirtualBox devices menu at the top of the guest: Devices -> Insert Guest additions CD image

(33) Made sure the CD was mounted, open a terminal, went there, logged in as superuser (su or sudo, if sudo is being used) and ran the VBoxLinuxAdditions script.

(34) It says is already has one installed. OK, let it go and set up the shares.

(35) (Actually, I stopped the VM, and exported it (File -> Export Appliance) and moved it to a different computer, but that is not relevant.)

(36) Imported it, set up sharing in accordance with Fedora post.  Used the ‘Music‘ folder on the host as the shared drive, since I just want to convert Audible files.

(37) So to mount the shared folder, on the guest (Mageia) type:

sudo mount -t vboxsf -o uid=$UID,gid=$(id -g) sharehost /mnt/shareguest

(38) On guest,

cd ~/installs/aa2mp3-master

(39) Following instructions in the aa2mp3 bundle, I copied the DLL into the aa2mp3_master directory:

cp ~/.wine/drive_c/Program\ Files/Audible/Bin/AAX* .

(40) Ran make:

make

this created dump.exe, needed by the script. OK, gave it a whirl

(41) Copied an Audible ‘.aa‘ file into my work space:

cp ~/mnt/shareguest/Music/AudibleBackups/file.aa .

(42) Installed ffmpeg, avconv (tried both) — no avconv on Mageia?

(43) Ran the conversion, got an error:

Encoder (codec mp3) not found for output stream

OK, tried an ffmpeg static build from http://johnvansickle.com/ffmpeg/

wget http://johnvansickle.com/ffmpeg/builds/ffmpeg-git-32bit-static.tar.xz

(44) Unpacked the static build of ffmpeg in my ~/installs directory:

xz -d ffmpeg-git-32bit-static.tar.xz
tar x -vf ffmpeg-git-32bit-static.tar

(45) Put the new, statically-linked ffmpeg into the aa2mp3.sh script, path and all — I made a copy called aa2p3_static.sh. The only difference from the original is that I explicitly tell it where to find the ffmpeg binary. ‘username’ here is my username:

FFMPEG=/home/username/installs/ffmpeg/ffmpeg-git-20160317-32bit-static/ffmpeg

(46) Now, try again:

./aa2mp3_static.sh file.aa file.mp3

(47) Works!

This method will work on any platform that runs VirtualBox, I would think, which is the big three (Win, Lin, Mac) at least.

YMMV, and all the usual caveats.

The mp3 came out quite large compared to the .aa (about 3 times the size) so perhaps there’s an ffmpeg option or two that could be used to tune it.

As a final note, I would rate Mageia as one of the easiest out-of-the-box experiences I have had with a Linux.  I don’t know how extensive the package repository is, because I only had a very specific task in mind and did not do a general install, but it could hardly have been easier and everything I needed ‘just worked’ (well, except for needing the ffmpeg static build).  Given that it was easier than usual to get the VirtualBox guest additions to work, it looks like it is an absolutely ideal distribution to use in VB when a Windows or Mac user needs some Linux functionality or wants to gain some Linux experience.  I have only looked at this, the KDE version, so I won’t make broader comments.

Bon voyage!

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What Apple do brilliantly…

…is tell people what they want. We didn’t know we wanted a phone with a big touch screen until Apple made us one and showed us what it could do. Same for a bigger touch screen that lets us consume content readily and easily (iPad). A company that really can come up with products that are real-world ready (unlike, say, Newton) and meet a need we did not even know we had (either by really doing this or inventing the need successfully) is something to admire in many ways.

Of course… now I begin the rant.

Personally I don’t like iTunes (having to install a great big local client to use the store, for example) and I have often found the quality of their hardware (I have only used their computers, I should say, not iPads, iPhones or iTunes mp3 players) massively over-rated. It always seemed to me that if a company is going to sell the hardware and software bundled and charge a premium for both, then the gear ought to work seamlessly. (When something goes wrong with a Windows install, Microsoft at least has the excuse that they don’t control the hardware.)  I’ve used four Macs (provided by my work) and on the Powerbook the magsafe power cord failed (twice, including leaving scorch marks on the computer itself), and when the computer went to sleep it could not be woken up.  But it sure looked nice in its brushed aluminium, as it sat there comatose.  The big desktop 27″ iMac needed the OS reinstalled twice before it would work properly — prior to that it would crash at random intervals.  Oh, and the PowerBook, a large laptop, came with a single mouse button which is some kind of joke and one of the prime bits of evidence that Apple likes to tell us what to do, and does not always get it right. Also, the thing had only two (yes, two) USB ports.  Given that one always had to have a mouse in it since the built-in mouse is next to worthless, a big, powerful computer effectively had only one USB port.  Since the CD drive gave out after a couple of years (just outside the warranty period, actually), I had to use a USB CD drive when I wanted one, so when I was using it I had no USB port at all.  Brilliant design? Hmm, I’m not so sure.

Oh yes, and the Enter key broke in half under normal usage conditions.  (Having said that, I mostly use one of these, so perhaps I was hitting it a bit too hard.)

Apple’s one button mouse is like Microsoft’s 640K RAM.  Simply wrong. 

Mac OS X, being built on BSD (which is a very good thing, though even the choice of BSD is interesting), works really well as a terminal onto a Linux server, especially if the wonderful MacPorts is installed.  But using X-windows without all three mouse buttons is very clumsy.  With only one is almost impossible. Since  the one button mouse emulated a right click by holding down Control and ‘left’ (‘only’) clicking, you need two hands to do one click — hardly brilliant design or ergonomics or feng shui or whatever.  Now, X-windows will in general let you emulate a middle click by simultaneously clicking left and right buttons.  But how to do this when right button is the left button?  Maybe there was a key combination, but who would bother?

I won’t even talk about how quickly support for versions of Mac OS X is withdrawn.  Say what you will about Microsoft, but support for Win XP lasted over a decade, similarly for other versions.  Apple customers can only dream of Apple showing that kind of commitment to one of its products.

Bottom line: Macs are great if you use them only in the way Apple expects and intends.

All the lousy behaviour Apple indulges in — tax evasion (OK, if it is legal but poor form we call it ‘minimisation‘), paying slave wages in sweatshops, vexatious litigation, filing ridiculous patents, and so on — is, let’s face it, just what big companies do.  No one wants to pay more tax than they have to, no one in a competitive industry wants to give their competitors a free ride.  Apple chose BSD to underpin OS X largely because its very permissive licence allows them to use it any way they like and not let anyone else make use of their code, unlike the GPL that governs Linux, for example.  That is not to say they don’t give back at all.  I think CUPS is funded by Apple and is a GPL’d project, and there are others.

Thus endeth the polemic.

The Joy of DOSBox — A cross-platform productivity solution (?!)

For someone who lives in the past, this is a truly fantastic program.  In brief, DOSBox lets you run DOS applications (though in those days we often just called them ‘programs’) on almost any piece of modern hardware.  This has numerous benefits.

  • If there is a bit of old software you really like, you can still use it.
  • You can run the DOS program on Mac, Win or Lin equally easily because DOSBox acts as a layer between the OS and the DOS program.  Since DOSBox can be run from a USB flash drive, this allows truly portable apps (see below).
  • It sandboxes the program, since if it falls over it will only toast the DOSBox session.
  • Despite the emulation required, DOS programs are so small and fast that they are generally quite responsive under DOSBox, and you can tune DOSBox to use more or less host system resources to control that anyway.
  • DOSBox runs a huge range of DOS software, up to and including Windows 3.1.

I have noted recently how sometimes the first piece of software you use remains a favourite tool for various reasons, not all logical.  DOSBox enables me to maintain my neurotic use of ancient tools.  The biggest problem is often conversion to more modern file formats, but the open source community has often fixed that — OpenOffice/LibreOffice/Abiword/[Insert name here] provide far more conversion tools than a lot of commercial software, and enable users to keep using older versions of WordPerefect, WordStar and similar.  Below is one of my favourite editors, TDE, running inside DOSBox.

TDE running inside DOSBox.

TDE running inside DOSBox.

One thing that I flanged together was a USB stick that lets me run LaTeX on any system I am likely to plug into.  Now I am sure that this could be done using modern portable apps, but I already had a working emTeX install from years ago which I had set up to run under DOSBox, so all I needed to do was create a USB stick with portable versions of DOSBox that run on Windows, Linux (well, i386 Linux) and a reasonably current version of Mac OS X, which was trivial — I just had to copy on the binaries and modify some configuration files. emTeX also has a great DVI viewer.

DVISCR inside DOSBox.

DVISCR inside DOSBox.

So because LaTeX is so stable, emTeX is still quite usable (though a little bit limited by the 8.3 DOS filename limit).  All the software on the USB is open/free as far as I know, and I tend to avoid ‘abandonware‘ as a dodgy concept, though in reality I doubt there would be a problem, generally.

DOSBox was really put together for playing games, which means if you want to be distracted it is more than capable of accommodating you.  I only have one game on my emTeXbox USB stick, the venerable Sopwith, CGA graphics and all.

Sopwith!

Sopwith!

Plainly, if you have a licensed version of the superb WordPerfect 5.1, a portable DOSBox USB stick would be a great way of taking it with you, and I know for a fact that LibreOffice imports (simple) WP5.1 documents pretty well.  Further, if you install a PostScript WP printer driver and print to a file, you can use the host system to print out your WP files and they’ll look just as WP intended (or you could make a pdf from the ps), or you can import into OOo/LO for reformatting and distribution.

If you are looking for distraction-free writing with plenty of formatting options if you want them, (like in WriteRoom, DarkRoom, WordGrinder and the like) then a fullscreen DOSBox session with WP5.1 would be a pretty good solution.  Not, perhaps, compelling, unless you grew up with the program, I suspect…

What more could a reactionary want?

 

Maybe not.

Outdated Apple / Macintosh joke

Outdated cartoon

This joke worked a lot better when Apple were using ‘Mac’ more and ‘i’ less as their product-name unifier… This also shows how old it is (‘eMac’).  I suppose I could have used Mac Air and Macbook Pro…

IBM M

I admit it.  I have a favourite keyboard; this may be geeky, but in it I am not alone, not at all.  I have two, in fact, though they are the same; examples of the famous (in certain circles) IBM model M.  I am lucky enough to have rescued two from being skipped, both with PS2 connectors.  F10 is missing from one — it has a second ‘delete’ key there instead.

A couple of Ms, from 1988 and 1993.

A couple of Ms, from 1988 and 1993.

There is no doubt in my mind that I type faster with fewer errors using the M, although the speed is not that important — I can’t think faster than I can type, anyway.  As this post will show…

I think what I get from the model M is the same feeling I get from my  Husqvana chainsaw and my  ancient Ixion hand drill — the sense of a tool well-made, and made to work forever, not just until the warranty period runs out.  A feeling of solidity.  Somebody thought hard about this product, and wanted to do a good job, not just an adequate job or a job ‘good enough given the price’.

I learned to type (insofar as I ever really learned) on a manual portable typewriter (yes, with a ribbon, and without electricity).  I still have a muscle memory that hits the keys, rather than pressing or pushing them.  I had a MacBook and broke the ‘Enter’ key in half, and not out of pique.  Even without the clicky keys of the IBM, people hear me typing two rooms away.  My office-mate once asked me if I was OK.

“Is something the matter?”

“No,”  I said, baffled.  “Why?”

“You’re belting hell out of that computer.”

“Oh, am I?”

I think he was glad when I moved to another room.

Brand new ones can be bought.

The attraction of the M can be summed up as satisfaction.  Hitting the keys is satisfying.  Using a tool that is well-made is satisfying.    Hearing it go click-clack is satisfying.  It is, quite simply, the right tool for the job.  I spend a lot of time in front of a computer.  I sit on an office chair rather than a wooden plank.  I use a nice big monitor rather than an old green CRT.  I don’t see ‘value’ in using a cheap keyboard.

Not sure how to end this post, so I’ll just stop.