Pandoc for Word Document conversion

I just discovered pandoc. Well, I first bookmarked it in 2008, and again in 2016, so I guess I rediscovered it. But what I mean is that I finally discovered what to use it for: converting Word files to Markdown. It’s dead easy:

$ pandoc -f docx -t markdown sample.docx > sample.md

I’ve been using Antiword for years to convert Word 2006 (DOC) files to text, but it doesn’t do DOCX, and, instead of producing Markdown or something more neutral, it tries to recreate the DOC experience in text by centering lines, etc. Not complaining: it gets me plain text and I can take it from there, but Markdown is a big improvement. DOCX is even better, since, apart from pandoc, the only way I knew to read those at the command line was via Libre/OpenOffice:

$ libreoffice –headless –convert-to “txt:Text (encoded):UTF8” sample.docx > sample.txt

(I see — now, when it is too late — that there is also code to do this in ruby: antiword-xp-rb. I hope that’s an awesome tool, but it took me 9 years to figure out what to do with pandoc so don’t wait for me to tell you.)

I wouldn’t take it gift-wrapped

Office 2016 for Mac now available as stand-alone software. I’ve been exposed to Office 2013/Windows, and to get anything done, I have to use Office 2011 on my Mac.

I wouldn’t even install Office 2016 on my Mac for $100 even if it left the old version intact. More likely, though, it clobbers the previous version. In that case, I’d only do it for the cost of a new computer—so I could throw out the old computer with Office 2016 on it.

Software Update

In the mid-1990’s I worked for a telecommunications firm that was trying to make a set top box for interactive television. (This was even as the internet was exploding. Read Michael Lewis’ The Next Next Thing to find out what the “B Team” was working on.) One of the things I spent a lot of time on was “software update.” We needed a way to securely update the operating software in the device, and we wanted to do it while connected to our network, because the cost to roll a truck and have a technician do it was prohibitive.

A few years later, I was working for a different company trying to innovate in the electrical power industry. (I know, it was hopeless. But I was young and naive.) Anyway, we had the exact same problem: securely updating the software in a networked device. It’s a problem that’s fraught with difficulties.

As it happens, both of those ventures flamed out, so I never got to be part of solving that problem. But this morning, as I was eating my oatmeal, I saw that someone else seems to be doing it:

iphone-software-update

Not only solved, but untethered. Yay Apple.

XFCE

I quit using Linux (except as a file server) almost 10 years ago, so I completely missed the Desktop wars. Apparently KDE and Gnome won, with Gnome winning the part of the Linuxphere known as Ubuntu. Which leads to all kinds of out of date help pages telling you how you used to administer a Ubuntu system (“From System Administration choose Disk Utilities”). Along with a fair few pages complaining how Gnome 2 was better, or Gnome 3 was bad but 3.6 fixed most of the problems, or whatever.

As may be. I’m a crusty old bearded Unix user, from the era of Window Managers rather than Desktop Environments. (Well, CDE begat KDE, so I guess there were Desktop Environments even back in those days, but I never worried about them.) For me, it was a big deal (with no small amount of editing config files) to move from FVWM to WindowMaker.

So what do I do? I don’t know. But I’m thinking about Xubuntu and XFCE. How’s that for rebellion? You say you want a revolution!

Audio Editors

One of the things I do every week is turn a recording of my sermon for the week into a podcast. (Find them here and in these archives.) That’s a pretty complicated process, so some people just upload the audio file to a hosting service that does the rest.

But getting the audio file is the part I wanted to talk about, because I just bought a new waveform editor, and I wanted to post my impressions and some very subjective reviews of the alternatives I considered.

For years, I’ve used Amadeus by HairerSoft. I like it and it has all the features I need. It has a great many more features than I need, for that matter. One of its many features is the ability to check for upgrades. That’s great as long as they’re free minor upgrades. Sometime about six (?) months ago, however, it came out with a non-free major upgrade, and the upgrade-check software gives me an obnoxious dialog that says “Cancel” where it ought to say “Not now” or “Maybe later.” So that’s been bugging me.

Unfortunately, they wanted $40 to upgrade. Now, that’s a fair price to pay even if there aren’t any new features. I’d be happy paying $40 every two or three years, just to keep them in business issuing the minor fixes for new OS compatibility or whatever.

So why “unfortunately?” I say “unfortunately” because they also sell a non-upgrade version on the Apple App store, and that’s the one I wanted. I really like the App store, not least because it means I can install the software on either of my Macs, because App store apps work on up to five (?) machines.

But there’s no way to get the upgrade pricing on the App store. Sigh. That meant I had to think about what I was doing. I hate when that happens.

There are three or maybe five competitors to Amadeus:

Garageband. This actually might do the trick. I just don’t want to go to the trouble of figuring out how to use it for a podcast.

Logic Pro. Like Garageband but more so, and with a $200 price tag.

Audacity. A great price plus the joy that comes of using an open source app. The problem is, the user experience on a Mac isn’t what I would like. (To be fair, I can’t even remember what it is that I didn’t like. Maybe they wanted you to use X11. Not happening.)

WavePad by NCH. This is an interesting piece of software: beside the Mac, it’s available not only for Windows but for iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch). What I liked: explicit support for 24-bit sound files. What I didn’t like: it’s not as quick as Amadeus. That matters when you’re working with 800 MB .wav files.

Fission by Rogue Amoeba. Like: the name, especially for a company with “Amoeba” in its name. The feature set seemed pretty slimmed down compared to WavePad and Amadeus, but enough to do my work. Interestingly, it offered an envelope feature.

Ultimately, it came down to price. WavePad has a free version, but the paid version was more than my budget. I went with the upgrade to Amadeus, since it was the same price as Fission.

P.S. While I’m writing this, I should mention Levelator. It is why I don’t know all the cool features in Amadeus or need them in Fission/WavePad/what-have-you. You drop an audio file into it, and it levels out the sound a lot better than I could.

P.P.S. One of the things I should look for is the ability set the ID3 tags. I didn’t even think to look when I was comparing the editing features, but once I got done and purchased the upgrade, I wanted (for the 100th time) to set iTunes-recognized ID3 tags for the podcast. You can do that within iTunes but you have to round-trip it through there to do so. I’d like something that I don’t have to add to my iTunes library. All my favorite preacherssermon podcasts have nice ID3 tags, but I’m too lazy to do it right.

Useful Tools

Since I’ve been setting up a new computer, I’ve had the opportunity to think about the apps I use. I don’t have time or energy to put together a comprehensive list, but here are a few of my “can’t-live-with-them” apps.

Mac Mini at Work

Chrome (and the iReader extension), Safari, and Opera. Chrome is my main browser, but sometimes I need to work in two Google accounts at the same time. Then I fire up Safari. On very rare occasions I need a third online personality; when I do, I break out Opera. I also have Firefox, of course, but I hardly ever use it.

Xee and Skim. Macs come with Preview.app, which is fine, so far as it goes. It will let you open pretty much any type of image file. But it won’t let you go through a folder full of them in a hurry. That’s where Xee comes in. A side benefit of Xee is that it won’t screw up the EXIF data in your image files. Preview.app is fine for reading (and minor editing of) PDF files, too. But the user interface gets more bizarre with each release of Mac OS X. With Lion, I officially declare it a mess, and use Skim unless there’s a compelling reason to use Preview.app.

MacVim. Some people prefer Emacs or TextMate or BareBones BBEdit or TextEdit or whatever, but they’re wrong. Vi is right. MacVim is the best Mac implementation of VIM. Having said that, TextWrangler is a pretty awesome free-as-in-beer editor from BareBones software. It almost makes me want to try out BareBones’ BBEdit. I find TextWrangler especially helpful in converting text from one format to another.

NodeBox (and its derivatives, Nodebox 2 and Nodebox for OpenGL) are “generative design” applications. I’m not sure what that means, but whatever it is, it includes being able to write small programs to draw pictures. (Think of this as the modern equivalent of the venerable pic(1) and grap(1) programming languages. See also Graphviz.)

Handbrake and VLC. Handbrake is how I make backups of my DVDs. VLC is like the DVD Player application that comes with a Mac, except VLC works and it doesn’t crash all the time. How it does captioning isn’t the prettiest, I admit. On the other hand, it not only permits you to take screen captures, it provides a feature of its own to do it. I wish VLC remembered where you quit watching a DVD, but you can’t have everything.

MacPorts. Can’t live with them. Can’t imagine life without them. Therein lies the relevant conundrum. The HomeBrew project might ultimately supplant MacPorts, but I’m nervous about its install location. I’ve tried Fink, but not lately.