Road Warrior’s iPod Solution … and an Alternative

Like the rest of the universe, we’re pretty much sold on iPods to handle all of our music needs, but there’s an exception to every rule. The exception in this case is for those of us that carry around a USB flash drive on our keychain to meet other needs. Strolling down the Costco aisle the other day, I ran across a slick little device for about $25 that turns any iPod or even a garden-variety USB flash drive into an MP3 music source for your vehicle. Checker Auto has it for $10 more. And Wal-Mart carries them as well. It’s called a VFM7 FM Modulator from a company called Roadmaster. In addition to functioning as your own private FM radio station, it also can play MP3 files (only) from almost any USB flash drive. And it includes a 3.5mm line input jack for attaching virtually any music device including any iPod. Wouldn’t you think the automobile manufacturers could spring for a line input jack on automobiles that now cost as much as a house? Kinda reminds me of the oil companies. They had no problem washing your windshield and checking your oil when gas was 40¢ a gallon. Now that a gallon of gasoline costs over five times that much, you get to do it yourself. Go figure. Just play your music louder. It’ll help you forget!

The VFM7 can broadcast on any of seven FM frequencies which provides the necessary flexibility to avoid interference in all but the largest metropolitan areas. Having tried many FM modulators over the years, I can tell you that this one ranks right up there with the best. The trick to most FM modulators is to plug them in, leave the music off, and try each frequency matching your FM radio to your choice on the modulator until you find one that is quiet, i.e. no noise, no faint radio signal, and no hiss. The round button (see inset) changes frequencies, and the other three buttons are for skip to previous song, play/pause, and skip to next song. Once you’ve found the correct frequency for your area, plug in your audio device or USB flash drive and press play. There are tons of FM modulators you might be saying. And right you are. But most of them aren’t the size of a slightly enlarged car cigarette lighter, and none of them have a USB MP3 player and line in jacks built in to the unit. Usually you’ve got a bunch of dangling cords to contend with in addition to the modulator. And most of the non-battery modulators lack the flexibility to support both USB flash drives and line in using the same unit. If you’re a boating enthusiast, you’ll also find using a $25 flash drive with a $25 FM modulator makes a lot more sense than risking an unintended swim for your mega-hundred dollar iPod.

And speaking of USB flash drives, here’s a great little secret if you don’t already have your fill of flash drives. What we’ve started doing is building different music collections on different flash drives for travelling. Then all you have to do is swap out flash drives when you want to switch from country music to punk rock. The SanDisk Cruzer Micro series of drives has the added flexibility of being able to plug in to the Cruzer Micro Companion MP3 player to provide a portable MP3 player using a single AAA battery and a set of headphones. You get about 7-9 hours of play time out of an alkaline battery. The 256MB flash drive costs about $25 and the 512MB drive is about $40. Larger drives are available as well. The MP3 player device is about $45. Or you can purchase a combination 512MB flash drive with the player. was the cheapest source earlier this week, but you might want to run the items through PriceGrabber and check the latest pricing. As a rule of thumb, a 256MB flash drive holds about four hours of music, and we’ve found that bigger isn’t always better. Each time you power off the VFM7, you go back to the first song on your flash drive so smaller, multiple drives tend to make more sense. Another approach on the Windows platform is to use Renamer to shuffle your songs from time to time. Enjoy!

Tiger Vittles. In celebration of Apple’s release today of Mac OS X Tiger, Tiger Vittles presents a round-up of what works and what won’t with Tiger and unveils a new database app to let everyone report on their favorite programs: Tiger-Ready Applications: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (Skype = Free Phone Service)

No Mac mini would be complete without free local and long distance telephone service. Thanks to Skype, your prayers have been answered. You can call anyone in the world who also uses Skype and talk as long and as often as you like for free! You can also place conference calls to up to four other Skype users at a time anywhere in the world at no cost. And you can call plain old telephones (POTS) by dialing an existing area code (or country code) and phone number for about 2¢ a minute to most of your favorite places. There are no hidden charges! The complete rate table is here. For 30 euros or about $40 a year, Skype will provide you a real POTS phone number in the area code of your choice with free voice mail and free incoming calls. Then all your friends can call and irritate you whether they use Skype or not.

The key ingredient for Skype is you have to have some type of computer, and it has to be running the Skype software to place and receive calls. There are free versions of the Skype software to support Windows PCs, Macs, Linux, and Pocket PCs. You’ll also need a way to talk and listen on your phone calls. You can use either a microphone and speaker, or a Skype-compatible USB phone, or a Skype-compatible terminal adapter/router, or a Bluetooth or USB headset. Suffice it say, a new Skype-compatible phone solution is announced every week so do a little Googling if you don’t find what you want below.

Skype Alternatives for the Mac. Since the Mac mini doesn’t include a microphone or line input jack, you’ll need to add a microphone and a USB audio input device such as the iMic if you want to use the microphone/speaker approach on the mini. Hint: The Mac mini’s speaker leaves a lot to be desired. The better and cheapest solution on the Mac platform for U.S. users is the Plantronics Audio 45 USB Stereo Headset for about $30. The under $100 wireless solution in the U.S. is to purchase the Plantronics M3000 Bluetooth headset and the dLink DBT-120 USB Bluetooth adapter for your Mac, if it didn’t come with Bluetooth. Once you get the dLink adapter or, if you have Apple’s internal adapter, you’ll need to upgrade the firmware in order to use the headset. Note that this only works for the Mac’s bluetooth adapter and more recent dLink adapters! Just download the 1.2 Bluetooth Firmware here and install it. We’ve had mixed results with the bluetooth headset. If Skype were my only phone service, I’d recommend the USB headset on the Mac platform. [Footnote: Tiger totally resolves the Skype bluetooth headset problems.]

Skype Alternatives for Windows Users. For Windows users, there is the IPMate S90, a $50 router that allows you to use your regular telephones with your PC and Skype. While the S90 is a Windows-only solution, if you have an old clunker Windows machine sitting around, here’s a way to put it to good use. Other Windows-only solutions are the rapidBox and the VTA1000 Skype and SIP Gateway for $59.

European Alternatives. For our European friends, the easiest solution is the cordless DU@LPhone. In addition, the $60 USB Cyberphone K is available directly from Skype; however, the dialing keypad does not yet work with Macs. [See the comments for another great European alternative.]

USB Phone Alternative. Finally, an untested, but promising, USB phone which it is claimed works on both the Mac and Windows platforms for about $60 including shipping is the Dontronics USB phone made in Australia. Let’s us hear from you if you get one.

Installing and Using Skype. Skype is one of the easiest software packages you’ll ever install. Just download the latest version from here for your chosen operating system and follow the prompts. You’ll need to set up a Skype username and password as part of the installation process and, if you want to be able to call regular telephones, you’ll need to put a little money in your SkypeOut account on the Skype web site. Configuration is equally painless. Run the application and choose Skype->Preferences. Review the settings and make any adjustments desired. Most of the defaults are fine. Under the Audio tab, select your input and output devices, and you’re ready to make your first call. If you’re calling another Skype user, just enter their username and click Call. If you’re calling a POTS number in the U.S., enter +1 and then the area code and number and click Call. Test your Skype service by calling echo123.

Once everything appears to be working, feel free to try out your system by giving us a call if you speak English. Our Skype account name is wardmundy, or you can reach us through our Washington, D.C. phone number: +1-202-470-1646. Don’t forget the plus sign. Skype is picky about it. If the voice mail system answers (that also is available through Skype), leave a message together with your name, where you’re calling from with the time zone and the best time to return your call, and, of course, your Skype name. We return our calls, but it may take us a bit of time depending upon nerd volume. Final note: This is not a tech support service. If you need technical assistance, call a friend or former friend. You can’t afford us. Enjoy!

For another approach to free phone service, read our latest article on SIP telephony options.

Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

ISP-In-A-Box: The Final Chapter (P2P from A to Z)

In the beginning, there was Napster. And then there wasn’t. Then, from our friends at AOL, sprang Gnutella. And Gnutella begot Limewire. Now you can download BitTorrent for free from Apple, and Napster’s once again offering unlimited song downloads … as long as your $15 check clears each month for as long as you both shall live. What’s wrong with this picture? Well, that’s for the Supreme Court to know, and you to find out. In the meantime, while the Supreme Court is deciding the future of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks in the United States, it seemed like a good time to once again propose a fresh approach to the music sharing problem and to briefly review some of the P2P software options which are available at least today on the Mac platform.

It’s the M-Chip, Stupid! We won’t wade into the legal thicket of how you should use P2P tools other than to note, as we have in the past, that Congress has really dropped the copyright ball by refusing to consider creative solutions to the music and movie downloading problems and instead opting to rubber-stamp legislation reportedly drafted by the folks they should be regulating. It would be so easy to add $100 to the price of every music or video player and make all of this litigation go away. Before you say $100 is too cheap, just consider how many music and video players you have in your home and cars and how long they typically last before you buy new ones. The tally for our family is close to 20 devices, but don’t tell your burglar friends! Think of my proposal as a reverse V-Chip for music. Let’s call it the M-Chip. Instead of locking you out of content as the V-Chip does, the M-Chip would let you in. Pay your $100 and the M-Chip would enable your music player to play any music (encrypted or not) that you can get your hands on … legally! M-Chip proceeds would go to the record companies and musicians. And, down the road when every music player had an M-Chip, why would we need encryption any longer other than to make the music moguls sleep better? The only drawback I see to this approach is the poor lawyers. What would all of them do if the ‘music problem’ just went away?

If you want to read more, here’s a link to our previous discussion of this topic. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great site that explains everything which is at stake in the pending Supreme Court case. We’ll assume that the Supreme Court will do the right thing and allow P2P networking technology to coexist with the recording industry and the movie studios. But who knows? Perhaps the next big public works project can be building enough jails to house the million plus Limewire users who are on line most of every day and night. Or, we could borrow a page from the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch. He believes we should blow up the computers of people who download music illegally. Isn’t it nice to finally see one of our elected representatives thinking creatively? We’d like to believe he was just frustrated by the difficulty of the copyright problem. Otherwise, just think what he might do to you for stealing something that costs more than 99¢. Death row, here we come. Three songs, and you’re out … for good.

The real problem with all the legal mess, and it is most assuredly a mess which is only getting worse, is the adverse effect it is having on an entire generation of Americans who see nothing really wrong with committing felonies before breakfast each morning… assuming they’re up at that time of the day. And, of course, there’s the chilling effect it is having on enhancement and use of an incredibly versatile and creative technology: P2P networking. Killing off technology pioneers to deter music pirates is not unlike biting off one’s nose to spite your face. In short, it’s a great way to irreparably damage the innovative spirit which has made the United States a creative force since the days of Thomas Edison. Write your representatives in Congress and urge them to look at this issue responsibly … as if their children’s futures and respect for the American legal system were at stake. They are. End of sermon.

If P2P networking is your thing, then there is no finer platform for it than the Mac. Why? That’s an easy one. The P2P tools that have been written for the Mac platform don’t include the Spyware and Trojan Horse features which you’ll find in almost all of the offerings for the Windows platform. Just try to delete a P2P application from a Windows machine, and you’ll understand what we’re talking about. The real beauty of P2P technology is that it provides an IP solution for sharing files amongst various types of computers worldwide, something we’ve all become accustomed to using local area networks. In addition to many other companies, IBM has devoted enormous resources to exploration of P2P technology for business use.

Two very different P2P technologies provide excellent results on the Mac platform. The traditional P2P solution is Limewire which includes free (with ads) and Pro versions. A better Limewire solution and the reason some folks have actually switched to the Mac platform is a product called Acquisition. It has perhaps the best user interface ever written for Mac OS X, and at $16.99 for a single-user license, it won’t break the bank either. Installation is a breeze. Download the software from here and drag the Acquisition icon to your Applications folder. Run the Application and choose Preferences to set your default download and upload folders, to turn on iTunes integration, and to specify the number of simultaneous connections you wish to support. Now enter a search term and presto! And, yes, keep in mind that downloading or uploading copyrighted material is against the law … at least in the USA. But, if all you want to do is download music, perhaps it’s time you planned a vacation to Canada with your Mac mini or Powerbook, but you’d better hurry if current news articles are to be believed.

The other great P2P solution for the Mac platform is BitTorrent which is available for free download from Apple’s web site. Go figure. Once you download the software, just drag the application to your Applications folder and start it up. Now use Google to search for BitTorrent content. HINT: The files always end with an extension of .torrent. The same copyright warnings (as above) apply, and Big Brother is probably a BitTorrent user himself. Everything you ever wanted to know about BitTorrent is available in their FAQ or Brian’s FAQ and Guide.

Finally, while we’re on the subject of music downloads, there’s been lots of buzz recently about a Russian web site ( which offers music downloads for about a penny a minute, slightly cheaper than iTunes. But, is it legal? With our usual disclaimer that we’re not in the business of providing legal advice here, we can point you to some sites that discuss the issue. FadMine seems to think it’s OK. Moscow prosecutors also gave the green light, at least inside Russia. And then there’s at least one California lawyer that thinks it’s not. But see this piece in the Tech Law Advisor. In the Americanized words of a famous old British insurance handbook from 1846: “You pays your money and you takes your chances.” If you haven’t guessed it already, copyright law is a goldmine for lawyers and law professors at the moment because virtually nothing is settled. Another 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court should make things much clearer. Didn’t know you were gonna have to go to law school just to use your computer, did you?

Tiger Preparations. Over at our new Tiger web site, Tiger Vittles, we’re getting ready for the big day, Friday, April 29, when Apple officially releases the next version of Mac OS X. Beginning next week, we’ll walk you through the steps you should take before upgrading an existing Mac to a new operating system. For those coming from the Windows world, don’t have a heart attack. The Mac experience is downright pleasant compared to the Microsoft torture chamber you’re accustomed to. Your homework in preparation for the upgrade is to scrape together $100 and buy a firewire drive big enough to back up your entire Mac. We’ve covered all of this before including recommendations on the best firewire drives for your money. So just click here and follow the steps.

ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (Building a PureFTP Server … If You Must)

Ordinarily, we have put our faith in Apple when it comes to providing secure and reliable open-source tools as part of the Mac OS X bundle. The FTP service is the exception. Here are a few reasons why. While an FTP server is bundled with the latest version of Panther, at least one well-respected commentator has noted that Apple completely broke the FTP server with a security update in September, 2004. While it was subsequently fixed, the scenario suggests that minimal, if any, testing of FTP was undertaken by Apple as new security updates were released. Given the long history of security problems with FTP services in general, this is more than a little disturbing if you enjoy a good night’s sleep. The bundled FTP server also is extremely limited in the access methods and scope of access it supports. If you want more detail, here’s a link to O’Reilly’s MacDevCenter article that will tell you more than you ever wanted to know. The final straw which has led us to support a different FTP server solution is the flawless security record of one, and only one, FTP server. Pure-FTPd comes with a default configuration which is secure and there has never been a reported buffer overflow problem with the product.

That’s the science. Now some practical advice. FTP is by definition an insecure protocol for transferring files and data. It was developed during a simpler time when the Internet was limited mostly to college professors and students who had some respect for one another. User names and passwords are sent as plain text across the big bad Internet … and so is the data. So, unless you like living dangerously and have a good backup, don’t use FTP on mission-critical systems. You also need to stop and think WHY you need FTP. If you only want to put a file repository on line and don’t need to add and delete files except when you are colocated with your server, then use this free HTTP/PHP solution by dropping these two files in a folder on your web server. Then edit the descriptions text file to describe each file in the directory inserting a tab between the file name and the description. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

If you really must use FTP, configure the server to support access with different user names and passwords than those used to log in to your Mac locally. And, speaking of logs, check your FTP logs frequently to make certain you don’t have a security problem. A missing log would be a fairly good hint that something is amiss. Finally, minimize as best you can the access provided to FTP users (including yourself) and also restrict the scope of uploads to assure that some bad guy can’t trash your machine by simply filling it up with worthless data until your hard drive gags. You can further reduce your security exposure by coupling FTP access with a secure protocol such as SSH (which we already have addressed) or FTP-SSL/TLS. The latest FTP client versions of Transmit (our personal favorite) and RBrowser both support FTP-SSL/TLS.

Installing PureFTPd. There are several ways to install PureFTPd on your Mac. As usual, we’ll opt for the easy route and use a free tool which is one of the best pieces of Mac software on the planet, PureFTPd Manager. It not only installs PureFTPd, but it also provides Rendezvous support and an incredibly simple Cocoa frontend to manage everything on your new FTP server: anonymous access, authentication methods, bandwidth usage, and much, much more. To begin, download PureFTPd Manager. Double-click on PureFTPd Manager.mpkg to begin the install from your desktop. Follow the prompts and accept all the defaults unless you’re installing on a version of Mac OS X other than Panther, v10.3. Once the installation completes, run the application from your Applications folder. Enter your admin password when prompted. Now we’ll configure your new FTP server by deciding whether to activate anonymous user access and whether to support virtual users. We’ll also configure logging and virtual hosts if you want to support them.

Anonymous and Virtual User Access. We recommend you at least configure anonymous user access. Then it can be disabled. By configuring it, PureFTPd Manager will create a folder for anonymous users and set up the necessary permissions. Leave the defaults and click Continue. We also want to set up a mechanism for adding virtual users. These are users that you create to allow FTP access only to your system. They do not have regular Mac accounts. Click Continue to set up the necessary permissions for these accounts. Check all three check boxes under Server Logging and click Continue. In the System Settings screen, leave the defaults and click Continue. Finally, click the Configure button to complete your installation. Be patient while your install is completed. It can take a minute or two so don’t get nervous and start clicking a bunch of buttons. Once the installation completes, you will be presented with the PureFTPd Manager interface. If you plan to use this software regularly, do us all a favor and send $20 to the author. It encourages more great products like this one.

Managing Your FTP Server. You can start up and shut down PureFTPd in a couple of ways. The easiest is by checking or unchecking the FTP Server option in System Preferences->Sharing. Yes, PureFTPd now has replaced the default Panther FTP server in System Preferences. You also can start and stop the server by running PureFTPd Manager from your Applications folder and clicking on the Start and Stop buttons in the Server Status screen. We recommend you turn off anonymous FTP access until you really, really need it. Click Preferences and then Anonymous. To disable uploads, check the appropriate box. To disable all anonymous access, check Disable Anonymous Access. Note that you also can control bandwidth and storage space for anonymous users. For now, just disable it. Then click Show All to return to the main Preferences menu.

Managing Virtual Users. From the Server Status screen, click on User Manager and then New to create a new virtual user for your FTP server. Assign a login name and password, specify a home directory, and click Restrict User to Home Directory. If you want to restrict the user to a specified time period for access, specify the start and end time. Otherwise, click Disabled. Under the Virtual Folders tab, you can give the user access to other folders and specify the scope of access. Under the Transfers tab, you can limit bandwidth and disk storage for this user. Under the Other tab, you can create a customized Welcome Banner and restrict IP addresses for this user.

Creating a Secure FTP Server. If you want to implement FTP-SSL/TLS support for your new server, choose Preferences then SSL/TLS Sessions. Click Create a Certificate then Go Self-Signed. Fill in ALL of the certificate entries and specify a duration for your certificate (3000 works!). Now activate TLS access by choosing either Mixed Mode (for TLS and traditional FTP access) or TLS Only (clear text sessions will be refused). Restart the FTPd daemon when prompted. Then connect using one of the FTP clients we identified above that supports TLS access. For more detailed instructions on configuration of your server, read the MacDevCenter article here.

Last But Not Least. Keep in mind that if your Mac is behind a hardware-based firewall, you will need to configure the firewall to map the FTP ports to the internal IP address of your Mac. Read the firewalling section of the PureFTPd FAQ. We covered the basics in our Going Live! article. We’ll close today with our strongest recommendation yet. Turn off FTP services except when absolutely necessary unless you are restricting your FTP access to TLS connections only with no anonymous access.

Coming Events. We’re excited as you undoubtedly are that Apple’s new Tiger operating system for the Mac is just around the corner. Just a heads up that we plan to switch gears once Tiger is released and cover all of the tutorials we’ve written about thus far focusing on what’s involved in a new Tiger install. If prior OS releases are an indicator, then Tiger will bring a few surprises. To celebrate the release, we’ll be starting with a brand-new Mac with Tiger freshly installed. And, if you haven’t noticed in the right column, we’re adding a new web site, Tiger Vittles, to focus exclusively on installation and configuration of open source applications for the new Tiger OS. We hope you’ll join us for the celebration.

ISP-In-A-Box: The $500 Mac mini (Building a Streaming Audio Server, Part II)

Todd Daniele's Apple VictrolaToday, we want to finish building our streaming audio server by picking up where we left off in Part I. We’ll assume that you already have chosen your favorite player or smartphone and that you’ve opted out of buying Apple’s just-announced Victrola (click inset) or Sony’s latest marvel, the NetJuke. Did we forget to say it … April Fool’s. So we’ll be putting in place your own server using a Mac mini to send your tunes to your streaming audio player, whatever it may be. As we mentioned last week, streaming music is a processor and bandwidth intensive operation because your Mac not only has to decode a compressed music file stored on your local disk and broadcast it to the streaming server, but the streaming server also has to recompress it and manage the audio streams for each player that connects to your streaming server. Put another way, you probably don’t want to be transmitting a 192K audio stream in stereo if you only have a broadband Internet connection with limited upload bandwidth.

So the best place to begin the design of your streaming audio server is with a pencil and some math fundamentals. The bottom line is that a streaming audio server can only stream as much data as your Internet upload connection will support. How do you figure this out? Well, first you need to know how much upload bandwidth your Internet connection supports. Don’t take your ISP’s word for it. Instead, visit a site such as DSL Reports and run a Speed Test. The MegaPath Networks site usually works well. We don’t care so much about download performance for this project. What we’re interested in is the upload number. Let’s assume your upload number is 256 kbps. To determine the maximum bitrate that your server can support, divide the number of simultaneous streams you wish to support by the upload bandwidth of your connection. For example, the maximum bitrate your 256 kbps connection could support with two streams is 128 kbps. For 8 simultaneous streams, the supported bitrate would be 32 kbps. What happens if you do the math wrong or cheat? Your server crashes and burns. It’s that simple. Actually, the burning part is hyperbole, but you can almost count on a crash.

Another factor to consider in planning the bitrate for your streaming server is the player hardware and download bandwidth of your target audience. We’re going to assume that you are the target audience for your stream to keep things on the up and up. You did read our first installment, didn’t you? So, if you only will be supporting one stream (to you) and you plan to listen to your music on your cellphone, then a bit rate of 24 kbps in mono is probably about right unless you want the audio stream at the receiving end to die and restart regularly. If, on the other hand, you plan to play the stream from your home server at your beach house 500 miles away using an AudioTron with a three megabit cable modem connection to the Internet, then a 128 kbps stream in stereo may be more appropriate to improve the quality of the music at the receiving end. Just keep in mind that the higher the stream rate, the more processing power is required to pump out the stream. And, to broadcast in stereo, means multiplying everything by two.

Choosing A Streaming Server. Assuming you’ve solved the bandwidth requirements, step two is actually choosing a Streaming Audio Server. As we mentioned in the first part of this article, this is complicated a bit by the fact that you also need a Broadcast Server in the Shoutcast environment. If you only want a system which can send a single song on demand or a system which will play a predefined playlist, then Nullsoft’s Shoutcast DNAS server for the Mac is a perfect fit, and you can download it here. Be sure to carefully read the installation and configuration instructions which are included on Nullsoft’s web site. For the broadcaster component on Mac OS X, you can download the Shoutcast DSP Plugin for Mac OS X here. Be sure to review the configuration settings before you install the software and keep in mind that the Mac broadcast module cannot stream input from a sound card, only a playlist.

Other Broadcast Options. Let’s assume that your only reason for doing any of this is to impress your friends by playing some unique content on your cellphone “live.” Nothing quite beats the iMan’s talk-radio broadcast if this is your goal. And there are a couple of approaches on the Mac platform. The first is to install the Shoutcast DNAS server on your Mac as outlined above and use the Windows platform for the broadcasting module. In this scenario, you download WinAmp 2 for Windows XP from here and then download the Shoutcast DSP Plugin for WinAmp 2.0 from here. You obviously have to have a Mac and a spare Windows XP machine and a radio with a line out jack to make this work. The only trick to successfully connecting all the pieces is making sure the passwords for the streaming server on the Mac and the WinAmp broadcaster module match. And, of course, make sure that the Shoutcast port isn’t blocked by a firewall on either your Mac or the Windows XP machine. If this sounds like a configuration nightmare, trust me. It is!

NicecastThe Smarter Alternative. Unless you just spent your last nickel for lunch today, there is a far simpler way to bring up a streaming audio server on the Mac platform, but it’ll cost you $40. The product is Rogue Amoeba’s Nicecast. You can try it for free, and it’s fully functional for the first 20 minutes of every broadcast. Then the quality of the audio stream starts to deteriorate. If we’re still talking about listening to the iMan, 20 minutes is probably more than enough in one sitting anyway. In short, you can make absolutely certain that Nicecast meets your needs before you spend a dime. Complete installation and setup takes about two minutes, and Nicecast provides both the streaming server component which is Shoutcast-compatible and the broadcaster component. And any content you can play or hear on your Mac can be streamed with Nicecast. This includes iTunes as well as input from a microphone, a mixer, any radio with a line out jack, or even EyeTV. On the Mac mini, you’ll need a USB input device for most of these options. Griffin’s iMic is the best value. Finally Nicecast includes 40 professional plug-in’s including a terrific equalizer to improve the quality of your stream.

To get started, download and install the software. Run the application by double-clicking the Nicecast icon in your Applications folder. Click on the Source button and pick your input source. Click on the Input button and name your streaming station. You can include a genre and web site address if desired. Click on the Quality button and choose the quality of your audio stream. Nicecast will make an educated guess based upon the speed of your Internet connection, but you can change it in one click by selecting one of the predefined stream types. Click the Share button, and Nicecast will provide you the web link to use in your player. Make certain that Port 8000 is open on your Mac firewall and that Port 8000 on your hardware-based firewall is mapped to the internal IP address of your Mac streaming server. Now click the Start Broadcast button, and you’re in business. It really doesn’t get much easier than that which explains why Nicecast has won just about every software award worth winning including MacWorld’s Editor’s Choice in December, 2004. And, if you do ever need help, Nicecast’s first-rate documentation is as close as the Help button in the application. Finally, if you’re thinking this whole project sounds pretty silly, then take a few minutes and read this article which explains better than I why, a year from now, this project and the Mac mini may not look so silly after all. See you next week for FTP servers.