- The push continues to complete Astronomy Hacks. I'm going to
spend some time today polishing up four of the completed hacks to send
to O'Reilly. They need them for doing some sort of marketing/promotion
brochure. Then it'll be back to writing new hacks through month-end.
One of my subscribers was kind enough to send me the boxed set of Upstairs, Downstairs DVDs. We have
all of the episodes on VHS tapes, but I wanted to migrate them to DVD.
I could have used the Plextor ConvertX to convert the tapes to DVD, but
it seemed cleaner to do a rip from DVDs.
I've been so busy that I haven't had a chance even to play with DVD
ripping, but last light I decided to take a break and experiment with
it. When I fired up ripper,
my Windows XP system with DVDshrink
installed, the first annoyance was that Windows told me there's only 15
days left until activation is required. Screw that. I'll re-install
rather than give Microsoft the satisfaction. I do wish the authors
would port DVDshrink to Linux, though. There are already Linux tools to
do the same job, but they're nowhere near as friendly as DVDshrink.
Once I fired up DVDshrink, I found that A&E had put four episodes
on one DVD. DVDshrink said it'd need to compress by about 50% to get it
all on one DVD+R. That seemed a bit much, so I decided to re-author,
putting two episodes on each of two DVD+R discs, and leaving the
"extras" behind. (I don't have the moral right to watch those extras
anyway, because they're not something that was broadcast originally.)
All I wanted was the two episodes themselves, which totaled about 3.8
So I ripped those two episodes, which took only a few minutes, and
burned the results to DVD+RW for a test. I wasn't able to rip the menus
in re-authoring mode, but I'd hoped the resulting DVD would just play
the two episodes in the order I burned them. Nope. When I put the
DVD+RW disc in the DVD player and pushed Play, nothing happened. So I
pushed the Menu button, and got a directory listing showing the actual
files. Selecting the first file and pressing the Play button started it
playing, but the video was jerky and the audio was terrible, with
periodic fading and booming and a loud "clank" noise every few seconds.
Back to the drawing board. I re-ripped the entire DVD. That takes a
couple hours, most of which is spent re-compressing the data. Today,
I'll burn it to DVD+RW and see what happens. If it works, and if the
quality is good enough, I'll do the other DVDs that way as well and we
just won't watch the extras.
I don't know why the MPAA and studios make things so difficult. It
should be a simple matter of copying the data files from the DVDs and
doing as we wish with them. I mean, they've broadcast this stuff on
PBS, which means everyone already has a right to have a personal copy
- I'm coming down to the end game on the book now. I've
allocated through 31 March to complete first drafts on all of the
hacks, and the first 10 days of April to clean-up work. In the 16 days
I have left I need to get the book into a finished state.
Unfortunately, I have about 40 hacks that I'd like to write, but time
to do only about a third that number. So I'll have to prioritize. I'll
save the ones that don't make it into this book. Perhaps they'll make
it into the second edition.
I ripped a DVD and let DVDshrink compress it to about 50%. As far as
Barbara and I could see, the resulting video and audio were just fine.
Certainly a lot better than VHS quality, and probably about as good as
watching the program as it is broadcast. So I'll keep doing the rips
- Well, this is annoying. I ripped the first DVD to my hard
drive, burned it to DVD+RW, and it worked fine. So then I decided to
burn it to DVD+R as a "keeper". The burn seemed to go fine at 8X, but
when I ejected the disc and put it in our DVD player it didn't work
properly. I fired up the first episode and watched a minute or two of
it. It appeared normal, video and audio. I then jumped to episode 2,
which had extremely jerky video and audio. Episode 3 was worse, with
the video freezing frequently and the audio dropping in and out.
Episode 4 was unusable. I got a still image on the screen for several
seconds and no audio. Then it jumped to another still image with about
1 second of audio. It seems the later the content is on the disc, the
harder time the DVD player has with it.
So, I don't know if the problem is that I burned the DVD+R at 8X, if
the DVD player doesn't like the disc (it's supposed to understand all
common formats, including DVD+R), or if something else is wrong.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
- Hah. Last night, while we were walking the dogs after dinner,
Barbara said, "You know, when you're wearing running shoes, sweat
pants, and a hooded sweatshirt, you actually look athletic." I told her
that was an accurate impression, because I'm in great shape. Didn't
fool her, though.
The trouble is, in my mind I'm still 18 years old. I can serve a tennis
ball at 140 MPH, and charge the net, all day long. In reality, of
course, if I tried that now, at age 51, my arm would fall off and I'd
probably drop dead about halfway to the net.
I was thinking about that a couple weeks ago, when our friends Mary
Chervenak and Paul Jones came over for dinner. After dinner, I was
showing Mary some basic self-defense moves--trips, throws, blocks, and
so on. I emphasized the point, as I always do, that a woman has exactly
one chance if a man attacks her, and that is to kill or disable him
before he realizes she's going to resist.
Mary told an interesting story about a woman friend of hers who was a
Marine. She's not a small woman. She's young, in superb condition, and
had been trained in self defense by the Marine Corps. This woman got
into a physical fight with her husband or boyfriend (I forget which).
They were fighting in a public location, a park or something, with
other people around. Despite the fact that the guy was not large and
had no training, she was utterly unable to defend herself against him.
He ended up body slamming her to the ground and breaking her back
(she's okay now, I believe.)
All of this happened with many other people looking on. All of them
just stood there. No one came to her aid. No one. Was there not even
one man there? A lot of guys were watching, apparently, but not one of
them was a man. I told Mary that 30 years ago, or even 20, I wouldn't
have hesitated. I'd have run over the guy like a Mack truck.
Nowadays, I'm ashamed to say, I would have to think about it. I'd like
to think I'd come to a woman's defense in that situation, but I just
don't know. I'm still large, heavy, and strong, but I'm 51 years old.
My reactions are slower than they were, and I haven't been in a fight
in more than 25 years. And, as the philosopher H. Callahan once
famously observed, "A man's got to know his limitations."
- Sorry. I ran out of time yesterday, so I didn't make a post.
We did get Barbara's PDA backed up yesterday evening. Since I migrated
her away from Windows last fall, she hadn't been able to sync her PDA.
I never could get the Palm sync to work between Xandros 2.0 and her
Sony Clie PDA. So, for months now, she's been changing the
batteries on her PDA regularly, afraid she was going to lose all her
As we were eating dinner, I was playing around with Xandros 3 on the
den system and noticed the Palm Tool item on the menu. Xandros has
improved a lot of stuff from version 2 to version 3, notably including
the USB functionality. So I decided to give syncing another try. After
dinner, we plugged her PDA into one of the test-bed systems I have
running Xandros 3. I fired up the Palm Tool and started to run the
It popped up a warning box that said there are sometimes problems with
Sony Clie PDAs. Great. So I aborted the wizard and tried to configure
the software manually. I couldn't get it to recognize the PDA. So I
started again with the wizard, and this time I ignored the warning. It
found Barbara's PDA instantly and offered to sync it or do a backup. I
chose the backup, and away it went. After 15 seconds or so, her PDA
made its happy "I'm synched" sound, and all was well.
Once I get this book done, I'll probably install Xandros 3 on Barbara's
system. I'm waiting for Xandros 3 Business Edition, because I need
StarOffice rather than OpenOffice. But Xandros 3 is a very nice upgrade.
One of the nice things about it is that it uses the 2.6 kernel rather
than the 2.4 kernel in Xandros 2, and the 2.6 kernel has much better
USB support. With Xandros 2, I sometimes have to reboot the system to
convince it to recognize my digital camera. With Xandros 3, I can just
plug the camera in when I want to transfer images and unplug it when
I'm finished and all works as it should. Even with Xandros 2, I don't
miss Windows at all. With Xandros 3, things continue to improve.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All