Home Video to DVD: Capturing to Your Computer

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Okay, I promised a long time ago to write about how to turn home videos into DVDs. Now I’m going to do it.

First off, a disclaimer. Everything I’m going to say is Windows-specific. I’m sure you can do all the same stuff, maybe more, with a Mac (maybe even Linux, for all I know). But I don’t know the Mac software, so I will just assume that it’s pretty similar, but a little different. Okay? And I’m not a pro, but I’ve done quite a bit of it, and learned some things the hard way.

I got started doing this a couple of years ago when we bought a digital camcorder. At first, we just started shooting video, then sticking the tape cassettes in a box to gather dust—just like the old system. But one day I saw a sale at Circuit City that let me get a 200 GB hard drive and a DVD burner for a good price. So I bit. And thus began my odyssey, which leads me to sharing the following tips:

1. It really helps if you’re starting with a digital camcorder (mini-DV), rather than an analog one (8 mm, VHS, etc.). You can do it with the latter, but then you need a capture card for your computer that can convert the analog video to digital.

With the mini-DV, all you need is a Firewire (also called IEEE-1394 or i-link) cable and a port to plug it into your computer. Most newer computers have a port. On mine, I found it on the back of the sound card.

2. It helps if you have a REALLY BIG hard drive with a lot of empty space. A single hour of uncompressed video takes up about 13 GB. And that’s before you start editing and converting to DVD format. If you’re doing any real editing, and then burning to DVD, you could easily gobble 30-40 GB on your drive just making a 1-hour DVD. That’s why I put in a 200 GB drive basically just for video stuff.

So…if you can, start with:

  • digital source
  • Firewire cable
  • big honking hard drive

3. You need software. There are a number of packages out there: Sonic MyDVD, Nero, Adobe, etc. You can read reviews on cnet.com. I use Sonic MyDVD for the final DVD production—and for the video editing (but only if the editing is minimal).

For the actual editing, if it’s anything more than a bit of trimming here and there, I like Windows Moviemaker—which comes free with Windows XP. (You might have to update to SP2.) That’s right, it’s freeware! And it’s a powerful program. You can use it to cut and paste video clips, add transitions, titles, credits, and mix in music in a very flexible way.

I’ve used Moviemaker for many things, but the most complex was creating end-of-season music videos for the wrestling team. Each video, about ten minutes long, involved about a hundred video edits and multiple music edits, plus titles and credits. (If you’re creating a complex piece like this, Moviemaker is a bit crash-prone. So as you add complexity, save more and more often.)

4. Now get your video onto your computer. Plug in your camcorder, crank up your software, and tell it to “Capture Video.” You can do this from MyDVD or from Moviemaker. Both allow you to control the camcorder playback right from your computer. If I know I’m grabbing selected “good parts,” not a whole tape, I like Moviemaker because it lets you skip and grab, skip and grab, all in one session.

  • It’s going to prompt you to save the file, and ask you what format. If you’re going to edit, save it to .AVI or DV format.
  • If you’re just copying a tape to DVD with little or no editing, you can capture it from within MyDVD, and save it straight to MPEG, which is the format in which it will be burned onto the DVD. This will save you a lot of steps.
  • Be careful where you save the file. The software always seems to want to save it under Documents and Settings, no matter how many times I redirect it to over to the other hard drive. Put it where you have a lot of room, and where you can find it.

Tomorrow, editing.

Intelligent Design in the New Yorker

Fortunately, someone around here is awake at the switch. Rich emailed me to point out that the latest issue of the New Yorker has an article about Intelligent Design. No, not whether the New Yorker (or New York itself, for that matter) is intelligently designed, but about the ID movement and evolution. I had actually read the article and intended to talk about it here, but then I didn’t because of those deadlines I mentioned.

Anyway, it’s a good article, and you can read it at
http://www.newyorker.com/printables/fact/050530fa_fact. You might not like it if you think ID is good science, but it does respectfully lay out some of the main arguments for ID, and then give a science-based critique of them.

The author, H. Allen Orr, also talks a bit about the sometimes rocky relationship between evolution and faith:

The idea that Darwinism is yoked to atheism, though popular, is also wrong. Of the five founding fathers of twentieth-century evolutionary biology—Ronald Fisher, Sewall Wright, J. B. S. Haldane, Ernst Mayr, and Theodosius Dobzhansky—one was a devout Anglican who preached sermons and published articles in church magazines, one a practicing Unitarian, one a dabbler in Eastern mysticism, one an apparent atheist, and one a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and the author of a book on religion and science. Pope John Paul II himself acknowledged, in a 1996 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, that new research “leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Whatever larger conclusions one thinks should follow from Darwinism, the historical fact is that evolution and religion have often coexisted.

And then, in conclusion:

Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science.

I’ve just started reading Kenneth R. Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God, written by an evolutionary biologist who’s also a person of faith. I hope to say more about that later. (But at the rate of 10 minutes a day when I’m on the exercise bike—minus the times when I’m reading my daughter’s Zits cartoon collections instead—it’ll take me a while to finish.)

Icon Wars

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See what computers do at night: http://www.xs4all.nl/~jvdkuyp/flash/see.htm

(Thanks to my brother for sending that one along.)

Meanwhile, back in the Star Wars universe…

While granting tsmacro’s point that Star Wars is really space fantasy, not science fiction, there’s still no reason why they have to get just about everything scientific wrong, whether they need to or not. (I think most of us are willing to accept the eternally-fueled spacecraft, and even the zooming sounds in space. But there’s a lot of other stuff that just seems like careless thinking.) A really fun way to read up on all that is on badastronomy.com, which is always worth looking at anyway. (Thanks to Chet for the suggestion.)

Lest it seem like I’m only interested in cavilling, however, I should say that I really liked General Grievous’s giant speeder wheel. If someone wanted to get me one of those for my birthday (a working model, of course), that would be cool.

Revenge of the Sith

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So last weekend the whole family went to see the new Star Wars, and we had a rousing good time. To my surprise, the theater wasn’t particularly crowded (a rainy Saturday matinee show, just 2 days after the movie opened). We got good seats without knocking ourselves out. Trusty light sabers in hand (younger daughter had been busy custom-manufacturing props), we settled in for the show.

Definitely a major improvement over the last two, and a mostly satisfying completion of this part of the circle. (Satisfying enough that we sat down that evening with a tape of the original and picked up where the new story left off.)

Quarrels and observations:


(It’s not like anything I’m about to say will surprise anyone, because we all know the ending; but still…if you’d like to see it before I talk about the crucial bits, you should stop reading now.)

Aside from the stilted dialogue and predominantly wooden acting (even from the good actors), the only two things that really bothered me…

(I thought you were going to stop reading now. Oh, never mind.)

…were Anakin’s easy conversion by the other Darth, and Obiwan’s leaving him alive in agony on the hot lava (not just stupid, since Obi was trying to make sure the galaxy was rid of the danger, but unJedi-like: he should have finished him off as an act of mercy.)

As for Anakin’s turning, I thought they did a good job of laying the groundwork: fear that he would lose Padme the way he lost his mother, guilt over Windu’s death, distrust of the Jedi, etc. But the final, actual conversion, where he went from “What have I done?” to “Yes, master,” was much too facile. They missed a chance for a really powerful scene, I thought.

Having said all that, you don’t go to see Star Wars for the sensitive acting (not since Alec Guinness, anyway), you go to see it for the larger-than-life story and the visual imagination and the music. And there it delivered.

The political undercurrent was interesting, if unsubtle. The Boston Globe reviewer thought Lucas was making an anti-Bush statement, and that’s definitely one possible reading. The gradual accumulation of power through preying on people’s fear for the safety of the Republic…the fake humility while engaging in deceit…Padme’s comment that this is how democracy is lost, through wild applause (Patriot Act, anyone?)… the war based on pretext…. It could also be seen as a retelling of Hitler’s rise to power (and that real-life similarity is probably the most chilling thing).

One satisfying side note: in the end, Lucas did answer one of the most nagging questions of the series: Why did C3PO not remember Anakin in the original trilogy?

Deadlines, Deadlines

I’ve got deadlines looming, particularly with the Galactica book (oops! I didn’t say that!), so I probably will be posting less for the next few weeks.

But let me leave you with a few cool links. In preparation for the new Star Wars, you should all first watch Store Wars.

And you must, by all means, see George Lucas in Love, if you ever get a chance. (I don’t think you can watch it online, unfortunately.)

Finally, for a more serious look at real space travel—the current state of the U.S. space program, and prospects for the future, there’s an excellent recent article from the Washington Post. (You might have to register to read this. But that’s worth doing anyway.)

Teaching Scientific Thinking

Finally, I’m answering comments that others posted to the entry below, on teaching evolution and Intelligent Design in public schools. If you’re just arriving, you might start by reading the next entry down, and then the comments that others added. I’m starting with a new entry because a lot of visitors don’t drill down to the comments. But take a look: there’s thoughtful discussion there.

Okay. Following my assertion that we ought not to pretend the Intelligent Design contingent doesn’t exist when we teach evolution in schools, Norton said:

High school science…rarely teaches about the process of science. It usually presents the results of scientific research that has been published and evaluated by the scientific community… Evaluating scientific claims is not easy…If we are going to start presenting dubious scientific claims to high school students, we would also need to modify the curriculum to spend considerably more time talking about the philosophy of science and how different claims are evaluated.

Yes, and yes. I think there’s a serious gap in our high school (and middle school) curricula on precisely this score. There might be less time to teach facts if we devoted time to talking about how to assess claims, but I think that’s a tradeoff well worth making. Norton was lucky enough to go to a high school that had a philosophy class, but I doubt that many school do—and even if they did, what percentage of kids would take them?

And yet, all kids are headed into a world that’s full of claims, whether about the latest diet, or UFOs, or Intelligent Design, or how to avoid a heart attack, or the latest from the Hubble telescope. Not all claims are equal. But do we teach kids to distinguish among them? I don’t think so. Not nearly well enough, anyway.

I’m not talking about assessing claims at the PhD level. I’m talking about doing it as ordinary citizens—the way web-savvy people must learn to evaluate the trustworthiness of things they read on the net.

Face it, when we teach science in middle and high school, we’re not teaching most kids to become scientists. We’re teaching them to become informed citizens. They’re going out into a world that’s awash with purported facts, and they aren’t going to have peer-reviewed journals at their sides. But they might have a better chance of applying reasonable judgment to claims if they have some idea of how science is done, and why findings that have passed peer review and been supported by follow-up research are more reliable. Otherwise, why should they believe Discover Magazine over The National Inquirer? Why should they pay attention to the “scientific establishment,” which from time to time appears arrogant, disconnected from ordinary people, and filled with researchers who fake data? Why, in fact, do a large number of people in the U.S. distrust science?

When I suggest that Intelligent Design (ID) ought to be addressed in the school curriculum, I don’t mean to teach it as a co-equal with evolution, but to raise it for discussion in the above context. I wouldn’t mind seeing this happen in middle school. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a unit in the curriculum addressing a range of fringe science, doubtful science, and pseudoscience. Don’t just stand at a distance and dismiss the claims, but talk about where the claims fall short (as they generally do), and how to make reasonable judgments when confronted by claims. And yes, how to recognize the boundaries between faith and science. (Not to set up one as superior to the other, but to clarify that they are different, and they serve different functions in life.)

In short, do a little teaching in how to think.

Evolution and Intelligent Design in the Classroom

I said I was going to write on producing video next, but so much interesting stuff about the Evolution/Intelligent Design controversy in science teaching has crossed my radar screen recently that I just have to hit that first. (My wife says I’m guilty of bait-and-switch. Sigh.)

“The Connection” on NPR had a good segment the other day (which you can listen to online), featuring two biology teachers, one a proponent of teaching evolution only, and the other calling for adding Intelligent Design to the curriculum. Everyone agreed, at least, that you have to make clear what science can and cannot answer. One telephone caller, after noting her own belief in an intelligent designer, went on to say that the discussion of it belongs in the philosophy or religion class, not the science class.

That’s a position I used to hold, but I’m wavering. In one form or another, the belief in a guiding intelligence is a part of the national landscape (whether it’s creationism and biblical literalism, or so-called Intelligent Design theory, which claims to apply scientific inquiry to the question of whether evolution is a blind, random process or a guided process). I forget the numbers from the latest polls, but a huge majority of Americans believe in a creative intelligence behind it all. That’s not going to go away, and how we treat it affects how scientific inquiry is understood and perceived in the U.S. I don’t think we’re doing our young people any favors by teaching the theory of evolution without any reference to the other viewpoints.

My friend Rich says if he were a science teacher, he wouldn’t want to touch Intelligent Design—because, for one thing, you’d risk being seen as attacking people’s religious beliefs, and for another, you’d be implicitly legitimizing fake science, or at least empty science. (God of the Gaps: if you can’t explain the complexity, it must be the design-work of God.) I grant the danger. I haven’t seen anything convincing yet in the science writing of Intelligent Design proponents. (For a good read on this, look at http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/nhmag.html, where three proponents of Intelligent Design present their views, each responded to by a proponent of evolution. One of the respondents is Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist from Brown and author of Finding Darwin’s God, who notes his own philosophical belief in a designer, but finds no merit in the scientific claims of the ID writer.)

But the thing is: What a great opportunity to teach real scientific and critical thinking! Why can’t the question be raised? (Beyond the political agenda—more on that in a second.) Maybe, probably, it is outside the realm of what science can or cannot answer. But how will we know if we don’t ask the question? How can students understand the strengths and limitations of science if we rule one of the most interesting (and toughest) questions out of the arena? How can they learn to evaluate scientific claims if they don’t look at controversial claims as well as widely accepted claims? If there’s any value to the scientific claims of the ID people, let’s look for it. If there’s no value, let’s show students why.

Heretic! you say. How dare you insult my religion?! Wait a minute…who said anything about your religion? I’m not attacking your religion. I didn’t even mention it. We’re talking about scientific evidence or lack of evidence. Maybe science can’t show any evidence of God; that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, it just means we have no testable, repeatable scientific evidence. Or maybe we just haven’t found it yet. What would really be an insult would be to dismiss your claims of evidence without even discussing them.

Well, okay—maybe it’s not going to be that easy. But how easy is the present situation?

The real thorn here is the real or perceived hidden agenda. Is all this just a ruse to get religion—specifically, conservative Christian religion—into the schools? For some proponents, I’m sure it is. For others, I don’t know. It’s a real danger. The religious divide in America is threatening to tear this country apart. And I don’t mean the divide between Christians and those stinkin’ secular humanists—I mean the divide between those who want to impose their own particular brand of faith on the rest of us, and…well, the rest of us. And the rest of us includes Christians, Jews, Muslims…and yes, secular humanists.

Are we caving to the agenda if we talk about intelligent design (lower case) in the same classroom as evolution? Maybe. But if we bar the doors and hope they go away, aren’t we just deepening the divide? What are kids to think who believe in ID or creationism, but aren’t given the tools to examine for themselves whether it’s real science, or another kind of thinking camouflaged by the words of science?

It’s not an easy question. But if we don’t teach the thinking skills, we’re in trouble.

For more on this, read The Slate’s What Matters in Kansas: The evolution of creationism and Creation vs. Intelligent Design: Is There a Difference?

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow—Unless You Videotape

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Well, the play is over, and I am reaaally tired. The play was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” by our local children’s theater. (“Children” being defined as from about ages 7 to 17. A wonderful chance for kids of various ages to work together, become friends with each other, miss each other when it’s over, and look forward to the next time they’re together again. This group draws from a number of towns, so it really does break down boundaries. And because most of the work is done by parent volunteers, it’s affordable for everyone.)

But I digress. The play was terrific. Both my daughters had a great time—one as Philostrate, and one as Quince—both parts usually for guys, but who cares. I’m the only one for whom it’s not over, actually. I videotaped it, and now I get to make DVDs for all the families. I bring this up mainly as a lead-in to a future blog entry, which I don’t have energy to write now. (I’ve got that book to finish, you know?)

People keep asking me how I get from tape in the camcorder to video DVDs, just using my computer. So that’s what I want to write about next.