Summer Stuff

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We’ve been entertaining a young nephew and niece in our house for the last few days, which has been great fun, a real change of pace, and helps explain why I feel so tired at the end of the day. Actually got to the beach in Gloucester—first real summer thing I’ve done this year (unless you call home repair and mowing the lawn summer stuff)—and let me tell you, that water was cold! The beach was beautiful, though, and it always restores me to see the ocean. Today we took the Boston harbor boat out to George’s Island and traipsed around the old fort. It was fun. And kudos to my daughters, who were a great help in keeping up with their two very energetic young cousins.

Home Renovations & Homeschool R Us

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Since last I logged on, I’ve mostly been trying to keep up with cascading home renovation chores. That, and being on call for homeschool duties. (Both girls are taking online courses through the Virtual High School. One is taking algebra to catch up on some ground lost last year, and maybe get ahead. The other is taking a chemistry review as prep for an environmental science course next year. And I am being forced to remember things about both subjects that I haven’t thought about in many years.)

But the renovation—aughh. Started with a kitchen floor needing to be replaced. Then a sink cabinet. Then something else, and another. The first parts we paid people to do, but we’ve been working on our own since February. And now the kitchen is almost done—but the hallway wall plaster is disintegrating, and we have company coming with small children, so that has to be repaired. And…oh, the list goes on.

Taking my frustrations outside last weekend, I tried to take down a mulberry tree that’s been plaguing me for years, growing right up against the corner of our garage. I’ve never used a chain saw before, but I rented one and had at the tree. I should have saved my money. That soft-wooded tree defeated the chain saw. It has so much liquid inside it that I couldn’t get more than a couple of inches into the wood before the saw just spun and smoked and skidded over the wet wood. I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t believe it. Out there the tree still stands, with a wedge sort of cut out of it. It looks like it was attacked by a beaver with bad dentures. Hand saw next. Either that, or I swallow my pride and pay someone to remove it.

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia — at Boston’s Publick Theater

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The other night I went with my daughter’s drama workshop group to see the opening performance of Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard, at an outdoor theater in Boston called the Publick Theater. It was a wonderful performance of a witty and funny play, with two parallel plots set in the same English country house two hundred years apart, involving Fermat’s Last Theorem, the thermodynamics of steam engines, a literary detective story, a possible murder involving Lord Byron, and naturally, sex. It’s one of those plays that you have to work hard to keep up with—but it’s a pleasure, because it’s so much fun. I hope to see it again during its run, to catch all the details I missed the first time around. Terrific cast.

For any of you who are in the Boston area, I strongly recommend it. Arcadia is playing now, and off and on through the summer. (See the Publick Theater web site.)

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 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.

Icon Wars

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See what computers do at night:

(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, 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.

Faramir — or Jar-Jaromir?

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No, tsmacro, you weren’t the only one bothered by what the LOTR movie did to Faramir! (I’m responding, by the way, to a comment posted to the blog entry directly below this one.)

Have you seen Jar-Jaromir? You must look. Click the link.

Oh—and I’m glad you like the blog!

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