Angie's Leap

My dive into blogging: music, technology, saving money

Convert DVDs to play on iPad for free

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A  friend recently asked me how to convert DVDs to digital formats so that her daughter could watch them on her iPad during a road trip. I remember when some DVDs would come with free digital copies. Now I see Walmart and others are charging for the service.

Following is a tutorial on how to install the open-source application HandBrake and get those digital copies free.

1. Use the link provided above to download the software. There are other links using HandBrake in their URLs, but they’re ads for other paid programs, and some of them may contain malware. This tutorial focuses on the Mac installation, but Windows is available as well.

2. Give your computer permission to download the app. This may mean temporarily turning your firewall off under System Preferences. When you’re done with the installation, remember to turn your firewall back on.

3. After unpackaging the software, you’ll get a screen like the one below. Now you just have to show the app the movie you want to encode. Click “Source” and find your DVD.

4. I select my DVD, “Cooley High,” from the source pane to the left of the window that appears after I click “Source.” :

Locate your DVD (source)

5. Next, click on the Video_TS file. Click “Open” in the lower right corner of the window after the Video_TS file is opened.

Open Video_TS folder

6. A bump in the road: My older DVD is 32-bit, while the current version of HandBrake is 64-bit.  I click on the button to the far right, download a software package, and in three minutes, I’m back in business.

7. I click “Start,” and the DVD encoding begins.

8. The flyout menu to the right shows my encoding options. I set them for my iPad. Settings are available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Apple TV and Android devices as well.

9. A cute alert that my digital copy is ready. The 1-hour, 47-minute, 27-second flick took 38 minutes to convert.

10.  “Cooley High” is ready to transfer to the iPad.

11. Whoomp! There it is…

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scattered pennies

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Chipotle’s penny antics and customer (diss)service

The hubbub this week about Chipotle “rounding up” customer bills, in effect cheating customers by pennies at a time, reminded me of a savings fundamental as well as my own similar experience. One lesson is clear: count your change. Yet I can understand how easily this basic savings no-brainer can be ignored in our hustle-and-bustle society.

The whole incident also made me think about the level of poor customer service I’m willing to accept and where I draw the line. (Yeah, downright ripping me off will get me off your customer list for sure.)

During the time I was taking classes downtown I had two choices for my morning java jolt if I was unable to grab a cup at home: Mickey D’s and a doughnut/coffee chain which shall remain unnamed. Mickey D’s offered the better deal: $1 for a  cup of Joe, any size. I usually kept a bottle of my favorite coffee flavoring in the fridge at school to spice it up, and I’d be good. But I liked the doughnut chain’s coffee better, and they had more flavor additions as well. My point is that I was willing to spend a little more for something I like more — even though this doughnut chain’s line sometimes stretched outside the door.

Then I noticed my receipts and changed weren’t jibing at the doughnut shop. At first I thought it was accidental. After it happened more than once, I knew it was no accident. So one morning I called the cashier on it, showing her the receipt and the change in my hand. I didn’t care how many people were standing outside in line; as a person in the story said, it was the principle of the thing.

The cashier told me they didn’t have any pennies. Right. I shook my head and told her I needed her to get my money right. This chick, who claimed to have no pennies, then proceeded to give me about 32 cents worth of Abe Lincolns. And I proceeded to count them out on the counter, one by one.

I won’t be back to that shop again. I thought about all those people they probably were getting away with ripping off daily, all because folks are too busy to pay attention. Haste makes waste, indeed. It can also  make a nice profit for an unscrupulous business/cashier. A friend back in high school told me he worked at a store where cashiers worked a similar scam.

I had contemplated crossing this doughnut shop off my list before because a shop at another location wasn’t getting the coffee flavors right. Maybe it was skimping, just putting a drop in when a large cup needed more; I just knew I wasn’t tasting any flavor. The second time this happened I stopped going there.

I could go on with more poor customer service stories, but I really wonder if businesses are losing out as a result of such practices. Do they care about how many good customers are lost, or are these casualties just factored into the cost of doing business? More important, where do you, as a consumer, draw the line and stop patronizing an establishment with poor customer service?

3 favorite R&B angels

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Can’t touch these R&B queens when it comes to striking an emotional chord. Two Motown divas and one homie from the Chi, representing the best of the Midwest. One “Angel” reminds me of my mom, who folks used to stop on the street when I was a girl, swearing up and down she was Aretha. Chaka’s “Angel” reminds me of my daughter, the drama queen. Anita’s “Angel” reminds me of being in love. Enjoy.

“Angel” by Aretha Franklin

Singer Chaka Khan

“Angel” by Chaka Khan

Singer Anita Baker

“Angel” by Anita Baker

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Read offline, pocket the savings

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Being able to read my saved Web pages offline has been invaluable, especially since I’ve suspended my iPad data plan. If my tablet’s 3G connection ever becomes reliable, perhaps I’ll reactivate, but for now I’m saving that $15 a month.  My Pocket app has really come through in the clutch when I’ve been stuck in boring places with nothing good to read and no Internet connection. Yes, my cell phone data connection is horrible, too.

Previously called Read It Later,  Pocket has been on my iPad for a while, but I never used it much since Safari’s Reading List popped up in my toolbar. What I didn’t learn till after I shut down my data plan was that the reading list isn’t available offline. Pocket is the perfect workaround.

My only criticism is that it’s a pain installing Pocket’s “bookmarklet” into iPad’s Safari browser. As you’ll see in the screen shots below, Safari’s bookmark dropdown menu covers up Pocket’s installation directions. This might not be an issue with other iPad browsers, but Safari is the one I use most often.  I’ve included a screen shot of the unobscured directions. By contrast, installing the bookmark into your laptop or desktop browser is a snap.

Once installed in your browsers, the app shines. Click on the “Save to Pocket” icon on your iPad, laptop or desktop and start saving your pages. Pocket boasts integration with more than 300 user-created apps, including two of my favorites, Flipboard and Twitter.  One important note: You can’t view your Favorites list offline. Keep stuff you want to read offline in the Home queue.

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It’s easy to forget sometimes that the world wide web has been around for more than two decades now, or that it has caused massive and ongoing disruption of almost every form of content from books and newspapers to music and movies. In the early 1990s, only a few really foresaw that kind of revolution occurring in media, and as former journalist Mark Potts notes in a recent blog post, one of those who looked into the future with some accuracy was the former managing editor of the Washington Post, who wrote a memo to the paper’s executives describing what this future might look like and how it would change the industry.

Even more interesting than what this former editor got right, however, are the things that he and almost every other visionary completely missed — and one of the most important was the way that the…

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No appetite for ‘The Hunger Games’

Thought about renting or buying “The Hunger Games” until I recalled the dark subject matter. Obviously, the film has some merit, given its wild popularity. I understand the book series is a hit as well. The plot description brought to mind Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery.

Just wondering what drew folks to see this flick. I like the warm and fuzzy movies ( “ET” is one of my all-time favorites), but I see the merit in dark films. I just have to prepare myself mentally. Someone tricked me into seeing “Silence of the Lambs” (and the thought of certain scenes still gives me the creeps.) It took me months to watch “Schindler’s List” (surprisingly uplifting), “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

So what’s the deal with “The Hunger Games” ?

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School’s out!

Yesterday, I finished up my last Web design/development course at Computer Training Source in Chicago. I walked away grateful, relieved and happy to be putting my skills to work.  My journey through the program was not what I expected, but I’d recommend it to any “downsized” worker who qualifies. I put “downsized” in quotes because that’s one of the terms I’ve learned is preferable to saying you were laid off. Oh yeah, my program included marketing pointers, too. ( I was listening, Maureen).

Seriously, as copy desks are wiped out in newspapers across the country, marketing has become more important than ever.  I’m told that potential employers equate “laid off” with poor performance, but they understand “downsizing” happens to the best of us.

My tuition at CTS was funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act, and I jumped through plenty of hoops to get into the program. At one WIA orientation, a woman explained that Uncle Sam didn’t have dollars to waste. Folks would get it into their heads that they wanted to go back to school after viewing one of those vocational school commercials from a couch at home, she said. They’d go to school, maybe because they were bored. And many of them would end up right back on that couch in front of the TV. Hence, the rigorous WIA program screening process. That’s fine with me. I’m not trying to be an overeducated couch potato.

One of the steps in securing a government voucher for training is interviewing potential schools. I looked at three. I love the traditional college learning environment, but knew that wouldn’t work when I found a job. I wouldn’t expect a new boss to fit my work schedule around school, and I was determined to finish school. At CTS, I was able to rearrange my classes around a contract job I found shortly after school began.

I went to school two to three days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There were morning and afternoon breaks and a one-hour lunch. Most classes were two-to-four-day sessions ranging from beginning to advanced levels. Learning via the CTS method is 30 percent classroom; 70 percent practice. In a university environment, I’d say I learned 70 percent in the classroom; 30 percent on my own. I was a little unprepared for this reality. I tried to take in as much as I could at once: watching the classroom screen, my computer monitor, following the text, listening, taking notes. Some instructors didn’t mind audio recordings; some did.

Instructor presentations are done via projectors displaying the Windows operating system. On the Mac (students have the option to choose either OS), commands and the screen view are slightly different. Inevitably, I would miss something. This got a bit frustrating, until an instructor gave me this: Think of class as a demo class, like a cooking class. You’re not trying to make the dish with the chef; you’re getting the idea now and cooking it up later. Thanks, Bob.

A few of my takeaways, after 240 classroom hours:

  • Learning a content management system is easy. If you’re  on Facebook, you’ve learned one already; WordPress is another. I worked on a cloud-based one at my old newspaper.  Many of the job ads for editors require experience on a CMS.

  • I don’t want to be a Web developer. I’m a techie, but not that much of a techie. Of course, understanding what MySQL, Javascript and PHP are all about is helpful. I learn best by visualizing how all parts of a system function together. Querying databases isn’t my thing. But I get it.

  • Web design is fun. Web building, not so much.  HTML is the framework for building sites. But using CSS is where things get interesting. CSS is the decoration. I like decorating.  For me, building sites from scratch is like building a house from the ground up. I’d rather pick the furnishings. Programs such as Dreamweaver let you customize to your heart’s content.

  • I ain’t afraid of no code. None of this technical stuff is difficult to learn. It’s the repetition that makes it stick.

All in all, I’d say Uncle Sam didn’t waste his money on me. I have a much deeper understanding of the Internet revolution that’s turned the way we communicate with each other upside down, and I’m a better editor for the training.

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My ringtones are back . . . Yesss!

I’ve mentioned before that I love music, and one of the little ways I enjoy it is by making my own ringtones.  This is no big deal for iPhone users, who now can make ringtones in a snap, but back in the Dark Ages we BlackBerry users didn’t have a place to shop for ringtones, let alone an easy means to make our own.

So I was stuck with canned sounds, while it seemed everybody else had cool ringtones. Until I discovered Audacity, free open-source software for recording and editing sounds.

For non-techie types, making tones on Audacity is a bit much, especially since there are probably easier tools to work with now. But back when I started doing this, the ends more than justified the means. I used the songs I wanted from my music collection, got the snippets I wanted from them, and I didn’t have to pay a dime.

Even though I no longer have my BlackBerry (still like it better than the iPhone, but that’s another story), I still enjoy making my own tones and adding them to whatever no-contract phone I’m carrying at the moment.  Now that my son makes beats, I tote them around on my phone and turn them into tones, too.

I’ve established that a sister will go to some lengths to have her music how she wants it, when she wants it.  So let’s just say I was a little annoyed when out of the blue I started hearing “Verizon Airwaves” instead of Bobby Caldwell when my mom called, perplexed at hearing those same “Airwaves” instead of  Usher when my daughter rang,  and downright angry when my son’s hot beat was replaced with “Airwaves” for all incoming calls.  A disaster, I tell ya.

An investigation revealed that the tones were on my memory card, but the phone just wasn’t reading them. A little Googling  showed me that I could format my card (basically, restore it to factory specs), but that would  also mean erasing all my data. Since my contacts are automatically backed up through an app, and I have copies of my pictures and tones on my computer, I thought this might be the answer.

Then I read that Windows users could format their cards via computer, and I Googled to find out how Mac users could do the same.  That’s when I discovered another wonderful use for Mac’s Disk Utility application.  Here’s what I did: 1) Took the micro SD memory card out of the phone;  2)  Inserted the memory card into a micro SD adapter and inserted the adapter into my Targus card reader/writer; 3)  Inserted the card reader into my laptop’s USB slot; 4) Started up Disk Utility , selected the card reader disk and clicked “Repair Disk”

Et voila!  When I put the memory card back in the phone, the tones were recognized, “Airwaves” were banished, and all was right with my world.

A song in the key of me

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        “But you can bet your life times that and twice its double, that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed.”

Everyone who knows me well knows I love music. Don’t know what I’d do without it. For the last couple weeks I’ve been hearing Stevie’s jam “As” ringing through my head. And the lyrics of that song have applied to so many aspects of my life lately, it’s stunning.

Take this UNITY conference. It’s no accident that I was blessed with the chance to go network with other journalists in Vegas, practically for free, right after a job contract had ended. Literally, I learned of this opportunity the next day. When He closes a door, He opens a window, indeed.

Fast forward to my Day 2 of the conference. A reporter friend of mine hooked me up with a plethora of options for enjoying Vegas on the cheap. Stomach growling and armed with her list, I hit the Strip.  I got my grub on at the Flamingo hotel’s breakfast buffet. Cheryl, it was as delicious as you described, but for me those buffets are never a bargain because I can rarely make it past seconds. But after walking practically the length of the Strip for a meal, I was as hungry as I would ever be.

The walk there was relatively cool (considering that the temp soared to 114 degrees later that day). Basically, the joggers and I (and Elvis) had the Strip to ourselves in the pre-8 a.m. hour.

The adventure began as I headed back south on the Strip en route to my hotel. Man, was it nice to be able to stop and smell the flowers. I took my time and absorbed everything. Sights. Sounds. Smells. I saw stories everywhere: from the talented street performers in front of the 24-hour Walgreens to the mall where I spent way too much money on bath products.

I did some impromptu interviews and snapped so many photos that I filled up the memory cards on both my camera and cell phone. I wondered if my long-dormant passion for reporting was being reawakened, or whether I was just feeling a rush from shopping. Whatever it was, I wanted to document it and share  it.

I thought about my blog topics: music, technology and saving money. Check, check, check. It was all right in front of me. He does know exactly where he wants you to be placed. Only God could bless me with such a revelation in “Sin City.”

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