The non-stick coating is a carcinogen.
My friend Dave, has a blog over on MSN Spaces, which is a Microsoft owned site. I read his blog regularly and have subscribed to the RSS feed for it. I read his blog and subscribe to the RSS feed through Firefox, a NON-Microsoft browser. Now in the past, Microsoft has always had a serious case of 'tunnel-vision' when it comes to web sites. They seem to design their websites intentionally to only work in Internet Explorer, thier web browser. This fact has often caused Microsoft owned web sites to either only partially work or to not work at all in non-Microsoft browsers.
The RSS feed from MSN Spaces frequently fails to work in Firefox with some kind of XML parser error. Every other RSS feed that I use in Firefox works perfectly though. This leads me to believe that the problem lies with MSN Spaces and not with Firefox itself. Recently, however, it seems like Microsoft has been making an effort to improve their Firefox compatibility. The MSN Spaces RSS feed seems to work more often than it used to and several of their newer sites are much more capable in Firefox.
Recently, Microsoft rolled out some 'improvements' to the MSN Spaces site. I don't use it much so I never really tried any of these improvements. I just found a major problem though. While the RSS feeds work now, you can't post comments in Firefox! This is a big hole! Microsoft, fix this right away! This is unacceptable!
My first 'day' in Paris was one VERY long day... A day that was closer to 2 days without any sleep.
I woke up Friday morning around 730AM. I went to work until about 1230PM. Went home and prepared everything for the trip. By 2PM I was on my way to Miami International to board the 6:05PM plane. My goal was to leave by 2PM so I could be there by 3PM. They say that you should arrive for international flights at least 3 hours early, so I figured for a 6PM flight, I should get there by 3PM. I got there by 3PM. My parents dropped me off at the airport and I went in. By around 430PM, I was checked in, through security and waiting at the gate. By 515PM or so, I was boarding the plane. By 620PM or so, we were lifting off. For the next 9 hours we were flying. We were scheduled to arrive in Paris at 9AM Saturday morning Paris time. Paris is 6 hours ahead of Miami, so that works out to an arrival of 3AM Miami time. During this 9 hour flight I got maybe 1-2 hours of sleep. It's very difficult to sleep in coach with the cramped seats, the constant noise of the engines, the constant distraction of people in front and behind you bumping your seats etc.
We arrived in Paris right on schedule. By around 930AM Paris time, I was off the plane. Then another hour or so to work through customs (no problem), and to get my luggage (slow!). By now it's around 1030AM Paris time. (430AM Miami time). I get my luggage and head off to try to find the train station to hop a train into Paris. Naturally, the train station was on the other side of the huge airport, so I had a long walk ahead of me. Thankfully, my luggage had wheels so it was a simple roll down the aisles and I was at the train station. The train station also had escalators so getting between levels was no problem. I found the train with a little help, bought my ticket and was on my way. A good 45 minutes later, the train arrives in the main train station in Paris. From there, I buy a subway ticket and take the subway to the plaza where my hotel was. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I had already planned out this route ahead of time and knew exactly where to go. I was at my hotel and checked in my about 1130AM Paris time. (730AM Miami time). I've now been up 24 hours so far with only 1-2 hours of sleep. I'm feeling fine. Oddly enough not tired at all.
I've just arrived in Paris. I have no clue where the hell anything is, I don't speak the language and its lunch time. What am I going to do? So I set out from my hotel to explore the Place de Republique (the plaza where my hotel was located). This was a large plaza full of many stores, restraunts etc. I ended up eating at, of all places McDonalds. My first meal in a foreign country was in McDonalds! Why in the hell would a health nut like me eat in an 'evil' place like that for lunch? Desparation. I knew the menu and knew what the hell I was getting. I can be adventurous later! I ordered by burger and 'fried potatoes' there and went upstairs to eat. Interestingly enough, this McDonalds offered free WiFi service in the restaraunt. Too bad I didn't have a wireless PDA or I would have sat in there and played on the Internet for a bit.
After completing my lunch, I head back to the hotel to plan my day. I'm already somewhat familiar with the subway system there, since I'd researched this stuff before I went. I decided that the Eiffel Tower would be my first stop. I hopped on the subway and headed off to the subway station nearest the tower. I ended up at a station a couple of blocks from the tower. So I started walking towards the tower. Now getting lost in Paris is VERY easy. I got lost several times while I was there. Missing the Eiffel tower though is damn near impossible. That thing is huge! You can't really appreciate the shear size of that thing unless you are there. It is 900 feet tall (nearly as tall as the Sears Tower in Chicago). That's 90 stories tall! You can't miss it. After a brief stop at a souveneir stand to buy a couple typical tourist souveneirs I arrive at the tower. There are two HUGE lines. It takes me some time to figure out that one line is for the elevator up (bigger line, 7 euros per person in cost) and the line for the stairs up (smaller line, 3.80 euros per person in cost). I didn't fee like waiting in the elevator line so I got in the cheaper and faster stairs line. I was through that line in maybe 15 minutes and on my way up the stairs. Now this was not an easy task! This was 680 iron stairs out in the open air, on a windy day in 30-35 degrees weather! Needless to say, I was puffing away, and out of breath by the time I reached the top. I spent the next several hours exploring the upper levels of the tower. There's a lot to see up there. There are two levels of the tower you can get to. (well 3 actually, but the very top level was closed). There was an ice scating rink up there with some kids skating around. There was a gift shop to look around in. There was a snack shop to buy food at. There was even a post office inside the upper levels of the tower. One of the typical tourist routines is to buy a postcard up there and mail it from the Eiffel Tower post office. This means the reciever of the post card gets a post card stamped as being mailed from the Eiffel Tower. I bought a couple of post cards and mailed them back home from the post office, like a good little tourist. The view from up there was incredible! After a few hours there, I was done and I climbed down the stairs and hopped the subway home to the hotel. It was now about 6pm Paris time (12pm Miami time.) I grabbed a sandwich for dinner from one of the sandwich stands in the plaza. Along with that sandwich I bought a bottle of Vittel mineral water, purely by chance. I wanted something to drink and that was the only water they had. My God, that water was good! I ended up drinking a lot of Vittel during the week. I went back to the hotel, ate my sandwich for dinner and relaxed a bit, watching the news. The news was ALL there was to watch. I could watch CNN, BBC News, or Sky News and that's it. Everything else was in French (or Arabic. Was I watching Al-Jazeera???)
I ended up going to bed at about 9PM. I was so exhausted by this point, I couldn't hardly walk, let alone stay awake. I'd now been awake 32 hours straight. In that time, I'd spent half a day at work, 9 hours on a plane, an hour on a train, 30 minutes on subways, and several hours climbing up and down 680 iron stairs! What a long day that was!
Approaching the Eiffel Tower
As you can no doubt tell from the two brief blog entries before this one, I was just in Paris. I got back yesterday after spending a week there. The following batch of blogs will be some of my thoughts, photos, and observations of things in France.
On Friday, January 20, 2006, I flew out of Miami International Airport on my way to my first ever trip to a foreign country. It was the first time I've ever been to a country other than the US, where I was born and raised. What an educational experience that was!
I flew out on American Airlines in a seat in coach. 9 hours of being crammed into a very tight little seat on a plane. Literally, a 'Greyhound with wings.' The flight over wasn't bad. The plane was packed but I didn't have anyone sitting in the seat next to me. I was probably the only person on the plane who had an empty seat next to him. It was great. I put my carry on bag on the seat next to me and had easy access to all my 'time-killing' stuff in the bag. I was able to someone stretch out so I didn't feel too cramped. The 9 hours passed by fairly fast.
Rick's Traveling Tip #1: Noise cancelling headphones are fantastic! If you are going to be spending any time on a plane, buy a pair of these things right now. When you are on that plane, all you hear is the roar of the engines. It makes it hard to hear the headphones, whether you are watching the movie or listing to an iPod or whatever. The noise cancelling headphones did a fantastic job of cancelling out 90% of of the engine roar while I was in the air. You can even just put the headphones on, turn on the noise-cancelling feature and NOT listen to anything and it does a great job of cancelling out the noise. If you want to sleep on a plane, these would be a huge help. The only change I would have made is to buy a pair of headphones that go over the top of your head, instead of the behind the head style that I had. Since they went behind the head, it made it difficult to rest your head against the seat. The bar of the headphones in the back of your head caused the seat to push the headphones partially off your ears, reducing the noise-cancelling affect. By getting the 'over the head' style, this eliminates the bar on the back of your head getting in the way.
I'll discuss Saint Chapelle more in a future blog, but here's a quick photo of me there. Saint Chapelle is the steeple in the distance on the left in the background.
Below is a photo of me in front of Notre Dame cathedral. I'll mention more about Notre Dame in a future blog...
I added a bunch of new programming links to my Link Blog. Head on over and take a look, if you are interested in that kind of thing.
Welcome to 2006!
I got an iPod video a few days ago. I've been trying to figure out how to copy DVDs to the iPod Video so I have something to watch on that trip to Paris, that I'm taking. This morning, I figured it out and successfully copied a DVD to the iPod. Here's how to do it. Note that these instructions are for Windows. I haven't quite figured out how to do this on the Mac yet. Once I do, I'll post a follow-up blog with those instructions.
Download the following two programs:
- DVD Shrink. You can find this by doing a Google search. You will need this program to copy the movie off of the DVD and onto your hard drive, breaking the copy protection in the process.
- Videora iPod Converter. This freeware program will give you a one-click way of converting the video from the DVD into iPod format.
Now follow these steps to setup DVD Shrink. You only need to to this once.
- Install DVD Shrink.
- Run DVD Shrink.
- Click on the Edit menu, and choose Preferences.
- Click on the "Output Files" tab.
- Make sure the option that says "Split VOB files into 1GB size chunks (recommended)" is NOT checked.
- Click the 'Ok' button to save these changes.
Now follow these steps to setup Videora iPod Converter. You only need to do this once.
- Install Videora iPod Converter
- Run Videora
- Click on Setup and set the directory you want to output the finished movie files to.
Now for the actual copying.
- Run DVD Shrink
- Insert the DVD you want to copy.
- Click on the 'Open Disc' button in the toolbar. Then click 'ok' on the dialog box that comes next.
- DVD Shrink will spend 1-2 minutes analyzing your DVD disk. Once it is done, it will display the contents of the DVD.
- Click on the 'Backup!' button on the toolbar.
- In the 'Target Device' tab, under 'Select backup target', choose 'Hard Disk Folder'.
- Under 'Select target folder for DVD output files', select a directory to extract the DVD contents to on your hard drive. Note that you must make sure to enter a DIFFERENT directory here for each DVD you extract. If you don't do this, you could end up overwriting the contents of a previously extracted DVD.
- Click the 'OK' button.
- DVD shrink will then spend the next 30-60 minutes extracting the contents of the DVD to your hard drive. Just keep an eye on it and come back when it's done.
- Once DVD Shrink says it is done, you can close DVD Shrink.
- Open Windows Explorer and browse to the directory where you just extracted the DVD to.
- Underneath that directory where you just extracted the DVD files, browse to the 'VIDEO_TS' directory.
- Look through all the files with a VOB extension. The largest file with a VOB extension should be the movie. This file will likely be several GB is size.
- Rename this large VOB file so that the filename is of the format NameOfMovie.VOB
- Run Videora iPod Converter.
- Click on Convert
- Click on the 'One-Click Transcode' button.
- Browse to the directory where you have that large VOB file, and select that file. You can select several VOB files at once here if you want and it will convert all of them in a batch.
- Click the 'Open' button. Videora will then spend a while converting the video to iPod format.
- When Videora is done, go to your output directory, and copy the new MP4 file for the movie into your iTunes directory.
- Import the video into your iTunes library.
- Copy the video to your iPod, using iTunes.
Done! You can now go to the 'Movies' section of the Video menu on the iPod and watch the movie. Enjoy!
The next new gadget that I got is my favorite new gadget by far. This is my shiny black 60GB iPod video! Time for a little review...
The iPod is impressively small and light. The 60GB 5G iPod is slimmer than my old 4G 40GB iPod. This size improvement solves my biggest gripe about the old 60GB iPod Photo. That thing was just too fat to be useable. (Not to mention expensive).
The screen is large, bright, and very easy on the eyes. There is ample room for menus, album art, the little games that come with it, etc. The video playback is also quite good. There is a very slight delay (1-2 seconds) between the time you select a video to play and when it starts playing. This is different from the music playing, which seems to have no delay. The delay is not bad though. I've been searching for free video content to put on it, and I'm discovering an impressive selection of free video out there for the taking. I'll cover more of that in a later blog.
Now for my gripes about the new iPod...
Video organization features are sorely lacking. While there are plenty of ways to organize music on it (by artist, by album, by genre, by podcast, etc.) there is very little of this for video. About all you have for video are: music videos, TV shows, video podcasts and 'movies'. With the exception of 'movies' these are largely 'canned' categories that are out of your control. They are filled up by stuff you download from iTunes, whether it be paid content (music videos and TV shows) or free content (video podcasts). Everything else gets lumped into the 'movies' category. If you have a large collection of videos that you've put on the iPod from other sources, they all get stuck into one big list. It can be hard to find the video you are looking for from this big list. All this list shows is basically the filename of the video, minus the extension. Since videos often have pretty obscure filenames, it makes it hard to find things. It does not appear that the iPod takes into consideration any of the meta-data on the videos. Where is the ability to list by artist? Where is the ability to list by 'album'? Where is the ability to list by genre? All these types of metadata can be set in iTunes on the videos themselves. Why is this missing? I suspect that this problem will be fixed by a firmware upgrade soon. (January 10th perhaps?)
There is no developer API at all for the iPod (of any generation). Why??? This thing has a beautiful, full color screen. I can imagine a lot of ways that large color screen and large capacity HD (60GB!) could be put to good use. I can imagine many, many more games developed for the iPod. I can imagine a nice e-book reader using that big screen. I can imagine adding the ability to play other video and audio codecs to the iPod (Plays for Sure, Ogg Vorbis, Divx etc.) The new iPod has a screen resolution equal to the resolution on a standard TV. Think about all those classic arcade games that could be ported to the iPod. There are millions of these things out there! That's an instant market for selling new software that Apple has a monopoly on! Come on Apple! Take a page from the Microsoft book and release an add-on to XCode that allows this. There are games provided with the iPod, so there must exist internal to Apple an API for this. Release this API to the public! I can see this API potentially putting every other PDA (Palm, Windows Mobile) out of business in short order.
Poor separation between video content and audio content. This is as much a gripe with iTunes as it is with the iPod. In iTunes 6.0, you can create a playlist which contains both video and audio files. I think this is a mistake. Video and audio podcasts are separated. Playlists should be too. Granted, iTunes does warn you if you try to do this, but it still allows it. It should not.
No subfolders in playlists. Again, this is an iTunes as much as iPod gripe. Why is it you can organize your playlists in subfolders in iTunes and yet when you copy them to the iPod, they all end up in one great big list? You should be able to create subfolders for your playlists in iTunes as well.
iTunes is a poor name for the app now. It manages more than just 'tunes' now. It manages video as well. Maybe rename it to 'iMedia' or something like that. Also, whenever you copy video to the iPod using iTunes, it still says 'Copying Songs...'. That should be changed to 'Copying Media' or separate messages saying 'Copying Songs', 'Copying podcasts', 'Copying video', and 'Copying video podcasts'...