Getting Ready for the Big Trip

I’m starting to get things ready for my conference, which runs from March 1st to the 5th. Clark and I will be flying into Orlando on Saturday and will be staying in Port Canaveral until our ship takes off on Monday. I’m going to do my best to stay connected with Casey while I’m gone. I will have my cell phone while I’m still stateside and we’re supposed to have free WiFi Internet access for the duration of the trip. This would at least let me send emails and IMs, and maybe even talk using iChat A/V. We gave it a try tonight and the voice conferencing seemed to work pretty well (while in the same apartment, anyway). Here’s hoping!

I borrowed EduTech’s mini PowerBook for the trip. I love using it (it’s the exact same model as Casey’s, but with a smaller hard drive) because if its small size, long battery life, and its ability to run all of the web programming software I might need for the conference. I installed Mac OS 10.3 since I’m now used to all of its features and benefits and am also trying out a new blog client called ecto. I’m actually using it right now to write this post. So far, I like what I see.

I also want to take along some movies and/or episodes of Futurama or The Simpons, but don’t want to worry about losing our DVDs. This gave me a good excuse to try ripping DVDs. What does that mean? DVDs are compressed in a video format called MPEG-2, which delivers pretty good quality (DIRECTV and the Dish Network both use MPEG-2 for their digital satellite services). However, the larger problem is that DVDs are encrypted with a scheme called CSS, Content Scrambling System, an apparently weak method of protecting the content. So weak, in fact, that CSS was broken by a 16 year old Norwegian programmer in 1999. The very short and elegant code written by this guy allowed the contents of DVDs to be decrypted, after which the contents were totally accessible.

So anyway, I downloaded several Mac OS programs that decrypt disks and copy the contents to the hard drive, but this leaves very large files (DVDs can hold up to 4.7 GB of data). These files (.VOB) are actually playable in the Apple DVD player, but are a bit impractial. Making them smaller requires re-encoding and re-compressing the video in another format. Most solutions required two programs and two steps to do all of this, except one. A program called HandBrake will rip a file from a disc and automatically compress it to MPEG-4, another video format that allows for smaller file sizes.

So far, I’ve done four episodes of Futurama Season Two, which each 23 minute episode weighing in at 191 MB. Other encoders such as DivX allow for much more tweaking for quality and file size, but I’m not all that concerned about either, as I’m really just doing this for a week and will probably delete the files afterward. I’m just looking forward to having stuff to watch without bringing along the actual discs!