It’s always a challenge keeping my hobbies under control. My blogging has slowed down as I’ve been distracted by experimenting with my new DVD burner and iPod, building a web site for Maria, and working in the yard.

Maria and Kai visited her folks in Denver last week. They had a great trip, but they lost many of Kai’s DVDs on the plane. Previously, he’s also had DVDs that became unplayable due to scratches. So I’ve invested in a DVD burner so I can make back up copies of his DVDs (well, after we buy or rent the originals again anyway). Unfortunately, the Digital Millenimum Copyright Act has resulted in a situation where we still have a right to fair use of DVDs, including having backup copies, but the tools which allow us to make the copies are illegal. But I started finding ways to back up copy-protected software when I was a 13 year old with a Commodore 64, so I’m not about to stop now….Anyway, I picked the right time to buy a DVD burner, as the new dual-layer burners are on the market now. I got the Sony one. The dual-layer discs can hold as much data as commercially released DVDs, which means you can make direct copies, with no compression required. The only problem is, you can’t get the blank dual-layer discs yet (actually, you can, but only through Verbatim, and all they have is a 10 pack, in which only 1 of the 10 discs is a dual layer one). In the meantime, I’m using single-layer discs with DVD Shrink, which is without a doubt the most well-made freeware desktop application I’ve ever used.

Maria gave me an iPod for my birthday, but my hard drive crash happened soon after that, so I haven’t really had a chance to use it until recently. What a fabulous toy! The people at Apple are colonizing my mind. It’s a fundamentally different kind of music player than a tape or CD player, and at first I was worried there would be an intimidating learning curve (here’s an amsuing comparison of an iPod and a cassette). But I found it to be amazingly intuitive. Every time I wanted to do something with it, I’d take a guess at which button to push, and my guess was always right. It’s impressive how much functionality they’ve squeezed out of an interface that consists of a small screen, four buttons, and a dial. A while back my friend Jay sent me a bunch of CDs full of mp3’s, and I never found the time for the task of converting them to regular music CDs. Last night I downloaded them onto my iPod in no time, and so far I’m enjoying the new Convenant album (well, new to me anyway, it’s actually two years old).

Maria and I have started building a web site for the Decision ’04 class she’ll be co-teaching this Fall. We’re using the Xoops content management system. One of the features we really wanted to use was the “Headlines” feature (an RSS newsfeed service, which you can use for things like embedding the current New York Times headlines directly into your site). But I discovered our hosting provider had disabled the PHP fopen function, which Xoops relies on for the newsfeed. They turned it off for good reason: it has a security hole big enough to drive an open mail relay through. I solved the problem by rewriting the Xoops newsfeeder to use cURL instead. There’s a discussion thread on this problem with the newsfeeder on the Xoops site, so I posted the fix there.

And the yard…A couple weeks ago I hired a crew to come through and remove all the trees and shrubs (save for a nice Japanese maple). I would’ve done it myself, but I don’t have a stump grinder, and they do. The previous owners of our house were an elderly couple, and they neglected the yard for probably 20 years. So the easiest solution was just to remove all the overgrown shrubs and half-dead trees. So now I’m removing all the weeds, defining the borders between the garden areas and the lawn, etc. Until now, I’ve deliberately avoided working in the yard much since we moved in, as I enjoy it more than working inside the house, and I was worried I’d end up neglecting important indoor projects (like re-wiring the electrical system). But I figure it’ll be ok to work on the yard for the rest of the summer, and then turn my attention indoors again in the Fall.

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