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December 2007

Web Sites for items discussed at the December 2007 ABACUS Meeting

This month's episode: We had our usual December holiday celebration. Roger claims that it is to celebrate an ancient antecedent of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., the winter solstice. For us this usually involves extra food.

The meeting began with Phil asking Warren if he knew anything about a rumored Mac ultra-portable notebook computer. Warren said he had heard the rumors, but had no indication of whether they were true or not. Said notebook is supposed to have a screen backlit by LEDs, but no optical drive. This led to comments by Roger about how other manufacturers had managed to put optical drives in their ultra-portable notebooks. Warren mentioned that the Apple rumor mill had been wrong before.

Warren said he had a few things to show, some of which that he hadn't gotten to at the previous meeting, so he went first. He started out by presenting an ABACUS version of "What is it?" ("What is it?" is a segment on TV's Ask This Old House program where the contractors make humorous attempts to identify a tool that one of them brought in.) In this case, the tool came from one of Warren's favorite Web sites, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. If you want to guess what the tool is yourself, it's here. (The correct answer is here.) He also showed a post on ESML that gave a recipe for something he had brought to the meeting, namely, Pumpkin Spice-flavored Chocolate Truffles.

Warren next continued a theme from the previous meeting: "Kill Bill." This time it was "Kill Bill, Vol. 2." The subject was free replacements for the ubiquitous Microsoft Office. Warren was not actually promoting the assassination of Bill Gates. Instead, he was advocating killing the sales of Office by substituting free software. The substitutes he had to show were the office suites OpenOffice and its Macintosh brother, NeoOffice.

Unfortunately, the Macintosh-native version of OpenOffice has never been completed, so Warren mostly demonstrated NeoOffice. He showed its ability to load documents from several sources, such as WordPerfect and Microsoft Word. He made some changes to those documents just to highlight the program's functionality and also showed the spreadsheet and presentation functions. In some ways, NeoOffice appeared to have more features, such as a bibliography function, than the feature-laden Microsoft Word, and the same is likely true for OpenOffice.

After that he then moved on to something completely different: DVD ripping. In this particular case, he had wanted the soundtrack from the Animusic 2 DVD on a CD he could listen to in the car. At the time there was no CD available for Animusic 2 (one has since been released). So he showed some Macintosh programs that would do just that.

To decrypt and extract the audio from the DVD, he used a freeware program called 0SEx (yes, that's the correct spelling), which uses the controversial DeCSS algorithm. At this point, Roger was kind enough to provide some background on DeCSS and how it came to be.

Warren then put the .AC3 files produced by 0SEx through another freeware program called mAC3dec, which converted them into .AIFF files (mAC3dec can also create .MP3 files). He next dragged these into iTunes for playback. While he didn't do it during the meeting, he pointed out that he could have used iTunes to burn the music files to a CD. Regarding Windows equivalents of 0SEx and mAC3dec, he said that he had not been able to find freeware programs that did the same things, although there appeared to be some commercial software that would. Warren also mentioned that there was a good tutorial on DVD ripping on the Mac here.

Then Roger took over. During the previous discussions of CD burning, Warren had mentioned how much trouble he'd had getting the files off a CD containing a newsletter article Tony had sent him. Apparently the default seetings in Roxio Easy CD Creator burned the disk with a file system that could only be read on a computer running Linux. Roger gave a quick demonstration of a free alternative to Creator called CDBurnerXP, that will burn both data and media (CD or DVD) disks. The program looked to be easy to use, but was unable to handle certain kinds of media files.

From there, the conversation somehow drifted back to lightweight, low-cost (if the rumored Mac appears, it's not likely to be inexpensive) notebook computers. During a discussion covering how cheap they could get, Roger brought up the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project, showing how inexpensively a laptop can be made.

With the discussion having come almost back to the starting point and members heading for the exits, the meeting was adjourned.

Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories Projects:

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (Office Replacements):

DVD Ripping: CD Burning (Windows): Ultra-Portable Notebooks:
Made with Macintosh © 2007 ABACUS
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