Howto: GBA Emulation on iPhone

Written by rob on January 29, 2008 – 7:01 pm -

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here by making my own tutorial. Great ones already exist.

Check out this site for a nice tutorial on GBA emulation on the iPhone (thanks to the gpsPhone program):

http://appleiphoneschool.com/gpsphone/

This tutorial has some spots where it says to upload files via SSH. You can learn how to do that by following this tutorial on the same site:

http://appleiphoneschool.com/openssh

Overall, that entire site is great for iPhone/iPod Touch beginners.


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Howto: Jailbreak an iPod Touch

Written by rob on January 11, 2008 – 4:28 pm -

Jailbreaking an iPod Touch is the process used to allow third-party apps to install on your iPod. Along with many other things, this process allows you to turn your iPod Touch into an iPhone in every aspect except the phone… that means getting the Mail, Google Maps, etc. apps. Some 3rd party apps that are available are Tap Tap Revolution (think DDR, but with screen tapping instead of dancing) and Apollo (AIM/MSN/ICQ IM client). There are hundreds of others with many different uses.

NOTE: I may say iPhone in this tutorial, but I really mean iPod Touch. Once they are jailbroken, they’re essentially the same thing, except you can’t call people with an iPod Touch.

The process of jailbreaking is fairly easy. I could explain it all here, but there are much better tutorials out there, so I will merely link to them.

Warning: Continuing and following the steps in the linked tutorials will involve Restoring your iPod. This means all songs/videos/etc. will be deleted from it. This shouldn’t be a problem if you have them on your computer as well, but it may be a slight inconvenience to re-sync multiple GBs of music. Just realize that you will lose all songs/etc. during the procedure (specifically the downgrading portion, which IS necessary).

Before you can jailbreak, your iPod Touch needs to be in version 1.1.1. Most new iPod Touchs (since December) come with 1.1.2 pre-installed. This means you can’t jailbreak. HOWEVER, it is possible to jailbreak simply by downgrading to 1.1.1. The process to do this is described here. This is a great tutorial, but it is geared toward Mac users. For Windows users, you would follow everything exactly the same except instead of holding the OPTION key down while pressing Restore in iTunes, you would instead hold SHIFT. That is all there is to it. You will now have version 1.1.1, and now you can finally jailbreak.

To jailbreak, follow this tutorial from the same blog. I am going to summarize the steps just to make it clear what is going on.

Step 1. Install AppSnapp. In this step you are essentially pointing the iPod Touch’s browser to “Jailbreakme.com” and pressing “Install AppSnapp” at the bottom of it. If you have a strong internet connection with a good signal, you should have no problem getting the progress indicator discussed/pictured in the tutorial. Once that occurs, an “Installer” button will be part of the iPod’s main menu.

Step 2. Preparing for 1.1.2 upgrade. In this step you use the “Installer” app that you now have to install the OktoPrep application. The installation of this app prepares your iPod for the 1.1.2 update. Remember I said that 1.1.2 doesn’t support Jailbreak? Well, it doesn’t UNLESS you first goto 1.1.1 and run OktoPrep, which is what this tutorial makes you do.

Step 3. Update to 1.1.2. Now you use iTunes to update to 1.1.2, now that your iPod has been prepared to allow jailbreaking in that version.

Step 4. Performing the 1.1.2 jailbreak. This step is a little tricky because it requires you to download and run a Java application. The article is geared towards Mac, but in Windows this step is completely different. It requires that you have Java. Mac users have Java installed by default, and so they don’t have to do anything. However, most Windows computers don’t have Java. You will need to get it from Sun Microsystem’s website here. Install it and then RESTART your computer. After that is finished, download the application referenced in the tutorial. It is a zip file, so unzip it normally. In the folder that results, there will be a file called “windows.bat”. Running that will launch the application, in which case you can proceed as described in the tutorial… pressing the “Jailbreak!” button. It pays to be patient at this point as your iPod will restart multiple times and iTunes on your computer may have a few errors… just ignore it, as soon everything will be good. Once your iPod fully boots up without restarting, and you get to the point where you can use the menus, then you are DONE!!!

Step 5. Install Apps. At this point, your iPod Touch is jailbroken. You have gotten past the hard part. Now you just have to use the Installer app to install more programs. I recommend getting SummerBoard, which makes it easier to manage the main menu when it gets huge from all your new apps. Another must-have is Apollo if you use IM a lot and Tap Tap Revolution is a great game. iBlackjack is another favorite, which is a well-done blackjack port for iPhone.

To get the iPhone Apps (Google Maps, etc.) on your jailbroken iPod Touch, go here.

Any questions.. ask in the comments. I did this successfully on my first try, so it’s not hard at all with the above tutorials.


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Using Virtualization to Protect from Internet Malware: Part II

Written by rob on April 1, 2007 – 1:54 pm -

The following screenshots were taken under Vista with the new beta version of VMware. The guest system, however, is still Windows XP. This shows one strength of virtualization: it doesn’t matter what version of Windows you have… you can still install any other version virtually.

The first step, after acquiring VMware in one way or another, is to create a new virtual machine. After opening VMware, you do this by File -> New -> Virtual Machine, or simply by pressing CTRL+N. Press Next, and then Next again. Now ensure that Microsoft Windows is selected in the Guest Operating System combo box. Under the Version drop-down box, select the version of Windows you intend to install (I chose Windows XP Professional).

Press Next. For the Virtual Machine name, call it “Internet Browser”. The name doesn’t matter, but it will make things more clear later on if you keep to the same naming scheme as me. The location will default to the My Virtual Machines folder under My Documents (or the Virtual Machines folder under Documents in Vista). I left the default. Press Next. Then press Next again to accept Bridged Networking.

This next screen allows you to choose the size of the virtual system’s hard drive. This value isn’t as important as it looks because you can change it later. Also, the virtual hard drive file on your host computer is only going to be the size of the used disk space. Therefore, if you simply install Windows and Firefox, yet have a 100GB virtual hard drive, the virtual hard drive file will still only be 1.5GB or so because that is all that is taken up on the drive. I’ll just stick with the default 8.0GB, but if you plan on putting a variety of applications on the virtual machine to facilitate your browsing experience, then you could increase it. Remember, you can always change this later on if you need to. Just make sure you don’t have the “allocate all disk space now” box checked, as it will needlessly waste space on your host system. Press Finish when you’re done. (You may receive a hint after pressing Finish. Just press OK to get out of it.)

You will notice that the virtual machine you just created has been added to the Favorite list on the side of VMware’s window. It is also currently selected and ready to use.

The last thing we want to do before starting the virtual machine is edit the RAM that the virtual machine has access to. You can do this by pressing the “Edit Virtual Machine Settings” button. The entire right side of the window that comes up is dedicated to controlling the RAM. Right now the RAM is probably set somewhere near the Green arrow, which is the recommended value. I personally prefer to set it higher; remember that more RAM will make the virtual machine work faster (not unlike with a real computer). If you have 512MB of RAM or less, you probably only want to use the recommended. But if you have over 512MB, then you should give it more. As a general rule of thumb, set the RAM to 50% of your host system’s RAM. That said, I wouldn’t give it over 640MB because XP really doesn’t ever need that much unless you do serious gaming (which you cannot do under VMware). I have 2GB, so I set my virtual system’s RAM to 640MB and it moves as speedy as I need it to. If for whatever reason what you set here is causing problems for you, you can come back and change it later. You can also edit the hard drive space in this same dialog box. Finally, if you have a dual-core processor, you can allow the guest system to use two processors here. Close out of that dialog box and then we are ready to begin the fun part.

Now you can insert your Windows installation disk into your CD drive. The virtual machine uses the same CD drive as the main system. Now press “Start this Virtual Machine” (or you can use the green Play button on the toolbar). As soon as you see the VMware logo, click inside the virtual machine’s area so the keyboard and mouse are captured. Then press ESC. After the system briefly loads, you will be shown the Boot Menu. Use the arrow keys to move to CD-ROM drive and press Enter. Your install CD will then begin to boot (if it is Windows XP or Vista, you may need to press any key to start the disc, as prompted). From here, you should be right at home, as it will look the same as any Windows installation.

If you have not installed Windows before and are unsure of what to do, click here to get to a pretty good (off-site) guide to installing Windows XP. In that guide, you can skip to step 2 of the step-by-step instructions, as we already covered everything else. If you want it to look exactly like what you are used to, press the Full Screen button. Remember that in order to release your mouse/keyboard and to exit full screen mode you need to press CTRL+ALT. One scary part is when you have to format a partition for Windows to install on. Remember that the virtual hard drive is in NO WAY connected to your real hard drive, and reformatting it will NOT delete any of your host computer’s files.

Once you have Windows installed, you should be at the desktop of the user you setup during installation. You may now remove the Windows installation CD from your CD drive. We need to take care of something right away called VMware Tools. Installing this allows you to drag and drop files between virtual machine and your regular computer. This will be a must, as you may need to transfer e-mail attachments to your main system or something like that. Installing the tools is simple. While the virtual system is running, press CTRL+ALT to release the mouse, and then go to the VM menu in VMware, and choose “Install VMware Tools”. Press Install in the box that comes up. After a few seconds, the installer will start inside your virtual machine. Click inside it to capture the mouse and then go through the install wizard. You may get a few unsafe driver prompts (one such window is pictured below); just press “Continue Anyway”. After it is done, the installer will automatically restart the system.

After the system reboots, VMware Tools has been successfully installed. The reason we installed this is because it enables you to drag and drop files between your host computer and your guest computer (and vice versa). Try it! Simply create a new file in Notepad or something from inside the guest machine. Then drag it toward the outside of the guest window… it will let you continue dragging onto your desktop or into a folder of your host computer. You can also drag files from your host computer to the guest using the reverse approach. This obviously won’t work if the gust computer is in full screen or guest mode, but it allows you to very easily copy files between your systems.

This can be useful if you need an e-mail attachment or something from the Internet to be transferred to your host system. An even better example is music files downloaded from Limewire; once they are finished downloading in the safe environment of the virtual system, copy them into a folder on your host system and put them into iTunes.

It is, however, important to note that this dragging and dropping of files between the virtual and host system is the single security risk involved with this approach. It is for this reason that I HIGHLY recommend that you do not copy any executable files from your guest to your host, until you test them out on the guest computer for a few days. The wonder of virtualization is that you now have a place to test programs for spyware without risk; make sure you use the guest computer to its full potential, and never copy any untrusted files between systems. Doing so will compromise the very idea of using the virtual machine for Internet use.

You now have everything setup that you need for the basic functionality of the virtual system. From here, I installed Firefox and also the Macromedia Flash plug-in for Firefox. I also installed Microsoft Office, as I often use Word to prepare blog entries and other online posts before posting them online. You can install whatever you want at this point, though I highly recommend installing Firefox, if only to preserve the life of your virtual machine. Also to preserve its life, I installed Avast Anti-Virus (a free anti-virus program that works just as well if not better than Norton and others).

Only install what you will need to use the Internet (unless you want to test an untrusted program before copying it to your host machine) or to perform other temporary services. After all, you will only use this virtual machine for the Internet, and nothing more. Installing too many things won’t necessarily be a problem, but it will tend to make you use the virtual machine for more than Internet. We don’t want that. The whole point of this project is that you want to have a virtual machine to use for Internet access, and that’s all. Due to the fact that you may have to completely restore the virtual machine if you get infected with spyware, you don’t want anything important on the virtual system.

Once you have all of your programs installed, it is time to make the snapshot. A snapshot remembers all of the files, settings, etc. that were on the virtual machine at a particular time. Right now, we know the system doesn’t have spyware, and we want to create a snapshot so that we can come back to this point in the future if necessary. This is the part of the tutorial that will differ majorly from those using Virtual PC — you will have to find some other way to restore your system if it gets infested.

Even though you don’t have to be, I recommend you shut down the guest computer. When it is turned off, you will be returned to the main screen of VMware. Go to VM->Snapshot->Snapshot Manager. “You are here” will be selected; press the “Take Snapshot…” button. I called this particular snapshot BASE so I would not confuse it with further snapshots, and gave it a good description (I recommend you give all your future snapshots good descriptions so you know what each one includes).

Press OK when done naming it, and then press Close in the Snapshot Manager window. That’s all there is to taking a snapshot. We will now test it by having fun and destroying the virtual system.

Start up the virtual machine. When it is completely booted, disable any anti-virus or anti-spyware programs. Now you can trash your computer in any way you wish. Either download obvious virus files from Limewire, or simply delete random files from C:/Windows/system. Another choice may be to download and install obvious spyware like Bonzi Buddy, Kazaa or Gator. You should be in pop-up hell in no time. If you are unsure of what to do and simply want to test the effects of the snapshot restoral without killing the virtual machine, just make a new file on the desktop. When we restore the snapshot, that file should be nonexistent. I used the command prompt to delete everything from the C: drive, which removed everything except certain system files and running programs.

The result when I restarted my computer:

When you are content that the system was destroyed or otherwise changed from the snapshot, shut it down (if you kill it bad enough and it can’t shut down, use the red square stop button in the toolbar to force a power off). Now it is time to restore a snapshot. Go to VM->Snapshot->Snapshot Manager. This time, you will see the BASE snapshot but it won’t be selected. Go ahead and select it. At the bottom of the window, near the Close button, is a button called Go To. It will ask you to confirm. Press “Yes”. In only a second, the virtual machine will be restored to the snapshot we made earlier.

Boot up the system to confirm the restoration. My system was no longer destroyed! You should now realize how powerful virtual machines are. By creating a snapshot every time you make a major change to your system, you allow yourself to revert back to that at any time.

Now that you understand how to create the virtual machine and utilize snapshots, I want to give a general overview of how a general day would go by utilizing the virtual machine in conjunction with the host. You will obviously develop your own formula eventually, but this should get you started. The biggest thing is to make sure that you NEVER run the Internet on the host machine; this will prevent it from being infected by spyware and other nasty malware.

Let’s say you just came home from school or work. You would turn on your real computer. Maybe you have a report to type. You would open Microsoft Word as normal, and start typing away. Now let’s say that you need to research something on the Internet. In order to prevent yourself from accidentally using the internet on the host machine, I recommend uninstalling Firefox and removing any icons to Internet Explorer or other browsers. It is now time to start up your virtual machine, so open VMware and start your virtual machine. Once it boots, you can start Firefox and start researching. You can switch back and forth between the virtual machine and your host computer, typing the various things in Word that you researched.

Now what if you need to include a picture from the internet? It’s very simple. You can just drag it from the Firefox window in the guest machine to the Word window, just as we did with files earlier. Try it! What if you need to cite the URL for the picture? Simply copy the URL in the guest machine and paste it in the host machine. The wonder of VMware tools is that it lets you drag and drop files between systems, and also lets you copy and paste between them.

Now you are done researching on the internet. There is no sense in keeping the virtual machine running, as it will take up a lot of RAM (half of it if you listened to my recommendation when delegating RAM to the machine). You don’t, however, have to shut it down. If you constantly had to start up and shut down the system, it would rid you of productivity. Instead, you can Suspend the system. What this does is save all of the things you were doing and places it in a temporary snapshot. The next time you start the system, you will be right back where you left it. Press the yellow pause button on the toolbar to test it (or press CTRL+Z). It takes only a second or two to save the state, and only about 30 seconds to restore the state (likely less on a faster computer). Therefore, you can suspend the system any time you aren’t using it to save RAM. Given today’s Internet-focused society, I expect most of you will keep the system up at all times. Remember, though, that suspending it works even if you turn off your host computer.

You use the above method for a week or two. Then, while browsing the Internet, you want to make a new avatar for yourself on a forum, but you forgot to install Photoshop. You can install Photoshop, but then what if we need to restore a snapshot? Photoshop will be gone. The answer is to create another snapshot after you install Photoshop. I recommend that you call it “With Photoshop (maybe unsafe)”, and in the description make sure you state that it may be unsafe. However, after using your virtual system for another week or so without any spyware problems, you may go back and change the name and description to “Known to be Safe”. Then, if you do in fact get any spyware, you may revert to the “With Photoshop” snapshot instead of the BASE snapshot. By following the renaming policy, you will ensure you always know if a snapshot is safe or not. Either way, you always know that the BASE snapshot is spyware-free, if worse comes to worse.

The above procedures give you an idea of how to include virtualization in your computer life. It will vastly improve the security of your host computer, making it physically impossible to get infected with spyware ever again (as long as you follow the rules of only using the Internet on the virtual system).

One last thing I would like to mention is using a virtual machine as your main system. This way, you could use Word, Photoshop, iTunes, etc. all on a virtual machine. The only things that wouldn’t work well are very graphically-intensive applications such as games; those would require the host machine. However, by creating a series of rolling snapshots you could effectively backup everything on your virtual system so that reverting to a snapshot in the case of spyware infection wouldn’t result in a major loss. What I mean by rolling snapshots is this. You would create one snapshot every week. When creating one for the current week, you would label the previous week’s snapshot as safe. At the end of a month, you could delete all of the safe snapshots except for the latest. This lets you save on hard drive space (because each snapshot takes up a decent amount of space, so you wouldn’t want over 20 of them), while still keeping a good amount of snapshots (at least 4) in reserve in case spyware is found later on. Once every three months, another BASE snapshot could be made. I recommend that you NEVER delete the original BASE, but you can use the rolling method to only keep one or two known-safe BASEs at any one time.

Whether or not you choose to convert your entire computer workflow into a virtual system is up to you. I highly recommend, however, that you at least give the Internet Browser concept a try. It will save you a lot of reformatting and almost completely remove the hassle of spyware. If you have any questions about virtualization in general, or if you have any problems implementing this method, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.


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Using Virtualization to Protect from Internet Malware: Part I

Written by rob on April 1, 2007 – 10:30 am -

Spyware is a huge threat for modern Windows PCs (see my separate article on spyware here). Sometimes, even when using Firefox, you can still be infected with spyware. This usually happens when some program you install (that includes some form of basic spyware) launches Internet Explorer in the background, thus allowing spyware back into the system. There is no fool-proof method to eradicate spyware once and for all, unless you carefully screen all of your downloads and never run any untrusted programs. Few computer users want to be bothered with the task of researching and confirming the safety of every single program they run on their computer, so that means the vast majority of people will be potential targets of spyware. Using Firefox consistently is the single most effective prevention method for spyware, but it is not by any means 100% guaranteed to stop all of these pesky threats from invading your system.

Introduce PC virtualization. Essentially, virtualizing a PC is the act of using software to simulate hardware. The products that allow you to “virtualize” have been around since the conception of computers themselves. Put in simple terms, if you have the correct software, you can simulate another computer that will run on top of your current system. Even if you have one computer, you can simulate dozens of computers (assuming you have enough hard drive space and RAM to harbor all of them) with virtualization. You still may be confused as to what I mean, so I am going to introduce virtualization using a series of screenshots and descriptions. The software that I use to accomplish virtualization is called VMware, but an alternative is VirtualPC. Both work fundamentally the same and their only differences are irrelevant to most normal computer users. The reason I use VMware is because of the snapshot feature that makes this particular anti-spyware method easier to implement.

Before I get started, I just want to introduce two popular vocabulary words. A “host system” is the system that runs the virtual computers inside it; in other words, it is your “real” computer. The “guest system”, on the other hand, is the virtual system itself (the “fake” computer). I will use the host/guest words to refer to the different systems from now on, instead of real/fake.

Beginning the VMware program works the same as any program. I simply click the icon on my host computer’s desktop (this was setup when I installed VMware).

When the program is opened, it looks like follows:

I chose to open a virtual machine. If I wanted to, I could have previously put the desired virtual machine in the favorites panel you can see in the screenshot above. I didn’t because I wanted to show you that this virtual machine is simply a file on my host computer.

The following screenshot shows the main screen you get after opening any virtual machine file. If I were to close the program at this point and reopen it, it would bring me right to this screen. VMware remembers your last virtual machine and will show you the main screen for that machine whenever you start the program.

Because I want to simply demonstrate what a virtual machine is, I just pressed “Start this virtual machine”. I won’t bother with the other buttons for now, and you will rarely have to worry about them at all. What then occurs is the VMWare program displays its logo as it is starting up the Virtual machine. This is the same as Dell or HP displays its logo when you power on your actual computer.

After the VMware logo is displayed, the virtual machine then proceeds to boot, just like any computer would boot. Because this virtual machine has Windows XP Pro on it, the screen shows the Windows logo that all of you XP users will be familiar with.

From here, the computer finishes booting. I have automatic logon enabled on the guest system, so I don’t get the Windows XP logon screen that some of you probably are familiar with. Instead, it goes straight to my desktop. This is a pretty fresh Windows install so it still has the green pastures as the desktop, and I have yet to turn off the automatic updates notifier. The only thing I did was install Firefox (something anyone who cares about spyware prevention should do).

Now, to actually use the guest system, I have to click anywhere inside the area that it is being displayed. This causes VMware to “capture” the keyboard and mouse of my computer. Now if I press the Windows key (which brings up the start menu), it will do so inside the virtual machine and not on my actual computer. Anything I type will appear inside that window. Also, my mouse cursor will be restricted to that small area and cannot leave the virtual area. The way you release your mouse and keyboard so you can use your underlying (host) system again is by pressing CTRL+ALT. That instructs VMware that you want your keyboard and mouse back in your real system.

Working inside that little box is no fun. It is even worse if you have the same screen resolution on your virtual machine as you do with your main system, as then the box that displays the virtual machine will have scrollbars and some of the screen will not be showing. To combat this, VMWare has a full screen mode. By pressing the button that is highlighted in the below screenshot, the virtual machine expands to the entire screen. When you are in full screen mode, you can fool anyone, as the virtual machine will look exactly like a real computer. You can escape full screen mode by using the same CTRL+ALT key combination.

Going to the start menu and pressing shut down within the virtual machine will proceed to shut the system down. When it is finished, you will be back to the main screen of VMWare shown a few screenshots up.

That’s all there is to using a virtual machine. You should now have a more clear idea as to what a virtual machine is. Just think of it as a fake computer that is inside your main computer and you will rarely get confused. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it is a completely separate computer. As far as the local area network goes, it will appear to be a separate machine. Also, it shares no files or settings with your actual underlying system. That is an important concept to grasp before we move on.

All of this talk of virtualization may have you confused. What does it have anything to do with spyware? Virtualization can be used for many things. For example, IT professionals use it to test software before using it on production machines. Help desk personnel use virtualization to have various versions of Windows a mouse click away so they can give exact instructions over the phone without having more than one computer. Virtualizing servers is also becoming popular nowadays because it is more secure and easier to recover from a disaster. After all, if your virtual computer is taken over, it doesn’t do any harm to your main system. With proper firewall rules, virtual servers can be completely contained from a network. The same idea can be applied to home users, except instead of hosting a server all we will be virtualizing is an Internet computer.

That is, we can setup a virtual computer that has nothing but Windows XP and the Internet on it. Then, we can browse the Internet to our heart’s content. Even if some spyware slips between the cracks, it will never affect our underlying system with all of our files and important data. Far too many times are people required to reformat their hard drives and reinstall Windows because they caught a bad case of spyware or were infected by some nasty virus. If the same thing happened in a virtual machine, it would require you to do the same thing… except virtually. That means that reinstalling Windows in your virtual machine will have no effect on your files on your main system.

VMware also has a new feature called snapshots that rids the need of reformatting even the virtual system. Simply put, if your virtual computer gets all kinds of spyware or viruses, you can simply revert to the latest snapshot (before all the spyware showed up). It works sort of like Windows Restore should work, but I think we all know that Windows Restore doesn’t help the spyware problem. In the next post I am going to give step-by-step instructions to implement this snapshot system with VMware.


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Howto: Dual-Boot Windows Vista and XP

Written by rob on December 23, 2006 – 11:50 am -

From what I’ve heard, the easiest way to dual-boot Vista and XP is to let Windows XP remain on its partition (assuming you already have XP installed and want to keep that installation), and then install Vista on another partition. Vista automatically creates the boot menu for you, and it works perfectly.

Unfortunately, I installed Vista when none of my other hard drives were connected (to try to prevent data loss). I also didn’t have any XP installs on the other hard drives that were worth booting. This left me with no automagically-working boot menu. So, I installed XP on a second hard drive, and then restored the Vista boot record by using the Vista install disc (so the computer wouldn’t just boot to XP). This got me back into Vista, but still no boot menu. What is a guy to do? Hit up Google.

I went through some of Google’s top entries. Most of them were complex procedures dealing with a utility called “bcdedit” that is run from the command line under Vista. Despite the complexity, I still tried it, but to no avail. Some more searching led me to a utility called VistaBootPRO, which promised to take the bcdedit procedure and make it easier. While it did make it as easy as a drop-down menu and the click of a button, it still failed to create a working boot entry. I also was led to a Microsoft Knowledge Base article that is dedicated to this particular topic (click here). It, however, did not help. It seems that few people actually understand the voodoo behind the new BCD that Vista uses instead of boot.ini. After browsing more forum posts and trying a combination of everything, I seem to have found the working formula. Below is the step-by-step guide to getting Vista and XP to dual-boot if you installed XP after Vista like so many of us did (especially when we realized that Vista can not sync with iPod).

  1. When you turn your computer on, does it boot into XP or Vista? If Vista, you can skip to step 7. If XP, then continued with step 2. (Note that even if it does boot Vista, no harm will be done by following the below steps, and you might as well do them if you want to make sure this procedure works. I haven’t tried doing the procedure without steps 2-6.)
  2. Insert your Windows Vista DVD into the computer. When prompted to press any key to boot from CD/DVD, do so. A Vista boot menu will come up asking you to select either the x86 or x64 installation; choose the one that pertains to your Vista install. From there, the setup will load, until you are finally presented with a box asking for language information. Confirm your language, then press OK. A new box will come up with the option to Install Vista Now. Do not choose that; instead, select Repair Installation at the bottom. It will search for Windows installs. It may or may not recognize the XP install, and it may or may not tell you that the install needs to repair. Cancel any box asking you to “repair and restart”, and simply choose your Windows Vista install in the box. Press OK, and then select “Command line” from the dialog box to open up the command line.
  3. In the command line, you should be in a directory on the CD. For example, I was in some directory like H:/sources/vista/x86 (or something along those lines). The important thing to note is that your drive letter may be completely different. (One way to make sure you are indeed in the Vista drive is to use the “dir” command. If you hear the CD drive spinning, then you are in the right drive. If not, you can change to it by typing “H:” or whatever your drive letter is and pressing enter.) To go up a directory from the command line, you must use the command “cd ..”. Type in that command and press enter. Continue to type the command until your current directory is only the drive letter. In my case, the prompt would look like “H:\>”, but again, your letter may vary. We now want to change to the “boot” directory, so type the command “cd boot”.
  4. Now we are in the boot directory of the Windows install DVD. This is where the fun begins. We first need to restore the MBR. This is the part of the hard drive that tells the computer what OS to boot. When you installed XP, XP overwrote the MBR and this caused the computer to ignore Vista completely. We can fix that with one simple command. Type in “bootrec /FixMbr” and press enter. It should tell you that the operating completed successfully. Also, issue the command “bootrec /FixBoot”. With those two commands, Vista should be ready to boot when you restart the computer.
  5. Before we restart, there are a few more things we can do to ensure the success of the next few steps. The reason we went into the “boot” directory of the CD is to access a utility called “bootsect”. This restores the boot code. I don’t think this is extremely necessary, but Microsoft includes it in the knowledge base article I linked to from above, so it must have some use. To use the tool, just type the command “bootsect /NT60 all”. It should say operating successfully completed for each of your partitions. I also like to use “bootsect /NT60 C: /force” just for good measure, so use that as well.
  6. Now we are ready to start the real magic. Type “exit” and press enter. In the dialog box that you are brought back to, press Restart. Either remove the DVD from the drive or just don’t press any key when prompted to on the restart. Let it boot from the hard drive. You should now be able to get into Vista.
  7. Here is where the fun begins. Instead of following Microsoft’s procedure of using bcdedit, we will use a program that makes everything easier. I initially used VistaBootPRO, but I recommend EasyBCD… it just seems more user-friendly. Download and install that.
  8. With EasyBCD started up (Windows UAP will require you to Allow it), select “Add/Remove Entries” on the side bar. This brings up a few options. The only one we need to concern ourselves with is the “Add an Entry” menu at the bottom of the screen. Windows is already selected, so that doesn’t need to be changed. Select “Windows NT/2k/Xp/2k3” as the version. For the drive letter, type the drive letter of your Windows XP install followed by a colon and a backslash. My XP install was D, so I typed in “D:\”. Name it whatever you want; I used “Windows XP Pro” as the name. Finally, press Add Entry.
  9. What we now have is a boot menu that let’s you choose either Vista or XP Pro. However, if you try to restart now and select XP, you will get an error. The same thing would happen if you followed Microsoft’s knowledge base article. The part that everyone seems to omit is that you must copy three files from your Windows Vista drive to your Windows XP drive. I give credit to “Computer Guru” (the creator of EasyBCD), because he directed someone to copy these files on the NeoSmart forums.
  10. Before the files can be copied, you must be able to see them. Unfortunately, they are hidden since they are important OS-related files. To view them, open up Control Panel within Vista and go to Folder Options. In the view tab, there is a list of options with checkbox. Uncheck the box next to “Hide protected operating system files”. A dialog box will confirm, so press Yes. Now you can press Apply and close the window.
  11. Now open up Computer from the start-menu. Double-click your Vista system drive. Now go back to the Computer window and double-click your XP system drive. With both open, you are ready to drag-and-drop the files. The three files we need are: “boot.ini”, “ntldr”, and “NTDETECT.COM”. Select the first one in the Vista drive window, hold down the control key, and then select the other two. When all three are selected, make sure you have both the Vista and XP drive windows visible so you can drag and drop the files from the Vista drive to the XP drive. Windows UAP will require you to confirm the operation, so do so. Vista will then copy those files to the XP drive.
  12. Now, after all that, you should have a working boot menu. Restart your computer and test booting into both XP and Vista. It should work like a charm!

Note: If you have the desire to keep some file synchronized between your XP and Vista installed (like, say, your iTunes folder), it seems that Microsoft has an incredible fast and powerful tool for just that called SyncToy. Give it a shot!


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Howto: Secure a Web Browser over WiFi

Written by rob on May 22, 2006 – 11:12 pm -

The following link points to a simple and easy-to-follow guide on how to secure your web browsing experience over WiFi, using SSH encrypted tunnels. Keep in mind that whenever you use your laptop computer to connect to a WiFi network that you don’t own (Starbucks, McDonald’s, random unprotected access point, etc.), there is a possibility that someone on the network is running a network sniffer. Doing something as simple as opening your e-mail client can give them access to your passwords (POP3 has always been notorious for sending plain text passwords over a network).

While you may be thinking your e-mail password isn’t that important, think of how many private e-mails you receive, or how many times you type your credit card number online. While it is a bad idea to be shopping online via an untrusted Wireless hotspot in any situation, the following guide makes it a LOT safer, to the point where the most skilled network crackers won’t be able to get your data.

Click here to read the full guide. The guide is geared towards Windows users running Firefox and GAIM. The technique used will also work for Internet Explorer and regular AOL Instant Messenger. In the comments section, someone describes how to do the same thing on Mac OSX or Linux.

Do yourself a favor and keep this guide in mind any time you have to make a last-minute online purchase while using an untrusted access point (when I’m down the shore, I use an unprotected hotspot to trade stocks. While E*Trade has the standard web RC4 encryption which has never actually been broken, cracking into my e-mail would pretty much lead an attacker to discover the answers to my Forgotten password question, and then let them reset my password and retrieve it since they have access to the e-mail. I will be using this from now on!)


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Howto: Burn an AVI file to DVD

Written by rob on April 15, 2006 – 10:54 am -

The first thing most people notice when they get a new DVD burner and go to burn that nice file they get from the Internet onto DVD is that it isn’t particularly simple. Burning a CD is something anyone can do: just drag and drop a few things in Winamp, Windows Media Player, Nero, iTunes, or countless other programs, and you have a beautiful audio or data CD. Windows even has an integrated way to burn Data CDs, right from within the Explorer interface. Piece of cake.

DVDs, however, enter a realm of codecs, framerates, and other things that generally don’t need to be worried about for CDs. Most songs that exist digitally are either mp3s, wmas, or aacs, with a few exceptions. Most programs can easily handle all of these. Furthermore, it is easy to tell between formats because they all have different file extensions. That is, you instantly know song.mp3 is an mp3 file. With video files, that is not how it works. Nearly every digital video file downloaded from the internet is in the AVI format. However, AVI is simply a container format, and actually is not a video compression format. Inside those AVI files could be Microsoft MPEG-4 type video, which Windows Media Player can easily handle, or maybe some Cinepak codec video. However, the most popular formats nowadays are DivX and Xvid, both of which cause Windows Media Player to choke (without the proper help). Regardless, these video formats all come in AVI, so it is difficult to tell which is which. A useful tool called GSpot (interesting name, I know) can give you tons of info on AVI files, including framerate and codec, and helps demystify these common issues.

The other thing I mentioned is framerates, which is measured in frames per second (fps). You either have 25 fps (PAL), 23.976 fps (NTSC Film), or 29.97 (NTSC) framerate. The former is used in Europe, while the latter two are used in America. NTSC Film is used on Hollywood DVDs (i.e. DVDs you buy from a store), while plain old NTSC is the American format for digital video. I’m sure each one has plenty of other uses, but that is the ways I remember them as. You can get any one of these three in an AVI file. Having a PAL usually means it was recorded in Europe or Canada, while NTSC Film means it was ripped from a DVD (see this article on how to rip DVDs). But it doesn’t really matter why a certain framerate is there… all you need to know is that you must have it at 29.97 to burn it to a DVD that will work on American DVD players. And don’t you know that 29.97 is the least common framerate for Internet-downloaded videos?

The reason for the above description is just to introduce to you how daunting burning AVI files can be. If you understood everything said above 100%, you can most likely handle burning DVDs the way I do. However, if you don’t, you may want to look at the many tutorials on Videohelp.com, the amount of which are available can also be a bit daunting, because the one I wrote is not exactly detailed.

The last thing I wanted to say is that there are programs available that (allegedly) automate everything for you and make it nearly as simple as burning a CD. Included with Nero Ultra Edition is Nero Vision Express (renamed to Nero Vision in version 7), which I will say works very well in most cases. I personally use Nero Vision to burn quick movies, like on Video CDs for example, if I just want them to be watched once. However, it doesn’t really give you the ability to get maximum quality if that is what you want. But the biggest problem with Nero Vision is the fact that you need to separately purchase various codec files, like AAC and Mpeg-4, to open most video files. Moreover, it still doesn’t handle certain files for no disclosed reason. When trying to quickly burn Chronicles of Narnia to DVD, Nero looked like it read it fine when making the chapters and during the preview stage, but when you get to burning it it errors out within five seconds, and the log has no details of why. It is for that reason that Nero Vision isn’t the tool for EVERY situation. While I know there are many others (Sony DVD Architect, DVD Santa, Pinnacle Studio, to name a few) I have had problems with almost all of them.

On a small side note, I’ve never had any issues with DVD Santa, and it is really easy to use. If you don’t want to learn about video files, etc., I recommend it highly. The only reason I don’t use it a lot is because it is TOO simple. It doesn’t give you enough control of the files. But again, it is great for beginners and those of you who don’t care to learn the small details and make absolutely perfect DVDs.

But, if you feel like you have what it takes to tackle burning DVDs the long way, you will be very impressed by the final result. In many cases, DVDs I make turn out better than the source material because I can apply various filters to fix up dark or bright (or grainy, etc.) videos, and resize them with barely any loss of quality. The howto that I am going to link to is simple a Word document (that I converted to HTML for sharing purposes) that I made for myself, as a sort of personal TODO list while burning AVIs to DVD. It is by no means step-by-step in terms of covering every single little detail, but if you understood everything above and don’t mind experimenting a little bit, I am sure you can take a lot out of my guide below.

Aside from the great quality, the other huge reason that I burn DVDs with this method is that it preserves audio/video sync. My biggest problem with Nero and Sony DVD Architect was that they produced un-synced DVDs, which gets ugly real quick. I had a Bourne Supremacy DVD that had about a six second delay by the end… not pretty at al, which was burned with Sony DVDA. The same video file burned with the below method not only looked better, but stayed in sync the entire time. (Note: most of the times when things get out of sync it is because the source is a PAL video and you are converting to NTSC, adding video frames but not taking care of the audio. That is why in my method we separate the audio and video streams in the beginning).

But enough talk. Without further ado, click here to access the “howto”. I will attempt to support people that have questions, but a lot of it really depends on the source video. If you give me a screenshot of GSpot output, I could probably help you the best.


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Howto: Maximize your iPod Battery Life

Written by rob on March 8, 2006 – 9:39 pm -

Charging your iPod is a rather simple process. Just plug it in the wall or into your computer. But is it really as easy as everyone thinks? The answer is No, or at least not if you want to keep your battery in good health. Plugging the iPod in to charge it is just the means to charge. Much care must be taken when charging the iPod’s battery to make sure you don’t overcharge it.

The iPod (all versions, except maybe the Shuffle) use a Lithium Ion battery. All that needs to mean to you is “some kind of rechargeable battery”, but it is actually a rather fascinating technology. Lithium Ion batteries are in many consumer electronics, such as some digital cameras, cell phones, and MP3 players like iPods. They are used mainly because of their light weight compared to other battery standards. Many laptop computers also use Lithiums, though they have larger ones than normal electronics. Regardless, they are also sort of sensitive. Anyone can charge it and be relatively safe, but charging it in a way to keep your battery going for many years is the tricky part. That is what I hope to demystify.

The first thing you want to keep in mind is overcharging. That is, you don’t want to charge the battery too much. Lithium Ions are designed in a way where they can actually be harmed by being charged too much. So, for example, charging a battery over night is a bad idea. Once or twice won’t hurt anything, but don’t make it a regular practice. Moreover, the batteries like to be worked a little bit. Think of it as a battery that likes to exercise. If you plug in your fully-charged iPod while listening to music, it will not be utilitizing the battery at all, which will slowly but surely harm the life of the battery. Instead, you should keep it unplugged as much as possible. By letting your battery be used on a daily basis is a lot better than just keeping it plugged in all the time. Fully using up the battery on a daily basis is not the ideal situation, but it should not harm it as badly as overcharge or not exercising the battery at all.

On the note of fully using up the battery, fully discharging the battery is recommended approximately once a month. So, ideally, if you use up about half your battery each day, and then charge it fully every night (taking care not to overcharge) you will never completely dissipate the energy. A full discharge is, however, a good thing in moderation. It “cleans the system”, so to speak, getting rid of any electrical abnormalities. Naturally, your battery will be fully depleted some days with a lot of use. It is not a big deal if it is fully depleted more than once a month, but try to keep it to a minimum.

Another major concern is temperature. Keeping your iPod (and its battery) in your hot car is a really, really bad idea… perhaps worse than overcharging. The ideal temperature for Lithium Ion batteries is about 60° F, but can operate safely anywhere between -4 and 95° F. So, realistically speaking, you should be fine unless you leave it in a trunk of a car in the middle of July or if you put it in the oven.

Also, if you plan on not using your iPod for an extended period of time, such as going on a month-long vacation or something like that, you should fully charge it before you go, and as soon as you come home. Lithium batteries, as mentioned above, like/need to be used, so letting them sit for extended periods of time can harm them.

One final note is that of the battery indicator. Apple’s site has an article that describes the fact that the battery indicator in pretty much every iPod is inaccurate. In fact, they are inaccurate in almost all devices, as it is impossible to measure it perfectly. So, don’t worry when your iPod seems to be running out of battery according to the indicator. Just listen to it as long as you want. If it does in fact run out, then you can charge it then. Otherwise, charge it when you are finished. Charging while you are listening should only be done after the battery is substantially depleted already.

I keep my iPod in the dock nearly all the time, but keep the dock connector that actually connects the dock to the wall unplugged most of the time. I don’t usually charge it until the indicator shows only a sliver remaining. When I do charge, I only do so for four hours (or until it is fully charged), not overnight.

When you get the hang of it, it isn’t really that difficult. However, care should be taken if you don’t want to be shelling out $65.95 every six months. For the record, my original 15GB iPod got around 6 hours of battery life after one year of use. Considering it didn’t get much more than 6 hours when I first bought it, I think this method words pretty good. My new Video gets some ridiculous amount of music play time. I’ve never actually timed it, but it’s at least ten hours. If you have an iPod, try to follow the above instructions. You will be glad you did when your iPod can playfor years to come.


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iPod Video Conversion Part II: Subtitles & AviSynth

Written by rob on February 12, 2006 – 7:43 pm -

Note: A reader, cghera, pointed out that the program called Handbrake can automate this entire process. I recommend you give it a try. You can download the program here, and you can find the documentation here.

I have successfully figured out how to convert a video to iPod format and still keep the subtitles! I figured I would share this golden information with everyone else, since it took me so long to figure it out. I have been trying to do this ever since I got a PSP, and then a Video iPod. Neither device can understand subtitles in any format, so in order to have them you must embed them into the video itself. You see, DVDs have subtitles in a separate layer, completely separate from the video itself. That is why you can turn them on or off, or pick which language you want. Some movies have what are called “built-in subtitles”. For example, in Lord of the Rings the Elfish is translated to English at the bottom of the screen, whether you have subtitles on or not. If you were to convert your Lord of the Rings DVD to iPod version, those Elfish subtitles would still be there. So, the trick is making ALL the subtitles “built-in”. The key? A little program called AviSynth.

If you have a good memory, you will remember that when you installed the Videora iPod Converter it also installed something called AviSynth. That was one of the checkboxes you could turn on or off during the install. AviSynth is essentially a scripting language that you can use to edit videos. You use Notepad or any other text editor to edit these scripts, and then you use a separate program to actually interpret the script. MANY video programs today support AviSynth, as it is pretty much the most flexible and powerful video scripting platform available. Videora happens to also support it. You can write your script in notepad, save it as a .avs file, and then open that file in Videora as opposed to a video file (.avi, .vob, etc.). Videora automatically interprets the file, and then converts its output as if it was any other video.

Enough of the background information. Time to begin. You are going to need a few programs to follow this howto. For the sake of ease, you should probably just download them all now.

  1. Videora iPod Converter – This will install AviSynth as well as let you convert files to iPod format.
  2. SubRip – This will allow you to rip subtitle files out of .VOB files.
  3. DVD Decrypter – This is necessary to rip DVDs to your hard drive in the form of .VOB files.
  4. DGIndex – AviSynth unfortunately does not support .VOB files directly. You must run them through this first in order to make them compatible.
  5. BeLight – Necessary to convert .ac3 DVD audio files to .wav files readable by AviSynth, and makes sure they stay in sync.
  6. DirectVobSub – Used by AviSynth to actually show the subtitles.

Before we begin, open up My Computer and click on “Local Disk (C:)”. Now, right-click anywhere in the window that comes up and go to New, and then Folder. Name the folder “temp”. This will be the temporary folder we use to store all the in-between files that come before we can actually convert the video to iPod format.

The first thing you want to do is download and install DVD Decrypter. After it is installed, run it. In the menu bar, go to Mode and then IFO. Then go to Tools, Settings. In the box that comes up, go to the IFO Mode tab and where it says File Splitting, select None. Press OK to return to the program. Go to the Stream Processing tab, and enable Stream Processing. Uncheck all of the boxes except the main movie (should be the longest video there), the English language audio file (if there is more than one, go with the one that says 2ch). Now, here is the important part. Make sure you select the Subtitles stream you want (the language)! After these three things are selected, click the little folder under Destination. Browse to C:, and then the “temp” folder you created above. Now you can press the green arrow to begin. This will take about 8-25 minutes depending on the length of the movie and the speed of your CD drive.

Once the ripping process is complete, exit DVD Decrypter. Now it is time to download DGIndex. This program doesn’t actually have an installer program, so just decompress the ZIP file and run DGIndex.exe that is within the folder. In the menu bar, go to File, Open. Browse to C:, and then “temp”. You should see the ripped DVD file, which should be a single VOB file. Double-click it to open it. In the box that comes up, simply press OK. Now all you need to do in this program is go to Video, Field Operation, Forced Film. After that, just go to File, Save Project. It should already be in your temp folder, but if it is not you can browse to it now. Once you are in the right folder just press Save. DGIndex will then create a .d2v file which is able to be read from within AviSynth. This should take about three minutes.

DGIndex also separates the audio from the video and most of the time puts it in an .ac3 file. Open up My Computer and then browse to your C:/temp folder. There will be a file called something along the lines of “VTS_01_PGC_01_1 T01 48K 16bit 2ch”. It can be a variety of different things, but what you are really looking for is either an .ac3 or a .wav file. If it is .wav, you can skip to the next paragraph as you are ready to proceed. Otherwise, you have an .ac3 file. AviSynth unfortunately cannot read that, so we need to convert it. This is where BeLight comes in, so download that. Just like DGIndex, it has no install program so just uncompress and run the BeLight.exe. Press the Input button and browse to C:, and then temp. Select your .ac3 file. Select the WAV/PCM tab below the Output button. Make sure WAV, and 16-bits Stereo Wave are selected. You don’t have to change anything else, so just press the Start button. A black box with white text will come up that says transcoding… preceded by the current location in the movie. This process usually doesn’t take longer than five minutes. After it is done, close BeLight. You now have a video file and audio file compatible with AviSynth.

The next step is to actually get the subtitles out of the .VOB file. SubRip is the tool necessary to do this, so download that. Again, this has no installer, so uncompress and run SubRip.exe. Go to File, Open VOB(s). Press the Open IFO button. Browse to your temp directory and select the only file that will show up. This is the IFO file that is automatically made by DVD Decrypter (goes with VOB files). Open that up. Now, make sure that your desired language is selected under Language Stream. Now press Start. What SubRip will now do is what is called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). DVDs store subtitles as images, and not text. OCR converts the images to text so then you can specify your own font, etc. Just know that this will turn out much smoother than doing things any other way. The OCR will highly a letter (or multiple letters), and you need to type what they are. It is a lot of typing in the beginning. Make sure you type the right thing,or your subtitles will be messed up. After awhile, it will have all the information it needs and will finish OCRing the file. If you made a mistake, you can correct it by going to Character Matrix, Edit/View Characters Matrix. Anyway, when it is done I always like to go to Character Matrix, Save Character Matrix and save it to my temp folder. This is not necessary, but it ensures you’ll never have to redo the OCR process if something goes wrong later. To save the actual subtitle file we will use in AviSynth, goto File, Save As on the bottom (not the top window, but the bottom with black background and white text) menu bar. It will ask you the Font and Font Size. I keep the defaults, since Tahoma 10-point is nonobtrusive but easy to read. After you are satisfied with the font settings, press the Save button. Call the file subs, and make sure you save it in your temp folder. You can name it whatever you want, but you will have to change the AviSynth script to reflect the changes, so I don’t recommend it.

Now you have all three things you need to make the video: the video itself, the audio, and the subtitles. Now would be the time to install DirectVobSub. This program does have an installer, so just follow the steps until it is finished. It doesn’t install an actual program, but instead a plug-in for AviSynth we will soon use. So, now you can download and install Videora iPod Converter. Make sure you uncheck “Launch at startup”, and make sure that Avisynth is checked! That is the brains behind this entire operation. After it is installed, there is one last thing we need to do before we are ready to actually write the AviSynth script. Go into the folder where you uncompressed DGIndex (it is probably called DGMPGDec). There will be a file called DGDecode.dll. This is an AviSynth plug-in that we need to use. Right-click it, and select Copy. Now go to My Computer, C:, Program Files, and finally DirectVobSub. Right-click anywhere and select Paste. You should now see both DGDecode.dll and VSFilter.dll in this folder, in addition to the Uninstall program. We are now ready to write the script. I am going to take this time to say that AviSynth can do pretty much anything you can imagine – crop, resize, deinterlace, do your homework (Ok, maybe not that), etc. Futhermore, there are hundreds of plug-ins for AviSynth that increase its powers.
Anyway, open up Notepad. Paste the following into Notepad:

LoadPlugin("C:Program FilesDirectVobSubDGDecode.dll")
LoadPlugin("C:Program FilesDirectVobSubVSFilter.dll")

# SOURCE
video = mpeg2source("C:tempVTS_01_PGC_01_1.d2v")
audio = WavSource("C:tempVTS_01_PGC_01_1 T01 2_0ch 192Kbps DELAY 0ms.wav")
AudioDub(video, audio)

# SUBTITLES
TextSub("C:tempsubs.srt")

EDIT (08-08-2006): Kudos to Sneaker for helping me realize that the quotes in the AVS script were converted to “fancy quotes” by WordPress. This made the script fail to work if copied and pasted right from the site. It should now work!

You will need to go to your C:/temp folder now. Find your .d2v file. Right-click it and go to properties. In the box that comes up, select the file name in the top box, right-click and go to Copy. Then, paste the filename in the mpeg2source part of the script, replacing my “VTS_01_PGC_01_1.d2v” filename but leaving the C:\temp. Do the same thing with the .wav file, but this time paste in the WavSource part instead of mpeg2source. If you followed my instructions, your subtitles file should be called subs.srt, but if it isn’t you should change that as well. The plug-ins should be specified correctly as well. When you think the script looks good, save it in your temp folder as “script.avs”. The .avs part is very important, as it is what tells Videora to use AviSynth with it.

After your script is saved, you are pretty much done. The last thing to do is actually convert the file, so open up Videora iPod Converter. Before we do anything, we need to set up the Profile. Go to the Setup item in the side bar and click it. Then go to the Profiles tab. You need to pick an “Existing Quality Profile” to modify. Choose whichever one you have found works well for you. If you are unsure which to use, just use “MPEG-4/320×240/768kbps Stereo/128kbps”, as it is one of the best quality profiles but still makes a reasonable file size (only about 700MB for a two-hour movie). In the Profile Name box put whatever you want. I named mine “Subtitles Preset”. Now there are two key things we need to set. The first one is the resolution. Click in the Resolution box and set it to 368×208. This is to make the video widescreen, so the iPod doesn’t stretch it and make it look bad. The next thing to set is Framerate. Choose 29.97 fps. After that, you can tweak anything else you like but I don’t recommend it. Press Apply when you are finished. (Note: Don’t mess with the AviSynth script area. It may look tempting, but believe it or not we don’t use that.) Anyway, now head over to the Convert section of the program. Click Transcode New Video, and browse to your temp directory. Select the script.avs file you created in the previous paragraph (NOT THE VOB FILE). Select the quality profile you just created (e.g. Subtitle Preset in my case). Press the Start button. This will generally take about half the time of the movie (e.g. a two-hour movie will take one hour).

When it is done, you have an iPod-friendly video that contains subtitles! Add it to iTunes by dragging it to the Library item on iTune’s sidebar. Plug in your iPod, and now you can watch a subtitled video on your iPod! Using the SubRip method described above, the subtitles will be very easily readable on the 2.5″ screen. You can safely delete you temp folder after the video is successfully converted (make sure you test it first so as to not waste all your hard work!).

The above instructions may seem complex due to their verboseness. However, what you are actually doing is very simple. It is just a matter of making sure you remember to go through each program in the right order. Furthermore, you won’t have to make a quality profile every time. You can just use the one you created the first time. Also, you can use the same exact script with little to no modification each time (so make sure to save it somewhere other than your temp folder so you don’t accidentally delete it). Have fun making subtitle enabled videos for your iPod. The next edition will probably focus on converting videos specifically to view on an HDTV, something I am still struggling with.


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Ripping DVDs

Written by rob on February 10, 2006 – 8:46 pm -

Bill wanted to know how to convert DVDs to iPod-friendly format. The process is pretty much the same as converting any other iPod video, but you must first do what is called “ripping” the DVD. Hollywood DVDs (i.e. the ones you buy from a store) are all encrypted. Therefore, if you just copy the video object files (.VOB) from the DVD to your hard drive, you won’t be able to play them. However, awhile ago some brilliant computer hacker found a way to crack the encryption, and the technique has subsequently been mass-produced. Now there are hundreds of programs that can rip DVDs, and they all have their strengths. The best one by far, though, is called DVD Decrypter.

Rather than reinvent the wheel and describe how to rip a DVD here, I will instead just link to a very easy-to-follow guide written by the same people who created the Videora iPod Converter. Click here to go to the guide on their site. Follow steps one through six. Once you get to six, you will have one large .VOB file somewhere on your hard drive.

Then, head over to my previous iPod Conversion howto and follow that guide. DVD conversion works exactly the same way as any other video once you have it on your hard drive and unencrypted. Just load the .VOB file into Videora when you get to the part of pressing “Browse” to find the video to convert. The one thing to keep in mind here, though, is that you definitely want to follow the note at the very bottom of the post that describes widescreen video. Not doing that will result in stretched videos, both on the iPod’s screen and the TV if you plan on outputting it.

If you have any specific issues, the forum would be a good place to ask it. I am going to make a Howto on subtitles soon, as soon as I actually figure out how to do it.


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