Wednesday, December 15, 2010

No Menu For You!

A Sony Betamax machine needed to finish an earlier digitizing effort was finally located, and incredibly, for its age did not need any repairs before use. Like most people, I was vaguely aware at the time that the Betamax & VHS videotape formats were rivals in the days of the home videotape recorders. This was only the second time, though, that I had ever been around a Betamax machine, and was surprised at how similar-in-size it is to a late-model VHS machine.

The tape cassette, though, is noticeably smaller than the VHS’s.

In a ‘small world’ kind of thing, The first time I saw a Betamax was in the early nineties, and the one I saw then might just be the one I have now. My Uncle Les was a gadget guy and one day he left a Betamax at my house for someone else to pick up. Although he passed away around five years ago, I was told that a lot of his stuff was still stacked neatly in the garage. So I emailed my aunt with a general description, and over Thanksgiving, one of my cousins located what I had described, and gave the Betamax to me at the big meal.

Other than not having stereo sound, the machine hooked right up to my digitizer, and after fine-tuning the picture, the analog version of the 1978 Contest of Champions recorded in Murfreesboro, TN was on its way to digital preservation.

For this effort, it seemed best to create an opening menu for the DVD so that the performances of the eight marching band finalists and judge’s decision could be easily skipped to. Although it should have been a simple task, the exercise ended up being a slow study in frustration.

In the past, Roxio brand CD/DVD editing software has worked well for all the audio CDs burned over the years for various projects. The 2008 version of the software currently loaded on my four year-old computer claimed to have the ability to do everything the present task required. But for some reason, the MyDVD function would not encode a video DVD correctly, and that particular function was necessary to create menus.

Roxio’s web site offered no help for the broken function other than a price cut for upgrading to Roxio 2011. Countless versions of freeware & shareware were subsequently downloaded from other sites, but for various reasons, none of these Internet offerings were able to do the job. So, although it chafed me, purchasing the Roxio upgrade appeared to be my only option.

Big and slow. The upgrade took forever to download and almost as much time to install. Continuing the theme, it takes forever to load and/or do anything. Everything this version does appears to require a lot of CPU time, and “Program not responding” is Windows Task Manager’s usual description of how the program typically accommodates my mouse clicks.

Normally I wouldn’t be so negative about a product. But my annoyance meter is still registering high because, after all the time & effort expended, I still don’t have a DVD with a custom-made menu. It appears my computer is too old to run the resource-hog software being sold today.

Since I won’t let this go for some reason, a new computer has been ordered, and should be here in the next few days. Hopefully, my next post will have a cheerier tone.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Of Dells and KitchenAid

The subject of computers, or the lack thereof, in our house has come up a lot lately. The Boyz have one, and Kim & I have one. Daniel wants a laptop computer for various reasons. Kim & I don’t. But everyone agreed there would be more harmony in the house if we had an additional computer.

Between my computer’s relative old-age and how slowly some of the video to DVD conversions of past projects went, the command decision was made to replace Kim & Tom’s Dell with a new one. So early yesterday morning, I sat down at Dell’s web site and spec’ed out a new Dell desktop computer with the power to slice & dice at blinding speed.

During the research, I noticed Dell listed a Netbook for a reasonable price, and Kim & I both agreed our home would simply be Harmony Central if we had three desktop computers and a Netbook. So a Dell Mini 10 was added to the cart.

After hitting the “Submit” button, I wandered into the kitchen to get a drink of water. Finding no clean glasses in the cabinet, I pulled one out of the KitchenAid dishwasher, and was annoyed to find the dishes wet & not looking all that clean. Figuring someone had run them on rinse & hold, the machine was restarted with new detergent.

At the point when the appliance was supposed to be making dish-cleaning whooshing noises, it buzzed a lot, and just did not sound like it was putting much muscle into the effort. Figures – I had just spent a lot of money on a new Dell something-something 10 computer & Netbook, and now the dishwasher acts up.

With no time to do anything about it right then, the dishwasher was allowed to run, and I headed out to my day job.

Around three hours later, Kim called, and told me the machine was still running, and its ‘water heating’ light was on.

After telling her to hit the ‘cancel’ button, I hung up & started thinking about how many unanticipated things money had been spent on this year, and now the gift-giving season is upon us. By all rights, I should have replaced the dishwasher earlier this year when it gave me trouble. Fortunately, a non-standard repair made then saved my wallet. I finished out the day hoping another low-cost fix would extend the life of my 10 year-old kitchen convenience.

Back home, after disassembling the lower part of the dishwasher’s interior, the buzzing sound was traced to a bunch of bone chips not being ground up by the built-in disposal. As a consequence, water flow to the pump was being restricted by a combination of chips & lint clogging up the works. After clearing the debris & reassembling the dishwasher, the familiar whooshing sound returned.

Considering this maintenance had occurred during what is normally ball-playing time with Cookie, the dog had been fairly patient with me. But now she had this “Are you just going to stand there and drink beer & watch the dishwasher wash?” look on her face. So we went out and played ball for a while.

Later, I walked by the dishwasher, and noticed the ‘Water Heating’ light was on. A quick check of the heating element itself revealed that the light was all that was on – the element appeared to be burned out.

The goal now was to get clean dishes without me having to hand wash any. Adding boiling water to the machine appeared to be the quickest way to reach the goal. So I Shop-Vac’ed some water out of the dishwasher and added boiling tea-kettle water in its place several times.

Even though I thought it was a great idea, it didn’t work – the light never went out. After a while, I declared that, while the dishes were probably not sterile, they had been washed long enough (three separate times) to be clean.

Since the lifespan of a dishwasher is 10 years, I ought to wheel mine out to the road instead of repairing it again. But money is unusually tight right now. I suppose I could cancel the order with Dell and put a new dishwasher under the tree, but that would not do much for the previous day’s vision of ‘Harmony Central’.

Unfortunately, no one in town had a new element in stock to sell me, and the replacement part had to be mail-ordered. While $100 was more than I wanted to spend for a heating element, it is considerably less than the $800 the local big-box store wanted for a new KitchenAid. So we will have to “help” the dishwasher wash for a few days by canceling the wash cycle and initiating rinse. But even with the extra attention, it still beats washing the dishes by hand.